Kentucky Kernel (U. Kentucky)
(U-WIRE) LEXINGTON, Ky. – In an interview granted to “60
Minutes” last Sunday, former White House official Richard Clarke,
America’s former terrorism czar, laid out the most damaging case
yet against the re-election of George W. Bush. Clarke is only the
latest in a steady stream of government insiders to come forward
against the president.
You may remember former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, for
example. When he goes before the 9/11 commission to testify, he’ll
essentially be asked if Bush took the issue of terrorism seriously
before Sept. 11 and if the nature of the president’s response, post
Sept. 11, was appropriate.
Clarke has already answered these questions in his book, and he
has effectively condemned the president. But to this observer the
question remains: Will this have any impact on how Americans view
Bush, and if not, what does that tell us?
For liberals, progressives, Bush-haters and many Democratic
moderates, Clarke’s allegations are nothing new. Many investigative
reporters have asserted as much previously, but the main difference
is the source.
But the Democrats have failed in one regard — they have yet to
earn the implicit trust of the American people. They must prove
that this is not simply a campaign to smear Bush’s re-election
attempt, that this is more than playing politics.
Bush has thus far refused to answer any tough questions about
his administration’s actions in the early months of his presidency
and about precisely what plan his team formulated in the weeks
after Sept. 11.
He avoids doing this by portraying, or allowing his subordinates
and allies to portray, any substantive criticism as mere
politicking — even though the person in question was hired by
President Ronald Reagan.
This cannot go on.
If this president continues to campaign on his war presidency
and his decisive leadership in the aftermath of the collapse of the
World Trade Center, it stands to reason he’d be able to defend his
record. In truth, he cannot.
Democrats have increasingly focused on Bush’s handling of the
war on terrorism, believing that his imploding is inevitable if
Americans no longer see him as the figure of the man with the
That’s probably fairly accurate, but despite the concrete
evidence of Bush’s failings on terrorism, documented by Clarke and
others, the president remains strong.
Why? In part because Americans have known no other leader since
that fateful Tuesday morning, and many struggle to see John Kerry
in that capacity.
This leeway, unwittingly granted, has permitted the president to
stonewall without a real fear of repercussion because, after all,
Democrats are just playing politics with national security.
Unfortunately for Kerry, it is likely the only way he can
persuade Americans that he’ll do a more competent job on national
security than Bush is to actually administer in the office,
something he cannot do without being elected.
America does not want to admit that Bush has no real concept of
the terrorism problem, and no, it does not help that Kerry has
failed, thus far, to articulate his own doctrine.
We want to believe that Bush really did all he could, that he
didn’t ignore Clinton-era officials who warned his team of the
potential danger of al Qaeda and that he did not order an invasion
of Iraq because it had more targets than Afghanistan. But sometimes
we must face the reality.
The current administration understands but one component of the
war on terrorism: The necessity of purging al Qaeda operatives and
the like-minded from the face of the earth — but that’s it.
They have been the default option and have exploited that for
all it is worth, allowing them to sustain damning assaults on their
character and their ideology. But they will soon have a day of
reckoning on Election Day.
Americans give Bush high marks on handling terrorism because
they have no basis for comparison. They’ve believed for so long
that tough-minded, principled conservatives will keep them safer
than wimpy, frightened accommodating liberals.
This is a caricature that’s dominated American political thought
There are serious problems with this administration’s
disposition and reaction to terrorism, and Richard Clarke is merely
the latest contributor to this line of thought. Unfortunately, I
fear he may have been preaching to the choir.