Jewish World Review May 29, 2002/ 18 Sivan 5762

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Political paranoia


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | How long will the minuscule number of Americans who are immersed in politics be forced to suffer Bill Kristol's disappointment that he never became chief strategist in a John McCain administration? Oh, with luck, until Jan. 20, 2009. Unless Jeb Bush succeeds his brother, that is. (A half-jest, to wake up all the Cynthia McKinney comrades in Berkeley, Madison and Cambridge.)

Kristol's frequent sandbagging of President Bush is so predictable that it no longer bothers me. Besides, before carping about how one of the Beltway's legitimate intellectuals often chooses to let long-held grudges cloud his thinking, consider what the man has contributed to his country. It was Kristol, and not the timid GOP leadership, who jump-started the successful effort to derail Hillary Clinton's proposal to socialize 1/7th of the U.S. economy with her healthcare plan back in 1994. And it was Kristol, along with Fred Barnes and John Podhoretz, who persuaded Rupert Murdoch to finance the generally excellent Weekly Standard in 1995, an achievement that not only woke up the drowsy National Review, but gave prominence to valuable writers like David Tell, Christopher Caldwell, Noemie Emery, Matt Labash and Tucker Carlson.

(That Carlson left the magazine for the wasteland of CNN and sporadic, phoned-in columns for New York is no reflection on his early work at Kristol's weekly. Yes, it's embarrassing to watch him participate in the James Carville carnival known as Crossfire, but the telegenic, quick-witted journalist has a family to feed. One day, I hope he'll become a star at Fox News.)

And no one is as eloquent, both in print and on TV, as Kristol is in explaining both the moral and practical necessity of the United States supporting Israel against its Arab adversaries who'd like to wipe the country off the map.

So when the frustrated McCain acolyte gets squishy and calls for an independent "blue-ribbon" commission to investigate the failure of U.S. intelligence to prevent the horrific events of Sept. 11, I shrug and realize that while God didn't make no junk, neither did he create perfect human beings.

Still, Kristol ought to know better: by the time the old standbys for this kind of work-Sam Nunn, George Shultz, Lee Hamilton, Warren Rudman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and other retreads (why not include Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter?), who ought to be gardening and playing with their grandchildren-are brought out of mothballs and get down to fruitless finger-pointing, another disaster will have taken place in this country.

KEEP US ALERT

There's no doubt that the sudden increase in terror warnings issued by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, among other administration officials, is a reaction to the election-year criticism of Democrats eager to promote the idea of a White House coverup. That's politics. But as a Manhattan resident who's witnessed utter complacency here since last winter, with cops more intent on arresting two-bit dope dealers and parking scofflaws than guarding the city's infrastructure, I don't believe there can be too many terror alerts. While the government is bogged down with past failures-and by all means, it doesn't take a drawn-out investigation to fire FBI and CIA officials caught napping-it's virtually certain more citizens will be killed.

In the May 27 Standard, with his writing partner Robert Kagan, Kristol said, in part: "The third reason we need an investigation is that the system did not work. Either we didn't have the intelligence we should have had before September 11. Or the information was not adequately distributed and therefore key signals were missed. Or the intelligence was assembled but wasn't taken seriously enough. Or it was taken seriously but insufficient action was taken to prevent an attack. We don't know where the system broke down. We only know that it did."

Not that Kristol's alone: he's joined by an unlikely alliance of George Will, Albert Hunt, Frank Rich (who cites the still-dubious Warren Commission as one model for a new panel), McCain, Joe Lieberman, Tom Daschle, William Safire, Eleanor Clift and Jeff Jacoby.

Safire, in his May 20 column, didn't propose any members for such a boondoggle, but rather insisted that Congress and the White House can't be trusted to investigate itself. He begins: "'Suicide bomber belonging to Al Qaeda's Martyrdom Battalion,' went the report to the National Intelligence Council, 'could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the C.I.A. or the White House.' Did the president know about this eerily accurate warning? If so, did he do anything to ward off an expected attack? He did nothing. It's a scandal.

"However, that report was from the Library of Congress, dated September 1999. Bill Clinton was the president who sat on it for 16 months and did nothing, ostensibly because it was not deemed 'actionable.' Last week, after unctuously dissociating herself from 'second-guessers and Monday morning quarterbacks,' Senator Hillary Clinton rose in the Senate to cite a sensational headline [in the weird-and-getting weirder New York Post] reading 'Bush Knew' and to ask, 'The president knew what?'"

Bush has wisely opposed an allegedly independent, thumb-sucking commission, saying that because of the sensitive material involved (which would no doubt be leaked to the press from the likes of troublemaker Rudman) he prefers that the intelligence committees in Congress continue their ongoing investigations.

In a May 23 editorial, The Wall Street Journal had the smartest take on this increasingly contentious issue. The paper said: "It seems a quaint concept now, but once upon a time the U.S. Congress was willing and able to conduct a responsible investigation. Sometimes it has even committed public service, for example, in the Keating Five probe in the early 1990s... It's notable that one of the loudest advocates for an 'independent' probe now is the Democratic National Committee. We doubt DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe has been seized with a bout of statesmanship. More likely he views a commission as an opportunity for his potential Presidential candidates to get some TV credentialing.

"The Intelligence Committee chairmen, by contrast, aren't grandstanders from central Congressional casting. GOP Representative Porter Goss and Democratic Senator Bob Graham both hail from Florida and they even like each other. The ranking Senate Republican, Alabama's Richard Shelby, will also be on hand with his well-known skepticism toward CIA Director George Tenet and the intelligence establishment. His views will be a useful counter to whatever sympathies Mr. Goss has for the CIA he used to work for. Rounding out the committee leadership is California Representative Nancy Pelosi; she's a partisan but also a grown-up, and as a member of the Democratic leadership ought to reassure liberals who always suspect a cover-up."

KOOL IT, KRISTOL & KAGAN

Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan are also breaking out in hives over a May 24 Washington Post article by Thomas Ricks that suggested Bush has delayed or even abandoned plans to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Since when did a man of Kristol's smarts take as gospel a daily newspaper report-especially from a reporter hostile to the Bush administration-then use it to make dire conclusions? Since it suits his purposes, I suppose.

In the June 3 Standard K&K sound the alarms, even resorting to a tired cliche that's more appropriate for Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom Watch." They write: "Is the Bush Administration going wobbly? Is the president preparing to back off the bold pledges he made to the American people four months ago in his State of the Union address? ...On Thursday, in Berlin, the president said: 'I have no war plans on my desk' and 'we've got to use all means at our disposal to deal with Saddam Hussein.' An official 'familiar with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's thinking' told Ricks that 'there are many ways in which [regime change] could come about, only one of which is a military campaign in Iraq.'

"In other words, the administration may be returning to the idea of containment plus covert operations against Saddam-attempted coups, hoped-for assassination by people close to Saddam, hoped-for spontaneous combustion of his dictatorship, hoped-for serious U.N. inspections. In short, dreamland." Kristol can't resist concluding his editorial with a bit of pique (and the between-the-lines wish, If only McCain were now president!), writing: "Surely the president will step in and save the day. His presidency is on the line. As is the credibility of the United States and the whole security structure-or lack thereof-of the post-9/11 world."

On the off chance that Kristol's correct and all of Bush's "axis of evil" rhetoric was hot air, then he doesn't deserve reelection. But does the Standard editor really believe that the President or Rumsfeld is going to conduct foreign policy, particularly the difficult but mandatory mission of deposing Hussein, in the mainstream press? That he's going to telegraph war plans to all of America's enemies, at home and abroad, via a know-it-all foreign correspondent?

On May 23, in Berlin, Bush said: "In this war, we defend not just America or Europe; we are defending civilization itself... The authors of terror are seeking nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Regimes that sponsor terror are developing these weapons and the missiles to deliver them. If these regimes and their terrorist allies were to perfect these capabilities, no inner voice of reason, no hint of conscience would prevent their use. Wishful thinking might bring comfort, but not security. Call this a strategic challenge. Call it, as I do, the axis of evil. Call it by any name you choose, but let us speak the truth. If we ignore this threat, we invite certain blackmail and place millions of our citizens in grave danger.

"Our response will be reasoned and focused and deliberate. We will use more than our military might. We will cut off terrorist finances, apply diplomatic pressure and continue to share our intelligence. America will consult closely with our friends and allies at every stage. But make no mistake about it; we will and must confront this conspiracy against our liberty and against our lives."

Bush, as a guest of the German government, was being polite about "consulting" with our supposed European friends. It's likely the war against Iraq will start off with just the U.S., Britain, Russia and one Arab nation from which to base operations. Once military might begins to prevail, then the chicken-little Germans and French will probably want to tag along and share the credit.

In any case, either Bush's speech in Berlin was a cruel fraud or Bill Kristol is going to look very silly taking the word of a reporter over that of the president of the United States.


JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2002, Russ Smith