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Jewish World Review May 23, 2002 / 12 Sivan, 5762

Julia Gorin

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We didn't WANT to know, remember? | "I've been traveling around our country for a year and no one cares about foreign policy other than about six journalists." -- President-elect Bill Clinton, to Rep. Lee Hamilton of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, 1992

Did someone say something about a memo surfacing? I'm waiting for a White House memo to surface, circa 1999, addressed to al Qaeda and reading: Could you wait 'til I'm out of office?

We elected a schmoozer president to lead the free world--twice. We didn't care that he didn't comprehend foreign policy and simply adjusted reality to his and our limited understanding of the world, muddying the lines between enemy and ally and conducting affairs as though the U.S. had none of the former. In fact, in the 90s the very application of the word "enemy" invited mockery.

The president is a reflection of the nation that elects him. After which point the two feed off each other and it's no longer clear which one lowered the bar first-the chicken or the egg. But three things about the 1990s are clear: We didn't care; the man we elected didn't care; and the press didn't ask.

To wit, those six-day-a-week briefings by a CIA senior analyst that President Bush began to studiously undergo practically from his first day in office were declined all together by his predecessor, who had said he didn't need them. Was this even news? Not to a public that didn't know the difference. Nor was the fact that Clinton never bothered to meet with James Woolsey when the latter was his intelligence chief.

Maybe Hillary will think twice the next time she wants to assign blame-or at least once. If Enron and the failed fundraiser-photo-scandal haven't proved it already, perhaps now she can finally learn that Bush really is the rubber and her husband the glue: Whatever you say bounces off Bush and sticks to you. How many more embarrassments before we can finally come to know her as the Mute Senator? She'll sound smarter than ever.

But back to the Democracy of Dunces that doomed itself by making this pair into a force in national politics. I recall a USA Today headline weeks after September 11th, reading "WTC Widows: A Quiet Fury". Not at the perpetrators, the article explained, but at our security apparatus. The article went on to attribute a common sentiment to the women: "I thought it couldn't happen here." Presumably these women had already been born by 1993, the last time it happened here.

What about the 1997 plan by two Hamas wannabes to blow up New York subway lines? They were getting daily deliveries of explosives by truck to a Brooklyn shack in plain sight of police. The only thing that prevented the attack-and only a day or two before its planned execution-was a hapless, recently arrived, non English-speaking house guest at the shack, who flagged down a reluctant police officer, gesticulating wildly while making explosion-like noises with his mouth.

And what about the foiled plot to blow up New York bridges and tunnels on New Year's Eve, 1999? Foiled by some intelligence personnel who were accidentally working in the 90s, apparently unaware that Bill Clinton was president.

I can't be the only one who recalls the nearly monthly TV specials throughout the 90s profiling terror cells within the U.S. and terror camps around the world, showing the recruitment and rigorous daily training of Islamic militants. Was any of this registering: People focused on, committed to, and existing for the sake of wreaking havoc. Did Americans assume there was no method to these people's madness? That there would be no fruit to their labor, no target of their toil? Or did we think the target was somewhere on Pluto?

It's a shame people can't see the dung piling up until they're drowning in it. I blame the complacent American public, asleep for eight years and waking up only to count its money. And they speak of the greed of the 80s?

Was I the only one unable for eight years to get through even a single Clinton press conference or address without undergoing anxiety attacks-caused by the future explosions I could hear faintly in the distance every time he opened his mouth? How much longer before the sky would fall?

Thank god for letting it fall into Republican hands. For anyone who is still under the illusion that the world took us seriously during the Clinton years, let September 11 be a lesson.

In the day-in those peaceful and prosperous Clinton years-did anyone even notice, and did our media point out, that our president didn't bother to visit the World Trade Center after it was attacked the first time?

No. Apparently those six journalists the president-elect referred to in 1992 weren't part of the White House Press Corps. And so for years we heard nothing of foreign policy, and no threats to national security were declared other than AIDS. The biggest military stories of the era were about gays and berets. Until one day I woke up and heard that we were bombing Belgrade.


That was the day that Maddie and Bill finally found a use for our army: to defend terrorists against the sovereign state where they were operating and which was trying to contain them. The nature of the media's foreign policy questions then: "How many troops are we deploying, Sir? And what will they be having for dinner?"

On that day, Madam Secretary went shopping for groceries. On another day, she found out her State Dept. was crawling with spies posing as photographers and journalists, and responded by joking, "If anyone here is a spy, please raise your hand."

Yet today we have to hear Dan Rather accuse the press of being too "timid" with the Bush Administration-for fear, according to Rather, of seeming unpatriotic.

When the danger was in the unasked questions; when the White House Press Corps reached satirical levels with tough questions like "Mr. President, why do you think people are so against you?"; when our reporters were bringing back countless war stories from KLA relatives and sympathizers but none from the people we attacked; when a president sent the U.S. Army to fight alongside al Qaeda and the mission needed to be questioned, there wasn't a peep from this critic. When national and international politics were in a state of disarray to the point of high comedy, when the scandals and cover-ups were too numerous to keep track of, the press went on vacation.

With the country dug quietly into an abyss, covered by a deceptive sheath of twigs and leaves on which a new president had to find his footing but which gave out from under him almost immediately, the call by the media elite is for vigilance as he is challenged with bringing the nation back to solid ground.

All of a sudden, now that the validity of the mission is undeniable and fewer questions are needed, the news people are big experts on foreign policy and intelligence, interpreting memos and dictating to the administration what it can and can't cut from bin Laden tapes and what should or shouldn't be considered classified. Indeed, now that the grownups are back to town, the snooze is over and the press is sharpening its talons. After a conspicuous eight-year absence, the old adage has returned: "The public has a right to know."

Yet while the groundwork for today's chaos was being laid, the public didn't want to know. And the media didn't want to ask. Gee, things were so much more peaceful under the Democrat.

Now we know why.

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2002, Julia Gorin