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Jewish World Review May 22, 2002 / 11 Sivan, 5762

Robert W. Tracinski

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What they knew and when they knew it | The Democrats have spent the past eight months looking for some way to gain political advantage over the Republicans without having to offer any actual leadership in the War on Terrorism. Their latest gambit is to blame President Bush for failing to act on vague CIA warnings, early last August, that Osama bin Laden might be plotting to hijack airplanes. Aside from demanding to know why intelligence analysts were not clairvoyant, Democratic leaders say they want to find out what the president knew and when he knew it -- and why he didn't do anything about it.

This absurd witch hunt is a blatant attempt at misdirection. The politicians and pundits who demand this investigation are evading the fact that they themselves had access to a wealth of information on the threat of terrorism -- yet they did nothing to stop it.

Let us take a look at what they knew, when they knew it, and what they did about it.

Before Sept. 11, everyone knew that Osama bin Laden was planning terrorist attacks against the United States. We knew it because bin Laden had already carried out these terrorist attacks, killing dozens of Americans.

A little more than a year before Sept. 11, al Qaeda bombed an American warship, the USS Cole, in Yemen. What did our leaders -- on both the left and the right -- do with this knowledge? The Cole was attacked just a few months before a presidential election, but terrorism did not become a top issue for the candidates or for the media. Instead, in one of their debates, both Al Gore and George W. Bush agreed that American foreign policy needed greater national "humility." On Sept. 11, that's exactly what they got.

At a memorial service for the families of the sailors killed on the Cole, President Clinton vowed that "justice will prevail." But justice had not prevailed -- not on Clinton's watch.

Did Clinton have any warning that terrorists might try to attack our warships? Well, how about the fact that they had attacked our embassies? Two years earlier, bin Laden's minions bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than a dozen Americans and hundreds of bystanders. In response, Clinton lobbed a half-dozen cruise missiles at bin Laden's training camps and bombed an empty pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. The governments of these countries faced no consequences for their support of terrorists.

The Republicans in Congress were so concerned by Clinton's negligence that they convulsed the country with intensive congressional hearings -- on Clinton's sex life.

People are asking why the government didn't react to warnings it received five weeks before Sept. 11. Well, how about warnings that came eight years earlier? In 1993, a bunch of Islamic fanatics set off a powerful bomb in the parking garage underneath the World Trade Center. Do you think perhaps this was a warning that Islamic militants wanted to blow up the World Trade Center? President Clinton didn't seem to care, letting the FBI conduct a criminal investigation of the case, free from any attention by the chief executive.

We could go back farther: Libya's 1988 airplane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, the PLO's takeover of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, and on and on.

And way, way back in 1979 -- you may have heard some whispered rumors about this -- a bunch of Islamic fanatics stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 50 Americans hostage for more than 400 days. It is almost certain that President Carter was aware of this -- but aside from a single, half-hearted, abortive military operation, Carter did nothing. His successor did do something: Reagan agreed to reward Iran with arms sales in exchange for the release of hostages in Lebanon.

Taking a microscope to CIA memos to figure out if President Bush could have done something to prevent Sept. 11 is a ridiculous waste of time. The scandal is not that our leaders failed to act on vague warnings in secret intelligence briefings. The scandal is that they failed to act in response to the bombings and mass murders broadcast on the evening news.

Islamic terrorists have been at war with the United States for more than two decades. Yet, with a few exceptions, politicians, diplomats, reporters and pundits were not screaming this fact from the rooftops, nor were they demanding any real action against the terrorists and their sponsors.

If we want to investigate a scandal, let's start here.

Comment on JWR contributor Robert W. Tracinski's column by clicking here.

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