Jewish World Review May 20, 2002/ 9 Sivan, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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When all else fails,
find a panic button | This scam didn't work against FDR, but when you're desperate for something, anything, you might as well throw a mudball and see whether anyone yelps.

The Democrats, their hopes dashed of wresting control of Congress from the Republicans, think they may have something to use against George W. after all, making him complicit in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon through sheer irresponsibility, by not acting on "warnings" that the attacks were coming.

This is the sort of thing the Republicans tried on FDR in the wake of Pearl Harbor. FDR had ordered the fleet to put in at Pearl to make it easier for the Japs to destroy it and suck America into the war. But Americans weren't in the mood for making war on the president when there was plenty of war to be made on Japan and the Axis.

But that was then, and this is now, and the war on terrorism has all the flavor of last night's chewing gum left on the bedpost. The Democrats have an election campaign to wage.

President Bush and his men concede, if that is not too strong a word (and it may be) that they received warnings in early August that Osama bin Laden and his Islamist thugs were looking around for airplanes to hijack, but Condoleezza Rice, the president's national-security adviser, says the threats were "very vague" and it was concluded by the wise men in intelligence that the threats were more likely aimed at targets overseas.

"The government," she said, "did everything it could - and in a period in which the information was very generalized, in which there was nothing specific in which to react - and had this president known something more specific or known that a plane was going to be used as a missile, he would have acted on it."

Rarely have the origins of such a bit of partisan mischief seemed so readily transparent, or the aroma of a raw politics been so strong. This one has all the earmarks of a leak from Democrats on the congressional intelligence committees. "Was there a failure of intelligence?" demanded Rep. Richard Gephardt, the leader of the Democratic minority in the House that is thought to be more and more likely to remain a minority after November. "Did the right officials not react on the intelligence in a proper way? These are things we need to find out."

Said Tom Daschle, the leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate that appears to be in growing peril of becoming a minority in November, joined the attack. "Why did it take eight months for us to receive the information? I'm concerned about whether or not the public was adequately protected."

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, piled on as well. "The fact that they've waited this long to get [the information] out is troubling."

No doubt. Perhaps we might start with the Senate Intelligence Committee, to find out who was asleep and why, and why the sleepyheads are only just now interested in shaking themselves awake. Whose snoring woke who up?

Time magazine reported in December 1998 - when George W. was a mere governor of Texas, that Osama bin Laden was believed by the U.S. government to be plotting an attack on Washington. "We've hit his headquarters, now he hits ours," Time quoted a State Department official.

Time reported that a bin Laden ring had been plotting an attack on the U.S. embassy in Azerbaijan, and that U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno had organized an exercise at FBI headquarters in Washington in October 1998 to practice a response to four disaster scenarios.

The eagerness with which a few Republican congressmen have joined this Chinese fire drill is no doubt disheartening to the White House, but both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have felt left out of the war on terror. It's no fun just appropriating money. Of course, the role the typical congressman wants to play is one that won't threaten the crease in his pants or interrupt his dinner plans, as we saw during the great anthrax panic last September, when Congress couldn't wait to get out of town and to safety with the women and children.

If Congress has a legitimate reason to question the government's response to Osama bin Laden and his gang, there's a way to do it. The hunt for witches, however, must begin at the beginning. But Congress has its rules and procedures, encrusted by many years of practice. When all about them men are losing their heads, a congressman knows how to hit the panic button. You could ask the ghost of FDR.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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