Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 2004/ 14 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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There's no surprise for this October | To no one's surprise, the dominant media machine finally unleashed the eagerly anticipated October surprise. The New York Times and CBS News are no doubt surprised that their surprise didn't bust anybody's bunker.

October surprises, a regular feature of the presidential campaign, like yard signs and bumper stickers, are considerably smaller caliber than they used to be. Twelve years ago, when Caspar Weinberger was indicted for nicking bedpans from a pantry at Health and Human Services, or whatever it was he was falsely accused of to tarnish George H.W. Bush on the eve of the '92 election, October surprises were fairly exciting. Even four years ago, the not so surprising revelation that George W. Bush had imbibed a beer too many one night when he was young and foolish was a mere blast of birdshot in the dark.

But this time the October surprise is turning out to be something shot out of a popgun. CBS News was ready to report on election eve that 380 tons of weapons explosives had gone missing after the U.S. Army moved into Baghdad, leaving an explosive dump unguarded. The GIs were unconcerned and naturally it was George W.'s fault, or at least the fault of Laura and the girls. When the New York Times learned about the CBS story the editors wanted to get in on the fun, and published a version of the story first. This ruined the CBS scoop, but what's a little competitive juice measured against bringing down a president they all hate?

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The only problem with the story is that it's probably too good to be true. This one is not even, as the New York Times famously described Dan Rather's scoop about George W.'s Air National Guard service, "fake but accurate." An NBC reporter embedded with the troops said the dump appeared to be empty when the Americans got there, and John Shaw, an official at the Pentagon, said the Russians probably carted off the explosives for safekeeping in Syria. Naturally the Russians deny it — what? Russians perfidious? — but after the story appeared in The Washington Times the intelligence agencies released satellite photographs showing convoys of Russian trucks in the area shortly before the Americans arrived. The trucks did not appear to be driven by FedEx men delivering wading boots from L.L. Bean.

John Kerry naturally laced into the president but as usual didn't get the story straight. "Our troops," he said, "are doing a heroic job, the president, the commander in chief, is not doing his job." But if the troops were lollygagging while terrorists were looting the explosives dump, what's heroic about that? Monsieur Kerry, who described American soldiers in an earlier war as rapists and war criminals, is taking no chances this time. If the GIs in Iraq were lollygagging, they were heroically lollygagging.

Mr. Bush unaccountably let two days go by before he answered the Kerry charges, and said yesterday that the Pentagon is conducting an investigation. The president accused the senator of stump-speech hysteria, making "wild charges about missing explosives." He took note of a remark by Richard C. Holbrooke, a Kerry adviser, who said in a Fox television interview that all the facts were not known. "One of his top foreign policy advisers admits he doesn't know the facts. He said, 'I don't know the truth.' End quote. Well, think about that. The senator is denigrating the actions of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts."

The satellite photographs uncovered yesterday indicate that Saddam Hussein was moving arms and equipment from weapons sites. The photographs, taken by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, are said to document "the movement of long convoys of trucks from various areas around Baghdad to the Syrian border."

Another surprise, this one by al Qaeda, was unreeled last night by ABC News. On videotape, a terrorist raghead, his weapon at the ready, warns that American streets will soon run "red with blood" to punish the Great Satan for electing, and threatening to re-elect, George W. and Dick Cheney. In earlier days such a threat from such a mortal enemy would have assured the re-election of the president. But election-eve terror worked in Spain, and who knows who the Americans are now. We'll get a clue next Tuesday.

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

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