- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

You have to give it to Tom Daschle. The Senate majority leader has impeccable timing. Impeccably bad, that is. The South Dakota Democrat chose early last week to come out swinging at President Bush's conduct of the war on terrorism, just as our soldiers were about to go back into combat in Afghanistan, sustaining some of the heaviest casualties of the war so far.

In the wake of sharp criticism, and after about eight American troops were killed in fighting in Afghanistan, Mr. Daschle shifted gears this week and in a resolution declared that the Senate "stands united with the president in the ongoing effort to destroy al Qaeda." But some Democrats continued to complain of inadequate briefings by administration officials.

On last Sunday's "Meet the Press," Mr. Daschle said: "I think the time has come for us to be asking a lot more questions. That is the role of Congress. We're a co-equal branch of government, and I don't think we ought to rubber-stamp any president as we get into these very difficult decisions."

While Congress certainly has a role to play in declaring war under our Constitution, the president is still the sole commander in chief, and, so far, this president seems to have done a darn good job in exercising that role. After the September 11 attacks, the Democrats tried their best to put on a show of bipartisanship.

But it seems to have broken down recently not because the war has gone badly, but because it's gone so well that the president and his party are enjoying almost unprecedented support from the American people. That's what's got Mr. Daschle and the Democrats so worried. But they have picked a particularly awful time to begin playing politics for partisan advantage.

The fighting in eastern Afghanistan could be the toughest U.S. troops have faced, especially since American ground combat forces are now directly involved. The first U.S. aircraft was shot down this week in the 5-month-old war, and the regrouped al Qaeda forces appear to be heavily armed and willing to fight to the death now that their escape routes out of the country are being shut down.

Mr. Daschle's comments ostensibly were provoked because Democrats do not believe that the president has consulted enough on the overall strategy of the war, including deciding to which additional countries the United States will deploy troops. The United States has already sent soldiers to the Philippines to fight Muslim fundamentalists affiliated with al Qaeda there, and may send others to Yemen and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

"We're not safe until we have broken the back of al Qaeda, and we haven't done that yet," Mr. Daschle complained. But as the president has made clear time and again and the American people seem to understand al Qaeda isn't a neat and discrete army that we can locate in one place and eliminate. Its branches stem throughout the world, on virtually every continent, and certainly al Qaeda-trained forces are in Yemen and are fighting alongside the Chechens in the former Soviet republics.

Mr. Daschle also criticized the administration for deploying high-level government officials to secret locations outside Washington in case the unthinkable happened and the national government were destroyed in some cataclysmic terrorist attack. The Democrats' carping on this issue is outrageous. And the media's characterization of the plan as a "shadow government" is even worse. It's nothing of the sort.

At least since the Cold War, the federal government has had plans to remove officials to secure locations in case of nuclear attack. It is not just sensible, but downright imperative, that we protect our government from total collapse in the event of a direct hit on Washington.

Given our experience on September 11, when coordinated attacks in two cities destroyed the World Trade Center and severely damaged the Pentagon, can anyone guarantee that our enemies won't be able to do something even more horrendous in the future? I, for one, sleep better at night knowing that the president has made sure that such an attack cannot destroy the federal government's ability to function.

We are dealing with an enemy as ruthless and bloodthirsty as any we've ever faced. They will stop at nothing to destroy us. Thankfully we have a president who has vowed to fight this enemy everywhere he can find them and to keep fighting until they are defeated.

The Democrats won't help themselves, much less the nation, by making the president's conduct of the war the issue. Nothing has changed in the last six months, except the Democrats' resolve to put the good of the nation before partisan politics.

Linda Chavez is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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