- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

Following a long line of administration officials playing defense Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld President Bush himself came out against his Democratic critics yesterday, charging hard. "You know what's interesting about Washington?" Mr. Bush asked an appreciative audience as he awarded the commander-in-chief's trophy to the Air Force football team, the Falcons. "It's a town, unfortunately, it's the kind of place where second guessing has become second nature.
"The American people know this about me and my national security team and my administration: Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people.
"We will use the might of America to protect the American people. We're in for a long struggle. It's a tough war. It's an enemy that's not going to quit … this country must have the will and the determination to chase these killers down one by one and bring them to justice. And that's exactly what's going to happen as long as I am president of the United States of America."
Who could doubt it? Mr. Bush's young presidency saw the unimaginable loss of 3,000 American civilian lives on September 11. It is equally unimaginable that any U.S. president, Democrat, Republican, Whig or whatever, would have stood by while such a threat blossomed into reality. Similar accusations against President Franklin D. Roosevelt could never stick that he encouraged the attack on Pearl Harbor with inaction to draw the United States into World War II.
It takes the hacks of the Democratic Party to sink to the level of suggesting that this president would do something like that. On Thursday, James Carville told the ABC News Internet column, "The Note," that the question to be asked is this, "What did the president know, when did he know it and what did he do about it?" The president's enemies are counting on this to be the scandal with legs. November elections are looming, and no other scandal has grown legs. The president and his approval ratings look far too good to allow Democratic leaders to sleep well. So they're in full throttle, clamoring, as Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott puts it, as if "our enemy is George Bush instead of Osama bin Laden."
There are, to be sure, questions that must be answered. Some, as we have noted here before, have to do with intelligence gathering and collation. There are others, equally important. Were there politically motivated leaks of sensitive intelligence reports that made front-page news this week? These leaks could well add to the dangers terrorists pose to Americans. "What did the House and Senate Intelligence Committees know, and did certain congressmen leak it, and if so, when?" That should certainly be asked.
Richard Gephardt, Cynthia McKinney and Tom Daschle, Democrats all, can barely contain their righteous indignation, and they can be counted on to remain in attack mode. The nation remains under constant threat from armed and dangerous terrorists, willing to sacrifice their own lives, but that's just a risk they're willing to take.
The Democrats, however, might usefully pause before they clamor for investigations. Most of the warnings that al Qaeda was planning to attack Americans came before the fairly vague warnings the White House received last summer in fact, while the Clinton administration still presided over the government. In December 1998, Time magazine reported that bin Laden was planning strikes on Washington and New York. That would have been about the time Monica Lewinsky and the House impeachment proceedings were a preoccupation at the highest levels of the government. Bill Clinton himself was also busy bombing Iraq.
Nearly a decade ago, in 1995, an al Qaeda plot to use commercial airliners to blow up the CIA headquarters at Langley, among other targets, was uncovered in the Philippines. It was named "Operation Bojinka," or "the big bang." As a consequence, Vice President Al Gore was appointed to head an airport-security task force. Those recommendations were eventually rejected by the White House as "racial profiling."
When the investigations begin, no question should go unasked and unanswered. The Democrats might wish they had never got what they asked for.


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