- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Someone should ask FBI Director Robert Mueller if he really feels up to his job. Mr. Mueller, who was sworn in the week before September 11, seems to be losing his nerve. These are scary times, and nobody disputes that, but whatever other qualities you are looking for in an FBI director or any of the other folks in the White House, federal agencies and armed services charged with protecting our national security steady nerves have to be at the top of the list.

Mr. Mueller's defeatist admission on Monday to the effect that suicide bombers are on the way to these shores was nothing less than shocking. "I think we will see that in the future. I think it is inevitable," he told the National Association of District Attorneys in Alexandria. "I wish I could be more optimistic."

So what advice did Mr. Mueller have for Americans as they wait for terrorists to blow themselves up in American local malls and markets, contemplating the kind of death and destruction that Israelis face day after day? Get used to it. "We will not be able to stop it," the FBI director explained. "It's something we all live with." Sorry, but that's just not good enough. If you want to issue warnings, at least tell us what we can do.

Perhaps it is slightly unfair to single out Mr. Mueller's quotations since the media over the past weekend were bouncing with blood-curdling, if vague, warnings of terrorist attacks issued by Bush administration officials.

"I think that the prospects of a future attack on the U.S. are almost a certainly," Vice President Dick Cheney said on Sunday. "It could happen tomorrow, it could happen next week, it could happen next year. But they will keep trying, and we will have to be prepared."

But no one went as far as Mr. Mueller in publicizing our powerlessness. You have to wonder what effect he expects his candor to have. It is bound to lower morale and fray the tempers of Americans, who had just started to regain their footing after September 11. And just as surely, the FBI director's announcement will act as a big fat "Welcome to Terrorists" sign placed on America's front door.

Now, it is just possible that Bush administration officials are over-reacting to the low-down dirty politicking of Democrats such as House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Sens. Daschle, Lieberman and Clinton, who last week all but accused President Bush of knowing about the attacks of September 11 beforehand. And who would not lash out at such a preposterous charge? And so we now have a wealth of warnings and alerts which seem to have driven the Democrats into retreat with the exception of Hillary Clinton, who may be constitutionally incapable of admitting that she was wrong.

It may also be that the White House and the FBI are trying to inoculate themselves from investigations whether by Congress or by an independent commission of intelligence failures prior to September 11. If there was no failure, it is hard to see why the White House is objecting to an investigation by a bipartisan commission of intelligence experts. It would seem that lots of questions still need to be answered, about the flight schools, the visas, the tracks of the al Qaeda network in the United States, and the methods of the FBI itself.

And when the government reaction comes over the airwaves, other people are listening, too al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and the other terrorist groups. For that reason and for the sake of the morale of the American people, one wishes the message from the administration had been different.

For instance, can anyone imagine Winston Churchill telling the British in 1940, "The Germans are coming but there's nothing we can do about it. I wish I could be more optimistic, but I suggest you get used to the idea"?

It could have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. The British military was absolutely no match for the Germans in the early days of World War II. But that was not what Churchill told the British people in June of 1940 after the retreat of the British army from Dunkirk. He said, "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender."

Maybe Mr. Mueller should be given a copy of Churchill's speeches. Or maybe he should just look for a less demanding job.


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