- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

President Bush has more than three years to go before his second term in office is finished, yet the last few months have been instrumental in shaping the legacy by which historians are likely to remember him.

In Iraq, citizens voted yesterday on a national referendum to approve a constitution and bring the Iraqi people another step closer to self-governance. The stakes were high. As an intercepted al Qaeda communique reveals, it is the radical Islamic jihadists’ goal to drive Americans out of Iraq, take control of the government and the territory and expand their regime into surrounding countries.

But the vote on the constitution means Iraqis are taking more control of their own fate. A free and stable Iraqi government will greatly deter the jihadists from achieving their aims.

On the home front, Mr. Bush has been forced to react to Mother Nature’s fury and quickly marshal the resources needed to do what hasn’t been done in generations — rebuild a major U.S. city whose infrastructure was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. A major policy initiative to save Social Security has temporarily stalled, but even Mr. Bush’s critics give him credit for tackling an issue most politicians were afraid to touch.

And the last few months gave Mr. Bush the opportunity to appoint not just one but two Supreme Court justices. Their effect on Mr. Bush’s legacy, however, may not be completely understood for several years.

Though their outcomes are not yet known, these issues — war and peace, retirement security, the future of the court and the reconstruction of New Orleans — are the kinds of weighty, meaningful issues on which a presidency should be judged.

Compare that to the three major issues defining Bill Clinton’s time in office: scandal, corruption and personal moral failings. That legacy was reinforced this week with release of “My FBI,” a new blockbuster book by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

In his book, Mr. Freeh says he had to go toe-to-toe with Mr. Clinton from the outset. “But almost from the very beginning, I felt uncomfortable spending private time with the president. There was always some new investigation brewing, some new calamity bubbling just below the headlines.

“The problem was with Bill Clinton, the scandals and rumored scandals, the incubating ones and the dying ones never ended. Whatever moral compass the president was consulting was leading him in the wrong direction. His closets were full of skeletons just waiting to burst out,” Mr. Freeh says.

When Mr. Clinton nominated Mr. Freeh as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1993, he called him a “law enforcement legend.” It wasn’t long when that changed, and Mr. Clinton called Mr. Freeh “an insufferable Boy Scout.”

Former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta told CBS News the relationship deteriorated so badly Mr. Clinton always referred to the FBI director as “[expletive] Freeh.”

But as with many things in Bill Clinton’s life, he blames others when he should blame himself. Mr. Clinton’s own failings forced the FBI, as Mr. Freeh reports, to collect a DNA sample from the president, to match against the DNA found on Monica Lewinsky’s infamous blue dress. It was, he wrote, “like something out of a bad movie.”

But that was just the start. Mr. Freeh believes Mr. Clinton abused the office in many ways. “Bill Clinton and his lawyers seemed to be inventing some new executive privilege every 15 minutes or so,” he writes.

Mr. Freeh also takes great exception with Mr. Clinton’s use of the presidential pardon power. “I look back now on the 177 pardons and commutations Clinton issued as his final act of office, and I’m still stunned by the fact that neither the FBI nor the attorney general of the Department of Justice was ever consulted about a single one of them. … Just as he had tainted the concept of executive privilege through his frequent and inventive use of it, so Clinton now tainted the old and honorable tradition of presidential mercy by his inability to rein in his own instincts, by his penchant for excess.”

Mr. Freeh says he stayed on as FBI director longer than he might have because he didn’t want Mr. Clinton to name his successor. He says he came to that conclusion after the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen. The FBI needed Saudi cooperation to get to the right witnesses. Only a personal request from Mr. Clinton to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah would make it happen.

“Bill Clinton briefly raised the subject only to tell the crown prince that he certainly understood the Saudi’s reluctance to cooperate. Then,” Mr. Freeh says, “he hit Abdullah up for a contribution to the still-to-be-built Clinton Presidential Library.”

Six weeks after the bombing, Mr. Freeh reports evidence was gathered that “almost beyond a doubt that the Khobar Tower attacks had been sanctioned, funded and directed by senior officials of the government of Iran.”

The evidence was taken to Mr. Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, who on reviewing it asked Mr. Freeh, “Who knows about this?” Instead of acting upon what had been learned, Mr. Freeh says, Mr. Berger devised a plan to prevent the evidence from leaking out.

Despite this wholesale indictment, the so-called mainstream media are not listening. If they are not attacking Mr. Freeh, they are ignoring him. But the public isn’t. Sales of Mr. Freeh’s book are brisk. The store where my copy was bought had dozens of copies reserved and eager readers standing in line.

Readers won’t even have to finish the first chapter before they realize that a presidential legacy is a terrible thing to waste.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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