- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The United States faces two crises — one phony and one real. Both in the media and in politics, the phony crisis is getting virtually all the attention.

Like the French official in “Casablanca,” politicians and much of the media are shocked, shocked, to discover the government has been listening in on calls involving international terrorist networks. Congressional leaders of both parties have in fact known this for years without saying a word.

Only after the New York Times published the news and made a big noise about it did politicians begin to declare their shock.

That is not the only thing that makes this big uproar phony. The same people going ballistic over what they spin as “domestic spying” never went ballistic over one of the grossest examples of genuine domestic spying of the Clinton years.

Hundreds of raw FBI files on Republicans were sent to the Clinton White House, in violation of laws and for no higher purpose than having enough dirt on enough people to intimidate political opponents. But domestic spying against Republicans did not shock nearly as many people as intercepting phone calls from terrorists. The hue and cry being whipped up into a media crisis is part of a whole pattern of shortsighted political obstruction and a futile venting of spleen.

What could have been more shortsighted and petty than congressional Democrats holding up the official electoral college vote last year confirming President Bush’s re-election? It was the first time for such a challenge since 1877.

Democrats knew they had no chance of preventing confirmation of Mr. Bush’s re-election in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Moreover, since he was already president, they could not even delay his taking office.

It was obstruction for the sake of obstruction — and to “do something” to appeal to the Bush-hatred of their political base. It was the same when the Democrats obstructed and delayed confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and later the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

They knew from the outset these were just futile temper tantrums that would not affect the outcome in the least.

One of the ugliest examples of the mindset was painfully visible at the recent funeral of Coretta Scott King, where a solemn occasion was turned into a series of political cheap shots against a president who came to honor Mrs. King’s memory.

The truly dangerous aspect of this temper tantrum politics is that it undermines the U.S. government dealings with foreign powers and international terrorist networks.

Some nations and movements respect only force or the threat of force. Regardless of anyone’s politics, the president of the United States is the only one who can launch that force.

In the early days of the Iraq war, when it was clear to all that American military force would be unleashed against our enemies, Libya suddenly agreed to abandon its nuclear program and other countries backed off their hostile stances.

But when our domestic obstructionists began undermining the president and dividing the country, they undermined the credibility of U.S. power. North Korea’s government-controlled media gave big play to Sen. John Kerry’s speeches against the U.S. hard line against North Korea developing nuclear weapons.

Obviously this division and all-out attempt to damage the president make any threat of using military force less credible.

Whether President Bush will use military force as a last resort to prevent an unending nightmare of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iranian fanatics and international terrorists is something only the future will tell.

It would be far better if the threat of force were credible enough to make its actual use unnecessary. But divisive politics have undermined the credibility of any such threat. That can narrow the choices to killing people in Iran or leaving ourselves and our posterity at the mercy of hate-filled and suicidal fanatics with nukes. That is the real crisis overshadowed by the phony political crisis.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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