Make your selection: President Bush needlessly took us into an unwinnable war in Iraq based on false intelligence, which he later hyped as trustworthy, leading to the deaths (as of Sept. 8) of 2,656 service members and the maiming of many thousands more; or, President Clinton was so preoccupied with his groin, politics and legacy that it prevented him from adequately responding to the growing terrorist challenge on his watch, leading to the slaughter of nearly 3,000 Americans five years ago.
There is enough red meat in the release of the initial report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence to support the conclusion about President Bush for those who never trusted him and believe he was illegitimately elected in 2000. And there is enough red meat in the two-part ABC miniseries to support the second conclusion that President Clinton and his team fiddled while al-Qaida plotted to burn down America.
Suppose both sides are right: President Bush is a liar and is so sick that he would jeopardize American lives for an illogical crusade to establish his view of democracy in a place that has known nothing but dictatorship, murder and mayhem for as long as history has been recorded; and Bill Clinton cared nothing about the safety and security of his fellow Americans and deliberately put both in jeopardy in favor of personal gratification.
You have to be somewhat twisted to believe that any president cares so little about his responsibilities and the trust and hopes the citizens place in our land's highest office that he would let us down in such ways.
Neither position is completely credible, yet there are people on both sides who embrace these beliefs. That is because the object of modern politics is not to say and do things that benefit the country and promote the general welfare but to gain or maintain political power. Gaining power, including the means to getting it, is all that matters.
After Pearl Harbor, some questioned whether President Franklin D. Roosevelt deliberately ignored warnings about the Japanese threat so he could use an attack to isolate the isolationists and declare war not only on Japan, but grant Winston Churchill's wish for the United States to join Britain in the war against Hitler.
In his book, "Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor," Robert Stinnett, a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, writes that on Nov. 25, 1941 Japan's Admiral Yamamoto sent a radio message to the group of Japanese warships that would attack Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. Naval records, released a few years ago, prove (says Stinnett) that from Nov. 17 to 25 the United States Navy intercepted 83 messages that Yamamoto sent to his carriers. Part of the Nov. 25 message read: "Šthe task force, keeping its movements strictly secret and maintaining close guard against submarines and aircraft, shall advance into Hawaiian waters, and upon the very opening of hostilities shall attack the main force of the United States fleet in Hawaii and deal it a mortal blowŠ"
Since World War II, there have been suspicions whether the Roosevelt administration knew the attack was coming. But here's the interesting part in light of the carpet bomb politics of today. Stinnett writes, "When Thomas Dewey was running for president against Roosevelt in 1944 he found out about America's ability to intercept Japan's radio messages, and thought this knowledge would enable him to defeat the popular FDR. In the fall of that year, Dewey planned a series of speeches charging FDR with foreknowledge of the attack. Ultimately, Gen. George Marshall, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, persuaded Dewey not to make the speeches. Japan's naval leaders did not realize America had cracked their codes, and Dewey's speeches could have sacrificed America's code-breaking advantage. So, Dewey said nothing, and in November FDR was elected president for the fourth time."
When one considers contemporary politics, how many politicians come to mind that would place the welfare of their country ahead of themselves? It matters less which "side" is right in this Clinton vs. Bush debate than it does whether Iraq can become a fully stabilized beachhead for democracy in the region and terrorism can be dealt a mortal blow.
We can't afford to play the blame game now that we are in these wars. There is no alternative to winning them.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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