WASHINGTON -- It's a good thing November is almost here. If we have one more "October surprise" from the vaunted Clinton-Gore "National Security team," we might not have a foreign policy left for the next administration to manage. Alarmingly, according to the polls and pundits, Americans rate national security concerns just above pet care as a matter that motivates their vote in next week's election. But given congressional reaction to what's happened in the last 30 days, that's not an October surprise.
Bill Clinton's high-pressure effort to secure a legacy by forcing a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians has brought the Middle East to the brink of war. Congressional response: silence.
The Clinton-Gore administration dips into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but gasoline, diesel and home-heating oil prices remain at near record levels. Congress overwhelmingly votes to make it easier for the Chief Executive to tap our dwindling emergency supplies of oil.
Terrorists attack the USS Cole, leaving 17 dead and 39 wounded sailors, a badly damaged warship and new terrorist threats on a near-daily basis. The Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing and commends the administration for treating the attack as a crime instead of an act of war.
With the Middle East in flames, William the Impeached dispatches Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on a final pre-election legacy quest to North Korea, where our Diva of Diplomacy prances around on a platform doing the Macarena with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Communist takeover in Pyongyang. Congressional response: dead silence.
Given this "see no evil, hear no evil" attitude on Capitol Hill to these Clinton-Gore "October astonishments," it's a wonder that the biggest surprise of all didn't get swept under a Congressional rug. But thanks to the persistence of Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Gordon Smith (R-OR), we now know more than Al Gore ever wanted us to know about his secret wheeling and dealing with the Russians, allowing Moscow to sell sophisticated weapons to the Iranians -- a country listed by our government as a "State Sponsor of Terrorism."
Thanks to last Wednesday's remarkable hearings, it's now evident that in 1995, Al Gore held a series of secret meetings with the prime minister of Russia, Viktor Chernomyrdin. During these meetings, the vice president explicitly agreed that the Russian government could sell the Iranians billions of dollars worth of weapons including: combat aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, tanks, armored vehicles and three super-quiet, virtually undetectable, Kilo Class submarines. Equipped with high-speed, wake-following torpedoes and sea mines, Kilo Class subs pose a direct threat to all ships passing through the Straits of Hormuz, including oil tankers and our U.S. Carrier Battle Groups.
After these meetings, Gore wrote a secret "Aide Memoir" memorandum to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, specifically committing the United States to "avoid any penalties to Russia that might otherwise arise under domestic law with the respect to the completion of the transfers." This memorandum was never provided to the Congress, and Congress was never notified of the arms transfers as required by law.
But that's not all. Subsequent to the meetings on conventional arms transfers from Russia to Iran, Chernomyrdin sent a letter to the veep dealing with transfers of Russian nuclear materials and technology to Iran. In a "Dear Al" letter labeled "SECRET," dated Dec. 9, 1995, the Russian prime minister instructed the vice president of the United States that information about the nuclear transfers was "not to be conveyed to third parties, including the U.S. Congress."
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Policy Act requires the executive branch to advise the Congress and keep them fully informed of all issues related to nuclear proliferation -- including deals like the one between the Russians and Iran. No such notification of these transfers to Iran was ever proffered to Congress by the Clinton-Gore administration.
Unfortunately, Congress will go home leaving many questions lingering from this latest "October surprise." For example: Is a terrorist state, by definition, an enemy of the United States? Is it a violation of law for the Clinton-Gore administration not to have kept Congress informed of these secret agreements? Are the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreements secret treaties? If so, has Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution been violated? Did Viktor Chernomyrdin personally profit from the sale of any of these weapons? If so, what did Gore know about it, and when did he know it?
The man who would be commander in chief owes us answers to these questions before Nov. 7. Otherwise, we are left to assume that his response is similar to one he has used before, that there is "no controlling legal authority." Or would Gore take a page from his mentor's script, and while wagging his finger at us in righteous indignation, tell us "I did not have secret relations with that Russian, Viktor Chernomyrdin"?