Robert Novak

Scheuer continued: "He defames the CIA . . . and the men and women who risked their lives to give their administration repeated chances to kill bin Laden." Asked whether Bush was no less responsible for letting bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in Afghanistan, Scheuer replied: "The fact of the matter is that the Bush administration had one chance that they botched, and the Clinton administration had eight to 10 chances that they refused to try. At least at Tora Bora, our forces were on the ground."

What Clinton as president did or did not do about bin Laden is less relevant to Democratic politicians than its impact on the midterm elections. While most applauded the former president for energizing Democratic voters, one of the party's shrewdest strategists told me it was a mistake to remove political focus from the biggest Republican liability: the war in Iraq.

Republican insiders, meanwhile, saw a Democratic plot, mapped by Clinton's longtime political advisers, James Carville and Paul Begala, to blunt the GOP comeback. On NBC's "Today" program, they agreed that their chief had just stiffened the backbone of Democrats. "Good Dr. Clinton gave us a spinal transplant on Sunday," Begala exulted.

Actually, Scheuer delivered a message that is uncongenial to Democrats and Republicans alike: "Both President Bush and President Clinton have been very misleading to the American people, telling them we're at war because of our freedoms and our liberties and because of gender equality and because of elections. None of that is true. We're at war because of what we do in the Islamic world." Those words go unheard by politicians seeking advantage in the midterm elections.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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