Cracks in the consensus?

Posted: Oct 30, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- We are now less than six weeks into the first war of the 21st century, and cracks in the coalition are already beginning to appear. No, not in the remarkable international effort -- but the one here at home. The media's Armchair Admirals and their Sound Bite Special Forces have teamed up once again with the "blame America first" crowd in the cut-and-run Congress to take on their real enemy: not Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda or the Taliban -- but George W. Bush. This week's 216-214 party line vote in the House on a measure to help stimulate the economy in the aftermath of Sept. 11 is but the tip of the iceberg. Add to that the comments of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, who really should stick to borrowing the words of others because his own original thoughts only get him into trouble. Biden said America's air campaign against Taliban military targets in Afghanistan makes the United States look like a "high-tech bully," and suggested that it's only a matter of time before the administration's "honeymoon" is over. But unfortunately, there never was a honeymoon. NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw told a group of Northwestern University students, "I don't think a journalist ought to be wearing a flag because it does seem to be, to me at least, a sign of solidarity toward whatever the government is doing and that is not our role." No worries, Tom. It's unlikely the American public will confuse your remarks or those of our colleagues in the press as being supportive of this administration. The criticisms of the Bush administration come from three different directions. First, the media have incessantly questioned Bush officials about the possibility of U.S. casualties in this war and at the same time reminded them that the previous administration went to war in Kosovo without American casualties. Second, it is suggested, that the Bush administration has been too slow to respond to the "Anthrax Epidemic" that has now claimed the lives of three Americans. Third, we are told by television's Tolerance Police that the U.S. military is killing Afghan civilians. Let's set the record straight. First, unlike Haiti, Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, Somalia, and other places where U.S. military forces were committed during the Clinton-Gore era, waging war against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network is in the interest of the United States. Bill Clinton learned early on his watch, when 18 Army Rangers and Delta Force commandos returned from Somalia in flag-draped coffins, that the public would not tolerate American boys dying for causes or countries in which we had no stake. Regardless, William the Warrior deployed those he "loathed" in record numbers and -- out of concern for his own political future, not their lives -- he insisted on waging a "sterile war," a golden calf, which the media insists this commander in chief worship. Instead, Bill Clinton should have directed his cabinet to heed the advice of the several counter-terrorism commissions and panels that were convened during his tawdry tenure. In fact, if Bill Clinton's surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders, had focused on issues other than legalizing drugs and distributing condoms to America's school children, today America's federal health and public safety offices would likely be better prepared to respond to public fear of anthrax. Or maybe the media should just blame themselves for their own schizophrenia. Yes, regrettably we have lost three of our fellow Americans to anthrax, nine others have tested positive with the infection, and fewer than 30 have definitely been exposed to the bacterial spores, but this is not the epidemic that the media is portraying it to be. And if it is, why then did some of the cable news channels on Wednesday cut away from live coverage of White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer's briefing on anthrax to cover the O.J. Simpson road rage verdict? More outrageous than the media's trivial coverage of O.J. Simpson, however, is its constant indictment of American pilots for not doing more to avoid civilian casualties. Never before have we used such a high proportion of guided munitions. So far, Air Force and Navy bombers have dropped nearly 2,000 precision bombs and all with the intent of hitting only military or terrorist targets. Yes, some Afghan civilians were hit. But as Pentagon spokesman Torie Clarke pointed out, "We care deeply about the loss of life. Unlike the people who on September 11th went to great pains to kill thousands of innocent people." The humanitarian disaster is caused not by the U.S. military. It is a result of the Taliban's practice of co-locating in and among the civilian population; closing their borders and telling the Afghan population that American food drops (now nearly 1 million rations) are poisoned. As administration officials have noted repeatedly, the war on terrorism will be lengthy and unlike any other war America has ever fought. It will require fresh routines, different tactics and new attitudes. The administration is making the necessary changes to fight and win this war. It would be nice if the media and the congressional critics could do the same.