Tom Brokaw was playing government watchdog the other night, interviewing Condoleezza Rice right in the middle of the "NBC Nightly News." Now the evening anchors almost never do interviews during their newscasts, so you have to assume that Brokaw had something very important to ask. But how could you take Brokaw's questioning seriously after watching him swallow whole Richard Clarke's rotten-egg notion that fighting terrorism was Job One in the Clinton years?
The Brokaw transcript read like this: "Mr. Clarke said today that terrorism was the highest priority of the Clinton administration. It was important to you, but it was not the highest priority. Any student, I think, of the early days of your administration might have thought that China, Russia, Iraq, missile defense systems, were probably higher on the president's agenda."
Rice could have responded by falling out of her chair with laughter. Terrorism, the highest priority of the Clinton administration?
Or she could have responded with a list of the real Clinton foreign policy priorities:
1. Maintaining Clinton's approval ratings. This would include ineffective military strikes on terrorist targets and pharmaceutical factories, transparently timed to shift the news media's attention away from inconvenient topics like impeachment and lying under oath about sexual sloppiness.
2. Building Clinton's legacy and his chances for a Nobel Peace Prize. This would include ruling out any U.S. response to the killing of Americans on the U.S.S. Cole, since it might have jeopardized Clinton's end-of-term Middle East "peace" partnership with Yasser Arafat.
3. Globe-trotting apologies for everything America has done in its history, real or imagined. This correlates to number 2, see: Nobel Prize, pandering for.
4. Broadening "national security" to include panicked theorizing about global warming from cattle flatulence and other imminent threats. Al Gore told him Earth was hanging in the balance.
5. Fighting the bad guys with that intimidating tool, the treaty designed to ban weapons and weapons testing. Let's not forget how this exercise in Realpolitik affected North Korea. They signed a treaty with Clinton to end weapons development in exchange for aid, which it began violating with impunity about two minutes later.
6. Shaping military-technology export policy to fit the demands of campaign contributors, both domestic and the illegal foreign kind.
At the very least, the National Security Advisor could have reminded Mr. Brokaw that President Clinton was so anti-anti-terrorism that he let members of the Puerto Rican terror group FALN out of prison in 1999. (This group was best known for their bombing of New York's historic Fraunces Tavern in 1975, killing four and wounding 60.) The move was so politically tin-eared that the Senate voted 95-2 to call Clinton's clemency "deplorable." Interestingly enough, Tom Brokaw didn't cover that vote.
In November of 1999, a White House memo surfaced showing Clinton counsel Charles Ruff was urged to add his support for FALN clemency to help Al Gore's political aspirations: "The VP's Puerto Rican position would be helped" by the clemency. Brokaw didn't cover that story, either.
The utterly partisan and selective scrutiny of Brokaw and others on the supposed inattention and failures of Bush's anti-terror policy in comparison to Clinton's is thoroughly unfair and logically contradictory. How do you hold Team Bush more accountable for eight months in 2001 (a large chunk of which unfolded without top officials in place during the confirmation process) than the Clinton gang was for eight years of pussyfooting?
How, after punishing the Bush White House for years for supposedly squashing civil liberties and generally acting too aggressively in the War on Terror, can you turn around and completely bash their failure to pass the Patriot Act or attack Afghanistan sooner?
This increasingly partisan 9-11 Commission issue is being played up by the TV news elite as a way to make the American people forget the Bush administration's record in dismantling al-Qaeda. They can bash Bush for what he did before 9-11, and then bash what he did after 9-11, and then bash how he portrays 9-11 in his campaign ads. But they cannot simply suggest to the American people in this very political season that the war on terror hasn't resulted in any victories worth noting.
But worse than this shooting bullets at Bushies from every direction is the annual compounding of historical ignorance on the real Clinton record. Not only did the networks avoid the dithering failures and craven political calculations as they unfolded, but now they're repainting the Clintonistas as vigilant comic-book heroes who make Bush look weak and apathetic by comparison. That's not just prevarication. That's hallucination.