In the war on truth, truth wins a battle

October 01, 2006|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

The most important 9/11 news story of the week did not involve Bill Clinton.

That may surprise some folks. As everyone south of the Arctic Circle knows by now, the former president ripped into Fox News correspondent Chris Wallace after Mr. Wallace dared to ask during an interview why Mr. Clinton didn't do more to get Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Clinton shot back that he did try - harder than the Bush administration in the eight months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - to kill bin Laden but simply wasn't successful. He said "right-wingers" ridiculed him for the effort. He even went after Mr. Wallace, blasting him for the "little smirk" on his face and accusing him of a "conservative hit job."

Mr. Clinton said the interview was a setup, Fox's way of getting right with conservatives riled that the network's owner, Rupert Murdoch, has pledged support to Mr. Clinton's Global Initiative Forum.

I am of multiple opinions about all the above:

One. It's a nice change to see a Democrat with a spine.

Two. It would be even nicer to see a Democrat with a spine and a brain. Cheap shots and wild conspiracy theories should be beneath the dignity of a former president.

Three. One can hardly blame Mr. Clinton for being angry at the urban legend that his administration did not try to bag bin Laden. Demonstrably, it did. But its attempts were ineffectual and, some might argue with the benefit of hindsight, overly cautious.

Four. I don't care.

It's hard to imagine a more useless argument than the one that has reignited over which president should get the blame for 9/11. Here's an idea: Let's blame Osama bin Laden!

Frankly, I doubt any president could have spared us the trauma bin Laden wrought simply because on Sept. 10, 2001, we lacked the ability to even conceive something so brazen and horrific. Had someone predicted it, he or she would have been treated with about as much respect as Chicken Little was. On Sept. 10, the political will to fight a "war on terror" did not yet exist.

So I am less concerned about fixing blame for what happened five years ago than in making sure something worse doesn't happen five weeks from now. Which is why I think the most important headline of the week wasn't about Mr. Clinton but was, rather, the leaking of a federal report that says the war in Iraq has not made America safer. Rather, the report says, it has attracted and radicalized more Muslims faster than anyone anticipated. Put simply, the war is creating more terrorists than it kills.

President Bush would want you to know the report also says the only way to reverse that trend is to defeat the terrorists in Iraq. Which may be true but hardly vindicates the president. Had he not charged needlessly into Iraq in the first place, there would be no trend to reverse.

No, there's no getting around the fact that the National Intelligence Estimate, representing the consensus of the nation's 16 spy agencies, flies in the face of the White House line. According to that line, we fight 'em there so we don't have to fight 'em here. Iraq is the front line in the war on terror.

Actually, Iraq is the front line in the war on truth. Now truth is fighting back with an assist from the president's own team. As one intelligence official told The Washington Post, the report is simply "stating the obvious."

Unfortunately, this president has a talent for ignoring the obvious, for barreling ahead under the misapprehension that staying the course even when the course is wrong equals resolve. Because of this, we have sustained 23,000 American casualties - dead and wounded - in a war that, according to the government's own experts, is only making things worse. It's a failure whose fallout we'll be dealing with for years.

And there will be no debating who gets the blame.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. His e-mail is

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