Much Ado About Little - Newsweek Campaign 2004 - MSNBC.com

Much Ado About Little
The GOP's focus on Sandy Berger may have deflected some attention from the 9/11 report. But the commission's findings are still a setback for Bush

July 23, 2004 - The House and Senate leadership doesn't have enough time to take up the 9/11 commission's recommendations about overhauling the nation's terror fighting network until next year, but the House Government Reform Committee can find the time to squeeze in an investigation of Sandy Berger before the election.

Republicans are acting like Berger is the worst threat to national security since Julius Rosenberg. You'd think Berger was charged with passing nuclear secrets to Iran. He is guilty of removing copies of classified documents from the National Archives—and of serving in the Clinton White House as national-security adviser, which is enough to re-activate the right-wing scandal machine.

This is much ado about very little. "Between jaywalking and Julius Rosenberg, this is closer to jaywalking," says a Senate aide on the Republican side.

Republicans should beware of overreaching. Berger didn't remove any original documents or do anything to imperil national security. The originals of everything he examined are safely stored at the archives. "This is the national-security equivalent of the Gary Condit story," says a Senate staffer, recalling the media frenzy over the California congressman's relationship with a missing intern in the months before 9/11. While the press chased Condit, implying he was a murderer, Osama bin Laden put the finishing touches on his audacious plan to attack America.

The timing of the Berger leak blunted the impact of the 9/11 commission report. "Instead of getting a straight right hand to Bush, it's a glancing blow," says Lockhart. The commission found no collaborative relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda. It was Iran—not Iraq—that gave aid and comfort to Al Qaeda. Iran allowed some of the 9/11 hijackers to pass through their territory on their way from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia without having their passports stamped, smoothing their entry into the United States without arousing suspicion.

The commission's findings could be devastating for Bush's re-election campaign. Bush embraced the findings about Iran as vindication for citing Iran as part of the axis of evil. But Bush's credibility is damaged. The 9/11 commission report raises the question: did we invade the wrong country? The late-night talk shows are in synch with the zeitgeist of the country, and they went to the heart of the matter with a joke. Did we go to war over a typo?

With American deaths in Iraq reaching 900, more people are questioning the justification for the war. Did invading Iraq make us safer? The November election will turn on the answer to that question. Bush says he took the fight to Iraq so we could fight terrorists over there and not here at home, yet he warns us that a catastrophic attack on the homeland is likely between now and November. Which is it?

Kerry goes to Boston next week in a stronger position than any recent Democratic challenger. The party is united in its determination to beat Bush, and liberals and New Democrats alike are delighted that John Edwards is on the ticket. Yet Kerry might as well be emerging from a cocoon when he takes the stage to accept the nomination on Thursday night. For all the millions he's raised and the countless campaign trips, he hasn't said anything memorable enough or significant enough to enter the public consciousness.

If the American people decide to fire Bush, will they hire Kerry? He's got to show he's strong enough, that he can connect enough to the American people, and that he has a real plan—a vision—for where he would take the country. "He has to nail the speech, and that's it," says Lockhart.

Much Ado About Little - Newsweek Campaign 2004 - MSNBC.com


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