Character does matter

If you have ever wondered about the far-reaching impact President Clinton’s sexual affair with a White House intern had on the nation’s security, wonder no more. If you believe Richard Clarke, it had a direct bearing on the national response to terrorism and Osama bin Laden.

Clinton, according to Clarke, was hamstrung by concerns that the public generally and political enemies specifically would perceive a strong military effort to take out al-Qaida and capture its leader as a “Wag the Dog” scenario aimed at diverting their attention from his philandering. (In that movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro, a fake war is begun to deflect attention from a presidential sex scandal.) As a result, opportunities that might have disrupted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America were passed up.

At least that’s what the former antiterrorist chief who has become the nemesis of the current White House conceded on national television Sunday in a bit of candor that belies the thesis of his book that the real culprit was George W. Bush, who failed to take the terrorists seriously while worrying about Iraq. Clarke should know about the Clinton problem. He was there for the full eight years of that presidency as well as the months of Bush’s before 9/11 and for some time after. His tenure in the Bush administration after he was put in a lesser position mainly seemed devoted to writing the book that has been selling like hotcakes.

Is there any other reason for voters to pay attention to the personal lives of would-be presidents even in a day when it seems that sexual exploits no longer count in measuring character or qualifications for the White House? One would have had to be anesthetized not to be aware of Clinton’s proclivities. They were a well-established fact during the years that he was governor of Arkansas, reported on and alluded to frequently both publicly and privately. He saved his campaign in 1992 by going on national television with his wife in a sort of mea culpa to counter accusations by Gennifer Flowers that they had a longtime intimate relationship.

Clinton’s behavior was not unlike that of any number of presidents, including his icon, John F. Kennedy. But the atmosphere in which those indiscretions took place were quite different — namely, in the way they were regarded by the press, which looked the other way through most of them. There is some irony here. While there is seemingly public indifference to sexual dalliances these days, the press has decided its own credibility demands a full spotlight on them. This is intensified by the huge proliferation of media outlets, including the Internet, constantly seeking something sensational on a 24-hour-a-day cycle.

Should Clinton have been impeached for the Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones scandals? He probably should not have been, but he probably should not have been elected in the first place given the cost to the country of his irresponsibility. That is, if Clarke’s assessment is as accurate as the Democrats tell us it is about Bush.

The public exposure and the threat to Clinton’s presidency that these matters caused quite obviously colored his decisions at a crucial time. And while he sent some bombers over Iraq, used some cruise missiles and intervened in the Balkans, the real threat — bin Laden and his well- financed and organized followers — wasn’t dealt with. To do so forcefully, the president would have needed enormous credibility. His had been badly damaged, nationally and internationally.

In its assessment of the failures leading to 9/11, the panel investigating the tragedy can’t ignore Clarke’s latest statement and have any authenticity of its own. This is an investigation that Clarke has single- handedly politicized by his allegations against Bush in the midst of a presidential campaign. It is just plain stupid to argue as some have that Bush has aggravated the situation by attacking Clarke. After all, these charges go to the heart of his presidency and his efforts to win re-election. Allowing them to stand unchallenged would be an admission of their correctness.

Now it turns out that bin Laden and much of his network might have been put out of commission had Bush’s predecessor not been sufficiently compromised by his own sexual immaturity. His concerns should not have been how he was perceived, but what was right for the country. Whether he would have had the public support, including that of Congress, for a major military operation is doubtful, but considerations over his own personal problems should not have entered into the equation.

All this proves that character does matter.

Story by Dan Thomasson courtesy of the AP Newswire

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