TCS Daily

The Peace That Never Was

By Greg Buete - July 30, 2004 12:00 AM

An awestruck media gave former President Bill Clinton high marks for his speech opening the Democratic National Convention. But missed among the punditry was an opportunity Clinton and other Democratic leaders handed the Bush campaign.

By reminiscing upon the 1990s as better times the Democrats risk continuing the perception that they are squarely planted in September 10, 2001, and not prepared to lead the country during war.

Clinton reinforced the notion his party is weak on national security by bragging that he and fellow Democrats had built "the prosperity and peace that we left America in 2000." Clinton added, "The only test that matters is whether people were better off when we finished than when we started," and that the Democrats produced "strong efforts against terror."

Clinton isn't alone. During the convention Hillary Clinton and the New Mexico governor Bill Richardson both repeated the claim. Likewise, a quick sift through media reports finds pundit after pundit evoking the last decade's "peace and prosperity." In fact, since the end of the 1990s it has become a mainstay of Democratic historical revision, thanks in large part to a media that never challenges the rhetoric. But both can be challenged.

Regarding prosperity, gross domestic product had begun shrinking in the third quarter of Clinton's last year in office. Likewise, job creation in most industries peaked by the late 1990s. So, while there was certainly great economic prosperity during most of the 1990s, Clinton cannot claim to have left George W. Bush that same prosperity as the downswing had already begun.

Furthermore, Bush's third quarter in office included the 9-11 attacks, which obviously exacerbated economic problems. Credit to Bush, the US economy has grown every quarter since the one following 9-11.

But more importantly, Clinton cannot claim to have left Bush with "peace," nor can he defend that the nation was ever at "peace" during his term. From a national security standpoint people certainly were not "better off" in 2000 then they were in 1992.

Indeed, that Democrats believe the 1990s were a decade of peace is central to why many of them continue failing to understand the war on terror, the enemy we face, or what we must do to defeat Islamic extremism.

It is this disconnect that the Bush campaign must seize upon, by communicating just how far the 1990s were from peaceful.

Al Qaeda and similar Islamic terrorist groups successfully targeted Americans in 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000. Three of these attacks -- the 1993 WTC bombing, 1993 attack at CIA headquarters and the 1997 Empire State Building sniper attack -- occurred on U.S. soil. After each deadly attack, the Democratic Party, led by Bill Clinton, promised to serve justice while continuing to spin the contradicting "peace and prosperity" theme.

Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States in 1992 and again in 1998. On the latter occasion bin Laden insisted "the ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim..." He later told ABC News, "We do not have to differentiate between civilian and military. As far as we are concerned they are all targets."

This is peace? If America was at peace it is only because our government declined four times to retaliate against Osama bin Laden. But unlike our leadership, our enemy was most certainly at war.

Despite repeated terror attacks Clinton's cabinet viewed the al Qaeda threat as almost exclusively a law enforcement problem. Many Democrats still do. During a January debate Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry called the threat of terrorism "exaggerated," adding, "It's primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation."

Law enforcement and intelligence are certainly integral parts of the equation, but a proactive projection of force must also be on the table, no matter the objections of France or the United Nations.

The 9-11 Commission's final report made this point clear in explaining the national reaction to the 1993 WTC bombing and subsequent "day of terror" plot approved by Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman.

According to the report, "Neither President Clinton, his principal advisors, the Congress, nor the news media felt prompted, until later, to press the question of whether the procedures that put the Blind Sheikh and Ramzi Yousef behind bars would really protect Americans against the new virus of which these individuals were just the first symptoms."

In other words, we can forgive our national leadership for failing to recognize the threat of Islamic terrorism during the 1990s, but we cannot forgive them for now painting the 1990s as a utopian portrait of "peace." Likewise we cannot trust our security to them if they promise to return us to a peace that never was.


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