Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Game We are Playing

Republicans can't get enough Clinton bashing. Over at Townhall, Hugh Hewitt repeats a long debunked story about the Clinton Administration and bin Ladin. As the story goes, the Sudanese government offered Bin Ladin to the Clinton Administration (on a silver platter, according to Rush). Clinton turned it down because he didn't feel he had legal authority to take him. This proves how weak the Clintons and by extension all Democrats are at fighting terrorism.

Except that's not the whole story. Joe Conason reviewed this (and other slanders) for Salon a couple of years back.
Specifically, the Post reported that during secret negotiations in 1996 between American officials and Sudan defense minister Elfatih Erwa, "The [Khartoum] government was prepared to place [bin Laden] in custody and hand him over, though to whom was ambiguous. In one formulation, Erwa said Sudan would consider any legitimate proffer of criminal charges against the accused terrorist. Saudi Arabia, he said, was the most logical destination." The Post then detailed efforts by the White House and the State Department to induce the Saudis to accept custody of bin Laden, which the authorities in Riyadh adamantly refused.

Nowhere does the Post's carefully worded story state that Sudan agreed to "hand bin Laden over to the United States" -- because that never happened, except perhaps in Sullivan's imagination.

Still referring to the same Post article, Sullivan complains that the Clinton administration "didn't even use the negotiations with the Sudanese to disable bin Laden's financial assets in the Sudan." But as the Post reported, the U.S. ambassador to Sudan pointedly inquired whether those assets would remain under bin Laden's control after his expulsion. He got no reply from Sudan's foreign minister, and within a few days after his query, the Saudi terror chief departed for Afghanistan.

The Sudanese have always had their own agenda, by the way, which Sullivan doesn't think worth mentioning. They promised to cooperate against terrorism only if the United States ended economic sanctions imposed to punish their genocidal campaign of murder and enslavement against black Christians.
So there it is. But this pleasing and dishonest story is apparently too good to let go.

Why are Republicans so eager to fight on this ground? As Salon's War Room notes, this isn't exactly a winning issue for them.
As Peter Baker put it in this morning's Washington Post: "The election year debate has triggered a full-blown spat between the camps of President Bush and former president Bill Clinton as the two sides trade barbs over who was more responsible for failing to disrupt al-Qaeda before it could attack the United States on Sept. 11, 2001." But it seems foolish on its face for Republicans to pit their highly unpopular president against a highly popular Democratic ex-president, particularly when it comes to assigning blame for attacks that occurred on the Republicans' watch. And polling data is beginning to illustrate just how foolish of a fight this was for the GOP to pick.

A new Gallup poll, released today, reveals that a solid majority of "the American public [53-36 percent] puts the primary blame on Bush rather than Clinton for the fact that [Osama] bin Laden has not been captured." And while Democrats and Republicans predictably split on this question along partisan lines, independents overwhelmingly blame Bush over Clinton (58-31 percent).
Perhaps the Republicans have decided that the independents don't matter. Invoking the evils of Bill Clinton fire up their base like nothing else (well, with the possible exception of invoking the evils of Hilary Clinton). And if they decide they can win with their base and that's where elections are going to be won, well, this strategy might not be as senseless as it initially appears.

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