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Two crises, only one of them real


This nation is facing two crises, one phony, one real. In the media and in politics, the phony crisis is getting virtually all of the attention.

Like the French police official in Casablanca, politicians and much of the media are shocked - shocked - to discover that the government has been listening in on calls involving international terrorist networks. Congressional leaders of both parties have known this for years without saying a word.

Only after The New York Times published the news and the media made a big noise about it have politicians begun to declare their shock.

That is not the only thing that makes this uproar phony. The same people who are going ballistic over what they spin as "domestic spying" never went ballistic over one of the most gross examples of genuine domestic spying during the Clinton years.

Hundreds of raw FBI files on Republicans were sent to the Clinton White House in violation of laws and for no higher purpose than having enough dirt on enough people to intimidate political opponents. But domestic spying against Republicans did not shock nearly as many people as intercepting phone calls from terrorists.

The current hue and cry that is being whipped up into a media crisis is part of a pattern of shortsighted political obstruction and a futile venting of spleen.

What could have been more shortsighted and petty than congressional Democrats' holding up the official Electoral College vote last year confirming the re-election of President Bush? It was the first time such a challenge had been made since 1877.

It was obstruction for the sake of obstruction and to "do something" to appeal to the Bush hatred of their political base.

It was the same thing when the Democrats obstructed and delayed the confirmation vote on Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and later the confirmation of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.

They knew from the outset that these were just futile temper tantrums that would not affect the outcome in the slightest.

One of the ugliest examples of the same mindset was painfully visible at the recent funeral of Coretta Scott King, where a solemn occasion was turned into a series of political cheap shots against a president who had come to honor the memory of Mrs. King.

The truly dangerous aspect of such temper-tantrum politics is that it undermines the government of the United States in its dealings with foreign powers and international terrorist networks.

There are nations and movements that respect only force or the threat of force. Regardless of anyone's politics, the president is the only one who can launch that force.

In the early days of the Iraq war, when it was clear to all that U.S. military force would be unleashed against our enemies, Libya suddenly agreed to abandon its nuclear program and other countries backed off their hostile stances.

But when our domestic obstructionists began undermining the president and dividing the country, they were undermining the credibility of American power.

Obviously, this attempt to damage the president at all costs makes any threat of the use of military force less credible with the country divided.

Whether President Bush will use military force as a last resort to prevent the unending nightmare of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iranian fanatics and international terrorists is something only the future will tell.

It would be far better if the threat of force were credible enough that actual force would not have to be used. But divisive politics have undermined the credibility of any such threat. That can narrow the choices to killing people in Iran or leaving ourselves and our posterity at the mercy of hate-filled and suicidal fanatics with nukes. That is the real crisis that is being overshadowed by the phony political crisis.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His syndicated column appears Thursdays in The Sun. His e-mail is info@creators.com.

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