Signs of the Times

Two important Times stories — one in The New York Times, the other in the London Sunday Times — tell us a lot about the news media and help set the record straight about the Clinton administration's failed efforts to combat terrorists.

The first story contains a rebuke of Fox News broadcasters for patriotism. The second shows how President Clinton passed up three chances to nab Usama bin Laden before his massive terrorist attacks against us.

First up, Fox.

You'd think that in our post-9/11 world, wearing a flag pin signifies nothing worse than national unity in our fight against terrorism.

But essayist Caryn James thinks otherwise. In her Dec. 30, 2001, New York Times essay on "The Year in Television," Ms. James pointed out that right after Sept. 11 came " a round of flag-waving and flag-wearing patriotism, in which even some network correspondents wore flag pins."

Before long, however, all the networks but one realized the grave error of this move. "That was rightly seen as crossing a line into politics," James lectures, "and was banned by every network and cable channel except Fox News." Then came her punch line: "so much for its ludicrous claim to political balance."

Granted, I'm biased toward Fox News, not only for giving me the opportunity of these Wednesday columns but also for frequent appearances on the air. But even if Ms. James wrote that about another network, I'd consider her claim rather "ludicrous."

Why would wearing an American flag pin sacrifice "political balance"? Is that more Republican than Democratic? Surely the Democrats wouldn't admit that. Is it pro-American as opposed to pro-Taliban? Surely so, but Ms. James can't mean that by "political balance."

American patriotism, symbolized by a flag pin, doesn't compromise "political balance," but instead proclaims a determination to preserve our values of freedom and tolerance.

I'm befuddled by Ms. James' assertion. If readers can help me out with some possible explanations, I'd sure appreciate it.

Clinton's Failure

"U.S. Missed Three Chances to Seize Bin Laden" headlined England's most prestigious and best-selling newspaper, the Sunday Times, on Jan. 6 in the first of a three-part series.

The much-discussed piece began: "President Bill Clinton turned down at least three offers involving foreign governments to help to seize Osama Bin Laden after he was identified as a terrorist who was threatening America, according to sources in Washington and the Middle East."

The first offer came in the summer of 1996 when Sudanese officials were willing to hand over the terrorist, then living in their country. They had done something similar when giving Carlos "The Jackal" to French authorities two years earlier.

Yet in our case, unlike the hardheaded French, the Clinton White House let pass the Sudanese offer. The very next month bin Laden struck, when "a 5,000lb truck bomb ripped apart the front of Khobar Towers, a U.S. military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The explosion killed 19 American servicemen. Bin Laden was immediately suspected."

The other two offers came in the summer of 2000. The Clinton team handled neither seriously. Within 14 months, bin Laden struck again, this time more spectacularly with the more than 3,000 dead on Sept. 11.

The only redeeming element of this story is Bill Clinton's own admission of wrongdoing. He senses the horrendous costs of his inaction in his squandered presidency.

As the Sunday Times reports: "Clinton is reported to have admitted how things went wrong in Sudan at a private dinner at a Manhattan restaurant shortly after September 11 last year. According to a witness, Clinton told a dinner companion that the decision to let bin Laden go was probably 'the biggest mistake of my presidency.'"

Clinton may have learned his lesson, but what have we learned? Frivolous leadership, as practiced by the Clinton administration, brings high costs through unwillingness to address, and redress, serious dangers. And dangerous leaders bent on our destruction with a capability to wreck havoc (through "martyrs" or weapons of mass destruction) should be neutralized before any massive attacks.

Clinton's admission may be cold comfort for us today. But admitting the mistakes of the past is the first step to making sure they never happen again.

Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of