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News and Features
The suicide attacks in Riyadh, which Saudi officials blamed on Al Qaeda,
were barbarous acts.
In the name of fighting terrorism, the Army has established a domestic command.
In this space last week, I commented that the choice for the United
States in North Korea was probably between a catastrophic war and
permitting North Korea to keep its nuclear program and its
With Baghdad conquered, the fog of prewar has started to clear.
Tom Friedman doesn't care if the United States ever finds weapons of
mass destruction in Iraq.
(A preventive-war anthem sung to the tune of "Trees," by Joyce
Kilmer, with piano accompaniment)
One of the many maddening feats of this Administration is that in
choosing to fight the war on terror by going to war with Iraq, George W.
Bush has inspired new terrorist threats to the United States--according
to the official testimony of his own CIA--where none existed. At the
same time, he purposely starves those localities and institutions on
which the complex and expensive task of terrorist protection ultimately
The Economist compares New York City to Atlas, bearing the weight of the
world on its shoulders. Already reeling from a massive deficit,
declining income and the economic aftershocks of 9/11, the city must pay
$1 billion a year for emergency and counterterrorism costs. Bush could
care less. After attempting to stiff New York entirely, Congress has
finally agreed to kick in about $200 million, far more than Bush
proposed. My shaken city can ill afford to make up the difference. It
already has 4,000 fewer cops than it did two years ago but must assign
more than a thousand of those remaining to the terrorist beat. It may
shutter forty fire companies. Massive layoffs, tax hikes and cutbacks in
every kind of social service are in the offing. And Gotham is hardly
alone. Enhanced security measures cost the nation's cities an estimated
$2.6 billion in the fifteen months after 9/11.
But as with Vietnam, "W" is AWOL and Cheney has "other priorities." They
have not merely ignored "homeland" protection, they have sabotaged it.
Shocking, yes. But don't take my word for it. A January Brookings
Institution report explains, "President Bush vetoed several specific
(and relatively cost-effective) measures proposed by Congress that would
have addressed critical national vulnerabilities. As a result, the
country remains more vulnerable than it should be today." A Council on
Foreign Relations task force chaired by Gary Hart and Warren Rudman
concurs: "America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond
to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil," it warns.
Power plants constitute obvious terrorist targets but are frequently
operated by private or semiprivate corporations unwilling to pay to
protect them. According to Brookings, the Administration has done
nothing--repeat, nothing--to help or encourage "private-sector
firms--even ones that handle dangerous materials--toward improving their
own security." Last year, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review discovered a
frightening series of security lapses at three separate chemical plants
in Houston and Chicago, which, if attacked, could endanger 1 million
people each. The New York Daily News found one plant in East Rutherford,
New Jersey, where an attack could threaten the lives of more than 7
million people (including, um, mine). And it employed virtually no
security at all. Spencer Abraham, Bush's Energy Secretary, worried in a
March 2002 letter to OMB director Mitch Daniels that firms "are storing
vast amounts of materials that remain highly volatile and subject to
unthinkable consequences if placed in the wrong hands." However, he
added, due to insufficient funding, "the Department now is unable to
meet the next round of critical security mission requirements....
Failure to support these urgent security requirements," he concluded,
"is a risk that would be unwise." Nevertheless, The New Republic's
Jonathan Chait reports, Bush agreed to propose a mere 7 percent of what
Abraham said would be needed just to get started.
Chait has more: Bush refused to compensate healthcare workers injured or
killed by the smallpox inoculation program. His budget is squeezing the
Coast Guard, in charge of port security. He is starving "first
responders"--the very heroes of 9/11 to whom he dishonestly promised so
much. And the Customs Service got not a single penny in new funding in
the Administration's budget. With everyone losing sleep over "loose
nukes" falling into terrorist hands, Bush even tried to cut overseas
nuclear security funding by 5 percent.
How does he get away with it? Quite easily, apparently. In the Orwellian
universe of the "liberal media," Bush can inspire new terrorist threats,
ignore the ones we already face and evade responsibility for both
because he is "tough" enough to spit in the face of world opinion.
In a sensible media universe, Chait's cover story, "The 9/10 President,"
would have set off a journalistic firestorm. But the only place I've
seen it picked up is in Paul Krugman's invaluable New York Times column.
Using the Homeland Security Department's original spending figures,
Krugman took Chait one step further on April 1, arguing that Bush's plan
to spend seven times as much per capita on protection for Wyoming as for
New York--where, need I point out, a few more obvious terrorist targets
are located--"was adopted precisely because it caters to that same
constituency" that enabled Bush's "election." Krugman puts the Rove/Bush
strategy thus: "Even in a time of war--a war that seems oddly unrelated
to the terrorist threat--the Bush administration isn't serious about
protecting the homeland. Instead, it continues to subordinate U.S.
security needs to its unchanged political agenda."
This is an eerie moment in American political history. George W. Bush
was defeated in the popular vote by his more liberal opponent but rules
from the most extreme wing of his party. He campaigned as a fiscal
conservative but has pushed tax cuts that will create a deficit larger
than any in US history. As a candidate, he articulated the need for a
"humble" foreign policy but now conducts it with a degree of hubris that
makes Lyndon Johnson look like the Dalai Lama. His hypocrisy, in other
words, is so great as to be almost unfathomable, and yet he has somehow
managed to convince the media to admire him for his "moral clarity."
Thanks to Bush & Co., America is hated the world over as never
before. Deficits are exploding, unemployment remains high, the stock
market is still in the tank and interest rates are poised to take off.
The country is headed to hell in a handbasket from so many directions
one can barely keep track. And yet the increasingly Foxified media tell
a story only of heroism: of the US military, of the American people and
of the President of the United States, who has so far managed to avoid
service to either one.
The Bush Administration and its cheerleaders in the media are claiming
that the "remarkable success" of the US war in Iraq proves its opponents
were "spectacularly wrong"--even, some charge, unpatriotic. Intimidated
by these allegations and the demonstration of overwhelming American
military power, many critics of the war are falling silent. Indeed, the
chairman of the Democratic National Committee, no doubt speaking for
several of the party's presidential candidates, has rushed to urge that
"the war...not be on the ballot in 2004."
But critics of the war have no reason to regret their views. No sensible
opponent doubted that the world's most powerful military could easily
crush such a lesser foe. The real issue was and remains very different:
Will the Iraq war increase America's national security, as the Bush
Administration has always promised and now insists is already the case,
or will it undermine and diminish our national security, as thoughtful
In the weeks, months and years ahead, we will learn the answer to that
fateful question by judging developments by seven essential criteria:
(1) Will the war discourage or encourage other regional "preemptive"
military strikes, particularly by nuclear-armed states such as, but not
only, Pakistan and India?
(2) Indeed, will the Iraq war stop the proliferation of states that
possess nuclear weapons or instead incite more governments to acquire
them as a deterrent against another US "regime change"?
(3) Will the war, and the long US occupation that seems likely to ensue,
reduce the recruitment of young Arabs by terrorist movements or will it
inspire many new recruits?
(4) With or without more recruits, will the war decrease or increase the
number of terrorist plots against the United States, whether at home or
(5) Will the war help safeguard the vast quantities of nuclear and other
materials of mass destruction that exist in the world today, and the
expertise needed to operationalize them, or make them more accessible to
(6) In that connection, will Russia--which has more ill-secured devices
of mass destruction than any other country and which strongly opposed
and still resents the US war--now be more, or less, inclined to
collaborate with Washington in safeguarding and reducing those weapons
(7) Finally, considering the rampant anti-Americanism it has provoked,
will the war result in more or fewer governments willing to cooperate
with--individually or in multinational organizations like the United
Nations--George W. Bush's stated top priority, the war against global
It is by these crucial (and measurable) criteria that the American
people, and any politician who wants to lead them, must judge the
Administration's war in Iraq and President Bush's own leadership. Those
of us who were against the war and continue to oppose the assumptions on
which it was based fear that future events will answer these questions
to the grave detriment of American and international security. As
patriots, we can only hope we are wrong.
He might have the toughest detail this war has to offer.
It was a drama too good to miss, made for TV, if not for Hollywood.
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