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 falls.
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 an estimated
$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.