April 17, 2003
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.
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.
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