Sunday, October 02, 2005

Meanwhile, Back On The Homefront

It is well known that Al Qaeda would like to strike the United States in such a way that 9/11 pales by comparison. Thus, in the four years since the collapse of the Twin Towers the federal government has been feverishly working prevent such a scenario, right? Actually, they have been feverishly working to complete the Homeland Security web site: Ready.Gov (!!). Don't worry; "Ready Kids" is coming soon.

What the federal government has been able to accomplish is even less impressive than the DHS web site. Admittedly, the American-led rout of the Taliban in Afghanistan greatly enhanced our security. Of course, it didn't take Bush long to undo this accomplishment with his ill-conceived, falsely justified invasion of Iraq. Yet Bush-war supporters persist in arguing that we must "fight them over there, so we don't have to fight them over here."

It would be nice if that were true. Yet it is inevitable that Al Qaeda or a copycat Qaeda will attempt a major attack on US soil. Then the only question will be how well prepared are we at home? Unfortunately, homeland defense is still suffering from the domestic equivalent of Iraq's unarmored vehicles and lack of bullet proof vests.

We cannot afford to have another election in America without homeland preparedness being THE issue. Hurricane Katrina blew away the fiction that this administration had a highly competent team ready to respond to obvious threats. Hurricanes will strike again, and so will Al Qaeda. Yet we are nowhere near as prepared as we should be. To get an idea of how much of this is the fault of the Bush Administration, read Richard Clarke's essay in the November Atlantic Monthly. (Web access requires a subscription.) If you are not a subscriber, go out and buy it today. Then tell your friends.

In his first two paragraphs, Clarke sets up a hopeful scenario for hurricane response and then lowers the boom on the self-preservation that takes precedence over national preparedness:
"Imagine if, in advance of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of trucks had been waiting with water and ice and medicine and other supplies. Imagine if 4,000 National Guardsmen and an equal number of emergency aid workers from around the country had been moved into place, and five million meals had been ready to serve. Imagine if scores of mobile satellite-communications stations had been prepared to move in instantly, ensuring that rescuers could talk to one another. Imagine if all this had been managed by a federal-and-state task force that not only directed the government response but also helped coordinate the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and other outside groups.

Actually, this requires no imagination: it is exactly what the Bush administration did a year ago when Florida braced for Hurricane Frances. Of course the circumstances then were very special: it was two months before the presidential election, and Florida's twenty-seven electoral votes were hanging in the balance. It is hardly surprising that Washington ensured the success of "the largest response to a natural disaster we've ever had in this country." The president himself passed out water bottles to Floridians driven from their homes."

Clarke goes on to list many of the deficiencies in current adminstration policy as they relate to preparing for a terrorist attack. It is not a comforting review.

So is anyone listening to Richard Clarke? While many in Congress decry the lack of serious attention on the security of our mass transit systems or our ports, the administration has conspired with the Republican leadership to prevent any change to the status quo ante-Qaeda. Congress was actually cutting transit-related security funding until the London bombings forced them to reconsider. Even then, Michael Chertoff, Bush's top man at Homeland Security, disagreed:
"I think our transit systems are safe," he said in a briefing after the bombings. As for increasing mass-transit funding, he cautioned Congress, "I wouldn't make a policy decision driven by a single event."

Yet George Bush was reelected on the basis of a single event: 9/11. Has Katrina finally shocked and awed the media out of its stupor? Will it investigate administration obfuscations and reveal the truth? For the truth is, this president has not been serious about protecting the homeland from easily foreseeable disasters.

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