Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
What bothers me is not the seven minutes President Bush stalled on Sept. 11, 2001, reading My Pet Goat to grade schoolers. It’s the three years that came after the seven minutes:
Three years of stonewalling every attempt to identify mistakes.
Three years of exploiting grief and fear for political gain.
Three years of terror prevention on the cheap.
Throughout the Republican National Convention, we heard endlessly about Bush’s brief shining moment. Yes, he visited Ground Zero on Sept. 14 (as if no other president would have been so bold). Yes, he hugged a firefighter. Yes, through a bullhorn, he promised, “The people who knocked down these buildings will hear from all of us soon.”
But what have the terrorists heard from us, really? What message has been sent by our actions and inactions?
Message One: We aren’t prepared to learn from our mistakes. In fact, we don’t even want to know what they are. The Bush White House had to be shamed by victims’ families to allow the 9/11 Commission to proceed. Then it had to be shamed into cooperating with it. Our president, when pressed, could not think of even one mistake he has made. Yet nearly everyone who points out some of those mistakes has been personally smeared, up to and including intimations of treason. Vice President Cheney even suggested last week that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for another terrorist attack.
Message Two: Fighting terror isn’t as important as bringing government bacon home to the district. Homeland security has become the latest pork-barrel trough, with priorities set by politics, not need: The state of Wyoming (Cheney again) is so flush with cash, it just purchased a $150,000 bomb-handling robot, while New York City continues to receive a small fraction of the money it needs.
Message Three: We aren’t willing to sacrifice much – except some constitutional rights – to be safer.
Name any part of terror prevention, we’re underfunding it. We aren’t spending the money to secure our ports, screen the cargo that comes through them, beef up resources for “first responders,” regulate chemical plants or make public transportation safer. We haven’t sufficiently increased efforts to prevent nuclear weapons from places like Russia, Pakistan and North Korea from falling into the hands of al-Qaeda.
Not only that, an internal White House memo leaked this spring showed plans for massive cuts in security spending – after the election. We’ve already blown the money we need on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Message Four: For political reasons, we’ve switched focus away from the people who attacked us three years ago. President Bush didn’t even mention Osama bin Laden during his acceptance speech. Instead, the administration continues spouting the fiction that Saddam Hussein had a part in the Sept. 11 attacks, and that the losses of time, treasure and humanity in the Iraq misadventure are a central part of a war on the people who hurt us.
No doubt the misleading rhetoric is effective here at home, but al-Qaeda knows the truth: Some terror-fighting decisions are based not on what’s best for our security but on what looks best on Fox News. If that’s not giving aid, it surely is giving comfort to the enemy.
America needs a different set of messages: We need to make it clear by our actions that we’ll learn from mistakes, that we’re up for the sacrifice, that we know who our most dangerous enemies are – and that we won’t dilute our efforts to crush them.
John Kerry is the only person who credibly can deliver that message. Al-Qaeda needs to hear – again – from all of us soon.
Carol Towarnicky has been the chief editorial writer at the Philadelphia Daily News since 1992. Contact her at email@example.com.