Thursday a House subcommittee met to finalize
next year's homeland security appropriation.
The ranking Democrat announced that he would
introduce an amendment adding roughly $1 billion
for areas like port security and border security
that, according to just about every expert,
have been severely neglected since Sept. 11.
He proposed to pay for the additions by slightly
scaling back tax cuts for people making more
than $1 million per year.
subcommittee's chairman promptly closed the
meeting to the public, citing national security
- though no classified material was under
discussion. And the bill that emerged from
the closed meeting did not contain the extra
It was a perfect symbol of the reality of
the Bush administration's "war on terror."
Behind the rhetoric - and behind the veil
of secrecy, invoked in the name of national
security but actually used to prevent public
scrutiny - lies a pattern of neglect, of refusal
to take crucial actions to protect us from
terrorists. Actual counterterrorism, it seems,
doesn't fit the administration's agenda.
The Washington Post printed an interview with
Rand Beers, a top White House counterterrorism
adviser who resigned in March. "They're making
us less secure, not more secure," he said
of the Bush administration. "As an insider,
I saw the things that weren't being done."
Among the problem areas he cited were homeland
security, where he says the administration
has "only a rhetorical policy"; failure to
press Saudi Arabia (the home of most of the
Sept. 11 terrorists) to take action; and,
of course, the way we allowed Afghanistan
to relapse into chaos.
Some of this pattern of neglect involves penny-pinching.
Back in February, even George W. Bush in effect
admitted that not enough money had been allocated
to domestic security - though (to the fury
of Republican legislators) he blamed Congress.
Yet according to Fred Kaplan in Slate, the
administration's latest budget proposal for
homeland security actually contains less money
than was spent last year. Meanwhile, urgent
priorities remain unmet. For example, port
security, identified as a top concern from
the very beginning, has so far received only
one-tenth as much money as the Coast Guard
says is needed.
But it's not just a matter of money. For one
thing, it's hard to claim now that the Bush
administration is trying to hold down domestic
spending to make room for tax cuts. With the
budget deficit projected at more than $400
billion this year, a few billion more for
homeland security wouldn't make much difference
to the tax-cutting agenda. Moreover, Congress
isn't pinching pennies across the board: last
week the Senate voted to provide $15 billion
in loan guarantees for the construction of
nuclear power plants.
Furthermore, even on the military front the
administration has been weirdly reluctant
to come to grips with terrorism. It refused
to provide Afghanistan's new government with
an adequate security umbrella, with the predictable
result that warlords are running rampant and
the Taliban are making a comeback. The squandered
victory in Afghanistan was one reason people
like myself had a bad feeling about the invasion
of Iraq - and sure enough, the administration
was bizarrely lackadaisical about providing
postwar security. Even nuclear waste dumps
were left unguarded for weeks.
So what's the explanation? The answer, one
suspects, is that key figures - above all,
Donald Rumsfeld - just didn't feel like dealing
with the real problem. Real counterterrorism
mainly involves police work and precautionary
measures; it doesn't look impressive on TV,
and it doesn't provide many occasions for
A conventional war, on the other hand, is
a lot more fun: you get stirring pictures
of tanks rolling across the desert, and you
get to do a victory landing on an aircraft
carrier. And more and more it seems that that
was what the war was all about. After all,
the supposed reasons for fighting that war
have turned out to be false - there were no
links to Al Qaeda, there wasn't a big arsenal
But never mind - we won, didn't we? Maybe
not. About half of the U.S. Army's combat
strength is now tied down in Iraq, facing
what looks increasingly like a guerrilla war
- and like a perfect recruiting device for
Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the real war on terror
has been neglected, and we've antagonized
the allies we need to fight that war. One
of these days we'll end up paying the price.
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