Five years after the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Bush administration has failed miserably in its mission to protect Americans at home and abroad.
From New Orleans to Baghdad to Kabul there is ample evidence that the Bush administration is ill-equipped to defend against threats both foreign and domestic and disasters both natural and man-made.
In the shock waves of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Democratic and Republican officials pledged to work in a bipartisan manner to fight terrorism and bring the attackers to justice. Then the Bush White House saw political opportunity in the rubble of the attacks.
Up to that point the Bush administration had ignored warnings to look out for al Qaeda. In the wake of the attacks they did produce an omnibus bill to restrict civil liberties and clear the way for federal authorities to investigate "potential terrorists." With a few notable exceptions, Democrats joined the GOP in passing the ill-considered USA PATRIOT Act.
But bipartisanship was short-lived. Bush, with public approval at 90%, saw an opportunity to make political hay out of the national security "crisis." Within a few months, even those Dems who had supported the president in the wake of 9/11 were attacked as being "soft on terrorism" because they opposed such national security priorities as tax cuts for the rich.
Although al Qaeda clearly was based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Vice President Cheney told national security staffers to find links to Saddam Hussein to justify an invasion of Iraq. The link was unlikely, since Iraq's Ba'athist government, while brutal, was secular and a sworn enemy of the fundamentalist Islamic al Qaeda. But the oil industry, which of course has close ties with Bush and Cheney, wanted to restore its control over Iraqi oilfields.
The US put together an international coalition to topple the Taliban government in Afghanistan, but Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, were allowed to flee to neighboring Pakistan. The situation in Afghanistan was not yet stabilized when the Bush administration began withdrawing resources to prepare for an invasion of Iraq.
Remember that the US enjoyed broad international sympathy in the wake of 9/11. The French daily Le Monde proclaimed "We are all Americans" the day after the attack. But NATO allies who joined in the occupation of Afghanistan balked at the Iraq project. In "Old Europe," as Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld tagged it, millions of people renounced their post-9/11 US citizenship and took to the streets in early 2003 to protest US threats to invade Iraq.
Bush ignored the advice not only of France, Germany and Russa, but also of Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who warned that invasion of Iraq would create "one hundred bin Ladens."
Since then, Iraq has provided a laboratory for Islamic jihadists in loose affiliation with al Qaeda to experiment with tactics against military occupation forces.
Bush and his advisers apparently did not realize that Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq are political as well as religious enemies, not unlike the Catholic-Protestant divide in Northern Ireland. In Iraq, Sunnis are suspicious of the ruling Shi'ite coalition, which has rebuilt the army and police forces with Shi'ite militias who apparently are now retaliating for years of depradations by the predominantly Sunni Ba'athist regime. But one of the few things Iraqis agree upon is that they want the US out of Iraq.
It is well to remember one of the conclusions of the Sept. 12, 2001, Le Monde editorial: "Beyond their obvious murderous madness, these latest attacks nonetheless follow a certain logic.
"Obviously it is a barbarous logic, marked by a new nihilism that is repugnant to the great majority of those who believe in Islam, which, as a religion, does not condone suicide any more than Christianity does, and certainly not suicide coupled with the massacre of innocent people. But it is a political logic, which, by going to extremes, seeks to force Muslim opinion to 'choose sides' against those who are currently designated as 'the Great Satan.' By doing this, their objective might well be to spread and deepen an unprecedented crisis in the Arab world."
Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush seem to share the barbarous logic that "You're either for us or against us." John Kerry was ridiculed in his 2004 presidential campaign for suggesting that terrorism was more properly addressed by law enforcement agencies than by armies. The recent success of British authorities, working with Pakistani law enforcement agencies, in stopping a plot to bomb US airliners shows that 1) the war in Iraq has not reduced terrorism but 2) cooperation with Western-oriented Islamic regimes can fight terrorists.
The Republican credo is that a rising tide lifts all boats. But in New Orleans, a rising tide a year ago drowned the poor, the infirm and the helpless while federal officials stood by. While the slack-jawed president dodged war protesters in Texas and strummed a guitar in California, Gulf Coast residents were left to fend for themselves when the backwash from Katrina breached the levees of New Orleans.
Feds say they have allocated $110 billion for Gulf Coast recovery, but most of it so far has gone to contractors for emergency services. CorpWatch found that only 16.6% went to companies from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
The money has not gone to the homeowners who were devastated by the storms, although $16 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds will be distributed to rebuild housing stock on the Gulf Coast. Louisiana will get $10.4 billion, which will compensate homeowners for uninsured losses up to $150,000. That covers less than half the losses in Louisiana.
The Brookings Institution recently reported that rent prices have sharply increased over the past year, while unemployment, at 7.2%, is higher than pre-Katrina levels. Crime is up in some districts and 60% of houses and businesses are still not receiving electricity. New Orleans's current population is only around half its pre-Katrina level of 463,000.
While rents are up, US Housing and Urban Development has denied the return of more than 15,000 residents to New Orleans public housing projects. The feds propose to "redevelop" the housing projects.
Ultimately, the federal government will have to start taking global warming seriously to save coastal cities such as New Orleans -- or Houston, or South Florida. Katrina may be remembered as causing the first wave of climate refugees, Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute wrote recently, noting that one million people from New Orleans and the small towns on the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast were forced to move inland and many have not returned. Earth Policy Institute estimates that at least 250,000 coastal residents have established new homes elsewhere and will not return. He considers them climate refugees.
Republicans must pay at the polls for the incompetence and corruption of the past five years. Democrats must demand a return to the rule of law that checks Bush's grab for war powers. They also must not only rebuild New Orleans but demand a responsible plan to deal with global warming. -- JMC
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