Seven years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US government is finally getting around to installing radiation scanning devices at major airports. The 9/11 Commission cited this as a major vulnerability four years ago, when their report was released, but we’re just now getting ready to test the equipment at Dulles airport. By the end of the year, four additional airports will be graced with Radiation Portal Monitors,[.pdf file] and, according to news reports, the Department of Homeland Security has plans to "eventually" install them at 30 major US airports.
As the op editor of the New York Post said about the US government investigation of the anthrax attacks: This is good enough for government work. But is it good enough to keep us from being blown sky-high by a couple of suitcase nukes?
I read an editorial today in my local newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner which, you’ll be surprised to learn, is a right-wing rag of the neoconnish sort in which the editors averred:
"If the war and reconstruction of Iraq were really a dangerous diversion from the war on terrorism, as so many liberal politicians and commentators say, then why have Americans been so safe in our homeland. Why haven’t any dirty nukes exploded?"
Famous last words. The smugness of this contention begs to be punctured, as it will be if our government continues to pursue a course of criminal neglect of our borders and reckless aggression abroad. Al-Qaeda operatives have a long range time horizon: last time, it took them a period of several years starting in 1995 to carefully plan, organize, and implement their devilish scheme. That nothing’s exploded yet is not something I would gloat about.
But, then again, neocons love to gloat and preen, in person and in print: brazen hubris underpins their personalities as well as their ideology. The horror of it is that they’ll still be gloating when the Big One goes off if there are any survivors.
The naivete of our war-hawks, who believe that the "central" arena of the war on terrorism is in Iraq, is almost touching in the way that the last flight of the Dodo bird, or the grave of the last Neanderthal, is touching.
What’s interesting is that the smug assurance of the San Francisco Examiner editorial board is endemic among neocon types: they are, ironically, complacent about the threat of terrorism emanating from the Islamic world. After all, haven’t we "won" in Iraq? Aren’t we invincible? Hasn’t our policy of regime-change in the Middle East brought the battle home to the enemy, and snared them in their lairs?
It would be pathetic, and tragic, if we "won" in Iraq, and lost, say, New York, Washington, or some other major city: our great "victory" will turn out to have been purely Pyrrhic. To the War Party, however, it’s worth the risk, and, make no mistake about it, the risk factor is high. Seven years after the worst terrorist attack in our history, and we still haven’t sealed our borders, and set up the security wall our safety requires. To paraphrase an old saw, what gaineth a man if he wins the whole world, and loses his own country?
The whole point of government, or so we’re told, is to protect us from foreign aggressors, and yet the attitude of our protectors, in this vital matter, has bordered on indifference. They’re just now getting around to scanning air cargo, but what about the cargo that comes in by ship, pouring into our ports unexamined and from all points on the globe?
The invasion and occupation of Iraq will wind up costing us three trillion dollars, according to Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, whose notable book makes clear that theirs is a conservative estimate. Imagine if we had taken that money and used it to actually defend the United States of America, instead of traipsing off to "liberate" the downtrodden peoples of Mesopotamia. We would already have a system in place to monitor all air and sea cargo coming into this country, and we’d have a reasonable chance to avoid another 9/11-style terrorist spectacular. As it is, the chances of another attack grow by the day.
The very fact that inspires smugness in the editors of the San Francisco Examiner fills me with a growing dread. No, we haven’t had a terrorist attack on our soil in seven very long years and that’s what scares me.
Because you can be sure that al-Qaeda that amorphous yet all the more deadly network of terrorist cells inspired by Osama bin Laden and his associates has been planning and seeking to carry out such an attack: they state this all the time. According to their strategists and theoreticians, their chief antagonist is the "far enemy" (i.e. the US), rather than the established governments in the region, which they see as American sock puppets, including even Iran: their laser-like focus on the US as their chief target defines their strategic outlook.
Al Jazeera released a video of bin Laden in November of 2004 in which he boasted of the success of his strategy of "bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy." In a bit of economic analysis that must, today, be seen as prescient, he jeered that every dollar spent by al-Qaeda in its terrorist campaign has cost the Americans a million. As Lehman Brothers follows Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Bear Stearns into the abyss, one can almost hear bin Laden’s evil laughter echoing from the depths of his cave.
On this strangely subdued anniversary, with none of the dramatics that have accompanied earlier commemorations of 9/11, we are no closer to defeating or even finding bin Laden than we were on that fateful day. As to why this is so,Michael Scheuer put it well in the opening paragraph of his book, Imperial Hubris:
“As I complete this book, U.S., British, and other coalition forces are trying to govern apparently ungovernable postwar states in Afghanistan and Iraq, while simultaneously fighting growing Islamist insurgencies in each a state of affairs our leaders call victory. In conducting these activities, and the conventional military campaigns preceding them, U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.”
The San Francisco Examiner and its ideological brethren complain about the "liberals" who claim the war in Iraq was a diversion, but it was far worse than that. The neocon agenda hasn’t merely diverted us away from the task of fighting bin Laden and what he represents our Bizarro World foreign policy has actively aided his cause, providing al-Qaeda not only with plenty of recruits, but also with a training ground to turn them into hardened fighters.
No one denies we are at war with bin Laden and that the worldwide Islamic insurgency he inspires represents a deadly threat no one, that is, but the War Party. Oh, they talk big, and they are full of even bigger plans to supposedly bring the fight to the enemy but, somehow, the enemy is never really al-Qaeda. It’s always someone who is, somehow, connected to al-Qaeda: Saddam Hussein, for one, or so they told us, and now the Iranians, who are said to be "harboring" top al-Qaeda leaders, including one of bin Laden’s sons. At this rate, we’ll soon be confronted with irrefutable "evidence" that bin Laden is hiding behind the walls of the Kremlin as good an excuse as any to underscore Putin’s perfidy.
Seven years after 9/11, that signal event continues to haunt us, and distort the national discourse. As only the heroic Keith Olbermann pointed out, with appropriate outrage, the Republicans used footage of the horror which news organizations have effectively embargoed out of respect for the dead and the still grieving to exploit on the occasion of their convention. As the audience was treated to the sight of those two planes plowing into the twin towers, the demagogic war-crazed rhetoric of Rudy Giuliani this election season’s biggest loser rang out over the hall.
Without bin Laden, the War Party would have nothing: we’d still be in the post-cold war era, when many conservatives were saying, along with Patrick J. Buchanan, "America, come home," and it was the liberals who were rediscovering the joys of interventionism, in the Balkans and elsewhere. Without the War Party, bin Laden would be a marginal figure, with no following and little hope of attracting any. The two forces coexist in a dynamic symbiosis, each reinforcing and feeding the other allies in all but the formal sense.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I‘ll be appearing and disappearing in this space, all week, due to my move. Again, my apologies: I’m not happy about it, but it seems unavoidable. I’ll be back, however, on a regular basis, by the middle of next week. Until then, keep a watch on this space, because I’m bound to make a few appearances in between.