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If it weren't for the fact that the past week's headlines have been toying with the emotions of millions of people, and disrespecting the memory of thousands of victims, they'd be awfully funny.
First, we got the steady trickle -- well, maybe a stream and, on a good day, a torrent -- of revelations that seemingly every piece of the federal security apparatus (up to and apparently including President Clueless), was given or possessed at least some inkling that Al-Qaeda wanted to hijack airplanes and crash them into someplace with a lot of Americans in it. (Like, say, a building. In America.)
Then -- well, golly, WHAT A COINCIDENCE -- we've been flooded with a succession of dire warnings, carefully spread over each news cycle, that a new and incredibly horrifying terrorist attack is "certain," "imminent," "unavoidable," or whatever the White House Word of the Day might be, as faithfully relayed by the CJWT's. (Court Jesters with Teleprompters.)
(At least when Karen Hughes was running the White House propaganda show, it was occasionally subtle.)
Recently, these warnings hit a new low, with the intonation that Evil Terrorists want to rent apartment buildings and blow them up. Gee, that ought to do wonders for anyone who is or happens to look even vaguely Muslim or Arab and who needs to rent an apartment this month. Nice going, fellas.
(Luckily for their consciences, they seem to think Americans are truly color- blind these days, even when the federal government tells us our lives might depend on our willingness to engage in open violations of federal housing anti- discrimination laws.)
Come to think of it, such scenarios are also a dandy excuse for emergency measures to suspend what little is left of the Fourth Amendment's ban on uniformed thugs with guns busting into your home. Look for the executive order soon. Shall we start the stopwatch?
Sorting all this out is a lot easier for most Americans than it seems to be for Bush appointees (and that would include Dubya himself). Let's spell it out:
The federal government is a massive, largely dysfunctional bureaucracy that drives out most competent people. The ones that remain never talk with each other, and certainly never seemed to think, before Sept. 11, that America's stunningly brutal foreign policy might inspire its victims to strike back. In our country, just like we do in theirs.
The Bush Administration is pathologically devoted to secrecy and to imperial power -- its own, as well as America's -- and so it buried and lied about the existence of warnings and intuitions before 9/11 that something bad might happen.
Because Dubya's fear- and war-induced approval ratings have been high, both Democrats and major media have held back from anything that might be construed as even mildly suggestive of the remote prospect of a possibility of criticism of Bush's performance, even as the War On Terror(ism) embraced terror, trashed the Constitution, and made Americans, in the long term, much less safe.
Once a crack in the armor appeared, media reports of "new" pre-9/11 warnings suddenly became news where news was not dared to be reported before. And because of the pathological secrecy and Republican obsessions with this fall's elections, any number of additional revelations are possible, if not likely.
Meanwhile, because of the Democrats' obsessions with this fall's elections, suddenly the "What Did He Know and When Did He Know It" game kicked in, with Dems opportunistically piling on and trying to make a scandal out of the sorts of reports and briefings that are generated and ignored (or, worse, acted upon) by the thousands in Washington each and every day.
And because that sort of scandal triggers Republicans' obsessions with this fall's elections -- not to mention the public suspicion that President George W. Bush was stupid before Sept. 11 and did not get any smarter just because bin Laden was smart -- practically every day now we are assaulted with new and dire warnings of attack. Something, anything to get that scandal off the front page and the evening news.
It's working, of course. And give Dubya credit -- at least he didn't initiate a major new bombing campaign in response to the threat of scandal. (He would have, but the people around him despise Clinton so much that they don't want to use any of Willie's tricks until absolutely necessary. Which would be, say, if the polls are down five points in New Mexico.)
But, as they used to say in The Real War [sic], it's a helluva way to run an army. And more to the point, all of these pointing and wagging fingers are missing the most obvious and critical issue of all. For 36 solid weeks now, nobody, repeat, nobody in either party in Washington has been demanding to know why it is that taxpayers are forking over probably a trillion dollars a year for our full military complex, and it didn't prevent a few guys armed with boxcutters and rage from inflicting the worst foreign-induced damage on the U.S. mainland in nearly two centuries.
Sept. 11 didn't happen because someone didn't read a report. None of the "warnings" reported in the last week, and almost certainly none of the additional ones we're likely to find out about, would have changed our "defense" structure enough to fashion a response that would have prevented 9/11. Would a CIA warning have gotten the White House to order every Muslim foreigner detained and every airport locked down for the indefinite future? Fat bleeping chance. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it except the chattering castrati now dominating our airwaves.
The steps taken since then won't prevent the next one, either. The only things we know for sure about the next major attack are that thousands more people every day aspire to carrying one out, and that it won't involve either jet planes or boxcutters. That's why these dire warnings can safely (and accurately) be trotted out whenever a day's uncomfortable news stories warrant some White House damage control.
Instead of asking why the deadliest military and most invasive intelligence apparati in the history of the world failed so catastrophically to protect us, both the Democrats and the Republicans have spent the last eight months shovelling even more money into the same failed structure -- the same programs, the same paradigms, the same mindset. No Super-Duper-gazillion-dollar- Space-Based Gizmo will knock a boxcutter (or whatever) out of a terrorist's hand. No moonscaping of some far-away country's villages by our daisy cutters will lessen the pathological hatred millions feel for America. No arming and training of a new generation of dictators' secret police forces will disarm the world. No scoffing at the notion of international arms control treaties will discourage production of weapons of mass destruction.
By those and all other relevant measures, we're at much greater risk now than we were last September. And many of us are now at much greater risk from our own government, too, starting with -- but not limited to -- non-citizens.
If the actual mission of our military and political establishment were to protect us -- as opposed to the mission of enriching each other by reducing the world to gated communities and rubble -- Sept. 11 would have been much less likely to happen, and ditto for the next attack, and the ones after that. Asking those questions -- how our government brought us and the world to this sorry point, and how we can make it better -- should be the preoccupation of every waking moment of every political leader in both parties.
It's not. Ever. And that's the real scandal.
Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based columnist and reporter for Seattle Weekly, In These Times and Eat the State! He writes the daily Straight Shot for WorkingForChange.