If Only Kerry Were From the Bronx

How I wish that John Kerry had grown up in my old neighborhood in the Bronx. It drives me crazy that he doesn't have the street smarts to call those GOP bums out.

He's got to be outraged. Not only have his combat-shy opponents stood idly by as their surrogates trashed his Vietnam War record, Vice President Dick Cheney, stooping to a despicable low, said a vote for Kerry was tantamount to a vote for Osama bin Laden and terrorism.

Yes, Kerry is rightly pointing out in his stump speech that the war in Iraq is a deadly distraction from the very real fight to prevent Al Qaeda and like-minded groups from committing more atrocities. But it seems the veteran senator is too much of a gentleman to point out the elephant in the room, the obvious flaw in the Republican Party's claim that it is the only party that knows how to keep us safe: After all, it was Cheney and George W. Bush who were on watch when 19 poorly trained hijackers were easily able to breach the nation's security apparatus and commit mass murder despite frantic, prescient warnings from the CIA. Yet, not only has this administration not held anybody accountable for this mind-boggling dereliction of duty, it shamelessly milks the tragedy for political gain.

"It is absolutely essential that on Nov. 2, we make the right choice," Cheney said this past week. "Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States."

Kerry should just say, "What a load, you're the guys who blew it before 9/11!" Kerry needs to point out that it is Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and our nominal president who have screwed up Afghanistan, Iraq, the economy and the war on terror. That they are the ones who gave us Abu Ghraib but not Bin Laden; 1,000 American dead but no peace in Iraq; fiery speeches at the Republican convention in New York but no on-the-record testimony to the 9/11 commission.

And yet we should trust them to make us safer? Granted, it was great PR when Rudy Giuliani told us at the GOP convention that cheerleader Bush used his bullhorn skills with the cleanup crew at ground zero. But wasn't it more important that we be reminded that Bush continued his 30-day vacation in August 2001 after receiving an intelligence report titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S."? As the bipartisan 9/11 commission report makes painfully obvious, Bush & Co. made zero preparations to thwart the predicted attacks that intelligence agencies repeatedly said could be imminent. Then, when the attack did come, confusion reigned supreme—and not just in the initial minutes, but for hours, days and years.

First, on Sept. 11, 2001, when Cheney hid in a bunker, a dazed Bush was not kept in the loop, key agencies did not coordinate, antimissile defenses were not activated, crucial decisions were left unmade and the public was left in the dark, wondering where the president was.

Kerry needs to remind voters that, within hours, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and other neoconservatives embedded in the Bush administration began a whining chorus of demands that this tragedy be exploited as an excuse to whack Iraq.

Once the flimsy rationale for invading Iraq was articulated by a pliant president, world support for the United States vaporized at a time when a unified stand against Al Qaeda was imperative to successfully destroy a global network of money, arms and murderers that can be stopped only with diplomacy and detective work, not just by tanks or bombers.

Now the Bush administration's shortsighted policies have been shown to be worse than impotent, exposing the U.S. to more and better-financed hatred in the Muslim world and beyond. Afghanistan temporarily is free of Taliban rule, but Washington's unwillingness to engage in "nation-building" there means the shell state is run by the same patchwork of warlords and opium gangsters that initially fostered the Taliban's rise. Iraq, meanwhile, is fast becoming another center of Islamic fanaticism, its moderates now painted as helpless stooges of an occupying U.S. military.

Cheney said that if a Democrat was elected to the White House, we would run the risk of lapsing into "a pre-9/11 mind-set." He's exactly wrong. It was his administration's "what, me worry" pre-9/11 mind-set that got us into this horrible mess.

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