Sunday, September 11, 2005

Politicizing 9/11
It's a beautiful day here in Brookyn. The NFL season is well underway; Annie's best friend gave birth yesterday in Dublin, with mother and child both well; we've gotten tons of things done today; the Phillies are whomping the Marlins down in South Philadelphia.

Four years ago, on another beautiful day, the course of American history changed. The government somehow managed to turn unprecedented tragedy and signal failure into a political triumph; it then took the fruits of that triumph to plunge our country into perpetual deficit, interminable war and, as these facts became apparent to some, bitter polarization.

Having won the election last November, George W. Bush and his band of supporters and enablers saw all their policies and practices justified. The privileging of loyalty over competence, ideology over results, and self-advancement over public service all went effectively unpunished by the electorate. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina is only the most glaring, and viscerally painful, evidence of the costs of this approach to governance. There will be others.

But even if you take it as given that the administration couldn't, and shouldn't, have better defended the country on 9/11--a view that's tough to sustain given what Richard Clarke and so many others have told us--let's consider the poison and ineptitude of the response to that attack.

We never got the perpetrator. In fact, he sneers at us from the covers of magazines.

For a group of people so supposedly bound up with honor and martial pride, so praiseful of war and violence, doesn't it seem odd that more right-wingers aren't rabid with fury over the fact that Osama bin Laden remains at learge? That the substitute in terms of militaristic self-gratification has gone so badly awry is almost like injury added to insult. Michael Tomasky issues a reminder in the American Prospect:

[E]ven the disaster Bush has created in Iraq takes a back seat to one overwhelming fact: By the time night falls on September 11, Osama bin Laden will have been at large for 1,461 days.

America vanquished world fascism in less time: We obtained Germany’s surrender in 1,243 days, Japan’s in 1,365. Even the third Punic War, in which Carthage was burned to the ground and emptied of citizens who were taken en masse into Roman slavery, lasted around 1,100 days (and troops needed a little longer to get into position back in 149 B.C.).
Just imagine bin Laden having been at large this long in President Al Gore’s administration. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine, because President Gore, under such circumstances, wouldn’t have lasted this long. You probably didn’t know, until you read this column, the number of days bin Laden has been at large. But I assure you that if Gore had been president, you and every American would have known, because the right would have seen to it that you knew, asking every day, “Where’s Osama?” If Gore hadn’t been impeached, it’s doubtful he’d have survived a re-election campaign, with Americans aghast at how weak and immoral a president had to be to permit those 2,700 deaths to go unavenged this long.

It was briefly a matter of debate in last year's presidential campaign whether or not the Bush administration "let bin Laden get away" in December 2001. General Tommy Franks said no; others, including the Pentagon's own investigators, say yes.

"We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora," Franks wrote in an Oct. 19, 2004, Op-Ed article in The New York Times. Intelligence assessments on the Qaeda leader's location varied, Franks continued, and bin Laden was "never within our grasp." It was not until this spring that the Pentagon, after a Freedom of Information Act request, released a document to The Associated Press that says Pentagon investigators believed that bin Laden was at Tora Bora and that he escaped.

The administration's defenders and apologists have lately become very sensitive about "playing politics" in a time of national tragedy; getting absolutely nailed for transparent ineptitude perhaps has something to do with this change of heart. These were the same people who sold (and bought) photos of Bush on the plane, in his moment of pants-crapping cowardice, the Republican National Committee offered as gifts for generous donors.

As Tomasky implies, had history gone differently and a Democrat sat in the White House on September 11, 2001, it still would have been the Republican Party exploiting 9/11. They just would have been much more justified in doing so.

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