June 19, 2002

Tomorrow's Forecast: Terror

Two questions I often hear are: 1) Did you hit your head a lot as a child? 2) Was U.S. Intelligence warned of strikes by al-Qaida before Sept. 11?

The answer to both questions is "Repeatedly."

In an admirably out-of-character move, the media have forced the Bush administration to face evidence that it knew ahead of time about the Sept. 11 disasters. This was a golden opportunity for Bush's handlers to exploit the fact that he actually knew something. But no, he chose to play dumb this time. That crew must be crying into their pretzels over the irony.

On the other hand, maybe the spin docs know something as well. After all, Bush has a precedent in this game of gotcha: remember 1986-87, when Ronald Reagan constantly reassured us that he knew nothing about the Iran-Contra affair? Who could forget the outcry over that disgusting government abuse? "THIRD TERM!" Hence, the current strategy: paint the president as a well-intentioned oaf and overwhelming support will follow. Hey, Bush really IS the new Reagan! But I digress.

The Beatles once said that American fashions were five years behind British fashions; the same can be said about our press. BBC, the government-run (OH NO!!) British media conglomerate, has proven far more candid in assessing intelligence screwups than the American press, and a lot faster at that.

According to bartcop.com, the BBC reported at 1 p.m. on Sept. 11 that terrorists sent advance warning. Judging by the time period that story took to break here in any mainstream capacity, the BBC must have slipped the dispatch into a bottle and let it float across the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe they should have sent it via intern; with our national obsession for interns, it might have been noticed sooner.

The media, however, is not fully to blame. Information-sharing simply is not this regime's strong point. Bush received a page-and-a-half memo Aug. 6 outlining potential terrorist threats; evidently, he prefers these condensed briefings. Reader's Digest would be proud.

Or is it possible that someone down the line saw this upcoming strike as an excellent opportunity to forward an agenda rapidly fading in popularity? Consider the timing of the attack. This is not to imply that Osama bin Laden forged ahead on our watch--far from it; spoiled rich boys do as they please. That said, however, is it an exaggeration to imply that U.S. intelligence allowed the attacks to happen?

Let's examine the prevailing sentiment: everything was beautiful and glorious until Sept. 11, we are "reminded," when unexpected and dastardly incidents shattered our national innocence. Not the same innocence we lost after Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam and Oklahoma City, I assume.

But wait! On Nov. 26, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced the the economy officially took to the playground in March 2001--the first true recession since July 1990 to March 1991, the last time we had a President Bush playing war.

A clipping from USA Today on Sept. 10 also speaks volumes: "There's No End in Sight to Slump: Tax Rebates Failed to Fuel Spending; jobless rate rises." I certainly remember my heart dropping each time I walked past a newsstand in 2001 and saw another number with multiple zeros announcing a new series of layoffs. All year long, the best stock to have was in the company that manufactured pink slips.

So it seems our leaders' policies were as unpopular as New Coke by early September. But when the planes began to drop, Bush could then step up as the do-no-wrong hero of the World Wrangling Federation against the new Iron Sheik (Where's Sergeant Slaughter when you need him?). Was this tragedy allowed to happen for political purposes? Not necessarily, but possibly.

History will consider Sept. 11, at best, the ultimate example of government not at work. At worst, it could be construed as a political tool intended to prop up a struggling president. Hopefully, we will be able to rein in this war before we lose the chance to find out.

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