Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Calling

The numbers from Scotland Yard keep rising: 33; 40; more than 50 dead. At least 700 were wounded in the subway bombing on the seventh of July. They won't have the final count until they can exhume the bodies of some still trapped in tubes deep below ground.

President Bush responded, saying that the attack illustrates the difference between the G8 nations, coming together to eliminate poverty and AIDS, and the terrorists, murderers of innocent people. I was sort of dumbstruck. No "Bring it on!" No, "We'll bring them to justice dead or alive." No posturing. Putting aside the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, prior support for Saddam, US covert action in Central America, etc... what the President said was dead on. Compassion, a commitment to social justice and to creating a better life for all people are the hallmarks of a civilization. It's what separates us from the bombers.

John Nichols savvily observes in the Nation that a Democrat (or, I might add, a moderate Republican) would have been assailed by the right wing media had he said precisely the same things the President said.

As we saw over the weekend, though, there was never any danger of that. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid released a predictably weak-kneed statement on the day of the attacks. As David Sedaris might say, you only need to catch the headlines of Reid's broadcast. "...heartfelt condolences, hmmm... depraved acts of terrorism, hmmm... complete solidarity, hmmm..."

As usual, the Democrats (and some moderate Republicans) are running scared. They're scared of being called wimps. They're scared of being called partisans. And because they're scared, they're handing the moral and political high ground over to the right wing in the name of being "uniters, not dividers." And in 2006 and 2008, the right wing will run campaign ads telling the electorate what cowards and weaklings Democrats and moderates are. And voters will believe them. Because in bending over backwards to sound tough and supportive, Democrats demonstrate they have no moral center of their own. Worse, they fail to articulate any real alternative.

As Norman Mailer quipped during the DNC in 2004, "You can always count on the Democrats to do something anemic." Right wingers are counting on it in 2006.

For any politician - left or right - who could muster up a little gumption, though, a withering critique of the administration policy at this moment in the war on terror could actually transcend partisan politics and create the opportunity for real change. Four long, expensive, bloody years after September 11, someone needs to ask where the hell Osama Bin Laden is, and why he's neither dead nor in custody. Where is Mullah Omar? Why are these guys still sending us their home movies every 6-12 months?

The attacks that occurred in London could take place in any city, on any subway system in this country. Now is the time for our legislators to ask how we could possibly have spent over $1.6 trillion on defense from 2001-2004 and nearly $200 billion more to invade a country with no links to Al Qaeda, while our elected officials slash spending for security at subways and train stations that are vulnerable to the type of atrocities we witnessed in Madrid and London. What we've done at the airports is nice, but did we think Al Qaeda wasn't going to notice that 29 million people take the train to work every day?

How is it, someone should ask, that after nearly 15,000 American casualties and at least 22,000 civilian deaths thousands of miles away in Iraq, the citizens of our closest ally can still be murdered on their way to work? If the overthrow of the government in Iraq has created an incubator for terrorists who commit acts like the ones we've witnessed today, is the world really better off?

It's time for someone in our government to move beyond condolences and expressions of solidarity. Moreover, it's not a partisan issue. It's about keeping the people safe and keeping your eye on the ball (It's the terrorists stupid!). After 9/11, 3/11 and 7/7, after daily images of death and destruction in Baghdad, Kabul, Falluja and Karabala, someone in Congress must ask why we are still so vulnerable after so much blood and treasure have been expended in the name of keeping us safe.


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