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Itís the Terror, Stupid

By Russ Smith | Posted 8/16/2006

Itís no wonder that so many Americans are repulsed by elected officials, both Republicans and Democrats. In the aftermath of the chilling news on Aug. 10 that a reported terrorist threat was foiled by British and U.S. authorities, there was an unseemly rush to the media microphones to assert electoral advantage by the likes of Dick Cheney and John Kerry.

Last week Iíd planned to see Oliver Stoneís World Trade Center on Friday, heartened by reviews that confirmed the controversial director hadnít included wild conspiracy theories in the film, opting instead for a personal story about two Port Authority officers trapped in the wreckage. One of my cousins, a veteran firefighter in New York, had spent more than three months at ground zero after Sept. 11, and attended well over 100 funerals of fallen colleagues, and he called to say that it was a worthwhile, if limited, film.

Yet after it was revealed on Aug. 10 that jihadists had planned to blow up as many as 10 airplanes traveling from London to the United States, I lost interest in World Trade Center. There has been debate this summer, especially in New York, as to whether a movie based on Sept. 11 was coming out "too soon." Suddenly, in the wake of the foiled plot, not to mention the ongoing war Israel is waging against Hezbollah, Stoneís production seemed instantly dated, a period piece that was no longer especially relevant to world events. Aug. 10 didnít "change everything" but was a jolting reminder that another large-scale attack could happen at any time.

Obviously, both parties could be expected to use the latest threat for political advantage, but would it be too much to ask that the GOP and Democratic combatants hold off on exploiting the publicís fear for at least a couple of days? Cheney was one of the first out of the gate, commenting on Aug. 9, in reaction to Joe Liebermanís loss in the Connecticut Senate primary, that anti-war candidate Ned Lamontís victory could fortify "the al-Qaida types" looking to "break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task."

White House press secretary Tony Snow dismissed sensible speculation that the vice president had no knowledge of the next dayís news from London when he blasted Lamont and his supporters. The suspects had been under surveillance for a while, so if Cheney wasnít aware of the upcoming arrests, then maybe he ought to step down in favor of a more informed vice president.

As the Boston Globe reported Aug. 12, presidential politics immediately came to fore after the bulletin from London, with Sen. Kerry and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney--both expected to run for president in 2008--blasting each other. Kerry said, "Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida have succeeded in isolating the United States. Afghanistan and Pakistan are where the fight against al-Qaida is, not in Iraq." Kerry conveniently omits Madrid, London, Bali, and Mumbai as other battlefronts in the continuing crisis.

Yet Romney, attempting to establish his foreign policy bona fides, was just as guilty in politicizing the issue when he reacted to Kerryís anti-administration broadside. Appearing on MSNBC on Aug. 11, Romney said, "I think it shows a complete lack of understanding of the kind of enemy weíre facing. This is not a small group of wackos in the hills that all we have to do is go find one person and it suddenly goes away."

While pols were mouthing off, citizens stranded in airports and digesting new security measures were admirably restrained, more worried about potential mass murder than who was scoring political points.

With Connecticut Republicans unable to field a credible candidate in the fall Senate election, my preference is that Lieberman, a foreign policy hawk whoís in sync with President Bush on the issues of Iraq and Israel, defeats the neophyte Lamont as an independent this November. But even though Lamont seems clueless, a puppet for left-wing activists, the three-term incumbent didnít acquit himself well immediately after the latest threat was announced. "If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do," Lieberman said at a campaign rally, "get out [of Iraq] by date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them, and they will strike again."

I agree with Lieberman, but his immediate rhetoric about this near-catastrophe was jarring, giving the impression that he cares more about remaining in office than trying to reassure his constituents about their safety. Whether itís the grandstanding by Sen. Harry Reid, Cheney, Sen. Chuck Schumer, or GOP Rep. Tom Reynolds, itís not surprising that so many Americans donít bother to vote.

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