I Hear America Sinking

Bush Pulls a Grieving Nation Into War

Behind the memorial candles and commercial remembrances lies one of the most astute marketing campaigns in American political history. This week, as the nation marks the first anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, the Bush administration will twist voters' outpouring of raw emotion and patriotic fervor into a launching pad for the inevitable invasion of Iraq.

In a September 12 speech to the United Nations, President Bush will further showcase his arguments for knocking off Saddam Hussein. Behind the scenes, his advisers have been torquing the arms of European leaders, who rightly have withheld approval. The White House is making a very bold gamble, one that has most of the world scared to death.

Last week the U.S. stepped up its air attacks, sending 100 warplanes to bomb Iraq, which has been under intermittent siege since the end of Desert Storm in 1991. The Pentagon has continued to move ships, planes, and troops into the region. As for any congressional debate, it's as much for display as the deliberations of the UN, orchestrated to end in a non-binding resolution backing Bush.

Bush can hope war will benefit the economy. But it could also hurt. News early this week that Saudi Arabia would deny U.S. companies access to its prized natural gas fields is only the first sign of what could well turn into an economic energy boycott against the U.S., driving up prices and torpedoing our markets.

Time was, America appeared strong enough to command more respect. After World War II, the guiding myths of America had more resonance, the empire more pure clout. Now, suddenly, the whole thing seems to be coming apart, with the facts of our weakness outweighing any attempts at spin. No frenzy of patriotism can hide the cracks in the pillars of our society, at least not for long. Consider some of them:

Military: September 11 represents a huge military and intelligence failure, symbolized by news that air traffic controllers knew a second plane had been hijacked and was potentially heading for the World Trade Center well before it crashed into the south tower. But our air defenses were nowhere. The BBC just last week aired an interview with the Northeast Defense Sector air commander saying that there were only four armed fighters patrolling the Atlantic coast of the U.S. that day.

To bolster these fighters, the air force diverted other unarmed planes from training missions. Two of them tried to respond, but just couldn't get there in time. This from a Pentagon that has been insisting since the start of the Cold War it could respond to a Soviet attack within minutes. This from a military that won World War II. This from a military whose budget this fiscal year will be around $396.1 billion, a military that claims it can fight at least a two-front war.

Our retaliatory assault in Afghanistan was no more successful. In attacking the Taliban, our target was Osama bin Laden and Supreme Leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. Bush said he wanted the Al Qaeda boss "dead or alive." Neither man has been captured, although the military continues to push speculation that bin Laden died in its bombing of Tora Bora. And as Debka.com, the site with the inside scoop on Israeli intelligence, reported, the Taliban not only managed an orderly retreat but re-infiltrated Afghanistan to continue a guerrilla war. Last week, they nearly killed the American-sponsored president, Hamid Karzai.

As for the intelligence failures leading up to 9-11, Congress has refused to initiate any serious investigation into the workings of the spy agencies, sparking speculation that lawmakers are afraid of implicating themselves in an election year. The Independentreported over the weekend that shortly before 9-11, U.S. officials and the UN ignored a message from the Taliban foreign minister that bin Laden was planning a big attack inside the U.S. The friendly Taliban emissary was ignored by the U.S. because his alert seemed like just another of the crazy warnings that were exhausting the spies.

Foreign Alliances: Despite Tony Blair's rather odd weekend backing for Bush ("The only decision that's been taken at this stage is that inaction is not an option"), the U.S. remains at odds with much of the world. Last week German chancellor Gerhard Schröder bluntly summed up his position on any war with Iraq. "The . . . arguments that I have cited against an intervention are so important that I would also be against such an intervention if—for whatever reasons and in whatever form—the Security Council of the United Nations were to say 'Yes,' which I cannot imagine happening in the present situation," he told The New York Times. French president Jacques Chirac warned the U.S. against "attempts to legitimize the unilateral and preemptive use of force." The Chinese are opposed to our intervention. So are the Japanese. Turkey opposes it. Saudi Arabia opposes it. Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan all say no.

Russian president Vladimir Putin said he had "deep doubts that there are grounds for the use of force." The Russians promise to veto such a move in the Security Council, no idle threat.

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