Flashback: I Hear America Sinking

Remembering a nation on the brink of the Iraq war

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.

Energy: The U.S. imports well over half its oil, with most of it coming from the Middle East. Iraq in particular sells half its oil exports to the U.S. Iraq provides about 10 percent of all American imports. As our intake of foreign fuel has grown, so has the demand for it, epitomized by gas-guzzling SUVs. To get more oil, we are trying to turn from the Middle East to the Russians and their pipelines into the Caspian basin. Even so, we are totally socked into the Middle East for the near future.

Economy: Even without threats from overseas, the economy remains dead in the water, with no new jobs, only a slight increase in wages, and unemployment near 6 percent. At the onset of the Bush presidency, we were looking at a budget surplus of $405 billion. Halfway through his term, the surplus had become a $157 billion deficit. Foreign investors are pulling back. The S&P 500 has fallen 37 percent from its peak in early 2000. As mutual funds tank, 401(k) pensions have disappeared.

Corporations: The functions of government have steadily been taken over by corporate robber barons. Over the last decade, we have re-created the business structures and atmosphere of J.P. Morgan. Each administration since Reagan's has cut away at regulation. The market, not the government, is left to sort out the mess.

Personal Freedom: Civil liberties have been steadily reduced under the rubric of the war on terror. About 1200 people were taken into custody after 9-11, some 752 of them on immigration charges. Many of these people never had a hearing and never had a charge lodged against them. Some were subjected to secret trials. Eighty-five percent were deported. Some two dozen men are still being held as material witnesses, indefinitely, and in complete secrecy. If a prisoner were lucky enough to speak to an attorney, the government could routinely wiretap those conversations. For any reason at all the government can now designate people as "enemy combatants" and hold them in solitary, without the right to counsel.

Meanwhile the government has gained new powers. The FBI can demand your library records and school transcripts. Agents can meander through e-mail accounts at will. As always, the feds infiltrate public meetings; the mere taking of a pamphlet has led to arrest and months in prison.

Leadership: Foreigners don't know what to make of America. To an outsider, Bush looks like a puppet run by VP Dick Cheney, who last weekend single-handedly created a new foreign policy concept, the doctrine of the "preemptive strike," to rationalize an attack on Saddam Hussein. But what happens if China were to take up the preemptive strike doctrine and attack us?

And then there are always Bush's cuckoo utterances. "The world must understand . . . that its credibility is at stake," he said after a recent Cabinet Room meeting with 18 Democratic and Republican congressional leaders. Notwithstanding their guitar-playing cocker spaniel chief, Brits polled lately held Bush as the third greatest threat to peace, trailing only Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

American Ideals:These sorts of cracks in American society might be remedied by opening up debate and changing direction. Instead, politics has devolved into a nonstop talk show, paving the way for Bush to prosecute a war for oil in the name of God.

Muslims act as a "fifth column in this country," says William Lind in Why Islam Is a Threat to America and the West. Ann Coulter, the cold-blooded conservative columnist, has said of Muslims, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." The former head of the Southern Baptist Convention, Reverend Jerry Vines, also minced no words. For him, Muhammad was "a demon-obsessed pedophile."

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