WASHINGTON, D.C.—You may think 9-11 is the somber anniversary of a terrible event in American history, but for the Bush campaign managers it is yet another opportunity for spin. They are doing their level best to recast the image of Dubya on 9-11. Instead of a president who skitters around the country from bunker to bunker, we now see a tough, decisive Texas cowboy.
But the spindoctors have their work cut out for them, not only because of Bush’s timid behavior on 9-11, but because of the disastrous effects of his right-wing policies within the U.S.
The remake goes forward full tilt. Bush on the ramparts Sunday: “Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there, and there they must be defeated.” Ashcroft in the trenches, visiting city after city with his call to root out the terrorists under the Patriot Act: “We have used these tools to provide the security that ensures liberty.” Rumsfeld on the ground in Iraq: “The purpose is . . . there’s several. One is to visit the troops and make sure they understand how important what they’re doing is to the people of Iraq, to the region, and to the world.” Cheney at ground zero. And Tom Ridge, the man in charge of “homeland security,” with a tear or two for the 9-11 victims: “We do remember them. We remember 3,000 souls . . . ”
Behind the images, there’s a very different story.
Afghanistan: Still no sign of bin Laden. “We don’t know where he is,” a U.S. Army spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan said recently. “And frankly, it’s not about him.” Dead or alive, bin Laden has achieved a new life. One day there is a report he’s dead, the next that the evil one was hosting a massive terror summit in the Afghan mountains. There have been fresh waves of violence in Afghanistan, as the Taliban regroups from its hidden, outlying strongholds conducting guerrilla attacks against civilians, Afghan government forces, clerics loyal to the government, foreign aid workers, and U.S. forces. In the space of 10 days in August, 90 civilians were killed in such attacks. And there’s still no sign of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.
Iraq: Amid continuing reports of disaster in Iraq, the administration continues to trumpet our occupation as a victory for freedom-loving peoples: “It is not a country in chaos,” said L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil chief there, “and Baghdad is not a city in chaos.”
Saddam is still on the loose. We haven’t yet found the weapons of mass destruction. But we have discovered efforts by both Bush and Tony Blair to distort the facts about such weapons’ existence to convince both the U.S. and British public to support the war.
Casualties continue to rise. Following Bush’s tough-talk appearance Sunday night, two more GIs were wounded in Baghdad on Monday. So far, at least 6,000 civilians have died, according to Iraqbodycount.net, along with close to 300 U.S. and coalition soldiers, and Baghdad in general has become much more lawless and violent—the city’s morgue reports a dramatic increase in gunshot deaths. Parallels to Vietnam are increasingly mentioned because guerrillas have bombed the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, the UN’s Baghdad office, and the Najaf mosque, where Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim was killed last week. “Iraq could become a failed state if there isn’t enough security,” Phebe Marr, author of The Modern History of Iraq, told The Christian Science Monitor. “And nothing attracts terrorists as much as a failed state.”
In the wake of all this, aid groups, including Oxfam and the Red Cross, are hastily retreating. This leaves Iraqis to suffer the full impact of badly damaged or unworkable water, power, and sanitation systems, poor transportation of supplies, and few organizations available to quickly repair hospitals, most of which have been either shelled or looted, or both.
As it now turns out, both the Clinton and Bush administrations had been warned repeatedly since 1997 of the possibility of an attack on Washington and New York by terrorists using airliners as missiles, according to morsels of a congressional report released this summer. Given these warnings, it is hard to believe that on September 11, 2001, there was not one military jet aloft patrolling the Eastern Seaboard.
The Bush administration’s answer to the actual 9-11 carnage was the creation of the $35 billion-a-year Department of Homeland Security, with 160,000 employees and a projected huge federal police presence provided for under the Patriot Act. Prisoners are being held incommunicado and without other basic rights at Guantánamo Bay and in military lockups within the U.S. Racial-profiling systems are being used to round up supposed terrorists. The ACLU notes that under the Patriot Act a person’s library, medical, or other records, as well as their private property, may be secretly searched. To date, the new department, perhaps fortunately for all of us, barely functions in some areas.
The economy: Bush’s proposed Iraq spending might be a bit easier to take if there were an economic recovery at home. The all-inclusive unemployment figure released by the Labor Department for August was 10 percent. The Economic Policy Institute reports: “In terms of employment growth, the current recovery is the worst on record since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking employment in 1939. Employment is down over one million since the recovery began . . . and the decline in employment opportunities has actually been greater for college graduates than for high school dropouts.” As for Bush’s claims of recovery, the Financial Times reported Monday that Asian investors are preparing to bail on their massive holdings of U.S. treasury securities. Since most of the government’s securities are held by owners outside the U.S., this could be a severe blow. Among Americans, personal bankruptcies are expected to rise 7 percent this year, hitting a record high—just from April through June this year, 440,257 personal bankruptcies were recorded nationwide by the court system.
Homelessness and poverty: The worsening unemployment situation is reflected in a 19 percent increase in requests for emergency shelter, in a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that covers the 2001-2002 period. The fastest growing segment of the homeless population? Families with children, making up 41 percent of all the homeless, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. More than 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness every year. In 2002, the number of Americans living in poverty increased for the first time in eight years. The Census Bureau’s new America Community Survey shows that the total proportion of people in the U.S. living in poverty jumped to 12.4 percent—that’s some 34.8 million people.
Education: With state governments broke, education is one of the first casualties. Says the National Education Association, “States and local communities are struggling with the worst budget shortfalls since World War II, and many have cut back on instruction time or laid off quality teachers and school staff. Parents and students are holding bake sales to pay teachers and save music, art and other student activities.”
Health care: As Congress fiddles with a lame prescription-drug bill, health care costs go up, and there are more and more people without insurance. The usual figure is 41 million Americans without health insurance. But earlier this year the consumer group Families U.S.A. released a study showing that 75 million Americans lacked health insurance sometime in the past two years. Bush’s answer: Last week the administration began to cut costs by relaxing rules governing hospital management of emergency rooms so as to let them in certain circumstances turn away people who can’t pay.
Energy: Fuel oil and natural gas costs are at all-time highs and set to go even higher. The federal Energy Information Administration reported in late August that retail gasoline costs are up more than one-third over a year ago, with a gallon of gas on average costing $1.74. The cost of electricity is set to go up in the wake of the big blackout, as consumers shell out at least $8 billion for transmission improvements.
Military: Even harassing the U.S.’s own troops, the administration wants to reduce the amounts of money paid to military families and cut combat pay for our soldiers and sailors. In the scramble to meet Iraq costs, the Pentagon has said it can’t sustain pay raises instituted in April for the very troops that are doing its dirty work: The $75 a month in “imminent danger pay” for battlefront troops and $150 a month in “family separation allowances” will be scrapped, come the end of this month, if the Pentagon has its way and Congress votes against extending them.