News & Politics

Holland Tunnel Vision: Fighting the Terrorists Where?


Today’s news that terrorists planned to use a bomb to flood the Holland Tunnel calls to mind something former White House Press Secretary said once. “When we succeed in Iraq, it will be a major blow to the terrorists and their ambitions of spreading an ideology of hate,” Scott McClellan told reporters last July 27. “And we’re going to defeat them there so that we don’t have to fight them here at home.”

Actually, he said that dozens of times. Maybe McClellan was forced out in April of this year because the White House got bored of hearing him say that. Or maybe not. A few weeks before the 2004 election, Dick Cheney said, “you’ve got to go on offense and go after them over there where they plot and train and plan so we don’t have to fight them here at home.” The president last February uttered yet another version of the mantra: “The best way to deal with this enemy is to defeat them overseas so we don’t have to face them here at home, and to stay on the hunt.”

Leaving aside whether the U.S. presence in Iraq is manufacturing more terrorists than it kills, or whether it’s morally acceptable to make Iraqi civilians or U.S. soldiers take bullets and shrapnel in order to ward off prospective threats to the homeland, can this notion of Iraq as a terrorism buffer be true?

Perhaps it could be, if the Holland Tunnel thing were an aberration. But only recently there were the arrests of the Miami Seven (accused of plotting to hit the Sears Tower), and just before that the conviction of a man for planning to bomb the Herald Square subway station. “The American heartland was targeted for death and destruction by an al Qaeda cell,” was how John “Let the Eagle Soar” Ashcroft described an earlier plan by a Somali guy to destroy a mall in Ohio. Then there’s Iyman Faris, who had a hankerin’ to cut down the Brooklyn Bridge. And let’s not forget last year’s mysterious New York City subway threat, unveiled by city officials in the midst of the mayoral campaign and panned by the feds.

Nor have terrorists been too distracted by Iraq to not kill people in London, Madrid, Beslan, and elsewhere—sometimes with Americans among the victims. According to the State Department, last year 56 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks overseas, more than the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists during the same period.

Obviously, the Iraq buffer-zone theory is a hollow attempt to resurrect a U.S. national interest in Iraq after the collapse of the WMD canard. Meanwhile, the hubbub over some of these recent “plots” seems intended to justify domestic anti-terrorism measures: Note the coincidence in timing between the New York Times story about financial surveillance and the busts of the nowhere-near-ready-to-do-anything Miami Seven.

Eventually the twin streams of propaganda have to cancel each other out, or at least they can’t simultaneously be absolutely true: Either the war is protecting us from real threats, or the Miami Seven were a real threat.

The hawks, however, have been able to dance around logic for some time. Some excellent footwork was demonstrated today by Rep. Pete King. A few weeks ago when the Times broke the financial surveillance story, King called for a criminal investigation. “The New York Times clearly broke the law,” he said. “The terrorists did not know that we had access to foreign transactions. This has definitely compromised our security in a time of war … No one elected The New York Times to do anything. They’re breaking the law to satisfy their own arrogant, liberal agenda.”

The Daily News story also came amid an ongoing investigation: The feds are still hunting some of the alleged plotters. And yet King was strangely circumspect in his comments today. “ It would have been better,” he said, “if this had not been disclosed.” Phew! No jail time for the Daily News!

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