Monday, September 19, 2005

Bush Doesn't Know if U.S. Capable of Dealing with Terrorist Attack

President Bush made news last week when he said that “Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility." What he said next has not been as widely remarked on, but should be a bombshell (no pun intended). The president said that he does not know if the United States is capable of dealing with a severe terrorist attack.

This is shocking news. The President of the United States has admitted he doesn’t know whether his government is prepared to deal with a severe terrorist attack. Why isn’t the media commenting more widely on it? This is a president whose 2004 campaign focused on accusing his rival John Kerry of leaving Americans unprotected against terrorist attacks. On October 22, 2004, President Bush said that John Kerry and his advisors “do not understand the enemy we face and have no idea how to win the war and keep America secure.” The Bush campaign ran a television ad (featuring a menacing pack of wolves) that accused Kerry of weakening America’s defenses and leaving Americans vulnerable. Vice President Cheney warned that if Kerry was elected, “the danger is that we’ll get hit again, that we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.”

The “Kerry is weak on terrorism” (a/k/a “vote for Kerry and you might die”) strategy seemed to work. An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken about a month before the election showed that 59% of voters believed the United States was safer than it had been on September 11. On what ABC called Bush’s “cornerstone issue”, Bush led Kerry 54-37 percent in being trusted to handle terrorism. Exit polls showed that voters considered the threat of terrorism one of the two most important issues affecting their vote.

Now we learn, ten months after the election, that President Bush doesn’t even know whether we are capable of dealing with a severe terrorist attack. The President says that he wants to be able to answer this question. How about answering a few other questions while you’re at it. Mr. President, what have you done to prepare for the consequences of a severe attack? What emergency preparations are in place? Who has been responsible for making these preparations—was it Brownie at FEMA? Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff? Can one of them (or Brown’s replacement) assure Americans that their government is capable of helping those affected by an attack? Is protecting Americans a priority for your government? If it is, then why don’t you know if we are able to respond to a severe attack?

As long as President Bush is in the mood to be accountable, maybe he will get around to explaining to Americans why it has taken him four years since September 11 to find out whether we are prepared to deal with a severe attack. More importantly, maybe he will tell Americans what steps he will take to make us secure. Until he does, Americans should demand that he do so, immediately. How about this: no more vacations until this question is answered.


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