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Jewish World Review August 6, 2004 / 19 Menachem-Av, 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Who's afraid of bin Laden?

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | There are two Americas: the America of Sept. 10, 2001, and the America of Sept. 12, 2001.


The pre-Sept. 11 Americans don't see the terrorism threat as a prevalent fact of life. These partisans are so filled with hate — toward President Bush, not the terrorists — that they believe the Bushies are manipulating the most recent terror threats for political gain.


These Americans don't worry about the potential consequences of making it politically radioactive to warn citizens that they may be in danger. Nor do these Americans worry that they might be slamming the very people who may have prevented attacks and saved American lives.


If these Americans are concerned about whether it is wrong to say the warnings are overwrought, they are only worried to the extent that they buffer their digs with a disclaimer: It would be a "mistake" to dismiss the terror alerts as a contrivance "without any real evidence," a Democratic National Committee consultant told The New York Times. But: "You can see how the timing was curious coming the day after the convention. It does create issues.''


These Americans also see little need to talk beyond the headlines — which is really choice when you consider how frequently the left praises itself for being nuanced.


The New York Times reported Tuesday that data on possible terrorist attacks found on a computer seized in Pakistan were "old," gathered before the Sept. 11 attacks. Yet Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, told the Times, "Now that we're hearing that some of this data is two or three years old, it raises serious questions in my mind about whether or not they are manipulating the data to cause all this confusion.'' It didn't matter that the paper also had reported that officials believe the old data had been updated as recently as January.

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"When it is married with information we have from other sources, there is well-founded reason to be concerned," a counterterrorism official told me. That information says al Qaeda wants to attack America this year. British arrests of 12 suspected al Qaeda members this week make the case stronger.


Still, the terror scoffs can't lose. If terrorist attacks occur, Americans will be too busy dealing with the carnage to dwell on their errors. If the feds stop planned attacks, the public may never find out. In which case, the terror skeptics can pat themselves on the back for being so much smarter than the dupes who feared al Qaeda — and the intelligence officials who actually thwarted the attack.


The other America, the post-Sept. 11 America, is very aware of the danger. These Americans support enabling law enforcement to investigate suspected terrorists to prevent attacks. These Americans support sending troops to Afghanistan, and some of these Americans also support U.S. troops in Iraq. These are the Americans who are doing the heavy lifting in the war on terrorism.


I can only hope that these Americans' investigative skills exceed their communications skills, because their communications skills are abysmal.


The Homeland Security color-coded terror alerts? Dumb. The Bush administration's tendency to warn Americans of terrorism threats — but without any useful specificity, so that people have no idea what to think or do about alerts — is foolish.


Most recently, the Bushies were wrong to try to withhold information leading to this month's alerts. Reporters, of course, did some digging and found out some of the information was old — handing critics a golden opportunity to make hay.


Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge handed the New York Times editorial pages a bone when he told reporters "the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror." This gave the Gray Lady cause to sniff that Ridge gave "a partisan pitch."


Maybe, but the truly over-the-top partisan politics presides in those individuals and parties that try to embody the two Americas in the same breath: Take John Kerry. He insists that Bush has made America less safe and that Bush created terrorists by sending U.S. troops to Iraq, even as his surrogates hint that the threats from terrorists are bogus. (Meanwhile, a Kerry spokesperson tells reporters that Kerry doesn't dismiss the threats — making the straddle complete.)


I urge readers to pick up a copy of "The 9/11 Commission Report." It tells the story of a group of haters who came together almost by stumbling upon each other. The report says Khalid Sheikh Mohammed first discussed his plan with Osama bin Laden to organize terrorists to crash planes into tall buildings in the United States in 1996.


How curious it is that those who demand a Sept. 11 commission to look into how the attacks might have been prevented have the energy to scoff at those trying to prevent the next ones.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate