Jewish World Review Oct. 31, 2001/ 14 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762


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America's hangover sets in -- THE UNITED STATES-and New York City in particular-is just beginning a very ugly phase in its history. As the adrenaline from the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 wanes, this country's citizens face an awful, mysterious question: What do we do now? The situation's not dissimilar, on a micro level, to when a family member passes away.

There's the immediate, and distracting, rush of activity: a funeral or memorial service to plan; neighbors loading the kitchen with casseroles; flowers arriving every two hours; the phone constantly in use, as relatives inform friends and colleagues of the sad news; financial ramifications given strict attention; and finally a wake where the deceased fills a room, as people mourn, swap funny and nostalgic stories, maybe have a few drinks and even slip in a bit of black humor.

And then the void.

This past week, the finger-pointing in America started in earnest. Journalists, thrust into a Byzantine story few of them were prepared for, are now foreign-policy experts, reporting that the United States is losing the war against terrorism. Never mind that the military action in Afghanistan is not even a month old, and that President Bush and his lieutenants have consistently counseled that patience is necessary. Here's the current storyline. The Taliban is an inscrutable and persistent enemy; Israel, by defending itself, is proving that militant Muslims-in-name-only have a legitimate beef about Western civilization; babies are the victims of errant bombs; and Osama bin Laden has still not been found.

Sen. Joe Biden made such a fool of himself in a New York speech on Oct. 22 that even Majority Leader Tom Daschle distanced himself from his fellow Democrat's remarks. Biden said: "[A sustained bombing of Afghanistan] plays into every stereotypical criticism of us [that] we're this hi-tech bully that thinks from the air we can do whatever we want to do, and it builds the case for those who want to make the case against us that all we're doing is indiscriminately bombing innocents, which is not the truth."


Domestically, the spate of anthrax discoveries has panicked the nation, even though only an infinitesimal amount of the population is directly affected. The media and Bush's administration are both to blame for this dangerous detour from the main objective of winning the war. The former, because a number of its group have been victimized by the potentially lethal spores, insist on making this worrisome but ultimately secondary by-product of mass terrorism the lead story in newspapers and on TV broadcasts. This has created hysteria and encouraged malevolent Americans to perpetrate cruel hoaxes on people and organizations they don't like. Last week, on a typical day in Manhattan, authorities received more than 300 calls from spooked office workers.

Bush's cabinet and Congress haven't been helpful either. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson, the popular former governor of Wisconsin, looks silly disseminating information about the anthrax menace. It's painful to watch him at a press conference, appearing like a rumpled, small-town mayor instead of a national leader who has some answers. Good thing he lost out to Dick Cheney for Bush's runningmate last year.

Tom Ridge, on a steep learning curve, is already being criticized for his comments. Although no one could be expected to be fully versed in this domestic crisis, without the broad authority he needs to coalesce and direct competitive and bureaucracy-laden security organizations like the FBI and CIA, the once-confident Vietnam vet and Pennsylvania governor now seems like a eunuch. Ridge is in dire need of a bioterrorism expert, not only to educate him but to provide meaningful information to the public. Sen. Bill Frist, one of the country's most valuable senators and the only doctor in that harried collection of 100, is a natural choice, but his presence is vital in Congress.

One of the difficulties we face is that both the media and government are in over their heads on the anthrax/smallpox question. It's akin to Bill Clinton's Justice Dept. persecution of Microsoft in the late 90s, when the government pretended to understand an industry it knew nothing about and, employing the politics of class warfare, demonized Bill Gates, an extraordinary entrepreneur. As a result of that prosecution, the current recession began.

Another serious problem is that much of the country's leadership-such as Democrats like Reps. Cynthia McKinney and Barbara Lee-have no stomach for the loss of life, whether it's a few postal workers, U.S. military personnel or impoverished Afghans. At some point, people have to realize the United States is at war, an awful reality, but one that needs to be objectively considered. I cringe when Bush speaks about "the evil ones," but he's right: Our country's been attacked and there's no longer the luxury of political correctness or self-righteous pacifism.

Sen. John McCain, writing in The Wall Street Journal last Friday, was correct when he said: "War is a miserable business. The lives of a nation's finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer and die. Commerce is disrupted, economies are damaged... However heady the appeal of a call to arms, however just the cause, we should still shed a tear for all that will be lost when war claims its wages from us. Shed a tear, and then get on with the business of killing our enemies as quickly as we can, and as ruthlessly as we must."

Who knows if Vice President Cheney was accurate when he repeated, over and over during the past two weeks, that this war might claim more victims at home rather than abroad. But Cheney's not an alarmist. Every time a Red Cross depot or Afghan civilian home is mistakenly bombed, it ought not be such big news. That's a reality of war. Is there any question now that Harry Truman was justified in leveling Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945?


Does anyone read history anymore? If so, people would understand that World War II, although sanitized by Hollywood producers and Tom Brokaw, was not a "clean" war; the Allies killed vast numbers of innocents in their successful effort to defeat the Axis powers. And for all the canonization of FDR, let's remember he was a pragmatic and inspirational wartime president; his duplicity was for the greater good, until, of course, he caved into Stalin at Yalta shortly before his death. It's been said before but bears constant repetition as the nation judges President Bush: Just imagine how Roosevelt's, MacArthur's or Eisenhower's image would've suffered if subjected to today's all-day, all-night media coverage.

After working nonstop since Sept. 11, Bush would be smart to take a day off at Camp David to chop wood, go fishing, shoot birds-anything that'll clear his mind and replenish the intensity of the superb resilience he'd demonstrated until last week. Reading to schoolkids is best left to the First Lady or Rod Paige. Soon it'll be time for the President to address the nation once more, perhaps again at the Capitol. He ought to ditch the propaganda campaign aimed at the Muslim world-one we'll never win-and speak in very blunt terms.

Yes, as in any armed conflict, there will be nonmilitary casualties, but the United States did not start this war. Bush should put Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, those ingrate nations, on notice: cooperate or don't be surprised if our country has to take over your oil fields in order to win the war. And he should also put Israel in the forefront, like Britain, as an ally that's justified in its current retaliation against Arafat's robots.

This administration doesn't have to kowtow to Arafat like Bill Clinton did. Consider what the lifelong terrorist said on Saturday in Gaza: "Despite [Sharon's] continuous attempts that he imagines he could by his warplanes, tanks or missiles force our people to kneel, I would tell him storms would never shake mountains." No doubt he'll be the next Nobel Prize winner for that poetic statement-which would trump Kofi Annan's wacko award this year-but let's face facts: bin Laden might take a while to find, but Arafat is far more accessible and must be assassinated immediately. Bush also has to mobilize the armed forces for a protracted war with Iraq. Anyone who demands evidence that Saddam Hussein isn't implicated in the tragedy of Sept. 11 is consulting with imaginary friends.

The most optimistic op-ed column recently is that of the sensible William Safire's in Monday's Times. He wrote: "I believe the current alarmism is mistaken. The Sept. 11 attacks will lead to missile defense, suitcase-bomb defense and the systematic destruction of terror networks and regimes. The anthrax mailing and subsequent fears will be countered by breakthroughs in immunology and an invigorated public health system. Victory in the war on terror will inspire and finance a campaign to wipe out all infectious disease." His minor-league Times colleagues, entertainment columnists Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, must've had to reach for a breakfast of Oreos and extra-fat ice cream after reading that.

Then there's the Blame America First cabal-The Nation, West Wing's loathsome Aaron Sorkin, half the population of Berkeley, Mark Crispin Miller, Eric Foner, Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Begala and the lunatic antiglobalization crew, just for starters-which is unsuccessfully attempting to rally naive citizens into believing slogans like "Bush's War," but in the context of today's politics, they're just irritants. If these malcontents are so disgusted with the United States, why not lower their blood pressure and emigrate to another country?

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2001, Russ Smith