Article of sense and wisdom by Alexander Cockburn
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN,
Tuesday's onslaughts on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon
are being likened to Pearl Harbor. The comparison is just. The attacks
were near miracles of logistical calculation, timing, execution
and devastation inflicted on the targets.
There may be another similarity. The possibility of a Japanese
attack in early December 1941 was known to U.S. naval intelligence
and to President Roosevelt. On Tuesday, derision at the failure
of U.S. intelligence was widespread. The Washington Post quoted
an unnamed top official at the National Security Council as saying,
"We don't know anything here. We're watching CNN too."
Are we to believe that the $30-billion annual intelligence budget,
immense electronic eavesdropping capacity, thousands of agents around
the world, produced nothing in the way of a warning?
In fact, the editor of the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper,
said he heard three weeks ago that Osama bin Laden, now the prime
suspect, planned "very, very big attacks against American interests."
The lust for retaliation traditionally outstrips precision in identifying
the actual assailant. By early evening Tuesday, the U.S. national
security establishment was calling for removal of all impediments
on the assassination of foreign leaders. Led by President Bush,
they were endorsing the prospect of attacks not just on the perpetrators
but on those who might have harbored them. From the nuclear priesthood
comes the demand that mini-nukes be deployed on a preemptive basis
against the enemies of America.
The targets abroad will be all the usual suspects--the Taliban
or Saddam Hussein, who started off as creatures of U.S. intelligence.
The target at home will be the Bill of Rights.
Less than a week ago the FBI raided Infocom, the Texas-based Web
host for Muslim groups such as the Council on Islamic Relations,
the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Assn. for Palestine
and the Holy Land Foundation. Palestinians have been denied visas,
and those in this country can, under the terms of the counterterrorism
policy during the Clinton years, be held and expelled without due
Tuesday's explosions were not an hour old before terror pundits
such as Anthony Cordesman, Wesley Clark, Robert Gates and Lawrence
Eagleburger were saying that these attacks had been possible "because
America is a democracy," adding that now some democratic perquisites
might have to be abandoned. What might this mean? Increased domestic
snooping by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies? Ethnic
profiling? A national ID card system?
Tuesday did not offer a flattering exhibition of America's leaders.
President Bush gave a timid and stilted initial reaction in Sarasota,
Fla., then disappeared for an hour before resurfacing in at a base
in Barksdale, La., where he gave another flaccid address with every
appearance of being on tranquilizers. He was then flown to a bunker
in Nebraska, before someone finally had the wit to suggest that
the best place for the U.S. president at time of national emergency
is the Oval Office.
One certain beneficiary of the attacks is Israel. Polls had been
showing popular dislike here for Israel's recent tactics, which
may have been the motivation for Colin Powell's few bleats of reproof
to Israel. We will be hearing no such bleats in the weeks to come,
as Israel's leaders advise the U.S. how exactly to deal with Muslims.
"Freedom," said Bush in Sarasota, "was attacked
this morning by a faceless coward." That properly represents
the stupidity and blindness of almost all of Tuesday's mainstream
political commentary. By contrast, the commentary on economic consequences
was informative and sophisticated. Worst hit: the insurance industry.
Likely outfall in the short term: higher energy prices, a further
drop in global stock markets. Bush will have no trouble in raiding
the famous lock-box, using Social Security trust funds to give more
money to the Defense Department.
Three planes are successfully steered into three of America's most
conspicuous buildings and America's response will be to put more
money in missile defense as a way of bolstering the economy.
* Alexander Cockburn writes for the Nation and other publications.