Spinning Our Safety

By MAUREEN DOWD

The New York Times

July 25, 2004

Maybe it's because I've been instructed to pack a respirator escape hood along with party dresses for the Boston convention. Maybe it's because our newspaper has assigned a terrorism reporter to cover a political convention. Maybe it's because George Bush is relaxing at his ranch down there (again) while Osama is planning a big attack up here (again). Maybe it's because there are just as many American soldiers dying in Iraq post-transfer, more Muslims more mad at us over fake W.M.D. intelligence and depravity at Abu Ghraib, and more terrorists in more diffuse networks hating us more.

Maybe it's because the F.B.I. is still learning how to Google and the C.I.A. has an acting head who spends most of his time acting defensive over his agency's failure to get anything right. Maybe it's because so many of those federal twits who missed the 10 chances to stop the 9/11 hijackers, who blew off our Paul Reveres - Richard Clarke, Coleen Rowley and the Phoenix memo author - still run things. Call me crazy, Mr. President, but I don't feel any safer.

The nation's mesmerizing new best seller, the 9/11 commission report, lays bare how naked we still are against an attack, and how vulnerable we are because of the time and money the fuzzy-headed Bush belligerents wasted going after the wrong target.

Even scarier, the commissioners expect Congress, which they denounced as "dysfunctional" on intelligence oversight, to get busy fixing things just as lawmakers are flying home for vacation.

The report offers vivid details on our worst fears. Instead of focusing on immediately hitting back at Osama, Bush officials indulged their idiotic idée fixe on Saddam and ignored the memo from their counter-terrorism experts dismissing any connection between the religious fanatic bin Laden and the secular Hussein.

"On the afternoon of 9/11, according to contemporaneous notes, Secretary Rumsfeld instructed General Myers to obtain quickly as much information as possible," the report says. " The notes indicate that he also told Myers that he was not simply interested in striking empty training sites. The secretary said his instinct was to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time - not only bin Laden."

At the first Camp David meeting after 9/11, the report states, "Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz made the case for striking Iraq during 'this round' of the war on terrorism."

Six days after the World Trade Center towers were pulverized, when we should have been striking Osama with everything we had, the Bush team was absorbed with old grudges and stale assumptions.

"At the September 17 N.S.C. meeting, there was some further discussion of 'phase two' of the war on terrorism," the report says. "President Bush ordered the Defense Department to be ready to deal with Iraq if Baghdad acted against U.S. interests, with plans to include possibly occupying Iraqi oil fields."

President Bush was unsure of himself, relying too much on a vice president whose deep, calm voice belied a deeply cracked world view.

He explained to the commissioners that he had stayed in his seat making little fish faces at second graders for seven minutes after learning about the second plane hitting the towers because, as the report says, "The president felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening."

What better way to track the terror in the Northeast skies than by reading "My Pet Goat" in Sarasota?

The commissioners warn that the price for the Bush bullies' attention deficit disorder could be high: "If, for example, Iraq becomes a failed state, it will go to the top of the list of places that are breeding grounds for attacks against Americans at home. Similarly, if we are paying insufficient attention to Afghanistan, the rule of the Taliban or warlords and narcotraffickers may re-emerge and its countryside could once again offer refuge to Al Qaeda, or its successor."

And, if that's not ominous enough, consider this: "The problem is that Al Qaeda represents an ideological movement, not a finite group of people. It initiates and inspires, even if it no longer directs."

"Yet killing or capturing" Osama, the report says, "while extremely important, would not end terror. His message of inspiration to a new generation of terrorists would continue."

If the Bush crowd hadn't been besotted with the idea of smoking Saddam, they could have stomped Osama in Tora Bora. Now it's too late. Al Qaeda has become a state of mind.