Asking for Trouble

This week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was denied a visit to Ground Zero. Ahmadinejad asked that he be allowed to lay a wreath at the site while he visits New York next week. Today ABC News reports that Ahmadinejad may go anyway, permission or no permission, and has even announced when. I can see all kinds of ways this would turn out badly, and I hope someone talks some sense into Ahmadinejad before then.

But Ahmadinejad is not the only one who needs to chill. The ever irresponsible Michelle Malkin is fanning the flames and trying to organize a “welcoming party.” And if she incites enough rage and recklessness to get someone killed, she will be equally outraged if anyone says it is her fault.

When the Good Lord was handing out common sense, Malkin was out hunting down exclamation marks.

No sooner had word gotten out last week that New York City was considering the request than politicians of both parties went into spasms of outrage. There was such a piling on of outrage you’d have thought Ahmadinejad had proposed offering a human sacrifice or, worse, memorializing Muhammad Atta. As BooMan says, the piling on turned into a game of one-upmanship, with pols bragging that they were not only outraged, they were more outraged than their political opponents. (See also the Anonymous Liberal.)

At this point in the post I have to stop and declare how much I don’t like Ahmadinejad. And I really don’t, but I resent having to say it. I am, however, obliged to make it clear that I don’t like Ahmadinejad so that righties don’t show up and accuse me of being a Mahmoud lover. What I will not do is enter into a competition to prove how much I dislike Ahmadinejad or if my dislike is sufficient dislike, because insufficient dislike is tantamount to siding with the terrorists.

Please note: I dislike groupthink a lot more than I dislike Ahmadinejad.

Here’s where we go from dumb to dumber — Scott Johnson of Power Tools says that Ahmadinejad is in New York he will participate in a question and answer session with university faculty and students at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum. Johnson thinks this is a disgrace.

Columbia and President Bollinger are a disgrace. They welcome to their campus a man who is a ringleader in the seizure of American hostages, a terrorist, the president of a terrorist regime, and the representative of a regime responsible at present for the deaths of American soldiers on the field of battle. Columbia’s prattle about free speech may be a tale told by an idiot, but it signifies something. And President Bollinger is a fool who is not excused from the dishonor he brings to his institution and his fellow citizens by the fact that he doesn’t know what he is doing.

It’s true America is plagued by people who don’t know what they’re doing. Most of the Bush Administration comes to mind. But Columbia U. President Bollinger makes it clear he’s not inviting the Iranian leader over for tea and cookies. Bollinger intends to challenge Ahmadinejad on matters of terrorism, nuclear weapons, Holocaust denial, women’s rights, and other thorny issues, which I would think would be educational.

See, Scott, this is a World Leaders Forum, which I assume includes world-leaders-in-training. What World Leaders normally do is deal with other World Leaders of all stripes, and it’s good to have some laboratory experience with such things before you go out and practice World Leadership for real. Among other things, real World Leaders are not cartoons and do not go about with “Good” or “Evil” stamped on their foreheads. Real World Leaders are complicated people who probably got to be World Leaders because they are very good at handling other people. Even evil World Leaders can be charming. Back in the 1930s lots of people — right wingers, mostly — thought Hitler was a reasonable fellow. I remember reading that the first time Harry Truman met Joseph Stalin, Truman thought Stalin was an OK guy. This World Leadership thing isn’t as easy as it looks.

But righties have always been advocates for premeditated ignorance. I recall back in the 1950s and 1960s American conservatives would, from time to time, erupt into outrage mode upon learning that American colleges required students to learn something about Communism. Since Communism was the major threat to the planet at the time, one would think knowing something about it would be useful. But no; teaching students about Communism is teaching Communism. And Communism was, apparently, so inherently evil that merely learning about it was corrupting. Better to stay ignorant.

And it’s better not to get too close to whackjob World Leaders, even in a classroom, so that when the time comes that you actually have to deal with whackjob World Leaders you won’t know what you are doing and will have no recourse but to bomb them.

See how that works?

But back to the Ground Zero visit — I’m reminded of a story. Back in 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev toured America and expressed a desire to visit Disneyland. He was denied entrance to the Magic Kingdom, probably for security reasons, or maybe the Seven Dwarfs threatened a protest strike. In any event, Khrushchev’s disappointment became an international, big-bleeping-deal Issue with the bulk of global sympathy siding with Khrushchev. And some American editorialists suggested the experience might have taught the Communist dictator something about the superiority of capitalism and the American way of life.

Here I have to enter another disclaimer, that I am not comparing Ground Zero to a theme park. I was in lower Manhattan on 9/11 and am, therefore, better acquainted with what happened there than Michelle Malkin or anyone else who merely watched on television. I’ve seen Ground Zero many times since. It doesn’t look quite as sad as it used to, since they’ve finally started building stuff. Still, seeing the place might have given Ahmadinejad a sense of the scale of the disaster that photographs cannot provide. Maybe someone could fly him over the site in an unmarked helicopter. It might give him a glimmer of an idea why Americans are hostile about terrorism. Just don’t put out a press release this is happening, or some whackjob rightie will show up in Manhattan to shoot down helicopters.

Ground Zero of Dreams

“A people unaware of its myths is likely to continue living by them, though the world around that people may change and demand changes in their psychology, their world view, their ethics, and their institutions.” — Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence

* * *

A couple of days ago I got an advance copy of a book by Susan Faludi titled The Terror Dream, due to be released in October. I’ve gotten only a few pages into it so I cannot say if the book as a whole is good or not. But the premise is spot on.

Faludi explores what September 11 did to our national psyche. In short, Americans as a whole did not respond to September 11 clearly and honestly. Instead, we retreated into a dreamworld of John Wayne cinematic epics and frontier melodrama. In this spectacular we cast ourselves as both the hero and the damsel in distress. The villain role has been filled by a rotating cast — Osama bin Laden, of course, but also Saddam Hussein, France, the United Nations, liberals, various straw man characters allegedly representing liberalism (Ward Churchill, whoever the hell he is, comes to mind), Democrats, the entire Middle East (excluding Israel, of course) and the entire religion of Islam.

As they said in the Wild West — shoot ’em all, and let God sort ’em out.

I don’t blame the American people. We needed responsible leaders to explain to us clearly what had happened and help us rise above fear and a mob’s desire for vengeance to a rational response. Instead, we had the Bush Administration. As Faludi writes on page 3 —

Throughout the fall of 2001, the media attempted to position the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as a reprise of Pearl Harbor, a new “day of infamy” that would reinvigorate our World War II ethic of national unity and sacrifice, a long-awaited crucible in which self-absorbed Americans would, at long last, be forged into the twenty-first century’s stoic army of the latest Greatest Generation. But the summons to actual sacrifice never came. No draft ensued, no Rosie the Riveters were called to duty, no ration cards issued, no victory gardens planted. Most of all, no official moral leadership emerged to challenge Americans to think constructively about our place in the world, to redefine civic commitment and public responsibility. There was no man in a wheelchair in the White House urging on us a reassessment of American strengths and weakness. What we had was a chest beater in a borrowed flight suit, instructing us to max our our credit cards for the cause.

In case any righties drop by here — they do tend to be rigidly literal — Faludi isn’t saying that President Bush should have reinstated the draft, issued ration cards, and called the nation’s womenfolk to work in factories. She’s saying that Americans needed to do something extraordinary to channel our grief and anger. We looked to our President for instruction. We never got that instruction, beyond “trust me.”

Consider this nationally televised speech that the President gave on November 8, 2001.

I said in my speech to a Joint Session of Congress that we are a nation awakened to danger. We’re also a nation awakened to service, and citizenship, and compassion. None of us would ever wish the evil that has been done to our country, yet we have learned that out of evil can come great good.

During the last two months, we have shown the world America is a great nation. (Applause.) Americans have responded magnificently, with courage and caring. We’ve seen it in our children, who have sent in more than $1 million for the children of Afghanistan. We have seen it in the compassion of Jewish and Christian Americans who have reached out to their Muslim neighbors. We have seen it as Americans have reassessed priorities — parents spending more time with their children, and many people spending more time in prayer and in houses of worship.

Yes, huge amounts of money were donated, because Americans didn’t know what else they could do. It’s like the hundreds, probably thousands, of New Yorkers who stood on line outside hospitals that day to give blood, because they wanted to do something.

We have gained new heroes: Those who ran into burning buildings to save others, our police and our firefighters. (Applause.) Those who battled their own fears to keep children calm and safe — America’s teachers. (Applause.) Those who voluntarily placed themselves in harm’s way to defend our freedom — the men and women of the Armed Forces. (Applause.)

And tonight, we join in thanking a whole new group of public servants who never enlisted to fight a war, but find themselves on the front lines of a battle nonetheless: Those who deliver the mail — America’s postal workers. (Applause.) We also thank those whose quick response provided preventive treatment that has no doubt saved thousands of lives — our health care workers. (Applause.)

We spend time with our children. We go to church. We do our jobs. We did these things before September 11. What more can we do? What extraordinary effort can we make?

We are a different country than we were on September the 10th — sadder and less innocent; stronger and more united; and in the face of ongoing threats, determined and courageous. (Applause.)

Our nation faces a threat to our freedoms, and the stakes could not be higher. We are the target of enemies who boast they want to kill — kill all Americans, kill all Jews, and kill all Christians. We’ve seen that type of hate before — and the only possible response is to confront it, and to defeat it. (Applause.)

This new enemy seeks to destroy our freedom and impose its views. We value life; the terrorists ruthlessly destroy it. We value education; the terrorists do not believe women should be educated or should have health care, or should leave their homes. We value the right to speak our minds; for the terrorists, free expression can be grounds for execution. We respect people of all faiths and welcome the free practice of religion; our enemy wants to dictate how to think and how to worship even to their fellow Muslims.

This enemy tries to hide behind a peaceful faith. But those who celebrate the murder of innocent men, women, and children have no religion, have no conscience, and have no mercy. (Applause.)

We wage a war to save civilization, itself. We did not seek it, but we must fight it — and we will prevail. (Applause.)

Yes, yes. We’re ready. We will give what we can. We will do what we must. Just tell us what is required of us.

I’m proud of the way our health care and postal workers — and the American people — are responding with calm in the face of this deadly new threat. (Applause.) Public health officials have acted quickly to distribute preventive antibiotics to thousands of people who may have been exposed. The government is purchasing and storing medicines and vaccines as a precaution against future attacks. We are cleaning facilities where anthrax has been detected, and purchasing equipment to sanitize the mail. Thousands of law enforcement officials are aggressively investigating this bioterrorism attack — and public health officials are distributing the most accurate, up-to-date information we have to medical professionals and to the public.

To coordinate our efforts we’ve created the new Office of Homeland Security. Its director, my good friend and former Governor, Tom Ridge, reports directly to me — and works with all our federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector on a national strategy to strengthen our homeland protections. For example, the Coast Guard has taken on expanded duties to protect our shores and our ports. The National Guard has increased — an increased role in surveillance at our border. We’re imposing new licensing requirements for safer transportation of hazardous material.

We’ve passed a new antiterrorism law which gives our law enforcement officers the necessary tools to track terrorists before they harm Americans. A new terrorism task force is tightening immigration controls to make sure no one enters or stays in our country who would harm us. (Applause.) We are a welcoming country, we will always value freedom — yet we will not allow those who plot against our country to abuse our freedoms and our protections. (Applause.)

That’s fine, Mr. President, but what can we do?

I recently received a letter from a 4th-grade girl that seemed to say it all: “I don’t know how to feel,” she said, “sad, mad, angry. It has been different lately. I know the people in New York are scared because of the World Trade Center and all, but if we’re scared, we are giving the terrorists all the power.” In the face of this great tragedy, Americans are refusing to give terrorists the power. (Applause.) Our people have responded with courage and compassion, calm and reason, resolve and fierce determination. We have refused to live in a state of panic — or a state of denial. There is a difference between being alert and being intimidated — and this great nation will never be intimidated. (Applause.)

People are going about their daily lives, working and shopping and playing, worshiping at churches and synagogues and mosques, going to movies and to baseball games. (Laughter and applause.) Life in America is going forward — and as the 4th-grader who wrote me knew, that is the ultimate repudiation of terrorism. (Applause.)

Whereupon the Bush Administration spent the next six years reminding us to be afraid and stripping away civil liberties in the name of “security.”

We cannot know every turn this battle will take. Yet we know our cause is just and our ultimate victory is assured. We will, no doubt, face new challenges. But we have our marching orders: My fellow Americans, let’s roll.

End of speech. Let’s roll. Sounds grand. Where? How? With what? Bush didn’t say.

The military action against the Taliban and the liberation of Afghani women from their burquas was fine, but we didn’t realize at the time how half-assed the effort was. Osama bin Laden and most of al Qaeda was allowed to slip away, and the Kabul Spring of freedom and democracy withered through lack of follow-up. The Bushies had already turned their attention to Iraq.

In the year after the attacks, many Americans were left in a state of emotional suspension. Their anger and sense of victimization roiled about, unresolved and directionless. The Afghan campaign had faded from the news, Osama bin Laden was still at large, and the challenge of September 11 still seemed unanswered. We were still waiting to be told where to roll. Thus the Bushies easily pulled off the Mother of All Bait and Switch Scams and whipped up a public frenzy against Saddam Hussein. With Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten?” ringing in our ears, Americans were convinced that a war with Iraq was just the thing to get justice for the dead of September 11. Those of us who realized there was no connection — and no threat to the United States from Saddam Hussein — were shoved aside. Anyone who didn’t support the invasion of Iraq, no matter what our reasons, were dismissed as “Saddam lovers.”

And here we are. Stuck in Iraq, lives and resources drained by a war we shouldn’t have fought. Osama bin Laden is still sending us “nyah nyah nyah” videos. There’s still a hole in the ground in Manhattan. The real challenge of September 11 was never met. It was never even made clear to us what that challenge was.

I flipped on the television this morning and saw a bit of live broadcast of today’s September 11 memorial service. The cameras zoomed in on a weeping woman. I flipped the television off. I respect the grief of those who lost loved ones that day, but as a nation we have forfeited the right to grieve. A moment of great opportunity has passed, and it was utterly squandered.

After more than four years bogged down in Iraq, we seem to spend more time arguing about what narrative we’re playing out than what strategy we should be following. Is this World War II? Is it Vietnam? Are we John Wayne on the beaches of Normandy or General Custer at the Little Big Horn? And what about the ending? My dears, we must have victory. We must not leave Iraq without a satisfying climax to the drama, with parades and speeches and a general wallowing in our national glory, never mind the cost. Or the purpose.

At this point it does no good to argue with the war’s bitter-end supporters that Iraq is not, in fact, World War II and that George W. Bush is neither Winston Churchill nor Abraham Lincoln. Anyone who still supports the war is utterly lost in whatever heroic storyline is playing in his head. George Bush can continue to evoke all manner of irrelevant historical references — including September 11 — and it still reverberates in the psyches of many Americans. They are stuck in their dream world and will not wake up.

Update: Little Lulu is still rolling:

But remembrance without resistance to jihad and its enablers is a recipe for another 9/11. This is what fueled my first two books, on immigration enforcement and profiling. This is what fuels much of the work on this blog and at Hot Air. Not every American wears a military uniform. But every American has a role to play in protecting our homeland–not just from Muslim terrorists, but from their financiers, their public relations machine, their sharia-pimping activists, the anti-war goons, the civil liberties absolutists, and the academic apologists for our enemies.

So what movie is Lulu playing in her head? And was it directed by Leni Riefenstahl?

Update 2: Comments on Lulu at Balloon Juice.

Update 3: See also No More Mr. Nice Blog.

The Party’s Over

I’ve said before that people who praise “moral clarity” generally are neither clear nor moral. “Moral clarity” advocates are not into wrestling with the painful choices presented by complex moral issues; they just want a team to root for.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Stu Bykofsky, moral clarifier extraordinaire (hat tip to Will Bunch). Bykofsky thinks that what America needs is another 9/11.

Yes, you read that right. We need another 9/11 so that we can, once again, be united against the evil Other and stop bickering over minor destractions like the rape of the Constitution and the violation of every ideal Americans ever held dear. Bykofsky writes,

Because the war has been a botch so far, Democrats and Republicans are attacking one another, when they aren’t attacking themselves. The dialog of discord echoes across America.

Turn back to 9/11.

Remember the community of outrage and national resolve? America had not been so united since the first Day of Infamy – 12/7/41.

We knew who the enemy was then.

We knew who the enemy was shortly after 9/11.

Did we? Two years after 9/11, polls showed that nearly 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attaciks. Today, even after repeated debunking of that claim and an admission by George Bush that there was no Iraq-al Qaeda link, more than 40 percent of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was, somehow, involved. Last month Newsweek reported:

Even today, more than four years into the war in Iraq, as many as four in 10 Americans (41 percent) still believe Saddam Hussein’s regime was directly involved in financing, planning or carrying out the terrorist attacks on 9/11, even though no evidence has surfaced to support a connection. A majority of Americans were similarly unable to pick Saudi Arabia in a multiple-choice question about the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers were born. Just 43 percent got it right—and a full 20 percent thought most came from Iraq.

Bykofsky continues,

Because we have mislaid 9/11, we have endless sideshow squabbles about whether the surge is working, if we are “safer” now, whether the FBI should listen in on foreign phone calls, whether cops should detain odd-acting “flying imams,” whether those plotting alleged attacks on Fort Dix or Kennedy airport are serious threats or amateur bumblers. We bicker over the trees while the forest is ablaze.

Yes, these are sideshow distractions. The real issue is … what, exactly?

… we have forgotten who the enemy is.

It is not Bush and it is not Hillary and it is not Daily Kos or Bill O’Reilly or Giuliani or Barack. It is global terrorists who use Islam to justify their hideous sins, including blowing up women and children.

Yes, we don’t do things like blowing up women and children to justify hideous sins, huh?

Bykofsky continues,

What would sew us back together?

Another 9/11 attack.

The Golden Gate Bridge. Mount Rushmore. Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The Philadelphia subway system. The U.S. is a target-rich environment for al Qaeda.

Is there any doubt they are planning to hit us again?

If it is to be, then let it be. It will take another attack on the homeland to quell the chattering of chipmunks and to restore America’s righteous rage and singular purpose to prevail.

This is brilliant. We must unite against those who perpetrate mass destruction, and to do that we need more mass destruction. Bring it on. Just not New York City this time, OK? We’ve still got a hole in the ground from the last attack.

I remember after the 1991 Gulf War there was a flurry of news articles about post-war emotional letdown. Americans had rallied and cheered and tied yellow ribbons all over the bleeping landscape, yet after just a few days of cool shoot-’em-up television it was all over, and people had to take the ribbons down and go back to their humdrum, ordinary lives. I swear that I remember television interviews with people — not soldiers, mind you, just citizens who’d been watching the fun on television — who were tearful the party was over so soon.

Let’s face it: “national unity” is a high.

I think for New Yorkers the high was less pleasurable, because the grief was too deep. But even here, it was hard to let go. John Homans got to the heart of it in an absolutely brilliant essay in the August 21, 2006 issue of New York magazine:

In the city in the early weeks, a debate raged between those who resisted the emotional power of the event and those who gave in to it. People who’d seen World War II and Europeans, even rather hawkish and sympathetic ones, tended to wonder, after a while, whether it was time to get back to regular life again. One hated them at the time—their stiff upper lips were a luxury, and a vanity—but now, that argument is more interesting.

I like what Homans says above about the emotional temptation of September 11.

The memory of 9/11 continues to stoke a weepy sense of American victimhood, and victimhood, as used by both left and right, is a powerful political force. As the dog whisperer can tell you, strength and woundedness together are a dangerous combination. Now, 9/11 has allowed American victim politics to be writ larger than ever, across the globe. When someone from Tulsa, for example, says, “It’s important to remember 9/11 every day,” what he means is, “We were attacked, we are the aggrieved victims, we are justified.” But if we were victims then, we are less so now. This distorted sense of American weakness is weirdly mirrored in the woundedness and shame that motivate our adversaries.

Woundedness. Victimhood. Justification. Anger. Fear. Temptation. This is where Great Evil is born.

In our current tragicomedy of Daddy-knows-best, it’s a national neurosis, a perpetual childhood. (With its 9/11 truth-conspiracy theories, the far left has its own infantile daddy complex, except in that version, the daddies are the source of all evil.) No doubt, there are real enemies, Islamist and otherwise, more than ever (although the cure—the Iraq war—has inarguably made the disease worse). But the spectacular scope of 9/11, its psychic power, continues to distort America’s relationships. It will take years for the country to again understand its place in the world.

That’s why it’s such a temptation to stay in that place of false clarity, where the dull fabric of ordinary life has been ripped apart, and all become intoxicated on “righteous rage and singular purpose to prevail.” That was so much more satisfying than these “endless sideshow squabbles” about how to extract ourselves from Bush’s disastrous foreign policy or how to restore the constitutional balance of power. And what a drag it must seem to climb down from the dizzying heights of righteousness to consider whether we are, in fact, “safer.”

Yet those are the tasks in front of us — injecting sanity into our foreign policy, restoring the Constitution, establishing stronger national security. We all want parties to last forever, but they never do, and when they’re over there’s a mess to be cleaned up.

In fact, it was our national intoxication on the emotional high of September 11 that got us into most of the messes we face now.

Certainly, Islamic terrorists are a dangerous threat. They can crash airplanes and skyscrapers; they can bomb subways and commuter trains. But Islamic terrorists can’t destroy America. There aren’t enough of ’em to storm our capitol and occupy our land from sea to shining sea. Only we can destroy America, from within. And some of us are doing a heck of a job.

A year ago Steven Biel wrote for the Boston Globe:

The rhetoric about squandered national unity invokes a fleeting moment of bipartisanship and 90 percent presidential approval ratings. This apolitical golden age was supposed to be part of 9/11’s silver lining, along with the “end of irony” and the more enduring images and stories of heroism at the World Trade Center and on Flight 93. But less unity of this kind might have spared us some of the rancor and recriminations that make us seem so divided now.

Stu Bykofsky wants the party to resume. I say it’s way past time to sober up.

Dear Lulu: People Live Here

The second day after 9/11, New Yorkers were officially summoned back to their lives. Commuters flowed into Manhattan by auto and train, through tunnels and over bridges. They piled back onto the city’s buses and subways. They maneuvered around the growing number of sidewalk shrines in the shadows of world-famous landmarks like the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center.

In short, we who live and work in New York City spent our days in a labyrinth of prime targets for terrorists. And we were not unmindful of this.

On 9/13 I remember riding the downtown local Seventh Avenue train toward my place of employment in Chelsea. Before the cataclysm this train went to the World Trade Center; people who lived on the West Side could ride it to their jobs in the Financial District. But on that day, we all knew, the train would stop short of its usual route, because part of the tunnel was collapsed under the smoldering ruins of the towers. And on that day I saw a Financial District sort of guy — good suit, gold watch, leather briefcase — riding that train. He was trembling. He shifted in his seat and muttered to himself. He was terrified. God only knows what that man had seen with his own eyes just two days before. Other commuters stood around him, clinging to poles and swaying with the subway car. They were silent and respectful, and they clustered around him like protective angels. But the fact is we were all flesh, and we were locked inside a metal and glass thing hurtling through miles of unguarded underground tunnels.

We all knew that. Yet we got on the subway, anyway. We had to get to work.

In those first few days, rumors flew about poison gas in the subways and mysterious packages left on buses. One such rumor caused a co-worker of mine to faint from fear. She laid on the office floor moaning, and her husband had to come in a car to take her home.

Military planes guarded the city, and every time one flew close to the high-rise office building I worked in (which had given us a clear view of the atrocity) we all dashed to the windows to see if it was one of Them. I suppose you could say we were a bit twitchy.

But the point is that life is what it is, and if you lived or worked in Manhattan, you had to overcome your nerves and get on with things. “Getting on with things” doesn’t mean forgetting. It means making peace, somehow, with your own vulnerabilities.

This past Monday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked about the alleged plot to “blow up” JFK airport:

“There are lots of threats to you in the world. There’s the threat of a heart attack for genetic reasons. You can’t sit there and worry about everything. Get a life,” he said.

That “What, me worry?” attitude pretty much sums up Bloomberg’s advice to New Yorkers on the terror plot. As far as he was concerned, the professionals were on it, so New Yorkers shouldn’t let it tax their brains.

“You have a much greater danger of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist,” he added.

The Usual Screechers, naturally, are outraged. Michelle Malkin says non-worriers are “ostriches.” “Add NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg to the gathering of ostriches,” she sneers.

In other words, according to Lulu, if one is not living in a constant state of terror, one is an “ostrich.”

I’ve got news for you, toots: People can’t live that way. And some of us, you know, live here. And if we choose to stay here, we must expose our precious flesh to the dangers of subways and tunnels and bridges and high-rise office buildings and Muslim taxi drivers every single damn day.

But just because we are not in a constant state of mind-numbing, inchoate fear, does not mean we are not mindful of what can happen. A whole lot of of watched the worst that terrorism can do with our own eyes. We were not sitting safely in our living rooms watching a little picture on a television. We were there. We lived with it. And we lived with the shrines and the smell and the sorrow for weeks after.

Believe me, you don’t forget something like that.

We’re still living with the hole in the city. I walked by it just a couple of days ago. Nobody’s forgotten anything. People still cluster in front of St. Paul’s to read the sidewalk display about the recovery effort. There’s still a big flag hung on the front of the Stock Exchange, and another from the ceiling in Grand Central Station, where armed National Guard still stroll through the corridors.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, I’m very happy that law enforcement is watching our airports so vigilantly that even half-assed plots are nipped in the bud. I fly into and out of New York City airports from time to time.

However, I don’t see anything useful about fear-mongering. Fear does have its uses, of course. If you confront a snarling dog, for example, fear gives you that nice shot of adrenaline that might help you climb a tree to safety. But the reality of modern life is that most of the scary things we face are things we can’t run away from. If we’re going to live our lives as we choose to live them, fear is an obstacle that must be overcome. Stirring up more fear isn’t helping anyone.

Fear isn’t helping anyone but some politicians, I should say.

New Yorkers on the whole do not like it when some politician frightens us with a terrorism threat, and we find out later the threat was absurd (e.g., destroying the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch). We get annoyed when news stories hype a threat to the office buildings we work in, and then we find out the threat was based on three-year-old information. And we do not appreciate someone who lives somewhere else, who was hundreds or thousands of miles away from Manhattan on 9/11, screeching at us that we’re supposed to be afraid. And that if we’re not afraid, we must not understand the dangers we live in.

You want to step over here and say that, Michelle? Out loud? On a New York City sidewalk? You might not like the reaction you get. You should be afraid, actually.

Update: See also Liberal Values, Oliver Willis, Gawker.

Update 2: See Happy Furry Puppy Story Time.

Everything Old Is News Again

We’re having Boiling Rice day at The Mahablog. In the last post we discussed how millions of dollars of aid for New Orleans was wasted because the Secretary of State was too busy shopping for shoes to do her job. Now let’s continue the further adventures of the worst National Security Adviser/Secretary of State ever.

In his new book George Tenet allegedly claims that he told then-National Security Adviser Rice in July 2001 of an “urgent threat” from al Qaeda. Further, he says he said “We need to consider immediate action inside Afghanistan now. We need to move to the offensive.”

Faiz at Think Progress writes that today,

On CBS’s Face the Nation, a perplexed and stunned Rice said, “The idea of launching preemptive strikes into Afghanistan in July of 2001, this is a new fact.” Rice then said, “I don’t know what we were supposed to preemptively strike in Afghanistan. Perhaps somebody can ask that.”

That there was such a briefing given to Condi in July 2001 is not news. In fact, I think this is about the third time around for this “revelation.” The last time the July 2001 meeting made news was last fall, when Bob Woodward’s book State of Denial hit the shelves. Woodward described a presentation made by George Tenet and Cofer Black on July 10 that warned of an imminent al Qaeda attack, possibly on U.S. soil. Rice, who failed to follow up on this information, denied then that such a meeting took place. But White House records revealed the meeting did take place.

And then, when the record proved there had been a meeting, Condi claimed she had been given no warning of an attack within the United States. But on the October 2, 2006 Countdown, Roger Cressey told Keith Olbermann that he had seen the same Tenet-Black presentation that was shown to Condi Rice on July 10, and Cressey confirmed that the presentation was mostly an explicit warning that al Qaeda was about to carry out a major terrorist attack, very possibly in the U.S. In 2001 Cressey was the National Security Council staff director at the time. From the transcript:

OLBERMANN: My first question, you‘re now consulting within a firm with Richard Clarke, who was at that meeting on July 10, on the central question of whether Rice was warned then of an attack on the U.S. Do we know who‘s right here, Woodward or Secretary Rice?

CRESSEY: Yes, she was warned. I mean, there was a meeting. It was George Tenet, Dick Clarke, another individual from the agency, Cofer Black, and Steve Hadley. And what it was, Keith, was a briefing for Dr. Rice that was similar to a briefing the CIA gave to us in the situation room about a week before, laying out the information, the intelligence, laying out the sense of urgency. And it was pretty much given to Dr. Rice and Steve Hadley in pretty stark terms.

OLBERMANN: The $500 million Cofer Black action plan against bin Laden, would have read like crazy talk if that had been presented to her as Woodward describes it?

CRESSEY: Not crazy talk, but because in some respects, that‘s what we did after 9/11, although, as much as I love and respect Cofer, I don‘t think we would have been able to bring his head back in a box then, because, frankly, all the CIA sources in Afghanistan stunk, and that was part of the problem.

But that type of aggressive, robust covert action is ultimately what was implemented after 9/11.

The “$500 million Cofer Black action plan against bin Laden” is, I believe, the famous plans to go into Afghanistan and take out bin Laden and other al Qaeda leadership that had been handed off to the Bushies by the Clinton Administration. My understanding is that this plan was put together after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000. The Clinton Administration didn’t carry out the plan because the intelligence guys did not confirm that al Qaeda was behind the Cole attack until right after the Bush II inauguration in January 2001. In spite of impassioned pleas by Richard Clarke and others to step it up, the Bushies took their sweet time circulating the plan. The plan finally hit President Bush’s desk on September 10, 2001.

I’ve written about this before, such as here. This same issue has come up periodically since the spring of 2002, and every time Condi denies ever having heard of it. As I understand it, the plan involved a lot of covert special ops stuff in cooperation with the Northern Alliance — pretty much what the initial action in Afghanistan looked like.

Via Think Progress, here’s a snip of the 9/11 Commission Report:

As the Clinton administration drew to a close, Clarke and his staff developed a policy paper of their own [which] incorporated the CIA’s new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options. … A sentence called for military action to destroy al Qaeda command-and control targets and infrastructure and Taliban military and command assets. The paper also expressed concern about the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the United States.” [p. 197]

Since “al Qaeda command-and control targets and infrastructure and Taliban military and command assets” were mostly in Afghanistan, one might conclude that’s where the military action was to take place.

This business about the preemptive strike into Afghanistan isn’t news. Richard Clarke wrote about it; Bob Woodward wrote about it. Bleeping Al Franken wrote about it. I’m sure I knew about it by 2002, because I remember reading about it in Time and Newsweek. Yet this is the first Condi has heard of it. Amazing.

Just for fun: Here’s Dan Froomkin, October 2, 2006, while Condi was still denying the July 10 meeting had taken place —

On Sunday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett issued a new rebuttal on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” Here’s the video ; here’s the transcript .

Speaking for Rice, Bartlett said: “I spoke to her this morning. She believes this is a very grossly mis-accurate characterization of the meeting they had.”

Stephanopoulos: “So this didn’t happen?”

And here’s the money quote from Bartlett: “That’s Secretary Rice’s view, that that type of urgent request to go after bin Laden, as the book alleges, in her mind, didn’t happen.”

Get that? In her mind, it didn’t happen.

One wonders what does happen in Condi’s mind.

Rudy News

The hot news item this morning is that Rudy Giuliani was told back in 2000 that Bernie Kerik was suspected of having ties to organized crime. Giuliani made Kerik New York Police Commissioner anyway.

Last year Giuliani testified under oath to a grand jury that he remembered receiving no such information.

(Republicans never remember anything unless they think Bill Clinton did it. Then they can dredge up details of 15-year-old rumors and accusations with remarkable clarity.)

You might remember that recently Kerik rejected a federal plea deal that would have required prison time. Bernie is suspected of mortgage fraud, tax fraud, conspiracy to eavesdrop and making false statements on his application to become U.S. Homeland Security Secretary.

In other Rudy news, NYC firefighters are renewing their attacks on Giuliani for his performance before and after the September 11 attacks. Much of what’s in this article I’ve written about before, here and here. But if you haven’t heard about the firefighter’s grievances, read the article linked.

He also told Barbara Walters that if he were president his wife might sit in on cabinet meetings. I remember when Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Clinton took visible policy roles in the White House the Right pitched a fit.

Giuliani Time, Part I

Word is that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is now the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

This far out from the actual nomination the polls don’t mean much, and I am reasonably certain that Rudy’s candidacy will self-destruct long before the Republican National Convention. There are reasons the people who know him best — New Yorkers — prefer their polarizing Senator, Hillary Clinton, over Rudy Giuliani. There are also reasons why the thought of a President Giuliani scares the daylights out of me.

Here are a few things America really needs to know about Rudy Giuliani:

Had Rudy Giuliani been mayor of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, no one would be talking about what a great leader Giuliani is today.

I was in lower Manhattan on 9/11, and as I was working in Manhattan I spent most of my time there in the days and weeks after. So you can take my word on this: Rudy’s post-9/11 “leadership” amounted almost entirely of the mayor appearing on television. He did a fine job of appearing on television, and he managed to set the right tone and say the right things — abilities Hizzoner did not always draw upon in the past. I give him credit for his performance. But that performance did not constitute “leadership.” It was all public relations. It was all about Rudy.

Jimmy Breslin wrote,

He was a nobody as a mayor and in one day he became a hero. This sudden career, this door opening to a room of gold, all started for Rudolph Giuliani when his indestructible bunker in World Trade Center building blew up. He had personally selected it, high in the sky, and with tons of diesel fuel to give emergency power.

And Giuliani walks on. He walks from his bunker, up Barclay Street and went on television. Went on and announced his heroism and then came back every hour or so until he became a star, a great figure, a national hero, the mayor who saved New York.

Most of this comes from these dazed Pekingese of the Press. … Giuliani was a hero with these news people. He did not pick up a piece of steel or help carry one of the injured off. [Jimmy Breslin, “He Molests the Dead,” New York Newsday, March 7, 2004]

The fact is that Giuliani did little to “lead” rescue or recovery efforts. While Rudy was prancing around on television, a hodge-podge of city agencies loosely — very loosely — coordinated by the Office of Emergency Management went to work deconstructing the remains of the World Trade Center with little input or direction from the Mayor.

Consider also that the World Trade Center was yards away from Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. Unlike Mayor Nagin of New Orleans, Mayor Giuliani did not have to beg for help getting the debris cleared and electricity hooked up so that the financial district was up and running again as quickly as possible. New York’s business leadership saw to that.

This pro-Giuliani TCS article comparing New York and New Orleans is nothing short of absurd. Conditions in New York after 9/11 and New Orleans after Katrina cannot be compared, because these are entirely different cities and entirely different disasters. There were not, alas, thousands of New Yorkers waiting to be rescued after 9/11, for example. As terrible as it was, the tragedy of 9/11 did not exhaust New York’s resources to deal with it. New York is a rich city, and most of it was untouched.

On that day the survivors of the tragedy simply walked away from it; I remember seeing them, covered in white dust and walking silently as ghosts up 8th Avenue. They had only a few blocks to walk before the air was clear and the infrastructure (and civilization) was intact, and all the food and medical assistance and other help they could possibly want was theirs for the asking.

For those who couldn’t walk, New York’s several state-of-the-art hospitals took it upon themselves to besiege lower Manhattan with ambulances and paramedics and world-class triage units to care for the injured. These medical professionals lingered most of the day with little to do. Those survivors who did need first aid got it very promptly.

In New York, residents who were unable to return to their apartments for the most part had the means to find other shelter on their own without waiting for FEMA to assign them a trailer. They did not have to resort to looting abandoned grocery stores for food or wait for days in unsanitary shelters for buses to take them elsewhere.

To be fair, the mayor did threaten to arrest anyone caught south of 14th Street without permission. That threat, and the solid wall of armed law enforcement officers and New York National Guard who populated 14th Street intersections for several days, no doubt discouraged looting. Manhattan’s geography — the damage was on the tip of an island — made securing the area easier. More important, large numbers of increasingly desperate people were not trapped inside the secured area with no help and no way out.

So exactly what did Mayor Giuliani do to exhibit “leadership”? The fact is that post-Katrina New Orleans was a much bigger mess than post-9/11 New York, and Rudy Giuliani did nothing after 9/11 that would indicate his “leadership” would have made much difference in New Orleans. As Michael Atkinson wrote in the Village Voice last year, “After 9-11, a sick, scandalized lame-duck mayor became a national hero for simply keeping his composure on TV.”

Which takes us to the next item:

Rudy Giuliani’s shoddy “leadership” made the 9/11 tragedy worse.

You might recall that several New York firefighters died when the towers collapsed. Giuliani testified to the 9/11 Commission that firefighters had been given an evacuation order, but they chose to stay because they were rescuing civilians. This testimony was not exactly, um, true.

For all the power of his voice and stature, however, Mr. Giuliani’s account must compete with a substantial and diverse body of evidence that flatly contradicts much of what he and his aides say happened that day, particularly on matters that could be seen as reflecting on the performance of his administration.

On perhaps the most painful of these, the loss of at least 121 firefighters in the north tower, Mr. Giuliani suggested that they stayed inside the trade center because they were busy rescuing civilians — never mentioning that they could not hear warnings from police helicopters, that many of them never learned the south tower had collapsed or that they were having serious problems staying in touch with their own commanders.

Witnesses who escaped from the tower tell a vastly different story than Mr. Giuliani. They say that in the north tower’s final 15 minutes, only a handful of civilian office workers were still in the bottom 44 floors of the building, perhaps no more than two or three dozen. Many of the firefighters who remained in the towers were between the 19th and 37th floors, having made slow progress up the stairs in their heavy gear.

It is clear, witnesses said, that even after the south tower collapsed, many, if not most, of the firefighters had no idea that they were in dire peril, or that it was time for them to leave. In contrast, police officers received strong guidance from their commanders to get out of the building, the commission reported, thanks in large part to the information sent to the ground by police helicopters.

The police could not talk to the firefighters, however, because the two NY departments used different types of radios set on different frequencies. Giuliani offered the 9/11 commission a lame excuse about the limits of technology, which is absurd on its face. In fact, there had been many complaints about the radios before 9/11, and the Mayor had done nothing.

Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins wrote in The Village Voice (“Rudy’s Grand Illusion,” August 29, 1006):

Everyone agrees that a critical problem that day was that the police and fire departments could not communicate; that’s one of the reasons the lack of inter- operable radios became such a focus of fury. If the top brass of the two departments were at each other’s sides, they could have told each other whatever they learned from their separate radio systems. Many of the command and control issues that might have saved lives could clearly have been better dealt with had Giuliani stopped, taken a deep breath, and pushed Kerik and Ganci to fully and effectively join forces. Insisting that Kerik, McCarthy, Esposito, or Dunne stay at the incident post would have established a joint operation.

Wayne Barrett (author of Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 and Kevin Keating (director of the documentary “Giuliani Time” were interviewed by Amy Goodman recently; see the transcript here. Wayne Barrett said,

The firefighters were using the same radios that they used at the ’93 bombing, even though we found a report that was written in 1990 that said that they were already obsolete and that they were a danger to the life of firefighters. And the firefighters are still carrying those same radios eight years after the 1993 bombing.

Kevin Keating made another point:

Here, our own local channel in New York, New York 1, had the head of the police union, the head of the firefighters union. Both of them were condemning Giuliani. They don’t have to negotiate any more contracts with him. This is not union leaders blustering about a contract. They had to be embodying and representing the vast majority of their membership. They pointed to our book and said our book told the truth about how Giuliani responded. And they denounced him, not just for the lead-up to 9/11, but for what you raise, which is, we have two chapters in the book that point out Giuliani’s terrible responsibility for — look, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 you can understand the chaos. You can understand why firefighters and police officers are out there without respirators. They’re still trying to do rescues. But once it was clear that nobody could be rescued, why there were thousands of construction workers, as well as these first responders, working there without respirators and with no plan to get them respirators, and why they were exposed to these toxins and why we now have thousands of them who have respiratory and even cancer signs right now, severe respiratory difficulties, why that was allowed —

You know, Giuliani, we quote the head of — his own commissioner from the Department of Design and Construction, who ran the ground zero cleanup. He said he dealt with Giuliani every day, that Giuliani only asked him one question: how much debris did you remove yesterday? Are we on schedule? Are we ahead of schedule? All he cared about, even though the fires were still burning and spewing toxins in the air, all he cared about was the public relations. I mean, obviously, it’s five years later. Nothing’s been built there. What was the rush? The public relations question of making it look like they were efficiently cleaning up the site. And the consequences have been dire.

In fact, many of the 9/11 families were so outraged at the gentle treatment Giuliani received at the hands of the 9/11 Commission that hundreds of them refused to go to the final hearings as scheduled. Today, some are threatening to campaign hard against Giuliani’s presidential bid.

Coming soon in Part II: Learn why Rudy’s your guy if you want America to be a police state. No question. If he were to run America the way he ran New York, he’d make the Bush Administration look benevolent.