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Friday, February 24, 2006

The "climate of fear" 

The American anti-Bush left almost religiously claims that the Bush administration has won such support for its foreign policy as there is by creating a "climate of fear" in the months and years following September 11. Paul Krugman makes the point with his usual clarity in his column in this morning's New York Times, which he titles "Osama, Saddam and The Ports":
So why did this latest case of sloppiness and indifference finally catch the public's attention? Because this time the administration has become a victim of its own campaign of fearmongering and insuation....

[Insert long passage about Donald Rumsfeld's famous handwritten notes on September 11, wondering whether there was a basis to hit Iraq.]

So it literally began on Day 1. When terrorists attacked the United States, the Bush administration immediately looked for ways it coulde exploit the atrocity to pursue unrelated goals -- especially, but not exclusively, a war with Iraq.

But to exploit the atrocity, President Bush had to do two things. First he had to create a climate of fear: Al Qaeda, a real but limited threat, metamorphosed into a vast, imaginary axis of evil threatening America. Second, he had to blur the distinctions between nasty people who actually attacked us and nasty people who didn't.

Without refighting the argument over the propriety of invading Iraq -- a topic I would be pleased to debate with Paul Krugman at any time and place of his choosing -- may I suggest that it is pure rubbish to accuse the Bush administration of creating a "climate of fear" in the wake of September 11. My recollection was that the President was a constant advocate for national calm, encouraging people to get out and keep doing what they were doing, only moreso. From his speech of September 20, 2001:
Americans are asking: What is expected of us? I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.

I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith. (Applause.)

I ask you to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions. Those who want to give can go to a central source of information, libertyunites.org, to find the names of groups providing direct help in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The thousands of FBI agents who are now at work in this investigation may need your cooperation, and I ask you to give it.

I ask for your patience, with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security; and for your patience in what will be a long struggle.

I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11th, and they are our strengths today. (Applause.)

As I recall, nobody at the time -- not even the editorial page editors of the New York Times, and not even Paul Krugman -- thought that was fear mongering.

In the weeks that followed, Americans went to thousands of emotionally devestating funerals. I myself cried at the heartbreaking service for my step-cousin, Welles Crowther, whose remarkable story of heroism on that day is here and here, among other places.

Then, beginning only one week after September 11, we discovered anthrax in our mail. My regional post office is in Hamilton, New Jersey, which was anthrax central. A friend of mine, who ran a medical device company at the time, had his sterilizer commandeered so that our mail could be baked, after which it would be placed in little baggies with a very ominous warning.

Then, less than a month after September 11, a sniper named Muhammad and a youthful accomplice began shooting people who made the mistake of pumping their own gas in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Subsequently, we learned that on October 11, 2001, in the teeth of the anthrax crisis and the sniper attacks, the CIA told the administration that it had credible evidence that al Qaeda had smuggled a ten kiloton atomic bomb into New York City.
On October 11, 2001, a month to the day after the terrorist assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush faced an even more terrifying prospect. At that morning's Presidential Daily Intelligence Briefing, George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, informed the president that a CIA agent code-named Dragonfire had reported that Al Qaeda terrorists possessed a ten-kiloton nuclear bomb, evidently stolen from the Russian arsenal. According to Dragonfire, this nuclear weapon was now on American soil, in New York City.

You can read in detail about the reaction of the administration to this report from the CIA George Friedman's excellent book America's Secret War : Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies, which I highly recommend.

Then, we spent the last part of October 2001 reading press reports about how the war in Afghanistan had become a "quagmire," and that we were doomed to refight the Vietnam war.

Under the circumstances, my recollection is that the Bush administration, and George W. Bush in particular, was a rock in a sea of national stress. So much so, in fact, that Democrats thought it propitious to mock him during the 2004 election cycle for not running from a room full of children on the first news of the first attacks of that fall.

Is al Qaeda "a real but limited threat," as Krugman claims? It is certainly limited in the sense that unlike the Soviet Union, it lacks the capacity to destroy virtually all life on Earth. But there was considerable evidence that before the United States began its counterattack 2001, eight years too late, it was rapidly becoming the only force on the planet with both the capacity and the inclination to destroy an American city. The left now wants us to think that the threat of al Qaeda was always a chimera. It is, after all, necessary that they distract us from the disturbing fact that al Qaeda had stitched its battle flag to one victory after another against the United States during the tenure of the previous administration, which still considered Iraq to be the greater threat.

Of course, unreconstructed lefties will argue in response that the Bush administration's real inflation of the threat did not begin until the administration ramped up its argument that we needed to remove Saddam Hussein's regime from power in Iraq. There is no question, in retrospect, that the administration overstated the threat embedded in the primary legal rationale for the invasion, which was Saddam's violation of the prohibitions imposed upon his country in settlement of the Gulf War, particularly with regard to weapons of mass destruction.

The only real question is whether they overstated the threat in good faith, or in bad faith. Of course, there is no political advantage for Democrats if the overstatement was in good faith, based on estimates of the same CIA that had warned the President personally that al Qaeda may have smuggled an atomic weapon into Manhattan (however much the CIA's careerists have been leaking against this narrative since the invasion failed to validate the prewar estimates). The only partisan leverage comes from the claim that the overstatement of Saddam's WMD threat was in bad faith. Krugman and countless other Bush-haters point to Rumsfeld's notes and Paul Wolfowitz's longstanding support for regime change to argue that the Bushies wanted to take out Iraq from "Day 1." So? This doesn't prove bad faith -- the Clinton administration also thought that Iraq was a higher priority threat than al Qaeda. This amounts to the charge that the Bushies have been too consistent. That isn't a big winner, either, because it reinforces the idea that the case against Iraq was made in good faith. In order to sustain the claim that Bush overstated the threat of Iraq in bad faith, his opponents have cooked up various nefarious reasons, ranging from his personal desire to redeem his father to Dick Cheney's urge to line Halliburton's coffers to the "neocon" conspiracy to enslave America's foreign policy to Israel. None of these theories hold up under the slightest scrutiny (however much public relations value they may have among the conspiratorially inclined), so the left is forced into claiming, as Krugman just did, that al Qaeda just wasn't all that dangerous before the United States rocked them back with a massive military and covert offensive against them overseas.

Does anybody really believe that?

UPDATE: Doh! A commenter points out that the sniper attacks were in the fall of 2002, not 2001. Wrong but accurate once again!

23 Comments:

By Anonymous salvage, at Fri Feb 24, 10:16:00 AM:

Shorter TigerHawk:

My examples of Bush not doing the thing he is accused of doing it proves that he never did it so please have the taste not to bring up all the times he did.


Oh and Krugman would take you apart like Paul Teutul Sr. takes apart a carberator.  

By Blogger Sluggo, at Fri Feb 24, 11:42:00 AM:

Krugman would be toast the moment he strayed from strictly economic issues. There's no there there.

Is there any more irritating formation than the smug and supercilious "Oh, and . . ." Please, Left and Right; let's lose that one.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Fri Feb 24, 11:51:00 AM:

Yes, the first reaction was to tell us to go out and spend money (as with the big tax rebate). The fearmongering came into play when it was time to sell the Iraq war a few months before 2002 midterm elections. And more or less continuously since then. How many times has Bush sold some idea as being a "pre 9-11 thinking", or claimed "if we X then the terrorists will win"? That is fearmongering...as is "they hate us for our freedom", "smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud", Powell's little vial of white powder at the UN, and any number of administration quotes.

If you like, I'll conceed the argument that the adminstration was not fearmongering in the wake of 9/11. But they've been making up for lost time the past 3 1/2 years. Fearmongering has not only been a staple, it has worked. Have you ever heard of "security moms" as a voting demographic before? To deny it stretches credibility.

To answer your question, yes, I believe that al Qaeda is a real but limited threat. After years of careful planning their surprise attack took out a few thousand people. I'm not saying that's not tragic, but it's small potatoes compared to the threats of the Cold War, a World War, or even the routine manifest destiny type wars we used to engage in. If you tell me that my chances of dying in a terror attack next year are roughly 1/20th of my chance of dying in a car accident (and statistically they're a LOT less), then I'll go on with life. In this past decade that I've been living in Philadelphia, there have been more homicides here than terrorism-related deaths in the whole country. Al Qaeda needs to be addressed, of course, and as do many other terrorists in the world. But unless you really like to worry, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Fri Feb 24, 12:03:00 PM:

Totally off topic, but I believe you have not yet posted on Summers' resignation as president of Harvard. I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Personally, I'd love to trade Tilghman to Harvard for Summers. Harvard would get as president an accomplished female scientist -- sweet revenge for the faculty -- who's very liberal. Princeton would get a more dynamic leader who would encourage greater political and ideological diversity within the university community. And, based on my experience of hearing each of Tilghman and Summers address his Dallas alumni group, Princeton would trade up in terms of speaking ability and willingness not to patronize those who are outside the academy. Bonus points for the fact that the trade would reunite Summers and Cornel West. What do you think? :)  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Fri Feb 24, 12:23:00 PM:

Lanky - I would posit that it was fundamentally unnecessary for the Administration to fear monger and in fact the White House has been working to reduce rather than ramp up Al Qaeda worries. For instance, the Anthrax/mail system situation has vanished from the scene; and we've not heard much at all about the Oklahoma student who blew himself up outside of Sooner stadium during halftime of the game. Finally, the WH has worked assiduously to limit distribution of intelligence documents collected within Iraq which Stephen Hayes and others have begun to uncover which suggest that Saddam certainly had chemical weapons, nuclear aspirations and connections to terrorists.

By contrast, I would say that Al Qaeda has used suicide bombings and the media to fear monger alot more than we have. The Bali bombings, Madrid 3/11, Richard Reid, London 7/7, etc. do much to monger fear. So do televised videotaped beheadings.

The fear mongering complaint is just plain silly. It is an elitist argument emanating from pacifist, antiwar socialists who: 1) assume "the (dumb) people" are made afraid by politicians and their words (that they actually believe) rather than terrorists and their actions; 2) believe it was unreasonable to assume that Saddam may have had dangerous weapons and a willingness to align himself with terrorists to hurt the US. Both of those assumptions are, frankly, stupid -- and a rank denial of all empirical evidence.

Weak. Very weak.

Finally- salvage -Krugman is a fool. Once he wanders away from his economics stomping ground into history and politics, he is devoid of intellectual capacity and tools for argumentation. TH would demolish him.  

By Anonymous West, at Fri Feb 24, 12:28:00 PM:

One small nuke in any one of our major cities will take care of that "chances of dying in a terrorist attack" meme.

One in Manhattan would instantly turn New York into a red state.

I guess the 'fallout' wouldn't be all bad.

Then the left will have it's climate of fear, and will wish for the "good old days" when they could blame Bush for all the ills in the country and the world.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Fri Feb 24, 01:33:00 PM:

FDR said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Meanwhile he was putting American citizens in detention camps and sending others off to fight Hitler.

Maybe Krugman could deconstruct that little bit of history if he feels up to it.  

By Blogger Uptown Ruler, at Fri Feb 24, 02:53:00 PM:

i seem to recall about two years of "terror alerts" from ashcroft and the like.

i also seem to recall a chart which tracked bush's popularity in the polls with the frequency of orange and red terror alerts, one can only guess that whenever his poll numbers went down, the terror alerts came out.

this adminstration has played the fear game repeatedly to its advantage.

the irony of its present situation is hard to miss.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Fri Feb 24, 03:44:00 PM:

Ack... I need to deconstruct a little history of my own. Should have said FDR started out by saying We have nothing to fear... and ended up putting Americans in detention camps and sending others off to fight Hitler. Timeline works a little better that way.

Uptown ruler, yes that's some irony. All those previous warnings after 9/11 were for naught but political advantage, unlike any of the hyperventilating going on now about port security. I suppose the only fix for the Administration is to resurrect one of those big old red terror alerts and point discretely towards the UAE.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Fri Feb 24, 03:59:00 PM:

Sigh, there is your answer, Tigerhawk. Some people do believe that Bush is the problem and Al Queda is just a nuisance. The fact that radical islam has created massive problems for the last five Presidents has to be ignored. Bush is the problem. Karl Rove secretly draws cartoons. The terrorists who bombed the Mosques in Iraq were dressed in black, and Condelezza Rice dresses in black, there must be a connection.  

By Anonymous Sam, at Fri Feb 24, 04:15:00 PM:

Ever notice the correlation between when bad news for Bush hits, and when the terror alert level is raised?

Just sayin'.

And for the record, I happen to believe a hypothetical nuke in a red-state major city (say, Houston) would instantly turn it into a blue state, not the other way around. (Unless, of course, they managed to find a way to blame it on the local authorities instead)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Feb 24, 06:20:00 PM:

One small nuke in any one of our major cities will take care of that "chances of dying in a terrorist attack" meme.

One in Manhattan would instantly turn New York into a red state.

I guess the "fallout" wouldn't be all that bad


Nice West.
A nuke in NYC would be a huge spotlight on the inadequacies of the Administration's "we're fightin' 'them' over there so they won't attack us over here" efforts domestically since 9/11. When you hear Chertoff admit last week that he was confounded by the logistics of moving trailers and dry ice in response to a disater that we were warned of before it hit, ya gotta wonder about our ability to respond to the next "disaster" that isn't tracked by the Weather Channel.

If that nuke arrives in a container, all bets are off that there would be any red states remaining. Only one of the six ports that are to be transferred as part of the Dubai deal is equipped with a working radiation-detection system that every cargo container must pass through. (Little detail about the Administration's underfunding of port security).

No word if New York Harbor is that one lucky port. You better hope it is for Bush's sake it or you may have a "fallout" beyond your wildest dreams.

Oh but that's right, "People don't need to worry about security.." Bush, 2/23/06  

By Anonymous Buzz Crutcher, at Fri Feb 24, 06:39:00 PM:

So the terror level goes up whenever there's bad news for Bush, huh? If you read the NY Times, there's "bad news for Bush" every single day (i.e. the dozens of days when they've run Aby Ghraib stories). The timing of a terror alert (or anything else Bush does or says) is always "suspicious", whether it's the day of bad news, the day after bad news, or even the day before bad news.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Feb 24, 11:39:00 PM:

Libs -- the DPW deal is 64% against; 17% for.

That's pretty much the mood of the country, and it's a helluva lot closer to Toby Keith than to the Dixie Chicks. Let alone Cat Stevens.

The idea (which was stupid beyond belief) that GWB is "fear mongering" when he went out of his way to protect his Arab buddies in the Magic Kingdom or United Oil Emirates is just dumb.

A fundamental misreadingn of the American people.

Bush is basically toast, because the country has moved ... TO THE RIGHT OF HIM.

Most Americans feel that after Cartoon Jihad ("Freedom go to hell" or "Behead those who Insult Islam" or "God Bless Hitler"); beheadings of screaming helpless Americans too numerous to count; crazed frenzied Muslims burning the American flag because they stubbed their toe in a Zionist-American plot; or various threats from Ahmadnutjob to nuke America after Israel (his tame Mullah issued a Fatwa I kid you not on TOM AND JERRY) ...

Most Americans would agree with Keith that "we'll put a boot up your ass, it's the American way" etc. Pre-emptive nuking of Iran would probably find wide support in America. THAT'S how far right we've moved.

If we had a city nuked, yes Bush would be toast. So would the Dem Party. We'd have a broad based agreement to nuke the hell out of the Muslim world, and kick every Muslim out of the country.

Libs here's a history lesson: when people are angry and afraid (as in WWII) measures that seem impossible and out of the question in peace time seem reasonable and obvious in War. After Pearl Harbor, and the Bataan Death March, and the treatment of our prisoners in Wake Island, etc. it was a fricking miracle that FDR did so little.

Theodore Geisel aka DR SEUSS supported the internment. THAT ought to give everyone pause about what would happen.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Feb 25, 01:10:00 AM:

I hate to get into meaningless speculation contests, but one thing deserves mention from me.

A nuclear blast in Houston would not turn Texas into a 'Blue state.' That's just silly. The Democrats' reputation on national security is so abysmal (esp. in Texas) that no Texan majority would ever believe they would do the job better than the Republicans. In fact, it'd probably become even more 'Red.' I think that would be true for most other states as well.

Plus, we're not Spaniards. We will not be bullied into submission, nor into changing political parties. Ask Mexico.

Dawnfire, native Texan  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Feb 25, 06:08:00 AM:

I must confess, I have no idea what will be the political impact of the next mass casualty attack on American soil. I would say that it probably depends very much on the time, place and manner of that attack, but that is an obvious and shallow point. I really have no idea.

I do tend to think that a mass casualty attack on Texas would provoke an unrelenting hawkishness in that part of the country. The question is whether the coastal elites would agree, or embrace Michael Moore's idea that they had it coming.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Feb 25, 07:26:00 AM:

a small point: The sniper attacks in the Washington area were in October of 2002, not 2001.  

By Anonymous Betty Cracker, at Sat Feb 25, 07:39:00 AM:

Does anyone remember the 2004 Bush campaign's infamous wolf pack ad?

"In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry voted to slash America's intelligence operations by $6 billion, cuts so deep they would have weakened America's defenses.

And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm."

As the narrator intones the above, the camera zooms in on a sinister pack of wolves in a scary forest. Rank fearmongering.

But then again, 90% of Chuck Schumer's comments on the port kerfluffle are rank fearmongering too. It's not a Republican or Democrat thang. It's a politician thang. A pox on both their houses, I say. (Not literally, of course.)  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Feb 25, 09:23:00 AM:

Last Anonymous Guy -

Doh! Of course you are correct. Damn.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Sun Feb 26, 12:42:00 PM:

You know, the proponents of the "fear mongering" argument say this because they believe in their heart of hearts that folks who don't agree with them are just bunch of ignorant sheep.

I really, really resent that implication.

To be made so "afraid" by mere words that you abandon all reason and conscious thought and fall into line with whatever the President says, one must be... well, a sheep.

And this is what the Democrats think of anyone who has the temerity to disagree with them on national security issues.

It is not possible, of course, that they looked at the facts and came to a different conclusion.

Ooooh! Look at the scary wolf! Mein Gott im Himmel - I'd better run right out and vote Republican or the big bad wolf will eat me!!!!

Right. We are "afraid". We are reacting to "fear mongering". Give me a break - stop being so condescending.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Feb 26, 03:56:00 PM:

Not possible.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Mon Feb 27, 11:33:00 AM:

Readers on the comment board -- FDR said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" at his inauguration in 1933. The context was the economic depression, not WWII and Germany and Japan. That was still 8 years away.

Argh.  

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