IF IT WEREN'T for the fact that the past week's headlines have been deadly serious, they'd be awfully funny.
First, we got the steady trickle—on a good day, a torrent—of revelations that seemingly every piece of the federal security apparatus, apparently including President Clueless, was given or possessed at least some inkling that Al Qaeda wanted to hijack airplanes and crash them into someplace with a lot of Americans in it. (Like, a building, in America.)
Then—well, golly, what a coincidence—we've been flooded with a succession of dire warnings, carefully spread over each news cycle, that a new and incredibly horrifying terrorist attack is "certain," "imminent," "unavoidable," or whatever the White House word of the day might be, as faithfully relayed by court jesters with TelePrompTers. Sorting all this out is a lot easier than Bush appointees (that would include Dubya himself) seem to think.
The federal government is a massive, largely dysfunctional bureaucracy that drives out many competent people. Too many of those remaining never talk with each other and certainly never seemed to think before Sept. 11 that America's stunningly brutal foreign policy over there might inspire its victims to strike back here.
The Bush administration is pathologically devoted to secrecy and to imperial power—its own and America's. So it buried and lied about the existence of warnings and intuitions before Sept. 11 that something bad might happen.
Because Dubya's fear- and war- induced approval ratings have been high, both Democrats and media have held back from anything that might have been construed as even mildly suggestive of the remote prospect of a possibility of criticism, even as the War on Terrorism embraced terror, trashed the Constitution, and made Americans—long term—much less safe.
When the bloom faded a bit, pre-Sept. 11 warnings suddenly became news where news was not dared reported before.
Meanwhile, with the Democrats' obsessions with fall elections, suddenly the "What Did He Know and When Did He Know It?" game kicked in, with Dems opportunistically trying to make scandalous the sorts of reports and briefings that are generated and ignored (or worse, acted upon) by the thousands every day in D.C.
Since such headlines trigger Republicans' obsessions with fall elections, we've been assaulted with new and dire attack warnings. Something, anything, to get that scandal off the TV.
All of these fingers pointing, wagging, and assessing the wind miss the most obvious and critical issue of all. Nobody in either party has been demanding to know why the trillions we're paying for "defense" can't prevent a few guys with box cutters and rage from inflicting the worst foreign-induced damage on the U.S. mainland in nearly two centuries.
The attacks of Sept. 11 didn't happen because a report went unread. None of these now-infamous "warnings" would have prompted an effective response at that point. Would the White House have ordered every Muslim foreigner detained, every airport locked down for the indefinite future? Fat bleeping chance. You know it; I know it; everyone knows it except the chattering castrati now dominating our airwaves.
Our subsequent policies won't prevent the next attack, either. The only certainties about that attack are: It won't involve either jet planes or box cutters, and Dubya's foreign policies are inspiring thousands more every day to try to carry it out. That's why these dire warnings can safely (and accurately) be trotted out whenever unflattering headlines warrant White House damage control.
Instead of asking why the most deadly military and most invasive intelligence apparati in human history completely failed to protect us, both parties have spent months shoveling even more money into the same failed programs, the same paradigms, the same mind-set. No gazillion-dollar space gizmo will knock a box cutter (or whatever) out of a terrorist's hand. No moonscaping of distant villages with daisy cutters will decrease the pathological hatred that millions feel for America. No arming and training of a new generation of dictators' secret police forces will disarm the world. No scoffing at the notion of international arms control treaties will discourage production of weapons of mass destruction.
We're at much greater risk now than we were last September—from foreign terrorists and from our own government, too. If the actual mission of our military and political establishment were to protect us—as opposed to the mission of enriching each other by reducing the world to gated communities and rubble—Sept. 11 would have been much less likely to happen, and ditto for the next attack and the ones beyond.
Asking those questions—how our government brought us and the world to this sorry point, and how we can make it better—should be the preoccupation of every political leader in both parties.
It's not—ever—and that's the real scandal.