Richard Fariña’s first and only novel was the classic, Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up To Me. If Fariña had not died tragically in a 1963 motorcycle accident, he would have appreciated the irony that the title of his book, which chronicled the meande rings of a free-spirited, 20-something now provides an apt caption for the reign of George W. Bush.
Years from now, historians may well characterize this as the antipodal presidency, a period where the administration consistently said one thing and then did the exact opposite, where their “up” was consistently “down.” Not a week passes without a new example of this sophistry: The “clean skies” initiative actually increases air pollution. “Saving” social security eviscerates it.
As perverse as these cal culated actions have been, the greatest administration deception lies in its claim to have kept America safe. In the final analysis, George Bush won the 2004 election because voters believed that he had protected them from another terrorist attack and the refore was stronger on defense than the lackluster John Kerry. In one of the most remarkable campaigns in American history, the same president who ignored warnings that there was going to be a terrorist attack and thus permitted 9/11 to occur, who let Osa ma bin Laden and most of his Al Qaeda supporters escape into the wilds of Afghanistan because he wouldn’t put enough American troops on the ground, and who diverted our anti-terrorist efforts with a contrived and unnecessary attack on Iraq, convinced voters that he had kept America safe.
Now the antipodal presidency proffers the deception that the war in Iraq is winnable, moreover that our occupation enhances national security. While Bush argues down is up—“I believe we’re making really good progress in Iraq”—the American people grow increasingly unhappy with the occupation. The president swears that he sees a light at the end of the Iraq tunnel, but we have the foreboding sense that this represents an onrushing train.
To right this topsy-turvy world, A merica needs to acknowledge that our occupation of Iraq has, in reality, undermined our security: It has shifted our focus away from the pursuit of Al Qaeda, fueled terrorism within Iraq, and diverted billions from vital homeland security projects.
To turn this situation around, we must develop a plan for withdrawal from Iraq, and a realistic strategy for homeland security. We must drastically decrease the amounts being spent on wasteful military projects and reallocate these funds to the protection of America. A recent “Unified Security Budget” study by the Center for Defense Information (available at www.cdi.org/index.cfm) calculated that the U.S. spends nine times as much on the military as it does on homeland security. By eliminating redundant weapons systems, and other commonsense reductions, the balance between military spending and the allocation for homeland security can safely be shifted from 9:1 to 4:1.
Before we do this, two questions need to be answered: The first is, if we take money from the military, where would these funds best be spend for homeland security? The most comprehensive work on this subject is “America the Vulnerable: How Our Government is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism,” written by national security expert Stephen Fly nn, who served in both the first Bush and Clinton White Houses. Flynn opined, “We are sailing into a national security version of the perfect storm,” and suggested a variety of actions. Central to these is the funding of so-called “first responders,” Amer ica’s police, fire, and health officials, who, as in 9/11, will be the first thrown into the breach when, as Flynn believes is inevitable, we are attacked again.
The second question is why hasn’t the Bush administration done more? Experts tell us that ad ministration efforts to improve homeland security have been ineffectual. Millions of dollars have been focused on examining passengers at airports; yet, in a recent Atlantic article James Fallows observed that, “Such extensive screening at airports may ac tually make America more vulnerable, because of all the things that the Transportation Security Administration is neglecting to do as a result.” In March 2002, George Bush met with the National Governors Association who were concerned with their role in p roviding homeland security; as reported by Pennsylvania Governor Rendell, “President Bush was honest and frank. He told us there’s no more money for anything. He said essentially, ‘You’re on your own.’”
The Bushies appear to have accepted their own rhetoric that “you can’t trust the government.” The antipodal presidency evidently believes that down is up, that homeland security is not a vital responsibility of the federal government; instead, we should “take responsibility” and protect ourselves. But no matter how many guns we own, they won’t protect us from a dirty bomb. The ominous consequence of the Bush philosophy has been to make America more vulnerable.
Once again, we are left scratching our heads, wondering why the Democratic leadership doesn’t m ake more of what seems to be an egregious error. Have they been down so long, that it looks like up to them?
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and activist. He can be reached at email@example.com