White House Takes Cover Behind Its Defeatist Talk


“There will be another terrorist attack. We will not be able to stop it,” quoth F.B.I. director Robert Mueller. “It’s something we all live with.” It’s “inevitable.”

Ain’t that nice? Here we have the guy who runs the largest and most important police agency in the United States telling the country, “You’re on your own, kiddies, we can’t protect you. So forget whether or not we fucked up on the Sept. 11 thing, girls and boys, there’s nothing we can do about these little dynamite blasts. Some of you nice taxpayers are going to get blown up one nice Saturday morning while shopping for Scott’s Turf Builder at Wal-Mart. It’s just going to happen. You’re going to die before your time, or you’re going to see your little daughter’s arm taken off by a piece of terrorist shrapnel or your husband’s balls blasted off, and there’s not a goddamn thing your government can do about it.”


Evidently, the Mueller remarks are part of some kind of campaign by the administration to absolve itself ahead of time for fuck-ups not yet fucked up and deaths not yet died at the hands of murderers and terrorists, which the government lacks the pluck and the competence to prevent. The day before the Mueller statement, that cranky miracle of medical science, Dick Cheney, materialized on the nation’s television tubes to tell a doubtless delighted audience that, “In my opinion, the prospects of a future attack against the United States are almost certain …. It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.'”

In the “war against terrorism,” the word “victory” is no longer spoken. The talk about going over “there” and whippin’ raghead ass for Jesus and Moses and all that Good Book pounding is on hold. Instead, there’s the Vice President of the United States teaching us to get used to the idea that you and I will be attacked-not “if” but “when.” And the billions and trillions for the Army, Navy, rockets, cops, spies, satellites-all of that stuff is no defense against some daddy-longlegs guy who looks like he walks on stilts and who might be alive and might be dead.

God almighty! Our killers are already among us, according to Senator Bob Graham of Florida, who told CNN: “We had an instance in which 25 extremists, as they were described, jumped on ships outside of the United States, hid in the container cargoes until they got to the United States and then disembarked. And they’ve been lost in the American population.”

So what is going on here? Do we have a preemptive C.Y.A. attack? Is what we’re hearing “cover your ass in advance,” because the Washington big shots have no confidence in their own organizations and have woken up to the knowledge that they have over-promised and can’t deliver? Election Day is coming up, and George Bush may not be able to intimidate the other side by insisting that criticism of him is sabotaging the “war effort,” whatever that phrase may mean. “For the first time since Sept. 11, more than half say they lack full confidence in the government’s ability to prevent future attacks, according to a new Washington Post –ABC News poll,” that newspaper recently published.

It is inconceivable that, as it dawns on the voters that they themselves are targets, some of them may not reconsider whom they’re casting ballots for. George Bush is drifting into a position in which he’s saying: “We can’t win it; it’ll never end; and I am the first President since Abraham Lincoln to allow war, death and destruction to gain our shores.” To the extent that past political history is a guide to future occurrence, Mr. Bush is going to have more trouble in November than the polling now indicates. The elections in 1952 and in 1968 are evidence of the unpopularity of waging unwinnable wars or wars without victory.

The White House bunch repeat that this is a different kind of war, that there are no quick fixes, no panaceas, and other low-IQ bromides-but these same people will find out it’s a war they won’t be running if they continue to talk up defeatism, the inevitability of terror and conflict without end.

What the hell are they going to say if a suicidal terrorist detonates a bomb in a Safeway in Duluth, Minn., or a student bierstube at Ohio State, or the Philadelphia subway? Nor are such murderous thoughts fantastic. The New York Times writes, “Law-enforcement officials believe that an embittered Palestinian immigrant came within hours of detonating a nail-studded bomb in the New York City subway system in 1997 …. The suspect, Ghazi Ibrahim Abu Maizar, was convicted of the plot two years later.” So what does Mr. Bush say when the next Abu succeeds in putting the match to the fuse and kills 11 schoolchildren in Ojai, Calif.? Is Mr. Bush going to get on the tube and tell the country, “We’re very sorry about this tragedy, but we warned you it was inevitable. We told you it was going to happen because these days, you must add terrorism to death and taxes on the list of unavoidable woes.”

He’d better come up with a better story than that. Of course, he can always fall back on freedom: “We’re fighting for freedom,” blah blah blah. O.K., if we’re fighting for freedom, don’t you think, Mr. President, we’d better win? Is your idea of freedom that we sit around and accept as inevitable, to use your F.B.I. director’s word, that every so often some of us are going to be killed and maimed ’cause that’s the way it is. If we’re talking about freedom, George, what about freedom from fear?

George can come before the electorate and plead that the other guy left him a big mess when he moved into the White House. It’s true; Bill Clinton did. Because Bill Clinton had to have his little piece of ass, he put himself in a position where he couldn’t fire F.B.I. director Louis Freeh. It was a mess, the C.I.A. was a mess, it was all a mess when Mr. Bush took over-but it’s Mr. Bush’s mess now.

The Republicans are already cautioning us vis-à-vis the next election not to change horses in midstream. In 1944, the Democrats used that chestnut to reelect Franklin Roosevelt to a fourth term when the man was all but dead. Those horses aren’t going to pull another candidate across that stream if Mr. Bush and his party are campaigning on a larger and more useless police establishment, inevitable terror attacks, war without victory and your 3-year-old dying for freedom.

White House Takes Cover Behind Its Defeatist Talk