Political Animal

MORE ON TERROR….Oddly enough, one

MORE ON TERROR….Oddly enough, one of the issues that I think gets too little attention in the war on terror is WMDs. And I’m not talking here about chemical weapons, which serious arms experts don’t consider any more dangerous than conventional explosives, but about bio weapons and, especially, nukes.

As bad as conventional terrorist bombings are, they aren’t the real problem on a global scale. The real problem is (a) the future possibility of serious biological weapons, and (b) the very present possibility of a terrorist group getting its hands on a nuclear weapon.

So how are we doing on the nuke front? Let’s see:

  • The most serious danger probably comes from suitcase nukes smuggled into the country via container ships, but after signing a port security bill last year with great fanfare President Bush has consistently failed to fully fund it. Instead, missile defense, which is of no value against terrorist attacks, receives billions of dollars a year in funding.

  • Russia and Eastern Europe have loads of highly enriched uranium that needs to be secured and decommissioned, but Bush has declined to push for more flexible rules that could free up funding for some of the most dangerous sites. Luckily, Ted Turner is doing it for us.

  • Pakistan has nukes, their scientists are known to have met with Osama bin Laden, they supported the Taliban, and they have sold nuclear technology to North Korea. Result: post-9/11 they promised to be good and are now supposedly a strong ally.

  • North Korea has nukes and George Bush has known about them for years. Response so far: nada.

As happy as I am that Saddam Hussein has gotten his just desserts, shouldn’t playtime be over now? Invading Iraq has done very little either to combat terrorism or to make the United States more secure, and while port security and HEU decommissioning may not be as flashy as foreign wars and missile defense systems, they are probably more important in the long run.

Time to get back to work, Mr. President.

Are We Winning the War on Terror?

ARE WE WINNING THE WAR ON TERROR?….After I wrote my post yesterday about the State Department’s latest report on global terrorism, I got to thinking. How are we doing in the war on terrorism?

We all know about the Bush administration’s mania for results, not process, and this shows up, for example, in their dedication to national testing standards for schools. After all, we can’t judge educational progress unless we can measure educational progress, and that means tests, tests, tests.

The State Department’s report provides plenty of anecdotal evidence ? shoe bombers arrested, new cabinet departments created ? but no metrics for gauging how we’re doing against al-Qaeda. But what should they be?

  • Number of terrorist attacks/number of people killed. This seems like a decent overall metric, but as we saw yesterday it can be misleading. What we care about are large scale al-Qaeda style attacks, not pipeline bombings in Colombia.

  • Terrorism in America. That’s pretty problematic too, since the number of terrorist attacks in the United States has always been tiny.

  • Terrorist attacks foiled. Better, but awfully hard to measure. What counts as “foiled”? In any case, there have been precious few of these reported, and you gotta figure that everything that could even remotely count as a foiled terrorist attack has been loudly trumpeted.

  • Al-Qaeda specific measures. Not sure what these would be, and it’s probably impossible to get the data anyway, what with them being such a secretive organization and all.

  • Wars won. We’re doing pretty well on that one.

The bottom line is that none of us really knows how we’re doing. As LeanLeft notes, this is partly due to lack of information: the Bush administration is fighting tooth and nail to obstruct the release of the 9/11 report. Why? Because it might be politically embarrassing.

This, of course, is the basic dilemma for the Bushies: they need to look like they’re winning the war on terrorism, but at the same time fear of terrorism is critical to both their foreign policy agenda and their reelection campaign. It’s a real tightrope they’re walking.

Presidential Debate

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE….David Kusnet writes in The American Prospect today about the, ahem, prospects for tomorrow’s Democratic presidential debate.

Whuzzat? Tomorrow’s presidential what?

Yep, the New Hampshire primary is still nine months away and the general election is 18 months away, but tomorrow the Dems are getting together in South Carolina for a presidential debate. I know I should have realized this back when Drudge was ridiculously trying make an issue out of the debate venue, but somehow I didn’t notice the date they were talking about. Sheesh.

Anyway, Kusnet gives you the pre-show betting line if you want to follow the action. The debate is scheduled for 9 PM and may or may not be carried by your local ABC affiliate depending on your local news director’s dedication to national events. C-SPAN will also be carrying it.