- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

The looking glass

Imagine for a moment that there is a Democratic administration in the White House. Now imagine that at a time of soaring deficits and a looming social security crisis, the president endorses a huge new entitlement program for seniors, designed purely for electoral purposes. Now imagine that he deliberately low-balls the costs of this program, to the tune of something like 30 percent. Would Republicans be outraged? You bet they would.

Now imagine that the official designated to provide accurate costing figures was told that if he released the real numbers, he would be fired. Now stop imagining. It appears that all this occurred in the Bush administrationovertheMedicare prescription drug program. The administration pressured its own officials to mislead the Congress and the public about the scope of the expenses involved. Here’s how the New York Times reported the incident, when a congressional aide, Cybele Bjorklund, tried to get the real numbers from the actuary responsible for the costing:

“Ms. Bjorklund had been pressingMr.Foster, [Medicare’s chief actuary], for his numbers since June. When he refused, telling her he could be fired, she said, she confronted his boss, Thomas A. Scully, then the Medicare administrator. ‘If Rick Foster gives that to you,’ Ms. Bjorklund remembered Mr. Scully telling her, ‘I’ll fire him so fast his head will spin.’ Mr. Scully denies making such threats.”

That’s one of the things we’re learning, alas, about the Bush administration. Their honesty is wearing dangerously thin.

Jihadists celebrate

One Islamist group announced Wednesday that it will cease operations in Spain to reward Spanish voters for striking a blow against “the axis of Crusader evil.” There’s a catch, of course. Here’s part of the statement: “Because of this [electoral] decision, the leadership has decided to stop all operations within the Spanish territories … until we know the intentions of the new government that has promised to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. And we repeat this to all the brigades present in European lands: stop all operations.” They’ve learned something, haven’t they? And if Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero doesn’t withdraw from Iraq, Spain will be targeted again.

Who’s next?

You’d be a fool to predict anything, but I do think the odds of the next major jihadist terrorist action happening in Europe just went up a notch. Al Qaeda and its multiple off-shoots have learned a couple of things recently. The first is that the United States will not cower before a terror attack. Osama bin Laden misjudged that one on September 11, foolishly believing that he could move public policy in his direction by shell-shocking the American public. He was hoping for classic isolationism in response to the casualties of that awful day.

Wrong. In fact, the opposite happened — a huge miscalculation on al Qaeda’s part, which led to the destruction of their client state, Afghanistan, and the removal of a strategic anti-American ally, Saddam. The American counter-attack also took Libya out of the WMD equation. But now the jihadists know something else: That the September 11 gambit can work in Europe. Starting with Spain, and wrecking the anti-terror alliance of New Europe, was a master-stroke. But it has an added effect of demoralizing the others — especially Italy.

That’swhyRomano Prodi’s astonishing disavowal of any force in response to terrorism was so devastating. Then Britain, where the terrorists may not be able to get rid of a Labour government, but may well try to inflict such a blow against Tony Blair (in next year’s elections) that he is ousted in favor of a more amenable center-left alternative.

Humiliating Mr. Blair will prevent a future prime minister from ever fully and unequivocally committing to the American-led war on terror again. France and Germany can be left till last — they are already deeply vulnerable to Islamist terror networks and in France’s case, there’s also a vast, unassimilated Muslim population ripe for exploitation. The alligator will eat them last. Let’s hope they enjoy the ride in the months left to them.

Quote of the week

“But let us allow, for the moment, that the mass outcry against American hegemony is the voice of the true, the eternal and the compassionate left. Allowing that, we can put the best possible construction on its pervasiveness. Not just the majority of the intellectuals, academics and schoolteachers, but most of the face-workers in the media, share the view that international terrorism is to be explained by the vices of the liberal democracies.

“Or, at any rate, they shared it until a few days ago. It will be interesting, in the shattering light of an explosive event, to see if that easy view continues now to be quite so widespread, and how much room is made for the more awkward view that the true instigation for terrorism might not be the vices of the liberal democracies, but their virtues.” — Clive James, writing in the Guardian, after the Bali bombing. (I don’t recall Indonesia being a major ally in the Iraq war, but I may be wrong.) His words were wonderfully astute then, and they bear re-reading after Madrid.

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