The Enemy Within: Anthrax and the Rollback of American Liberty

It Should Have Been Unforgettable
A brilliant analysis by Tom Englehardt on "The Anthrax Attacks and the Costs of 9/11,"
contrasting the Bush gang's wildly differing reactions to the two separate terrorist attacks of Autumn 2001, and drawing sharp, disturbing insights from the consequences that have followed Bush's choice of responses -- actions that have resulted in a corrosion of the American state that Osama bin Laden could not have hoped for in his wildest dreams. This is yet another piece that should be read in full, but below are few highlights:

9/11 was the necessary engine without which so many things wouldn't have happened, but the storm that breached the weakened and leaky dikes of the republic had been gathering since at least the first days of the Reagan administration (as recently released memos by judges Roberts and Alito remind us). In those years, rollback -- briefly in the 1950s the foreign policy of choice of zealous anti-Communists -- became domestic policy as well. To be rolled back was every modest breakwater against an imperial presidency that had been erected in the wake of the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War; then every Great Society program of the 1960s; and finally, someday, everything for which the Democratic New Deal had stood.

The attacks of 9/11 gave the Bush administration an opening to attempt to sweep away the last obstacles in the path of a presidency dedicated to the idea that no prohibition of any sort should stand in its way (or domestically in the way of the Republican Party). The real costs of that day came from the leeway a frightened public, a feeble Congress, and a cowed media gave a suddenly emboldened administration to set in motion an aggrandizing vision of a militarily-enforced Pax Americana, at home as well as abroad. (Remember, this was the first administration to create a military command -- Northcom -- responsible only for North America.) In other words, the most devastating costs of "9/11" we inflicted on ourselves in a way al-Qaeda was incapable of doing...

Keep in mind that visions of anthrax-like weaponry would soon mobilize a nation in fear and hysteria around orange alerts and duct tape, smallpox-inoculations and finally a war lest any of this stuff, or anything faintly like it, drip out of the hands of Saddam Hussein and into those of terrorists heading our way. And yet, by early 2002, the first WMD attack in the U.S. was already slipping out of the news and drifting from memory. Here was the stuff of a terrifying made-for-TV movie or simply a trailer for the end of the world. It should have been unforgettable...

As it turns out, the Bush administration acted in response to 9/11 in every wild and extraordinary way -- and in response to the anthrax attacks in next to no way at all. Put the two together and what you can see is the degree to which the costs of 9/11, whether in Iraq or at home, are the responsibility not of the attackers, whose damaging acts were violent in the extreme, spectacular, and limited, but the Bush administration...

The saddest story is this: If tomorrow, George Bush, Dick Cheney and their cohorts were somehow tossed out on their ears -- call it indictment, impeachment, or something else -- what they, not Osama bin Laden or the anthrax terrorists will have cost us, in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will still be incalculable. Among the greatest costs will be the way administration officials used the 9/11 attacks (and buried the anthrax ones) in order to breach so many levees of our world.

What they have embedded in our lives since 9/11 -- from Northcom to our newest pinheaded giant bureaucracy, the Homeland Security Department, from the Patriot Act to ever increasing domestic spying by the Pentagon and the National Security Agency among other organizations -- will be with us long after they are gone. Just imagine a political change of fortunes in our country in which the Democrats take Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Then ask yourself a single question: What will the Democrats do with Guantánamo? Unfortunately, you already know the answer.