Are we safe yet?

George W. Bush sold the war in Iraq as necessary for keeping Americans safe. Has it helped?

By Tim Grieve
Published March 14, 2005 6:43PM (EST)

With all the talk about freedom's march down the Arab street, it's hard to remember sometimes that spreading democracy through the Middle East wasn't exactly the main sales pitch for the war in Iraq. First and foremost, George W. Bush sold the war as an absolutely essential component in his plan for keeping Americans safe. Measured against that pitch, has the war been a success? Several new reports suggest not.

First came the report in the New York Times over the weekend, the one that documented how Iraqi weapons facilities were systematically looted in the weeks after the war began. Iraq's deputy minister of the industry told the Times the significant weapons-making equipment was missing from plants and factories that coalition forces failed to secure. Like the deadly munitions from al QaQaa, the weapons equipment is missing and possibly in the hands of those who don't view America's safety as job number one.

Next came Time, with a warning that Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi may be working on plans for attacks within the United States. The Bush administration had several chances to take out Zarqawi before the war began but chose not to do so, in part because eliminating a terrorist threat in Iraq with methods short of war might undercut the need for the war in the first place. Zarqawi is working with al Qaida now -- another byproduct of the war -- and Time says he is talking about attacks on "soft targets" in the United States, including movie theaters, restaurants and schools.

And now, today's Times brings new concerns about aviation safety in the United States. Security is better for commercial airliners, but the nation's private aviation system remains vulnerable to attack, according to a report prepared by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. While the administration has spent billions on the war in Iraq, it has done little to improve security for private planes or helicopters and not enough to secure U.S. ports. According to the Times, the report states: "As security measures improve at large commercial airports, terrorists may choose to rent or steal general aviation aircraft housed at small airports with little or no security."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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