Bush played politics with terror alerts

by Jim Longworth

If ever a book should be color coded, it is The Test of Our Times. Written by former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, Test is full of shocking revelations about how the Bush administration used terror alerts to influence elections and public policy.

Ridge says that Bush and company pressured him to issue a terror alert the night after John Kerry’s nomination in 2004. But according to CNN, “senior law enforcement officials” told the Washington Post at the time that there was no justification for raising the threat level. Never the less, the alert (which made Bush look more presidential) was issued, and later augmented by a series of Rovian style dirty tricks, such as TV ads about Kerry’s swift boat days in Vietnam. Taken together, the strategy of threat levels and mud slinging served to call into question the Democratic nominee’s ability to lead during times of crisis. This was not the first time the Bush White House had used fear tactics to sway the opinions of voters. In 2002, Karl Rove released an internal memo which began with the words, “Focus on war.” Then just three weeks before the 2002 mid-term elections, Ridge was told to raise the terrorist threat level. Bush then scheduled a vote on the war, and suggested that anyone in Congress not supporting him was siding with the terrorists. Naturally none of our spineless Congressmen wanted to look unpatriotic during a reelection campaign, so Bush got their blessing to invade Iraq. And so, just as voters had flocked to FDR and his fellow incumbent Democrats upon entering World War II, they were now willing to let Bush and the GOP lead them on the brink of a war with Iraq. But perhaps the most telling incident of using terror alerts for political gain was the one that Ridge refused to issue. Having already discredited Kerry’s ability to deal with foreign enemies, the Bush White House just four days prior to the 2004 election, pressured Ridge to raise the terror alert from yellow to orange. By now, Ridge had good reason to believe that the Bush administration was using terror alerts for political purposes. Commenting on the aforementioned mid-term alert, Ridge wrote, “Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the President’s approval rating in the days after raising the threat level.” So this time, Ridge would not be bullied by Bush and his cronies. When they demanded the terrorist alert be issued 72 hours before voters went to the polls in November 2004 , Ridge refused. SaidRidge, “I consider this episode to be not only a dramatic moment inWashington’s recent history, but another illustration of theintersection of politics, fear, credibility and security.” Ridge thenresigned one month after the re-election of George Bush.

A number ofother Bush insiders have disputed Ridge’s allegations, but given Bush,Cheney and Rumsfeld’s propensity for lying, I tend to believe Ridge.Still, Ridge has a credibility problem. After all, it was big Tom whotold us that we would be safe from bio-terrorist attacks if we just putduct tape over our windows and doors. But lunacy in one instancedoesn’t necessarily preclude veracity in another. For proof that suchfear mongering occurs, just look at the tactics still being used byBush Republicans who are trying to defeat healthcare reform so theirbenefactors in the insurance industry can continue to profit from deathand disease. FDR and the Democrats might have benefitted from being in power whenour nation was in economic ruin, and later under attack from Japan, butno historian has ever suggested that Roosevelt created imaginarythreats in order to remain in office. Just the opposite. In his firstinaugural address, FDR comforted a depression riddenpopulace, saying, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” It washis way of assuring us that we need not panic, and that no threat,foreign or domestic would deter us. That’s a far cry from Bush andcompany who encouraged us to be frightened, knowing that we would lookto them for leadership, even though the basis for that fear did notexist. Saddam was not involved in 9/11. There were no weapons of massdestruction. Iraq did not have to be occupied. The list goes on. UnderBush, politically-motivated terrorist alerts resulted in increasedfunding and support for a needless war that killed over 5,000 Americansoldiers, and more than a half million innocent Iraqi men, women andchildren. As much as I deplore Bush and Cheney for theirmisdeeds, I blame Tom Ridge for lacking the courage to come forwardearlier, when his disclosures could have saved lives. Instead, Ridgejoins a growing club of former Bush officials whose revelations are toolittle, too late. In that regard, the messenger is just as guilty ofwar crimes as the men who perpetrated them. JimLongworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m.on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cablechannel 15).