Success (at Expanding the State) is Meeting Opportunity (Such as Terrorism) Well Prepared (With New Laws and Edicts)

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A
familiar maxim known and recited by many motivational speakers,
especially football coaches, is some version of a rather timeless
observation attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, namely, that "success
is meeting opportunity well prepared."

The
basic thrust is also heard frequently in business school lectures
on leadership and organizational management. Executives who anticipate
crises before they arise, thereby enabling themselves to suggest
practical responses even as events are occurring, will gain important
influence over the direction and operation of their organizations.

The
truth of this adage has never been made manifest in more hideous
glory than with the actions taken and instant policies proposed
by the federal government in the aftermath of the events of September
11. While countless pundits have commented on how unprepared the
American people were, few have noticed how ready their leaders appeared
to be. Indeed, some responses were so smooth as to seem rehearsed.

To
be certain, many, if not most, government officials were caught
off guard by the specifics of the attacks. It is unclear how much
the intelligence agencies knew beforehand and precisely when they
knew it. Needless to say, the top Pentagon brass were not prepared
to have their own edifice serve as a landing site for a hijacked
commercial jet.

But
inside the Beltway, a high probability of a terrorist attack on
U.S. soil has been common knowledge, at least among some groups,
for at least a decade. While the masses may have been stunned by
the mere occurrence of the attacks, those paid to defend America
could have been surprised only by the timing, method or place. No
one with any ties to intelligence or defense could possibly have
been surprised.

No
matter who was responsible for them, the attacks offered a unique
opportunity for the Bush administration and its main supporters.
What these folks have long wanted, as much as anything, has been
to gain control of the government of Afghanistan. They must have
a guarantee that their proposed oil pipeline across that country
will not be subject to terrorism or blackmail. With the Taliban
in power, a pipeline is risky.

Osama
bin Laden is far from the only anti-U.S. terrorist in the Middle
East; he is only the wealthiest. Capturing or even killing him would
not end the threats to a pipeline, which is why overthrowing the
Taliban government is a much higher priority for the Bush administration
than bin Laden, a point inadvertently conceded by Donald Rumsfeld.

But
there are other factions in Washington with major influence over
government policy, most of which do not much care about an oil pipeline
in the Middle East. Getting their support for this dangerous war
in Afghanistan has required such broad support that politicians
are unwilling to question the effort. In addition, the pipeline
faction (i.e., the White House) has had to be willing to
buy them off with other legislation.

Unfortunately,
this is precisely what has been happening. Bills stalled by Congress
have been dusted off and tacked onto anything vaguely related to
the "war on terrorism." A host of new police powers, previously
defeated and all with the potential for politicization and abuse,
have been presented as if they were brand new responses to this
unprecedented emergency. Airlines, steel companies, and many other
shameless recipients with working relations with the pipeline crowd,
are also getting theirs.

Of
course, nothing is more exciting in the executive branch, regardless
of the party in power, than a new federal department with a vast
potential for growth and influence. Hence, the formerly rejected
proposal for a Homeland Security agency was rushed into existence,
again, as if it were a new solution carefully crafted to solve some
new problem. Gov. Tom Ridge had probably discussed the job with
the White House long ago.

As
long as the news media continue efforts to heed and read only the
official reports and releases on the war, thereby keeping citizens
effectively uninformed, the government will continue to use this
opportunity to expand its power. And if the other political factions
can be brought into this free-for-all through bailouts and other
schemes, becoming equal beneficiaries with the pipeline crowd, the
situation will worsen.

As
for those appallingly few who refuse to be spoon fed, let it be
well understood that almost nothing in the entire episode is exactly
as it has been presented. Mainly, it is opportunism run amok.

October
30, 2001

Rich
Wilcke (send him mail),
who lives in Kentucky, has been a libertarian activist for more
than 30 years.

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