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Summer of our discontent

This year threatens a long, hot summer. This time however, the action’s not in America’s inner cities, but around the world.

Consider the reasons for worry: 1,000,000 nuclear-tipped troops confront each other along the Indian-Pakistani border. Our world hasn’t seen as desperate a situation since the Cuban missile crisis. Only this time, there’s no John F. Kennedy around to keep the lid on. Musharaff, our “new best friend” in the War on Terrorism, won’t really commit to a “no first use” policy on nukes, which must present a mighty big temptation to the Indians. In these circumstances, they have every reason to think about hitting the Pakistanis first.

It has been reported that Rumsfeld, in his trip to South Asia, actually took some experts in physics to remind Musharaff that nuclear weapons aren’t just a bigger bomb with a louder bang – not to mention the estimated 3 to 12 million that would die in a nuclear exchange, the worldwide environmental consequences would catastrophic. By comparison, it would make the Chernobyl disaster look like a fender-bender.

The Middle East may be off the front page, but it’s as dangerous as ever. Homicide bombings continue (16 dead, as I write this column). Arafat is weak and a power struggle threatens. But instead of votes, the contending parties may try to prove their bona fides based on who can kill the most Israelis. Of course, Sharon will respond. The threat of a wider war – Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran – is as much in our face as ever.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration’s mishandling of the War on Terror becomes scarier by the day. Conservatives love to blame 9-11 exclusively on Clinton, but it won’t wash based on recent revelations. The summer of 2001 – with Bush squarely in possession of the White House – was a disaster for the American people. FBI regional offices in Arizona and Minnesota write memos pleading for authority to deal with soon-to-be al-Qaida hijackers in this country.

The Arizona memo disappears down a bureaucratic rat hole and, in Minnesota, Ashcroft’s Justice Department refused to permit search warrants to permit turning on the computer of Moussoui, the alleged 20th hijacker. Can you imagine the outrage if this had happened under Clinton’s watch?

(P.S. It was just reported that the CIA knew for months where two of the 19 hijackers were living – just three miles from CIA headquarters in Vienna, Va. – but the CIA somehow couldn’t place a 25 cent phone call to tell the FBI about it.)

In the meantime, the president’s hypocrisy in the War on Terror grows by the day. New regulations specifically target individuals entering this country from certain hostile Middle Eastern states – except Saudi Arabia, the state that furnished 15 of the 19 WTC and Pentagon crash-jackers. Iraq, Iran and North Korea comprise the Axis of Evil, while such freedom-loving fountains of human liberty like China, Yemen (which was mysteriously left off the hostile-country list) and Pakistan remain our allies in the War on Terror. Everything that the Bush administration seems to be doing is a day late and a dollar short. The Bushies are in danger of squandering the national unity that had formed in the immediate aftermath of 9-11.

And worse, if none of the foregoing had ever happened, this summer’s anxieties would still sizzle under worse threats. Almost daily, our government warns of the most dire attacks imaginable – apartment buildings blown up, homicide bombers in malls, nuclear weapons entering our ports, reports (false, so far, thankfully) of anthrax in mails still circulate. For those Boomers like myself, it’s all reminiscent of the world of my girlhood – community swimming pools closed because of polio, duck-and-cover drills in elementary school and Red scares everywhere.

(PPS: As I am writing this last paragraph, an announcement was made on Fox News that Israeli Defense Forces have entered Ramallah and once again have surrounded the headquarters of Yasser Arafat. All in retaliation for the earlier bombing that killed 16 people. Forget what I said earlier about Israel being off the front page.)

Like I said folks, it’s going to be a long, hot summer.

So make sure you wear sunscreen. That’s about all you’re going to be able to do.

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