Code red on U.S. airplanes. Toss the liquids, no carry-ons. The recent terror arrests in Britain remind the world dramatically that the threats posed by al-Qaeda and its followers have not ended.
As a nation, we must come together to combat those threats. The Bush administration may have dismantled the team hunting Osama bin Laden, but he's not stopped targeting us.
The threat is shared, but we are divided because this administration — and its right-wing noise machine — turns terrorist threats to partisan political purposes. Once more, the reaction to the arrests in Britain reveals an administration more intent on dividing the country to win elections than on uniting us to meet a common threat.
How did the administration respond? Vice President Dick Cheney emerged to warn that the victory of Ned Lamont over Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary would embolden "al-Qaeda types." Lieberman, embittered over his loss, went further, charging that Lamont's call for changing course in Iraq will "strengthen" the "same people who wanted to blow up these planes."
Republicans — faced with the debacle in Iraq, the catastrophe after Hurricane Katrina, the failed economic policies, the record trade and fiscal deficits, wages that don't keep up with the rising prices of gas, health care, college and salaries — have clearly decided to run by accusing their opponents of weakening U.S. security.
This outrageous distortion actually inverts the truth. If anyone has weakened America after Sept. 11, it is this administration and its congressional enablers and cheerleaders.
We ought to be very sober about this. The bipartisan Sept. 11 Commission issued a series of common-sense steps for the administration and Congress to take in the wake of the attacks. But five years after Sept. 11, it still gives the administration poor and failing grades in almost every area. Consider:
• U.S. ports remain vulnerable, because the administration has failed to set up a sensible container inspection system. Bowing to the chemical lobby, the administration has failed to require that dangerous chemical and biological plants gain federal approval for their defense plans.
• Homeland security funds are still distributed by pork-barrel deals rather than by security imperatives. The administration even recommended — with a straight face — that funds for New York and Washington be cut, since they are apparently not priority targets. Funding for first responders — firefighters, police and rescue squads — has been short-changed. And our public health system — the first line of defense against biological attack — remains starved for funds and modern equipment.
• And all of us witnessed after Katrina how the administration's scorn for government has weakened central agencies, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
If the failure at home is inexcusable, the failed occupation in Iraq is catastrophic. The CIA reports that the war has handed al-Qaeda a training ground and a recruiting boon. It has stoked the fury of Muslims across the world. It has isolated the United States from its allies, and from world opinion. It has weakened and overtaxed our military. It has drained some $300 billion from the treasury and has cost thousands of precious lives. It has shamed the United States for trampling basic human rights and international law, from Abu Ghraib to Guantánamo Bay.
And yet according to Cheney and the Republican noise machine, the voters who chose Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman, the president's leading Democratic cheerleader — and the nearly two-thirds of Americans who think the war is a mistake — are giving aid and comfort to the enemy. These smears are likely to get worse.
What Ned Lamont's victory in the Connecticut primary shows is that voters are looking for a change in course. But to get one, they have to vote their hopes and tune out the fear peddlers.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.