Are we prepared?

Posted: Sep 15, 2005 12:00 AM

If you don't believe America will suffer another terrorist attack or that we should step up our preparedness for that likely day of reckoning, then you're in disagreement with both President George W. Bush and Tony Blankley.

 In his compelling book "The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?" Blankley, editorial page editor of The Washington Times, writes candidly and vividly about the militant Islamists who are devoted to the destruction of the West at any cost.

 He notes that a panel of experts says there is a 75 percent chance that a weapon of mass destruction or other catastrophic terrorist instrument will be used in an attempt to paralyze our civilization.

 Ironically, a recent poll commissioned by some Florida newspapers indicated -- you guessed it -- about 75 percent of that state's residents believe more catastrophic terrorism will happen sooner or later.

 Blankley's articulate style and cool intellect fly in the face of what you might expect from him on this subject. He's not a natural born alarmist.

 All the more arresting, then, is his contention that these extremists should be identified for who and what they are and without mincing words.

 Blankley insists that Congress must openly declare war on the would-be mass killers and thereby put an end to the absurd and ambiguous dance of political correctness and nice manners that the president is apparently supposed to engage in, even as he tries to guide civilization through treacherous waters.

 As for the president, he displayed that he had matured in his job when he boldly said that the buck stops with him when it comes to any failures by the federal government in the early response -- or lack of it -- to Hurricane Katrina.

 Extending that theme, he also openly questioned whether our nation is adequately prepared for a man-made disaster such as a "small" nuclear explosion or a biological attack.

 The president bolstered his own credibility by making these sobering statements. But he did more than that. By speaking bluntly, he has challenged government officials to stop spending dollars hand over fist without first rethinking where our resources are going as we combat this unprecedented threat to the civilized world by an uncivilized one.

 From the Katrina-induced situation at the Louisiana Superdome, we learned that when major disasters strike, they unleash barbarism in our own streets as quickly and tragically as they do in any Third World country.

 Last week, I interviewed an evacuee from New Orleans who told of one man killing another in order to prevent the rape of a 7-year-old girl in those hellish first days after Katrina.

 So we have two wars to fight. The first is the race against time in coordinating an all-out war against the small but significant segment of the Islamic world that believes its sanctified mission is to rain death and destruction on America, Britain and the West.

 The second is the war that calls on us to reexamine our entire system of response to major calamities. That includes the ability to keep order among our citizens when nature or foreign enemies wreak disorder.

 No aspect of our emergency response system is above reproach. Inadequate on-the-ground communications coordination among law enforcement and other first responder personnel may be the chief complaint.

 Who's in charge when catastrophe strikes? Many leaders amount to no leaders. The creation of a massive homeland security bureaucracy has not meant the homeland is secure. It needs to become so and quickly.

 Then there's money. Like all of us, the federal government only has so much. It can't provide every senior citizen with virtually free medicine, build the most expansive highway program in recent history, rebuild an entire region of the country that has been devastated by storm damage and also fight a world-wide war for survival against terrorists.

 All this is breaking the bank. Something has to give.

 Some Republicans and other conservatives felt President Bush made a mistake by taking the ultimate responsibility for the federal government's shortcomings in responding to Katrina.

 They are wrong.

 In a like manner, some Democrats and liberals will say that Tony Blankley is simply rattling the saber of conservative warlords when he talks about a showdown of civilizations.

 They are equally wrong. What both Bush and Blankley have done is speak the sobering truth -- and that's one thing America needs right now more than anything else.

 Now that they have spoken, the response must be swift. The public has spoken.