Money can't buy you safety

Posted: Jul 15, 2005 12:00 AM

These are difficult times to be a liberal. On issue after issue, they’re outflanked by conservative ideas and hampered by their own lack of ideas.

With Social Security, liberals oppose personal accounts and progressive indexing. The only liberal idea introduced this year is Rep. Robert Wexler’s plan to increase taxes. There’s an idea that’s never failed in the past.

On judges, too, liberals have no meaningful comments.

They claim to oppose judges who are “out of the mainstream,” but don’t define “mainstream.” They filibuster judges who are so radical that they’d enjoy majority support in the Senate if they received an up-or-down vote.

But we’ve finally found a liberal big idea: Spend more money on homeland security.

“The simple fact is that the Bush administration has refused to make the needed investments to secure American cities and towns,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced. Democrats, he says, “are determined to do everything we can to protect America from terrorism by making the much-needed investments in rail security, protecting chemical plants and fully equipping our first responders.” That could mean up to $1 billion in new spending.

But simply spending more money isn’t a plan -- it shows the lack of a plan. There’s no shortage of cash sloshing around already. So much cash, in fact, that authorities can’t spend it all.
The New York Daily News recently reported that, of some $600 million set aside in 2002 by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to increase security, only $30 million has been spent. That means about $570 million should already be available to help protect New York City’s subways and buses, even if the federal government doesn’t come up with another cent. But it will.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Marc Short says about $150 million will be distributed to transportation systems in the next week or so. And, he notes, DHS has spent only about half of the $8.6 billion Congress has already allocated in homeland security grants.

Unfortunately, when we race to spend money, we often end up throwing it away. The Washington Post uncovered a confidential government audit that showed more than $300 million in unnecessary spending in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The paper reported that subcontractors “spent $1,180 for 20 gallons of coffee at one hotel, $8,100 for elevator operators at another and $377,000 in long-distance phone calls.” Another subcontractor claimed a $5.4 million salary for nine months work.

No amount of money can completely protect us. It will always be possible for small groups of terrorists to set off bombs on trains. As Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire points out, “the way you protect your mass-transit system is the same way you protect your other infrastructure systems -- it’s through aggressive [investigation] and raw robust intelligence.”
And, he added, the best place to get intelligence is in terrorist breeding grounds such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

We also need to win the greater war against terrorism, which won’t happen until the terrorists give up.

Before we can achieve that, we’ll have to convince radical Muslim sects around the world to renounce terrorism and reclaim their faith from the terrorists who are perverting it. “In the end, this can only be taken on and defeated by the [Muslim] community itself,” as British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament. Sadly, that hasn’t happened yet.

After the London bombings, commentators warned against a possible “backlash” against Muslims. “London in the aftermath of the bombing reminds me of Cape Town during apartheid. All those years of racial hatred are coming back to me,” claimed Kashief Dunbar, a 40-year-old South African who’s lived in Britain for three years.

Meanwhile Daud Abdullah of the Muslim Council of Britain explained the violence by noting that British “[Muslims] have social exclusion, we have a sense of not-belonging, a sense of alienation. We have alien ideas, frustration and humiliation.” Abdullah added, “all of these factors feed into the mindset of our youth, and it's demonstrating itself in this outrageous behavior.”

That’s far from a full-throated condemnation.

It’s time for Muslim religious leaders to stand up and inform believers that Islam really is a religion of peace. It’s up to them to let followers know that suicide bombers will be punished, not rewarded, by Allah. Only then will the attacks stop.

Defeating terrorism will be difficult, but it is possible. And it must be accomplished without spending billions more in a futile attempt to “do something.”