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Critics slam politicians for ineffective antiterror policies

Key U.S. liberal thinkers on Thursday laid into both Republican and Democratic leaders over their approaches to combating terrorism and addressing weapons of mass destruction.

Current U.S. antiterrorism policy keeps the populace in fear to create support for military action abroad but avoids taking obvious steps that could reduce terrorists' motivation for attacking the United States and bolster WMD response capabilities within the country, said John Tirman, executive director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for International Studies. He spoke during a panel discussion as part of a Campaign for America's Future conference here.

"Is there a significant threat of a terrorist attack against America? We don't know the answer to that question, but a large number of Americans do believe there is such a threat," Tirman said. Liberals should address that threat, he said, but the Democrats offer only "complaints about civil liberties and spending priorities" even though "there are much more fundamental issues at stake that are not being addressed."

While "the ideology of homeland security" at home creates "fear and anxiety" that boost support for war abroad, liberals are missing a chance to "challenge Bush" on his "hypocrisies," Tirman said. In particular, he cited the potential for changes in energy and health policy that he said would both increase domestic security and bring everyday benefits to citizens.

"We have, in terms of national security, the exactly wrong energy system," Tirman said. Reducing dependence on oil and increasing the focus on renewable energy sources and on conservation, he said, could reduce both the risk of attacks on U.S. energy facilities and Washington's motivation to become entangled in the Middle East, which Tirman said increases the threat of anti-U.S. terrorism.

Improving U.S. public health would also make the country more secure, Tirman said. He said health insurance coverage should be expanded and access to doctors and hospitals should be increased to make early detection of emerging diseases more likely. Currently, he said, many in the United States decline to seek treatment when ill because of lacking insurance coverage or concerns about missing work.

"This is not a system optimally designed for early warning of a biological weapons attack," Tirman said.

Columbia University Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs agreed with Tirman that the U.S. populace is kept in fear and argued that if it was better informed it would be less inclined to support military action as the primary response to the terrorist threat.

"They have been hoodwinked into what is the most dangerous possible policy for them and their families," Sachs said.

Former top CIA analyst Ray McGovern added that more wars could be ahead based on exaggerated fears of terrorism and WMD threats - and outright "lies" in the case of Iraq, he said. "When things go sour for the crazies, they are more likely to launch new adventures than they are to change course. ... Iran could be next," McGovern said.

Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel said the Bush administration has brought the country into "an endless battle against terrorism" with important support from "the Democratic establishment."

"We need a realignment of the military budget ... to scrap Cold War programs" and instead fund development, human rights and programs to secure weapons of mass destruction, vanden Heuvel said.