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Hillary and Terror

On Thursday in New Hampshire, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton speculated on the electoral effect of a terrorist attack on the United States. The New York Post reported her as saying,

It’s a horrible prospect to ask yourself, “What if? What if?” But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world.

The statement is so obviously inappropriate that I will not criticize her for it, especially because her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination lost no time in doing so. Nonetheless, the fact that she would raise the subject merits discussion. This is unlikely to have been an off-the-cuff blunder: Clinton, the carefully-controlled front-runner, is not known for spontaneity. It’s much more likely she thought long and hard about making such a risky comment. This means she—and her superb political team—think that another terrorist strike on the American homeland in the next several months is possible, even likely.

An imminent attack would justify many of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism measures that Clinton and her party normally oppose. Yet, it would also make some of the White House’s recent efforts to protect the nation seem, well, inadequate. For instance, President Bush opposed the overseas screening for nuclear materials of all 10 million cargo containers entering America by ship each year. This screening, we are told, “is neither executable nor feasible.” Although cargo-screening issues are complex, the administration’s notions of feasibility betray a troubling laxity. In reality, the administration simply does not want to hinder commerce and ruffle foreign governments, as its recent statement on the matter shows. The cost for needed scanning equipment? The Congressional Budget Office estimates a grand total of about $1.5 billion.

The President this month signed a bill requiring complete screening, but he’s unlikely to implement the law, especially in light of what his administration has said on the matter. Then again, he should think about the consequences of a nuclear detonation in, say, Manhattan. On Friday, China announced that four men trying to sell uranium illegally had lost eight kilograms of it. The missing material, unfortunately, appears already to be in the hands of potential buyers. I may never vote for Mrs. Clinton, but she now has my attention. The big question is: does she have President Bush’s?


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