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Analysis: How safer is America today?

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- It's been almost five years since a group of 19 Islamist fanatics hijacked and then slammed their commandeered passenger jets into three buildings and a field, killing about 3,000 Americans. And in the process forever changing the face -- and the heart -- of America.

Terrorism was not entirely new to the United States although until now, for the most part, the attacks targeted Americans overseas. Still, fortress America was not immune to terrorism.

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"Between 1990 and 1999 some sixty terrorist attacks perpetrated by both domestic and foreign groups occurred in the United States, killing 182 people and injuring more than 1,932," writes Yonah Alexander in his new book, "Counterterrorism Strategies," (Potomac Books, 2006.)

"But," goes on to say Alexander, the director of the Inter-University Center of Terrorism Studies "it was not until the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy and the Marine base in Beirut, killing some 270 Americans, that the U.S. government, for the first time in its history, seriously decided to develop a more coherent and proactive strategy dealing with terrorism."

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While Europe witnessed scores of severe terrorist attacks on its soil in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, America felt safe hiding behind a misguided belief that the country could remain immune to major terrorist attack, protected by a vast ocean on either side of the country. America saw itself as a castle sheltered by the largest moats ever -- the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Pacific on the other. But as President Bush pointed out shortly after 9/11, that belief was proven wrong. Suddenly terror struck. And suddenly America lost its innocence. Sadly, America was to join the rest of the world in becoming a target of international terrorism. That was on September 11, 2001.

And since then, America has been at war; better make that at wars -- in the plural. One war is being fought in Afghanistan, another war in being fought in Iraq and yet a third war has been declared on terror. Each war comes with its own difficulties.

The war in Afghanistan against the Taliban is like trying to scoop up mercury. No sooner has one town or region been contained that the Taliban reappears elsewhere.

The war in Iraq is far from over three years and then some after major combat operations were supposed to be over. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found and the body count continues to climb. As of this writing, U.S. fatalities stand at 2,635, according to the Department of Defense and the Iraqi civilian death toll stands at 41,041 (min) and 45,613 (max) according to Iraqbodycount.org.

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And the other war, the one on terror, has been one being fought mostly in the shadows. And just how do you fight shadows?

September 11 has changed America, and regrettably the changes have not been for the better. During the five years since those tragic attacks on the twin towers, the Pentagon and the third target that was believed to have been Capitol Hill, but was diverted and crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania, the Bush administration has been slowly but surely eroding individual liberties, restraining freedoms, and going against the very grain of the American way of life.

Among the laws that were passed was the USA Patriot Act, and attempts to wiretap into the telephones of American citizens. To speak up against the administration's folly in Iraq, its complete lack of respect for the Geneva Conventions by establishing legal limbos in Guantanamo, or more recently its saber-rattling over Tehran is to be labeled "unpatriotic."

Just this week Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accused critics of the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq and the war against terrorism. Rumsfeld said of the war critics, "They seem not to have learned history's lessons," and then the secretary of defense compared the critics to those in the 1930s who advocated appeasing Nazi Germany.

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Rumsfeld called the Islamist terrorists "a new type of fascism." Totalitarian may have been a better description.

Is all this supposed to make America feel safer today? Are the majority of the people more prepared, better equipped to respond to an emergency of terrorist nature in a major metropolitan area?

The answer is, probably not. Heaven forbid that a real emergency was to occur in the nation's capital, for example. The only visible steps taken by the authorities in the aftermath of 9/11 are few dozen signs -- the size of a shoebox -- indicating the way to the Capital Beltway via Virginia or Maryland.

Any resident of the greater Washington metropolitan area will tell you the havoc caused to the city's traffic by a little bit of rain; now imagine the effects caused by a real panic....

There is no argument that the country needs to remain vigilant, but one must stop thinking there is a terrorist hiding under every bed. In the meantime a good investment would be a just released book by Robert T. Jordan, a Marine veteran and Don Philpott, titled "Terror-Is America Safe?"

It provides a much needed, one stop shop on what the average citizen should know and can do in both preparing for, and responding to a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

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(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)

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