The three most devastating disasters to strike the United States in modern history were the direct results of indefensible lack of preparedness and indifference to well-founded warnings.
Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941: dozens of U.S. ships sunk, scores of aircraft destroyed by the Japanese attack that had been forewarned.
Sept. 11, 2001: New York's trade tower skyscrapers destroyed by airliners hijacked by kamikaze terrorists, despite warnings such a strike would come.
Aug. 29, 2005: Hurricane Katrina wipes out whole sections of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, despite years of warnings about poor preparations for catastrophic winds and flooding. And the country's premier disaster agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, failed its first test because of poor preparation and incompetent leadership.
Is history about to repeat itself?
That's the strong fear of members of the former government-appointed Sept. 11 Commission that made sweeping recommendations on how to protect the nation against another such catastrophe.
Of the 41 recommendations made by the committee, only a few have been carried out by the Bush administration, while others were given failing grades. Several of the most urgent have yet to be implemented, for example, a formula for distributing anti-terror funds to communities on the basis of risk, and tying together first responders in a telephonic system to allow them to communicate.
Committee co-chairman Thomas Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, characterized the lack of progress as flatly irresponsible.
He asked why anti-terrorism funds to states have been allocated often as political pork, such as air-conditioned garbage trucks for New Jersey? Wyoming, for example, a low-risk terrorist target, gets more aid per capita than New York City, which has been targeted.
As for the communication system, a pending budget bill would open the radio frequency spectrum for an advanced radio network in—get this!—the year 2009.
So, with these intense criticisms from the bipartisan group that so studiously examined failures leading up to and during 9/11, how does the Bush administration square this with its frequent claim that its first duty is to protect Americans?
Like so many other urgent needs, the recommendations of the commission have been the victims incompetent planning by amateur civilian ideologues and the failure of Congress to insist on and to fund better performance.
America can't win a war outside its borders unless it wins the war against inertia inside its borders.