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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

If we don't (blank), then the terrorists will have won

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Opinion
George W. Bush
Acts of terror
Washington

WASHINGTON -- After the national nightmare of September 11, 2001, those urging their fellow Americans to pursue a particular activity or to support a particular public policy -- whether drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or outlawing civil unions between gay Americans, or buying a new car -- would often argue that their fellow Americans' unwillingness or refusal would force the world to conclude: "... then the terrorists have won!"

It was Henry Kissinger who observed in 1969, "The conventional army loses if it does not win; the guerilla wins if he does not lose." In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States military has more than answered the challenge given it by routing the opposing armies. But a case can be made -- four-and-a-half years after the terrorists' assaults on New York and Washington -- that the criminals who organized and executed that attack have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.

First, the United States is less favorably regarded and much more isolated in the world than it was before 9-11. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, anti-Americanism "surged as a result of the U.S. war in Iraq." In 2000, three out of four citizens of Canada, Britain, France and Germany held a favorable opinion of the United States. By 2005, less than a minority of people in those same countries felt favorably.

Japan, France and Germany are all more favorably regarded than the United States by the countries of Europe, and China has a more positive image than the United States among the Europeans polled. In Jordan, Turkey and Morocco, positive feelings toward the United States have fallen through the floor.

The unity that had been the hallmark of the nation in the last months of 2001 was replaced by polarization and distrust. George W. Bush, who -- if he had chosen to do so -- could have become another Ike by governing as a center-right leader and bringing three or four Democrats into his Cabinet as part of a national coalition government, decided instead to follow an ardently conservative agenda in a time of war featuring historically aberrational tax cuts.

The social fabric of the nation has been worn and torn. The number and percentage of this country's citizens in poverty has gone up each and every year of this decade. Today, there are 5.4 million more Americans living in poverty, most of them children, than there were when George W. Bush was elected president. The number without health insurance grew by more than 6 million from 2000 to 2004, to more than 45 million Americans. During the same period, employer-sponsored health insurance dropped by 5 full percentage points, from covering 66 percent of the non-elderly to just 61 percent.

Inflation-adjusted hourly and weekly wages are still below where they were in the fall of 2001, in spite of the fact that worker productivity has risen some 13.5 percent during that same time. For five years in a row, Americans' median household income has dropped. It was actually $1,740 lower in 2004 than it had been in 1999. Those in the nation forced to work for the minimum wage (which has not been increased in nearly nine years, during which time the Congress has voted itself seven salary increases) have paid a painful price. The real value of the minimum wage has fallen by 82 cents from $6.02 to $5.15 an hour since 2000 to today.

In a morally just nation, the rich do not get richer while the poor get poorer. But in the United States, that has been the continuing case. In the last quarter century, the household income of the highest quintile of the population has increased by 52 percent, while that same figure for the lowest quintile has grown by not quite 5 percent.

The nation's fiscal health has deteriorated. When Bush took office, the debt ceiling for all federal borrowing was under $6 trillion and had not been raised since 1997. Last year, Bush signed into law another $800 billion increase in the debt ceiling to $8.2 trillion. In the first 224 years of the nation, 42 U.S. presidents borrowed a total of $1.01 trillion from all foreign sources. In just over one term in office, George W. Bush has out-borrowed all 42 of his predecessors. Some record.

By standards of national cohesion, economic and social justice, international respect, and fiscal vitality, the United States has lost much ground since 9-11, and we're not winning this war.


Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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