Investigators have known for a decade about terrorist plots to bring down passenger jets with liquid explosives. So why, all of a sudden, did Bush ban most liquids on flights?

Government-induced hysteria thrives on public ignorance, which is why President Bush is so confident of turning the British bomb plot to his partisan purposes. Otherwise, how could he dare claim that his policies have made the nation safer?

Consider, first off, that the attack envisioned — smuggling liquid-explosive ingredients onto 10 passenger planes — was outlined in chapter five of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission Report as a plot first exposed a decade ago. The originator of that planned hijacking of 12 U.S.-bound planes, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was also the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. According to U.S. prosecutors, his nephew, convicted terrorist Ramzi Yousef, even managed to explode such a liquid-based bomb on a Manila-Tokyo flight, killing one passenger, as part of a plot code-named “Bojinka.”

Because checking or banning fluids was not a focus of this administration’s post-Sept. 11 airport security measures, this “coincidence” would suggest either enormous negligence on the part of those charged with protecting us or a ludicrous overreaction this past week. Knowing as we did of Mohammed’s earlier plan, why wasn’t the Department of Homeland Security requiring fliers to dump their bottles of hairspray and mother’s milk before?

Unlike Yousef, who was arrested in Pakistan in 1995, Mohammed remained at large until two years after Sept. 11 to continue pushing the Bojinka concept to any terrorist bankroller who would listen. It has been known for at least two years since his capture that he spoke in detail about the scheme with Osama bin Laden. (The two had met much earlier during their days as what President Ronald Reagan called “freedom fighters” in the crusade against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.)

After the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the exposure of the Bojinka plot, Mohammed “fled to Pakistan to avoid capture by the U.S authorities” in 1996, according to the 9/11 Commission — where he managed to find haven for nearly a decade. In fact, Pakistan, as well as Saudi Arabia, is so nefariously intertwined with the grim story of Al Qaeda and its affiliates that it boggles the mind how after Sept. 11 the Bush administration only embraced these two corrupt dictatorships all the harder while instead sinking us into a predictable (and predicted) quagmire in Iraq, which had no effective role in international terrorism.

Rather than admit this incalculable mistake and move forward, the president has instead continued stubbornly and against all evidence to claim that smashing up Iraq was somehow a fitting response to the Sept. 11 nightmare. This past week, chief hatchet man Dick Cheney even had the outrageous gall to argue that anti-Iraq war U.S. Senate candidate Ned Lamont’s Democratic primary victory over pro-Iraq war Sen. Joseph Lieberman in Connecticut would embolden “Al Qaeda types.”

Abetted by apologists in both parties, the Bush administration has instead fabricated the dangerous notion that anybody who opposes U.S. or Israeli interests in the region — be they secular or religious, Arab or Persian, Sunni or Shiite — is by definition a terrorist, who cannot be negotiated with or tolerated. So far, however, this approach has been disastrous for the United States and Israel, with costly defeats in both Iraq and Lebanon that will reverberate in the region for decades, directly strengthening the hand of extremists of all stripes.

With Saddam Hussein three years gone, yet Iraq still a disaster, Bush is now emphasizing the boogeyman of “Islamo-fascism.” This concept completely ignores the fact that U.S. enemies such as Syria’s Baathist regime and many Sunni insurgents in Iraq are secular, while religious fanatics on both sides of the Sunni-Shiite split are slaughtering each other in Baghdad every day in an insane sectarian conflict for control of what’s left of Iraq.

Nor are these divides anything new. Arab (and Persian) nationalism and Islamic fanaticism have for decades competed for adherents in a post-colonial region still bullied by the West and suffering from an inferiority complex. According to the 9/11 Commission, Sept. 11 lead hijacker Mohamed Atta hated the neo-fascist Iraqi dictator Hussein as “an American stooge set up to give Washington an excuse to intervene in the Middle East.”

Never mind such historical prattle — public ignorance is bliss for Bush, who for so long has assumed that being folksy and macho can make up for his constant blunders based on faulty reasoning. Maybe, however, as both his dismal poll numbers and pseudo-Republican Lieberman’s historic loss in Connecticut show, Americans are starting to wise up and think for themselves.

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