Portland and Terrorism Task Force brings out the worst politics

By Dave Lister

I’ve always thought the term “the war on terror” was stupid. Terror is a tactic, not an entity.Declaring a war on terror would be like Woodrow Wilson in 1917 asking for a declaration of war on unrestricted submarine warfare, rather than on Imperial Germany. Or FDR in 1941 asking for a declaration of war on aerial sneak attacks, rather than on Imperial Japan. But for a nation that has gone to war numerous times without a declaration of war, I suppose we had to call it something. I just think it would have made more sense to call it a war on al-Qaida or a war on the Taliban or a war on Jihadists. At the very least, we could have called it a war on terrorists. But one thing is certain. It’s a war and we’re in it. And everybody knows it. Everyone, that is, except weird Portland. In weird Portland, we can declare ourselves to be a nuclear-free zone and think that it means something.

In weird Portland, we can pass resolutions denouncing the invasion of Iraq, or denouncing the Del Monte immigration raids and think that they mean something. And, in weird Portland, our leadership can decide that we should be the only jurisdiction in the entire country to withdraw from the Joint Terrorism Task Force and be safer as a result.At least that’s until a young Somali man selected Portland for his alleged plot to kill hundreds of innocent men, women and children because, in part, our tolerance and our weirdness would have us convinced it could never happen here.

The city’s 2005 decision to withdraw from the task force was based on two things: politics and personalities. Politics in that the members of the Portland City Council believed they had the pulse of Portland’s voters and were convinced they hated everything about George W. Bush and his administration.

Personalities in that then-Mayor Tom Potter had a dust up with the FBI’s Portland bureau chief over Potter’s security clearance level. Only one council member, Dan Saltzman, put public safety over politics and personalities and dissented. He was booed for it. He took political lumps for it.

Now, in the wake of what could have been the worst attack on American soil since 9/11, he’s called on the current commissioners to reconsider. Incredibly, their reception to this idea has been tepid.

Commissioner Randy Leonard has said that he still has grave concerns about re-engaging with the JTTF. Concerns about what?

Concerns that President Barack Obama’s administration has some fascist agenda to trample on our liberties?

Concerns that Attorney General Eric Holder is too far to the right for Leonard’s liking?

Leonard has also said that the outcome of the alleged bombing plot would have been no different were we in or out of the JTTF. I’m glad he’s convinced of that; I’m sure not.

Now that Saltzman has publicly called on commissioners to reconsider, they must do so. And Mayor Sam Adams, in a tightly choreographed and typically wonkish fashion, has released a work plan under which the council will reconsider membership in the JTTF. In part, his work plan reads, “Since 2005, the nation has elected a new president and changes in related federal policies have occurred” and “in light of these and other changes the current City Council and the public should reassess the JTTF model of investigating and preventing criminal acts of terrorism.”

Translation: Bush is gone so maybe it’s OK.

It will be interesting to see whether commissioners can set politics aside and do the right thing when they vote on the issue in February.