It’s the little things in life that can kill you


No more pulling your toothbrush out for a quick brush on a cross-country flight. No more "self-hydrating" on long flights with a couple of bottles of water carried on board. No more using perfume or aftershave to freshen up before landing. No more carry-on luggage on some flights or electronic devices to pass the time. No use of contact lens solution to rest travel-weary eyes.

Long, wasted hours spent standing in security lines. Delays will be routine. The passenger next to you may well be a sky marshal.

And, once again, fear in the pit of your stomach if you send your children via plane to see grandma or send your son or daughter for a semester abroad.

The frightening terror plot, allegedly to blow up planes en route to Washington D.C., New York and California from the United Kingdom, reminds us that life is not precious to terrorists who would eagerly kill any one of us, that daily life will get harder, not easier, and that our civil liberties will continue to erode.

President Bush, interrupting his Texas vacation, warned Americans it is a mistake for them to think they are no longer a target of terrorists. "We will do everything we can to protect our people from these dangers," he said, adding that travelers must now expect to be further inconvenienced as a result of new steps taken to protect planes.

The airlines, still rocked from 9/11 and high oil prices, will find themselves struggling to make a profit. They will undoubtedly come up with makeshift measures, such as selling bottles of water and toiletries on board to try to ease the discomfort of passengers. But in the short run, at least, some people will be afraid to fly and will either cancel trips or drive. Fares will increase.

There is huge relief that the plot, clearly in the works for a long time, was uncovered, and that arrests were made. Millions of people are reassured that security officials in England were alert and that there was cooperation among various agencies there and in this country. But there is also anxiety that other al Qaeda plots or copycat crimes will be attempted, and nervousness that the planned use of common household items to make liquid explosives was remarkably sophisticated.

It always seems to surprise us when terrorists prove to be flexible, smart, innovative and determined. They have tried this type of tactic before, and they will try again.

This plot will bolster calls for U.S. isolationism. Fewer Americans will travel abroad to learn about other cultures and customs. Entry restrictions for students coming from abroad to study in the United States will tighten. Fewer scientists will be permitted to visit our country. Suspicion of foreigners will increase.

Secret surveillance of U.S. citizens at home and abroad will continue. Congressional calls to review Bush’s domestic spying program will evaporate.

The November elections, with political control of Congress at stake, will now be fought over whether Democrats are too soft on national security and whether Republicans are too cavalier in restricting civil liberties. One winces at the thoughts of the mindless cliches, charges and counter-charges that will be tossed around for the next three months.

Bush said the plot is a "stark reminder" that "Islamic fascists" will "use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom." His words are a stark reminder that the administration has from the beginning oversimplified the terrorist threat. Terrorists are not born foes of freedom but fanatic believers that the West is corrupt and their enemy. Bush’s war in Iraq has increased the threat from terrorism, not diminished it.

This has become another summer to mourn. We veer from the escalation of violence in the Middle East to increasing chaos around the globe. Beirut, once the Paris of the Middle East, is now being fired on, leafleted by Israelis warning attacks will continue. Haifa, once a bustling city, is deserted as Hezbollah rockets fall by the hundreds.

And we mourn, once again, as we did after 9/11, the end of the hope that life might return to normal.

Normal now means knowing we’ll never be completely safe and that the most common tools of everyday life can and will be used against us.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail