Monday, August 28, 2006
Riding that Plane...
I’ve got a lot of catching up to do from my two week baby hiatus, so forgive me if my commentary is not as immediately topical as it should be. I was not so cocooned that I was unaware of the brouhaha surrounding the plot uncovered in England or the subsequent clamp down in security. The way things are going, within a few years we’ll all have to change out of clothes and into standard issue robes before getting on our planes blindfolded. Patrick Smith, who writes the “Ask the Pilot” column on Salon.com is highly critical of what he perceives to be massive overreaction in airline security (check out his columns from 8/10, 8/17, and 8/25 here: http://dir.salon.com/topics/patrick_smith/). In his words, terrorists don’t even have to actually do anything to cause chaos and panic: they just have to threaten to or talk about doing it.
The rash of plane delays, rerouting, and other snafus that have occurred since the plot was uncovered, plus the arrest and subsequent exoneration of two separate sets of Arabs selling cell phones (no, they weren’t going to blow up the Mackinac Island Bridge) does appear to lend credence to Smith’s critique, which he sums up by saying:
Meanwhile, the ultimate and destructive irony is that we've responded to news of the infiltrated terror plot not with increased confidence -- confidence in knowing that most would-be bombers are unskilled fanatics whose plans are prone to failure, and confidence in our abilities to outwit such people -- but with yet more fright and self-defeat.
In other words, the only thing we really have to fear is how our fear causes us to overreact and cause us major problems.
I’m hard pressed to disagree with Smith, but at the same time, I’m reluctant to pish-posh the terrorist threat as well. Not because I’ve drunk the “clash of civilizations” kool-aid, but because I just don’t know. Some of my existential doubt stems from watching the events of 9/11 from 1,000 miles away. I wasn’t in the states on 9/11 and I have no idea how it felt to be under attack. I do know that I was angry and upset, and was really hoping that some (small) person would pick a fight with me on the bus, so that I could whip someone’s behind as a substitute. Some part of me thinks that if I had been in the US, I would have taken things more seriously. At the same time, some part of me thinks that I’m better off for having avoided the emotional pressure cooker that was the US after 9/11.
I don’t know if there are hordes of “Islamo-fascists” out there with the desire, capability and means to do great damage to America. I know what happened on September 11th and in Bali, Madrid and London. I also know that thousands of Americans and other Westerners have been kidnapped, killed, and otherwise terrorized by Islamic, Arabist, anarchist, and communist terrorists and guerillas since the 1960s without the declaration of global war on terror. I don’t know (besides the scale and geographical location of the events of September 11th) what is so fundamentally different now.
My suspicion is that a large measure of my doubt comes from disbelieving the messengers of doom. Alberto Gonzales and Michael Chertoff and whatever other alarmist Bushite that steps in front of the microphone have long lost credibility with me. I know terrorist threats exist. I also know we’ve stopped a good number of them and that it is patently obvious that the Bush Administration has manipulated the timing and tenor of announcements for political gain. Part of my skepticism has to do with other factors influencing my distrust of the Bush Administration. But it can not all be laid at the feet of lefty paranoia. Remember, Bush had a 90% approval rating after 9/11 and hardly anyone (the Boondocks’ Aaron McGruder and Noam Chomsky are notable exceptions) questioned the rush to war. The politicizing of the war on terror and the headlong, headstrong, and foolish charge into war with Iraq evaporated much of that goodwill in a divisive oven of partisan hate. I remain grateful to the men and women of law enforcement that have kept us safe thus far, but still wonder what’s really going on.
And if I can bring my toothpaste on the airplane this Thanksgiving.