Something in the air
By Daniel M. Ryan
At a minimum, it can be said that letting (a spare) Air Force One fly near a New York skyscraper is a bit odd. The official explanation for the scare was a photo opportunity. Air Force One was photographed in front of important New York landmarks, which explained the presence of two F-16s near the 747. An official has apologized, after a furious NYC Mayor Bloomberg complained about it. The reports of the incident recount that U.S. President Barack Obama was furious too. Obama-bashers have another White House gaffe to splay around the blogosphere; the inevitable references to Truman have been made.
Describing the incident as a photo shoot gone wrong does invite words like "irresponsible" and "frivolous." It also invites another word, one used far less for this incident than for the Special Olympics gaffe: insensitive. Had it been post-1993, then the flyby would probably not have provoked the outcry that it did. The Sept. 11th attack, though, left a scar instead of a scab. Perhaps some Democrats are wondering if this incident would have occurred had Hillary Clinton been President.
Last Wednesday's gaffe has been overtaken by the current swine-flu scare, but there's still an air of unreality. Is it really possible for a military operation of this sort to be launched simply for souvenir pictures? If so, then there's something not quite right in Washington. Use of two military jets and a spare F-16 for a photo gallery is the type of perk that only the top guy would lay claim to. At the very least, if an underling had authorized it, it would have been for the top person's benefit. The only comparables I know of are in the private sector, but those "excesses" were done for the CEO (or his wife.) I know of no case where a public outcry was provoked by, say, a junior vice-president using the company plane for a thinly-disguised joyride.
There are three ways this oddity can be explained, with the first two being similar to each other. Obama might have known all along about the flight, and was angry because he wasn't warned about the outcry. It could also be true that the official held responsible didn't inform Obama, but authorized it as something that Obama would expect. Both of these explanations put the Obama administration in the same light, and not one that's very good. To be blunt, both make President Obama look swinish.
The third explanation is more intricate, and probably less believable. If true, though, it sheds a bald light on post-9/11 America. It also suggests that the Obama administration is going to stay gaffe-prone unless common sense is let in.
Simply put, the third candidate says that the photo-op explanation was a cover story; the mission's purpose was far more serious. In addition to taking photos, the F-16s were practicing for a new hijacking – one that hasn't been planned or announced, but may take place in the near future. Although somewhat of a stretch, this explanation makes the Obama administration look like something more than "Animal House."
If true, does this rationale put the Obama administration above criticism? No, it doesn't; at best, it circumscribes criticism to the loyal-opposition kind. In America, this means proffering a better solution than the one chosen.
There is something disjarring about a federal government pretending to be frivolous to cover up a covert operation. If such a maneuver is for the protection of the citizenry, then why should frightening them be part of it? Every fire drill I went through when in school was pre-announced; there were never any surprises, even of the "for their own good" kind. The school administrations were sensible enough to remember that a surprise drill would have caused panic…especially if done in a school that burned down almost eight years prior.
Even if it were a well-intentioned covert drill, the absence of the above common sense suggests that it was irresponsible in a different way. It's worthwhile remembering, if only as a general point, that intelligence is the branch of defense most prone to mutual self-absorption. More broadly, mutual self-absorption in government engenders not only gaffes but also frights. People don't trust the unpredictable, and unpredictability in government brings out anger.
I humbly suggest that it would have shown a little more common sense to have sent the three planes over the Pentagon. Although less of a landmark than the Statue of Liberty, it's been in enough movies to make for a good photo shoot. That building suffered less damage on 9/11 than the World Trade Center did in '93's bombing, and the military would be far more understanding than a city that had its guts torn at on the same day.
Just a thought…
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