We “Shouldn’t” Speculate About Boston Bombing Perpetrators, But of Course We Do

Much about the Boston Marathon bombing reeks of domestic terrorism — it happened on Income Tax Day, near the April 19 anniversary of Waco and Oklahoma City, and on the Patriot’s Day holiday weekend in Massachusetts.  Patriot’s Day is a symbolic two-fer — it commemorates the Battles of Lexington & Concord, which actually occurred on April 19, but the day is observed each year on the third Monday of April, which this year was April 15.  The location also evokes thoughts, fairly or otherwise, of the Boston Tea Party and the modern Taxed Enough Already party movement.

But wait!  The talking head on CNN just said that the use of pressure cookers in bomb-making is a signature of the Taliban!  A clue!  But it turns out the Taliban has published bomb-making instructions on the internet.  And the Google tells me that the al-Qaeda English-language Inspire magazine published a recipe on using pressure cookers to make bombs.  But another CNN talking head just said “a U.S. official” had said there was no evidence that this is al-Qaeda’s work (I can’t find a link).  OK, so maybe a hitherto unknown, independent Islamist terror group?

Wait, maybe it’s a government conspiracy, just like 9/11 was! At the very first press conference Monday afternoon, a man variously identified as “a heckler” and a “reporter” for the (conservative!) Infowars website, asked:

Questioner: “Why were loudspeakers telling people in the audience to be calm moments before the bomb went off?  Is this another false flag staged attack to take our civil liberties away while promoting Homeland Security, who are sticking their hands down our pants on the street?”

Gov. Duval: “No. Next question?”

Props to the Guv for handling it just right.  I would have said “Just shut up,” which would only have provided more ammunition.  (The transcription above is mine, based on video from the news conference.)  Props also to the California man who promptly registered BostonMarathonConspiracy.com,  “to keep some conspiracy kook from owning it.”

The first-best advice I saw on speculation came from Andrew McCarthy, former federal terrorism prosecutor and now a pundit for National Review (among others).  About 90 minutes after the blast, he wrote:

First, it is a mistake to get too far out in front of the initial reports, which are almost always wrong in some details — sometimes, in some major details. …

The recent history of terrorist attacks is that investigators figure out who is responsible within a very short period of time, both because of the high priority such investigations are given and the tendency of terrorists to signal their responsibility for what they’ve done (after all, the point of terrorism is to leave us intimidated by the terrorists, so they obviously feel the need to brag). We will know who did this soon. It is counterproductive to do much speculation.

Counterproductive, yes.  But how can we help ourselves?

Other musings

My reaction to the initial reports was blasé.  I saw a headline something like “At Least 6 Hurt in Boston Marathon Explosion,” and I shrugged and went back to what I was doing.  But I got sucked in pretty quickly.

Because of the backstory behind this blog’s name, my ears always perk up at any reference to the word “evil.”  I believe evil exists and it’s important to call it that.  President Bush — he of the “Axis of Evil” and of “We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name” — was very comfortable with the term.  Props to President Obama for not letting neocon cooties deter him.  After praising the reactions of first responders, both professional and amateur, Obama said “If you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil, that’s it: selflessly, compassionately, unafraid.”

OK, I could quibble with “unafraid,” I’d substitute “bravely,” a way one can act while being afraid.  But in the words of Jennifer Rubin, who is often a harsh Obama critic: “His job, before there are concrete answers, is to exude calm. He did that.”

Just so.

(Public domain photo via Wikipedia)

Partisan Lines Start to Blur in Drone Debate

Reaper droneIn this era of hyperpartisanship, I find myself fascinated by any issue that begins to cut across party lines.*

I largely ignored the Rand Paul drone-related filibuster when it happened, because it seemed quixotic and unserious.  I’m a critic of the president, but it had never occurred to me to worry that Obama might drone-bomb Jane Fonda.  I was mildly surprised when pundits began saying the filibuster had increased Paul’s stature in the Republican party.

But I only started focusing on the issue when a handful of (fairly) prominent Democrats began strongly challenging the Democratic president’s cloak of secrecy over the drone campaign. It had been a role-reversal debate, with Republicans seeking to limit a president’s war-making authority while Democrats largely remained silent.

A hat tip to Seth Mandel of Commentary, who linked to op-eds by former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman (headlined “Rand Paul is Right“) and former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta (“Obama Should Lift Secrecy on Drones“).   Harman starts with a too-categorical declaration:

Inside the United States, without exception, an American suspected of plotting a terror attack should never be targeted by an armed drone. Period.

Four short paragraphs later, Harman concedes there is an appropriate exception:

In the domestic context, drones should never be used against citizens unless there is an armed conflict on U.S. soil.

While Harman skips ahead to the policy outcome she favors, Podesta’s approach is more procedural, and to my mind more appropriate.

[T]he White House is still bobbing and weaving on whether to share with Congress the legal opinions and memorandums governing targeted killing, which include the legal justification for killing U.S. citizens without trial.

The Obama administration is wrong to withhold these documents from Congress and the American people. I say this as a former White House chief of staff who understands the instinct to keep sensitive information secret and out of public view. It is beyond dispute that some information must be closely held to protect national security and to engage in effective diplomacy, and that unauthorized disclosure can be extraordinarily harmful. But protecting technical means, human sources, operational details and intelligence methods cannot be an excuse for creating secret law to guide our institutions.

The drone controversy highlights once again the crucial differences between law enforcement and war.  Certainly the Osama bin Laden takedown could not have been accomplished by American law enforcement efforts, and the mission was surely “illegal,” at least from the Pakistani point of view. But it was the greatest positive accomplishment of the Obama presidency, and when America is at war, the commander in chief must have considerable latitude to take the battle to the enemy.

Anwar al-Awlaki

I have no qualms whatsoever about taking out Anwar al-Awlaki, a nominal American citizen and an influential enemy leader, with a drone strike in Yemen.  But the situation is completely different on U.S. soil, where a civilian SWAT team with a warrant can reasonably be expected to capture an enemy or kill him in the attempt.

By all means let’s have a public debate over drone policy, and I agree with Podesta that the president should be more forthcoming with Congress.  But it’s impractical to legislate based on extreme and hypothetical possibilities — and it’s dangerous to do so in the context of war.

Law enforcement generally should take the lead in anti-terrorism efforts within the United States, but there has to be room for exceptions. Certainly most people would have agreed on September 10 that it would be utterly wrong for the U.S. Air Force to shoot down a U.S. commercial airliner over U.S. soil.  But of course that order was given on September 11, and I’m not aware of any serious person in either party who thinks it was inappropriate.  Fortunately the patriots on Flight 93 made it unnecessary.

(Public domain photos of unmanned, missile-bearing MQ-9 Reaper and of Anwar al-Awlaki from Wikipedia)

* Just this morning CNN reports that conservative GOP Sen. Rob Portman has reversed his position and expressed support for same-sex marriage, his reconsideration prompted by his son coming out as gay. As a marriage equality advocate and a Republican I have mixed feelings about this.  It’s unfortunate that support from prominent Republicans seems to require gay offspring (cf. Cheney, Dick).  But as a practical matter, incremental Republican support is far more important to the cause than incremental Democratic support. So welcome, Senator Portman.

RIMPAC! Or, Here’s Why It’s Dangerous Even to JOKE About Yelling “Fire” in a Crowded Theater

Don't blame me, blame the NavyNo matter how far Left someone is, or how anti-war, or even anti-American, I think we all could agree that one should not publish the sailing time of troop ships during a war.  A no-brainer, right?  But what if the publisher is the U.S. Navy itself?

It happens all the time.  Case in point, the photo accompanying this blog post (if you’re reading this on RSS, click through to the damn blog to see the photo.  And while you’re there, would it kill ya to actually click on a friggin’ ad once in a while?  I’m just sayin’.)

Onward!  “Sailing time of troop ships” is kind of an archaic phrase — modern ships don’t “sail,” and there is no longer a class of ships OFFICIALLY referred to as “troop ships.” But those are quibbles, and modern equivalents exist.  If you ever find yourself in possession of the knowledge that your government is about to launch a daring nighttime raid to take down Public Enemy No. 1 inside the borders of a semi-hostile ally… just to pick a wild hypothetical… if you ever have that knowledge, in the name of sweet Jesus or Loki or whoever, DON’T TWEET ABOUT IT IN ADVANCE!

Where was I?  The photo.  Below in its entirety is the caption that the U.S. Navy wrote, within the past week, describing the location of thousands of U.S. and allied sailors right now, through the day after tomorrow:

120727-N-VD564-015 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 27, 2012) Ships and submarines participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2012 are in formation in the waters around the Hawaiian islands. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise from June 29 to Aug. 3, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2012 is the 23rd exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Devinney/Released)

Who told the enemy about RIMPAC?  String ‘em up! (Cue the visual of Jon Stewart touching his ear and pretending the control booth is setting him straight.)

My point, and I do have one, is not to make fun of Op-Sec rules.  One of those thousands of sailors is my son, and I’d be savagely pissed off if someone disclosed his whereabouts in a way that endangered him.  My point is the danger of “zero-tolerance” laws.

“Zero-tolerance” would mean that I’d be in trouble for this blog post even though the Navy itself provided the potentially most dangerous information.  But now I’ve increased that miniscule danger by a a hyper-miniscule amount by mentioning my son.

Think I’m kidding?  Note that the Navy did not disclose the names of any of the ships in the exercise.  But you can glance at my blog and learn my son is on the Nimitz.  The Nimitz is that big boat in the foreground of the picture, unless there’s another aircraft carrier at RIMPAC.  My son’s a second-class Aviation Boatswain’s Mate, which is one of three ratings responsible for launching and recovering fighter jets in the Arabian Sea and other war zones, and his two tours thus far have taken him to exotic places including Japan and …

Still think I’m kidding?  Ask the loved ones of Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Devinney how comfortable they are with that caption. There’s nothing in my prior paragraph that hasn’t ALREADY been on my blog, and even if the blog never existed, there’s nothing dangerous in the graf that Osama bin-Soggy couldn’t piece together with very modest effort.  But if any jerk of a prosecutor ever wants an excuse to make my life a living hell, that paragraph could provide it.  I’d be scared to publish it if not for the fact that my life is a target-rich environment.

Be safe, son. I love you.

(Hat tip: Mom)

Dr. K, on the Irony of Obama the Drone Warrior

Early on in the Obama administration, I had a series of blog posts labeled “Bush’s Third Term.”  I meant it in a nice way.  Here’s a snippet from February 2009, five weeks after the inauguration:

After winning in November, Obama co-opted Hillary and her one-time support for the war by naming her Secretary of State. But the clearest indication that the grown-ups would be in charge of the war came when Obama announced that he was retaining Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who oversaw the turnaround in Iraq. I feel much better about the Obama Presidency now than I did on Election Day.

More than three years have passed since then, and Obama surrogates have taken to crowing that “General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead.” The Obama campaign engaged in an unseemly end-zone dance for the first anniversary of the Osama takedown.  As so often happens, it falls to Charles Krauthammer to pull all the pieces together into a sardonic mosaic.  In his column yesterday, Dr. K wrote:

The Osama-slayer card having been vastly overplayed, what to do? A new card: Obama, drone warrior, steely and solitary, delivering death with cool dispatch to the rest of the al-Qaeda depth chart.

So the peacemaker, Nobel laureate, nuclear disarmer, apologizer to the world for America having lost its moral way when it harshly interrogated the very people Obama now kills, has become — just in time for the 2012 campaign — Zeus the Avenger, smiting by lightning strike.

A rather strange ethics. You go around the world preening about how America has turned a new moral page by electing a president profoundly offended by George W. Bush’s belligerence and prisoner maltreatment, and now you’re ostentatiously telling the world that you personally play judge, jury and executioner to unseen combatants of your choosing and whatever innocents happen to be in their company.

This is not to argue against drone attacks. In principle, they are fully justified. No quarter need be given to terrorists who wear civilian clothes, hide among civilians and target civilians indiscriminately. But it is to question the moral amnesia of those whose delicate sensibilities were offended by the Bush methods that kept America safe for a decade — and who now embrace Obama’s campaign of assassination by remote control.

Moreover, there is an acute military problem. Dead terrorists can’t talk.

It’s always hard to decide what to leave out of a Krauthammer cut-and-paste.  Read the whole thing.

When Victor Davis Hanson Talks, I Listen — and He’s Got Me More Worried About a Nuclear Iran

When I grow up I want to be Victor Davis Hanson.  (Turns out he’s not quite five years older than me.  Note to self: Next time start earlier.)

I first became aware of VDH in the weeks and months after September 11.  Like many people, I was hungry not just for information, but for perspective.  I was less interested in the fluctuating body count than in what the future would hold.  While milling about in Citigroup’s corporate offices in midtown that awful Tuesday afternoon, wondering how to get home with the subways and trains locked down, I fell into conversation with a much-younger co-worker, who said something along the lines of, “maybe things will all get back to normal soon.”  I shook my head.  “The world changed today,” I said.

That was about the extent of my insight on Day One.  For what it’s worth, I think it’s held up pretty well.

Here’s a sample of VDH’s insight on Day One:

[O]n December 7, 1941, we declared war against the Japanese Empire after twenty-four hundred American sailors were surprised and killed on a Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor….

Today, September 11, the United States was similarly attacked, in acts every bit as cowardly and without warning.  The only difference between Pearl Harbor and the firing on the Pentagon and destruction of the towers of the World Trade Center is one of magnitude.  Ours now is the far greater loss.  No enemy in our past, neither Nazi Germany nor imperial Japan, has killed so many American civilians and brought such deadly carnage to our shores as these suicidal hijackers who crashed the very citadels of American cultural, economic, and military power in our nation’s two greatest cities. … Surely, by any fair measure of history, we should be at war now.

But are we and shall we be? This generation of Americans is at a crossroads in our nation’s history.  We must decide whether we shall continue to be the adolescent nation that fretted the last six months over the risque details of Congressman Condit’s private life while our enemies were plotting death on the scale of a Guadalcanal or Tet under our very noses.  Or are we still the children of our fathers, who accepted the old, sad truth that “the essence of war is violence, and moderation in war is imbecility.”

As you read those words now, they may seem unremarkable — nothing that you haven’t read dozens of times.  But those sentiments, part of a carefully fleshed-out essay of 1,000 words, spun forth from Hanson’s computer on September 11.

Between then and the end of 2001, VDH wrote 38 (!!) similarly thoughtful essays, published at National Review Online and elsewhere.  The essays are collected in An Autumn of War, a book available through the Amazon widget in the right column of my homepage.  More than a decade later, the essays are still worth reading, and if you order the book through my Amazon widget, supposedly I’ll get a tiny little piece of the action.  I really wish someone would do this someday so I can see if I really get a commission.  Just a thought.

Where was I?  Ah, I was making the point that VDH has a talent for producing insightful analysis in real time.  His output at National Review Online and what used to be called Pajamas Media is prodigious.  I don’t always agree with him — his criticisms of Obama sometimes seem fueled by an intense dislike that I do not share.

But he’s always worth reading, and today he’s done the best job I’ve ever seen of describing how much is at stake in Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.  (That’s right, the 600 words above are all for the purpose of setting up a blog post of the “here’s something interesting I read today” variety.  Maybe someday I’ll figure out how blogs are supposed to work.)

Onward! There are so many insights in today’s essay that it’s hard to decide what to excerpt.  But that’s the kind of choice that I as a professional blogger have to make every day.  Or once or twice a week in my case.

Otherwise insignificant nations and failed states gain credibility by shorting their own people to divert billions of dollars to acquiring a bomb. Take away that fact from Pakistan, and the United States would probably have reduced aid to such a de facto belligerent long ago. …

[I]f a head of state can feign insanity, or, better yet, convincingly announce a wish for the apocalypse, then he can, in theory, circumvent some traditional rules of deterrence. An Iranian theocrat’s supposed willingness to use his sole nuclear weapon to wipe out tiny Israel — at the cost of losing 30 million Iranians from retaliation — yields a cheap way to obtain not just parity with Israel, but potentially a nuclear advantage. …

To this day, we do not know whether North Korea has successfully detonated a nuclear bomb that is easily deliverable. But it does not matter; we need to know only that it has achieved some sort of nuclear reaction that suggests the ability to repeat it a few times. That fact prevents any sort of preemptive attack on a North Korean reactor, giving North Korea the sort of exemption that Iraq, Libya, and Syria never quite achieved. …

The reason why Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are not nuclear is not a matter of technology or finance; indeed, all four could this year alone create nukes as they do BMWs or Hondas. It is not just an American nuclear umbrella but rather a large American nuclear umbrella that assures such countries that they can rest secure without their own deterrent stockpiles. …

The danger is not the bomb per se, but rather who has it. Most of us do not worry about a democratic Britain, France, India, or Israel possessing nuclear weapons. The fright instead is over a Communist authoritarian China, an unhinged North Korea, an Islamist Pakistan, or an unstable Russia having nuclear weapons. Transparent democracies, in other words, are mostly reliable nuclear guardians; non-transparent autocracies are less so.

Read the whole thing.

The al-Awlaki Killing Crossed a Line. Bravo, Mr. President.

As a frequent critic of President Obama, I feel duty-bound to have his back when he gets something right.  Obama has been criticized from both the left and the right over the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a treasonous American citizen killed by a drone-fired missile in Yemen.  But in addition to being a tactical victory, that operation is a welcome reminder that the President understands we are at war.

Or at least, on some days he understands it.  Occasionally his “I’m-not-Bush” compulsions overwhelm his commander-in-chiefness, as when he pre-announces a retreat while announcing a surge, or when he floats the indefensible idea of trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a few hundred yards away from Ground Zero.  But eventually he backed off both of those bad ideas, as well as his grand-standing promise to close Guantanamo.  On a more positive note, the take-down of Osama bin Laden was a gutsy call and a genuine triumph for the Obama presidency.

Writing in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen is troubled by the legal ramifications of killing an American citizen, although he admits that “a little ‘yippee’ emitted from me when I heard the news.”

Something big and possibly dangerous has happened . . . in secret. Government’s most awesome power — to take a life — has been exercised on one of its own citizens without benefit of trial. A guy named Barron and another named Lederman apparently said it was okay. Maybe it was. But I’d sure like to hear the attorney general or the president explain why.

Two thoughts:  I’d like to hear that explanation as well, but I’m not holding my breath during an election campaign.  And, somehow I’m pretty confident that these two “guys” in  the Justice Department, who apparently drafted a legal memo supporting the legality of  killing al-Awlaki, will not end up demonized in anything like the manner of John Yoo.

I voted against Mr. Obama, and intend to do so again, but from the start I’ve been looking for silver linings in his presidency.  Here’s one: Taken as a whole, the Obama presidency is tugging America in the direction of bipartisan support for the war against Islamic fascism.  America may become safer as a result.

Glenn Greenwald on Norway: It Must Be America’s Fault

Photo from Wikipedia

While the world waits patiently to see if Norway will join Oklahoma City [Whoops! and Virginia Tech! and Columbine!] in the modest panorama of non-Islamic terrorist atrocities (thereby doubling the size of the panorama), Glenn Greenwald is getting out in front with a predictable gambit: Blame America First.

Still, I can’t help noticing, and being quite bothered by, the vast difference in reaction to the violence visited on Western nations such as Norway and the violence visited by Western nations (particularly our own) on non-Western nations.  The violence and indiscriminate death brought today to Oslo is routinely and constantly imposed by the U.S. and its closest allies in a large and growing list of Muslim nations.  On a weekly basis — literally — the U.S. and its Western allies explode homes, mangle children, extinguish the lives of innocent people, disrupt communities, kill community and government leaders, and bring violence and terror to large numbers of people — those are just facts.  And yet a tiny, tiny fraction of attention, interest and anger is generated by such violence as compared to that generated by the violence in Oslo today.  What explains that mammoth discrepancy in interest, discussion, and media coverage?

What explains the discrepancy? The false premise explains it.  The difference between “collateral damage” — an ugly but accurate term — and the deliberate targeting of random innocents explains it.  The other thing that explains it is that unlike Greenwald, most people in our society are, ya know, on our side.

It’s also interesting to note that Greenwald implicitly assumes that the attack is probably “jihadi” related.  Why else go into detail about Norway’s participation in the wars in Afghanistan and Libya?  He’s less interested in giving Islamists the benefit of the doubt than he is in saying “we’re just as bad.”

(Photo of Glenn Greenwald from Wikipedia — I totally can’t be bothered to figure out all their licensing blather, but I think that means it’s in the public domain.)

 

Props to the Prez for Getting bin Laden

Got it done.

I’ve been highly critical of President Obama in the past, and I have no doubt that I will be again.  I’m opposed to essentially his entire domestic agenda, and I hope to help vote him out of office 18 months from now.

However.

On the foreign affairs and national security front, Obama’s performance has been a mixed bag — which is to say, much better than on domestic matters.  After the newly elected President retained Bush’s defense secretary, I started tagging some of my posts with Bush’s Third Term.  Obama went on to allow the Iraq war to stay won, and properly escalated in Afghanistan.  (I’m puzzled by Libya, but hoping for the best.)

For at least the next 20 months, Obama is my president, and on some level I wish him well — particularly in his role as commander-in-chief.  I have nothing but contempt for Rush Limbaugh’s pre-election “I hope he fails” rhetoric, or for his sarcasm in the wake of Obama’s success this week.

The 1980 debacle at Desert One

The SEALS did the most dangerous part of the mission, of course, but don’t underestimate the danger Obama stared down in giving the green light. The mission went off flawlessly — but there was no guarantee of that.  The compound could have been more heavily defended, multiple helicopters could have been lost.  It’s not hard to imagine an outcome like Desert One in 1980, which cost eight American lives and contributed to Jimmy Carter’s defeat.

The safer route would have been to have a Predator launch a missile into the compound — zero chance of American casualties, and presumably 100% casualties in the compound.  But that would have meant the death of multiple women and children, and no guarantee that bin Laden would subsequently be identified.

Despite the risks, despite not being certain that bin Laden was even in the compound, Obama signed off on the mission.  It could have ended badly, but it did not, and Obama deserves enormous credit for a landmark victory in the war against Islamic fascism.  Congratulations, Mr. President, and thank you.

Now about that healthcare bill…

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This Blog Gets Results: Janet Napolitano to Scrap Color-Coded Threat Advisories

Who says the federal government isn’t responsive to ordinary citizens?

Barely a year has passed since A.T.I.N. advised Janet Napolitano to scrap the silly color-coded alert system, and now published reports say the Homeland Security Secretary will do exactly that in a speech tomorrow.

There have been complaints about about the five-tiered system since its adoption. In its eight years, the alerts fluctuated between yellow for “elevated” and orange for “high,” reaching red for “severe” once, on Aug. 10, 2006. In that case, the alert was applied to flights coming from the U.K. after discovery of a “well-advanced plan” suggesting that al-Qaeda was plotting to use liquid explosives and detonators disguised as electronic devices to blow up jetliners in midair.

The threat level was lowered to orange three days later and has remained there. The green or blue symbols, representing the lowest threat levels, have never been used.

“Each and every time the threat level was raised, very rarely did the public know the reason, how to proceed or for how long to be on alert,” Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, ranking Democrat on the House homeland security panel, said in a statement.

After the color-coding was introduced, all the cable networks had the color of the day embedded in their chyrons at the bottom of the screen.  I think that lasted about two weeks.  The rainbow-inspired alert hierarchy will apparently be replaced by a monochromatic system of more specific alerts aimed at particular audiences, such as law-enforcement officials or airline travelers.

Disclaimer: Janet did not actually consult with me on this one, and may not be making this change directly in response to my recommendation.

Which Is the Lesser Evil: Airport “Porno Scanners” or Profiling?

From TSA website: Click to enlarge (you know you want to).
Images more explicit than this may be faked.

If you look up “droll” in the dictionary, there ought to be a picture of George Will.   Here’s the end of his current column, which kvetches about increased airport security:

The average American has regular contact with the federal government at three points – the IRS, the post office and the TSA. Start with that fact if you are formulating a unified field theory to explain the public’s current political mood.

Will joins Kathleen Parker and Charles Krauthammer in a trifecta of WashPo conservative columnists opposed to the new screening procedures.  Here’s Parker describing the unappealing choices:

I don’t like the idea of some stranger – regardless of whether he or she can see my face – examining my concessions to gravity without my permission. …

As to the alternative, no thank you. The idea of a stranger, even one of the same sex, foraging around my private principalities is simply unacceptable. Forget the creepiness factor, which is sufficient; consider the principle – quickly! – before you get used to the notion that government has the right to do Whatever Is Necessary To Protect You.

From what, if not this?

Krauthammer thinks he knows a better way:

We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety – 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling – when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.

Profiling doesn’t have to mean racial profiling — although, speaking strictly from a security point of view, obviously it would make sense to give a higher level of scrutiny to young male Middle Eastern Muslims.  Michael Totten, the independent journalist, describes how the Israelis keep their planes and airports safe:

Security officials should pay less attention to objects, and more attention to people.

The Israelis do. They are, out of dreadful necessity, the world’s foremost experts in counterterrorism. And they couldn’t care less about what your grandmother brings on a plane. Instead, officials at Ben Gurion International Airport interview everyone in line before they’re even allowed to check in.

And Israeli officials profile. They don’t profile racially, but they profile. Israeli Arabs breeze through rather quickly, but thanks to the dozens of dubious-looking stamps in my passport — almost half are from Lebanon and Iraq — I get pulled off to the side for more questioning every time. And I’m a white, nominally Christian American.

If they pull you aside, you had better tell them the truth. They’ll ask you so many wildly unpredictable questions so quickly, you couldn’t possibly invent a fake story and keep it all straight. Don’t even try. They’re highly trained and experienced, and they catch everyone who tries to pull something over on them.

Grousing about the scanners is all well and good, but the danger is not theoretical — there was an actual incident of a bomb hidden in a man’s underwear. Next time I fly, I’ll shrug and walk through the scanner, if that’s what I’m told to do.