Monday, November 05, 2001

New York and Jerusalem

Because they cannot know what the next war will be like, generals always fight the last war, if only to protect their rear end if not their rear guard. What is true of generals is true of other government officials who prepare for tomorrow by trying to prevent a repeat of yesterday’s failures. There is, at the least, the advantage of being able to plead not guilty to being asleep at the wheel. Extensive and expensive security arrangements were put into place at the World Trade Center after the 1993 attack. To use the elevators, visitors passed through a security check that included verification that they were expected at the indicated destination. Each visitor was photographed separately and there were other preventative measures. The rest is history, tragic history.

What was missing was intelligence, both in the sense of effective undercover activity and also in the sense of brainpower. The CIA, FBI and other agencies that are supposed to protect us against subversion and terrorism are expensive bureaucratic organizations that are overstaffed by the underqualified. We ought not expect them to apprehend those who plan to attack us when they can scarcely uncover spies who are nesting on the CIA and FBI payrolls. As I wrote after September 11, if Israel’s intelligence capabilities were at the level of America’s, the results for the Jewish State would have been horrific.

In fairness, the FBI is changing. Agents are now outfitted in smart-looking flak jackets with “FBI” emblazoned on the back, presumably to abet the gathering of secret information, along the lines of Poe’s purloined letter. As they walk the streets, they look like extras in a television series. Is it too much to hope that our anti-terrorism apparatus attain the level of competence of America’s enemies, people who apparently know where the White House and Pentagon mail is sorted?

Perhaps we should be a bit reassured because our President, newly anointed with gifts that were nowhere in sight two months ago, has announced that he feels safe when he enters the White House. Our Vice President, however, is not to be found. Osama Bin Laden is more available to the media than Dick Cheney.

As our officials demonstrate that they can undertake the kind of measures that did not prevent September 11, there is the attendant weakening of the economic situation – here and abroad – which is to say that the terrorists have achieved another costly coup. Billions are being spent with little rhyme and less reason and there will be a heavy price to pay down the road.

The situation is especially critical in New York where thousands of businesses have been hurt, many of them gratuitously. I have an office a mile or so north of Ground Zero. Further north is the intersection of Broadway and Canal where police checkpoints stop and examine vehicles. Trucks which are vital to New York’s economy are experiencing long delays, adding to the cost of doing business and diminishing the desire to stay in the city.

I was in Jerusalem days after the Sbarro bombing at what is perhaps the city’s most important cross-section. Traffic moves as before, in line with the attitude that life must go on. A sign at the site indicated that Sbarro would reopen shortly and it has. Although there is much fear in Israel and there have been life-style changes, to the greatest extent possible there is a determination to maintain normalcy. New York should learn from Jerusalem.

There is something else about Jerusalem’s streets and streets throughout Israel. There are Arabs nearly everywhere, some planning or wanting to commit murder and many more willing to assist the murderers. This is an aspect of Israel’s story that the media – especially in Europe – distort as they present a picture of alleged rampant Israeli violation of Arab rights. Is there any other country which in the face of the most serious and proximate security concerns would be as open as Israel is?

It would be nice if the new awareness of the dangers of terrorism would result in greater appreciation of what Israel has endured. Our media proclaim that “America Is Under Attack,” which is true enough, yet nothing to compare with Israel’s vulnerability. Reporters are sympathetic when the U.S. explains that civilian casualties are inevitable in wartime, especially when the enemy hides among children, as the Taliban apparently does. Where are Hamas and other Arab terrorists located, if not among women and children? I imagine that Susan Sontag would describe these murderous cowards as courageous.

It is remarkable how few Arab civilians have been killed during the drawn out Intifada, how much restraint Israeli soldiers and police have shown in the face of severe violence that places them in danger. It is not difficult to imagine how our police and military would respond if they were being shot at, not occasionally but each day and at close quarters.

I do not think that Prime Minister Sharon was wise in his harsh speech criticizing the Bush administration and it certainly was inappropriate for him to raise the specter of Munich and appeasement. Yet, there was a measure of truth in his remarks and there is much to be scared about in what is coming out of Washington. Our concerns are heightened because of the dominance of the Powell Doctrine which proclaims the massing of overwhelming military power, then wimping out and leaving allies to hang and die.