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Jewish Journal

Obama’s Security Efforts and Carping

by  David A. Lehrer

January 8, 2010 | 5:42 pm

Watching President Obama yesterday and listening to the predictable posturing by the interest groups who have a stake in the security debate gets a bit depressing. It’s a bit like a Greek tragedy where the ending is obvious yet the various roles are being played out with no chance that any of the players will diverge from their prescribed roles and paths.

The ACLU, predictably, decries the president’s efforts. They condemn the “no fly” lists for failing “to identify true terrorist threats.” They vociferously object to the administration’s decision to intensify screening of nationals from fourteen nations that have poor track records in dealing with terrorism as being, “ineffective, unconstitutional and counter to American values.” They assert that “using national origin or religion as proxies for suspicion is nothing less than racial profiling.” 

How carefully scrutinizing passengers from foreign ports who want to enter our country is unconstitutional is just silly. Our constitution is far reaching, but it doesn’t protect a foreign national overseas. 

The ACLU makes but one concession to the reality of the dangers that exist in today’s world, “developing competent intelligence and law enforcement agencies” is what they support. Knowing of the group’s objections to intelligence gathering in years past, one wonders what their notion of “competent intelligence gathering” is.

The ACLU would focus all the “security resources” to “stop terrorists before they get to the airport;” a fine prescription, but one that clearly can’t be relied on by itself—there is simply too much data that floods our intelligence agencies. We can’t always separate the wheat from the chaff as the Christmas bomber made transparently clear. We need to supplement and complement the data we receive with layers of security—-applied where needed (e.g. to passengers from countries from which terrorists have come and not to 80 year old senior citizens from Luxembourg).

The ACLU isn’t alone in objecting to the rational, limited and common-sensical steps that the administration has taken. Salaam al Marayati, the Los Angeles-based head of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, complained in the New York Times about the administration’s selection of fourteen countries for extra security scrutiny—-because “profiling communities” is “ineffective.” However ineffective it might be, it’s a lot more effective than spreading limited resources across all travelers from all countries and acting as if we have collective amnesia as to where virtually all the world’s air terrorists have come from and what their common ideology is.

Finally, an all too frequent voice in the media, Prof. Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, offered his unequivocal analysis on Public Radio International’s The World. One of his main objections to the administration’s actions is not a principled one, but rather a financial one.  He concludes that what Obama has undertaken is “a huge step backwards” and will result in economic loss to our economy: “there are large numbers of peoples in Saudi Arabia with a lot of capital who like to invest in the United States, and who simply won’t because they won’t subject themselves to this procedure every time they come in.”

So, the risk of a rich oil sheik being upset because he has to answer extra questions and wait longer in line before he boards a plane to the United States is offered as a compelling reason for not taking extra security steps to protect airline passengers from being blown out of the air. These folks come from countries known to have lax security safeguards and to be the home of far too many terrorists—-some costs are worth it, including an angry sheik or two and few less recycled petro-dollars. 

The most compelling and sober analyses of the issues we are facing come from Heather MacDonald and David Brooks. MacDonald logically refutes most of the arguments against selective screening and explains the reasons for the administration’s actions in an article in National Review On-line.

Brooks, in his usual, thoughtful way, reminds us in The New York Times that no matter what we do, institutions and people are fallible and bad things will probably happen.

…we shouldn’t imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time. It would be nice if we reacted to their inevitable failures not with rabid denunciation and cynicism, but with a little resiliency, an awareness that human systems fail and bad things will happen and we don’t have to lose our heads every time they do.

The “experts” ought to be less self righteous and less convinced of their own certainty and rectitude. They need to acknowledge that the administration is trying its best to balance security needs with our exceptionally open and free society, it isn’t easy and anyone who thinks it is or questions the genuineness of the administration’s efforts should be ignored.

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