It was supposed to be a photo op that captured images of an Air Force One plane with a majestic Statue of Liberty in the background. Instead, it turned into a public relations nightmare that led to recriminations from the president and mayor and prompted thousands of others to ask, "What were they thinking?"
Just before the workday began on Monday, an airliner and supersonic fighter jet zoomed past the lower Manhattan skyline. Within minutes, startled financial workers streamed out of their offices, fearing a nightmarish replay of Sept. 11.
For a half-hour, the Boeing 747 and F-16 jet circled the Statue of Liberty and the Financial District near the World Trade Center site. Offices evacuated. Dispatchers were inundated with calls. Witnesses thought the planes were flying dangerously low.
Wow, so much to comment about on this story, that I don't know where to begin.
How about with money? Any idea what it costs to fly Air Force one around along with several high tech jet fighter planes? A quick Google search turned up some numbers like $40,000 a hour (from a few years ago) for flying Air Force One. More Googling found numbers like $50,000 an hour for an F-16. Its hard to tell from the AP reporting a little fact like how many F-16s were involved in the mission. They say one was flying with AF1 around the Statue of Liberty. Later it refers to 'jets' plural and says a photographer was in a jet taking pictures. So, lets say 2 F-16's.
Probably a minimum of 2 hours air time to do this. 3 might be a good guess. Especially if they had to move this AF1 to NYC to do the photo op. But still, that's at least $280,000 spent. For what purpose? For "updating file photos of Air Force One near national landmarks."
In the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, when the US Government is projecting a deficit for the year in the $1.8 TRILLION range, these guys just spent at least $300,000 updating publicity photos for Air Force One? Are they freaking kidding? And even better, this probably isn't the only time they've done this. Note the reference to a larger program to 'national landmarks'... that's plural. These bozos are flying a 747 and high-tech fighter planes that cost at least $140,000 an hour to operated (combined) all around the country taking publicity photos of Air Force One!
Do we really need new file photos of Air Force One? Is Air Force One looking to get a new modeling job somewhere, so it needed a new portfolio? Explain to me how this improved the life of any American tax payer? Come on people! The country is broke, Americans by the millions are losing their jobs, and you guys are wasting millions of dollars updating the publicity photos of an air plane?
If this was still the Bush era, I'd have the nasty little thought that they did this just to scare people. That the Bushies would have felt that it was to their advantage as an authoritarian government that thrived on fear to have thousands of New Yorkers streaming out of buildings in fear that 9-11 was happening again.
The Bush administration had a long record of trying to use terrorism scares to bolster their popularity every time it dropped. If Bush got hit with an embarrassing news story, or if is popularity numbers dropped too low, you could count on some 'terror scare' type of story to come along to try to put the fear of God back into the citizens.
Would Obama's administration do the same? Don't know. So far, there isn't a track record of this sort of behavior from the Obama-ishies, so there aren't 'actions' to track. There is the very disturbing trend that says that almost all of Bush's security and military policies have been continued under Obama. So, would this sort of 'scare the people back into line' tactic have continued as well.
Of course, there's the general question of civilian control of the military and intelligence agencies to think about. The story traces this back to the White House, but only to someone with a title of "director of the White House military office".
Would the Pentagon be interested in scaring the citizens of New York into thinking 9-11 was happening again? Would they hide the op with approval from the White House 'military office' for some photo op updates?
Don't know. Interesting to think about. But, I don't have a clue if its true or not.
We don't think enough about whether our civilian government has control of our military. That's supposed to be one of our guarantees of liberty in the system our Founding Fathers set up. They severely distrusted the idea of ANY standing military that existed between wars. Their idea for a free and democratic society was to rely on militias that would call up when a war needed to be fought. As a nation, we stayed with that model until the end of World War II when we refused to disband our military. Maybe it was necessary to fight off the threats of communist dictatorships conquering the world. Or maybe keeping that large military force in existence ourselves caused the Soviets to keep their military large to defend against this other large military they found themselves faced with. Most like, it was probably a bit of both as the general and the merchants of death on each side used inflated estimates of the others to scare governments into spending more and more on the military.
The fascinating thing is, this drove the Soviet Union into the ground nearly twenty years ago. But, the US couldn't stop spending hundreds of billions on 'defense' every year, even after its enemy collapsed. Instead, it just spurred on a search for new enemies under the Clinton years, which Bush ended when he found 'Al-Qaida' as the enemy that would justify what is now a trillion dollars a year that we spend on 'defense'.
Now, does that sound like a military that's under civilian control? Or does it sound more like the out-of-control sort of military establishment that everyone from our Founding Fathers to Dwight Eisenhower have tried to warn us against?
During the Clinton years, it was interesting at times to watch how much the military actually responded to civilian control. The issue came up right off the bat when the military rejected an order from their supposed commander-in-chief to stop discriminating against gays in the military. Later on, I seem to recall the military basically conducting their own foreign policy with Indonesia around the time of East Timor.
During Bush, it wasn't ever a question because Bush always did what the military wanted. I remember one time when National Security Director Rice tried to assert White House control over the deteriorating situation in Iraq, and basically got told by Rumsfeld to go buzz off.
But, it will be an interesting question to watch under Obama? Does our civilian government still have control over the 'military'. I put that in quotes, because the first fight that's shaping up seems to be with the CIA. Will those who violated US and international law by torturing people be prosecuted for their crimes? The CIA is certainly saying no. And so far, Obama is mostly just parroting the CIA line. But, its an interesting question these days to ask whether Obama could do this if he wanted to. Or, does the CIA weld so much power in Washington these days that the reason Obama doesn't publicly call for such prosecutions is because he knows he could never do it.
One scary thing about agencies like the CIA is how much money do they have that is unaccountable and unknown these days? If you think back to Iran-Contra, you'd remember that it exposed a lot of ways the CIA can run ops to make money for itself which can then be stuck into hidden accounts and slush funds.
Add to this the private military capability that was created by the Bushies, so that there are now plenty of trained operatives out of government control and available for hire, and a very scary picture starts to emerge.
And remember, there was always the suggestion that the CIA was involved in killing Kennedy. Depends on which conspiracy theory you like, but it was always an idea that was out there. There was also the suggestion that the CIA was involved in tilting a presidential election in 1980 by manipulating the hostage crisis to Reagan (and former CIA-director G.H.W. Bush)'s benefit against Carter. Carter had actually tried to cut the CIA budget and bring it under even a little control.
Its an interesting question to watch during Obama's years. How much will he challenge the military and intelligence communities. And what happens when he does? So far, he hasn't challenged them. He's raising their budgets (just like Bush) and he's continuing almost all the same policies. The only place he's reigned them in at all is in the area of torture and secret prisons. And on torture he's left plenty of loopholes big enough for the electrodes to pass through. And I suspect all he's done with secret prisons is moved them from CIA control to military control in places like Bagram.
The interesting question is why?