Beltway Beat: Phone wars

Posted: Apr 08, 2002 12:00 AM
If you think your phone never stops ringing, imagine being a White House operator during these times of world crisis. "We are receiving word from friends in Washington, D.C., that Muslims and their jihad sympathizers are bombarding the White House with phone calls, faxes and e-mails protesting President Bush's strong stand against Muslim terror directed towards Israel and her civilians," says one pro-Israeli alert on the Internet. "We must all get on the phone today, tomorrow, and the remainder of this week and keep calling the White House every day to thank President Bush and encourage him to stand strong with America's only ally in the Mid-East, Israel, and her right to use all means possible against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's terror machine." SEWARD'S FOLLY Given the nation's division over proposed energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), suffice it to say that more Americans today care about faraway Alaska than used to. That isn't to say that all Americans care to tell Alaskans how to go about developing their frozen frontier. "Let's ask the Alaskans what they think," writes Sean Maquire of Austin, Texas. "I bet Seward never thought that his folly would play such a pivotal role in future politics." That's an understatement. Way back in 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward purchased Alaska from Russia for a mere $7.2 million - about 2 cents per acre. Yet even at that bargain price, Americans in the Lower 48 cried that Seward had squandered the nation's money, labeling his purchase Seward's Folly, Seward's Icebox, even Icebergia. DOUBLE STANDARD When disaster strikes abroad, Uncle Sam often puts the wellbeing of his employees above the safety of American citizens traveling or residing there. So concludes a "sensitive but unclassified" report by the State Department's Office of Inspector General, obtained by this column. It cites "several instances" in which "U.S. government entities evacuated their own employees or took other protective steps without appropriate timely notice to affected American citizens. "Those U.S. government entities were concerned with the wellbeing of their employees," the OIG states. "Their uncoordinated actions have the potential to compromise safety of private citizens abroad." For example, says the report - dated February 2002 and signed by Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin - U.S. military commanders have made independent decisions about alerting their personnel to threat information, forcing the State Department to take "after-the-fact" measures to notify potentially affected private citizens. "Playing catch-up, (the State Department) has apparently been able to redress the lapses, although not without delay in public notification," says the OIG. "It would be useful to remind other departments and agencies of the U.S. Government's 'No Double Standard Policy' and the obligations it entails." The "No Double Standard Policy," introduced in 1990, states that when a threat against U.S. government personnel, missions, or interests is determined by the State Department, in concert with the intelligence community, "to be credible and specific, that information must be provided without undue delay to private and official Americans when it applies to both." The OIG recommends interagency guidance from the National Security Council, supported by a national security directive or presidential executive order, to clarify responsibilities under the policy. It is the primary responsibility of the State Department's Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS) to protect Americans abroad, coordinate their evacuations in times of crisis, and manage the return and identification of bodies of U.S. citizen victims. The office's "workload reflects the troubled state of the world," the OIG observes. "Recently, ACS has operated in a nearly constant state of emergency response due to international crisis threatening the safety of U.S. citizens." FORGOTTEN PARTNERS -- Yasser Arafat is holed up in his Ramallah compound, surrounded by Israeli tanks. -- Palestinian suicide bombers have killed more than 100 Israeli citizens in the past month. -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says his nation is now "at war" against terrorism. So, how did everybody get here? In 1993, Arafat was living in Tunisia as an international pariah, exiled from the West Bank since 1967. Then, in September of that year, President Clinton - ending a U.S. ban on contacts with Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization - negotiated a peace deal between the PLO and Israel. That treaty, announced with much hooplah on the White House lawn, established five years of Palestinian sovereignty over Gaza and Jericho and promised negotiations for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian accord. Clinton called it "a shining moment of hope." Some disagreed. In Lafayette Park, a group of Hasidic Jews protested Clinton's dealings with the Palestinian terrorist leader. One held a sign: "A bloody hand can't sign a peace treaty." Now, Arafat is trying to "find peace" in what remains of his Ramallah headquarters. YANKEE PRIDE Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said at the Pentagon press briefing Wednesday that he had just come out of a luncheon meeting with New York Yankees manager Joe Torre and several Yankee players, in which they discussed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and New York. "We talked about how, with barely a pause, that our Pentagon family went back to work after the attack here and how the Yankees, after a short spell to honor the missing and dead, also went back to work," Gen. Myers said. Gen. Myers, showing some Yankees pride, also compared the effectiveness of U.S. troops in the war on terrorism with the baseball team's near-championship performance last year in the wake of the terror attacks. "We talked about how their commitment to excel represents our American spirit and our way of life and how our men and women in uniform are also fighting for this way of life," he said.