What’s Taking So Long?

Posted: Jan 06, 2007 12:00 AM
What’s Taking So Long?

Sometimes life resembles a comedy sketch.

There’s a classic “Saturday Night Live” scene from 1988 with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush stumbling through a debate. “Stay the course, 1,000 points of light ...” he mumbles, over and over. Then the moderator asks his opponent to rebut. The Michael Dukakis character looks right at the camera, shakes his head sadly and says, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”

Now, a news item. “More than a thousand ‘amateur butchers’ in Turkey spent the first day of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha in emergency wards after stabbing themselves or suffering other injuries while sacrificing startled animals,” the Anatolia news agency reported recently. At least 1,413 people were injured.

Imagine getting hurt while trying to slaughter livestock. It’s incomprehensible to most Americans. The advantage of a Western society is that we can pay others to prepare our food for us. We buy meat and vegetables in grocery stores, avoiding the dangers and difficulties of growing it and/or killing it ourselves. Turkey’s an advanced society in many ways. It even aspires to membership in the European Union. But alongside that advanced society exists another tradition, an Islamic extremist one in which a large number of people hurt themselves needlessly every year while trying to slaughter animals.

It’s enough to make an observer say, “I can’t believe we’re losing to these guys.” But, sadly, we are.

Consider this headline from the Dec. 23 Orlando Sentinel: “U.S. aims to boost security at chemical plants.” Really? “Aims” to?

This story would make sense if you were reading a five-year-old copy of the paper. In 2001 we should have been “aiming” to secure chemical plants. By 2006 they should all have been secured. Instead, the story explains, the federal government has only just “unveiled a plan to scrutinize anti-terrorism strategies at the nation’s highest-risk facilities.”

The federal initiative is “open for public comment.” The only comment most of us would want to make is, “what’s taken so long?” The answer, though, is right on the same page. “The Homeland Security Department admitted Friday that it violated the Privacy Act two years ago by obtaining more commercial data about U.S. airline passengers than it had announced it would,” a separate (but related) Associated Press story says.

Imagine that -- the Transportation Security Administration collected information on airline passengers. That’s almost reassuring; surely many travelers think all TSA does is confiscate 3.5 ounce bottles of shampoo.

But the government assures us that such information collection won’t happen again. “Federal law now bars TSA from implementing a domestic screening system until the GAO is satisfied it can meet 10 standards of privacy protection, accuracy and security,” the AP story concludes. Boil that down and it means there will never be a domestic screening system for airline passengers. At least not an effective one. Rest assured that similar legal holdups will prevent us from securing chemical plants for years.

Meanwhile, consider Iran. President Bush has said he won’t allow that country to obtain nuclear weapons. But while the world is talking, Iran’s acting.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he wants “to hold the big celebration of Iran’s full nuclearization in the current year.” Since he’s also promised that “the U.S., Britain and the Zionist regime [Israel] will vanish,” we might want to be a wee-bit concerned about a nuclear Iran. It’s not clear what we can do at this point to stop Iran from getting “the bomb,” but clearly words alone won’t be enough.

The story of 9/11 is that a group of Islamic extremists was able to combine Western technology with their primitive anger. They seized four high-technology airliners and crashed them into buildings they never could have built themselves.

We won’t win the struggle against these people bureaucratically, or by using legal niceties. We’ll win only by taking precautions -- such as protecting our chemical plants and our airliners -- and by defeating Islamic extremists militarily whenever possible. The United States needs to prevail in Iraq, and we must let Iran know we’re serious about preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

A new, Democrat-led Congress takes office this week. It would be interesting to hear how it plans to accomplish these goals. A dangerous, and sometimes primitive, world is waiting.