Bad News For Israel

I was cautiously optimistic following the outcome of the Israeli elections, but it seems one of the worst fears of the naysayers are coming true: Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Putting the dovish Labor Party leader with little military experience who campaigned on social issues in charge of Israeli security is a disaster. Uri Dan elaborates.

Meanwhile, in other news: Palestinians smuggling Katyusha rockets into Gaza

For years terrorists have been firing highly innacurate Kassam missles into Israel from Gaza in hopes that they would hit something and kill Israelis. But since the Israeli disengagement from Gaza last summer, they’ve been smuggling Katyusha rockets from Egypt through tunnels. The Katyushas are more accurate, and have a longer range.

This was one of the reasons that critics argued against the pullout, which I supported. I still think disengagement is a sensible strategy, but it only works if Israel is willing to do what it takes militarily to confront terrorists. The thought of Defense Minister Amir Peretz doesn’t put me at ease.

GOP Giveaway

From Bloomberg via the NY Sun:

Senate Majority Leader Frist unveiled a Republican proposal to relieve high gasoline prices, calling for a $100 rebate to consumers and drilling for oil and natural gas in Alaska.

The whole thing here.

Calling it a “rebate,” doesn’t change the fact that it’s a big government subsidy. If they want to reduce or eliminate gas taxes, fine. But giving away $100 is worthy of the party of FDR, not the party of Reagan.

Not only is it a big government proposal, but it’s highly inefficient. Beyond the administrative costs, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing in the proposal to ensure that people actually spend the money on gasoline. What’s to stop people from using the money toward buying an iPod, or eating a fancy steak dinner?

There’s also an ethical dilemma involved. What about people who don’t have cars? If you give them the $100, then the rebate ends up having nothing to do with gas costs, it’s just giving people $100. If you only give $100 to people who have cars, then it’s unfair to people who live in large cities who ride public transportation.

I don’t think Americans have a right to cheap gas. Besides the war in Iraq and tension with Iran (shorter term shocks), we’re facing a long-term shift in global demand with the growing economies of China and India. Over the last few decades, these countries with more than a third of the world’s population have been relatively out of the market, making it easier for Americans to consume a disproportionate amount of oil. Granted this is easy for me to say because I live in NYC, but I think Americans need to recalibrate their expectations of what the price of gas should be. And in the long run, high gas prices may create enough demand for alternative fuel to force companies to invest in new technologies in a big way. I think that’s long overdue and ultimately it’s an issue of national security. It makes me sick to think of countries like Iran, Saudi Arablia, Sudan, etc. being awash in oil money.

It’s Time

The terrifying footage of people jumping from the top floors of the Twin Towers has given Americans a sense of what people were going through inside the buildings on September 11, and the images of ash-covered fire fighters and police officers have captured the heroism of rescue workers at the World Trade Center on that day. But the horrors aboard the hijacked airplanes, and the heroism exhibited by the passengers of United Flight 93, were left to the minds eye. That will all change with the release of the movie United 93 on Friday.

Having attended Tuesday’s world premiere of the film in New York, which was also attended by about 90 relatives of the victims, I can attest to the fact that the movie is an emotionally draining one. Watching the day’s events unfold all over again, almost in real time, resurrected many feelings I had not felt since September 11. And director Paul Greengrass didn’t hold back in depicting the grisly way in which the hijackers stabbed and slashed defenseless victims and stormed their way into the cockpit.

Some would argue that this is a bad thing. Why go to the movies to relive one of the most horrific days of our lives? Why do we need to re-create one of the few events from that day which escaped the lens of the mass media? It’s obvious that what went on inside the airplanes was awful, why do we need to see it?

But oftentimes memorializing tragic events requires depicting them in all of their gory details. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shows photos of Jews who underwent medical experiments and Schindler’s List graphically portrayed the brutality of Nazism. Is this exploitative and unnecessary?

Others may argue that Schindler’s List was made about 50 years after the Holocaust, while it has been less than five years since September 11, which is too soon. But many war films were released while World War II was still being fought. And though this is the first feature length dramatic film directly dealing with 9/11, Americans have already been inundated with entertainment that implicitly addresses the subject, such as Munich, V for Vendetta, and one of America’s top rated television shows, 24. Michael Moore exploited the tragedy in Fahrenheit 9/11. If a shoddy piece of anti-American propaganda can be released three years after the attacks, why should a sympathetic portrayal of the heroes of Flight 93 remain off-limits almost five years later?

Making United 93 relatively soon after the event contributed to its haunting realism. Many of the air traffic controllers who were on duty on 9/11 play themselves, as does FAA national operations manager Ben Sliney. The actors who portrayed the passengers were able to meet with the families of the actual passengers to get a better sense of what their loved ones were like. Had the film been put off by 10 to 20 years (or until critics deemed it the “appropriate” time) such opportunities would not have been possible, and the movie would have lost its verisimilitude.

There are other reasons why releasing the film now could be beneficial. There is a danger that the further removed Americans are from September 11, the more complacent the nation will become about the threat of terrorism. In an April Gallup Poll, only 6 percent of Americans named terrorism as the most important problem facing the country. United 93 offers a stark reminder of what we are up against.

One of the most unexpected aspects of the film is that it also shows the audience how naive and innocent America was before 9/11. As an air traffic contoller begins to suspect a hijacking, people are instinctively dismissive, assuming that it can’t possibly be true because there hadn’t been one for decades.

The violent reaction of some Muslims to the publication of the Mohamed cartoons has effectively silenced criticism of Islam in the Western media, but United 93 doesn’t whitewash the role of Islam in terrorism. In the opening scene, the hijackers pray in Arabic in their hotel rooms. As they carry out their mission, they repeatedly invoke the name of Allah.

The film also depicts a time when Americans were united, and ready to face a common enemy. With the nation now divided between those who are pro-Iraq War and anti-Iraq War, those who support Bush and those who hate him, the film helps us remember that we’re all in this together. The story of these ordinary people performing heroically in such horrifying conditions should serve as an inspiration to the civilized world as it confronts the monstrous evil of terrorism.

The 9/11 Commission Report concluded that it was unlikely that the military would have been able to stop United Flight 93 from reaching Washington, D.C. if its passengers hadn’t caused the plane to crash. Thus, the quick and courageous actions of these unarmed civilians likely saved either the Capitol or the White House. United 93 is a fitting tribute to them, and America is ready to watch their story.

Philip Klein writes from New York. He can be contacted through his website www.philipklein.com.

Tony Snow

From Bush’s perspective, this is an excellent choice. Snow will be forceful and articulate while also being sympathetic to the position of the press. But I think the move is looks bad for Fox News. However they decide to spin it, the fact that one of their news anchors left to be the flak for the White House looks bad. Imagine the reaction of conservatives if Wolf Blitzer were to become press secretary for a Democratic President?

United 93

I just came back from the world premiere of ‘?United 93′ at the Zeigfeld theater here in New York. Needless to say, it was quite an emotional experience. From a purely cinematic standpoint, the film was extremely well crafted, but more importantly, it is an unsanitized portrayal of the barbarism of the terrorists and a fitting memorial to the ordinary people aboard the flight who performed heroically under extraordinary circumstances. To the dozens of victims’ families in the audience, it was especially harrowing, and at the end of the movie, I could hear loud sobbing coming from the section of the theater where they were seated (a few rows in front of me). I have to admit, I was a basket case myself for most of the movie. I experienced a lot of emotions I hadn’t quite felt since 9/11. Some may say, what’s the point? Why go to a movie to reopen wounds? Why should seeing a movie be painful? But by this logic, why do we have any memorials? Why do we have a Holocaust Museum, which, in addition to teaching us, shows gruesome images of medical experiments being conducted on Jews?

Others may argue that it’s too soon for such a film. But many war films were released while World War II was still being fought. And though this is the first feature length dramatic film directly dealing with 9/11, Americans have already been inundated with entertainment that implicitly addresses the subject, such as ‘?Munich’ and ‘?V For Vendetta,’ and one of America’s top rated television shows,’24.’ And let’s not forget that Michael Moore exploited the tragedy in ‘?Fahrenheit 9/11.’ Why is a shoddy piece of anti-American propaganda okay three years after the attacks while a sympathetic portrayal of the heroes of Flight 93 off-limits almost five years later?

Also, the fact that the film was made within five years of the actual events likely contributed to its haunting realism. Many of the air traffic controllers who were on duty on 9/11 play themselves, as does FAA national operations manager Ben Sliney. Had the film been delayed by 10 to 20 years (or until critics were to deem it the “?right time”) such opportunities may not have been possible, and the movie would have lost its verisimilitude.

Director Paul Greengrass deserves credit for making a film that’s completely apolitical. The events are dramatized as accurately as possible and he doesn’t attempt to assign blame or add his own editorial comments. The terrorists are not portrayed either sympathetically or as stone-faced warriors, but come across as cowards, and their brutality is revealed as they slash their defenseless victims. There is no Hollywood whitewashing of Islam either. In the opening scene, the hijackers pray in Arabic in their hotel rooms. As they carry out their mission throughout the movie, they repeatedly invoke the name of Allah. It shouldn’t be surprising that in a film that aims for accuracy, the terrorists come off as bad guys.

For a film about 9/11, one of the most harrowing aspects, ironically, was that it brought me back to what the world was like before 9/11. In the post- 9/11 world, we’re always conscious of terrorism, but in the film, as an air traffic contoller begins to suspect a hijacking, people are instinctively dismissive, assuming that it can’t possibly be true because we hadn’t had one for decades. It’s amazing how naive we were about the terrorist threat.

Also, since the film takes place in real time, it really gives us better insight into what was going on at the FAA, air traffic control, and the military on that day, how poor communication was, and how long it took them to figure out what was happening. While it’s obvious to the audience what’s transpiring, to those living through it, it isn’t obvious. They couldn’t conceive that one plane would be hijacked let alone 4. At first they assumed the plane would land attempt to land at some airport to make demands, as prior hijackers had done. They couldn’t imagine that the planes would be flown into buildings.

People will have to consult their own hearts before deciding whether or not to see this film. I know a lot of people who won’t see films like “Schindler’s List,” becuase they feel they don’t need to see it to understand how awful the Holocaust was. But for those who do see it, the film is a fitting tribute to the heroes of Flight 93.

Oh, and before I went to see the film, I reread the sections of the 9/11 Commission Report that dealt with Flight 93, and would recommend others do so as well. I have excerpted the parts pertaining to the flight and have posted them

here.

Americans and Terrorism

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the War on Terror is that the further we get from Sept. 11, the less seriously Americans will take the terrorist threat. This is potentially dangerous because the less concerned Americans are about terrorism, the less supportive they will be of measures to protect against terrorist attacks. And this is precisely what our enemies are banking on.

In an attempt to get some sense of the pulse of the nation, I looked at post 9/11 trends in the Gallup Poll, which each month asks Americans the open-ended question, “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” In Oct. 2001, the first such poll taken after the Sept. 11 attacks, 47 percent of Americans answered ‘terrorism.’ In this month’s poll, only 6 percent did. It trailed Iraq (25%), Immigration (19%) Oil Prices (11%) Economy in general (10%) and Dissatisfaction with gov’t (8 %). It was also tied with health care, unemployment and education.

I put together this chart that plots out the downward trend, post-9/11, of people identifying “terrorism” as the most important problem facing America:

terrorchart001.gif

Note: The trend line is segmented because I couldn’t find the Gallup Poll data for March 2002, March 2003 and March 2005.

Hamas, Prone To Violence? Nah!

You have to read it to believe it. In an article published by the Palestine Chronicle, Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas terrorist leader Ismail Haniyeh writes:

I know there are many people who mendaciously and maliciously or maybe ignorantly portray us as bellicose and anti-peace and prone to violence. But this is untrue.

Untrue? Let’s look at some headlines from the past few days:

Haniyeh refuses to stop rocket attacks on Israel

Hamas defends restaurant bombing

For more on Haniyeh’s background, click here.