Excessive security undermines US diplomacy

This fits in with my last post, evidence that we are far more frightened than we need to be about…well,

These Marines guard the US Embassy in Haiti

These Marines guard the US Embassy in Haiti

practically everything–ISIS, Iran, kidnappers lurking at every corner just waiting to snatch our children. Here a semi-retired diplomat chronicles how excessive security concerns have overrun American diplomacy.

His article goes back through recent history and describes how diplomacy has been crippled by fear. His main point, and it’s the same one that applies to journalists, is that diplomacy carries some risks. It’s part of the business. Trying to prevent any threat leads to neutralizing diplomacy, as he writes, or to AP banning reporters from covering demonstrations in Cairo, as happened while I was there. Lame.

Why are we so scared?

Fear works, politically. Benjamin Netanyahu used fear to win an election in Israel in March, George W. Bush used fear to win two elections, and now many candidates in the US election campaign are trying to scare everybody again. When I told a radio host in a live, in-studio interview this week that ISIS is not a military threat to the US and should be handled with intelligence, not military force–his jaw dropped in amazement.

Lecturing in North America

Lecturing in North America

I’ve been saying that in my lectures here, too, explaining that the West has been using intelligence–both kinds–to deal with al-Qaida for a decade and a half. ISIS is a different fish, and the intelligence task might be harder because it’s not centralized–but that’s the way to do it. The only way.

Not too many other people are saying this, but I’m not crazy, and I’m not alone. Here’s an expert, writing in Foreign Policy, who says the US has nothing to be afraid of, really. This is the place to mention, without going into detail, that despite all the headline-making pronouncements about a crisis in Israel-US relations–on the military and intelligence front, they’ve never been closer. Same is true of Israel and Egypt, and Israel and other countries we won’t list here.

It’s time to look at the world rationally for a change. This applies to Israel, as well, though Israel is closer to the action and does not have the protection of two oceans. That said, it is clear to everyone that Israel can handle ISIS military threats–and Iranian threats, too. It’s especially clear to ISIS and Iran. So let’s all chill and get back to putting things in perspective.

“We’re defeating the Vietcong, er, ISIS”

Here’s my friend calling bullshit on the Pentagon claim that American-backed forces have ISIS on the

ISIS in Ramadi

ISIS in Ramadi

run. I’m old enough to remember how the same song played over and over again at the Pentagon about the war in Vietnam, right up until the US got booted out of there. Those who do not learn their history are fated to repeat it, or as my eighth grade history teacher put it, “We learn from history that we learn no history.”

Horrible encounter with disgusting Israeli bureaucracy

I’ve been dreading this day ever since I got a notice last week that we owe the Israel Lands Authority $2,000. We don’t. My lawyer confirmed that. But it meant I had to go to Tel Aviv, stand in line and fight the bureaucrats. My lawyer said it would take all day–just waiting in line would be the most of it–and I was not likely to get a satisfactory answer. Then I would have to decide whether to just pay the bill or fight it in court, knowing that the legal expenses and lost time would amount to more than the $2,000. Joy.

I packed my sheaf of documents and my tablet, planning to get a good start on a new book while waiting for my turn. My lawyer said some people come in early, get a number, then come back three hours later when the number might be coming up.

I was on the train to Tel Aviv at 7:30 this morning. During the comfortable 25-minute ride, I read one of the two free Hebrew newspapers handed out at the train station. The soldier across from me reached up and plugged her iPhone charger into the electrical outlet fitted in the cars just for that. There’s free wifi, too.

The address was the “new government center,” not far from the train station. Government centers I know and love are dingy old buildings with narrow hallways, snarling clerks and scuffling citizens trying to be push their way into the same office ahead of everyone else.

Well…the “new government center” is this high-rise. I asked the woman sitting at a counter at the

“New government center,” Tel Aviv

entrance if this was the right place (I couldn’t believe it), and she said indeed, it is, and started speaking to me in English. Some immigrants, especially veterans like me, take offense at that, but I understand she was just trying to practice her English. Why not. On the way out I heard her speaking to a couple of tourists in English, so maybe I got her warmed up.

I walked briskly up the stairs to the fourth floor (I no longer take that for granted, as I’ve written here) and found myself in the Lands Authority office, a bright if somewhat spartan complex of cubicles and offices. There’s a machine that spits out numbers, but not before you punch in your ID number, then choose specifically what you’re there for. I got number 6. I figured they were counting backwards from 650 or something, and started looking for number 17, the cubicle where I was supposed to wait. The cubicles went up to number 15. Figures. I asked a clerk, and she smiled and said 17 is in the hallway.

Sure enough, it’s a room off the main hall. I sat down in the row of chairs across from the door. The guy next to me had number 5. He went in and settled his business in 10 minutes or so, and then it was my turn. Altogether I waited 15 minutes.

The clerk took my papers, and while she was getting my file up on her computer screen, she said, “There are a lot of these now. It’s usually a mistake.” Sure enough, it was a mistake from nearly 20 years ago, and it had been accruing interest charges ever since. She just canceled the entry, canceled the bill and handed me the file with the coveted “zero” at the bottom. That was it.

OK, so you could say that I wasted three hours of my time getting to the office, getting the mistake corrected and getting home. I don’t look at it that way.

Instead, after two years living and working in Egypt, where the government offices are like the dingy ones I was expecting, where the only way to get anything done is with bribes or insiders, and usually you just hire someone to get it done for you, I understand how unusual it is for a Middle Eastern country to work as smoothly as Israel does. I’m glad I live in this one.

And I can run up the stairs to the fourth floor, too.

ISIS running into trouble in Tunisia–Mark on the radio

ISIS is trying to promote a presence in Tunisia, but as my friend and expert Nancy Youssef has

Tunisians demonstrate against ISIS museum attack

Tunisians demonstrate against ISIS museum attack

reported, it’s not going too well. There are several thousand Tunisians fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but there’s no evidence of a local Tunisian group that’s identifying with the radical Islamist group. Here’s my analysis in a live broadcast on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh, talking to host P.J. Maloney a few minutes ago.

No spike in police killing–constant panic is what’s killing us

I’m not justifying even ONE of these killings, but it’s as I suspected–the frequency of

Baltimore riots

Baltimore riots

trigger-happy police killing has not suddenly escalated. This NYT article gets around to that after wasting our timeĀ  with a cutesy top. It points up the real problem–the outsized impressions people get by reading things on the Internet and watching TV.

Though it’s much harder to compare statistics because statistics themselves are more accurate and complete today than they were 30 years ago…I highly doubt that so many more children are being molested, kidnapped or heaven knows what else now to justify the extreme safety measures that parents feel appropriate, and that authorities encourage–to the extent that it is so rare for kids to walk home from school today that they’re even called “free range” and their parents risk arrest.

My kids, now in their 30s, never had play dates. They just went out and played. We usually knew where they were, but not always–and they didn’t have cell phones with GPS tracking devices, either. Please note I’m talking about Jerusalem, where it is “common knowledge” that there are terrorists on every corner at all times. Fact–in 2014, a year known for car-ramming Palestinian attacks, 13 people were killed in Jerusalem by terrorists or criminals. Thirteen. It’s a city of 800,000 people. Compare that to your city. You’ll probably have to add a zero. There were 108 homicides in 2014 in Washington, DC, a bit smaller than Jerusalem, for example. Yet the image of Jerusalem in particular and Israel in general as “unsafe” persists, complete with State Department travel advisories.

Even 108 homicides in Washington is no reason for panic. In fact, in general, there is no reason at all for panic. A careful reading of crime statistics shows that we are more in danger of harming ourselves, physically and psychologically, with our “safety” measures than we are from criminals or terrorists.

It’s time for is to get a grip on reality and readjust accordingly. Just like the absurd level of security at airports (where grandmothers with US passports get prodded, probed and X-rayed), over-the-top precautions, and especially the mindset that brings them on, are depriving us of our freedom, depriving children of an essential part of their childhood, and distorting society in ways we have yet to measure–because the effects will be seen only in another decade or two. By then there will be more unnecessary “security” measures, and more people saying we can’t compare the statistics, and on and on. We must get a handle on this NOW and restore some sense to our lives.

Otherwise, to expand the saying: the terrorists, criminals and cowards win.