Jewish World Review August 14, 2002/ 6 Elul, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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The 'phony war'
of sweet summer | Some of our British friends are calling the summer lull in the war on terror "the phony war," likening it to the months between Hitler's march on Poland and the Wehrmacht's drive through France that set off the real thing six decades ago.

Maybe it is. The U.S. Army long ago began the mopping up in Afghanistan, there have been no new big terror attacks at home, and the action, such as it is, is at the nation's airports, where the government's Airport Scheme for Harassment (ASH) is aimed at innocent American passengers, not foreign terrorists. The blond-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavian grannies from Minnesota, cleverly targeted in the relentless search for evil-doing Arabs, are in full retreat. The pathetic Norman Mineta, the hapless secretary of transportation, continues a campaign without mercy to save air travel by destroying it. This strategy, perfected in the Vietnam War to preserve villages, has so far produced the most long-lasting results of the war on terror.

So serene has the summer of aught-two become that the authors of the policy papers for Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, were taken off to a retreat in the Virginia countryside for two days of what any top sergeant would recognize as a good barracks bitchin' and bellyachin' session. This is good news, because as that top sergeant could also tell you, the way to keep the troops in fighting trim is to let 'em bitch and bellyache.

Mr. Rumsfeld's minions, who met on the very ground where old Abe Lincoln's terrorists were harshly punished by John S. Mosby's rangers in a previous American war, spent two days complaining about long hours, their bosses, sharp critiques of their work by Mr. Rumsfeld, and, unkindest cut of all, the suspicion that their prose is unappreciated, unheeded and maybe even unread.

Another bit of really good news from the phony-war front is that Saudi Arabia will put on trial 16 Saudi members of al Qaeda captured in Iran and extradited to Riyadh.

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, says that any information his government thinks will be useful to the FBI and the CIA will be given to the Americans. Of course it will. "Let me put it this way," he said. "If they are Saudis, and they committed a crime, and they're guilty of that crime, they will be put on trial inside Saudi Arabia and they will be punished severely. I can assure you that our justice system is very swift, and it's very harsh with evil-doers."

What a relief. The Saudis, who furnished nearly all of the terrorists who obliterated 3,000 Americans on September 11, are so eager to join hands with us that the Saudi foreign minister says his government won't even trouble the FBI to question the suspects before they are tried. This will make sure that any information useful to the United States but embarrassing to the Saudi princes will remain buttoned up until the suspects are either beheaded in the town square or packed off to a comfortable sinecure, perhaps in an Islamist hate factory, far from prying Western eyes. Who says the Saudis aren't our friends?

But most of the action in the phony war is at the airport, where only the pathetic Mr. Mineta is content. His crack agents at Boston's Logan International Airport only last week managed to stop a new mother before she could blow up a plane with a bottle of milk. When the crack agent - probably not actually on crack, but acting as if he were - found three bottles of what looked like milk, he asked the new mom what it was. "Breast milk," she replied. "For my baby." The crack agent insisted that she drink it, to prove that she did not intend to blow up the plane with a bottle of milk, which certainly would have impressed watching chemists and physicists. When the mother protested, the crack agent told her that if she wanted to get on the plane she would have to do as she was told. She complied, reluctantly, while a bystander held her child. The baby was not arrested. Several other passengers, who looked suspiciously like they could have been terrorists, were waved onto the flight without a search.

The pathetic Mr. Mineta got a measure of sweet revenge when US Airways slipped into bankruptcy. US Airways is the major tenant at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and its troubles were exacerbated after September 11 when the pathetic Mr. Mineta and other security freaks within the government closed down the airport and attempted to close it permanently. The airport was reopened only over the pathetic Mr. Mineta's strenuous objections. The damage to US Airways was done.

All this, like the other harassments of the innocent in the phony war, are the work of, or done at the sufferance of, men who ride to airports in motorcades with heavily armed security agents riding shotgun to blast mere citizens out of the way. It's not an inconvenience to anyone who matters.

As long as the war is phony, no real harm is done. But phony wars don't last, as our British cousins could remind us, except that they, like the Euro-weenies, appear to have shoved the lessons of the past down the memory hole. If that past is a guide, the real thing is likely to follow, when the commander in chief can't any longer afford to indulge phony "allies" and harassment of the innocent in the name of fair play for the maybe not-so-innocent.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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