Beware The Ides of March

On June 4, 1961 newly elected US President, John F. Kennedy, met with Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, in Vienna. The two leaders of the cold war foes tested each other. Khrushchev demanded that the US and its allies get out of Berlin. He said he'd remove them by force if necessary, to which Kennedy replied, "Then, Mr. Chairman, there will be war. It will be a cold, long winter." Before risking war, Khrushchev put missiles in Cuba to see what would happen.

On September 11, 2001 Islamic fanatics attacked the World Trade Center, Pentagon and apparently attempted to attack the White House to test the mettle of the young, inexperienced, newly-elected President, George W. Bush.

I don't think the timing was an accident in either case. Foes of the US wanted to know how the newly elected leader would respond to pressure.

We have just elected a young, inexperienced new President, Barack Obama. I think it naive to believe he won't be similarly tested by Islamic fanatics within the first year in office, probably in the first few months. In particular, we are vulnerable because of his earlier rhetoric that we should withdraw from Iraq. If they attack the US in similar fashion to the Madrid bombings of 2004, will we withdraw from Iraq as the Spanish did? Can the US be put in retreat by a few, well-placed attacks on US soil?

Where do I think they might attack? Well, Obama's Inauguration is January 20 and the Super Bowl is February 1 in Tampa, Florida. Disney World is close by. But I don't expect they will content themselves to just one or two targets. Disneyland, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, all large cities, national parks (ones that are seasonally popular when they attack) and other attractions that gather large pools of people in small areas are all at risk.

We have been fortunate that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have garnered most of the attention of the fanatics for the past 7 years. They have been attacking hardened, prepared defenses. The fanatics have spent heavily for mediocre returns. They now have an opportunity to make giant progress with the expenditure of very little. If they can put the government of the US on the run and get us out of the Middle East, they can topple the fragile, semi-democratic governments we set up in Iraq and Afghanistan and then start on Israel and Saudi Arabia. From their point of view, it isn't inconceivable that within a decade, they could have complete control of the land from China to the Mediterranean, from Russia to the Indian Ocean (probably excluding India).

Outside of avoiding congregating with large numbers of your fellow Americans, what can you do? Be aware. Unattended briefcases, duffel bags and the like are quickly spotted in Israel and when someone yells, "Unattended baggage," the police are called immediately and all vacate the vicinity of the bag rapidly, but without panic. We need to start doing the same. If you see something strange near large numbers of people, you need to be proactive. Tell the police, be inquisitive. Don't do the typical American "None of my business" and walk away. Lives are at stake.

The one thing you may be able to do with impunity is fly. Using airplanes was last-times' tactic. This one may be different. While airplanes remain a valued target by fanatics, they know that passengers will never again let themselves be flown into buildings. They may wish to blow up airplanes as that does make news. But they almost certainly won't be trying to hijack them for any reason.

One last item: If an attack occurs, don't expect to use your cell phone. Cell phones have been used too many times to set off bombs remotely around the world. At the first hint of trouble, cell phone service will disappear. Talk to your family and decide how and where you will get together. Decide on how you will communicate. Make it one of your New Years Resolutions. Heck, it might be the only one you need to keep.

January 1, 2009