A friend forwarded to me the NYT article about new air travel security measures being imposed on all citizens of fourteen countries that are defined as “state sponsors of terrorism and countries of interest.”  He commented that the war against Islam started by George Bush is entering a new phase.  Citizens of the 14 countries will be required to undergo special security screening that will include body searches.  Twelve of the countries in question are overwhelmingly Muslim.  One is half Muslim (Nigeria) and one is communist (Cuba).  The inclusion of Cuba is bizarre as there has never been a suicide bomber from Cuba but it reveals the mindset of the Obama Administration – let’s make it look like we’re doing something even if it is ridiculous.

Let’s face it, there is no such thing as complete security.  Whatever security arrangements are made for air travel it will still be possible for someone to circumvent the system either through guile or luck.  The use of nationality as a defining issue in airport security screening is unprecedented.  It will be seen as an insult to the citizens of the countries involved, implying that that they are all somehow being regarded as terrorists, and will further harden already negative views about the United States.  It also is illogical as many of the world’s most radicalized young men are Muslims who carry European passports.  Profiling of passengers to concentrate on young Muslim men, whatever passports they might be carrying, would be understandable given the fact that all of the terrorists who have targeted air travel have fit that category, but to broaden the security sweep to include any and all travelers from certain countries will create difficulties for the security system and for air travel in general.  This is already being seen in Europe, where the demands from the Transportation Security Administration and the Obama White House have effectively created a two tier security system which no one has quite figured out how to implement.  It is also creating a backlash in the Muslim world, where media reports emphasize the anti-Islamic message being sent by the new procedures, suggesting that the new administration in Washington is again signaling its intent to engage in conflict the entire Muslim world.  The lesson of Guantanamo – i.e. that you will turn innocent people into terrorists by treating them as such – is also being ignored. 

The proper response to the Nigerian underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is to fix the information sharing problems and modify existing screening procedures in light of the new developments.  That would be the sensible thing to do, but apparently it is not good enough for the White House, which has instead chosen to panic and heighten the level of fearmongering.  President Obama has designated a new front for a military confrontation with the terrorist menace, and that will be Yemen.  There are reports that special ops soldiers are already in country with plans to introduce still more US soldiers and double the military assistance to Sana’a. 

Yemen is dominated by heavily armed tribesmen who are fiercely independent, frequently engaged in activities that most observers would regard as criminal, deeply conservative in religion and culture but further divided along sectarian lines, and ruled over by a highly corrupt government that is fighting both a civil war and an insurgency. Throw into the hopper extremely rugged trackless terrain, porous borders, and security forces incapable of exercising jurisdiction outside of the capital city and it is a virtual witches’ brew.  Yemen also enjoys crushing poverty and high unemployment coupled with declining oil revenues and water supplies that can no longer sustain the population.   There might be a couple of hundred people in the country who identify with al-Qaeda.  Intelligence officers who are familiar with Yemen agree that coming to grips with the country’s tribesmen in an attempt to root out the bad guys will make Afghanistan look like a walk in the park.