Why the TSA Gets to Grope Us

It's the foreign policy, stupid!

by , November 19, 2010

The Transportation Safety Administration is bringing the war home – and the American people don’t like it one bit. Stories of TSA outrages are everywhere, from the "Don’t touch my junk" guy to that photo of a nun in full robes being searched by a TSA thuglet. Talk radio is up in arms, Judge Napolitano is having a conniption, and both liberals and conservatives seem to be uniting around a general consensus that this level of intrusiveness cannot be allowed to stand. Yet what is to be done? 

Rep. Ron Paul has introduced legislation in Congress that would forbid government employees from groping, poking, inserting, or otherwise violating one’s person, and prosecute them for doing what would be illegal if an ordinary citizen dared try it. Unfortunately, the bill isn’t likely to go anywhere – and, even if it did, passage wouldn’t get to the root of the problem. Because the real source of our troubles isn’t the TSA, or Homeland Security, nor is it any of the clueless bureaucrats who populate these agencies: the real problem, as Rep. Paul understands very well, is our foreign policy of permanent war. 

Since the end of the cold war, US foreign policy has been focused on maintaining our imagined position as the world’s sole superpower, and that means intervening in every "crisis," arbitrating every dispute, dispensing dollars and discipline to the elites of every nation. Hypnotized by the myth of our alleged invulnerability, which is just another aspect of our much-touted "American exceptionalism," the 9/11 terrorist attacks traumatized the national psyche. A good part of the rage that followed the attacks was rooted in this illusion-shattering effect, and there was only one way to repair the damage: the rampage that began with the invasion of Iraq, extended into Central Asia, and, today, shows no signs of ending

The problem, however, is that this response has only succeeded in underscoring our vulnerabilities. The Shoe Bomber compelled us to give up our shoes to the TSA. The Underwear Bomber gave the government access to our genitalia. And soon enough the Suppository Bomber will give them free entry to the very crevasses of our personhood, and what is left of our dignity will perish along with the Constitution. 

It was all predicted long ago by one Garet Garrett, a conservative editor of a very conservative and indubitably American publication, the Saturday Evening Post. Garrett’s last book, an account of the American experiment published in 1956, ended with the Voice of History speaking: 

"How, now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are? 

"Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world. 

"To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent, do you know where you are going from here?"  

If only we had known, back then, perhaps we would have taken a different road. A few, like Garrett, saw what was coming, and warned against it, but they were "isolationist" Cassandras, easily ignored as the US entered the world stage determined to project American power to every continent, and into every "crisis." Our CIA encircled the globe with intrigues, overthrowing democratically elected governments and installing friendly dictatorships. Our tax dollars flowed into "development projects" that filled the pocketbooks of local elites and impoverished the people. Our diplomats and generals bestrode the earth like giants, plenipotentiaries of America’s imperial will, succoring our protectorates and rebuking our enemies – who, by that time, had become legion.  

When the Soviet empire teetered and fell, we took credit for it instead of heeding the lesson of imperial exhaustion, and this escalated our hubris beyond anything yet seen. More "American exceptionalism." 

No, there is no security at the top of the world. Furthermore, at these dizzying heights, it is hard to see anything at all, beyond our own mythology of Manifest Destiny and other self-regarding hallucinations. Our vision obscured by conceit, and our other senses deadened by complacency and impending decadence, we are blind to the very real danger that comes at us with the persistence of Nemesis.  

That’s how those nineteen hijackers caught us, unawares, at the very height of our power – or, rather, what we thought was power. That’s why we are still looking for bombs in peoples’ shoes long after the terrorists have moved on to new methods. That’s why we will  continue to make the same mistakes, and suffer the same consequences, as every imperial power since the dawn of history.  

The TSA can conduct a full-body search, prison-style, on everyone who gets near an airport: we can lock down the country, and treat everyone like a potential criminal, conducting random searches on the streets like they’re already doing in New York City. We can turn the country into one big prison yard, and still the terrorists will get through, eventually.  

They’ll get through because we’re creating new enemies every day, many thousands of them, as we extend our perpetual "war on terrorism" to new regions, and claim more blood sacrifices on the altar of our new god, Revenge. The conduct of our foreign policy for the past decade or so ensures that the supply of terrorists will be endless, as the relatives and loved ones of our victims come gunning for us. By hook or by crook they will get us – unless the cycle of revenge is stopped. 

What can stop it is a revolt against the TSA that becomes a widespread rebellion against our crazy, enemy-creating foreign policy. Short of that, the anti-TSA movement could easily backfire: the great danger is that the government will adopt, as an "alternative" to the physically intrusive methods of the TSA, methods that go much farther in destroying what little is left of our liberties.  

Last [Wednesday] night, I heard Keith Olbermann interview Isaac Yeffet, former head of security for El Al, the Israeli state-owned airline, who scoffed at the TSA, his voice dripping with disdain as he described the porno-scanners and the body searches as worse than useless. Scanners? No, Yeffet has a better idea

"We don‘t need to spend one dollar to buy body scanners.  Who you are searching." 

"OLBERMANN:  Yes.   

"YEFFET:  — only suspicious passengers.  We interview every passenger." 

To a proposal redolent of every totalitarian state that ever existed, Olbermann, the great "progressive," can only muster:

"Explain that. Because it seems too simple when we‘ve had ten years of taking our shoes off and standing in line for an hour. Why does it work? And what does the interview consist of? And who does it?" 

Could someone please explain to Comrade Olbermann why the prospect of every airline passenger being interrogated by some nosey jerk in a blue uniform about where one is going and why one is going there is intolerable to a free people? And why the feigned impassivity? Because I cannot believe that the highly imaginative "news" anchor — who would be screeching at the top of his lungs if, say, Liz Cheney was the one suggesting this – cannot conceive what the interview might consist of: 

"And why are you going to New York, sir?" 

"I’m going to visit a lady friend." 

"And what, exactly, is your relationship with her?" 

As for who does the interviewing, oh, let your imagination run wild: or just tune in to MSNBC’s "Lock-Up" prison exploitation documentaries, which run after the "news" programming is over. That’s the new America people like Yeffet are readying for us, with invaluable assistance from the Olbermanns of this world. 

In that world, as Yeffet explains: 

"First of all, we have to understand that people are waiting in line to go to the ticket counter. While they are waiting in line, this is opportunity for us as security people to go in to interview every passenger.  

Every American a Palestinian

"We must hire qualified people. We must train them well. And we need to teach them how to approach with the passengers, to let them understand we are not coming to investigate you; we are not coming to insult you; we are coming to help you to fly safe and secure, to go where you go to your destination." 

We’re the government, and we’re here to "help" you. Oh, the future is as bright as Olbermann is dim: 

"Passenger profiling. You helped to develop it for El Al. What does it mean? Why does it work? And for people who jump when they hear the word, uh-oh, profiling, who are you profiling? It‘s not members of an ethnic group, is it?" 

"YEFFET:  No. We are interviewing every passenger with no exception. Now, we explain to them what we are doing. When they understand that we are working for their security, for their life, because we stay on the ground and they take the flight, 99.9 percent of the passengers are bona fide, are honest. And they love to cooperate with you." 

Like sheep love to be herded to their inevitable fate.  

What this means is a TSA database storing the details of millions of interviews, the personal details of anyone and everyone who gets on a plane. Oh, but don’t worry, only "suspicious people" will have anything to fear – you know, people with "suspicious" political opinions, or "suspicious" demeanors, or perhaps "suspicious" friends with "suspicious" political opinions. This is the "intelligence-based" methodology of a police state, which will be – and is being – proposed as an alternative – the only alternative – to the TSA’s high-tech –and-rubber-gloves.  

Yes, Isaac, explain why it works. Because servility is a habit easily acquired, and hard to kick.  

So how do we avoid our sheep-like fate? It’s the foreign policy, stupid! When half the world stops coming after us, when we stop playing the role of al-Qaeda’s top recruiter, the defense of the country will no longer be impossible.  

What the TSA’s reign of terror must teach us is the lesson we’ve been pushing here at Antiwar.com since our inception: that you can have an empire engaged in continuous warfare, or you can have your freedom – but you cannot have both.  

NOTES IN THE MARGIN 

Our fundraising campaign isn’t doing so hot, and I know why: we’re all broke, exhausted, and somewhat demoralized. Or maybe I’m just projecting. In any case, if this goes on, we won’t be able to go on. It’s as simple as that. 

I feel that people are waking up: the rebellion against the TSA is one good indication of what’s happening out in the country. If we can just hold out a bit longer, and manage to survive against the depredations of an economic depression — and the widespread disillusionment with all movements for social change – I know we can begin to make the kind of breakthrough required to force a real debate about American foreign policy. Not an effort to trim our imperial pretensions around the edges, and make for a more "efficient" global empire, but a popular movement to get rid of this imperial albatross that’s slowly dragging us down.  

Our survival is in your hands. Our readers have always been our base of support – and we need that support now more than ever. Because never before have we been confronted with a financial crisis such as the one we face today – and never before has the opportunity to make a real difference taken on such immediacy and urgency.  

I’m asking all of my regular readers, some of whom have been following this space for years, to please consider the possibility of a world without Antiwar.com. If that’s what you want, then do nothing. If, however, you find that prospect appalling, then give like you’ve never given before. Give twice. Because, I’ll tell you right now, your contribution is sorely needed. It’s also tax-deductible.  

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