No less than the 9/11 Commission said border security should be a cornerstone of national policy. After all, the 19 hijackers who killed 3,000 people and injured more than 6,000 others in 2001 got into the United States by acquiring visas and gaining admission without challenge.
Time was when we were demanding to know how that happened.
One thing there never was any doubt about was that any American president could close the U.S border to any segment of aliens. Jimmy Carter did it. Barack Obama did it. Now it’s in doubt. Lawyers and judges are claiming a role. Usually when that starts, it never again goes away entirely.
Failed states, the largest backers of state-sponsored terrorism, and a war zone make up the area where the recent temporary restrictions on travel were imposed, at least partially.
It was intended to mean that people from these counties could not make trips through other countries to come and go from the U.S.
That’s because even the airline industry is not foolish enough to schedule non-stop service from the likes of Baghdad, Tripoli or Khartoum to the United States. To be fair, after Boeing’s $16.8 billion sale of 80 jet aircraft to Iran, lobbying got underway for non-stops from Tehran to Los Angeles, aka “Khomeini International,” home to those frequent “Death to America” chants.
Fact is that a Tehran-to-Los Angeles non-stop is one of the few additions to international air travel routes that has not been made since 9/11. Foreign visitors inbound to the U.S. during 2015 totaled 77.5 million people, according to the powerful U.S. Travel Association. Arrivals in the U.S. from the Middle East have doubled since 2009.
The reason Somalia, Yemen, Libya, N. Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Iran were selected for the equivalent of a bank “stress test” is terrorism. As terrible as it is, we’ve actually been fortunate enough to learn that terrorism does not occur with all that much speed.
Terrorists have a lot to do and it takes time. First they have to “get radicalized” and then they have to “get training.” That can take up to two years, especially if they must go to ISIL and to learn to love killing. If you throw in some family time and visits to various holy sites, the would-be terrorist can earn enough frequent flier miles for a bonus trip before heading to paradise via a suicide vest.
During all this time, it may seem as if nothing is happening when in fact it’s like the period of time when Mohamed Atta of Egypt and the other 9/11 terrorists were off learning how to fly. We did not know then that something was going on, but it was.
This week gave a little hint about something that moves faster than terrorism — contagious diseases.
A little scare goes through the travel industry every time a new virus such as Ebola or Zika emerges. We had another of those scares this past week when China reported five human deaths from bird flu.
Since 77 countries have experienced bird flu outbreaks during the past two years, requiring the destruction of millions of birds, the avian flu is not to be messed with. China says it was people who worked with live poultry who died and the deaths were not due to human-to-human transmission of the bird flu virus.
Were avian flu or some other contagious disease to begin rapidly spreading around the world, border security could take on a whole new meaning. According to the movies, fast action might be required to save millions. But I guess we don’t have to care if the president can quickly move to close borders because we have the U.S. Travel Association, which has gone so far as to declare itself as a “first responder.”
“Whether disease, oil spills, volcano eruptions or terrorism, natural and self-made crises and the fear they create can potentially have a significant impact on domestic and international travelers,” the association says without mentioning contagious diseases. But put the U.S. Travel Association lobbyists down for a “reasoned policy decision” with the “least impact on travel possible.”
In case you are wondering, the “first responders” from the U.S. Travel Association also don’t like those pesky face-to-face interviews U.S. Consulates use to help make visa decisions. They say the travel for face-to-face interviews is a “hurdle” and a “burden.”
The U.S. Travel Association says technology should be used for faster and faster access to visas. They say every visitor to the USA spends an average of $4,400. We are suppose to want that instead of the value of a face-to-face interview, which I’d say is priceless.
My sincere hope is the “Contagion” scenario never occurs, and we can all survive whatever shaky border security survives the current political spat.
As for this new “no restrictions on travel” world being a great victory, my mind goes to a character in another film. “Gust,” the Greek-American who as the CIA Agent in Charlie Wilson’s War ended the that movie about a secret war victory with the story about a Zen Master and a little boy. When the little boy got a horse for his birthday, everybody else in the village said “isn’t it wonderful.” But the Zen Master said “We’ll see.”
Check it out sometime. You might even learn something.
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