Monday, May 16, 2005

John Bolton's plane scare

When Congress was debating the USA Patriot Act in the fall of 2001, it was not at all clear that it was going to be passed, at least not without substantial modifications. Then came the anthrax attacks, clearly directed at prominent Democrats, and suddenly Bush's legislation sailed right through. Congressmen know a real threat when they see one. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was to meet this past Thursday to consider the nomination of John Bolton to be United Nations ambassador. It was not at all clear that he was going to make it through the committee, but he did, barely, with an unusual lack of endorsement by the committee. The day before the committee made its decision, there was a significant security scare in Washington. This necessitated the evacuation of government offices, including the White House and the Congress, and many people were sufficiently frightened that they were literally running away. Congressmen were evacuated from the House and Senate floors. There had been a violation of restricted airspace over Washington, and the pilot had failed to respond to warnings to turn away. I suppose you're thinking I'm going to say there was something odd about this:

  1. Despite the fact this was treated as a major terrorist threat to the government of the United States, no one bothered to tell the Commander-in-Chief, a certain Mr. George Bush, who was riding his bike in Maryland, until the incident was all over.

  2. The pilot of the plane, Hayden "Jim" Sheaffer Jr., is said to have panicked and frozen on seeing the warnings given to him by a helicopter and military planes. It was only with the assistance of a student pilot flying with him, Troy D. Martin, a man with only 30 hours flying experience, that they were able to guide the plane out of trouble. This pilot who 'froze' obtained his pilot's license in 1969. He has been described as a 'knowledgeable pilot' who had recently purchased some new maps.

  3. The warnings which he apparently couldn't follow included interception by a helicopter, the dipping of wings by F-16 fighter jets, and the dropping of flares in front of the plane. It was the third set of flares that got his attention.

  4. Both pilot and student pilot were fully aware of the necessity of avoiding the restricted area. The student pilot's wife told the Associated Press that:

    "Troy was discussing with me last night after they made their flight plans all about the no-fly zones and how they were going to avoid them. He said they were going to fly between two different restricted areas."

    Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said that officials were concerned because the plane appeared to be "on a straight-in shot toward the center of the Washington area."

  5. From the Washington Post:

    "Within hours of the scare, authorities said that the pilots were lost and disoriented. But the account provided in FAA documents casts Martin in a different light.

    'It shows a tremendous presence of mind to be able to take the training he had and, under a very stressful situation, to bring that aircraft to Frederick,' said Chris Dancy, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a group representing private pilots."

  6. Press Secretary Scott McClellan confirmed that the plane came within three miles of the White House, and apparently no effort was made to shoot it down. Reporters at the scene actually saw the defending planes overhead, so it is possible that the plane came much closer than three miles from the White House without any real action being taken to stop it.

  7. The pilot is described by a neighbor as "a big President Bush supporter", and as a Republican who campaigned for Bush.

  8. The pilot has not been charged with anything, but could possibly lose his pilot's license, meaning he would have to be tested again to get it back. As the Washington Post puts it:

    "The FAA plans to take the most extreme action against a pilot since new airspace rules were put in place in 2003 and will revoke Sheaffer's pilot certificate, according to aviation officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the order had not been finalized. The FAA does not plan to take similar action against Martin, 36, because he is a student pilot and does not have a pilot certificate, sources said."

    Had he been anything other than an old white Republican he would have been labeled a 'terrorist' and would never again see the light of day.

So the Senators receive a little warning of their mortality and the following day Bolton oozes through. Why is Bush so gay for Bolton? Jude Wanniski thinks that Bolton at the United Nations will provide Bush with two strategic benefits. Bolton will argue, at upcoming meetings to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), that violation by Iran of the terms of the treaty means that it is too easy to avoid compliance, and thus the treaty is outmoded and should be amended to prohibit NPT members from enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, even if they are monitored (as is Iran). Of course, it's Bolton's own mismanagement of proliferation issues that has led to much of the problems with Iran and North Korea. Messing up the NPT will be the first benefit of Bolton's appointment. Since Iran has not violated the treaty, the attempt to claim that it does will be an obvious provocation. Iran may react against this provocation, and whatever Iran does will be used as the American excuse to bomb Iran, which will be the second benefit of Bolton's appointment. John Bolton is Mr. Two-For-One.