Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 12, 2013

September 12 thinking twelve years after

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 12, 2013

Fantasia_Sorcerer's Apprentice

At sundown tonight I will take a bag of coins and swing it around my head three times saying: This is my offering of thanks, this is my acknowledgement of separation, this is my hope for atonement. May I become at one with all people and with all that is real.

This is my ersatz practice of kapparot, a tradition some Jews observe on the eve of Yom Kippur. Instead of a bag of coins the swinging originally — and sometimes still — features a chicken. The money or the fowl is then given to the poor.

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are meant for introspection, casting off what separates us from others, and seeking reconciliation.

While I am not Jewish, I am a big fan of action liturgies.  I find such recurring disciplines very helpful in reducing the noise, distraction, and agitation that characterizes so much of life.

The last ten days have been especially noisy.

I celebrated Rosh Hashanah at a conference for which I had high hopes. I was disappointed. A cabinet secretary keynoting a plenary on private-public relationships in disasters was able to speak for 45 minutes as if the private sector does not exist.  He was only the most prominent of many more for whom this is evidently a felt reality.

Tuesday I spent most of a day in discussion with several smart deeply committed individuals who really could not hear anything I said about risks in trying to treat a catastrophe like an emergency.  They were utterly convinced of their ability to control chaos. They clearly had not read Der Zauberlehrling or seen Disney’s Fantasia.  I wondered if they were parents.

Meanwhile Presidents Obama, Putin, and Assad have each been calling on mysterious spirits — Socialist France, the House Republican caucus, Charlie Rose — to work on their behalf. It is not funny, but it is often absurd. At the very least, Mr. Obama seems to understand he can not control whatever “broom” he unleashes on the Syrian regime. Messrs. Putin and Assad seem more confident of their self-satisfied sorcery.

Three months ago I turned away a very interesting homeland security project that I did not feel qualified to undertake.  Tuesday evening I learned the leadership has been given to an even less-qualified individual.  One aspect of our complicated Syrian knot is a reluctance to do what we can because it is less than what we perceive is needed.  Well…

Just before sundown on the eve of Yom Kippur (tomorrow evening) the faithful gather for the Kol Nidrei ceremony.  This is a legal preface to the actual prayer service. Kol Nidrei features two proclamations: First that outcasts will be welcome to join in prayer.  Second, everyone present is released from self-limiting, self-imposed (often separating-from-others) commitments.

This second aspect is worth a few books. But for this blog think of all the private choices you have independently made that — no matter how much trouble these choices have caused — you feel honor-bound to maintain. With the Kol Nidrei these are renounced, relinquished, abandoned in advance.

The cabinet secretary has defined himself around a public sector he can (pretend to?) control.  The experienced professionals see themselves as masters-of-disaster.  Presidents — even of the world’s oldest republic — almost always claim the mantle of being in command.  I too often allow my failures and limitations to define me.

Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement — opens with an invitation to put aside such illusions.

I do not expect or want the cabinet secretary to be in control.  I would prefer he facilitate shared decision-making he cannot control.  I was trying to persuade my emergency management colleagues they were imposing on themselves an impossible goal that no one reasonably expects of them and that increases everyone’s vulnerability.  Mr. Obama is not my Commander-in-Chief (I am not in the US military), he is my President which is something quite different.  I am more than the sum of my weakness.

How have we — will we — box ourselves in?  What sense of pride or position or revenge — or even prior lessons-learned — “requires” our unthinking loyalty?  What impedes our repentance? What delays our reconciliation?  What interferes with acts of love?

Yom Kippur encourages us to put away the stubborn self-definitions that unnecessarily limit our creativity to engage tough realities with new questions and the possibility of entirely new answers.

G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

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5 Comments »

Comment by Rubin, Claire

September 12, 2013 @ 12:24 am

Nice job, Phil.

But I would like to offer a small correction: Kol Nidrei is an integral part of the eve of Yom Kippur service. Not exactly a “legal preface to the actual prayer service.”

Most Jewish holidays begin at sundown, so the high holidays have an evening component and then one or more full days of service.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

September 12, 2013 @ 5:32 am

Breaking News:

Putin jabs U.S., Obama in op-ed, says Syria strike would be ‘act of aggression’
By Jamie Crawford and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 6:22 AM EDT, Thu September 12, 2013

Putin makes his case in an op-ed
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
NEW: Putin’s op-ed is “irrelevant” and he “needs to deliver” on Syria, U.S. official says
NEW: U.S.-funded weapons began reaching Syrian rebels 2 weeks ago, official says
In a New York Times op-ed, Putin says striking Syria will hurt the region and world
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian counterpart Thursday

Washington (CNN) — Hours before the top diplomats from his nation and the United States begin a high-stakes meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin took to The New York Times to argue against military intervention in Syria and jab his U.S. counterpart.
Using an op-ed “to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders … at a time of insufficient communication between our societies,” Putin made a case much like U.S. President Barack Obama did Tuesday night — although their arguments could hardly have been more different.
Striking Syria would have many negative ramifications, Putin argued in a piece that went online Wednesday night, including the killing of innocent people, spreading violence around the Middle East, clouding diplomatic efforts to address Iran’s nuclear crisis and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “unleash(ing) a new wave of terrorism.”
READ: Syria: Key developments
Moreover, the Russian leader said such action without the U.N. Security Council’s approval “would constitute an act of aggression.”
“It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance,” Putin said.
Senator on Putin op-ed: I wanted to vomit McCain on Russia’s plan for Syria Did Obama’s speech help his case? Blackburn: Obama’s Syria strategy wavers
Contrast this to Obama’s assertion that failing to act in Syria opens the door to more chemical weapons attacks in Syria and in other nations — as well as among terrorist groups — by giving the impression that the international community won’t act in the face of blatant violations on bans of their use.
READ: Putin comments cause a stir
And whereas the U.S. president blamed the August 21 sarin gas attack that U.S. officials estimate killed 1,400 people squarely on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Putin wrote “there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian army, but by opposition forces to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”
READ: Syria’s weapons: Mission impossible?
Calling Syria’s ongoing civil war an “internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition,” Putin cautioned against siding with an opposition in Syria he says includes “more than enough (al) Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes.” (He did not mention the fact Russia has long supplied arms to Syria’s government, or that U.S. officials have said they are funneling aid only to members of what they call the “moderate opposition.”)
The Russian president ended his op-ed — just after mentioning a “growing trust” between him and his U.S. counterpart — with a swipe at a remark Obama made Tuesday contending that “with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run.”
“I believe we should act,” Obama said then. “That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”
Putin challenged the statement, saying, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”
“We are all different,” the Russian leader concluded, “but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
Reacting to that remark and Putin’s op-ed generally, a senior White House official said Wednesday night “that’s all irrelevant.”
“He’s fully invested in Syria’s (chemical weapons) disarmament and that’s potentially better than a military strike, which would deter and degrade but wouldn’t get rid of all the chemical weapons,” the official said.
“(Putin) now owns this,” the official added of the Russian plan to have Syria’s leadership give up its chemical weapons. “He has fully asserted ownership of it, and he needs to deliver.”
It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
All eyes turn to U.S.-Russia talks in Geneva
Putin’s piece went online around the time U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Geneva, Switzerland, to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Their two days of talks will revolve around a Moscow proposal to avert a U.S.-led strike in Syria by having the Syrian government put its chemical weapons stockpile under international control.
In his speech Tuesday, Obama said he was willing to test the seriousness and feasibility of the initiative before resuming his push for congressional authorization for military action, which at the moment appears unlikely to succeed.
Kerry is taking the lead in dealing with the Russians. That includes regular conversations with Lavrov, including Wednesday when the two talked by phone about “their shared objective of having a substantive discussion about the mechanics of identifying, verifying and ultimately destroying Assad’s chemical weapons,” said a senior State Department official.
“It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments,” Obama said in his prime-time address to a war-weary public skeptical of another military venture in the Middle East.
“But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.”
Russian officials have submitted a plan to the United States, Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency reported Wednesday, citing a Russian diplomatic source.
It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments.
U.S. President Barack Obama
Yet White House spokesman Jay Carney said that while conversations have taken place, he was unaware of a full, formal proposal.
“I think we’re not at the stage of putting down public pieces of paper,” he said.
Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s emissary to the European Union, said the plan calls for Syria’s chemical weapons to be placed under international supervision — inside that country initially, at least.
“The ultimate aim is to have these weapons destroyed,” Chizhov told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
He acknowledged the task of gaining control of the weapons and destroying them with a civil war raging in Syria won’t be easy, voicing worries about what rebel fighters might do.
Separately, the United States, France, and Britain discussed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution, according to a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron.
How long will window be open?
Ambassadors from the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — met the same day for less than an hour, a diplomat with knowledge of the meeting said.
While the focus now is on Switzerland, U.N. headquarters in New York is expected to become the focal point early next week when U.N. chemical weapons inspectors deliver their report to the Security Council — as early as Monday or Tuesday, sources say — on the August 21 attack in Syria.
In Washington, the debate about what the United States should do in Syria is not over. While Obama has said he wants to give the diplomatic process a chance, he hasn’t said how long he’ll wait before possibly pushing again for military action.
After his meeting earlier this week with Senate Democrats, Sen. Dick Durbin said the president asked lawmakers “for some time to work things out — a matter of days into next week.” Another Senate Democrat, though, said it could take weeks to determine if diplomatic efforts will pan out.
Members of Congress will watch Kerry’s trip closely for a sense of Obama’s next move after weeks of beating the drum for military action against Syria.
“If diplomacy fails, he’s painted himself into a corner,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said after Obama’s speech. “The leader of the free world can’t say all these things at the end of the day and do nothing.”
Senior State Department officials have cautioned that negotiations over the proposed deal may not conclude after the scheduled round of talks in Geneva. The plan would be to take any final deal to the U.N. Security Council to be formalized in a resolution.
Outcome far from certain
While that process unfolds — if it does successfully — Obama continued to keep the door open for military action, despite exhortations from Putin that he drop any hint of a threat.
The U.S. president has said any military operation in Syria would be targeted, limited and not involve U.S. ground forces. Its goal would be to degrade al-Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons.
Obama has also said any strike would be effective — saying Tuesday that “the United States military doesn’t do pinpricks” — and he has ordered armed forces to be poised in the region “to keep the pressure on Assad.”
U.S.-funded (if not U.S.-made) weapons began flowing to Syrian rebels about two weeks ago, a U.S. official said. Coordinated by the CIA, the supplies include light weapons, ammunition and anti-tank weapons in addition to nonlethal aid the United States has long been providing.
A big question looming over the diplomatic talks is whether any U.N. resolution includes a potential for military action should al-Assad not cooperate. That’s something the United States and its allies have favored, while Putin has said his country could veto any measure there that contains such a threat.
CNN Poll: Part of Syria strike opposition is the messenger’s fault
Analysts say Kerry, as leader of the U.S. diplomatic efforts, has his work cut out for him.
“I think it’s unlikely the Russian government is going to relent on this issue of whether or not it would support the use of force in a security council resolution,” said Nicholas Burns, a former senior State Department official now at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
“They’ve been consistent since day one of the Syrian crisis that they did not want to see the United States or anyone else use force. I think that’s one of the ambitions the Russians have going into this negotiation in Geneva,” he added.
Obama makes case: opinion
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in an exclusive interview on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” that Kerry must not take the threat of force off the table in his talks with the Russians even if they insist he drop it.
“This is the way that diplomacy works. You use the threat of the use of force to get some action in diplomacy, and then diplomacy just to figure out what you do about the threat of the use of force,” said Albright, who served as America’s top diplomat under President Bill Clinton.
“One of the things I know from trying to get Security Council resolutions is that they take a while,” said Albright. “But my personal feeling here is that it is that threat of the use of force, and the president made very clear that our ships would stay in the area, and that the use of force would stay on the table.”
CNN’s Jamie Crawford reported from Washington, while CNN’s Greg Botelho reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Jake Tapper, Elise Labott, Barbara Starr, John King, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash contributed to this report.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 12, 2013 @ 5:46 am

Claire: Thank you. I will defer to you. Clearly the Kol Nidrei is aesthetically integral to the Yom Kippur service. Some have claimed it is the most beautiful part. Years ago a mentor in Jewish liturgics emphasized that historically, theologically, and in structure the Kol Nidrie is preparatory, not of the same piece with what follows. My mentor is dead and I may mis-remember what he actually said. In this case I will leave my error on the front page while I embrace the error here, disavowing my claims on needing to be certain of what is right before I do what seems to be needed. In my particular case, acts of compassion are too often left undone by too much thinking. I am glad for the invitation to embrace my faults and disavow whatever is self-limiting to Teshuva. All of which is meant as an elaborate — but I hope helpful — analogy to a stance that would enhance homeland security.

Comment by Rubin, Claire

September 12, 2013 @ 6:02 am

Kol Nidre is different in many ways, one of which is that it is in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, like the rest of the service. Your mentor no doubt was more learned than I; but in the reform tradition, the Kol Nidre is fully integrated into the service.

Enjoy the rituals of the holiday.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 12, 2013 @ 9:45 am

The illusion of control including those who post and comment on this blog!

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