How could one of two specially-designed presidential jets be requisitioned for a flight over New York City, where nearly 3,000 were killed in the 9/11 attacks, without the knowledge of the president, the mayor or high-ranking US military officials such as the defense secretary and the joint chiefs of staff? If the official story is indeed true, it raises the question of who is in control of the US military.
The White House internal review published a week later, I think, answers the question: the US military is in control of the US military.
The responsible office was the White House Military Office. Everybody in that office except the fall guy (Director Caldera) is in the military or a civilian employee of the Dept. of Defense, including Deputy Director George Mulligan and Col. Scott Turner, head of the Presidential Airlift Group (PAG). The PAG is part of the 89th Airlift Wing of the 18th Air Force, which is part of the Air Mobility Command, a Major Command of the U.S. Air Force.
It is not clear exactly whose idea it was originally, but the planning and execution were carried out by PAG. It was, as Mulligan wrote to Caldera on April 24, "an AF operation, in close coordination with FAA" (Internal Review, p. 3).
The rather ludicrous details of the communication breakdown between Mulligan and Caldera, concerning emails sent but not read or read too late, and hallway discussions misinterpreted as an "aside," do not disguise or mitigate the fact that Mulligan was the military's point man on this, and that it was he who failed to inform his boss (Caldera) properly. This is not stated explicitly in the review, but all the details point clearly to this conclusion.
On the day of the event Caldera said, "Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision." He told the White House Counsel's Office conducting the review a week later, however, "that he was not asked to approve the flight. If he had been asked to make a decision," he added, "he would have received a formal package requesting his approval and he would have expected earlier and more extensive discussions with Colonel Turner and the Deputy Director" (p. 4).
So why did Caldera take the fall? "Because it was the 'stand-up thing to do,'" he is quoted as saying (p. 6). There is no acknowledgement of guilt, but only of responsibility, in his May 8 letter of resignation:
I have concluded that the controversy surrounding the Presidential Airlift Group's aerial photo shoot over New York City has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office. Moreover, it has become a distraction to the important work you are doing as president. After much reflection, I believe it is incumbent on me to tender my resignation and step down as director of the White House Military Office.
Compare this with Mulligan's and Turner's "stand up," which sounds more like a comedy act than an act of contrition:
At some time during the day [April 27], the Deputy Director spoke to Colonel Turner. The Deputy Director expressed surprise about the flight, because he had been led to believe that the mission details had been coordinated. In the Deputy Director's view, the breakdown was the lack of public notification. Colonel Turner was equally surprised, because the FAA had taken the lead on public affairs and coordination.
Why weren't Mulligan and Turner fired? They were clearly not following the orders of their superiors, Director Caldera and President Obama, nor those of Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense. Gates, with his CIA background, cannot necessarily be taken at his word, but he is also a political appointee, and he says he didn't know about the plan, either, or approve it:
I am concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate public affairs plan nor adequate review and approval by senior Air Force and DoD [Department of Defense] officials. (From a letter to Sen. John McCain released on May 8 and posted on his website.)
We note that Gates also expresses his "regret" and "concern," but not responsibility or guilt.
Is it conceivable that a relatively low-echelon DoD civilian and an Air Force colonel would have the temerity or wherewithal (not to mention collosal stupidity) to do such a thing on their own? I think not.
On April 28, the day after the flyover, Obama said:
It was a mistake, as was stated. It was something we found out about along with all of you, and it will not happen again.”
He was referring to Caldera's statement, which constituted the White House apology of the day before. This is the word -- "mistake" -- that stuck in the press and will stay in our minds. But what does this mean?
Does it mean that Obama regrets not knowing that the Air Force was flying his own airplane, and nuclear command center whenever he is in it, around Manhattan in restricted airspace scaring people half to death because they thought it was another 9/11? Does it mean that his man Caldera, who was supposed to be in charge, didn't know what the Air Force was doing either?
"Whoops, sorry. I know I'm supposed to be the commander-in-chief, but in this case -- just in this one case, this one tiny case, I assure you -- I wasn't. The Air Force did their own thing. I found out about it along with all of you. It won't happen again.”
Well, yes, WYSIWYG, that is exactly what it means, and if we allow ourselves just a second's further reflection, we realize what a terrible and devastating admission it is. It means that the president is not in control of the Air Force, is not the commander-in-chief, and the Constitution is no longer the law of the land. Therewith is the promise of it not happening again, coming from the mere president, completely vacuous.
If that sounds exaggerated, it is only because in this instance the damage was limited. Suppose it had been something more consequential than just scaring the bejesus out of a few New Yorkers -- like a nuclear strike on Iran? How ready would we be to accept the explanation that it was a "mistake" in that case?
Now the opposite point of view: OMIHOP (Obama Made It Happen On Purpose). According to this theory, it was a publicity stunt by Obama, i.e., by people acting on his behalf. An Air Force officer who carried the "nuclear football" for Bill Clinton, which is also carried on Air Force One, obviously not an Obama fan, called it "wantonly careless." Rush Limbaugh says "Obama cannot credibly say he didn't know that this was happening," thus calling the president a liar, and then lies blatantly himself, saying of Caldera: "He's the guy that planned it. He's the guy that set it up..."
But Caldera is not the guy who planned it, as Limbaugh also knows if he read the White House internal review. The idea of a "publicity stunt" is implausible on its face. Neither Limbaugh nor anyone else has tried to explain what might have been the reasoning behind such a hare-brained scheme, understandably because it would have been completely insane.
On the other hand, what we do know, thanks to the White House review, is that it was a military operation from start to finish. That message is quiet but clear, not in the headlines but accessible to anyone who wants to find it and read it.
It is tempting to draw two conclusions from all of this, from both the incident itself and the White House's reaction to it.
One is that we may have here a quite realistic model of how the government actually works. This is without question how it worked in the case of this relatively harmless event, but if generalized it also fits the worst case scenario to a T -- that 9/11 was an inside job -- which is what tens of millions of Americans now believe. The parallels are striking. The military (supposedly) screwed up royally, just as they (supposedly) screwed up on 9/11, failing to protect us from (supposedly) 19 Arabs with box cutters. As in the case of 9/11, the military have unconvincingly attempted to shift the blame to the FAA, although, as with 9/11, neither military nor FAA personnel were fired. Was April 27 a reenactment of 9/11 on a minor scale, to serve as a reminder, primarily to Obama but also to us, of who is really in charge?
The second conclusion is even more speculative, and some will say preposterously naive, but I am an incurable romantic. What if Obama really is another JFK, as many, including Caroline and Ted Kennedy, have dared to hope? They did not choose American University as the place to endorse Obama (on Jan. 28, 2008) for no reason. In 1963, JFK also talked about courage, and he was not referring to politicians but to people, in this case the Russian people, when he said, "No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue."
Times have changed. Now that statement applies more to Americans than to Russians, and I think we can take Ted at his word when he said we can reach our goals "only if we have the courage to choose change"; the "we" is not rhetorical.
Maybe the not-so-coded message from the White House is a call for help. If Obama does have the courage to oppose the warmongers, as JFK did, he cannot do it alone. If he has just gotten his face slapped in public by somebody who is a lot bigger and meaner than he is, which appears to be the case, and we want him to fight back, we will have to fight with him. This is at least the ghost of a hope we haven't had for a long time.