So, one of the VC-25 Presidential airlift aircraft (it’s not “Air Force One” unless the President is on board) flew over Manhattan the other day, with F-16 chase planes carrying combat photographers to update photos of the aircraft with the Statue of Liberty in the background. The mission was conceived and authorized by the White House Military Office, according to reports; at least, the WHMO director has done the right thing and taken responsibility for it.
For reasons unknown to me, the mission was not announced ahead of time; however, I can guess one reason had to do with security. If announced ahead of time, crackpots (or worse than crackpots) could have stationed themselves with weapons to damage or destroy the aircraft — it would be an enticing target for anyone wanting to demonstrate their contempt for the United States.*
With hindsight, many people have said that, had they known about the planned flight, they would have predicted the reactions of people working around Ground Zero — but some of that is undoubtedly political grandstanding. I don’t think they would have predicted it. Many of these same people believe the Terror War is only an overseas contingency, and not a fundamental campaign for the safety and security of free people in the face of bellicose extremists. Why, then, would they have predicted panic among civilians if we are only engaged in overseas contingency operations? The reactions of New Yorkers show that the contingency is not just overseas — at least not in the minds of ordinary citizens.
But along with this hindsight, we also hear expressions of outrage, not just over the training mission that had cameras on it but the cost of the training mission. Ridiculous.
Many of the people complaining about the cost, and trying to label it an extravagance in an age that demands austerity, would — until January 20th of this year — have cheered any flight by that glorious symbol with “United States of America” emblazoned on its side. Their complaint is not that the VC-25 costs a lot to operate, but because this President’s VC-25 costs a lot to operate. Ladies and gentlemen, the cost has not changed with the new administration. It is what it is.
And here’s the kicker: that training flight was going to be flown somewhere. Flight crews have to maintain proficiency, new crewmembers have to be trained, and even these special aircraft must be put through their paces. I used to see the VC-25 flying into and out of Andrews Air Force Base from time to time, and I bet few of those times were actual AF-1 missions. If the photo mission had been flown over the open ocean, or over the great plains, or even high over Manhattan, you wouldn’t even have known about it — nor would you have cared, about the mission or the cost.
So now it’s much ado about not much: time for accusations and posturing and apologies, and possibly even for resignations. And that’s a shame, because we have many more serious things to think about and work on.
Please, save your outrage for something that really matters.
*It may have been possible to balance OPSEC — operational security — with public awareness by announcing the flight just an hour or so ahead. We’ll never know.