Britain's SKY Television found an interesting way to sum up Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's efforts last week to convince skeptical Europeans that the United States has not been sending prisoners and terrorism suspects to be tortured in secret prisons.
The report began with her confident, succinct statements at the beginning of the trip, and then showed her performance through successive press conferences. What began as articulate steadily degenerated into stammering, at times almost inchoate rambling.
The piece was almost cruel, but it did show why European public opinion was not won over, even if political leaders did cut Rice some slack. Whether they were actually convinced by her arguments, or were merely protecting their own guilty backsides depends on one's politics and level of cynicism.
Whatever the case, anyone who has flown in Europe will almost certainly agree that if potentially dangerous people have to be transported by air, maybe it is better to let the CIA do it than use commercial airports and carriers.
Since 9/11 I've lost count of the number of airport security checks I've been through, but it is in the hundreds. With rare exception, they fall considerably short of reassuring. It starts with the questions at check-in, the rote litany of, "did-you-pack-everything-yourself-could-anyone-have-interfered-with-your-bags-were-you-asked-to-carry-anything-do-you-have-any-sharp-objects-or-a-gun-or-other-weapon?". The bored stream of consciousness seems based on the assumption that anyone intent on mayhem would tell the truth if asked. And even if you lie, the check-in clerk is invariably "multi-tasking" with tickets and luggage tags and most definitely NOT looking you in the eye anyway.
Then come the body searches and X-ray scans that don't miss a bit of metal. There are warning signs and special bins for such potential hijack tools as nail files and nose hair scissors. Thanks to Richard Reid, the hapless "shoe bomber," even metal eyelets for laces mean shoes go through the X-ray, letting all and sundry know who washes their feet and changes their socks on a regular basis.
Such is the thoroughness of security that in many airports one even has to partially undress by taking off belt and watch. And when you've gone through all of that, whatever time is left before boarding the plane is spent being assaulted by special offers to buy lethal weapons.
If you found yourself facing a potential hijacker, which would you prefer him to be armed with: a nail file or the jagged edges of a broken duty free liquor bottle?
Perhaps the people who set security policy operate on the theory that hijackers tend to be hard-core Islamists for whom alcohol is such a deadly sin that they would never dream of touching it in any form, lest it cost them the entry to Paradise they believe their effort will bring.
If that's the case, giving out plastic cutlery makes sense, although the chief stewardess on one European airline did mention that her union had pointed out when the plastic rule came in it made little sense when in Business Class they were still serving wine in small bottles and water in proper glasses. The argument, she said, was met with indifference.
When one considers that airline security and official policy statements are the only "fronts" most people get to see in the so-called "war on terror," there is little reason to think any of it is going right.