Our government can and must sometimes do hard jobs well.
I stepped onto my front porch yesterday morning to get the newspaper, only to see a huge blaze just a few miles away on the mountains to our west. Within seconds, I could smell the smoke, as strong winds were carrying the fire and fine ash east toward Montecito. By the time I walked inside and turned on the morning news, the fire had been given a name and almost doubled in size. With the severe drought turning the chaparral into kindling, and strong winds blowing, the Gibraltar Fire looked like serious trouble. Evacuations were in order.
But then something amazing happened. Within two hours, a massive aerial bombardment had begun. Planes and helicopters engaged in a ceaseless and well-choreographed campaign to drop water and retardant on, and around, the fire. It was aerial ballet. By noon, there was barely any smoke rising from the mountain. When I picked up my kids from school, the only visible evidence of the fire was the massive red ring of fire retardant visible on the slopes of the mountain.
Although the fire crews are still mopping up the fire this morning, it appears that a major crisis has been averted. The residents of Montecito and the canyons above Santa Barbara can breathe easier. We owe the firefighters our heartfelt thanks for a job well done.
In an era when “government” is almost synonymous with “dysfunction,” the impressive response to the Gibraltar Fire is a welcome reminder that our government can still do some hard jobs very well.
The aerial activity yesterday also reminded me of the Berlin Airlift, which is vividly described and brilliantly recounted by Andrei Cherny in “The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America’s Finest Hour.” Not only was the Berlin Airlift one of the greatest logistical and humanitarian achievements in history, it was a determined and successful response to Soviet aggression. It too stands as a reminder that our government can do hard jobs well. And it also teaches us that our government can deter aggression and protect freedom when our leaders have the political will to do so.
Unfortunately, we need to be reminded of this lesson. Events in Europe today are eerily similar to the dawn of the Cold War. In the past seven years, Russia has invaded Georgia, annexed Crimea, and fomented armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Russia has defended its aggression as necessary to protect Russian-speaking peoples. If unchecked, Russia could soon cause trouble in the Baltic States, which are members of NATO, but have large Russian-speaking populations. The Baltics could be our next Berlin.
To its credit, NATO leadership has recognized these parallels. It is considering placing a full battalion in each Baltic State to deter future Russian aggression. The Germans, however, have expressed reservations regarding these potential deployments, preferring less confrontational approaches to checking potential Russian adventurism. This reticence will prove to be sadly ironic if it prevents NATO from doing its job. Let’s hope that NATO finds the political will to do the hard job of deterring Russian aggression — a job that can and must be done well.