Yesterday's Fighter Scrambles: A Message To Terrorists AND Voters?

As an American, I, for one, am glad that the military reacted quickly within 10 minutes of yesterday's private plane crash into that Manhattan high-rise condo tower.

It's the scope and duration of the jet-scrambling, that leaves me puzzled, though.

Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. Northern Command, told The Associated Press that military officials knew it was not likely a terrorist act "about a half an hour after it happened."

Of course it wasn't a terrorist attack. News reports issued just a few minutes after that terrible tragedy pointed to pilot error.

Apparently, though, it took the authorities awhile to get the word of the tragedy's true nature. Within a half hour after the accident, fighter jets were aloft in several metro areas, some thousands of miles from the fatal mishap. And, according to the AP, some of these jets were still up 2 1/2 hours after the crash.

About 2 1/2 hours after the incident, many of the military aircraft were still aloft - some of them being refueled by tankers, Keating told the AP. He said cities covered also included Los Angeles and Seattle.

Why were the jets still up at that point? Why were they even scrambled to begin with in distant cities?

One explanation is a sincere desire on the part of the military aviation authorities not to get caught flat-footed as they did on 9/11, and to err on the side of extreme caution. I believe that's a big part of the reasons the fighters were deployed- but perhaps not all of it.

Not mutually exclusive to that explanation might be the sentiment that "here is a chance to send a message to terrorists that we are ready" should private or commercial planes be commandeered once more to attack our buildings. In short, the arguable overreaction was a show of force.

And finally, as a possibly unintentional by-product of yesterday's air defense maneuvers- there is an implied message to the American electorate that the Bush administration has implemented some needed changes to our anti-terrorism defenses- and if you elect Republicans next month, we'll continue to keep you safe.