Saturday, September 03, 2005

What, Exactly, is "Homeland Security"?

The federal government's hurricane Katrina debacle begs the question of what exactly we mean by "homeland security."

In September of 2001, a band of suicidal fanatics caught the nation by surprise and drove airplanes into two tall buildings. The calamity was horrific but nevertheless relatively contained. That event has been used to justify and excuse an absurd string of subsequent "responses" in the name of homeland security.

In August of 2005, a hurricane that we knew was coming devastated the Gulf Coast, and although we had made preparations we were not prepared. The Katrina death toll will no doubt exceed 911; the economic losses will be greater as well. How much of this loss of life, property, and economic output should we have been able to prevent or mitigate?

Critics of the Bush administration have long complained that this government has made us less, not more, secure. It has done so in countless ways.

Bush's tax cuts for the rich reveal a philosophy of government which willingly discounts the prospects of the poor and powerless. As we can now plainly see, it is precisely those most stung in their everyday lives by government cutbacks who have the highest vulnerability to catastrophic events such as the flooding of New Orleans.

The tax cuts, and resulting budget deficits, have also guaranteed that fewer resources will be available for necessary infrastructure that is needed to secure the homeland. The chronically underfunded levee, canal, and pumping system of New Orleans is just one example. It would be dishonest to say that but for Bush's tax cuts New Orleans would have been made safe in time for Katrina. But this crucial storm protection system, and the greater Army Corps of Engineers storm protection operations in its New Orleans district, have indisputably been on Bush's budget chopping block year after year--even while its deficiencies have been gamed, studied, and documented.

Resources are scarce under any circumstance, and the tax cuts have only made them more so. So have Bush's priorities. The dubious war in Iraq has cost this nation $4 billion per month for more than two years, with no end in sight. A comprehensive overhaul of the storm protection system for New Orleans--which we couldn't afford--would have cost $2.5 billion.

Never mind for the moment that the Iraq war is making us less secure for a host of geopolitical reasons; it is also necessarily draining resources that are needed at home. Bush's post-911 response to make America secure was to invade Iraq in a search for weapons of mass destruction that did not exist, and in an attempt to root out a terrorist threat that was not present. Such misguided priorities go straight to the nation's bottom line, and force us to cut back in other vital areas.

But it gets worse. Although Bush and his administration vehemently deny that there is any shortage of National Guard troops for use in the Katrina aftermath, it is undeniable that one third of Louisiana's and Mississippi's National Guard forces are deployed in Iraq, as is fully one half of their equipment (including high-water trucks). And as other commentators have pointed out, a high proportion of those guardsmen overseas come from police forces at home, which constitutes a double deficit in this time of need. Bush's denials notwithstanding, it is hard to fathom how guardsmen now deployed in Iraq aren't needed here to protect their own communities.

"Homeland Security", then, in large measure comes down to the application of resources, judgment, and priorities. Is our well being and security no less threatened by "acts of God" than acts of evil?

Although we must work to understand and prepare to whatever extent practicable for threats originating outside our borders, we also need to maintain sensible perspective. We know beyond any doubt that hurricanes will strike and occasionally devastate our southern coastal regions. Being ready for that is surely part of "Homeland Security" too.

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved


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