Thinking About Homeland Security

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Pennsylvania
governor Tom Ridge is not likely to want my advice in his new job,
but I think the Office of Homeland Security that he has been asked
to lead sounds too much like the old Soviet Committee for State
Security. I also think that liberty can be defended but never secured.
Apart from my affection for semantic arguments and my conviction
that understanding and embracing the Second Amendment would do more
for national peace of mind than increased surveillance of email,
I am encouraged by the fact that some members of the commentariat
have reservations about where we are headed.

Even
the pixel commandos at National Review Online noticed something
wrong with the Office of Homeland Security when president Bush midwifed
the birth of that bureaucracy in his September 20th call
to arms against terrorism. This is significant because NRO is home
to the "end Iraq" school of foreign policy. Eager to cry
havoc and let slip the dogs of war, NRO columnists John J. Miller
and Ramesh Ponnuru stopped looking for kennel keys long enough to
ask two questions of the president's well-received speech: "Isn't
the Department of Defense supposed to be concerned with the security
of our homeland?" and "if not, what exactly is [the DoD]
defending?"

Sometimes
neoconservatives can read my mind. Unfortunately, Miller and Ponnuru
scampered back to the choir loft before finding answers to their
questions. With NRO staffers humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic
while they exhort the rest of us to praise the Lord and pass the
ammunition, it became obvious that no one there planned any followup.
Wanting answers to the same questions myself, I went to the source,
which in this case was the Department of Defense.

I've
read my share of government jargon and did not expect DoD press
releases to go down the hatch like twelve-year-old scotch. Nevertheless,
I was unprepared for thought crimes on the web page that explains
what the armed forces do.

Consider
this description of the army, whose mission is "to defend the
land mass of the United States and its territories, commonwealths
and possessions and overcome any aggressor that imperils our nation's
peace and security." That sounds reasonable until the next
sentence, where readers are reassured that "Your Army is currently
operating in more than 50 countries."

Before
you can resolve the logic problem or ask what in the name of force
projection the United States does with troops in so many countries,
anonymous scribes provide telling examples: American troops are
"performing duties such as securing the South Korea border
and keeping the peace in Kosovo." Our troops, in other words,
are as far from home as they can get. Don't even bother trying to
square that strength-in-numbers bias with the advertising campaign
that earlier this year tried to meet recruiting goals in a self-centered
age by talking about an Army of One; it can't be done.

The
description of the Marine Corps on that DoD web page is even more
unnerving because it inadvertently characterizes the most famous
American fighting force as a collection of human tripwires:

"The
call u2018Send in the Marines!' has been sounded more than 200 times
since the end of World War II, an average of once every 90 days.
In 1999 alone, Marines provided humanitarian assistance to earthquake
victims in Turkey, were among the first U.S. ground troops to enter
Kosovo and formed the core of U.S. peacekeeping efforts in East
Timor."

By
the time the Air Force and Navy are described, the point has been
made. If the Defense Department lived up to its name, an Office
of Homeland Security would be redundant. But because National Guard
and reserve units are routinely used to supplement active duty units,
the only military service actually defending the United States 24/7
is the Coast Guard, a part-time member of the Defense Department
that in peacetime answers to the Department of Transportation. Other
military services defend American ideals to the apparent exclusion
of Americans themselves.

Now
we face a CIA-trained Saudi Arabian millionaire who has made common
cause with murderous zealots to expose America's vulnerability.
There is more than enough blame to go around for the tragic events
of September 11, but as LRC's own Bob Murphy has explained, our
vulnerability is not the inevitable consequence of unfettered freedom.

With
all due respect to several writers I admire, ascribing American
vulnerability to America's interventionism also seems too easy,
given that our cultural influence is as galling to some people as
our military influence. Bringing the troops home would not purge
the airwaves, take women out of high-profile jobs, or quiet the
engines of commerce. In any event, it goes without saying that frustration
over cultural and political differences does not and cannot justify
mass murder. To that I would add that the only people in a position
to forgive terrorism if they are so inclined are those whose relatives
were killed by terrorists. But while we ponder what and who to take
care of next, my guess is that conventional federal wisdom puts
too much stock in the idea that the best defense is a good offense.

Recall
that between 1789 and 1947 the United States had a Secretary of
War rather than a Secretary of Defense. In 1947 the position changed
titles but not duties. People in that job think more about who the
armed forces work on than who they work for.

In
some ways this is as it should be. Wise warriors have always made
a point of knowing their enemies. In America's decades-long standoff
with what was then the Soviet Union, even offensive weapons served
a defensive purpose. Is it any wonder that truth-telling generals
who describe war as a racket wrestle in my head with P.J. O'Rourke's
argument that the U.S. Marines have done more for world peace than
most peace activists? (Mark Steyn made a similar point while writing
about u2018The World Conference Against Whitey,' on September 6. His
observation was that "if one had to single out one institution
that did more to end the trade in human beings than any other, it
would be the Royal Navy," which beginning in 1833 used its
ships to enforce a ban on slavery throughout the British Empire).

Nevertheless,
a shift in emphasis may be in order here. As Lawrence Kaplan wrote
recently for The New Republic, "being a superpower means
being able to walk and chew gum at the same time." It seems
to this layman that the U.S. Defense Department has trouble doing
that because it defends what is ambiguous and abroad (American interests)
rather than what is clear and here (American territory). Chain-of-command
thinking then compounds that problem by equating the federal government
with the American people.

It
is impossible to discuss Defense Department failure without also
speculating about what motivates American foreign policy, which
one hopes has more going for it than Uncle Sam's overweening desire
to play Big Man on Campus. Philosophical essayists sometimes observe
that the United States is unique among the countries of the world
in being founded not on land with a long history and a homogenous
people but on a set of ideas about the rights and responsibilities
of free men. As a patriotic American and a fan of western civilization,
I frustrate the memory of several history and philosophy teachers
by thinking of representative government, rule of law, and inalienable
rights as Platonic forms that are as valid in Seoul and Jerusalem
as they are in Louisville and Denver.

To
think in terms of universal validity is to concede the need for
universal defense, but then I remember that – like the relationship
between free will and virtue in Catholic theology – freedom
to follow any way of life depends on freedom to reject it. Furthermore,
a country that stations troops around the world inevitably pays
short shrift to its own citizens. In that light it seems wise to
reject globalist platitudes, as president Bush has done several
times. It also seems wise to argue that misguided interventionism
is as big a threat to liberty as people who hate what the rest of
us hold dear, and I thank Lew Rockwell for making the argument possible.

Related
links:

September
27, 2001

Patrick
O'Hannigan [send him mail]
is a technical writer in California.

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