What, Exactly, Do They Mean By 'Homeland Security?'

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During the orgy of propaganda and disaster pornography leading to the 9/11 memorial, a local news anchor asked New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg whether he felt his city was "doing enough to improve homeland security."

The Mayor’s response: "Only history will tell."

With all due respect to hizzoner, I don’t think we’ll have to wait for future generations to provide the answers.

He has probably done everything he knows how to do, and is allowed to do, under current systems of government. The one and only action that might be "enough" to increase our safety is one that neither he nor any of his deputies or agencies can take.

It’s something that only Congress has the power to vote into being: Withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and in the rest of the Middle East.

That’s just for starters. What would need to happen next is something that the Pentagon, not Mayor Bloomberg’s office, could do: Close the military bases on the Arabian Peninsula, which, together, represent the largest foreign military presence in any nation’s history, save for West Germany’s during the Cold War. Then the top brass should dismantle its mammoth armed encampments in the rest of the Middle East, and in other parts of the world.

Also: This nation would have to stop subsidizing the State of Israel.

Contrary to what some neo-conservatives think, we would not be disarming ourselves in taking such actions. Instead, we would be taking away fuel for the anger of men who have nothing to lose but their belief that they will have their choice of 72 virgins in the afterlife. Their animus toward this country is not, as Bush and his cronies claim, a hatred of our way of life.

Instead, it is based on our imperialism. This is the reason why they have carried out attacks in the US, Britain and Spain. (At least Spain brought home its troops after the attack in Madrid. One out of three ain’t bad, I guess.) If their hatred were really a form of envy of our lifestyle, as claimed by those who let National Review contributors do their thinking for them, jihadists would have brought their fire to such secular, hedonistic, if socialistic, bastions of affluence as the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway. And the Swiss and Swedes would no longer find comfort under the umbrellas of their neutrality.

Now I can hear someone asking what I like to think of as the "Pearl Harbor Question." The US did not have the sort of military presence in Japan or its neighboring states that it now has in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Yet, the Japanese forces still attacked Hawaii, a US colony.

However, Japan was an imperial power that had, by the time of the Pearl Harbor blitz, conquered much of the Pacific region.

Like their counterparts in other imperialistic countries, Japanese leaders were not motivated by an ideology based on putative enemies or "Satans," as Al Queda, Hezbollah and other so-called terrorist groups are. Official Japan was interested, instead, in real estate and the accompanying natural resources. (Indeed, it may be argued that if Japan, Britain, the US or any other empire was/is guided by ideology, it consisted mainly of the belief that it was the destiny or duty of their nation to subjugate other lands and peoples.) To take over large masses of land — as opposed to killing large numbers of people in small areas of land — the Japanese, like their historical predecessors, carried out large-scale military operations: the sorts of operations that can’t be thwarted, or carried out, by counterterrorism units.

In fact, it can be argued that there are only two ways to deal with an impending imperialist invasion — assuming, of course, that a country’s leader has foreknowledge of such an incursion. One is through a pre-emptive strike. The other is simply to pull troops and installations out of harm’s way before the attack. Pre-emptive strikes are not feasible in the face of a terroristic threat which, by definition, comes without warning. Such an action would surely trigger a counter-attack of some sort.

In contrast with World War II Japan — and England, France and Spain before it — Al Queda, Hezbollah and other similar groups are not interested in taking over nations or territories, as Eric Margolis and others have pointed out. Even when groups like the Palestine Liberation Organization talk of "driving Israel into the sea," it’s not the land they want. (Indeed, that tiny country contains no petroleum and few other natural resources. Most of the land is useless without massive irrigation.) Instead — at least from their point of view — they are looking to free themselves from Western imperialism and to practice their vision of religious Islamic life. They are not looking to expand their territorial dominion; rather, they want to eradicate any actual or perceived obstacles to their goals.

What are they to think when their self-appointed "liberators" storm into their lands, take away their means of living and abuse or kill their wives, mothers, daughters, sons and others they love? How should we expect them to react when their self-anointed reformers impose "democracy," and other forms of Western-style "progress" on them?

Continuing this country’s military presence in the Middle East will only further stoke radical Muslim fundamentalists’ rage. And, remember: The Middle East is the part of the world that originated the notion that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend?" Should we be surprised, then, if Hezbollah and other groups look to North Korea — or Russia or China, should American relations with them deteriorate — for support?

While no policy or procedure can guarantee that no one will attack the US, withdrawing our military presence from the Middle East and the rest of the world will do much more to improve the security of ordinary citizens than any so-called homeland security program could. Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg could alert his fellow Republican George W. Bush to this fact.

Justine Nicholas [send her mail] teaches English at the City University of New York.

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