We are here to do the work that ensures no other family members have to lose a loved one to a terrorist who turns a plane into a missile, a terrorist who straps a bomb around her waist and climbs aboard a bus, a terrorist who figures out how to set off a dirty bomb in one of our cities. This is why we are here: to make our country safer and make sure the nearly 3,000 who were taken from us did not die in vain; that their legacy will be a more safe and secure Nation.
That’s how we’ll start a mini-series here on HLSWatch to take a look at how the candidates of both parties stack up on homeland security. We’ll take each in turn, and, since the quote above is Senator Barack Obama’s, we’ll start with him. And since this is Chesapeake Tuesday, those of us in DC, Maryland, and Virginia are voting today in the primary elections. If you’re here, please vote!
This series will focus on the priorities of the candidates. Since the campaigns and the candidates cannot reasonably cover every topic within this broad subject of homeland security, let’s see what they highlight as the most important issues for meeting the expectations quoted above.
Obama made headlines at the first Democratic debate of the election season when asked what he would do first after a terrorist attack on the homeland if he was president. Instead of offering the predictable “Kill or capture those responsible, if they aren’t already dead as a result of the attack,” Obama said he’d first make sure the victims were tended to. Interesting. Why not fire missiles at the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan to at least send a message while we plan? Why not go before the TV cameras and proclaim that whoever is responsible will be held so? Because we gain two things if we first respond to the victims and neither has to do with political messaging:
1. If the attack is carried out with a form of WMD, there is a lot we can do to mitigate the impact of the attack by forcefully responding to the needs of the victims and effectively communicating or evacuating those nearby and at risk. The president must be engaged.
2. The intel community starts responding immediately. But when the president takes a step back and deals first with the consequences of the attack – if only for the first day – we stand a good chance of learning important facts about the attack and its perpetrators that could be critical in determining the quality of intel and deciding what is the best response for the president.
Obama was criticized for suggesting this. In hindsight it reflects a smart approach that would hopefully be the same for anyone in that office. However, it is telling that his immediate answer already understands this.
But what about his programs? How would he apply our nation’s resources to prevent the next attack or prepare to limit its impact? While it isn’t very exciting, his campaign lists a few priority areas that make sense.
Obama’s position is outlined by his campaign as pursing the following priorities:
• Bolster emergency response
• Protect critical infrastructure
• Improve intelligence capacity and protect civil liberties
All good things, even if the details read as though they were written a year ago. Each of these priorities should be top of the list for any incoming administration, e.g. allocate funds based on risk, revise the response plans and critical infrastructure plans, revise PATRIOT Act and FISA laws to protect civil liberties. And I must admit that it is a welcome sight to have nuclear stewardship articulated as part of this position. Obama’s Spent Nuclear Fuel Tracking and Accountability Act could be a real asset in reducing the threat of dirty bombs or smuggled nuclear material. And finally, he includes the right decision about restoring habeus corpus. More on that issue available in this post.
But this plan also risks falling victim to a sort of policy myopia to which most homeland security plans fall: It does not sufficiently acknowledge and incorporate the interagency and international dimensions of a successful homeland security strategy. (His attention to securing loose nuclear material is a worthy exception.)
I’d like to see more about how he considers homeland security as tying into national security. Moreover, what are his plans regarding the perennial urge to reorganize the Department of Homeland Security and its related structures? What role does he see for the rest of the government “beyond DHS” in securing the homeland?
We’ll see which candidate is up next on HLSWatch. In the meantime, get out there and vote today!