October 24, 2013
Mr. Jeh Johnson, Esq.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
1285 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York
Dear Mr. Johnson:
There are some professional advancements that prompt more sympathy than celebration. I will not congratulate you on your recent nomination as secretary of homeland security. But I certainly wish you well.
Your nomination prompted reading again your remarks of last November before the Oxford Union. I had forgotten your closing reference to Martin Luther King’s November, 1957 sermon on “Loving your enemies.” It is a great sermon with profound implications for counter-terrorism.
Dr. King’s comments are equally well-suited for aspects of the homeland security mission at some remove from counter-terrorism. Early in the sermon, he asked and answered, “How do you go about loving your enemies? I think the first thing is this: In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self.”
It is this aspect of love that best differentiates your new homeland security role from your long-time role in national security.
You have considerable experience in the Department of Defense. It is entirely appropriate that the Pentagon and military services be primarily concerned with external threats. Your Oxford Union address communicates this threat-focus quite effectively. Homeland security certainly needs to be aware of external threats, but this is not its primary domain.
There are also internal threats. I would argue these are primarily the object of local, state, tribal, and federal systems of justice. Homeland security has a collaborative and constructive role to contribute here, but — once again — this is not its primary domain.
The differentiated role of homeland security is to systematically and thoughtfully engage our vulnerabilities. Just as Dr. King advocated, homeland security begins by analyzing self, as expressed in neighborhoods and networks spanning the nation. There are threats. There are enemies. But that is not where we should begin.
We best begin by acknowledging our failures, short-comings, and weakness. We begin by carefully examining our most important relationships. We even take a critical look at our greatest strengths, considering how and where they might lead us astray. We begin by uplifting ourselves, especially our ability to love.
Because you are familiar with Dr. King’s rigorous definition of love more explanation is not needed. But clearly it is difficult for a speech, strategy, or testimony to give priority to love. Too many will not take you seriously. Fortunately the wonk’s code-word for the kind of love advocated by Dr. King is resilience: much easier to reference than love (but just about as complicated).
At Oxford you mentioned the moral conundrum a career in national security had presented you. I hope your time in homeland security may offer creative resolution… for all of us.
Yours in resilience,
Philip J. Palin