Scroll past the “economic stimulus” plan, the “tax cuts” plan, and the “lower taxes” plan on John McCain’s campaign website and you find more on his positions regarding judges, abortion, and lobbyists. However, if you haven’t clicked back to Google yet, there you’ll find some content on protecting against terrorism and securing the homeland. Not surprisingly, he calls out immigration and border security as their own issues. He and Ted Kennedy co-wrote last year’s ill-fated immigration bill.
To learn about McCain’s views on combating terrorism, you’ll find it among, again not surprisingly, his positions on continuing the Iraq War. The net of all this is that McCain is no slouch when it comes to counterterrorism. Parsing brawn and brains is the tough part. A closer look reveals his campaign’s priorities and perspectives on the mission of securing the homeland, but its an incomplete picture.
McCain has been alive for WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, and various other battles throughout the 20th century. And one can sense his preference for drawing upon this framework in viewing the threat of terrorism in the 21st century. Secure the borders. Fight the enemy where he is. Wherever he is. Assemble weapons for the worst case scenario, just in case. But do these platforms still promise the same success in fighting al Qaeda as they did in fighting the Germans, Japanese, or the Vietnamese?
His campaign turns to this pretty directly:
the quality intelligence necessary to uncover plots before they take root, the resources to protect critical infrastructure and our borders against attack, and the capability to respond and recover from a terrorist incident swiftly.
And he embraces a long view of the battle as follows:
just as America must be prepared to meet and prevail against any adversary on the field of battle, we must engage and prevail against them on the battleground of ideas. In so doing, we can and must deprive terrorists of the converts they seek and teach the doctrine of hatred and despair.
But these are not plans. These are platitudes. The campaign doesn’t seem to offer the details required to judge his priorities and the success or failure he’ll likely encounter by pursuing them. He comes close to addressing challenging homeland security issues in one particular area. Immigration.
Immigration touches on many aspects of American life. It represents the avenue to the American Dream for many, the funnel of prosperity through trade for many others, and even the hope of building bridges through student exchanges across the globe. Immigration also represents the vector through which the 9/11 terrorists initiated their attacks.
McCain offers the following:
A secure border is an essential element of our national security. Tight border security includes not just the entry and exit of people, but also the effective screening of cargo at our ports and other points of entry.
McCain’s campaign continues by suggesting that a secure border will contribute to addressing our immigration problem most effectively if we also:
Recognize the importance of building strong allies in Mexico and Latin America who reject the siren call of authoritarians like Hugo Chavez, support freedom and democracy, and seek strong domestic economies with abundant economic opportunities for their citizens.
Recognize the importance of pro-growth policies — keeping government spending in check, holding down taxes, and cutting unnecessary regulatory burdens — so American businesses can hire and pay the best.
Recognize the importance of a flexible labor market to keep employers in business and our economy on top. It should provide skilled Americans and immigrants with opportunity. Our education system should ensure skills for our younger workers, and our retraining and assistance programs for displaced workers must be modernized so they can pursue those opportunities
Recognize the importance of assimilation of our immigrant population, which includes learning English, American history and civics, and respecting the values of a democratic society.
Recognize that America will always be that “shining city upon a hill,” a beacon of hope and opportunity for those seeking a better life built on hard work and optimism.
Beyond these rather detailed treatments of the immigration challenge, and yes he uses “siren call” –McCain dedicates a significant portion of his platform to fighting in Iraq and spending more money on a missile shield. Not exactly the departure from the past one would expect from the Maverick.
The general election campaign ought to allow the two candidates to debate this issue specifically. By my account, Obama offers the most detailed and thought through plan for Homeland Security. His position would benefit from treating the national security/homeland security concept and the international dimensions of the job. McCain has a lock on the immigration debate, but he remains boxed in by his choices regarding Iraq and his party’s position on missile defense. Furthermore, he needs to open the aperture on what his plans for securing the homeland would be. The Clinton campaign has yet to take this topic seriously. I ran out of time searching for her campaign’s stance on the issue. I’ll ask again for readers to send suggestions if you’re inclined.