Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 4, 2008

Where the Candidates Stand on HLS Part III

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on March 4, 2008

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.

February 29, 2008

Where the Candidates Stand on HLS: Part II

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on February 29, 2008

This follows the earlier post I ran on Senator Obama’s positions on Homeland Security. Today I had intended to examine Senator Clinton’s positions. The content for the Obama post was based almost entirely on his campaign’s official website and speeches he had given. While very little material is put forward by the Hillary Clinton campaign on homeland security ideas, her Senate office focuses on past accomplishments attending mostly to New Yorkers.

Senator Clinton’s campaign website includes nothing under the Issues section on homeland security. Nor is there any content under the speeches or biography (beyond mere references).

Clinton’s Senate homepage dedicates a brief section to HLS issues with links to press statements. Among those, she calls for safeguarding nuclear materials that could be used to produce a dirty bomb by urging adoption of the recommendations of a report by the National Academies of Sciences, which would review the industrial, research, and commercial use of nuclear materials that could be used to make a dirty bomb and recommends that cesium chloride be phased out as soon as is possible. Not much else.

If readers have any material that can shed some light on Clinton’s plans for homeland security, please add them as comments. In the meantime, it just looks like homeland security is not a priority for the Clinton campaign.

NOTE: We’ll examine Senator McCain’s positions/plans on HLS issues next in this series.

February 12, 2008

Where the Candidates Stand on HLS

Filed under: Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on February 12, 2008

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!