Today, five years after September 11th, I am concerned that we are not as safe as we could or should be. Our military misadventures in Iraq and inadequate Middle East policies have further stoked hatred against our nation, serving as a catalyst for those working to radicalize young Muslims against our country and our interests abroad. No amount of military might can quell this sentiment or prevent our being a target. The current administration is unable to even come close to addressing the problem. Their only answer seems to be “Stay the course” in Iraq with no end in sight.
Unfortunately, the war in Iraq has distracted us from fighting the global war on terrorism. Bin Laden remains free, terrorists are regaining a foot-hold in Afghanistan and plots against Americans at home and abroad continue. In the minds of security experts, 86% believe that the world is more dangerous for Americans today.
In December, the 9/11 Commission issued a report card grading the Bush Administration’s progress on homeland security. The grades given: 10 C’s, 12 D’s, and four F’s. Had that been the report card of any student in the U.S., they would be sitting in the same seat, in the same classes, two years in a row.
Following up on that dismal report card, the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, former Republican Governor Tom Kean and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, recently sent an op-ed to the Boston Globe listing what needs to be done to increase our security, both in the short and long term. Their recommendations included 1) allocating homeland security dollars based on risk and vulnerability 2) calling for states and localities to have regularly practiced emergency response plans 3) giving first responders a portion of the broadcast spectrum to be used solely for emergency communications 4) increasing information sharing among government agencies 5) expediting FBI reform 6) supporting the newly created Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board 7) having the government handle terrorism watch list screening at airports 8) increasing outreach to the Muslim world to repair the U.S. image as a source of hope and opportunity 9) calling on Congress to provide much stronger oversight of the executive branch and 10) elevating preventing terrorists from gaining access to nuclear weapons to the top of national security priorities.
These thoughtful, bipartisan proposals should be taken seriously at the local, state and federal level. Democrats in Congress have been advancing many of these same proposals, trying to chart a new direction for our nation’s homeland security.
Republican opposition to these efforts can be summed up in a conversation President Bush had with the Wall Street Journal. In the interview, the President said, “One of the hardest parts of my job is to try to connect Iraq to the war on terror.” That certainly is a tough job, given that no connection existed between the two prior to 9/11. It is this President’s fixation and unwillingness to change course on Iraq that is making us less safe today. Focusing on improving homeland security measures instead of spending time trying to convince the majority of the public who have soured on war why we must stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future is having serious repercussions. As evidenced by the 9/11 Commission’s report card, it is diverting attention from the global war on terror and our own efforts to provide security on the home front.