All Writings
January 25, 2004

The President Has No Monopoly On National Security

If President Bush has succeeded in one thing of national import more than any other it's that he has created the perception that he is strong on security. In fact, he's prepared to stake his reelection on this claim. The irony is that even the Democratic presidential contenders have thus far failed to mount any serious challenge to Mr. Bush's "monopoly on national security." Even worse, none has presented his own realistic alternative national security agenda.

Mr. Bush measures his success in three areas; the war on terrorism, the containment of weapons of mass destruction, and his domestic security measures. In each, the president and his team have been extremely crafty in exploiting initial successes, and then when things went terribly sour, they never admitting to any errors either in judgment or concerning the premises on which they acted.

Although no one questions the wisdom of waging war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the destruction of Al Qaeda bases, we have absolutely no assurance today that Afghanistan will not become once again a haven for terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda. Indeed, outside the capital, Kabul, warlords continue to operate as they have in the past. Taliban cells are also being formed in many parts of the country, while the infiltration of weapons and terrorist operatives from Pakistan continues unabated. Notwithstanding the writing of a new constitution and all the trappings of democracy that have accompanied it, most of the population remains financially despondent, providing a fertile ground for new and old terrorist organizations to flourish. Mr. Bush can boast all he wants about the $1.5 billion this country allocated for Afghanistan's security and reconstruction, but it's a trivial amount if we are serious about fighting terrorism in that part of the world where Islamic militancy, with America the target of its wrath, is percolating.

Next, let's focus on Iraq. The President shifted his war on terrorism to Iraq under the pretext of an elusive connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, the alleged stockpiling of WMD by the Iraq regime, and Saddam's supposed readiness to use these against us. The logical conclusion to this scenario was Iraq presented an imminent danger that justified a preemptive attack. By now we all know that no link to Al Qaeda has been established. Yet that has not deterred this administration from continuing to pour tens of billions of dollars into Iraq. Meanwhile our soldiers there are being killed left and right, and we have not advanced our war on terrorism a single inch by waging war against Iraq and then occupying it. Largely because of our actions, the Middle East, which remains one of main sources of terrorism, is more unsettled today than ever and hatred for America has reached unprecedented levels in the region. As long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which this administration has virtually walked away from, continues to simmer, and volatile security conditions in Iraq persist, ten new recruits to terrorist organizations will spring up to replace each one we kill or capture.

The hunt for WMD has produced no rosier picture. Here too the administration successfully misled the American public, by creating the perception of imminent danger posed by Iraq, when Lybia, Iran, and certainly North Korea have, by their own admission, far more advanced nuclear programs. Why then did the administration choose to pursue Iraq rather than the other rogue states making up the "axis of evil"? Regardless of the real reasons, be they faulty intelligence, the guarantee of a steady supply of oil, a personal vendetta, or the settling of an old score, the fact that no WMD were found and no imminent danger ever existed do not apparently in the least bother the president. He and his savvy political team continue to hammer at the danger that Saddam posed in the form of a serious threat to America's national security, and the majority of Americans continue to believe this fabrication. And even though the administration's own Chief Arms inspector Dr. David Kay, who recently resigned his post, stated that Saddam Hussein "got rid" of his unconventional weapons long before the invasion last year, the administration's spokespersons still insist that such weapons will eventually be found. The fact that Pakistan and North Korea have been the sources of the proliferation of nuclear technology was secondary to Iraq's nonexistence, because Saddam was the object of Mr. Bush's fixation. That he be removed from power was a decision the president had apparently made, according to former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, before 9/11.

Finally, if our domestic national security is also gauged, as it should be, by the measures we have taken to prevent another major terrorist attack, here too, much more needs to be done before Mr. Bush can claim that we are absolutely more secure than before 9/11. Certainly, in the wake of 9/11, the creation of the department of Home Land Security was necessary, and that it was done is to his credit. But the creation of this department has not necessarily enhanced our security. Our intelligence, one of the bedrocks in combating terrorism, has not as yet risen to the challenge of the growing menace of international terrorism. The administration has chosen to praise rather than consistently turn a critical eye on our intelligence services. Our intelligence concerning Iraq provides a clear example of the possible consequences of such a failure; yet this administration never conceded that there's anything wrong with the way we gather, decipher, interpret, and share intelligence. For example, recently, the administration instituted the U.S Visit Program, which is designed to close the nation's borders to terrorists through photographing and fingerprinting each of the estimated 24 million foreigners entering the United States annually. Although the collection of this massive data may eventually be useful, their utility depend largely on the quality of the intelligence data with which they are compared. Sadly, there are more than twenty intelligence databases that remain unintegrated, making any comparison between the "visitors" and the intelligence databases inaccurate. We need to not only streamline our intelligence gathering and sharing but to allocate considerably more financial resources in scores of other countries whose governments are willing to cooperate with us, but desperately need more funds to do a better job. In response to this reality, the president and his security team chose to squander our resources, allocating billions to Iraq, while at home and abroad most security agencies are starved for money. Because of the lack of funds, only 3 percent of containers entering this country are inspected, our nuclear and chemical plants receive cursory protection, and no cutting-edge communication technology is available to police and firefighters nationwide to prevent or respond to new attacks. Our borders, in the final analysis, should not be the first, but the last line in defending our land from future terrorist attacks.

Waging war against third- or fourth-rate military powers such as Afghanistan or Iraq is one thing, but waging war on international terrorism, an insidious mortal enemy with thousands of active and sleeper cells and financial and logistical support that span the globe is another. Unless we revisit our priorities, stop politicking with the war on terror, restore our credibility abroad, allocate the necessary funding to where it is really needed, and deal with its source, we will not defeat international terrorism. Ask the Israelis who have been battling terrorism for nearly fifty years with no end in sight.

Regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, the candidate will not beat Mr. Bush, who has controlled the national security debate, unless he challenges the incumbent with a real national security agenda of his own. The American public must come to understand that George W. Bush has no monopoly on national security and that, if we must live in the shadow of future threat, we need a new hand to steer us to a safer harbor.