Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Obama's Homeland Security Agenda
President Obama, who has requested, for the moment, the suspension of all prosecutions of detainees at Guantanamo Bay is laying out his homeland security agenda for the nation.
Although there are doubters who have been saying they fear the president, who favors diplomacy where the last Bush administration did not, would be weak on homeland security, Obama, just days after he announced his intentions to run for president, went on the record on this issue.
"We are here to do the work that ensures that no other family members have to lose a loved one to a terrorist," Obama said in a speech in the U.S. Senate on March 6, 2007.
His brand new administration has released an outline of its strategy for preventing future terrorist attacks on our homeland. Included is a pledge to work closely with states, local municipalities and the private sector in mitigating the threat.
Top on the Obama agenda: find, disrupt and destroy al Qaeda.
Tied in with this is a plan to secure nuclear weapons materials and end nuclear smuggling. A laudable though daunting prospect. But he is right. Although all kinds of doomsday scenarios have been proffered since September 11, 2001, there have been far too few efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism. This is an issue that potentially affects every nation in the world, and this threat can only be minimized with the cooperation of those countries.
Obama starts his administration with a degree of political and diplomatic capital with other countries not enjoyed, for obvious reasons, by the George W. Bush White House. But he should be cautious in how he sets expectations. There's no way to track the location of every potential nuclear device in the world. This is a potential vulnerability that, despite all efforts, will be sadly with us, probably forever.
Part of this plan calls for an end to Iran and North Korea's nuclear weapons production efforts through what the administration calls tough diplomacy. To do this, there must first be an accurate and commonly agreed upon assessment of those nation's potential capabilities. Also, this, likewise, cannot be something that the United States can do on its own. Whatever diplomatic strategy is employed must be supported by the other leaders of the world community to be effective. This means the first, real diplomacy, must be with Russia and China in an attempt to reach a consensus about the threat and the strategy to deal with it.
Likewise, the administration wants to strengthen the nation's firewall against biological weapons. But like the nuclear threat, leaving expectations that all potential biological or chemical threats can be eradicated would be misleading at best.
One thing this administration already understands better than the previous is the import of the Internet (just look at how the Obama campaign and transition team used the web to get their messages out). So, too, the new White House recognizes the need to protect the cyber infrastructure against a different kind of terrorist attack, one that targets the nation's information networks.
Finally, the administration plans to improve the nation's intelligence capacity while protecting civil liberties (something some say are mutually exclusive goals), allocate homeland security funds based on risk (this should come as great news to New York City which has been disproportionately shortchanged during the Bush administration), take steps to improve support for first responders including better coordination between agencies both before and during a natural or man made disaster and improving and better protecting the nation's infrastructure.
How successful the administration will be in doing all of this, especially while facing other, more talked about, critical issues like the economy remains to be seen. But the fact that the White House is releasing this plan within 24 hours of Obama taking office sends a signal that it is serious about improving homeland security.
This is not to say that the Bush administration hasn't done its part in protecting the homeland. We've heard of terrorist plots that have been thwarted. There are, undoubtedly, countless others, that have never, for reasons of national security, been made public.
But anyone who is even remotely involved in the area of homeland security knows there is much more that needs to be done. Just saying that we haven't been attacked since September 11, 2001 isn't enough. The Obama administration is proposing prudent measures to, if not eradicate the threat of terrorist attack, minimize it. And to better prepare the nation should disaster, once again, strike.