Last Christmas, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate his explosive-laced underwear on a passenger flight bound for Detroit. He walked past the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Agency to take his seat, and only the heroic last-minute actions of the other passengers on Northwest Flight 253 dragged him out of it. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano declared “the system worked,” and proceeded to approve intrusive body-scanning and pat-down measures that have driven airline passengers into a state of near-revolt, but which would not have done anything to stop Abdulmutallab.
Yesterday Ahmed Gailani – an al-Qaeda terrorist who murdered 224 people, including a dozen Americans, in Tanzania and Kenya – skipped out of a New York courtroom with nothing but property-damage charges sticking to him. He faces a minimum sentence of 20 years, which does not mean he will be in prison until 2030. The Obama Department of Justice is “pleased” with this outcome.
Drug-fueled violence on the Mexican border is spilling over into the United States. Captain Stacy Holland of the Texas Department of Public Safety told Fox News “it’s war on the border.” Illegal aliens bring everything from violent crime to deadly traffic accidents into the country. Half of them pass through Arizona, which got tired of watching the federal government refuse to enforce its immigration laws. When the state government stepped in to provide that enforcement, they were mercilessly attacked by the same people in D.C. who had previously ignored them.
The President recently deployed 1,200 National Guard troops to assist with border security, but that’s only 20% of the force President Bush dispatched in 2006, and all they can do is play hide-and-seek with cartels and human-smuggling coyotes. Legendary Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio is putting together a volunteer posse, which gained star power with the involvement of duly deputized action star Steven Seagal, and “Incredible Hulk” actor Lou Ferrigno.
Together, these and other incidents paint a picture of a national-security crisis. Our new Congressional representatives should do what they can to address it swiftly, before anyone else gets killed.
These lapses in national security policy stand in sharp contrast to the casual way certain draconian programs are dropped on us. The aforementioned airline security measures have turned passenger checkpoints into Cinemax late-night programming, and we all get to be Shannon Tweed.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood thought nothing of airing his bright idea to install cell phone jammers in passenger automobiles on MSNBC. This is a “safety” strategy that would turn us all into desperate tribal shamans, climbing skyscrapers to escape the jamming signals from hundreds of cars and get a signal from the cell phone gods. LaHood’s people raced to assure the media their boss was just spitballing, and they’re actually looking at lots of different technologies to control our driving experience – perhaps a nice insurance discount for people who “voluntarily” install cell jammers or filters in their cars, which is properly viewed as a punitive surtax on those who don’t.
We live beneath a government that demands control over hundreds of aspects of our lives, but seems at pains to avoid inconveniencing terrorists. It doesn’t make much sense… until you consider the ideology and motivations of those involved. They don’t view national defense as a solemn duty they are compelled to fulfill. They see their jobs as vehicles for larger personal and ideological ambitions.
Every security measure the government can impose comes with a certain cost in political capital. The people affected by the measure are sure to become annoyed with those who impose it. Forcing heavy-handed measures upon the entire domestic population carries a relatively low, dispersed political cost – far less than the focused rage of specific groups, with powerful lobbying organizations, which would strenuously object to targeted security programs. This cost yields plentiful rewards to the statist, including personal power, and an enhanced ability to impose their ideology.
In other words, pushing the American people around is easy, because all they do is complain a bit, then learn to live with the situation. The increased political power gained by the statist is well worth a few harsh letters to the editors of the New York Times. On the other hand, enforcing meaningful border and airline security produces howls of outrage from special-interest groups who know how to draw political blood. Efficiently prosecuting the War on Terror earns the disdain of the “international community” and makes multicultural liberals go bananas. The Obama-style statist sees little reward in return for provoking the ire of these groups.
A massive terror attack would change these cost/benefit calculations. So will intensive oversight from the incoming Republicans in Congress, because the results are likely to make the American people more than just a little grumpy. The Republicans must be careful not to turn the entire 112th Congress into a series of investigations, lest they be dismissed as a pack of partisan inquisitors. Let them choose their targets carefully, issue subpoenas, and get to work.
The rest of us can only hold things together with posses on the southern border, and the business-class cabins of airliners, for so long.