Walking this morning through LaFayette Park, across from the White House, one would be forgiven for wondering if some new unknown threat had been issued against the president. Security and federal law enforcement were out in force, eyes on every corner of the park, each curb near the White House, every rooftop and fencepost. Marked security vehicles were parked on sidewalks, engines idling, and black-vested agents stood arms crossed at nearly every intersection. And then you remember. It’s not an unknown threat; it’s a very known threat. Today is September 11. Seven years to the day after the Twin Towers crumbled in New York and the Pentagon was set ablaze in Washington.
Nobody has forgotten 9/11. And yet. And yet, many have put it behind them, and not in a good way. Seven years after the tragedy of that day, it is good that the American public has moved beyond the visceral anguish we all experienced in the immediate aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s declaration – and execution – of war on America. But many have not simply moved on; they have returned to a September 10 mindset. Al Qaeda is a distant problem, a loose organization of financially struggling extremists hiding in caves in Afghanistan or directing their attacks on governments in the Middle East. Pakistan. Israel. Egypt. It couldn’t happen here in America; we’ve got Starbucks and sitcom television.
Part of the blame for this complacent mindset must be directed at the man who will be our nation’s next leader. Barack Obama, you ask? Maybe. Or John McCain. Neither has articulated a vision for homeland security. Both have website platforms, as any candidate would, drafted by staff and posted in obligatory fashion along with every other policy issue. However, neither has discussed the challenges we still face in a passionate and public way, and neither has articulated to the public how they would address those challenges.
McCain, at least, has made the war in Iraq a primary focus, and he has made clear that he considers taking the war against terrorists to their home turf a critical strategy in the overall War on Terror. Fine. Whether you agree or disagree with that strategy isn’t the point. At least he has one. Obama hasn’t even gone that far. His strategy is simply bring the troops home. But beyond that, he offers precious little vision for national security other than vague statements about diplomacy that everyone can agree with. On the specific topic of homeland security, his retreat seems even deeper. Into silence. Where he joins McCain.
Neither of our presidential nominees has made homeland security – border security, air security, port security, transportation security, cybersecurity, emergency preparedness and response, state and local coordination — a significant theme in this campaign.
Political insiders will tell you: Of course not, those issues aren’t polling well. Homeland security isn’t hot anymore. It’s the economy, stupid. Health care, energy, big oil and all things green.
True. Until the next attack. And then they will care greatly. And the President, whomever he is, will be on the defensive. And he will react to the angry polls that demand to know why, after seven years, we weren’t better prepared.
This is the difference between leading and politicking.
We’ve come a long way in securing America from another attack since the bloody aftermath of September 11th. But we still have a long way to go. Our political leaders have an obligation to maintain that focus.
During a speech at the National Press Club yesterday, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said it best: We should not live in the one exteme of a constant hysterical mindset; on the other hand, we cannot live in the other extreme of forgetfulness and complacency. There lies the caves of Tora Bora, seemingly so far away.