A Broad Take on America’s Current Homeland Security

A critical issue in any national security agenda for the United States is how to protect America against the most immediate and direct threat to U.S. security-the possibility that future attacks like those of September 11, 2001 will again kill large numbers of American citizens here in the homeland. If they able to obtain weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons or advanced biological agents, the toll could easily be 10 or even 100 times worse. Politically, the issue of counterterrorism and homeland security is of manifest importance too. The Bush administration achieved a greater advantage over Democrats in general and Senator John Kerry in particular on this issue than on any other in the 2004 presidential race.

Homeland security is a matter on which this Congress as well as the next Congress and administration will have to make great progress because much remains to be done. That said, the arguments of critics are often too harsh and sweeping. Much remains to be accomplished, to be sure, in protecting the United States against al Qaeda and related groups. And on some questions, such as the long-term battle of ideas and the execution of the Iraq war, the Bush Administration’s record should indeed be subject to severe criticism. But it is misleading to suggest that the Bush administration has been weak on what might be termed the hard power aspects of the homeland security agenda-improving the country’s defenses against their aspirations for further attacks. Democrats and moderate Republicans who would challenge the Bush legacy and chart a future path for the country of their own need to develop a clearer sense of what has been achieved, and of what must still be done. More important than the politics of it, of course, America’s security and the well-being of its citizens depend on such a clear-headed assessment and sound policy agenda from their future political leaders.