They first attempted to destroy New York’s World Trade Center in 1993. That plot failed, and too many Americans simply forgot about it. But violent Islamists never did. In 2001 they deployed different tactics to bring both towers down and kill thousands of people.
We should never forget that on 9/11 the terrorists also crashed a plane into the Pentagon -- damaging it but not destroying it. And we can safely assume Flight 93 was heading for the White House or the Capitol when its brave passengers fought back and forced it down in the Pennsylvania countryside.
The lesson of history is clear: Islamic terrorists will try again to kill as many civilians as possible, and they may well even strike targets they’ve already attacked but failed to destroy. The threat is large and our budget is limited, so we need to build a federal system focused on preventing and responding to catastrophes.
One much-maligned program, the Urban Area Security Initiative, is actually an important step in that direction.
The program earned a lot of bad press when it recently announced its first grants, because New York City and Washington, D.C. saw their funding drop, while smaller cities (including Omaha, Neb. and Charlotte, N.C.) saw theirs increase.
“Terror? What Terror?” the New York Post wondered on its front page, adding “Feds slash our funds to boost hicks in sticks.” Rep. Peter King, the Republican chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, warned that DHS secretary Michael Chertoff could be fired because of the funding flap. “The burden is on him. He has to prove why he should keep the job,” King told reporters. The New York Daily News called Chertoff “a supremely arrogant weasel.”
Cooler heads must prevail.
It’s easy to resort to the knee-jerk reaction and claim the federal government isn’t spending enough on homeland security, whether in one specific region or nationwide. But let’s remember that more spending doesn’t necessarily lead to better results.
If spending was the only measure, we’d have to say that Congress is 20 percent better today than it was in 2001, and that’s certainly not true. In fact, Congress’ job performance is actually going down as it spends more. Rather than take action to solve problems, lawmakers too often throw money at them and hope they’ll just go away.
The proper question to ask about federal spending isn’t “How much are we spending?” It’s “How effective is our spending?” The Department of Homeland Security is trying to do that.