America's safety comes first

Posted: Mar 31, 2006 12:05 PM

The controversy surrounding the now defunct Dubai port deal was more circus than study in seriousness. Even still, it was noteworthy for its ability to make politicians and citizens consider, if only disingeniously, whether a given public policy will make America more or less safe.

Seems elementary, doesn’t it? After all, the most solemn duty of any government is the protection of its citizens from foreign threats. Sadly enough, however, America’s safety is often sacrificed on the altars of expediency, political correctness and the whims of public opinion.

We deserve better.

As I write in my book Getting America Right, we want a government that legitimately follows a simple security test for just about any government policy: Does it make us safer?


Radical Islamic terrorism is the single greatest threat facing America in 2006. We learned this lesson in an all too painful way on September 11, 2001 when militant Islamists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington, DC and in a field in Pennsylvania.

In response to such horrific attacks, American military forces in Afghanistan drove out the Taliban government sheltering Osama bin Laden and his terrorist camps. Disposing the Taliban taught us a great deal about the challenges of advancing democracy in countries that have only known authoritarian rule. Many Afghans long for the freedom and liberty of a just democracy, but at the same time they face huge cultural and historical roadblocks that subvert these aspirations. 

Defenders of freedom must look for how we can develop partnerships and support for Muslim leaders who respect the rule of law and human rights. Despite what you think of the Iraq war, our go forward strategy in both Iraq and Afghanistan must be to support the development of a democratic government that can exist apart from American military intervention. If we are successful, we may have laid the foundations that will  move other Muslim nations into the modern world. If we fail, we face catastrophic consequences that will only continue to hurt our security in the U.S. 

Too ambitious? There are some that think so. But the days of isolationism are over. In the 21st century America must proactively defend herself, and that means taking a measured approach to supporting emerging democracies around the world. 

This vital mission, however, is being hamstrung by many members of Congress who find it difficult to distinguish between pork barrels and gun barrels.

On August 5, 2004, for instance, President Bush signed into law a $416 billion appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Defense. Most Americans assumed that the money would be used to provide for the needs of our troops, which would in turn make America safer.

Congress had different plans. They loaded up the appropriations bill with $8.9 billion worth of amendments bankrolling pork projects around the country. Consider a few that were deemed more important than combat readiness:

• $25,000 for Las Vegas schools to study mariachi music.

• $75,000 for Wisconsin’s Paper Industry Hall of Fame.

• $100,000 for the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center Museum, home of the groundhog.

• $1 million for brown tree snakes, found only in Guam and nonlife threatening to humans.

This sort of reckless spending is an embarrassment to our country and an affront to our troops. Unfortunately, it’s just one example of domestic politics trumping the safety of Americans.

Consider homeland security funding.

According to a Time magazine report, as of March 2004, Washington had spent more than $13 billion to help states and communities deal with terrorists, but that the “vast majority” of that money had been distributed “with no regard for the threats, vulnerabilities and potential consequences faced by each region.”

As usual, Congress is to blame. They passed a law requiring that almost 40 percent of federal antiterrorism funds be divided equally among the states and territories. The rest would be distributed according to a state’s percentage of the national population.

Here’s the upshot of that grand plan: Wyoming receives approximately $37.74 per capita while California and New York receive less than $5.50. Moreover, low risk localities like Wyoming often use anti-terrorism funding to pay for unrelated projects that do little to actually protect America.

Such a practice does not make America safer. In fact, it leaves us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks on major population centers—a terrorist’s holy grail.

But if Ronald Reagan taught us anything, it is that peace comes through strength. For America, that strength comes in the ability to defend our nation, to pursue our interests at home and abroad. Accordingly, every dollar we spend to increase that strength—that safety— must be spent wisely. In the face of a growing terrorist threat, we simply cannot afford to have members of Congress allocating national defense resources to pay for mariachi music classes or a new dump truck.

In the end, the only way to get America right is to keep her safe.