February 16, 2010


Fred Hiatt, always watching those tricksy Democrats for an opportunity to poke them in the eye, complains in his paper that it's really been the Democrats who have been politicizing national security, not the Republicans. In particular, he points to the sudden silence regarding the mandate for 100 percent cargo screening that Congress laid on the Department of Homeland Security in 2007.

Port security hasn't been in the news lately, so you could be forgiven for not seeing a connection between Brennan's incendiary charge and shipping containers. But not so long ago, Democratic politicians were absolutely convinced, or so they claimed, that President George W. Bush was putting the nation in grave danger by failing to inspect every container that arrived on our shores in a cargo ship.

Sen. John F. Kerry lambasted Bush during the 2004 campaign for screening only 5 percent of incoming cargo. After Bush's reelection, Sen. Robert Menendez helped shepherd through Congress a bill mandating 100 percent inspection by 2012 and said that anything less "is irresponsible and downright negligent." Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Bennie Thompson -- now chair of the Homeland Security Committee -- piled on.


Fast-forward to the Obama administration; screening policy hasn't changed. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano signaled more than a year ago, and confirmed in December, that the 2012 deadline mandated by law will not be met. The technology doesn't exist, she explained, and neither does the money. In fact, the administration's 2011 budget reduces funding for cargo inspection overseas and for pilot programs aimed at reaching the 100 percent goal.

The reaction from Democrats? Near silence. Rep. Thompson, at the end of a statement praising Obama's homeland security budget, allowed that he was "disappointed" on the matter of container screening. Menendez wrote to Napolitano last March expressing "concern," and a spokesman told me he is writing another letter. A Nadler spokesman said that "since we haven't had an official pronouncement from the administration" that the deadline won't be met, "we haven't made an official response."


So was the nation not in imminent danger when Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was pursuing a policy identical to Napolitano's, and getting beat up for it? Were Democrats, in Brennan's shocked words, "misrepresenting the facts to score political points?"

They were, of course. But there's a more serious point than noting that both sides do it. Democrats were playing politics with national security -- but they also were raising legitimate questions about al-Qaeda's ability to smuggle in a nuclear device. As Obama reduces the screening budget, the real danger may be the lack of serious oversight from Democrats who once raised alarms.

Now you may need a moment to just get past Fred Hiatt's tactic of misdirecting the Brennan issue on the Repubs' flagrant politicization of whether the FBI should turn the Underwear Bomber over to the military for "enhanced interrogation" or on the general issue of Republican hypocrisy on, oh, so many things - national security and otherwise. But this issue of cargo scanning is particularly interesting, in that while the original House resolution was sponsored by a Democrat and cosponsored by 205 others, it did in fact pass the House with 68 Republican votes. Interesting how 128 House Republicans were able to vote against a bill titled "Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act."

The Senate agreed to the conference report by a vote of 85-8. The eight Republican Senators who decided that the US government should not implement the 9/11 commission's recommendations included those true patriots Jon Kyl, Liz Dole, Tom Coburn, Jim Inhofe, Jim DeMint, Lindsey Graham, John Barrasso, and Michale Enzi. You know, the usual wack-jobs. To be clear, this public law wasn't just about cargo screening, but also a number of other homeland security initiatives (including the stand-up of a National Biosurveillance Integration Center, WMD proliferation prevention, and enhancing interagency coordination on defenses against rad/nuke weapons).

That said, the idea that the US government should physically scan every cargo container entering the United States was and continues to be an extremely bad one. It was an issue that was not carefully considered, that was generated in the heat of discussions about "nuclear terrorism," without regard to the cost and impact of its implementation. It was always a bad idea, and Big Business knew it was a bad idea. It would delay shipments and increase costs, and those are Bad Things, even when homeland security is the issue. Republicans understood this, and while many supported the passage of this bill, they took no action to actually push the Bush administration into doing anything about its delay on implementing the cargo screening actions.

So now the Dems are in charge, it's their people in DHS who have to explain that they can't meet the public law's requirements, given the state of technology, the potential cost of implementing such a strategy, and the potential impact on the flow of economic goods. And the Dems are quiet in Congress. Shocked? I'm not. Maybe it's sinking in that this was not a well-thought out plan, that its basis for being (interdicting nuclear weapons or radiological material) was perhaps more emotional than logical. Instead of pointing out the obvious, that this was a bipartisan screw-up and perhaps we need a better, less emotional approach to homeland security, Fred would rather politicize the example to poke the Dems in the eye on national security. Because the Repubs have been such good stewards of national security and aren't at all hypocrites. What an asshat.

Hey Fred, why don't you hire more previous Bush administration officials to write for the Post? Your op-ed page isn't conservative enough with regular entries from George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Kathleen Parker, Bob Kagan and William Kristol. And then there's that f***in' retard Michael Gerson.

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