Thursday, January 8, 2009

In 2009, What Should the US Government Focus On? One Citizen’s Opinion, Part 1

Around the end of one year and the beginning of the next, the practice of drawing up various lists is slowly becoming a cottage industry. Earlier this week I skimmed several lists of “Ten Products I can’t live without” on some of the tech blogs at Gizmodo and Tech Crunch and a list of ten suggestions for the incoming Administration published on line at Front Page Magazine. That latter list ed on Homeland Security exclusively. As I read it, the sense emerged that it was too narrowly focused and overlooked several pressing issues confronting the new Administration.

The twin lists below (and in Part 2) are my personal opinions, thus they are not based on professional training in Federal policy making. The first list merges homeland security with foreign policy because, to me, the two are inextricably linked. Another way to express this is “if I was the President, what would my Administration focus on this year?

First, finish the job in Iraq. This is critical to the standing of the US in the eyes of the world community of nations. To be taken seriously as the sole free world super power, the Federal government simply must develop a track record of completing foreign projects that we start. Among older adults, the specter of Viet Nam still looms large. If we cut and run from Iraq with the reconstruction unfinished, the damage to America’s reputation will be immense. More critically, it will empower Islamic (and possibly Palestinian) extremist groups to more aggressively attack US interests around the globe.

Second, end the war in Afghanistan This invasion served no practical purpose from the beginning. Contrary to initial claims by the Bush Administration, it is now clear that capturing Osama Bin Laden was not the objective from the get go. There is a commonly held belief here in the US that we invaded Afghanistan and toppled the ruling Taliban government to serve US petroleum industry interests. Thus, this corporate military action needs to be brought to a close.

Third, locate and eradicate all Al Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan This is necessary for continuing security of US interests globally. As a side benefit, it should help increase the domestic security of US allies as well.

Fourth, defer any changes to Homeland Security until after 2010 With any new administration, there is always the temptation to revise or eliminate creations left by the previous Administration. Even though the current set up of DHS is far from perfect (as FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina showed). However, the Administration would be wise to leave this protective apparatus alone until it has cleaned out the last Al Qaeda hideout and stronghold. Once that task has been accomplished, then it will be appropriate to give DHS a badly needed reinvention so it fulfills its mission far more efficiently.

Fifth, make bolstering cybersecurity a priority As computers grow progressively smaller and more sophisticated, the number of misguided individuals who can access the raw computing power needed to hack into, and damage, critical computer systems increases. With the global nature of the world wide web it is possible for cyber terrorists to hide almost anywhere and attack critical energy, financial, law enforcement, and transportation computer systems in this country. For this reason it is imperative that the Administration develop innovative techniques for hardening computers against outside attacks.

Sixth, appropriately harden US borders The focus needs to be on stopping smugglers more than terrorists while making it easier for legitimate cross border traffic to both enter and leave the US. Perhaps the best approach would be to seek regional collaboration with Canada and Mexico on entry requirements. At air ports, the mandatary scanning of every traveler’s shoes needs to come to an end.
Also, it seems to me, for airports to be truly secure, the security checkpoints belong just inside the front doors so everyone entering the terminal must pass the screening process, not just those traveling.

Seventh, sign the UN International Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity That the Bush administration refused to do this shows how out of touch that bunch truly is. It should be a point of national embarrassment that Canada, Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua all signed it, along with 62 other countries. To me, this confirms the Bush administration as the most deeply bigoted and cruel administration in American history. Given that France took the lead in presenting this proposed declaration to the UN General Assembly, I can’t help wondering if this refusal to sign could also be Washington’s payback for France refusing to join the US led Iraqi coalition in 2002.

Eighth, continue to be wary about Iran and North Korea Both countries are regional bullies with strong dislikes for the US. Both may be near to developing viable nuclear weapons (or not), which makes them doubly dangerous. Iran also has the potential for uniting a wide swath of the Muslim world in its hatred of US interests regionally and globally. At the same time, all diplomatic channels of international dispute resolution must be exhausted before any military action is initially considered for two reasons. First, the US cannot budgetarily afford another war any time soon. Second, military action against either one could draw China into the conflict, and that is something best avoided.

Ninth, enhance DODs high tech superiority The US military simply must remain ahead of what the rest of the world defines as cutting edge military technologies and techniques. The era of massive infantry and artillery formations shooting at each other from foxholes dug into the landscape, a la WW I and II is over. More and more it seems that military actions are more urbanized, localized and conducted by sophisticated small units now than ever before. Also, the more US forces are able to conduct operations using remote controlled robotic drones, the fewer American lives will be lost .

Tenth, back away from the hard line mind set of the present administration Since 2001 the Bush administration has maintained an illogical mind set when it comes to foreign affairs. His “either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists” remarks reflect an inappropriate mind set for the leader of a super power. At the same time, Washington’s staunch anti abortion (and anti contraceptives) stance with regard to foreign aid must stop. The US is not the world’s morality guardian. In my opinion, no nation possesses the right to impose its moral code on any other nation. Softening these hard headed attitudes should help improve America’s reputation abroad.

In Part 2 of this blog, to be posted tomorrow, I will focus on the domestic scene. Obviously, the shaky economic situation impacts this list far more significantly than the foreign agenda.

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