TCS Daily

Safety First!

By Stephen Green - October 13, 2004 12:00 AM

John Kerry and John Edwards promise to make America safer from the terrorists. In the first presidential debate, Kerry said, "I can make American safer than President Bush has made us. . . I believe America is safest and strongest when we are leading the world and we are leading strong alliances." The second part, given the nature of the war Al Qaeda declared on us, is questionable. The first part is laughable.

I don't mean to say that President Bush has done everything right in homeland defense -- far from it. From intelligence to communications to even the public perception of the Department of Homeland Security, we haven't seen a whole lot of progress. And while that's lamentable, it's also largely unavoidable.

Thanks to bureaucratic inertia, the uncertainty of even the best intelligence, the impenetrable structure of al Qaeda, and the fog of war. . . well, there's not much any President could do to make us safe.

There is, however, much we can do to make us safer.

In an age where terrorists with delusions of grandeur knock down skyscrapers for the thrill of it, we could move out of our big cities -- and move underground. Too outrageous, you say? North Korea has already moved almost everything important under mountains to gain some safety from American attack. Could we be willing to go that far?

In an age where every cargo container coming into this country could contain a weapon of mass destruction, we could simply stop shipping completely. Inspect each container by hand, making sure there aren't any loose nukes, smallpox-laced blankets, or sarin capsules. Yes, we could thoroughly inspect all eight million of them annually. And let's not forget the millions more UPS boxes, FedEx envelopes, and USPS deliveries we receive each year from overseas. Sure, they're too small for nukes, but we learned three years ago that they can hold plenty of anthrax.

In an age where fanatics want to butcher you simply because you live, maybe it would be best to just stop breathing already. No measure is too small where safety is concerned, right?

Of course not, and, of course, I'm being ridiculous on purpose.

During the Cold War, a few brave souls -- and by "brave" I mean "stupid" -- actually did suggest we move all our vital industries underground. For safety's sake, you see, in case of nuclear attack. If you think your workday commute is bad now, imagine if you and 3,000 other autoworkers all had to use the same mile-long tunnel just to park 2,000 feet down.

Instead, we took a different tack. Rather than move everything of ours to safety, we put the Soviet's factories and workers in equal danger. Deterrence -- "Mutual Assured Destruction" -- got a bad rap, but it worked. In today's war, deterrence doesn't work. We have the world's most modern and accurate nuclear weapons, but they didn't prevent 9/11.

In today's war, there is no safety this side of the grave. MAD was the Cold War's version of going on the offense: We can kill you, all those missiles told the Russians, so don't go killing us. Since terrorists can't be deterred, we have to kill them, and kill them first. That's where John Kerry is at his best. Again and again, he repeats his manliest talking point. "I will hunt down and kill the terrorists," he assures us.

Problem is, Kerry's best isn't very good. He has yet to tell us where he'd actually go to do all that hunting and killing.

For all the faults in Bush's prosecution of the Iraq War, at least we are somewhere, doing some killing. For all the peace we have yet to win, at least we're killing their "soldiers" over there, instead of them killing our civilians over here. Many have derided the "flypaper" analogy as sheer fantasy. But even if it wasn't Bush's goal to turn Iraq into a sticky place for the terrorists to gather and die, it sure seems to have happened, anyway.

We can't know for sure how many terrorists and would-be terrorists have died in the fighting in Iraq. A few hundred? A few thousand? In the time since the Three Week Drive to Baghdad, however, not one American has been killed by terrorists on American soil. That's not to say another 9/11-type attack won't happen. But I do mean exactly to say that so long as the killing is being done Over There, it lessens our chances of being blown up Over Here.

Bush seems to understand that in this war, the best defense is a good offense.

Kerry "has a plan" to strengthen our alliances -- with nations like France which are more interested in fat oil contracts than in most any kind of defense. Kerry "has a plan" to hunt down and kill the terrorists -- somewhere, somehow, just as long as it isn't in Iraq.

Kerry is playing it safe, when there's no safety to be found -- which could prove to be his political grave.


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