Posts Tagged ‘National Security’

Pictures of Unnecessary Events

Author: Gary Hart

Most of us have a picture or two, sometimes more, that we can’t get out of our minds. We say they haunt us. For me, one of those is of New York City firemen, most carrying upwards of a hundred pounds of equipment, trudging up the emergency stairways of the Trade Towers on September 11th, 2001, past dazed, confused, choking tenants trying desperately to make their way to safety. The firemen were deliberately heading into pure danger.

Like combat films of troops heading directly into enemy fire, these pictures make you wonder where that kind of courage comes from. Is it simply training and conditioning? Is it produced by adrenaline alone? Or is it the product of something called duty? If so, where does that sense of duty come from? Where the safety of our fellow human beings are concerned, is duty the result of some deeply felt reflex of care, concern, and empathy? Whatever its source, that duty produces the courage necessary to perform it.

I am among those, undoubtedly a minority, who think those firemen and building tenants did not have to die. If our political leaders and our government had taken warnings seriously and had their hair on fire sufficiently to stand up all agencies on high alert, the airplane highjackers could have been stopped. It would have required focus, urgency, and extra intensity on the part of law enforcement, airport screeners, and ticket agents, some very good luck, and the sharing of existing intelligence among all of them. But it could have been done.

Having served on the commission that issued one of those warnings as early as January 31, 2001, I suppose this question still plagues me more than most, and I suppose it will until I die. But there are lessons from this for all of us to learn. Those lessons have certainly been learned by the New York City officials who remain on a higher degree of alert than most of the rest of the country and whose intense focus on the security of their city saved lives very recently. But the rest of us are still relying on luck more than diligence.

I go on seeing the faces of those firemen, and I always will. And I marvel at their courage.

Even the most market-oriented capitalist would hesitate to encourage Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, or Boeing to produce more sophisticated weapons systems for other nations than we produce for ourselves, even if it meant huge profits for those companies and their shareholders.  It would simply not be in our national security interest.

Yet few voices are raised when America’s leading investment banks secretly encourage foreign governments, such as those in Greece and Spain, to manipulate their national budgets to conceal real deficits; and then those banks receive huge profits for doing so.  The net result is to destabilize international financial systems and cause markets to fall, including in the United States.

Something is wrong here.  Are investment banks chartered in the U.S. free to make profits that are distinctly not in the interest of the U.S. and dismiss their counter-productive manipulations in the name of “free markets”?  Apparently the answer is yes.  If the guardians of our country’s economic interests, such as Mr. Geithner or Mr. Summers, have spoken out to condemn this activity, then they have done so quietly.   These are the same banks that became “too big to fail” and thus demanded, and received, bailouts from the U.S. taxpayers even while piling up continuing huge bonuses.

Something is definitely wrong here.  In an increasingly integrated, globalized financial world, it is wrong for private American financial institutions to go abroad selling financial snake oil to foreign governments knowing their practices to be shady at best and crooked at worst, take their gigantic fees, flee back to New York, and count their ill-gotten gains in the Hamptons while workers in Greece, and in the United States, suffer the consequences.

This is not only wrong.  In a just world it would also be criminal.

Markets are wonderful mechanisms, but only up to a point.  Greed is not self-correcting.  The lessons of corruption never seem to be learned beyond a generation or two.  After a cycle of manipulation and corruption, reforms and regulations are enacted.  But then everyday Americans forget the lessons, vote for politicians preaching “free markets” and “deregulation” and the cycle repeats itself.  Deregulation was the watchword during the Clinton and Bush years.  And see what it gave us.  Bernie Madoff.  Who stole billions while the Securities and Exchange Commission turned a blind, deregulated eye?  

Even if you believe private investment banks should be free to loot and plunder here in the United States, do you also really believe they should be free to do so around the world?  And do you also truly believe this is in the national security interest of the United States?  If so, there are some clever people who have some credit default swaps they wish to sell you.

What is Security?

Author: Gary Hart

What is security?

National SecurityIf there has been a dominant phrase in the political vocabulary of my generation it has been “national security”.  Very few of those who threw the phrase around bothered to define it.  During the Cold War, and even beyond, national security was a phrase used by foreign policy and defense insiders, a priesthood with its own language and common understandings.

In a perfect world, sometime between the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the era of terrorism in 2001 there would have been a national discussion about what national security actually meant.  Now the default meaning is defeat of terrorism.

But, assuming terrorists are kept in their cage, literally or figuratively, would we therefore be secure?  It is doubtful.  For there are new realities that threaten or at least challenge our security: pandemics (swine flu); climate change; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; failed and failing states; mass south-north migrations; and quite a number of other disturbances to the peace that we didn’t have to deal with previously.

One of the purposes of this web site is to stimulate thought (including by its operator) regarding what it means to be secure in an era where the United States has no peer competitor and where new threats do not lend themselves to military solution or solution by one nation, including the U.S., alone.