In the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington
on September 11, 2001, Americans could bank on three sobering
facts. Heritage scholars outlined them in the introduction to a
recent book, Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War
for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom:
1. Dealing with the threat of transnational terrorism will take
time and patience, both because of the nature of the enemy and the
effort required to adapt to fighting the threat.
2. Washington's inertia could jeopardize homeland security. Once
government begins to operate in a certain way, good and bad habits
quickly become standard operating procedures that are difficult to
change. Patience does not mean complacency, and policymakers must
fix what is not working.
3. Policymakers must carefully consider a strategy before
acting. Winning a long war requires a strategy to keep America
safe, free, and prosperous-a "lifeline of a guiding idea" to focus
effort, attention, and resources in pursuit of national objectives.
Policymakers must figure out what needs to be done-and then stick
Six years later, nothing has changed. As with every great
national endeavor, America's record to the challenges of
transnational terrorism is mixed. Generally, the nation has done
well, but there are troubling signs that Congress is losing its
America is better prepared to deal with the threat of
transnational terrorism than it was before 9/11. The government has
uncovered and thwarted at least 16 terrorist conspiracies in the
United States and helped disrupt major plots aimed at America or
U.S. persons in Canada, Britain, and, most recently, Germany.
Many of the most important tools for protecting homeland
security were in place before 9/11: intelligence activities,
information-sharing, counterterrorism, and law enforcement
investigations and cooperation. However, the United States and its
friends and allies now take these tasks much more seriously than
they did before 9/11. Terrorists may be taking the offensive in
other parts of the world-but there is no question that they find
America and its allies are "harder" targets than they were in
Drifting Off Course
The greatest impediment to continued progress may be a Congress
that appears anxious to "over help" on homeland security. Indeed,
many of the troubles in setting up the Department of Homeland
Security and organizing domestic programs can be traced to
legislative meddling: impractical mandates, unrealistic timelines,
and questionable objectives. The recent congressional requirements
demanding 100 percent of screening of air and sea cargo offer a
case in point. Congress imposed the "super" screening even though
most credible security analysts question the practicality or
utility of the measure.
Congress has also failed to consolidate its oversight
responsibilities. Homeland Security officials report to a plethora
of committees that offer conflicting and competing guidance.
Committees continue to tinker with the department, moving offices
and adding missions.
Congress still wastes money, insisting on priorities that do not
meet national needs. For example, the 9/11 Commission argued that
Homeland Security grants were in danger of becoming "pork-barrel"
funding. Congress not only refused to fix the problem but also made
it worse. Recent legislation requires doling out even more money to
each state, regardless of risk or need.
Six years after 9/11, America is still safe, free, and prosperous.
If the nation is going to stay the course in the long war, however,
Congress must do the following:
- Roll back excessive and ineffective security requirements such
as 100 percent mandatory cargo screening;
- Consolidate the jurisdiction of congressional committees over
the Department of Homeland Security, as recommended by the 9/11
- Reform programs that undermine federalism. Homeland security
grants not only waste money but make state and local governments
more dependent on Washington.
Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn andShelby
Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior
Research Fellow for the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for
Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.