Friday, September 18, 2009

Rare Sighting of a Pro-Choice and Thoughtful Republican

Tom Ridge with Larry Bloom. The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege…and How We Can Be Safe Again. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2009.

As Homeland Security Secretary, Ridge observed a need for various emergency response teams to work better and perform better. He saw a need for regional offices, improving public education on terrorism, and avoiding politicizing national safety efforts.

Ridge sees this Cabinet position as a challenge. Sen. Joseph Lieberman called it “building an ark after the flood started”. Ridge also saw power plays, which are common in government office politics, continue even in homeland security matters.

Ridge was Pennsylvania Governor on September 11, 2001 when one of the planes hijacked by terrorists crashed in Shanksville, Pa. He flew by helicopter to the crash site. He was touched by the knowledge that the passengers had likely overtaken the hijackers. He believes this provides people a sense of empowerment during crises rather than feeling hopeless.

Ridge sees education is an important path to achieving empowerment. He favors more charter schools and vouchers.

Ridge is pro-choice on abortion and does not believe a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman is needed. His political service record has brought him consideration for Vice President yet these views prevent him from being offered the slot.

When Ridge was offered the Homeland Security advisory position, which led became a Cabinet department, he had to consider how it would change his family. The family would no longer live in the Governor’s mansion and have State Police to drive them wherever they go. That would all end.

Ridge accepted the position realizing that it could be one that ended his political career.

For 1,200 years, Ridge notes, Christians and Jews live din safety in countries ruled by Muslims. Al Qaeda now calls for the destruction of Western civilization. Bernard Lewis argued Muslims had a growing sense of victimhood. Samuel Huntington blamed growing feelings of darkness emerging form people obsessed with the pack of power their religious views were providing. Sayyid Qutb tortured in prison after involvement in a failed assassination attempt of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nassar, gained a following. Qutb’s devotes sought to attack Muslim leaders they felt were too attached to Western society. As Ridge notes, “the rest of torture in those Egyptians was, I think, predictable—a rage for revenge.”

Ridge realized the nation needs to improve its public health system for security reasons. Bioterrorism has emerged as something to fear that previously had been little considered as a threat.

Ridge’s first day on the job with Homeland Security began with challenges as the U.S. and U.K. began bombing targets in Afghanistan that same day.

Ridge found the CIA and FBI willing to work together. Vice President Cheney was very involved on security issues. He also noted President Bush allowed others in meetings to speak as equals.

Anthrax that was mailed killed people and created new fears. It was not clear who had mailed the anthrax or why. Investigators searched diligently. Ridge decided he needed to calm a growing panic and sought to do so.

Concerns were raised that an airplane crashing into a nuclear power plant would cause a nuclear explosion. Ridge tried to present computer models showing this would not happen, although there would be “modest” radiation released.

There were calls to create a single food inspection agency. There were fears terrorists could attack the food supply and a strong and united response would be important. The U.S. Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies fought this proposal.

Border issues faced Ridge. This would require a massive undertaking concerning the thousands of miles involved and large volume and goods and people crossing those borders.

The Associated Press determined that possible terrorist targets included 600,000 bridges, 2,800 power plants, 190,000 miles of natural gas pipe, 95,000 coastline miles, and 463 skyscrapers.

Local and state government agencies have to be a part of coordinate response efforts. Yet within the agencies is often found inadequate staff, training, and resources. They may not respond as the Federal government expects. Ridge wants to provide more equipment to local and state governments responding as they are the first on the scenes of most disasters.

Intelligence “is an art, not a science”, according to Ridge. Speculation that Las Vegas or Hollywood could be targets made sense as this would be striking at symbols of what terrorist groups despise. Speculation that the Golden Gate Bridge could be a target made less sense due to the difficulty such an attack would require. Ridge criticized Governor Gray Davis of California for placing National Guard soldiers and an increased number of Highway Patrol at the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Ridge thought these were not necessary and increased public worry.

Ridge wanted a system that could provide urgent warnings to the nation. Only Israel was found to have such a system. From these investigations, a color alert system was created. Under orange, pubic events would be canceled. Under red, response teams would mobilize and public and private facilities would be closed. Ridge notes that critics such as Richard Cohen believed the public would eventually ignore the flow of warnings. Ridge notes the U.S. has responded by creating increased border inspections, airport inspections, increased infrastructure inspections, more intelligence sharing, and that $100 million in terrorist assets had been frozen.

Ridge notes it should not have been a surprise there would be public concern and criticism once it was disclosed the National Security Agency had been secretly authorized to expand operations without warrants, which would have previously been required. Ridge believes this needs to be reshaped towards its original intent, noting “under no circumstances can we voluntarily surrender a Constitutionally protected right.”

Ridge notes how fellow Republican Saxby Chambliss in George defeated Max Cleland for reelection by trying to make Cleland appear unpatriotic. This was done by placing Cleland’s face over Osama bin Laden’s face in Chambliss ads. Ridge notes “it was an early and brutal example of paying the patriotism card, and set a new standard for low…The accusation that we were playing politics was something we dealt with often, and the George campaign gave those accusations a basis in fact.”

The Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq. As Ridge notes, “freeing Iraq of a dictatorial government---and doing so with no American and few Iraq casualties---was an ambitious goal…I knew that Iraq was not at that point any kind of Al Qaeda stronghold.” The war led to “fueling radicalism in the Middle East and elsewhere.”

As Governor. Ridge tripled the number of the state’s overseas trade offices. He respected the increasing globalization of commerce.

When a natural disaster hits, Ridge observes how important it is that communications be established with those affected. This was a mistake President Bush failed to take following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Ridge wanted the Homeland Security Department to work more closely with state and local governments. He wanted regional offices. He thought he had support from the Bush White House when funds were appropriated. Yet Ridge discovered that critics of his goals worked internally within the White House to undermine his work.

Ridge notes President Bush’s approval ratings increased almost 5 Percentage points every time a terror alert was announced. Ridge knew he would lose trust if politics entered homeland security matters.

On October 29, 2004, an Osama bin Laden video aired on Al Jazerra. In America, the polls had Bush and Kerry tied. Homeland Security personnel internally concluded there was nothing in the video to increase the alert level. The level was increased and Bush won the election a few days later.

The delays that security caused when entering the U.S. as well as the higher cost of traveling to the U.S. due to security costs impacted our tourism industry. From 2000 to 2007, the global overseas terrorism increased by almost 30% with 35 million new travelers worldwide. In 2000, 26 foreigners million came to the U.S. (not counting people from Mexico and Canada) while 24 million foreign came to the U.S. in 2997.

The new requirements of coastal protection were beyond the Coast Guard’s capabilities. A public-private partnership with Northrup Grumman plus Lockheed Martin was created. The program had huge cost overruns, the designs were flawed, hulls cracked, and numerous other problems resulted.

Emergency services require their own broadband. A lesson learned is that fire, police, emergency rescue, etc. need to communicate, coordinate, and provide warning to each others.

Ridge calls for a national ID system and a national energy independence policy.


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