Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more from Stephen Flynn about keeping America safe. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
President, Center for National Policy
For The Washington Post
With President Obama declaring a "systemic failure" of our security system in the wake of the attempted Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner, familiar arguments about what can and should be done to reduce America's vulnerabilities are again filling the airwaves, editorial pages and blogosphere. Several of these arguments are based on assumptions that guided the U.S. response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - and unfortunately, they are as unfounded now as they were then. The biggest whopper of all? The paternalistic assertion that the government can keep us all safe without our help.
1. Terrorism is the gravest threat facing the American people.
Americans are at far greater risk of being killed in accidents or by viruses than by acts of terrorism. In 2008, more than 37,300 Americans perished on the nation's highways, according to government data. Even before H1N1, a similar number of people died each year from the seasonal flu. Terrorism is a real and potentially consequential danger. But the greatest threat isn't posed by the direct harm terrorists could inflict; it comes from what we do to ourselves when we are spooked. It is how we react - or more precisely, how we overreact - to the threat of terrorism that makes it an appealing tool for our adversaries. By grounding commercial aviation and effectively closing our borders after the 2001 attacks, Washington accomplished something no foreign state could have hoped to achieve: a blockade on the economy of the world's sole superpower. While we cannot expect to be completely successful at intercepting terrorist attacks, we must get a better handle on how we respond when they happen.
Stephen Flynn, Frank J. Cilluffo, and Sharon L. Cardash
Katrina, the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, roared ashore on the Gulf Coast four years ago on August 29, 2005. The images of floating corpses and storm survivors stranded on rooftops and at the Superdome will long be seared in our collective memories. Even today, many families throughout the Gulf region are finding the road to recovery to be a long and arduous one.
For those of us during the late summer of 2005 who were fortunate enough to reside outside of harm’s way, we should pause on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to reflect on this sobering fact: 9 out of 10 Americans live in a place that faces a moderate to high risk of a natural disaster. North America is a beautiful continent, but Mother Nature is not always very kind to it. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, blizzards, and high-wind damage are always in the offing.
While Katrina serves as a forceful reminder of the inevitability of natural disasters, it underscores another important lesson: the risk we will become victims will rise dramatically if we neglect infrastructure. We now know that New Orleans should have survived the storm largely unscathed. The city’s flood protection system was supposed to withstand a direct hit by a powerful Category 3 hurricane. But New Orleans dodged the worst of the storm because at the last minute, Katrina’s center veered east so that the winds that buffeted New Orleans were barely above Category 1. Tragically, because the levees had been so shabbily maintained, they started to fail even before the full fury of the storm had arrived. In the end, it was not an Act of God that doomed so many New Orleanians. It was the neglect of man.
Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more from Stephen Flynn on AC360° at 10pm ET.
National security expert
America’s infrastructure is in the political spotlight as an increasingly contentious piece of President Barack Obama’s $835 billion economic stimulus package. Republicans like Rep. Harold Roger, R-KY characterize the package as “a rampant spending spree.” The White House maintains that it is the jumpstart the nation’s moribund economy needs to move us out of a severe recession. Missing from this debate is any real acknowledgment that the critical foundations that underpin our modern society are literally crumbling around us, imperiling our safety and security, quality of life, and economic competitiveness.
How bad off is America’s inventory of infrastructure? On January 27, 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineersissued their quadrennial report card on 15 sectors. The grades are not the kind you would have wanted to bring home to your parents: four C’s and eleven D’s. Bottoming out the evaluation are drinking waters systems, levees, wasterwater systems, inland waterway locks, and roads which all were assigned a D- grade. Think about this: water is the basic element of life. To get it to most of our homes and offices whenever we turn on the faucet or flush the toilet requires a vast network of underground pipes that are in such bad repair, we are losing an estimated seven billion gallons of clean drinking water each and every day.
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