The nation’s borders need cutting-edge solutions to combat a spectrum of 21st century threats. This requires continuous oversight to ensure our tools are getting the job done. This spring, the Department of Homeland Security did just that when it learned a virtual fencing program wasn’t meeting its objectives in Arizona. Virtual fencing is a critical means of securing the nation’s southern border.
Ten years ago, my rural Kentucky district became the epicenter for prescription drug abuse, namely the diversion and addiction of Oxycontin. Local hospitals were facing weekly overdoses to pills issued by pain clinics only a few blocks away. Today, this epidemic is reaching every community across state lines, socio-economic groups, and geographic boundaries. Solutions need to be found and alarm raised at all levels of government to tackle this problem. With the critical help of Representative Mary Bono Mack, we’re getting organized to do just that through the Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus.
In that vein, I had a moment of clarity recently while watching a rebroadcast of "The Gangs of New York" which depicts an ugly, if fictitious, conflict between nativists and immigrants during the time of the U.S. Civil War. The film has at its core a fanciful, bloody and barbaric immigration battle running alongside the actual draft riots that seized New York in 1863, and brought that city , and almost the entire nation, to its knees.
If we are not careful with the current immigration debate, and don’t tone down the rhetoric and irresponsible claims of racism and xenophobia being hurled about at those who simply want our porous borders repaired, we almost certainly will find ourselves in an uncivil war with each in a way that will impel those among us who can’t limit themselves to control their emotions to take to the streets as did the characters in Scorsese’s movie.
Of course, the real gangs of New York were actually nothing more than political thugs whose main objective was more in line with the Tammany Hall politicians of the day -- get their folks elected so that each could get its share of the City’s political plunder. As I watched first one side and then the other in the past week take to the airwaves to denounce anyone who did not share their limited view of how to resolve these complex immigration and border security problems, I feared that our nation is once more headed for the intemperate verbal abuse we heaped on each other in the 1960’s.
Over the last few years, both the Bush and Obama Administrations have sought to remove funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s alternate engine program. As a leader in veterans’ advocacy for more than half a century, AMVETS supports this year’s latest efforts to kill funding for the alternate engine, meeting the needs of today’s military and relieving an unnecessary burden on the American taxpayer.
The alternate engine for the Pentagon’s F35 Joint Strike Fighter program is a glaring example of a program that wastes funding desperately needed by our military men and women serving in harm’s way. Billions have already been spent on a wasteful extra engine that is yet to leave the ground, even though the current engine is already in production and performing well.
Our nation’s top military minds have consistently voiced their opposition to the alternate engine, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, and the service chiefs for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, the services set to receive the Joint Strike Fighter.
Sadly, even though the Pentagon insists it will never field the new engine, Congressional leaders have continued to approve funding for the program year after year. Supporters say that the alternate engine would save money, but independent Congressional studies clearly refute this assertion.
This money must be spent on the needs of our soldiers and veterans today—not wasted on a program the Pentagon neither wants nor has the capacity to use. Congress has earmarked more than a billion dollars on this project since President Bush first tried to cancel it. Should Congress continue financing the program each year, taxpayers stand to lose another $2.9 billion on further development and testing alone. The price tag only continues to balloon exponentially should the alternate engine actually go into production.
As President Dwight Eisenhower prepared to leave the White House in early 1961, he used his farewell address to warn against wasteful defense spending. The World War II hero cautioned that bad choices today would turn the United States into “the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”
The wisdom of his words is even more apparent nearly 50 years later. The federal debt was just under $289 billion in 1961. It’s almost $13 trillion today.
Given the historical context, it was fitting that Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to the Eisenhower Library earlier this month to update Eisenhower’s warning. The defense secretary was blunt and to the point.
“Given America’s difficult economic circumstances and perilous fiscal condition, military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, harsher scrutiny,” Gates said. “The gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time.”
Gates challenged the Defense Department bureaucracy to do “everything possible to make every dollar count.” In practical terms, the new reality means that the Pentagon should make the most of the assets it already has before acquiring new weapons systems.
Among other items that deserve the budget axe, Gates specifically targeted the C-17 cargo plane, which is used to ferry war-fighting material to hot spots around the world.
“The leadership of the Air Force is clear: they do not need and cannot afford more C-17s,” Gates said. Yet Congress added $3 billion for 10 additional C-17s in last year’s defense budget.
Even worse, there are indications from Capitol Hill that lawmakers will ignore the Air Force’s advice again this year and buy more C-17s. Gates said he would urge President Obama to veto the unwanted congressional giveaway.
The C-17 is a particularly good example of Gates’ point about making the most of defense dollars because there is a clear alternative to buying new cargo planes.
The C-5 transport aircraft has been an airlift workhorse for four decades, and it is serving our troops today in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can carry more cargo over greater distances than any U.S. Air Force aircraft in the fleet.
To put it in terms that matter to troops in the field, the C-5 can carry more twice as many loaded pallets, twice as many tanks, twice as many Bradley fighting vehicles, twice as many helicopters and twice as many armored vehicles as the C-17.
Although the earliest C-5s saw action in Vietnam, several studies show that the aircraft can easily remain in service through 2040. A modernization program that is already underway is bringing substantial improvements in performance and reliability — shorter takeoffs, more cargo carrying capability, and even longer range.
Because the upgraded planes require significantly lower operations and maintenance costs, the modernization program pays for itself. The upgraded C-5s are also more environmentally friendly and fuel efficient.
In recent tests that delivered 3.8 million pounds of cargo in 33 missions, the upgraded C-5 saved nearly $900,000 in fuel costs compared to earlier models. The savings compared to a C-17 would exceed $4 million, mainly because it would take two C-17s to deliver the same amount of cargo at the same rate.
That is an example of making every dollar count.
Secretary Gates is right. The world and our financial circumstances have changed. We can’t afford to satisfy our wants, we have to focus on meeting our needs. We should make the most of what we have before we buy something new.
Making the most of every dollar does not mean neglecting America’s security. We are reminded almost daily that we live in a very dangerous world.
Eisenhower, who served as president during the transition from World War II to the Cold War, saw the dangers in his time, too. No one questioned his commitment to national security or his patriotism.
But Eisenhower also recognized that wasting defense dollars does not make us stronger or offer more protection. In fact, a dollar misspent on an unneeded defense program is a dollar taken from national security. What was true then is even truer now.
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In some respects, the recent attempted Times Square car bombing and the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized citizen, point to a significant success in America’s Global War on Terror.
In the aftermath of 9/11, our government quickly reformed the Intelligence Community and established the Department of Homeland Security, moves which have been successful in making it more difficult for foreign terrorists to enter the country and carry out attacks. U.S. military action has weakened al-Qaeda Central.
But this has also created a new challenge: the battlefront has shifted from overseas to our homeland.
Al-Qaeda has determined that it can achieve its jihadist agenda more easily by recruiting operatives from within the U.S. (citizens, in some cases)—those who have no longstanding previous ties to Islamic jihadism or international terror organizations. Thus, they are often below the radar of intelligence and law enforcement officials.
Consider just a few of the more recent cases. Shahzad is a U.S. citizen. Najibullah Zazi, who has pled guilty to conspiring to blow up the NYC subway system, was a legal permanent resident. U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, was a Virginia-born citizen.
Unfortunately, this adaptation by al-Qaeda means that we must adapt as well.
The fact that terrorists are in the U.S. legally is a game-changer that makes it more difficult for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify, monitor and preempt future attacks. It is more difficult to get advance notice of other pending attacks. It is more difficult to determine where those attacks might originate.
But there are actions that the Obama Administration can take to ease this difficulty.
First, we should treat terror suspects as enemy combatants and not as criminal defendants. Sadly, the Obama Administration insists on defaulting to the civilian criminal court system as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, we can—and should—change the way we issue Miranda warnings to ensure we treat terrorists as we should treat terrorists and not as we would bank robbers. After Shahzad was arrested trying to flee the country, I said that despite the fact that he was a U.S. citizen, law enforcement and intelligence officers should gather as much intelligence from him as possible. I was roundly criticized by the liberal left.
Within days, we learned that law enforcement officials were, indeed, taking advantage of the public safety, or “ticking time bomb,” exception to the Miranda requirement and interrogating him before informing him of his “right to remain silent.”
Then we learned, via Attorney General Eric Holder, that the Obama Administration is considering “modifying the rules that interrogators have” when terror suspects are brought into custody here on U.S. soil. I welcome the Attorney General’s realization that we have to adapt to al-Qaeda’s new type of terrorist.
Additionally, the next time that law enforcement officials capture a terrorist in our homeland, Holder’s Department of Justice should consult the Director of National Intelligence and others in the Intelligence Community before giving any Miranda warning. This coordination, which has apparently not been taking place, would provide interrogators with the information they need to ask the right questions and save lives.
By now focusing on recruiting Americans and legal U.S. residents, al-Qaeda has shifted in the methods it uses in its effort to destroy our nation. Now, the Obama Administration must make a critical shift, as well, in the methods it uses to ensure that our nation defeats our enemy.
Cross-posted from the Heritage Foundation
Today's announcement from President Obama is welcome news for New Mexico and other border states that are struggling to ensure the safety of border residents in the face of increasingly violent trafficking organizations along the U.S.-Mexico border.
This additional funding and manpower will give the men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol – who often are forced to operate with too few staff and limited supplies – expanded resources to more effectively monitor our nation's borders and keep New Mexicans safe and secure.
But I want to be clear. While these new resources are a welcome step to alleviate this dire situation, they in no way replace the need for a comprehensive solution to secure our borders while respecting America's legacy as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.
I look forward to working with President Obama and my colleagues in the Senate to develop a policy that takes into account the needs of all stakeholders.
At today’s Senate Foreign Relations hearing on the START Treaty (a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms pact) that President Obama is seeking Congressional approval for, I asked Senator Kerry a simple question. Should it be the goal of the U.S. to have a missile defense system that renders nuclear threats by other nations useless, including Russia? To my disappointment, but not surprisingly, Senator Kerry said no.
And with his response, Senator Kerry proved why Americans have a hard time fully trusting the left to put American interests first in foreign affairs. While the goal of reducing global levels of nuclear weapons is noble, it cannot take priority over our duty to protect Americans.