By Geoff Metcalf
December 7, 2008
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” --Benjamin Franklin
The Posse Comitatus Act is a 130-year old federal law specifically designed to restrict role of the military in domestic law enforcement. It was wise to create the law…it is dangerous to abrogate it.
We now hear the Pentagon anticipates having 20,000 uniformed troops inside the continental United States by 2011. Allegedly the purpose is to “help state and local officials,” specifically in the development of response to nuclear, biological or chemical terrorist attacks or other domestic catastrophe.
As evidenced by the Janet Reno massacre of the Branch Davidians, tactical deployment of military assets in law enforcement operations is a for real Pandora’s Box. The liberty verses safety challenge is a very slippery slope. It is easy to let the genie out of the bottle…getting him back IN is a bear.
This renewed push for homeland security emphasis is not without critics. Beyond various military and civil libertarian types, this is probably the worse possible time to even consider further overtaxing military assets (not that there ever is a good time).
Exploiting strengths is a good thing. I remember, long ago and far away, my Special Forces unit used to help train local police departments in rappelling and even some small unit tactics. However, those were not deployments…they were training seminars.
Once upon a time, United States Army Special Forces were sent to an exotic Southeast Asia venue to serve as “advisers” after the French abandoned the area of operation. The adviser mission fell victim to big time mission creep, and soon they were “training, equipping and advising” the indigenous population. By 1965 Hal Moore led a Battalion of newly minted Air Mobile troops into a valley where they were surrounded by over 2,000 hard core NVA regulars. Ten years later the last helicopter departed Saigon dragging our national tail between its skids.
Before 9/11 the idea of committing 20,000 troops to domestic anything “would have been extraordinary to the point of unbelievable,” said assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, Paul McHale. However, epiphany has sparked what he now says is “a fundamental change in military culture.”
This is a classic “Catch-22” and I don’t presume to have a good answer. However, the strategic significance of committing Knights on the chessboard doesn’t offer many positive results.
If an enemy (or surrogates) launches a nuclear or biological attack that results in significant reallocation of our force structure, we could be forced to abandon military operations globally.
Already, the Pentagon has acknowledged we can no longer engage in two theaters of operation simultaneously. In other words, if we had to fight in China or North Korea, we would probably have to first leave the Mideast.
Our vulnerability increases geometrically as our ability to put boots on the ground decreases.
The purpose of a military is to fight wars. The Army is not the border patrol or the FBI, and the Navy is not the Coast Guard. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have combat missions. Their mission oriented training is focused on developing and maintaining combat readiness.
If or when (God forbid) war touches CONUS then and only then the military should and would be used in combat operations. However, to redirect military units from combat missions and/or combat mission training, to provide pre and post disaster training may seem an easy fix but results in a significant strategic weakness.
The military has been preparing for domestic weapon of mass destruction episodes since at least 1996.
States have already been tasked to focus on particular threats -- pandemic flu, a terrorist attack, hurricane, earthquake and catastrophic chemical release, respectively -- speeding up federal and state emergency planning begun in 2003.
Bert B. Tussing, director of homeland defense and security issues at the U.S. Army War College, said the new Pentagon approach "breaks the mold" by assigning an active-duty combat brigade to the Northern Command for the first time.
Cato Institute Vice President Gene Healy said, "There's a notion that whenever there's an important problem, that the thing to do is to call in the boys in green," Healy said, "and that's at odds with our long-standing tradition of being wary of the use of standing armies to keep the peace."
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I noted in an old column, Liberty and freedom has been the nexus of myriad rebellions, revolutions, and academic philosophical debates. From the fields of Scotland to the moors of England, and from the original 13 colonies to the Balkans, liberty and freedom, even more than home and hearth, have been principles worth fighting for, worth sacrificing for, and even worth dying for.
It is wrong for any official to undermine and abrogate the very Constitution to which they have sworn an oath.