An agitated and confused President Bush asked the United States Congress to give him authority to use the military should a flu outbreak occur in America.
This is as telling a commentary on how he values his Department of Homeland Security as could possibly be found. DHS is a junker sitting in the driveway, hood-up, wheels off and wires sticking out of the engine compartment. The neighbors are complaining, from Florida through Alabama and Mississippi, Louisiana to Texas and on into Oklahoma.
While Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff futzes around underneath, his hand occasionally emerging to grope for a wrench, the country still expects this beater to pull out on the highway, chase down evildoers and save the town (whichever town) at high noon. At least that was the expectation. Evildoers it seems, come in more sizes and flavors than just the 9-11 terrorist model. The terror of weather got past Mike and now the terror of epidemic is sniffing at the door. Chertoff doesn’t seem to have a wrench that size.
I don’t know what message that sends to the rest of us. Tell us, Mr. President, are we to believe in FEMA and Homeland Security or are they just more band-aids stuck over the gaping wounds of incompetence? As one house of cards after another falls, ‘call out the Army’ has a more and more hollow ring.
In the event of a flu epidemic, isolation of the stricken seems to be an essential element. I try to picture how the military interfaces with that, draw into focus a mental image that squares with my view of America. What are they going to do, surround the houses of those who are anxious about sending their family into isolation? Bullhorns? Evacuation of the neighborhood? M-16 toting soldiers in gas-masks threatening to break down doors?
Ours is not a country (thank god) used to the military, even in a directing-traffic capacity. The appearance of the military on our streets, added to the natural fear of a widespread flu epidemic is more likely to cause pandemonium than to prevent it. The last thing needed is Humvees, sirens, flashing lights and confused young soldiers unfamiliar with law enforcement.
Bush’s request for authority to use troops merely serves to prove this administration’s reliance on image over substance. It showcases their muddled response to the very real need for increased security after 9-11. There wasn’t much study of the problem because the politics required action, whether or not action was actionable. Ten billion dollars later, after a revolving-door of leaders and no logical means to deliver response, Katrina did us the enormous favor of proving that the Emperor indeed had no clothes.
Instead of taking that lesson to heart and building a response structure that respects our constitution and the rights of the states that unite us, an administration without a viable plan wants to call in the military. We are a ‘United’ States, not a conglomeration of incompetence that needs troops in the streets to organize ourselves.
It’s a glaring culmination of the failures within this administration. The House of Representatives is jittery enough to give George Bush what he wants. The Senate will never do so and, in the event that it momentarily loses its own head, such legislation would never withstand a constitutional challenge.
The request says more about its source than its purpose.