On 7 December 1941 the Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack against the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing more than 2,400 Americans and destroying much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, including most of the Navy’s frontline battleships. The next day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. It took less than seven minutes for Congress to comply with the president’s request. Three days later, Germany and Italy – Japan’s partners in the so-called Tripartite Pact – declared war on the United States and Roosevelt asked Congress to officially recognize that a state of war also existed between the United States and those two nations as well. 

Although still very poorly prepared to join the free nations of Europe in a conflict it had been avoiding for more than two years, a fully united America quickly mobilized and led the Allied forces to victory first over Italy, then Nazi Germany, and finally Japan – which officially surrendered to Allied representatives aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The date was 2 September 1945. It had taken the United States three years, eight months, and 25 days to win victory in the most difficult, costliest (in both lives and money), and most violent conflict in all human history. 

On 11 September 2001, not quite 50 years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was once again taken by surprise when Al Qaeda terrorists seized control of four passenger aircraft and used them to destroy the World Trade Center towers in New York City and tear out a major chunk of the Pentagon, killing approximately 3,000 Americans, most of them civilians. Almost immediately, President George W. Bush announced that the United States was again at war – this time, though, with an insidious and almost invisible non-state enemy: the forces of international terrorism. Congress concurred, largely by giving the president unusually broad wartime powers and appropriating huge sums not only for the fighting war being waged overseas – in Afghanistan and Iraq, primarily – but also to improve homeland defenses. 

Today, 14 December 2005 – four years, three months, and three days after the 9/11 attacks – Afghanistan is a free nation and Iraq not only has been liberated from the despotic rule of Saddam Hussein but also, despite the continued battle against Iraqi and imported insurgents, seems to be stumbling forward toward a relatively democratic future, adjusted somewhat, perhaps, to accommodate local customs and traditions. 

A Public Scolding from a Private Group 

Meanwhile, despite the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the expenditure of tens of billions of additional dollars not previously budgeted, the effort to improve U.S. homeland defenses is not going well at all. Last Monday (5 December), Chairman Thomas H. Kean and Vice Chair Lee H. Hamilton released the Final Report of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project (PDP) – a nonprofit organization created by ten members (five Republicans and five Democrats) of the former 9/11 Commission who decided, after release of the Commission’s own Final Report, to continue their work under another name. Kean, a Republican and a former governor of New Jersey, and Hamilton, a Democrat and a former member of Congress, chaired the Commission as well as the PDP. 

Their purpose in forming the second organization, they said at last week’s press conference (in the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington, D.C.), was to work “as private citizens” to build the groundswell of public opinion needed to force the legislative and executive branches of government to fully and faithfully implement the 41 major recommendations touching all aspects of homeland defense that the Commission had included in its Final Report. 

The principal tool the PDP members selected to carry out their new self-appointed mission was a “Score Card” similar to a high school or college report card – complete with grades ranging from “F” (failure) to “A” (outstanding), with an “I” reserved for “incomplete” – that would tell the American people how well their elected leaders have been carrying out their primary duty of providing for the common defense.

Much to the chagrin of the Bush administration – and, to a lesser extent, the Republican-controlled Congress, the Score Card issued last Monday shows only one tentative A, three Fs, two tentative Fs, 12 Ds (in danger of failing), and two incompletes. Most of the other grades range from poor to mediocre – and, in Navy parlance, must therefore also be considered “Unsat,” particularly considering that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and the future of the nation, are the stakes on the table. 

A Few Positives – Outnumbered by Shocking Failures 

There have been “a few positive changes” since 9/11, Kean and Hamilton said in a statement issued at the press conference. And the nation is now somewhat safer than it was before 9/11 – but “not as safe as we need to be.” Offsetting the modest gains that have been achieved, the PDP pointed out, have been a number of “shocking” failures, including at least three that the Project members described as “scandalous.” 

It is “scandalous,” the former 9/11 commissioners said, “that police and firefighters in large cities still cannot communicate reliably in a major crisis”; “… that airline passengers are still not screened against all names on the terrorist watchlist”; and that “we [the United States] still allocate scarce homeland-security dollars on the basis of pork-barrel spending, not risk.” The risk-based allocation of homeland-security funding was, in fact, the focus of some extremely harsh wording in the otherwise relatively dispassionate PDP press release. 

The current formula used to allocate federal first-responder grants to states (via the DHS budget) is not based, as it should be, on the needs of first responders, the PDP said, but on political considerations in which “impartial assessments” of risk and vulnerability are scarcely considered. “One city used its homeland security money for air-conditioned garbage trucks,” the Project members noted. “[Another] used it to buy Kevlar body armor for dogs. These are not the priorities of a nation under threat.” 

A Mandate for the American People 

What do the former Commissioners, and now former PDP members, do next? Nothing, Kean and Hamilton said. “Congress and the President gave … us [the Commission] a mandate,” they said. “We carried it out to the best of our ability. We made our recommendations. As private citizens [and members of the PDP], we have worked on behalf of those recommendations. … Now it is time to take the responsibility we were given and give it back.” 

The new keepers of the flame, the Project members said, will be, and must be, the “elected leaders” of government, the media, and – perhaps most of all – “the American people.” The changes and reforms needed to fully, and quickly, implement the 41 Commission recommendations simply will not happen, the PDP said, “unless the American people demand it. … There is no substitute for an engaged and attentive public watching what its elected leaders do.” 

Whether or not the American people do, in fact, carry out their individual and collective responsibilities as private citizens, it seems certain that the issuance of the PDP Score Card will precipitate much greater efforts: (a) by the administration, to remedy current in-house deficiencies as soon as is humanly possible; and (b) by both houses of Congress not only to enact remedial legislation now stalled in committee but also to provide additional funds for DHS and other agencies with homeland-defense responsibilities. 

Because 2006 is a congressional election year, it also can be safely assumed that both parties will try to use the Score Card to further their respective political agendas. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seized the opportunity given her last week, for example, to describe the PDP Score Card as “an indictment of the continued failure by the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress to meet the security needs of our nation and make Americans safer.” How many of her fellow citizens will concur with that partisan assessment has yet to be determined, but as of now it seems that homeland defense will be a major issue, for the American people as well as for Congress, on the 2006 political agenda, and that will be a very positive gain for all U.S. citizens. 

Additional information on the PDP, the Score Card, and the 5 December press release is available on the PDP website (www.9-11pdp.org)

James D. Hessman

James D. Hessman is former editor in chief of both the Navy League’s Sea Power Magazine and the League’s annual Almanac of Seapower. Prior to that dual assignment he was senior editor of Armed Forces Journal International.

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