Insight and Insult from National Journal

This week’s National Journal has a story (not available online) that is at once insightful and insulting. In “The Coming Storm,” Shane Harris reviews the difficulties that are anctipated when the Department of Homeland Security transitions to new leadership under a new administration. There are lots of “politicals” at DHS and not a very deep bench of talent.

Here’s the insightful: “Al Qaeda has launched attacks on the West during moments of governmental weakness: at elections and during transitions to new administrations.

The evidence for this is pretty good (if not rock solid), and it jibes with the strategy of terrorism, which is to goad a stronger opponent into self-injurious missteps. Attacking at a time of vulnerability for the political administration is more likely to induce overreaction and error.

Here’s the insulting: “A mass exodus of Homeland Security officials in late 2008 and early 2009 could leave the country vulnerable.”

This must play like the sweetest lullaby to bureaucrats in Washington — “you’re important; you’re really, really important” — but it is a bald insult to the ordinary citizens, police, firefighters, and investigators who would actually detect and prevent any attack or suffer its brunt and deal with the consequences.

The bureaucrats in Washington have very, very little to do with actual protection of the country from terrorist attack or with response to it. They are the mouthpieces who will rush to the cameras and microphones to foment hysteria. They are the FEMA directors who will bungle the response and the officials who will actively undermine restoration of services. They are not our protection, and their departure does not make us vulnerable.

In fact, their presence adds to our vulnerability. The terrorism strategy succeeds by knocking the political regime off balance. Having a large, prominent, federal protective agency gives terrorists a ripe target. If there were no prominent federal apparatus attached closely to the president — no homeland security secretary to embarass, challenge, and frighten — the strategy of terrorism would be less attractive and harder to execute.