Why Are We Safer?

In the Washington Times, Michael Chertoff poses the question that should be on everyone’s mind as we usher in a new administration:

Why has our country remained safe since September 11? Because of concrete policies the president has pursued – policies that range from reorganizing the intelligence community to taking the fight to our enemies, from monitoring terrorist communications to creating the Department of Homeland Security.

I don’t think there is any doubt that that is true. Chertoff, as Secretary of Homeland Security, understandably concentrates on the steps undertaken by his department:

On an average day, the men and women of my department will screen more than 2 million domestic air travelers, inspect more than 300,000 vehicles crossing our borders, check more than 70,000 shipping containers for dangerous materials, and secure thousands of pieces of critical infrastructure.

Chertoff describes numerous defensive measures that have been taken since 2001, all of which seem sensible. He also notes progress with regard to illegal immigration:

At our borders, we have built hundreds of miles of pedestrian and vehicle fence, doubled the size of the U.S. Border Patrol, and added new technology to prevent the entry of terrorists, criminals, illegal aliens, and dangerous drugs and weapons.

In the interior, we have arrested record numbers of illegal aliens, including more than 11,000 gang members and 34,000 fugitives. We also have cracked down on employers that violate immigration laws, while giving businesses better tools, such as E-Verify, to maintain a legal workforce. The result has been a historic reversal in illegal immigration, with no net increase in the illegal immigrant population in our country for the first time in decades.

If that’s all correct, it’s a good thing. Nevertheless, my instinct is that the Bush administration’s success in preventing terrorist attacks has much more to do with the offensive measures it has undertaken–intercepting terrorist communications overseas, aggressively following up leads gained from captured terrorists, taking the fight to the enemy abroad, decimating the al Qaeda soldiers who saw Iraq as their opportunity for a decisive strategic victory–than with the defensive measures which Chertoff has overseen, however necessary and appropriate those measures might be. I hope the incoming administration understands that it can duplicate the Bush administration’s success at home only if it is willing to continue its aggressive fight against terrorists abroad.

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