The current debate over a corporation owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates managing six US ports is intrinsically absurd. The factors that make it absurd, however, are not discussed openly, because to do so would call into question popular myths. The basic absurdity is that we could ever make our ports or any other element of our crucial infrastructure secure from attack by some military means.
Just over a year ago, I took a short cruise on a paddle wheel steamer on the Mississippi River at New Orleans. We passed under I-10, by a big chemical plant and among several large ocean-going vessels. A single large pillar rising from a small island in the middle of the river supports the highway. Being a person with some insight into terrorist thinking, I wondered what was to stop a private boat loaded with high explosives from pulling up beside that pillar in the middle of the night and blowing it away. In one move, they could shut down a major interstate highway and close down ship traffic on our largest river. And while waiting for the timer to set off the explosives, they could proceed downstream to fire a few missiles into the chemical plant before torpedoing an oil tanker anchored in midstream. Such scenarios aren’t at all hard to dream up. I could reel off a hundred before my second cup of coffee, all entirely plausible given sufficient money, will and expertise. The notion that some governmental entity called “Homeland Security” could actually prevent such an attack is illusion. I call this the Law of Immutable Vulnerability. In any advanced industrial society, the extent and complexity of the infrastructure make its secure protection from a determined attacker quite impossible.
This is not to say that the “Homeland Security Department” is completely useless. Like the “Defense Department,” it is basically a device to channel public money into the pockets of the owners of corporations that sell the illusion of security. A vast new government bureaucracy was created to transfer government funds to corporations controlled by those who make major contributions to powerful politicians. In terns of economics, government is a system of transfer payments. In a government such as the current one in the USA, they take from all and spend selectively, concentrating money into the hands of the owners of capital. Providing security against terrorist attack is just the motivational cover story.
So, if “homeland security” is such a fraud, why hasn’t the US been attacked again since 9/11? There are several possible answers. First, the attackers sought to exacerbate already-strained relations between the US and the world’s Muslim community. They also sought to expel the US military from the Saudi Arabian holy land. They succeeded on both counts without risking further attacks on US territory. They probably also underestimated the US response, the invasion of Afghanistan, the success of which necessitated a period of reorganization. In the meantime, the invasion of Iraq provided them with a new fertile field of activity. Also, the erosion of civil liberties in the US, especially for Muslims, has probably made domestic US operations more difficult. Besides, there have been more terrorist attacks worldwide since 9/11 than previously. These potential attackers have the money, the will and the expertise and the US has provided plenty of motivation and new recruits. So, ultimately, it’s only a matter of time, no matter how much money is wasted trying to avoid it.
The only real way for the US to avoid being attacked is to not piss people off in the first place. For example, telling Israel that US support would no longer be available unless they achieved a just resolution to their conflict with the Palestinians would save us hundreds of billions and who knows how many lives. Otherwise, “the clash of cultures” is inevitable and the “homeland” will never be secure.