The role of the military in homeland recovery
| 09.29.2005 | 11:46:42 | Views: 2938 | ID:
September 29 '05: Congressional leaders on the Hill and the Bush administration are engaged in a debate with the Department of Defense about the role of the National Guard and the military in times of national emergencies. After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, federal efforts to evacuate people from New Orleans and other stricken areas left little room for error and resources were stretched thin while state and local officials called on Washington for greater help.
This week US News and World Report examined the relationship between the role of the military in times of war, national emergency and the implications of the Pentagon shifting some of its focus from foreign bellicose operations to domestic relief efforts."President Bush set the tone for the debate," US News began, "in his September 15 address, when he conceded that the response to Hurricane Katrina was not well coordinated. 'It's now clear,' Bush said, 'that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces - the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice.'" Though officials in the Pentagon have said it is a "fair point," - to quote Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - that the military can handle large-scale operations, the Department of Defense said that the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act forbids the use of active military personnel for domestic law enforcement. Many former military and DOD officials have said the debate should not be a black and white issue, but one that weighs the implications on both sides of the argument. Having the military in a domestic response role, they say, is not always the best answer. "Are soldiers and marines capable of doing lots of things?" Former Marine Corps Gen. Charles Wilhelm said. "Yes. Should they do lots of things? It depends. It needs to pass the threshold of being catastrophic." And former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Hugh Shelton told US News, "The military has a role, but it is not the lead dog." The Christian Science Monitor reported that indeed, many defense analysts feel there is a fine line in the role of the military in domestic relief response. Loren Thompson, from the Lexington Institute in Arlington, VA told the Monitor, "The military needs to focus on its core competencies - fighting wars. ... If we load the military with every mission that other cabinet agencies don't do well, then it won't be able to do its job well." "What this might mean for the military," the Monitor wrote, "however is a task that the president has left Congress. Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia, chair of the Armed Services Committee, has said that Congress needs to consider amending Posse Comitatus." And Sen. Susan Collins of Maine (R) told the Monitor, "[Katrina] does represent a significant change, and I think we'll have to explore carefully whether the only option we have to increase the effectiveness of response ... is to break the normal line that keeps the military out of certain civilian activities."
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