Homeland Security—The War Is Over There
by Lawrence P. Farrell, Jr.
Since the U.S. war on terrorism began nearly 18 months ago, we often have heard
people lament that, in this fight, the combat zone—unlike in previous
conflicts—is not in faraway places, but in our own homeland.
That may be true in the sense that our enemies clearly are aiming for U.S.-based
targets and centers of influence. And, to be sure, there is much tightening
up we need to do inside our borders—airline security, immigration control,
border and port safety, to name just a few items. But the fact that we are being
attacked at home should not lead us to mistakenly assume that the war will be
fought and won here, on our turf.
We need to continually remind ourselves that in any campaign, playing defense
alone is insufficient. To win this most unconventional war, the nation will
need to do more than beef up its border security and root out home-grown terrorist
cells. In short, to beat the terrorists—as would be the case against a
more conventional enemy—the United States must take the fight to the enemy’s
The history of warfare, and indeed our own experience, makes it clear that
winners are the ones who take the fight successfully to the enemy. U.S. successes
in armed conflict have come as a result of effectively projecting power. Our
weapons reflect this principle, as they are developed as offensive systems,
designed to penetrate, survive and win on the enemy’s side of the battle
line. All of the favorable outcomes we have enjoyed applied this axiom. When
we ignored it, as in Vietnam, when we decided to keep ground action on our side
of the line, the results were not favorable. Fighting only on one’s own
side of the line—from a defensive posture—gives the initiative to
the enemy. No matter how many times you throw them back from the gates, they
are always able to regroup at their leisure and come at you again. Eventually,
This is an important issue to ponder, as policy makers, legislators and military
experts continue to debate the merits of the U.S. national defense strategy
and military posture.
In the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote
that the war that began on 9/11 “was brought violently and brutally to
America’s shores by the evil forces of terror.” The QDR makes the
case that it’s nearly impossible to predict when and where America’s
interests will be threatened next. That is why the ability to project power
and deter aggression is so important.
“We can be clear about trends, but uncertain about events,” Rumsfeld
said. “We can identify threats, but cannot know when or where America
or its friends will be attacked.”
The QDR stipulates that the United States should deter aggression and coercion
by deploying forward the capacity to swiftly defeat attacks and impose severe
penalties for aggression.
As the United States seeks to develop innovative tactics to defeat the terrorist
threat, the words of the QDR are more relevant than ever. Our objective should
be to eliminate not only their capability to wage a terrorist war, but also
to prevent its regeneration by eliminating its base of support.
During the Cold War, the geographic regions of potential battles were well
defined. By contrast, the current environment has imposed demands for U.S. military
intervention on virtually every continent and against a wide variety of adversaries.
As the QDR points out, “The United States could be forced to intervene
in unexpected crises against opponents with a wide range of capabilities. Moreover,
these interventions may take place in distant regions where urban environments,
other complex terrain, and varied climatic conditions present major operational
We no longer have the Soviet enemy, but the principles of national defense
have not changed. The winner will be the one who takes the initiative and takes
the fight to the enemy. Defending ourselves requires, more than ever, the ability
and willingness to project our military strength effectively, way beyond our
As the tragic September attacks demonstrated, adversaries will aim for the
centers of gravity of the United States and its allies. Setting up a “fortress
USA” will not be enough to keep the terrorists away. The QDR once again
has it just right: “The ability to project power at long ranges helps
to deter threats to the United States and, when necessary, to disrupt, deny,
or destroy hostile entities at a distance.”
Serious students of history see clearly the lessons of past conflicts. Winning
requires that our forces move into the enemy’s lair. Afghanistan is part
of that strategy. Pressure on those who harbor terrorists also is part of that
The demands on our force structure, domestic institutions and resources will
be high and perhaps unsustainable over an extended period. So we need to work
the force-transformation issue and get on with the campaign. Budget requirements
will increase across many sectors: defense, homeland security, justice, among
In the end, we will defeat these enemies only when we bring the war to their
own turf. Not until we eliminate the “wasp nest” can we be reassured
that they will be too weak to mount another attack.
Our enemies must get the message loud and clear that we don’t fight in
our back yard, that we are prepared and willing to play offense. In homeland
security, the war is over there.
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