Monday, December 6, 2010

Infrastructure Priorities

I just finished the Al Jazeera English account of the new diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks concerned with the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  This is one release that I have to agree has the potential to cause great damage, simply because it is an internal assessment of our own vulnerabilities based on overseas infrastructure facilities.  However, it is the adjective “overseas” that gets to me the most, because it makes clear that our very sense of “homeland security” involves critical resources that are not within our own national boundaries or jurisdiction.  In other words it makes clear just how dependent we are on resources over which we do not (and can not) exercise direct control.

While this is troubling in itself, there is at least one implication that is just as troubling, if not more so.  That is the implication that, in the name of “homeland security,” we are investing far more attention, effort, and probably resources in shoring up critical overseas infrastructure while we see our domestic infrastructure rotting away just about everywhere we choose to look.  This applies to just about every physical element of our daily life, whether it involves energy, transportation, agriculture, or the manufacturing and sales of goods.  We have been so consumed by Internet evangelism that we believe that the infrastructure of the “information superhighway” is the only one that matters.

Now, to be fair, the primary focus of NIPP is concerned with our domestic infrastructure.  If we go to the DHS Web site, we discover that the NIPP was first published in June of 2006 and is broken down into the maintenance of infrastructure in eighteen sectors, which account for the examples I gave in the preceding paragraph.  This may well have been the only productive action on the part of the Bush Administration to come out of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in August of 2005.  The problem is that, under the Bush Administration, the NIPP never progressed much beyond the release of a massive document;  and under the Obama Administration we may have little to show for our concern for domestic infrastructure beyond the release of an equally massive revised NIPP document in 2009.  (Note, by the way, that no one needs to depend on WikiLeaks to see these documents.  All the information is in PDF and ready for download from the appropriate DHS Web pages.)

We now face a future controlled by a new Congress more obsessed with spending less money than with spending money wisely.  Back in 2008 I told the story about what Nikita Khrushchev once said about invading Iran:

The Soviet Union does not need to invade Iran. Iran is a rotten fruit. The Soviet Union can wait for it to drop from the tree.

Now we are the rotten fruit, which means that, by Khrushchev’s logic, we are our greatest threat to our own “homeland security.”  (Furthermore, with a sense of irony that arises so often in Russian literature, we are also now the sabre-rattlers promoting the invasion of Iran.)  Will 2011 be the year in which the United States, as a nation, drops from the tree?

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