- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

About making the nation safer from terror attacks, there is one deficiency so glaring that it is hiding in plain sight. That failure pertains to people. The Marine Corps attracted recruits by calling for a “few good men” and, dare we say, women.

One of America’s first naval heroes, the redoubtable John Paul Jones, understood that, in estimating the fighting power of a man of war, “men are more important than guns in the rating of a ship.” So, as Congress spends the back end of a long, hotsummer wrestling with the September 11 commission’s recommendations for intelligence reform, what is being done about the most important component of national security — people?

The answer is not much. We may end up revamping our security structure. Yet, we seem indifferent to consider how to attract, retain, prepare and reward sufficient numbers of good people to serve in the broad defense of the nation.

The military is a prime example. With more than 40,000 National Guard members and Reserves serving in the Gulf, many active-duty forces involuntarily extended and the Army badly stretched, the fact is that the all-volunteer force, one positive result of the Vietnam War, is broken. How it will be “fixed” or replaced is not even on the distant horizon.

And what about manning the other agencies of government that play an equally important role as the military in protecting the nation? Customs inspectors, embassy counselor officers, emergency services personnel, law enforcement, intelligence agents and countless others now man the front lines. The United States has never had a professional civil service as have other nations such as Britain and France. The time has come to ask whether this policy makes sense and whether the nation needs a professional national security civil service.

Finally, for instant depression, ask what the government is doing about educating, not merely training, its national security workforce in this brave and frightening new world from the president and members of Congress all the way down the line. Take the rationale for the threat. Many members of Congress and the Executive Branch assert that the reason al Qaeda targets America is simply because they hate us, not that they are advancing a political agenda through using terror. That claim is naive, and its persistence will not bring victory. And officials of any administration often take office with little up-to-date understanding of current issues and events, particularly if appointments are made for reasons of politics or patronage.

The September 11 commission has given new life to reform. Why then not convene another national commission to examine the nation’s security needs regarding people? Analyses of the all-volunteer forces and alternatives would be a key function. State and local requirements for national security personnel could well be included. Weighing the merits of a national security civil-service corps would be another task. And how to educate and prepare our people for these demanding tasks can no longer be deferred.

One answer could rest in transforming the current National Defense University and military service academy system into a broader national security-oriented university system, both to recruit and educate this professional cohort. Enrollment of the four service academies (Army, Navy, Air force and Coast Guard) could be greatly expanded and even doubled, with curricula concentrating on the broader subject of national security. Graduates would receive reserve military commissions. However, a number of these graduates would be permitted to complete obligated service in designated national security billets across government beyond the three military departments.

The president of a new National Security University would be given broad authority for educating across all of government about national security in this new environment. War college students would come from beyond the traditional Defense, State and CIA constituents, and include more congressional staffers. To demonstrate the importance of this position, the president of National Security University could hold cabinet rank and serve on the National Security Council. And, on a regular basis, a short refresher course conducted by this university would be mandatory for senior government officials, as well as key congressional staffers, as the Defense Department’s “Capstone” course is for advanced education of all new flag and general officers.

As the danger from jihadists who use terror to advance a political cause becomes more sophisticated and menacing, the nation must respond. In the rush to correct the problems that produced September 11 and the mishandling of postwar Iraq, the nation cannot forget that people are its most important resource. Perhaps candidates Bush and Kerry can embrace this understanding and, in so doing, guarantee that more than a few good men and women enter and stay in the ranks that are crucial to safeguarding the nation.

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