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Other Voices: National security should be top priority

Over the past month, North Korea has tested ballistic missiles that could soon reach California, Iran has accelerated its pursuit of nuclear weapons, Iran and Syrian-backed Hezbollah has pushed the Middle East to the brink of all out war and Iraq has tilted even closer to civil war.

As a career Air Force officer, I’ve always believed that national security must be our first priority. When Congress meets for only 97 days a year during a time of war and spends more time discussing gay marriage and flag burning than America’s national security policy, it’s clear our current elected leaders don’t agree.

Even when our government does address these threats, they are almost always responding after the fact rather than proactively offering a clear and coherent policy that is understood by those who mean us harm.

During all my years in the military, the most respected commander in chief was President Ronald Reagan because he offered a consistent national security policy that encouraged our friends and dissuaded our enemies. I believe we must reprise America’s Cold War leadership by creating a “global security” strategy that can thwart terrorists and tyrants alike. And the key to this strategy is constancy, not the “make it up as we go along” tendencies of our current government.

Real security means communicating the certainty that we will not let terrorists or terrorist states acquire any weapons of mass destruction or the power to deliver them to our shores. It means working to keep every corner of this earth from becoming another terrorist haven and making America invulnerable at home by eliminating our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

We invaded Iraq because our government told us Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, we have completely failed to stop the WMD programs in both North Korea and Iran. And the clock is ticking – within a few short years, North Korea will have the missile technology to strike California with a nuclear warhead.

No wonder our opponents feel emboldened. We attack one country that does not have WMD, yet we fail to respond in any meaningful way as two terrorist states acquire nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them directly to the United States. Despite our massive military might, the terrorists do not fear us or our allies because we have no clear or consistent policy of how we will use this might to protect America.

To keep America safe, North Korea and Iran must be prevented from developing nuclear weapons or selling nuclear technology to terrorists. We must make it clear to Russia and China that they must abandon the Cold War habit of aiding and abetting tyrants. One-on-one negotiation should be considered an alternative that would ensure U.S. interests come first. And for diplomacy to work, we must keep the option of tactical strikes against Pyongang and Tehran’s WMD facilities on the table.

To prevent the creation of another terrorist stronghold in Iraq, we must increase political and economic support for the new elected government, including a re-deployment of U.S. forces to reduce the perception of “occupation” that is fueling sectarian violence while accelerating efforts to rebuild Iraq’s economic and security infrastructure. Having coordinated surveillance flights over Iraq in the 1990s, I did not support the U.S. invasion because I knew there were no WMD present. Now that we are there, we must not let the politicians make an even greater mistake – leaving Iraq more vulnerable to terrorist infiltration than we found it.

Finally, to keep America secure in the decades to come, we must launch a short and long term program to end our dependence on economic resources from unstable countries. This Congress has refused to increase CAFE standards to adequately invest in alternative energy, or to reduce America’s 58 percent dependence on foreign oil. If Brazil can do it, so can America.

I was proud to defend America from its enemies for nearly three decades. But I know the real front line in the fight to keep America safe is now in Washington, where we must win the war against misguided priorities and inconsistent policies in order to make sure that America is safer in the years ahead.


Retired Lt. Col. Charlie Brown lives in Roseville and is the Democratic nominee for Congress in California’s Fourth District.