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How Will Obama Administration Define the Homeland?

In 2001, the phrase homeland security was invented, and along with it was invented the idea that there is some kind of homeland of the United States of America. Traditionally, a homeland has been understand to be the native land from which a person or group of people originally come, and regard as their territory, even if they have emigrated from it or been forced to leave it.

department of homeland insecurityWhere is this sort of homeland for the citizens of the USA? There is none. Yet, people accepted the phrase homeland security, and even allowed it to become adopted by a new U.S. Department of Homeland Security, because the idea that there is some kind of ancestral homeland for citizens of the United States made people feel safe by encouraging an underlying sense of nationalistic solidarity. Psychologically, the term homeland is aligned with xenophobia (fear of outsiders), and a national identity defined by territory that needs to be protected rather than ideals that need to be upheld.

Now, for the first time ever, the Department of Homeland Security is transitioning from one presidential administration to another. By the mere acceptance of the phrase homeland security, and the retention of a Department of Homeland Security, the incoming Obama Administration has accepted some of the nationalistic, fearful frame created at the beginning of the Bush Administration. Could there be, however, some shift in the idea of the homeland and homeland security?

Of course, we can’t really know that yet, given that the Obama Administration is set to begin about eight hours from now. However, incoming Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has already offered the following definition of Homeland Security during her confirmation hearing:

“To secure the homeland means to find and kill the roots of terrorism, to stop those who intend to hurt us, to wisely enforce the rule of law at our borders, to protect our nation’s infrastructure, particularly things like our cyber infrastructure, as you mentioned, and to be prepared for and to respond to homeland disasters with speed, skill, compassion, effectiveness, and common sense. This is a mission of paramount importance to the Obama administration, to this committee and to me.”

From this definiton, it appears that the Obama Administration will regard homeland security as:

  • Killing the roots of terrorism
  • Stopping people who want to hurt “us”
  • Enforcing law at the nation’s border
  • Protecting our infrastructure, including “cyber infrastructure”
  • Responding to “homeland disasters”

    Janet Napolitano describes this as a “mission” for the Department of Homeland Security. I can’t see, however, what the central purpose of this supposed mission really is. It looks like nothing more than keeping Americans safe from stuff, including such a wide range of stuff as undeclared vegetables bought in Canada, hurricanes, potholes, computer viruses and terrorists. How is that a “mission”?

    Napolitano acknowledged at the hearing that “We must work to make sure the department continues to merge as a whole, and has a unified vision for homeland security,” but I don’t see where Napolitano actually defined what she thinks that unified vision actually is.

    The vague identity of “homeland security” was reflected in the very name of the Senate Committee at which the Napolitano confirmation hearing took place: The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. What a jumbled jurisdiction of a committee – keeping people safe from stuff and the government doing stuff.

    Maybe that’s what homeland security is – just a collection of bureaucracies designed to justify the government’s power to do… stuff.

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