With Florida Senator Bill Nelson suggesting President Obama militarize the Gulf spill cleanup, Bush security adviser Frances Townsend says our troops shouldn’t pay the price for federal incompetence.
Earlier this week, President Obama requested funding from Congress to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border. During the Bush administration, we likewise sent several thousand National Guardsmen to the border while we worked to double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol. On Wednesday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) called on Obama to turn responsibility for the response to the BP oil spill over to the U.S. military. Again, during the Bush administration thousands of National Guardsmen were deployed to the Gulf coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to support local response efforts.
But here is the problem: Our men and women in uniform cannot and must not continue to be used as our national "in emergency break glass" capability. The Department of Defense is assigned mission responsibilities for which they are then given a budget to man, train, and equip themselves to execute. And while their "civilian support" mission read broadly could probably be stretched to include garbage collection, that would make such an assignment neither right nor fair.
When the private sector and civilian agencies fail to man, train, and equip themselves for their assigned missions, we must not turn to the only national capability we have confidence in to bail them out!
Our military continues to fight each day in Iraq and Afghanistan, taking casualties and horrific injuries. The troops also face ongoing operations around the world in places such as the Horn of Africa and Yemen as they prepare for potential future conflicts in Iran and North Korea. Each of these are challenges that only the U.S. military is capable of confronting—and for which they are manned, trained and equipped.
When the private sector and the civilian agencies of the federal government fail to anticipate, prepare, respond, and recover from a catastrophic event, we cannot reflexively turn to the U.S. military who are already fully engaged in their assigned missions. When the private sector and civilian agencies—those who are responsible—fail to man, train, and equip themselves for their assigned missions, we must not turn to the only national capability we have confidence in to bail them out!
The failures in the BP oil spill go back long before April 20 when the spill happened. It stems from the federal government's inability to ensure that BP had an adequate catastrophic response capability when they granted the drilling license. The second mistake by the federal government was failing to ensure their own ability to plan, prepare, and train to assess, command and respond to a massive spill. There continue to be failures across the private and public sectors for which the American people must demand accountability. Absent clear accountability we will leave not only this environmental tragedy for our children but the legacy of incompetence for them to correct. We owe them better. We owe them more.
But one thing is clear: we would only compound the tragedy to ask our men and women in uniform to pay the price for the incompetence and failure of others. The U.S. military must not be assigned responsibility for the BP oil spill, a mission they do not possess the capability to resolve. This is not their mess.
Frances Townsend served as assistant to President George W. Bush for homeland security and counterterrorism and chaired the Homeland Security Council from May 2004 until January 2008. She previously served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism from May 2003 to May 2004. Most recently, she provided consulting services and advice to corporate entities on global strategic engagement and risk as well as crisis and contingency planning.