Defining The Threat Down

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Air Force

Daniel Patrick Moynihan triggered some controversy a generation ago when he noted the nation was “defining deviancy down” and that destructive habits that the public would have denounced at one time had become commonplace and accepted.

The late senator came to mind earlier this week over breakfast with Air Force General Douglas Fraser, chief of U.S. Southern Command. He simply stated that his forces, and those of our allies, stop only a third of the illicit drugs they know are being shipped from South and Central America into the U.S. (How much in addition to that known quantity is getting through is one of former defense secretary Don Rumsfeld’s famous known unknowns; i.e., we know there’s more, but not how much more).

The key reason 67% of the known drug flow makes its way to American streets: the U.S. lacks the hardware and troops to halt any more than that. Not only that, Fraser added: the share of what is being halted before reaching the U.S. is shrinking. “We are just limited in our ability to cover such large territories and get to the right place at the right time,” he said. “It’s really the capacity to intercept that we are really lacking.”

A Senate report last year said the nation has spent about $6 billion since 2005 trying to detect and halt illegal drugs headed into the U.S.

Next year’s missile-defense budget is about $8 billion. That’s on top of the more than $90 billion it has spent on such defenses since 1999.

One threat is real, is here, is crude, and we’re stopping only a third of it.

The other threat is nebulous, technologically challenging and may never come to pass.

The nation has chosen to dismiss one threat, and exaggerate the other.