Military happy to be excluded from homeland security department

Of all the many agencies involved in the war on terror, perhaps the one least affected by the proposed Department of Homeland Security is that other department tasked with the national defense-the one headquartered at the Pentagon.

Under the president's plan, the Defense Department loses very little, chiefly a secure communications network and a not-yet-built bio-defense center, which together total just 0.15 percent of its $379 billion budget.

And Defense's open secret is that it spent the 1990s trying to get out of the homeland security business-backing away from counterdrug border patrols and transferring a counter-terrorism training program for local firefighters and police to the Justice Department.

In fact, ever since the withdrawal of federal occupation forces from the former Confederate states and the passage of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act (barring military personnel from domestic law enforcement), the U.S. military has held a deep distaste for domestic entanglements of any kind.

Furthermore, since 1917, when the United States intervened in Europe's First World War, the American military has been organized, trained, and equipped to fight "over there."

The Defense Department got into the war on drugs in the 1980s, and into fighting domestic terrorism in the 1990s, less out of a desire for empire-building than on orders from successive administrations and Congresses that could not find anyone else with the required expertise.

With a new, civilian Department of Homeland Security, however, the nation's leadership would have someone else to pick on. Said Michele Flournoy, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for strategy in the Clinton administration, "My guess is that many in the Defense Department are heaving a sigh of relief."

Even with a new security department, the military would always have a crucial supporting role domestically. No other agency can mobilize tens of thousands of trained personnel-from doctors to truck drivers to morticians-not to mention mountains of supplies, from tents to water purifiers.

The Pentagon is already creating a civilian staff and a uniformed "Northern Command" precisely to coordinate such support. But even in this area, the proposed department would make the old one's work easier. Instead of the wide array of civilian agencies the Pentagon must support at present, there would be one clear customer. That simplified system would let the military focus on the mission dearest to its heart: hunting America's enemies abroad.