The Homeland Security Twist

Iraq and environmental policies are leaving Americans vulnerable to what is shaping into the busiest and deadliest tornado season yet.

Deadly tornadoes this weekend in Kansas and the Great Plains region are cause for concern—and not just because this year’s 600 tornados and 69 tornado-related fatalities put it on track to be both the busiest and deadliest year yet. Our current Iraq and environmental policies are compounding these issues and making an already serious problem much worse.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who expressed concern over National Guard deployments earlier this year at an event at the Center for American Progress, is now having her fears confirmed. She reported this weekend that about 60 percent of the state’s National Guard equipment is gone, and the diminished access to tents, trucks, and semitrailers will handicap rebuilding efforts.

And according to meteorologists, global warming is likely to continue escalating natural disasters like these. Tornado chaser and climatologist William Reid, explains that “The lifeblood of severe weather systems and tornadic storms is water vapor and heat energy…it appears straightforward that global warming would favor a corresponding increase in severe weather and tornadoes on the Great Plains.”

The Center for American Progress’ Jeff Rakover, noted last week in “Operations in Iraq Are Leaving the States Vulnerable,” that even in the face of a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina, which highlighted how equipment and personnel shortages can harm us at home, “the Pentagon and the Department of Defense have not addressed the National Guard’s readiness crisis.” This weekend’s tragedies in the Great Plains beg the question: How many more natural disasters will it take for the White House to realize that the current strategy in Iraq is stretching its forces and equipment too thin and leaving its citizens dangerously vulnerable.

We have the ability to take action on both of these issues right now. New strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan can restore military readiness and troop safety, and put American resources where they can best be used. And new policies to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and invest in clean coal technologies can reduce the escalating threat of natural disasters.

Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb has testified to Congress on a strategy to rebuild and expand U.S. ground forces in a way that will ensure that the National Guard has the recources necessary to react to natural disasters, including:

  • Don’t lower standards. The Army and Marines should meet their new end-strength goals without relaxing recruitment standards or retention and promotion criteria.
  • Expand with a focus on peacekeeping and counterinsurgency operations. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that while our ground forces remain conventionally unmatched, there is significant room for improvement in our ability to conduct counterinsurgency and peacekeeping operations.
  • Grow the forces in a fiscally responsible manner. The challenge confronting the Army and Marines in terms of both escalating personnel costs and the deepening equipment crisis requires significant congressional attention and funding.
  • Open up the military to all Americans who possess the desire, talent, and character to serve. The Army and Marine Corps cannot afford to place unnecessary obstacles in the way of qualified men and women who want to serve. To this end, the military should make major changes to its personnel policy.

The Center for American Progress has also made policy suggestions for curbing the carbon gas emissions that cause global warming and preventing the global average temperature from rising beyond 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. The initiative would include:

  • The immediate creation of a national cap on emissions and a market for trading credits.
  • Economy-wide implementation that protects early adopters and provides opportunities for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and agriculture and forestry industries to participate.
  • Potential for integration into international carbon credit trading markets in the future.
  • Reinvigorated fuel economy standards to increase vehicle efficiency by 50 percent by 2025, from the current fleet average of 24.6 mpg to approximately 37 mpg.
  • Establishing a renewable electricity portfolio standard that mandates 25 percent of all electricity be generated by renewable resources by 2025.

The United States must be able to adequately react to natural disasters at home. Luckily, it has the means both to prepare and work to prevent natural disaster by boosting the readiness of the National Guard and curbing the emissions that cause global warming. It just has to take action.

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