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Napolitano Draws Fire as Homeland Security Chief

Wednesday, 03 Dec 2008 01:03 PM

By David A. Patten

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President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as his Secretary of Homeland Security has raised concerns from some experts over her ability to keep America safe from terrorist attack.

As the two-term governor of a border state, Napolitano appears to have less law-enforcement and military experience than current Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and his predecessor, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

Chertoff was a former federal prosecutor and assistant U.S. Attorney General, as well as a U.S. Appeals Court judge, before taking over the department in February 2005.

Ridge was a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who became an assistant district attorney in Pennsylvania, then served 12 years in Congress and six years as governor of Pennsylvania, before Bush named him in October 2001 the director of the office that later became Homeland Security.

Napolitano, by contrast, served as a U.S. Attorney for Arizona, before winning election as Arizona’s state attorney general. She was elected governor of Arizona in 2002.

National security expert Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the D.C.-based Center for Security Policy, expressed uncertainty about Napolitano’s qualifications, noting that in August 2005 she followed the lead of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson by declaring a state of emergency along parts of the southern U.S. border.

“She did that at a moment when I think it was politically expedient and astute to do so. She flanked Bush to the right by demonstrating that more could and should be done about border security,” Gaffney told Newsmax.

“I don’t know any other reason, other than the fact that she’s governor of a border state, that might commend her for this job,” Gaffney added. “My sense generally speaking is that her judgment hasn’t been very sound on these and related issues.”

Although much of the mainstream media has ignored it, those doubts have been echoed elsewhere. Discussing Napolitano’s nomination on his Monday radio program, Fox host Bill O’Reilly described the state of Arizona -- which faces a budget shortfall estimated at $2.6 billion -- as an “absolute, abject mess.” O’Reilly added: “Does that mean she will keep me and my family safe? I’m not so sure.” Later in the program, however, O’Reilly said he would give Napolitano “the benefit of the doubt.”

Those familiar with Napolitano’s border security initiatives are even more critical.

“I’m dubious at best,” Minuteman President Chris Simcox told Newsmax. “This is a situation where you might as well put Barney the purple dinosaur in charge of Homeland Security.”

One of the ironies of Napolitano’s appointment is that she will now be responsible for enforcing federal policies she previously objected to as governor.

In November, she called for the National Guard to be redeployed to the U.S. Mexico Border -- a position unlikely to sit well with her party’s Hispanic-American supporters.

As governor, Napolitano signed into law a bill ordering officials in her state not to comply with the Real ID program, a measure recommended by the 9/11 Commission and approved by Congress in 2005 as part of a larger bill.

Real ID requires states to verify the residency of all citizens applying for drivers’ licenses. As secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano would be responsible for issuing rules related to Real ID compliance.

The 9/11 Commission reported that the hijacker who flew a jet into the Pentagon, Hani Hanjour, possessed an Arizona drivers license.

While her stance on Real ID is likely to trigger pointed questioning from GOP Senators during the confirmation process, Napolitano has won two ringing endorsements that figure to be influential: Those of Chertoff and Ridge.

On Monday, Ridge called her an “excellent choice,” and said she offers “leadership acumen of the highest caliber.” Similarly, Chertoff released a statement that Napolitano “has a tremendous intellect and possesses the leadership and sound judgment needed to make the difficult decisions that this job presents.”

One expert on homeland security, Dr. James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, told Newsmax that Napolitano’s leadership team will play an important role. He criticized the “cult of personality” that occasionally surrounds the Secretary of Homeland Security position.

“I think it’s been unhealthy, this notion that the Secretary of Homeland Security somehow needs to be like Jack Bauer, and jump in and solve all your problems,” he said. “Homeland security is actually a state and local function. In a moment of crisis, that’s where people should be look -- to the Rudy Giulianis of the world -- not to some bureaucrat in Washington they expect to be the savior of the nation.”

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