Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008 | 2:01 a.m.
Republicans claim that theirs is the party that has made America safer and that theirs is the party that will keep it safe, because its leaders have a superior understanding of national security and preparedness.
But just how secure and prepared is our country more than seven years after the Bush administration took the reins?
Not very, according to a nonpartisan commission created by Congress in 2005.
The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves released its final, 400-page report Thursday. Its central conclusion: Security of the nation is at risk because the National Guard and the Reserve do not “have sufficient trained, ready forces available.”
Very few National Guard or Reserve units are prepared for domestic duty because their members lack training and sufficient equipment, the report said. As a result, it continued, the nation is vulnerable to attacks and disasters, particularly those of a chemical, biological or nuclear nature.
This is an “appalling gap that places the nation and its citizens at greater risk,” according to the report.
With two wars under way in addition to increased military commitments around the world, overseas use of National Guard and Reserve forces is five times what it was before 9/11.
The commission said it was a mistake for the Bush administration to have “backed into” this extended use — primarily for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — without a clear signal that the public or elected officials supported it and without a coherent plan for doing so.
Now the nation finds the National Guard and Reserve here at home nearly depleted, unable to respond effectively even if urgently needed.
The commission has made 95 recommendations, chief among them that the Pentagon create an elite National Guard and Reserve force that would be highly trained and ready to quickly respond to domestic emergencies.
Repairing our National Guard and Reserve units will take years, and a commitment by the next president to make national security more than a political statement.