Americans have become so inured to the sight of federal troops fighting fires, rescuing flood victims from rooftops, and engaging in drug interdiction on the border that few eyebrows were raised when news broke that 20,000 active-duty infantry would soon be deployed on American soil for so-called homeland defense.
But critics say this development – announced by U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in October – is unprecedented and further evidence of a military mission-creep into domestic affairs, particularly in areas for which the National Guard and Reserves are already suited.
“I don’t get it. I don’t understand why they are further encumbering active-duty brigades with this kind of mission,” says Winslow Wheeler, author of America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress and one of Washington’s few civilian experts on the Pentagon’s Byzantine budget. “It sounds like someone is expanding his empire.”
Pentagon officials say that having a permanent, ready-reaction force capable of responding to a catastrophic event – natural or manmade – is a sensible and necessary outgrowth of post-9/11 national security. But the move has constitutional experts, civil libertarians, and retired and active military scratching their heads. Politicians are now demanding answers, wondering how close the military is to violating the Posse Comitatus Act, the 1878 federal law passed after Reconstruction to prevent federal troops from conducting domestic law enforcement.
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