Ridge: US safety depends on engagement with world

Ex-US security chief hopes Obama ensures enemies know US is not interested in being liked, but respected.

US President Barack Obama 370 (photo credit: Jason Reed/Reuters)
US President Barack Obama 370
(photo credit: Jason Reed/Reuters)
The United States must become more engaged in the world if it is to ensure its own security, visiting former secretary of homeland security Tom Ridge said Monday.
Speaking at the annual International Conference on Homeland Security in Tel Aviv, Ridge said he could not speculate on what path the Obama administration will take when it is sworn in for a second term in January. But he added that as an American, he hopes the president “will not cede our future” to the United Nations or to other countries.
“At the end of the day, America should be more engaged and not less,” Ridge said. “America must demonstrate that our friends are our friends and that we are united with our allies. Our enemies need to know that we’re not as interested in being liked as in being respected.”
Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor who now heads security consulting firm Ridge Global, noted that there was pressure from both sides of politics for the United States to distance itself from global events.
“On the Republican side, there is a small element in our party that would prefer us to be isolationist,” he said. “And on the Democrats side there are those who are economic isolationists, the ‘Buy American’ crowd, that group that refuse to accept that the market is global and that you’d better be engaged in it.”
Interviewer Dana Weiss, moderator of Channel 2’s Meet the Press, asked Ridge to list the biggest challenges that have emerged for US homeland security since he was in charge of the department in 2003-05.
Ridge said that one of the major challenges has been keeping up with the increasing complexity of global terrorism, as al-Qaida’s ideology has spread to a growing network of regional organizations and individuals. He also listed support of sovereign governments for terrorist organizations, giving the example of Iranian backing for Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
One of the most important tasks facing the United States and its allies is to prepare for the unexpected, according to Ridge.
“Countries must prepare themselves as well as they can for a black swan event, to be able to show resilience,” Ridge said.
He praised Israel for its level of preparation for a major catastrophe, naming its response and recovery capability as one of the country’s greatest strengths.
The scandal involving General David Petraeus, who resigned from his position as CIA director last Friday over an extramarital affair, was also raised during the interview.
Ridge said that Petraeus’s own personal issues notwithstanding, there was no reason to believe that his actions had impaired US security.
“I don’t know General Petraeus well, but I do know him as an extraordinary patriot, a great warrior and an architect of successful counter terror strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Ridge said.
“Although there will be some questions about whether or not the investigation into the email trail has somehow impaired America’s security, I say with a great deal of confidence that I would be one of the most surprised individuals to learn that in any manner, shape or form this patriot, this warrior, this extraordinary individual did anything to compromise America’s safety.”