These days, the term “national security” is a lot like the word “racism.” It has been applied so liberally for so long that its usage is now meaningless. Definitions require a limited and fixed meaning. If everyone is a racist, then no one is. If every government action is about national security, then nothing is.

Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona announced this month that obesity “affects our national and global security.” We also learned this month that the Department of Homeland Security believes that “climate change has the potential to accelerate and intensify extreme weather events which threaten the nation’s sustainability and security.” Being fat is a matter of national security? And global warming as well? Really?

The entire WikiLeaks debate has hinged upon the question of whether or not the whistleblower group has compromised America’s national security. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it has not, yet he has also said that “the initial assessment in no way discounts the risk to national security.”

So there you have it. WikiLeaks’ mere existence represents a permanent threat to national security. As dictated and defined by whom? The federal government, which not-so-coincidentally continues to vaguely say that everything WikiLeaks does is a potential threat to national security, while never being able to cite anything specifically, per Gates admission.

Given the free and open nature of the internet, as enjoyed by WikiLeaks, Sen. Joe Lieberman has introduced the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, which would allow the government to regulate the internet in the name of protecting the nation’s financial security. Lieberman even wants to give the president the ability to flip a “kill switch” to shut down the entire internet. Although Congress has denied the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) such power and federal courts have declared such power unconstitutional, last week the FCC pushed forward. Said Sen. Jim DeMint of this legislation, “The Obama Administration has dedicated itself to expanding centralized government planning. Today, unelected bureaucrats rammed through an internet takeover, even after Congress and the courts warned them not to.” Apparently, Sen. DeMint does not understand the government’s unlimited concept of “national security.”

When the United States invaded Afghanistan to rout the Taliban after 9/11, most Americans agreed that going after those who harbored Al-Qaeda was a legitimate national security interest. A decade later, Americans are not so sure why we’re still there. Aren’t we just nation-building at this point? And just exactly when are our troops coming home?

According to Sen. Lindsey Graham, they should never come home. Recently, CNN’s Kathleen Parker interviewed Graham, asking, “So, just to be clear, you’re suggesting a permanent U.S. presence in Afghanistan?” Graham replied, “It’s something we should consider. We have bases all over the world.” Bewildered, Parker’s co-host Eliot Spitzer interjected, “You know senator, I hear what you’re saying, and I’m actually kind of startled by it, because my recollection was that this war was about Al-Qaeda and terrorism, not about nation-building in Afghanistan … What are we doing?” Graham’s answer: “Well, my belief is that we’re in Afghanistan to protect the national security interests of this nation.” Spitzer shot back: “It sounds to me like what you’re doing is creating a permanent presence in Afghanistan … to what end?” Graham: “The end is securing U.S. national security interests.”

James Madison once wrote that “no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war.” Many Americans learned this lesson recently, as the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) began harassing and groping air travelers in what many consider an overly intrusive manner. Americans should not have been surprised. The new, more aggressive TSA travel measures simply reflect the latest manifestation of the overall mentality of our ever-growing national security state, in which civil liberties and basic freedoms continue to fall by the wayside in the name of creating a risk-free society.

But in a truly free society, there’s no such thing as being risk free. Toward that end, our federal government has more often become the enemy, not the protector, of American freedom. And national security is more often an excuse, not a legitimate justification, for government intrusion and growth.

The basic function of our government is to protect its citizens’ liberties, yet federal officials now use vague, peculiar, and questionable interpretations of national security to promote policies either antagonistic toward, or antithetical to, America’s most basic precepts and principles. Personal choice? Freedom of information? Constitutionally declared wars? Civil liberties? Each continues to be damaged to some degree in the name of “national security,” at the expense of our actual security, and at a cost our ancestors would have never tolerated.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.

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