High-Cost Diplomacy

Charles Kenny offers an amusing litany of seemingly extravagant expenditures in the course of calling for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, including the following:

The DHS also runs the U.S. Secret Service, an agency that just spent an estimated $100 million guarding a weeklong presidential trip to Africa. That would be more than the entire economic output of Tanzania during Barack Obama’s visit. The Secret Service traveled around the continent with 56 vehicles, including three trucks full of bulletproof glass. The cancellation of a planned Obama family safari at least meant there was no need for the assault team armed with high-caliber rounds against the threat of Taliban-sympathizing cheetahs.

But of course the cost of the president’s visit to Tanzania is a broader reflection of the fact that it is relatively expensive for firms in affluent countries to engage in labor-intensive endeavors in less-affluent countries, like diplomacy or (a far more extreme case) counter-insurgency operations. The harder question to answer is whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Would U.S. influence erode in East Africa if the president of the U.S. did not make occasional in-person visits to the region, or if we thinned the number of diplomatic personnel? And if U.S. influence did indeed decline in East Africa, should we care? My inclination is to think that it would and that we should, but this is definitely not a no-brainer. I would be delighted if there were some stats guru toiling away in the White House, working on identifying the lowest-cost diplomatic missions that promise the highest return. Given the limits of our knowledge, such an endeavor would probably amount to little more than voodoo. (Or perhaps we should replace the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with the U.S. Department of Voodoo Studies.)

And though Kenny’s case against security theater is well-taken, it’s not clear to me that we would yield significant dividends from a deconsolidation of DHS. Though there is a compelling case that we should never have created the agency in the first place, striking a symbolic blow against a culture of fear is not quite enough to merit the expense of yet another reorg. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

Most Popular

Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More