The term “national security” has become like the word “racism.” It has been applied so liberally for so long that its overstretched usage has rendered it meaningless. Definitions necessarily require a limited and fixed meaning. If everyone is a “racist” then no one is. If everything becomes “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?” Global warming falls into the category of “national security?” Really?

The entire WikiLeaks controversy 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 adds, “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’s 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 government regulation of the internet in the name of protecting the nation’s financial security, even giving the president a “kill switch” ability to shut down the entire internet. Despite Congress denying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) such power and federal courts declaring it unconstitutional, last week the FCC pushed forward. Said Sen. Jim DeMint of this legislation, “Americans loudly demanded a more limited federal government this November, but 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? When are we coming home?

According to Sen. Lindsey Graham, America should never come home. CNN’s Kathleen Parker asked Graham this month, “So, just to be clear, you’re suggesting a permanent US 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…”

Graham offered few specifics in his call for the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan forever, or at least he made his case in a manner that could easily be applied to most other countries in the Middle East. How long will it be before Graham suggests America should set up shop in those countries as well, permanently, all in the name of “national security?” Who believes he wouldn’t suggest this?

James Madison once wrote that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war.” Many Americans began to learn this lesson in recent months while traveling, as the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) began harassing and groping air travelers to what many consider an overly intrusive degree.

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. Just as today, “national security” is more often an excuse, not a legitimate justification, for government intrusion and growth.

The basic function of any government is to protect 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.

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