The website of the “Office of the President-Elect” promised that President Obama and Vice President Biden would create a civilian assistance corps (CAC):
Obama and Biden will create a national CAC of 25,000 personnel. This corps of civilian volunteers with special skill sets (doctors, lawyers, engineers, city planners, agriculture specialists, police, etc.) would be organized to provide each federal agency with a pool of volunteer experts willing to deploy in times of need at home and abroad.
I have no idea whether “corps” was intended to be pronounced as “corpse” (“Joe’s been hit! Get a corpse man over here now!”). The CAC does not exist and probably never will, so it doesn’t matter (although the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act expanding AmeriCorps does exist, with a bunch of new government employees.)
This excerpt from a speech given during the campaign, in which candidate Obama expressed the need for a civilian national security force — just as powerful, strong, and well-funded as the military — does matter. The military had 1,379,551 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen on active duty as of September 30, 2007. The civilian assistance corps, with only 25,000, couldn’t be the same as the civilian national security force, could it? Of course not — that couldn’t happen in the United States!
Following candidate Obama’s military-magnitude civilian national security force speech, there was a bit of an uproar in the vast right-wing blogosphere but very little in the mainstream media. The right-wing take was scary, and the mainstream media silence was as well. I have no inside information on what candidate Obama may have meant; he does have a way with words.
A RAND study titled “A Stability Police Force for the United States: Justification and Options for Creating U.S. Capabilities” was released in 2009. While it suggests some interesting possibilities, they seem to have very little to do with the creation of a civilian national security force comparable to the military. Mainly focused on fixing problems in other countries, the study does suggest seemingly modest augmentation of the U.S. Marshals Service to deal with U.S. domestic difficulties, and notes that use of military forces for such purposes would require relief from the Posse Comitatus Act. The study concludes:
The Marshals Service has the broadest law enforcement mandate of any U.S. law enforcement agency and many of the required skills, though it would need to increase its capacity significantly. Furthermore, the Department of Justice stands at the center of the rule-of-law effort, with lead roles in policing, judiciary, and corrections efforts.
It seems that neither the civilian assistance corps nor the stability police force has much to do with President Obama’s campaign promise of a civilian national security force comparable to the military. Perhaps the threat promise was just another campaign flourish, like transparency and bipartisanship. It may simply wither on the vine and die.
Nevertheless, there is an interesting and possibly relevant situation in Venezuela, from where President Obama and his colleagues seem to get some of their unhealthiest ideas (see Honduras). According to this article:
President Chavez’s socialist worker militias have grown to nearly 150,000 members since their formation in 2009. Organized by President Hugo Chávez in May 2009, the “workers’ militias” are intended to allow Chávez’s political party to assert control over key economic sectors.
According to a Jan. 29 report in the Venezuelan El Universal newspaper … [most of] Chávez’s workers militias work in “strategic” economic sectors, such as oil, electricity, transportation, and “basic companies.”
Those sectors are Venezuela’s most dysfunctional.
Orlando Castillo, with the Socialist Workers Front, a Chávez-allied group, was quoted by El Universal as saying that the purpose of the militias was to use the labor troops to “defend the people.” …
“There need to be many more,” he said, “because they represent the idea of the integrated worker who is capable of producing and also of defending the people.” …
In Venezuela today the militias are made up of individual workers who are armed with guns and trained to ensure that their respective companies comply with the agenda of the ruling United Socialist Party.
“With rifles there beside them, in case anybody makes a mistake with us,” Chávez is quoted as saying at a May 2009 socialist transformation workshop where he announced the militias’ creation.
There are also separate “socialist patrols” with approximately 300,000 Venezuelans, busy strengthening the United Socialist Party in the workers movement. It was questioned here whether “this [is] what Mr. Obama was envisioning when he mused about the need for a civilian force that would match the size of our military.”