|The American Prospect
Dec. 16, 2002
The Other War
We are scarcely safer today than we were before
By Gary Hart
President Bush and his administration, especially Secretary of State Colin
Powell, deserve credit for skillfully and patiently involving the
international community in the project to disarm Iraq. So, of course, do
Bush's critics, whose efforts compelled the United States to work through
the United Nations' inspection process rather than going it alone.
The president has left open the possibility, slim as it may seem, that
Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi government will comply and disarm as
required. However, President Bush does not appear to do so with a great
deal of conviction. So we may yet find ourselves in Gulf War II in the
first half of 2003.
The lingering possibility of war raises two sets of urgent questions. The
first set has to do with the conditions for invasion. If Saddam Hussein
does not cooperate, will we invade Iraq alone or in concert with other
nations? What are reasonable casualty estimates on both sides? Is our goal
"regime change," as Bush earlier stated, or is it disarmament, as he has
more recently suggested? How long would we maintain a military force in
Iraq following victory? How much would an extended occupation cost the
American taxpayers? Is there agreement among civilian and military
commanders on the occupation strategy to be employed? Would military
commanders be permitted to carry out operations without intervention by
the civilian command?
Most importantly, are the costs of the war, including casualties, fully
understood? And would such a war, once fully understood, retain popular
support? The U.S. military fears micromanagement by civilians a great
deal. But the U.S. military fears, even more, a violent swing of public
opinion against an engagement once it has begun, forces have been
committed and casualties are being sustained. That is Vietnam, and it is
every commander's worst nightmare.
If the United States is prepared to go it alone, if we expect serious
casualties, if we have a plan for a prolonged occupation and if the cost
of the entire operation is considerable and continuing, the American
people deserve to be told. That is why the Constitution leaves to Congress
-- the collective representatives of the people -- the sole authority to
declare war. The U.S. armed forces belong to the people, not the
president. For the people to support the deployment of their Army, they
must understand what is at stake and why. Otherwise, vague polling data
about "supporting the president" can disappear overnight with the sight of
body bags returning home.
A second set of urgent questions has received even less attention. They
can be stated simply: Are we ready for the virtually certain retaliatory
terrorist attacks on our homeland if we invade Iraq? The evidence
suggests that we are not. Those attacks would not necessarily come from
Iraq or Iraqi interests; they could come from elsewhere in the
fundamentalist Islamic world, or even from outside it. But a major U.S.
invasion of a Muslim country would almost certainly trigger serious
attempts to kill Americans.
I recently served with Warren Rudman as co-chair of a Council on Foreign
Relations task force of senior, distinguished Americans. In a report we
issued titled "America Still Unprepared -- America Still in Danger," we
documented at least a half-dozen major areas, illustrative of many more,
where virtually no progress has been made -- more than a year after
September 11 -- at making our country more secure from outside attack. If
we are unprepared today, our vulnerability would be that much greater when
the threats spike during a Middle East war.
The areas we highlighted are: lack of access by the 650,000 state and
local law enforcement officials to the federal "watch list" for terrorist
suspects; lack of preparation of public and private emergency health
workers for a biological or chemical attack; lack of training and
equipment for 2,700 National Guard units across the nation as "first
responders" and defenders against terrorist attacks; massive lack of
attention to the vulnerability of our 361 ports, through which 21,000
shipping containers flow every day; and lack of protection for energy
production and distribution -- especially oil and gas -- systems. The list
goes on. But the point is stark: We are scarcely safer today than when we
were first attacked. But now we face the real prospect of a major war and
the trigger that war will provide to those waiting for motivation and
occasion to kill Americans in our homes and cities.
Not all protective steps require federal government action. Our states and
cities can take many measures to prepare us for the age of terrorism.
Supposedly, some steps are being taken. But I, for one, still await an
accounting from the governments of my own state, Colorado, and city,
Denver, as to what measures they are undertaking. What I have heard
instead is, "It won't happen here," or, "We're waiting for the federal
government to tell us what to do and give us the money to do it." This is
bad policy and poor leadership on both grounds. The people across the
country -- either directly or through a responsible media -- must insist
on an accounting by their elected officials as to what is being done to
prepare their regions.
Not all protective measures will or must come from government. Private
industry has much to do but has little inclination to do it or little
industry leadership. The critical infrastructure -- energy,
communications, finance and transportation sectors -- all must do more to
make themselves less vulnerable. I haven't heard one executive from any of
these industries or individual companies come forward to outline the steps
his or her company was taking to make itself more secure. Once again,
private-sector officials are waiting for the president or someone else in
Washington to tell them what to do. And that leadership is not
We are either at war or we are not. More than a year ago President Bush
declared war on terrorism. It is a two-front war -- abroad and at home.
But the two-front war is presently being waged on one front alone. If we
are at war, we should act like it and not pretend that it will not affect
us. Prudent leadership would say to the American people, "We will go to
war in a dangerous part of the world only when we know what we are doing
and what our plans are, only when we are prepared for the consequences
here at home and only when our nation is united -- public and private
sectors -- to conduct this war to a successful conclusion."
We are far from being there. Our approach to war making and homeland
security in this new era is still ad hoc rather than strategic. We should
not assume the worst, but we should expect the unexpected. The struggle
against terrorism is a battle that America will win. But before we can
believe our families, homes, streets and nation are secure, we have miles