Another Vietnam?

Hart: We are not safe, and war with Iraq will not make us safe

Former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart has a clear—albeit chilling—message for George W. Bush and the rest of America: "We are going to be attacked again, and we are not prepared.

"More than a year after the first attack, very little has been done to make the country safer," Hart said during an appearance at Tufts on January 24.

Former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, who's considering a run for the White House in 2004, says U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East should not be directed by energy policy. © Mark Morelli

"Now, we are poised to make war in the most dangerous part of the world. However else you feel about it, not one soldier should pass the Iraqi borders until we are prepared for the inevitable retaliation from that attack," he said.

Hart's talk, sponsored by the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership, bridged several related subjects, including a discussion of how U.S. foreign policy has become "adrift" in the years since the end of the Cold War and a more pointed argument about why it is not in the country's best interest to begin a war in Iraq.

Hart's comments were followed by questions and analysis from Jeffrey Taliaferro, assistant professor of political science, and Hurst Hannum, professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

'Still in danger'
Hart, a Democrat from Colorado, served in the U.S. Senate from 1975 to 1987 and was a candidate in the Democratic primaries in 1984 and 1988. He is considering entering the 2004 presidential race.

Along with Warren Rudman, Republican of New Hampshire, Hart chaired the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, which issued a report in September 1999 that predicted the possibility of a massive terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Most recently, he and Rudman chaired an independent task force for the Council on Foreign Relations, which released a report in October 2002, "America—Still Unprepared, Still in Danger."

"I think there is a positive role for America in this world, not only dealing with threats, but with opportunities," Hart said. But armed conflict in Iraq would be a mistake, he said, especially because America is not prepared to deal with the inevitable bloodshed that would follow, both on the battlefield and at home.

"We cannot direct foreign policy in the Middle East through our energy policy," he said. "In moral terms…we will lose the sons and daughters of our country so we can drive wasteful SUVs. That is not a policy to be proud of.

"We have to control Saddam Hussein. We cannot permit him to have weapons of mass destruction," Hart said. But, "we cannot permit an invasion."

The definition of a preemptive attack, Hart said, is a situation where danger is "imminent and unavoidable, and all other means have been exhausted." The situation with Iraq has not reached that point, he said.

Four questions
Hart posed four questions for President Bush:

Who is going in with us? "The ranks of our allies, such as they are, are going fast," Hart said.

How long will we be there? If the United States succeeds in removing Saddam Hussein from power, policymakers are looking toward the semi-permanent establishment of U.S. forces in Iraq, Hart said. That would be a dire misstep, he said.

"That is the action of an imperial power, and it would be seen that way, not only to those people [in Iraq], but throughout the rest of the world," he said.

How much will it cost? "Do we want to add $100 billion to $200 billion [to the deficit] to conduct a war that may not be necessary?" he asked.

How many casualties will there be? "People die in wars," Hart reminded his mostly student audience.

While most Americans believe a war with Iraq will resemble the Gulf War or recent actions in Afghanistan, with little direct combat, "that is not the way the military people play out the best-case scenario," Hart said. And a worst-case scenario—which could include laying siege to Baghdad—could lead to fierce fighting with Sunni Muslim troops loyal to Hussein.

"We could have another Vietnam on our hands," Hart said. If Americans are willing to commit to a war in Iraq, they have to be willing to commit to possible long-term engagement and loss of American lives. "Getting in will be a piece of cake, compared to getting out," he said.

Nation adrift
Bush's argument for fighting the evil of Hussein and the need for preemptive strikes have been disproved by the U.S. attitude toward North Korea and its nuclear threat, Hart said.

And, he said, the problem harkens back to the idea that during the past decade, the United States has not developed a coherent philosophy upon which to base its foreign policy. A vaguely defined "stand against evil" isn't adequate to replace our former foreign policy objectives, Hart said.

"I don't read in the Constitution where this country was founded to get rid of evil in the world," he said.

"I believe this country is adrift in both foreign policy and national security policy," he said. "There is no grand strategy for the United States. For 45 years, the strategy could be summed up on a bumper sticker: containment of communism," he said. That concept, while subject to debate from both the political left and the right, worked well for developing a moderate consensus, for organizing America's role in the world and for setting national priorities.

"It was a crystal-clear, central organizing principle," he said, until a 72-hour period in August 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. "Since then, the U.S. [foreign policy] has been pretty much adrift," Hart said.

World of 'revolutions'
"The 21st century is going to be vastly different from the 20th," Hart said. "There are a number of 'revolutions' going on." It's vital to understand these movements and build a policy to accommodate them, he said.

These historic shifts in world perspective include: globalization, the breaking down and eroding of barriers in international trade and commerce, the information revolution, which also has had the impact of widening the gap between those on opposite side of the "digital divide," the decline in the sovereignty of the nation-state and the transformation of war and conflict, as evidenced by 9/11.

"All these have to be taken into account in policy-making," he said.

Tufts response
Taliaferro and Hannum provided commentary on Hart's remarks and expanded with some of their own.

While Hart supports "the notion that the United States needs a single, overarching, grand strategy, I'm not necessarily sure that we do," Taliaferro said. "The reason I say that is for a long time during the Cold War, our strategy of containment was open to multiple interpretations and fierce debates over which areas were vital," he said.

"The United States is unusual among world powers in world history by having a strategy that could be able to be reduced to a bumper sticker," he added.

Hannum, the Fletcher professor, disagreed with Hart's support for expanding the role of America's "citizen-soldiers," the National Guard, in the fight against terrorism.

"I would raise caution," he said. "Too much focus on responding to terrorism can have negative consequences that people are disinclined to address. We should not reward terrorism by making it the central item in our national policy," Hannum said. By focusing too much on provisions to make Americans safer, "we may give the impression we can make ourselves secure," he said.

"More attacks will occur. Let's not pretend we can make ourselves secure," Hannum said. If leaders end up "pandering to fears," he said, "we cannot provide the grand vision that the senator talks about."