The war-forever policy

    In a recent TV interview, former CIA Director James Woolsey calmly explained what we all have in store for us between now and the mid-2050s.

    “I think it’s going to be a long war,” he said in response to a question about the U.S. war on terrorism and what it will take to win. “I think it’s going to take us many years, perhaps as long as the Cold War did.”

    If the Cold War began with the Yalta conference between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in February 1945, and it ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in August 1991, that’s a lot of years.

    Fifty-six years.

    Fred Harris, the former U.S. senator from Oklahoma, has another way to calculate it.

    “War forever.”

    Back in the 1960s Harris, now a popular University of New Mexico professor, sat in between fellow Democratic Sens. Robert Kennedy and Joseph Montoya. All three elected in 1964. He stuck up for the rural poor and Native Americans and ran a populist campaign for president in 1976. After that, he moved to New Mexico, began teaching political science and writing books- 15 of them.

    “The terrorism fight, I suppose, is going to be as long as Woolsey thinks unless something happens to change the recruitment of terrorists,” Harris says.

    “Easier said than done, but I don’t know if we’re really trying.”

    Harris maintains that the Bush administration is focusing solely on the fight. “If you just make it a military kind of struggle, I don’t see how you can ever win that.”

    Why? Because so long as Americans prefer to live in an open society, not a police state, there can be no guarantee that terrorists can’t strike.

    “It’s like when I was running for president,” Harris says. “I didn’t want to have Secret Service protection. I used to say, well, about all they could do is keep the drunks off,” he says with a laugh. It almost sounds like a joke until he finishes the point.

    “If some guy is willing to put his own life in jeopardy to get at you, there’s not a hell of a lot the Secret Service can do.” The same is true for those of us who’ve never run for president. “There’s no way we can assure absolute security.”

    Harris reaches back to JFK, a bona fide war hero during WWII, for the Cold War strategy he advocated.

    “John Kennedy said poverty is the breeding ground for the Soviet advance,” Harris says. “You’ve got to do something about the breeding ground.”

    For starters, he suggests that the U.S. should reconsider its very large military presence in the Muslim world- Egypt, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Afghanistan and now Iraq.

    “It’s just kind of a humiliation for people there,” Harris says.

    How would the typical American feel if any one of those countries proposed a military base of its own on U.S. soil?

    But more than just boosting terrorist recruitment, Harris sees a bigger pitfall in the recent military buildup and occupation of Iraq.

    “It’s like (Florida Sen.) Bob Graham says: we’ve been distracted from the fight against terrorism by Iraq and it’s going to keep distracting us for God knows how long.”

    The fear of terrorism, raw after the 9-11 attacks, was used to justify both war in Iraq- based on “totally overhyped” charges of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as well as military spending unrelated to the very real threat posed by box-cutter-wielding terrorists, Harris says.

    That kind of tactic “sort of reminds you of the Cold War days,” Harris says. “Just before every budget cycle, you had some new warning that the Russians are about to be on our doorsteps tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock, and then you have to increase the military budget.”

    The best way to defray the astronomical costs of rebuilding Iraq- something even those who opposed the war believe must now succeed- and share the deadly burden of pacifying the country is to bring in the United Nations and the green light only it can give reluctant nations to join the effort. That’s what Harris supports.

    “I think they should have a greater role now than ever before.”

    But the United Nations doesn’t always go along with the United States, critics often point out.

    “Well, I think that’s just the risk of having some kind of cooperative effort, just like it’s a risk in democracy. Some could say, well, let’s just abolish the Congress because it doesn’t do exactly what we want it to do always,” Harris says, again laughing.

    Old fashioned ex-senators like Fred Harris still believe in old-fashioned ideas like democracy and collective security. Too bad not everyone does these days.

Copyright © 2003 ABQJournal