Phyllis Chesler Interviews Carol Gould

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'Let us Reason Together'
Last uploaded : Sunday 26th Sep 2004 at 05:47
Contributed by : Carol Gould


We attended the 2004 Eisenhower National security Conference in Washington and came away with one ringing memory: the final speech by former Congressman Lee Hamilton, who now presides over the Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars.

So, where does one start? Perhaps it is best to hold readers in suspense and leave the Hamilton speech to the end of this report.

An extensive array of security experts and senior figures in the military debated the issues on various panels over the two days of the event; for me the most illuminating was the narrative provided by former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman, Jr and former Ambassador to the People?s republic of China James Lilley, who had also served with the CIA. (He noted that he had been ?outed? on several occasions, that this was ?no big deal? and that the world did not come to an end.)

Ambassador Freeman could barely conceal his anger over the Bush Administration?s handling of post-war Iraq. He observed that in the first Gulf War General Norman Schwartzkopf did not have a ?forward -deployed person? hence a disconnect ensued between the military and civilians, not meeting Civil War Gen Sherman?s criteria for a ?good peace.? He noted that this time we still do not know how to end a war and how to integrate the political and the military.

Furthermore, Ambassador Freeman, who said that committees ?turn horses into camels and fish into shrimp,? expressed a strong desire to see military personnel doing a period of duty in the diplomatic corps or foreign service. He asserted that the world trains and nurtures its diplomats whilst the United States gives ambassadorships to ?a used car salesman who gave money to the Presidential campaign? and that a former President had declared that America?s ambassadors were men ?not fit to be at home.?

This led to the inevitable discussion of America?s image abroad and amusing anecdotes (when do ex-ambassadors not have amusing anecdotes?) about the South Koreans wanting a golf course used by Americans to be moved during the Olympics and about B52s being (undiplomatically) flown into the ?Hajj Terminal? to defend Saudi Arabia against Iraq during the first Gulf War. Ambassador Freeman, noting that one-fifth of the human race is being influenced by fundamentalists, was adamant that American arrogance is alienating its allies and that the Bush Administration must ?get into listening mode.?

I asked the panel if they were aware of the David Hare play ?Stuff Happens? at London?s National Theatre in which the National Security Council is portrayed as a strident group of clashing egos oblivious to British or European views. General Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff responded that this is not the case and that he talks on a daily basis to his British counterpart. Ambassador Freeman noted that the National Security Council, established by an act of Congress in 1947 under President Truman needed a ?re-look? in light of the aforesaid ?climate of arrogance.?

In the final session of the conference, the essence of the present dangers facing the West came to the fore. Matthew Levitt, Senior Fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy explained that ?al Qaeda? does not necessarily connote membership of a group; the supporters of their philosophy are spread out across the globe and act through networks difficult to pinpoint. He reported that the Germans had been unable to arrest suspected terrorists because of the local laws restricting arbitrary custodial action but that two al Qaeda agents from Oregon were recently arrested in Afghanistan.

Colonel Michael Nagata, Chief of the Combatant Command Support Branch of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence observed that the Department of Defense is most optimally configured to deal with a nation-state?s armed forces and not a terror network. He made one statement that was astonishing: that ?80% of intelligence sources are within the Department of Defense.? The Secretary of Defense must provide intelligence support for the Director of the CIA and the national intelligence community, who in turn provide background for the State Department whilst the Justice Department must support the FBI.

In this regard, Stephen Nagorski of the CIA state that the West must act and not wait for intelligence when a threat is perceived. He said that terror networks are diverse and ruthless and that the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the ?tip of the iceberg.? Most notable was Nagorski?s report that al Qaeda has an anthrax programme and that Indonesian schools and Saudi media are ?spreading poison? to young minds as we speak.

Notwithstanding the worldwide condemnation of the indefinite incarcerations at Guantanemo Bay and in Afghanistan, Nagorski asserted that prisoners under interrogation are determined to go out and act if released, their minds having been saturated with hatred of the West by years of Jihadist teachings in madrassahs.

After the panel I asked Col Nagata if he was aware of a ?celebration of 9/11? being staged in London by al Muhajiroun. He was aware of the ?festival? and acknowledged that Americans remain isolated and insular in their knowledge of such events. At the gala dinner the night before, keynote speaker Paul Wolfowitz had touched on the arduous road ahead, and --despite the gargantuan resentment in Europe and the UK of his influence on Administration policy -- seemed to have a grasp of the world situation. Nonetheless, writing as I do from a European perspective, I feel one has to have considerable outside-the-USA experience to understand the reasons why America is so reviled.

This brings us to the final speech by retired congressman Lee Hamilton. ?A bolt from the blue? would be an understatement in describing his address. He prefaced his words with an amusing reference to supporters of Father Drinan, a Catholic priest who had served in Congress many decades ago, whose posters said, ?Vote for Father Drinan or go to Hell.? It is significant that upon my arrival in Washington I had been puzzled by the obsession with Dan Rather, the legendary CBS news anchorman who had been bamboozled into using on ?Sixty Minutes? a memo about President Bush?s military record that appeared to have been a hideous hoax. With the death toll in Iraq rising and more hostages being taken as each day dawned, and with the situation between Israel and her neighbours at an all-time low I was astonished that the Presidential campaign had addressed few of these issues.

Well, Lee Hamilton was not astonished. He was livid. He delivered a thundering condemnation of both candidates. He asked the audience why, if this was perceived as the most important election of recent years --- a ?precursor to extraordinary choices?-- one would never know it from the campaign rhetoric. He observed that television reports were mere assertions and soundbytes akin to Talk Radio, whilst the campaigns themselves had made little reference to terrorism. At times one worried that Hamilton might collapse (he was holding his chest at various stages of his speech) from the level of his fury. He suggested that campaigns should be required to spend six weeks on each of the major issues facing Americans today: Iraq; terrorism; nuclear proliferation; the Middle East and trade.

Asserting that ?Pakistan is running a Wal Mart of nuclear activities? Hamilton had little positive to day about General Musharraf (?not a democrat?) or about the Saudis. Trade and competition from China and India threatened the American worker, whilst in most of the world workers earned less than $2 an hour and in this context he told us that his granddaughter had pointed out that a dinner in Washington cost a vast sum in comparison with the poverty suffered in the world.

Hamilton concluded by saying that tough denunciations do not a policy make, and that he believes in ?the magic of dialogue-- the dialogue in democracy;? whilst the presidential campaign?s issues were ?missing in action.? Quoting Isaiah, Hamilton reminded the group, ?Come let us reason together? with the final message being ?History must not be left to chance but to choice.?

Hamilton?s speech never reached the airwaves but was one of the most unforgettable experiences I have had as a journalist. His impassioned plea to the Presidential candidates to confront the issues exercising the rest of the world, one suspects, will no doubt go unheeded. Whilst British hostage Ken Bigley is facing possible decapitation in Iraq, Tony Blair is smiling for the cameras at a train-launching with Sir Richard Branson. What Lee Hamilton sees is a disconnect between the leaders of the world and the crises facing the people of this planet. Hopefully before November 2nd there will be public discourse on these issues by both candidates; Lee Hamilton?s anger was visceral and one fears the divisions in the United States will widen if the crises of the present are not resolved by the winner of the Presidential contest.

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