Washington (UPI) Sep 06, 2005
It was pure happenstance that the first big bi-partisan conference in Washington on terrorism and U.S. security policies, timed for the 4th anniversary of the original Sept. 11 attacks, should have coincided with the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.
But the parallels were swiftly drawn.
California Congresswoman Jane Harman, senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told the conference Tuesday that New Orleans "looked like it had been the victim of attack by a weapon of mass destruction."
The obvious point was repeatedly stressed by various speakers: The Sept. 11 attacks were supposed to have shocked America into taking better precautions against similar disasters, natural or man-made. And on the evidence of New Orleans, the tens of billions of dollars spent on the new Department of Homeland Security and first responders did not do much good against a storm that came with 5 days advance warning.
"The view from abroad of an America floundering on the Gulf Coast was frightening," former Army general and Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark told the conference, stressing the connection between New Orleans and the ongoing war in Iraq.
"It comes at a time when we Americans have lost much of our legitimacy in the eyes of the world," Clark said. "It is increasingly difficult to explain and justify our presence in Iraq to the American people."
"It is not over - it is not even clear who is winning," Clark went on. "This is no time to stay the course, it is time to change course."
But like Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., Clark insisted that it would be a drastic mistake to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq at this stage, and that the result would be "a fighting withdrawal."
"It would be a long and bloody retreat, after which al-Qaida would claim victory, and anyone who worked with us or supported us would be killed, and the political process we have nurtured would be replaced by civil war and regional conflict," Clark said. "It is not yet too late, but we have to change the strategy."
Clark was one of the stars of the conference, titled 'Terrorism, Security and America's Purpose,' which attracted over 1,000 people in downtown Washington Tuesday.
It was organized by the New America Foundation as a bi-partisan event that brought former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Republican Sen. Chuck Hegel together with senior Democrats like Sen. Biden and senior security and anti-terrorism officials. Also participating were public intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama, to consider a more coherent U.S. strategy.
It was sponsored by a variety of groups including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (politically neutral), the Open Society Institute (pro-Democratic, and backed by billionaire financier George Soros), and the Hauser Foundation (backed by veteran Republican Rita Hauser, who resigned from the National Intelligence Council because of her opposition to the Iraq war).
In one of the most loudly applauded speeches of the day, Soros claimed that while most Americans were coming to see the Iraq war as a blunder, they still saw the war against terror as justified. But his speech developed the argument that the original sin of the Bush administration's strategy has been the decision to use the phrase 'The War on Terrorism.'
"I challenge the concept of this war. It is a metaphor that has been applied literally, and accepted uncritically," Soros said. "The war as we have waged it has done more harm than good, diverted us from other vital tasks -- like strengthening the New Orleans levees -- and damaged our open society. The state of war undermines the normal functioning of the critical process that underpins our democracy. It has allowed threats to our civil liberties and lost us, through Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the moral high ground, and makes us over-reliant on our military and lost us friends around the world."
The theme of the conference was set by New American Foundation chairman James Fallows, who suggested that while there was still no consensus in the United States on the Iraq war, there was "an emerging consensus" that there had been "a diminution of America's real security over the last four years." Comparing the situation in December of 2001 to that of today, Fallows said the U.S. military was not then overstretched, its death toll had been 12, and America was supported by friends and allies around the world, and the country was politically united behind its president. None of that was now the case, he said.
"The limits of our military power must be obvious to all, and domestically we are divided as we have not been since Vietnam," Fallows said. "So what should we do now? Can we think honestly about those with grievances against the U.S.? Can we think how to conclude the war in Iraq, how to offset the forces of extremism?"
Some of the conference organizers had privately hoped the event would invigorate national debate on Iraq much as the 1966 Fulbright hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee launched the national debate on Vietnam. But there was little sign of consensus over whether to withdraw or persevere in Iraq, or how to wage the broader campaign against terrorism, at least on the first day of the conference.
There was, however, more of a consensus that neither Iraq nor the buttressing of U.S. homeland security was going at all well, with little prospect of speedy improvement and even less prospect of major policy changes by the Bush administration. And several speakers suggested that the tide was not running in America's favor, and that U.S. actions and policies could well be producing more potential terrorists and anti-Americans than the U.S. military was able to kill or arrest or convert.
"The challenge is to think about terrorism in the broader context of American purpose and American strategy, in an increasingly inter-connected world. The war on terror has become America's purpose by default," said Stephen Heintz, founder of the Demos public policy research group. "Our adversaries have shown the capacity to think holistically and to plan patiently, while we conduct foreign policy from crisis to crisis and from election to election."
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Military Force In Storm-Hit Areas Exceeds 50,000: Officials
Washington (AFP) Sep 05 2005
The number of US military forces in storm-ravaged Gulf Coast states swelled to more than 50,000 Monday as ground troops and naval vessels continued to stream into Louisiana and Mississippi, military officials said.
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