BY MIKE WISER
America is facing “one of the most challenging moments the United States has faced since World War II,” former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger ’71 told an audience of students yesterday afternoon. Speaking in Langdell South, Berger told students that the country was facing four major crises: the impending war with Iraq, the threat of lethal terrorism, North Korea’s moves to produce nuclear weapons and the global crisis of confidence in American leadership.
Berger was invited to campus as the inaugural speaker in a series that is designed to bring leaders in international affairs to the school. Berger is spending the week talking to classes and meeting with small groups of students and faculty.
“I can assure you, I had more face time with the faculty today than I had in my whole three years here,” Berger joked to the crowd.
Speaking about the crises with Iraq, Berger told the audience that there were dangers in allowing Saddam Hussein to develop nuclear weapons as well as dangers for the U.S. if it proceeded unilaterally. Berger also argued that the administration had not made a strong enough case to the American people for why an immediate intervention is necessary.
Berger questioned one of the administration’s stated goals of using the war in Iraq to create a democratic Middle East. “I wonder whether it can be achieved as the result of a confrontation that does not have broad international support,” Berger said.
The former National Security Advisor argued that the primary threat from Iraq would be in Hussein developing nuclear weapons as a way to dominate the region without being stopped by outside powers. “If we fail to disarm him now, the international community will have no credibility,” he warned.
Still, Berger said that the nuclear threat from Iraq was a long-term danger, not short-term one. He told the crowd that the United States could and should take a few more weeks to build a larger coalition against Hussein. “If we invade Iraq as an American-British enterprise, all of the risks are substantially greater,” he said. “Even at this eleventh hour, we have the time to do this right with the greatest possible international support.”
Berger argued that the America should set a deadline of four or five weeks for the Iraqi regime to comply before initiating military action. “There is a right way and a wrong way to confront Iraq and I believe we have the time to do it the right way,” he said.
Berger also warned that in the decade after the invasion, America would have to face the harsh realities of governing Iraq. He cautioned that the U.S. would face difficulty in preserving the Iraq’s territorial integrity and warned about the likelihood of problems developing between Kurds in the north and Turkey, who has said that they would enter the country to secure their own borders. He also reminded the audience that American troops would have to isolate weapons of mass destruction before elements in the army drive mobile labs “to Damascus.”
“Think of this as the Saddam phase and the post-Saddam phase,” he said.
Berger concluded his discussion on Iraq by arguing that the America would only be strengthened by vigorous debate before any invasion.
“We have learned the dangers of going to war when the people don’t have their eyes wide open,” he said.
Berger also told the audience that they should not forget about the other threats to America’s national interests.
Speaking about the war on terrorism, Berger said, “We have accomplished far too little in terms of security.”
The HLS alum argued that the government had not devoted enough resources to homeland security and had failed to ensure that containers and vehicles entering the country were adequately screened.
In addition to the danger from terrorism, Berger warned that America’s moral authority in the world was being undermined by recent American policies. He said that Bush administration’s stance on climate change, family planning and alliances was convincing the world that America was only concerned about its own interests and not “the world’s common agenda.”
“We have been alienating our friends, rather than isolating our enemies,” he said.
Berger also cautioned that the Bush administration’s delay in dealing with North Korea’s plans to restart its nuclear program was endangering America’s security interests.
“We cannot allow the production of plutonium to proceed,” he said.
Berger told the audience that North Korea, unlike Iraq, had a history of selling weapons and they were allowed to amass nuclear weapons “loose nukes” that could end up in American cities.
“This is not multiple choice. We have to deal with both [Iraq and North Korea],” he said.
Berger argued that the U.S. needed to reopen talks with North Korea and needed to work on rebuilding its relationship with South Korea after talk of North Korea’s membership in an “axis of evil” alienated many South Koreans. “Now is the time to worry less about process and more about progress,” he said.
Although Berger painted a bleak picture of the world, he argued that America could improve its own place in the world by dealing intelligently with the four crises confronting it.
“I am not a pessimist about the future. I am certainly not a fatalist,” he said.