Politics & Policy

Hart Counterattack

The former Colorado senator answers my questions.

Two weeks ago, I published a list of five questions for Gary Hart on NRO and challenged him to answer them. The very next day, Hart announced that he would not seek the Democratic presidential nomination. Coincidence? We’ll leave that one to the historians.

Meanwhile, Hart was good enough to answer my questions last week, via e-mail. Here is the entire exchange, in Q&A format:


Miller: Last November, here’s what you said about the coming war with Iraq: “There will be, maybe, five [thousand] to 10,000 American casualties.” (In fact, 132 American soldiers died and so did 32 British ones.) You also foresaw bloody urban warfare in Baghdad. “If you saw Black Hawk Down, this is what we’re looking at,” you said in February. “And Mogadishu is a village compared to Baghdad. So transpose Black Hawk Down to the streets of a city the size of Paris.” My question: Why were you so wrong?

Hart: Projected casualties in an Iraq war were, had the context been

given, predicated upon resistance by the Iraqi Republican Guard in major cities, a very real possibility feared and so predicted by many serving and retired senior military commanders. Indeed, those estimates ranged upwards of 50,000 casualties.


Miller: You made bold predictions about the Gulf War, too. Shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait, you were pessimistic about what would become Operation Desert Storm. “After twelve years on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I know we are not prepared to fight a war in the desert,” you said. “Our weapons were designed to fight a war in Europe.” In a New York Times op-ed, you added this: “Loss of lives, including American lives, would be substantial.” My question: Why did our military do so well in the Gulf War, when you thought it would do so poorly?

Hart: Our military’s initial successes in Gulf War I were largely due to the adoption of maneuver warfare tactics long advocated by military reformers. And we learned a great deal about the performance and non-performance of various weapons systems that have been since been

incorporated to improve their performance.


Miller: In 1998, President Clinton appointed you cochairman of a national-security commission that warned of terrorism. The New York Times recently claimed that your panel “essentially predicted the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.” I looked at your commission’s reports, and the strongest statement I could find — and this is cobbled together from separate reports issued months apart — is that “Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers” because of “international terrorism” and that this would happen “over the next quarter century.” My question: Do you believe these words “essentially predicted” 9/11? Do you wish you had made them stronger or more specific?

Hart: The first report of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, entitled “New World Coming,” stated: “America will be attacked by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction and Americans will die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.” The date of this report was September 15, 1999. This assessment was repeated in several statements in our final report, made to President Bush on January 31, 2001, with a strong recommendation that our government create a national homeland security agency to prevent and respond to such threats. Nothing was done and nine months later we were attacked. It then took nine more months before President Bush endorsed the new department. I repeatedly predicted such attacks in the near term including in a speech in Montreal, where the papers reported that “Hart Predicts Terrorist Attacks on America,” and on that same day I met with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to urge more immediate action. That date was September 6, 2001.


Miller: Your 1998 book The Minuteman asks, “Why do we have 1.5 million men and women under arms with no major threat to our security?” My question: If you were rewriting that sentence today, would you still say that we faced “no major threat to our security”? Also, would we be safer today if our government had been persuaded by your argument and downsized the military?

Hart: The major new threat to our security, terrorism, was clearly not deterred by the size of our armed forces. We would be safer today if the current administration had maintained the same sense of urgency toward homeland security that it did to government overthrow in Iraq (See Council on Foreign Relations task force report: “America Still Unprepared; America Still in Danger,” October 25, 2002).

#5: CUBA

Miller: Fidel Castro’s Cuba recently sentenced more the 75 pro-democracy activists to jail terms of up to 28 years. “Cuba is not totalitarian, and it’s not democratic,” you said in a 1984 interview with the Washington Post. The Post replied with a question: “If Cuba is not a totalitarian government, what is it?” Your response: “I don’t know.” My question: Do you know now?

Hart: Whether the Cuban government is totalitarian or authoritarian matters more to Washington think-tank ideologues than it does to the pro-democratic Cuban activities.


Hart: Should I be flattered that your clipping files on a humble Denver lawyer go back two decades? And why would those still be around 15 years after he retired from elective office?

Miller: Feel flattered if you must, but don’t forget Spinoza’s warning: “None are more taken in by flattery than the proud, who wish to be the first and are not.” And as for those “clipping files,” they’re all on the Internet, which was invented by your former Senate colleague, Al Gore. Didn’t he tell you about it?

Readers who want to learn more about Gary Hart and his ideas may visit his website.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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