Accessibility links

Breaking News

Interview with James Carafano, The Heritage Foundation - 2003-05-27

With several U.S. soldiers recently losing their lives in Iraq, the U.S. presence becomes of increasing concern. VOA’s David Borgida speaks with James Carafano, a defense and homeland security analyst at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. about this as well as the heightened security measures being taken in the U.S. against possible terrorist attacks.

Now joining us James Carafano, a defense and homeland security analyst at the Heritage Foundation here in Washington. Mr. Carafano, thanks for coming in.

I would like to follow up on the conversation with Laurie Kassman a few moments ago, about Iraq, and then we'll swing into the defense situation here in the United States. As a defense expert, a military person, describe for us what it is like for the U.S. troops and the coalition troops to be inside Iraq doing what they are doing, and something for which many of them are not trained.

First of all, I think, just to give people perspective, I should point out that this should be neither unexpected nor unprecedented. For example, after World War II, we did lots of occupation duties in Japan and Austria and in Germany. These kinds of things happened. In Germany, for example, it really wasn't uncommon for people to string wire across the road to decapitate soldiers driving by in Jeeps.

And so in the first few months after the end of hostilities, these kinds of events are tragic, but it's kind of understandable because a safe and secure environment isn't in place yet. So, I would be more concerned if we are 6 months, a year down the road, and these kinds of incidents are endemic. Then I think we would have a concern.

The problem right now is you have to get the safe and secure environment. Going back to World War II, you had what they called the disease and unrest formula. They said you had to do three things to put a country back together. You had to make sure the people were fed. You had to make sure there wasn't endemic disease. And you had to make sure there was a secure environment. If you don't have those three things, nothing else will work.

Let me follow up, because it sounded like your threshold level was almost 6 months, a year, that this is a continuing environment. And I have to ask you, given what we have seen in the last few weeks, of American troops certainly in harm's way, getting killed, how long politically and in terms of international security can the Bush administration, for one, accept this kind of a circumstance, given that level of hostility?

Well, here is a real wild card. In a sense, this is different from those occupations, particularly as far as Germany, where we had a large lay down of troops. We went in and demobilized a lot of forces. We seized a lot of weapons. We haven't really done that here. So, the real wild card is how fast do you get the Iraqi security forces up and running. You have to do that within 12 months, because there aren't enough U.S. forces to provide a secure environment. So, that's the clock that's ticking. The administration has to get those security and police forces up and operating efficiently in the next 6 to 12 months.

A real challenge. Let's move toward what's going on here in the United States, with a higher threat level raised last week, concerning many Americans certainly psychologically. What is your assessment of the ability of the United States now, as we're into this for some time, since 2001, 9/11, to do the job that needs to be done?

Well, I think people are just beginning to adjust to the notion that this is really a long war, and we need to think about it in terms of it being a long, protracted conflict. And you can't take individual incidents, for example, like the recent bombings in Africa, and really look at that as a measure of are we making progress, are we losing progress.

To go back to the World War II example, we thought we had the war won, and then in December 1944, the Germans had this massive counterattack at the Bulge, the breakout in the Bulge. And all of a sudden we thought, well, maybe we're not winning the war. And the truth was the war was over. This was a last gasp German offensive.

And so you're not going to be sure whether those kinds of events are happening in the war on terrorism; is what you're seeing a last gasp, a desperate thing, or are they coming back? We just don't know yet, so we have to adjust to the long war. And people are only just beginning now to gather that notion.

Is this the way to do it, though? There are some State and local officials who have been complaining privately and publicly that this up-and-down notion is making resources for them, real resources, human beings, police, fire, and so on, complain about having to go back and forth based on what's called chatter, the intelligence sources and so on. And that makes it difficult for them. What do you make of that?

It is a real problem. And there is good news and bad news. Some of the good news, for example, people are becoming better at adjusting to living in a different world and having to think smarter about how they do it and how they ensure security. We even see that in the State and local governments, where they are starting to.

For example, after 9/11, where everybody put every cop on the street and guarded every bridge, now people are saying, well, we can't do that. We need to be smart about this. So, people are getting better and more efficient at doing this and adjusting.

On the other hand, for example, a lot of people didn't do anything when we went to the Orange code. A lot of cities and States said, is there a specific threat against your community? If the answer is no, what did they do extra? They didn't do anything. So, you also have to worry about complacency. And we do have to worry about the cry wolf thing kicking in here. I mean, there are lots of studies that show in your emergency response, for example, that if you call an emergency response time and time again and there isn't an actual emergency, there is a psychological factor that kicks in and people don't respond as well. And so we have to be concerned about that, that people don't become complacent.

And so, yes, kicking these alerts in now and again without anything specific that people can glom on and do something could be a problem.

James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation here in Washington, thanks, Mr. Carafano, for joining us.

Thank you for having me.