Holbrooke talks tough on national security
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Holbrooke talks tough on national security

The war in Iraq hurt Israel and strengthened Iran and other terrorist regimes, Richard Holbrooke told a Tenafly audience last Tuesday.

The former UN Ambassador for the Clinton Administration spoke at the home of Stuart and Deborah Hammerman at an event hosted by Paul Aronsohn, Democratic Congressional candidate from Bergen County, running against incumbent Scott Garrett, a Republican from Wantage.

Holbrooke, who is credited with helping to end the war in Bosnia through his leadership on the Dayton Peace Accords, came to the community to discuss American foreign policy. Saying, among other things, that our national security is such that a sea-going vessel "can come into the Hudson River and blow itself up," Holbrooke told the group that "We have basically three options — similar to choices we had in Vietnam: We increase troop strength and [get] the job done; we take ‘The Bush Position,’ stay the course and defer defeat, or we draw down our forces."

The former ambassador decried the state of national security, saying that "The U.S. faces the most serious challenge it has faced since the Cuban missile crisis in 196′. Then it was one on one, and both parties realized what could happen if events spun out of control."

Now, he said, "The last months have been catastrophic … the war was supposed to bring democracy. But there is no democracy; there were no weapons of mass destruction, and the Iraq war has hurt Israel and the consequences reflect the fact [that] the administration has no policy." To simply pull out, he said, would be seen as a victory by the Islamic extremists, but the situation is almost untenable.

"Everything is in flux," he said, "It’s complicated. Turkey is talking openly of invading northern Iraq to deal with Kurdish terrorists there. We should put troops in Kurdistan to prevent another war."

On the diplomatic front, he said, there is widespread consensus that the Israeli response in Lebanon was justified, and added that the U.S. should have opened a back channel to Damascus on behalf of Jerusalem, but refused. "Who was the major beneficiary of America’s policy? The U.S. pushed Israel into accepting elections that included Hamas. Sharon and Abu Mazen begged the U.S. not to do it. Iran benefited from Beirut to Bombay. The U.S. needs a strategic concept that starts with Iran — who raised the stakes by supporting Hezbollah."

The political solution is more complicated than the military solution, he said. "We have ‘8 months to go. Can the situation be stabilized? Who knows what the next president will have to confront?"

Commenting on domestic issues, Holbrooke said that the Democratic party doesn’t speak in one voice. The options regarding the war on the Democratic side range from Joe Lieberman, who wants to remain, to John Murtha, who wants the U.S. to pull out.

"We need to disengage," he said, "but you don’t and can’t give anyone a fixed timetable — you shouldn’t give away your bargaining chips."

If the Democrats regain control in Congress, Holbrooke would advise them to hold hearings, since, he said, the Republicans are facing "world-class scandals." He pointed out, for example, that hundreds of millions of dollars in consulting fees are being paid to organizations like Blackwater — the kind of funding that was supposed to have been stopped by Congress.

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