Bruce Herschensohn, Mel Levine, Debate Effectiveness of Bush Policy in War on Terror, Role of UN

Bruce Herschensohn, Mel Levine, Debate Effectiveness of Bush Policy in War on Terror, Role of UN

From left: Bruce Herschensohn, Steven Spiegel, Mel Levine

Conservative author, television commentator exchanges views with liberal attorney and former congressman.

Conservative television commentator and author Bruce Herschensohn shared the platform with liberal former Congressman Mel Levine at UCLA's James West Alumni Center October 17 for a wide ranging debate on multilateralism versus unilateralism, focusing on the role of the United Nations, the war in Iraq, and the Bush administration's effectiveness in the fight against terrorism. The event was sponsored by the United Nations Foundation as part of a series of such discussions across the country. It was hosted at UCLA by the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations.

The meeting was opened by Political Science Professor Steven Spiegel, who is associate director of the Burkle Center. He noted that the question lends itself to three positions: "(1) we never should have done it in the first place; (2) the administration has done fine; (3) the war was right but the administration did not plan adequately enough for reconstruction." He noted that with only two speakers there was no representative at this particular event for the first view.

Mel Levine spoke first. He had served as a member of the California Assembly, 1977-82, and was a U.S. congressman, 1983-93. He is currently a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunne and Krutcher. For some years he served as copresident of Builders for Peace, which sought to assist the Middle East peace process.


Levine opened by saying that he agreed with George Bush that keeping weapons of mass destruction out of terrorists' hands "is our largest national security objective today." He then critiqued what he called "five failures" of the Bush administration in seeking this goal.

1. Bush Has Been Too Unilateral

First, he said, "has been this administration's taste for unilateral action." This administration, "by focusing as aggressively and until recently exclusively as it has on unilateral action has alienated many of our friends around the world and has made them less willing to provide the help that we need in the fight against terror, and in particular in the reconstruction efforts that we are pursuing in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Levine pointed to pre-9/11 incidents of unilateralism from Washington, claiming that: "the administration rejected almost every treaty under consideration by the international community without offering any alternatives. Whether it was Kyoto, whether it was the International Criminal Court, whether it was the nuclear test ban, this administration simply said no and announced that it was withdrawing or otherwise obstructed work on no fewer than five major international agreements without offering any alternatives."

He pointed to the Bush doctrine of the right to take preemptive military action against potential foreign threats as a policy that "threatens allies, dictates to allies rather than consulting with them." Levine suggested that Washington, after successfully securing  UN resolution 1441 that condemned the Saddam Hussein regime, should have continued to work with the United Nations in the period leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

2. Clashes between State and Defense and Misuse of Intelligence Data

The administration's second failure, Levine said, lay in public disagreements between the State Department and the Defense Department, with Vice President Cheney on the side of Defense. "This administration is so deeply divided that it is often at war with itself, not just on how to conduct policy but on how to use our intelligence data. . . . There has been no clarity of purpose. Each side is out there trying to undermine each other."

Mel  Levine argued that the main consequence of the reported split between the State Department and the Defense Department had been a misuse of intelligence data in making the case for invading Iraq. "For many of us who supported the war," he said, "we did so in good faith, relying on the assumption that the administration's reading of the intelligence was fair and balanced. As it is, the intelligence information provided to the Congress of the country has been shown to have been inaccurate. And as we learned, some in the administration believe it was selectively utilized to support preordained conclusions. America's credibility has suffered a severe blow both abroad and at home. This use of intelligence is so suspect even within the administration that when Secretary Powell was preparing to make his speech to the UN in February to support military action he was unwilling to use the information provided to him by his own vice president's staff. And two nights ago referring to that speech a senior aide who worked with Powell on that same speech said that he believes that the decision to go to war was made first and that the intelligence was interpreted to fit that conclusion. He has called this 'faith based intelligence.' That, frankly, is not what we need to sustain American credibility or to help us the next time we need to make a case for war or we need to articulate a policy pertaining to North Korea or Iran to demonstrate that we have serious issues with regard to their developing nuclear capability."

3. Poor Handling of the Reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq

The third failure that Levine claimed for the Bush administration was in the rebuilding of the two Middle Eastern countries the U.S. has invaded since 9/11. "After our stunning victory in Afghanistan it turns out that we subsequently abandoned key efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. The only part of Afghanistan experiencing anything resembling reliable order is the capital of Kabul. And although we have just liberated an entire nation, we stood by ignoring the importance of rebuilding and stabilizing that country so that we now find ourselves protecting those who have returned to being the world's leading exporters of opium rather than investing in the stability needed to achieve and maintain order."

In Iraq, Levine said, the U.S. should have sent more troops in order to provide security and reestablish basic services. "This administration disdained those people in their own administration who were making these suggestions. When army chief of staff Eric Shinseki testified that we would need substantially more troops he lost his position. When army secretary White suggested that we would need more troops and more help, he lost his position."

He added that he was dissatisfied with the administration's explanation of how the $87 billion it has requested for Iraq would be spent. He claimed that Haliburton had asked for $15 million to construct one cement factory which was subsequently built by Iraqis at a cost of $80,000.

4. Soaring Deficits that Undermine Foreign Initiatives

Levine's fourth charge was that the administration has weakened the American economy, which will have a negative effect on its ability to act overseas. "National power grows out of the financial health of the country, and yet this administration has presided over a set of policies which combine the worst of partisanship with fiscal irresponsibility. When this administration took office the budget was in balance. . . . Now we are headed toward annual deficits of half a trillion dollars."

5. Failure to Communicate American Values Abroad

Mel Levine's final claim was that "the Bush team has failed to focus on America's most telling argument, America's values, as a key ingredient in the war on terror." He said that President Bush's unilateralism has frightened people around the world and led to the dramatic drop in America's standing in public opinion polls in many countries. One thing that contributed to the loss of trust, he said, was Washington's post-9/11 reconciliation with governments that it had previously criticized for human rights violations, such as Uzbekistan.

He concluded by saying, "Our values and our friends will help us to defeat terror. We have hurt ourselves by abandoning both and that is what this administration's foreign policy, unfortunately, is known for."


Bruce Herschensohn has been a television and radio political commentator for more than two decades. He as a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 1992, and has taught at several universities, including  the University of Maryland, Whittier College, Pepperdine, and the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard. His presentation took the form of a rebuttal of the five failures that had been alleged by Mel Levine.

1. Multilateralism Cannot Be Pursued in a UN that Contains Dictatorships

First he took up the issue of unilateralism, focusing particularly on the United Nations. "It is said that this administration has a taste for unilateral action and did not really call on the UN or the international community. But we did, I think too much. Resolution 1441, which is a fine resolution, the United Nations organization couldn't even support themselves if it passed the UN Security Council. I would recommend, if they had called on me, to always override the United Nations organization, for one reason. The UN has the same liability as the League of Nations. The liability of equating democracies with nondemocracies. It literally cannot work."

He asked the members of the audience if they would be willing to join a club in which some of the other members were murderers, rapists, or kidnappers. "Not a chance that you would join. Not a chance that you would want to be in the same room. That is what the UN is. I was delighted when we were kicked off the UN commission on human rights. Delighted. Finally we didn't have to sit next to Syria and Iran and Iraq on that kind of a commission -- and Libya. I considered that to be an honor and I'm sorry to see that we are back on it."

During the cold war, he said, the United Nations organization "had a history . . . of continually backing the Soviet Union." Herschensohn called for replacing the United Nations with "a world forum that is only open to democracies that represent the people." As examples of governments in the UN that do not represent their people, Herschensohn pointed to China. "Hu Jintao is represented. But not the people of China. I would love to see a world organization, a parallel organization, that I would call the Nations of Liberty Alliance, in which only democracies are accepted. And I believe that the UN would fall by its own weight."

2. The State Department and Defense Department Have Always Been at Odds

Herschensohn conceded that there has been a public dispute between representatives of the State and Defense departments, but said that was not unique to the Bush government. "I don't remember in my adult lifetime an administration that hasn't had a division between State and Defense." In such disputes, he added, he sides with the military.  "The State Department is interested in diplomacy, getting along, the status quo with other nations, and negotiations." A major part of Bruce Herschensohn's presentation then took up why he felt that the United States should not negotiate with dictatorships:

"I have never ever seen a negotiation with a tyranny be successful. 1938, Chamberlain and Hitler. I need to go into no detail. 1953, we started negotiations at Panmunjom on the 38th parallel with North Korea. Fifty years ago now. We are still negotiating. At that time North Korea was a threat to South Korea. Now it is still a threat to South Korea for sure, but it is also a threat to the United States and to the rest of the world. 1973, Vietnam, the Paris Peace Accords. Signed, and we were all celebrating, including me, because at that time I didn't recognize that we can't negotiate with a tyranny. . . . Two and a quarter years later, April 30, North Vietnam simply took over South Vietnam."

He added the negotiations with Yasser Arafat around the Oslo Accord in 1993 and the Dayton Accords with Slobodan Milosevic in Bosnia in 1995. "The idea was to stop the genocide in Bosnia. He did. He moved it to Kosovo."

Here Bruce Herschensohn took up the charge that George Bush and his team have misused intelligence data. His response was that most U.S. intelligence data has been no good for the last 28 years because of liberal interference with the CIA near the end of the Vietnam War:

"Mel talked about the intelligence data. I want to mention something here. 9/11 was inevitable. Not necessarily that it would be the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or Somerset County. But it was inevitable in this way. Two dates: On February the 27 of 1975 Senator Frank Church from Idaho [Democrat] was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. On that date he said that the oath of CIA officers would be waived. He wanted them to tell those things that were secret and that they were pledged not to tell. He wanted them to tell the committee -- and they did. At least some of them did. Many, and some of the best ones, and I know them, retired or took early retirement or just resigned, because they just wouldn't do it. They are not going to go against their oath.

"And it became public. Magazines were published that had the names of over 1,000 CIA agents, their names published and where they were. There was a magazine called La Liberacion, there was one called Anti, that was in Greece. There was one called Covert Action Bulletin. Many CIA agents, and locals from host countries that wanted to help the United States, were killed, families too. The most prominent that we know of was Richard Welch in Athens, on December 23rd of that year, 1975, two days before Christmas. He was walking home from a Christmas party and was killed. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery."

The killing of CIA station chief Richard Welch by the left-wing November 17 organization in Greece in 1975 has been a major issue in dispute between liberals and conservatives for almost thirty years. The Church Committee pointed out at the time that it had never mentioned Welch or Greece in its hearings. Conservatives organized a hero's burial for Welch in the Arlington National Cemetery, which is normally not done for nonmilitary figures. Various entities were accused of having been responsible for Welch's identity falling into the hands of the assassins, ranging from the U.S. magazine Counterspy to Philip Agee, U.S. defector to the Soviet KGB. The Welch killing became the grounds for passage of the Agent Identities Protection Act, which made it a crime to reveal the identity of a currently serving CIA agent, an issue that has come up recently because of leaks in the Bush administration that the wife of an administration critic is a CIA agent. For a brief presentation of some of the various views of the Welch case see the page devoted to Welch at the official Arlington National Cemetery website:

The second factor that Herschensohn cited as providing the breeding ground for the 9/11 attacks was the failure of the U.S. to crush the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. He accused the then Democratic Party administration of abandoning the Shah of Iran, "and in his place we got the Ayatollah Khomeini. . . . What the Ayatollah Khomeini did was start the first Islamic fundamentalist revolutionary government in the world, with its backbone being terrorism. Other countries, neighboring countries, plagiarized what the ayatollah did, until now we have a much bigger Islamic fundamentalist revolutionary scheme then we had when it was only the Ayatollah Khomeini at the time. Those two incidents, the death of the CIA and the birth of Islamic fundamentalist revolutionary governments, guaranteed that something like 9/11 would occur."

3. Two Kinds of Nation Building

Herschensohn did not directly take up Mel Levine's complaint that Washington has not made sufficient investment in Afghanistan and Iraq after the invasions, but limited his comment here to refuting the commonly repeated charge that George Bush has reversed his former position against nation building. Herschensohn said that there is a major difference between stepping in to aid a developing country in general and the responsibility incurred if you have overthrown its dictatorial government.

4. The Deficits Are Needed to Fight the War on Terror

In answer to the charge of fiscal irresponsibility by the Bush team, Bruce Herschensohn invoked the spirit of sacrifice in America during World War II. "In World War II, I forget whether it was 1943 or 1944, our budget was 91 percent for defense. 91 percent! . . . We don't consider this a war as we used to, and I am talking about the average citizen. During World War II I was a kid. But every day, every thought was on the war effort, the home front. Bringing newspapers to school for paper drives, separating the tinfoil in a cigarette pack, rolling it into a ball and bringing it in to the teacher. My folks giving me a dime to buy a war stamp to paste in a book  And I remember the quarter ones, which were terrific. That way you put in $18.25 and you got $25 in ten years. The rationing that went on, the fact that I couldn't have bubble gum, a terrible thing to have happen to a kid. The fact that you couldn't get batteries for a flashlight. Women not being able to have nylons. Sugar rationing. Meat rationing. We were all involved in the home front. We weren't talking about the economy, because even though there was a depression going on we were talking about our survival. And that's important and we're not doing it today."

He said that the war against terrorism should be treated as a war to save Western civilization. "And I don't give a darn if every cent of mine goes to the government to pay for the survival of the United States."

5. American Values

Herschensohn contested Levine's claim that the Bush administration fails to promote American values abroad. He closed with a quotation from President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address that he said reflected the values of the Bush government ("and he wasn't even a Republican"): "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

Published: Friday, October 31, 2003