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U.S. "woefully underprepared" for terrorism, say MIT speakers

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Political scientists with expertise in military strategy, international security and the causes and consequences of war analyzed U.S. operations in Iraq and weighed their potential aftermath in a Center for International Studies (CIS) forum on Friday March 21 in Room 10-250.

Stephen Van Evera, CIS associate director; Owen Cote Jr. associate director of the MIT Security Studies Program; Thomas Christensen, professor of political science; and Daryl Press, assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College, participated in the forum, titled "War with Iraq: Conduct and Consequences."

The speakers also addressed the global context in which the Iraq war is unfolding. They noted tensions within the Middle East as well as those arising from North Korea's nuclear program, and they highlighted the persistent menace of terrorism on U.S. soil.

The U.S. currently faces security challenges which it is not meeting, particularly in preparing for the possible use of chemical or biological weapons here, warned Cote.

"These weapons are not like nuclear weapons; these are ubiquitous, impossible to prevent either in Iraq or here. We still don't know the source of the 2001 anthrax attack. But the civilian populace can be protected some. Homeland security should work on a civilian warning system; for example, every building should have a type of smoke detector that can warn when something is in the air," Cote said.

Cote characterized the Bush administration's failure to convince Turkey to permit Kurdistan to be used for ground support as "mind-boggling."

Van Evera portrayed the sticky, volatile web of U.S.-Turkish-Kurdish diplomatic relations, then endorsed Cote's view of the U.S. as "woefully underprepared -- a wide open, fat, lolling target" for terrorism.

The Iraq war will "distract our intelligence and weaken our war against Al Qaeda, and the threat from Al Qaeda is very large. This is a very skilled, ambitious force with unlimited murder on its mind," warned Van Evera.

He noted that the U.S. occupation of Iraq offered another delicate diplomatic mission, for it is Al Qaeda's goal that the U.S. bungle. "History says that occupiers often do bungle," Van Evera said. "We must find international partners and get the U.S. flag off this occupation."

Christensen focused on the role North Korea's nuclear program may have in U.S. timing of the war in Iraq. The U.S. must have "teeth in its negotiations with North Korea, and the Iraq war may do that."

Describing elements of U.S.-North Korean negotiations, Christensen said, "We want those fuel rods removed and the nuclear production facilities destroyed. The North Koreans want security, economic aid and trade openings. Nobody, nobody, wants to invade North Korea and occupy it."

In the "conduct" part of the forum, Press swept through a nine-point outline of U.S. military strategy in Iraq. He pointed out that the "information operation" -- conducted by television, radio and leafleting in Iraq -- is designed to "convince the Iraqi people we're not going to take their country away from them." Other points in the overall strategy included separating the Iraqi people from their leaders and planning to avert a "humanitarian disaster" as refugees flee the city.

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