UnCommon: National security expert Gary Hart

Hart discusses national security in the wake of the Boston Marathon attack, his views on future cuts to military spending, and what it’s like to run for President.

By Anastasia Kaiser

Former United States senator from Colorado and presidential candidate during the 1984 and 1988 elections Gary Hart has since served as a consultant on national security issues with the Department of Defense, the Council on Foreign Relations, and a bipartisan committee of national security experts charged by President Bill Clinton to review American security in the 21st century. While serving on this committee, Hart gave several public speeches on the impending threat of terrorist attacks during the weeks leading up to 9/11. He began a series of eight seminars on “The Changing Nature of Security” at the Institute of Politics on Tuesday night, sharing anecdotes about a meeting with former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and the CIA’s role in the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro and discussing the growth of the security state. Hart sat down with the Maroon to discuss national security in the wake of the Boston Marathon attack, his views on future cuts to military spending, and what it’s like to run for President.

Chicago Maroon: What’s your instinct as to whether or not the Boston Marathon attack was an act of domestic terrorism?

Gary Hart: I’m no terrorism expert but I did co-chair a committee pre-9/11 that predicted terrorist attacks. In the process I learned more than I wanted to. Because I’m engaged on a committee at the Department of Defense, I retain a top-secret clearance, but I haven’t received any information about the attacks. My guess is that it’s domestic not international. My guess is that it is either a lone wolf or a small group not affiliated with a national organization. When they find whoever did it – or the group that did it – it will be someone more like [Timothy] McVeigh than [Osama] Bin Laden. It’s been pointed out that Monday was tax day, so it could have been an extremist who hated the government.

CM: Do you think it is an isolated event or do you think we’ll see similar attacks in the future?

GH: No, I think things like this will happen from time to time. People will be hurt. It’s the age in which we live. People have grievances and increasingly they are committing acts against the public. What worries me more is the Newtown incident. On the scale of concerns, that’s a bigger one to me.

CM: Do you think security procedures should be revised in the aftermath of an attack like this one?

GH: We’ve done awfully well with security. I think what is going to happen is that things like trusted pre-screen at airports will expand and that’s a good development. But for now, we have to contend with things like airport security. A 26-mile urban corridor will never be absolutely secure. We have been doing something right but at a cost of inconvenience.

CM: What’s your view on whether or not the sequester [budget cuts] have weakened America’s military preparedness?

GH: It is too soon to say. Secretary of Defense Hagel is a friend of mine and is working through that. When I served on the armed services committee, I wanted to make sure that our number one priority protecting the troops. If the well being of the troops is hurt, that drives down morale and retention. Wars like Iraq and Afghanistan destroy families and drive homelessness. It is a travesty. Shame on us. If someone is going to put on a uniform, they deserve protection. We aren’t doing that.

CM: Tell me what the Gary Hart budget would look like when it comes to military spending.

GH: Veterans’ benefits should not be affected, and in some cases, should be increased. I have long advocated for the transition away from big army divisions, nuclear carrier task groups, and other large cost items. We need to transition to more special forces that are lighter.  The military needs to become faster and lighter. We’re not going to be fighting land wars in Asia. These structures and systems are legacies of the Cold War.

CM: Only a handful of people have ever run for President. What does it feel like to run for the highest national office?

GH: In my case it was very improbable. I didn’t grow up in a political family. I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be president. I knew no one in politics. I cared about public issues. I cared about issues of fairness and justice and public service. I got angry about Watergate and then ran for the Senate at an early age and won. I began to hear a theme in the party of “We need new leadership”. I decided without any money or any national organization to seek the Presidency. It is harder work than anyone can imagine. It is physically and emotionally hard. The big reward comes from the volunteers who form a grassroots movement. We ended up winning 25 primaries and caucuses and I had over 1200 delegates at the ’84 convention. It was a result of timing and good fortune and a lot of luck.

CM: What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing a career in politics?

GH: Get active in other people’s campaigns. You’ll learn good practices as well as bad ones – don’t use the bad ones! When you run, give your volunteers a reason to support you.