Fletcher Features

Former Congresswoman Speaks on National Security

Former Congresswoman Jane Harman and Admiral James Stavridis, dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, spoke about success and failure during their careers at yesterday's open house for recently admitted Fletcher students.

Harman, who is now the president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, served nearly 20 years in the House of Representatives and sat on several important committees, including on homeland security, intelligence and armed services.

Stavridis, who worked with Harman when both were involved in issues of national and international security, spoke of her breadth of knowledge.

"She brings deep expertise from Washington, but more important for our purposes here at the Fletcher School, an international view of the world as well," Stavridis said.

Harman spoke about her career path and involvement in politics, starting with her attendance at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

"I was there when John Kennedy was nominated for president — I was physically there, and I also at the time met Eleanor Roosevelt," Harman said. "I was a kid usher at John Kennedy's acceptance speech at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and that was my personal epiphany. ... I thought, ‘I want to do something in politics.’ ... There was nobody in my family involved in politics, but that day, ever since, this has been what I have loved doing."

Harman explained that she also worked on then-Senator Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign, worked in the Carter White House and practiced law prior to running for Congress in 1992. She told the prospective students that they, like her, should pursue their passions.

"If you're really passionate about politics — and right at the moment, I realize that's a stretch — ... but if you're really passionate about it, focus on it," she said. "Don't let anybody tell you no."

California's 36th Congressional district, which Harman represented for 16 years, is home to some of the country's major aerospace companies. She explained that, because of this, she sought appointments to committees involved in national security. Harman, however, said that she had no regrets about resigning her seat and has since had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of foreign policy scholars and leaders in her position at the Wilson Center.

"It was an exceptional opportunity to stay in the game," she said. "I got out of one specific game — I'm happy I did that, and now I'm in a different place."

Harman also discussed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the enormous changes they brought to Congress and the country as a whole.

"What happened after that horrible day was [that] everybody in government set about to put in place a series of programs to protect our government," she said. "Looking back at what we did, we did protect the country, and we have not had massive bombings. ... There is still a terrorist threat alive and well, but most people would say there's no way to mount a catastrophic event — at least a physical attack, although there may be a cyber attack — against the United States."

The added protections, however, came at a cost to individual liberties and human rights, and Harman discussed the detention and enhanced interrogation programs that were initiated following the attacks. In her role as the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, Harman was a member of the Gang of Eight, a group of lawmakers who received briefings on national security matters. She said she sent a letter in 2003 to the Central Intelligence Agency's General Counsel telling them not to destroy video evidence of torture. The videotapes were later destroyed, however, and Harman said the United States lost credibility on the world stage.

"Going forward, as I see the world, we need better strategies," she said. "I think America's narrative has suffered for a lot of reasons. One, we haven't told our story well and that's tragic. ... Two, we need to correct a number of things. We need to close Guantanamo Bay and revise security programs. Three, we do need to end this practice of enhanced interrogation. ... Fourth, we need to project smart power."

Going forward, Harman said the use of drones will be necessary, but cannot be excessive. She also explained that Congress needs to reinstate trade promotion authority, which allows the president to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can only approve or disapprove and cannot alter.

Stavridis also shared his viewpoint on the future, explaining that he was in the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 attacks, but had an epiphany when he saw the U.S. military headquarters on fire.

"I ... began to think and still think today that in this 21st century, walls will not work — that you have to build bridges, and how do you build bridges? It's the economics, it's the culture, it's the politics, it's the rule of international law."

Stavridis and Harman answered questions from prospective students and professors on the Ukraine situation, the role of social media and how to rebuild the American image.

"Why are we so low in all these Pew polls around the world? What do these countries think about us?" Harman asked. "They think about drone strikes, Guantanamo Bay and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. ... We've got to open up America again and then we have to showcase our generosity."

Read the original piece

--Reprinted from the Tufts Daily