Following her tenure as a multiple-term representative from California’s 36th Congressional District, Jane Harman has served for the past three years as the first female director of the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based foreign policy think tank. In that capacity, she continues her interest in matters of national security, which she addressed at a town hall meeting recently at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
She opened her talk with a mini-critique of the war on terror, in which she praised the tactics and techniques used, but declared that the United States needed to define its overall strategy for the future.
To back up this assessment, she discussed the idea that the methods being used for are actually encouraging potential terrorists to join the ranks of those committed to the religious edict of Jihad. This is a notion that has gained popularity, especially in light of the recent renewal of criticism of President Barack Obama’s failure to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, commonly known as “Gitmo.”
Harman brought up the recent Senate testimony of Farea al-Muslimi, a native of Yemen who spent a year attending the Antelope Valley’s Rosamond High School, an experience that made him an ardent advocate of American culture. His embrace of Americana earned him an academic excellence award in recognition for his achievements in history.
These experiences did little to sway the animosity of his native countrymen on the receiving end of the U.S.-sanctioned drone strikes, however. Harman expressed this contradiction bluntly.
“We’re never going to win the argument with the kid in rural Yemen who’s deciding whether to strap on a suicide vest,” she said.
This sentiment is particularly relevant today, a few weeks after the fatal Boston Marathon bombings when the temptation might compel Americans to give in to the emotional reflex of indiscriminate retaliation.
To counter this, Harman called for an open dialogue and debate, with Congress playing a pivotal role, and to ensure transparency and legal constraints.
The Boston tragedy has also highlighted the transition of new and emerging sources of risk. While the alleged perpetrators of that attack were foreign-born, Harman believes the potential is there for future terrorists to be home-grown, especially in this, the age of online radicalism. To illustrate this, Harman underscored the 2005 string of gas station robberies orchestrated by a group of American citizens who had been politicized in the California penal system.
Before their apprehension, the religious extremists planned on using their ill-gotten gains to mount attacks on military facilities, synagogues, and other targets frequented by “infidels or non-believers.”
Despite this and other incidents, Harman cautioned against trampling over civil liberties to reach the unattainable goal of “100 percent security.”