Archive for Wednesday, March 20, 1991


March 20, 1991


Americans should take direction from the U.S. military victory in the Persian Gulf and act forcefully to resolve domestic issues, a U.S. News and World Report editor said Tuesday.

David Gergen, editor at large of the magazine and a former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, spoke at Kansas University as part of the J.A. Vickers Sr. lecture series.

He told an audience of 350 in the Kansas Union that the war proved that if the U.S. military demoralized after the Vietnam War can "get its act together," so can U.S. industries and communities.

"This is an institution that said, `We are going to make it.' There is a lesson there for all of us. If the military can do it, . . . the rest of us can do it," Gergen, a Navy veteran, said.

"What we need to do is not learn how to be more militarist people, but to take this new self-confidence and channel it into constructive action here at home."

GERGEN said soldiers returning from the war against Iraq should serve as role models for young people. He said the troopers' message should be: get educated and don't use drugs.

"They have something to say to these kids dropping out of schools," he said. "They have something to say to these kids who are so threatened."

U.S. industries should take a cue from the leadership demonstrated by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander in the gulf, during the battle to free Kuwait from Iraqi invaders.

"If General Schwarzkopf were running General Motors the last 10 years, there would be more Saturns coming off the line," Gergen said.

He said all Americans also can learn a lesson from the military in the area of race relations.

"There is more racial harmony in the military today than any other institution in society," he said.

GERGEN said this country's involvement in defeating Iraq will have a powerful ripple effect on U.S. domestic and international policy.

The influence on domestic politics at the national level will be obvious next year, he said.

"Clearly, it has rearranged the political furniture in the United States. George Bush is now a prohibitive favorite to win re-election in 1992."

He said allies in Europe and Asia, particularly Japan, may be more cooperative with the United States on trade issues.

In the Middle East, Gergen said the standing of the United States has risen and prospects for peace between Arabs and Israelis have been improved.

The U.S. government will have a voice in the dealings of OPEC, the oil cartel. That should hold down oil prices, he said.

"Respect for the United States, internationally, is higher than anytime since the United States sent a man to the moon," he said.

THE CONFLICT altered the global military and political balance of power, he said.

"It used to be said it was perilous to be an enemy of the United States, but it was hell to be a friend because we seemed to welsh on friends," he said.

"We didn't do that this time. We stuck in there."

Gergen said the gulf war should serve as a deterrent to leaders of developing countries who are pondering the violent overthrow of neighboring countries.

"There are a lot of Third World dictators who would like to take over their neighbor's farms and cities, but any dictator . . . has to think twice about it.

"He could wake up one night with a cruise missile sailing down a street, around the corner and down his ventilator shaft. Believe me, it will make him think more than once."

GERGEN said the "unwritten" story of the war is that for the first time since World War II, the Soviet Union and China didn't hamper the United States' ability to fight.

The Soviet Union and China, sideline players in the gulf war, should no longer be considered part of a political-military triangle with the United States, he said.

But, Gergen said, "before we break out the champagne, I would ask you to think about a second triangle of power. The United States stands alone militarily and politically, but not economically."

The United States, Europe and Japan make up an economic triangle of power, he said, and economic power is essential for national security.

"That is the area where we're going to have more and more trouble if we don't pull ourselves together," he said. "History has shown a nation weak economically will lose its diplomatic, its political, its military power."

"THE REAL question for us is not the next six months. The real question is the next 10 years. What kind of people will we be?" he said.

For example, he said, this country should consider:

U.S. high-tech industries are being taken over by other nations. "Computer chips are the oil of the future."

The federal deficit is out of control. "Washington now sends more money to Japan and Europe for interest payments on the debt than it spends on education."

The melting pot is boiling over. "The biggest problem in this country, frankly, is race and class. Hatred and resentment are building up."

During an informal discussion with reporters Tuesday at the Adams Alumni Center, Gergen said too many Americans rely exclusively on television for news.

"You've got to get out of this business of watching TV for a source of information. It doesn't cut it," said Gergen, who reads a half dozen daily newspapers.

GERGEN said the "MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour," to which he contributes political commentary, couldn't even do the job. Issues have grown too complicated, he said.

Regarding the future of the Soviet Union, he said the government of President Mikhail Gorbachev was in jeopardy.

"There is a good deal of serious fear . . . that a coup may be just around the corner and Gorbachev will not survive," he said.

Gergen said people in the United States don't realize the seriousness of the situation in the Soviet Union.

"I don't think we in America have fully grasped how grim life has become for so many people in the Soviet Union," he said.

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