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Jane Harman | November 1, 2021


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Event summary:

On November 1, the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy welcomed former Congresswoman Jane Harman in conversation with Professor Peter Feaver to discuss her book Insanity Defense: Why Our Failure to Confront Hard National Security Problems Makes Us Less Safe. Congresswoman Harman served as the U.S. Representative for California’s 36th congressional district from 1993 to 1999 and from 2001 to 2011, and during that time she became the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee. She then served as the Director, President, and CEO of the Wilson Center, where she is now is a Distinguished Fellow and President Emerita. Her book highlights the failure of four presidential administrations to confront the toughest national security problems and suggests what America can do moving forward.

Congresswoman Harman began by highlighting the problem with the American post-Cold War national security strategy, that we did not envision a multipolar world where we could coordinate with states like Russia and China. She noted that the real failure was the lack of an overall strategy, focusing on the tactical rather than the strategic and dealing with problems as they arose. She suggested that there were some successes, such as Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction (dealing with nuclear weapons in the USSR) and Richard Holbrooke and the containment of the conflict in the Balkans. However, she warned that solving a set of small problems but not dealing with the tough challenges lessens the success of the small victories.

The discussion then turned to post-9/11 national security, the reform of the intelligence community, and the PATRIOT Act. She spoke about the difficulty she and others in Congress faced in passing the laws to reform the intelligence community by setting up a jointed command structure and Director of National Intelligence. She noted that even with the adjusted structure, there have been substantial intelligence failures – including the withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, she did note that the record is much more positive than negative. On the PATRIOT Act and the Bush administration post-9/11, Congresswoman Harman noted that Congress was not given the oversight role that it is entitled to and requires.

The discussion then opened up for Q&A from the audience. Questions from the audience included the development of the Department of Homeland Security and its congressional oversight, the reforms needed in congressional oversight of national security and defense, and how the lack of bipartisanship in Congress impacts our ability to address national security issues. Congresswoman Harman also answered questions related to cyber and cyber-security, a mandatory national service system, and what intelligence reforms would be needed to better address the issue of domestic terrorism.