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Monitor Breakfast: James Schlesinger

Selected quotations from a Monitor breakfast with James Schlesinger, senior advisor to the investment banking firm of Lehman Brothers. Mr. Schlesinger previously served as US secretary of defense (1973-75) and was the country's first energy secretary (1977-1979).

On what remains for the US in Afghanistan:

"Restrain the Northern Alliance sufficiently that the Pashtuns are not alienated. We manage to avoid having the Pashtuns seeing the United States as enemy as opposed to the liberator. We are not going to soothe the antagonism that one finds toward the United States in much of the Islamic world simply by putting the president or Condleezza Rice or Donald Rumsfeld on Al-Jazeera [the Arab TV news network] to make a speech. What we have to do is a long careful campaign led primarily by credible Muslims who will point to the un-Islamic quality of terrorism on the one hand and the need not to be striking out or even opposed to the United States by reflex. And that is going to take some time. There are grievances that the Islamic world has faced and they have nursed and they have grown out of proportions but they are there."

On a possible terrorist attack on nuclear plant:

"I have worried for years about the storage sites for spent fuel. It is one of the reasons why I want it buried soon in Nevada and moved out of the neighborhood of cities. Those storage sites are, in my judgment, much easier to get at than the reactor that has walls two yards thick."

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On the odds a nuclear weapon will not be fired in anger in our lifetime:

"Modest. I have thought in the past that it is much more likely that a nuclear device would be used in what I would call the third world than against the United States. Biological and chemical weapons are far easier and in some ways far more frightening and thus more effective than a nuclear device. A nuclear device is much more difficult to put together unless you have highly enriched uranium. Making a nuclear device out of plutonium is not an easy task. So sooner or later we will see a spread of nuclear weapons. In fact, if you look back over the past 50-odd years, the thing that is remarkable is how much slower weapons spread than we feared."

On sensible strategy regarding Saddam Hussein:

"I thought that [the possibility of going after Iraq] was a valid objective. But I have been most concerned that we not have a failure because we cannot afford a failure. We can't afford events like Desert One or Somalia, or even at a lower level a blunder of the sort of bombing the Chinese embassy at Belgrade. If there is a desire [to target Iraq] we must be sure all of our political and logistical requirements have been resolved in advance so that there are no slip-ups."

On civil liberties:

"The terrorists are a different breed of cat. They are not wearing uniforms and they do not represent any country. Their acts by our definition are criminal. They do not have the same privileges you would have in ordinary warfare. If you have those who are in the country illegally, I have no problems with their being constrained with regard to their legal rights. In wartime, the logic of the Miranda decision does not seem to me to be wholly applicable. We ought not to be treating this as simply another criminal prosecution. This is a serious and massive attack on the United States and indeed on the civilized world."

On the outlook for oil prices and conservation:

"The desire for conservation comes in waves and is mostly rhetorical. There is a little bit of action that may be taken. I don't see any move that can be described as action as opposed to talk. The fact that oil prices are now lower than they were before saps the public underpinning of any serious conservation acts."

"I am sanguine. The great fear of the 1970s was that the Soviet Union with its massive military power – and with substantial military forces resting north of the Iranian border – might strike into the Persian Gulf and seize control of the oil tap and that would have brought about a revolution in terms of the international political arrangement we had had since WWII. The Japanese and most of Europe had no alternative but to accommodate themselves to Soviet control of the oil tap. But there is no [longer] that kind of threat. So the oil will continue to flow. It may be more restricted and prices go up and OPEC countries get more money. But the Russians are now our energy allies."

On end of air terrorism:

"I think you have seen the end, the effective end of the seizure of aircraft and the use of those aircraft as missiles. We were rather lax, in retrospect at least, but I think the security precautions now being taken will preclude a takeover of aircraft and its use as a missile. So those [terrorist] sleepers out there are looking for something else. Going back to the 1st attack – in the 1990s – the possibility of blowing up the Holland Tunnel. I think those kinds of things are possible. Or a massive car bomb of the kind you had in Oklahoma is possible. I think as long as these events are localized, that the public at large will continue to be resilient. However, if they are not localized, if they are massive, I don't know what the reaction would be. One of the things that has been discussed is cyber attacks, cyber warfare. You will remember some years ago the national security agency did a test which by attacking the computers that control the grid, they turned off, hypothetically, all the lights on the east coast. When you have those kinds of massive, possibly nation wide attacks, I am not sure how the public would react. That is why I worry a great deal more about cyber warfare and information warfare than I do about discrete attacks."