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Former Defense Secretary to Speak in Springfield

On October 3rd, former U-S Secretary of Defense William Cohen will be in Springfield to talk about countering terrorism. He'll be the keynote speaker for the Public Affairs Convocation at Missouri State University. He'll speak October 3rd at 7P-M at Plaster Student Union. KSMU's Missy Shelton recently spoke with Cohen by phone and files this report.

Shelton: William Cohen served as Secretary of Defense for the Clinton Administration from 1997 to 2001. Before that, he was a Republican U-S Senator from Maine. I asked Cohen to discuss criticisms that the Clinton Administration failed to capture Osama bin Laden.

Cohen: I think we ought to stop trying to find fault and really discuss what are the fault lines in our system. Where have we failed to take the kind of action that needed to have been taken? There's no question that during the Clinton Administration, we tried to get bin Laden but we failed. The same is true for the Bush Administration. It doesn't serve any purpose to try to find fault saying, "If only we had better information..." If we had had better intelligence during an earlier period of time, we might have gotten him. In fact, we tried to get him during an attack back in 1998 and we missed. So, it was very difficult, we tried and we were unsuccessful. And now I think it's clear the president has also tried and has been unsuccessful. The hunt goes on. And frankly I think it would be an important thing to capture and/or kill bin Laden but it's well beyond one man today. It's more of a movement. It's something that's very horizontally designed today in terms of different cells operating different groups, different affiliations, all who are motivated by an extreme vision of how the world should be. Assuming we're successful in capturing or killing him, that's not going to put an end to what is taking place today. I think it would be important and we have to continue to do it but it's beyond that at this point.

Shelton: Let me ask you about the war in Iraq. Is that part of the War on Terrorism or is it simply making the problem worse?

Cohen: I think it is now. I would question whether it was in the beginning, whether or not we had that kind of linkage...certainly in 9-11, there was no linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9-11. But now that we're in Iraq, it's clear it has become a training ground for insurgent groups but also for other countries that are having their people battle-hardened by being there. It may be part of it but I think the war against terrorism...and I don't like the word "war" because I think it's much more akin to John Kennedy's phrase of "a long twilight struggle." This time it's against terrorism, not communism. I say that because there's no visible enemy, no identifiable enemy out there to wage this war against and there's no terminal point where you can say, "It's finally over." That's because we now have seen how terrorism and technology have linked hands so single individuals or small groups can bring about large amounts of casualties. I think what we have to do is try to work with other countries. And it goes well beyond Iraq. It is true of every country on the globe today. There is no place that is safe or immune from acts of terror. This is not simply the US and coalition forces against those insurgents in Iraq. That's a part of it today but it's much bigger than that.

Shelton: You worked for the Clinton administration yet you are a Republican. Will your remarks in Springfield be of a political nature or will they be more of an analysis of what lies ahead?

Cohen: I've spent most of my life working on a non-partisan basis in politics. I believe when it comes to national security, we need to put aside our political differences. There shouldn't be a republican national security policy or a democratic national security policy. There should be an American policy. Throughout my career, whether I was in the House of Representatives or the US Senate, certainly at the Pentagon, the one thing I've tried to do is put aside any party philosophy when it comes to defending this country and doing what's best for the men and women who are serving us in uniform. I have no intention of being critical of the Bush Administration or engaging in a long defense of the Clinton Administration. I think there's fault all the way around.

Shelton: I've been speaking with former U-S Secretary of Defense William Cohen. He'll speak October 3rd at 7P-M at Plaster Student Union on the Missouri State Campus. The event is free and open to the public.