known for cultivating the art of drawing connections, which we
call teaching creative writing. She said that such thinking might
avert further tragedies —an idea that inspired my call to a man
with long experience in the field of preparing for the worst. William Smullen, director of the National Security Studies Program
at Syracuse University and former chief of sta= to secretary of
state Colin Powell, convenes a two-week seminar every spring
for military and civilian leaders to assess security challenges,
provide strategic insights, and plan for the future. I asked him
what most worries him.
“The threats are everywhere,” he said. “What keeps me awake
at night is the thought that someone will get their hands on a
WMD — biological, chemical, radiological — and set it o=.
“The Cold War was easy,” he continued. “Now our forces are
worn out, and there’s so much uncertainty in the world that
no one can predict what kinds of wars we’ll wage in the future.
We’ve been guilty of a lack of imagination, of an inability to think
outside the box about what might happen. We have to think the
unthinkable, in view of the fact that in the last ten years we’ve
gone from being able to fight two regional contingency wars to
one. By 2017 we’ll have a much smaller military. And the next
wars will be insurgencies.”
He paused to reflect. Thirty years in the military, including
two tours of duty in Vietnam and service as spokesman at the
Pentagon, had taught him to choose his words carefully.
“Will another 9/11 happen?” he asked. “There are people out
there trying to bring another catastrophic event to our soil. For
instance, they’d love to start forest fires in California, Arizona,
Idaho — all over the West. You can create a big fire very, very fast.
I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but we’re in a very complex
period. The fact that nothing like 9/11 has happened since may
lull us into believing there’s nothing to worry about.”