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Gary Hart's Ready to Move On

The Ex-Presidential Candidate Hopes His New Book Stirs More Debate Than Did His Notorious Extramarital Affair

June 11, 1998|PAUL D. COLFORD | NEWSDAY

H-A-R-T. The guest at the Plaza in New York spells out his last name for a front desk clerk, then for a maitre d' in the famed Palm Court tea room. In return, he receives bemused looks. Clearly, both hotel employees recognize Gary Hart.

So do four women from out of town who stop him in the lobby, produce a camera and corral him in a group photo as his face turns red.

So does a gentleman who's surprised to see him in New York.

"Gary Hart? How are you?" He gives his name. "Remember me?"

"Ah, sure," Hart replies. "Let's see. We had lunch together. Wasn't it at '21'?"

"That's right. And at my home in Beverly Hills. That's when you were . . ." The man stops himself.

"Yes," Hart says, "that was a long time ago."

A long time ago, after the telegenic and cerebral former Colorado senator emerged from the 1984 presidential primaries a strong second to Walter Mondale to loom as the Democrat to beat in 1988. He was the candidate of "new ideas," but his second campaign for the White House would be derailed by disclosure in the Miami Herald of his extramarital relationship with Donna Rice.

Hart's days under media assault--he quit the race in disgust but later revived his doomed candidacy--were a full-throttle preview of the Monica Lewinsky frenzy. From then on, politicians' private conduct would come under journalistic scrutiny even when their behavior was not directly tied to public performance.

But if Hart, now a grayer 61, seems long weary of being identified by the media primarily as the scandal-marred candidate of three campaigns ago, he insists on getting past that to discuss the new ideas and policy issues that continue to engage him.

His new book, "The Minuteman: Restoring an Army of the People," published by the Free Press, is his fifth since quitting politics to pursue the life of a globe-hopping corporate attorney who's been to Russia alone more than 100 times in the past decade.

Drawing deeply from history and his 12 years on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hart argues forcefully for a radical downsizing of the post-Cold War military. His proposal: a smaller standing Army--a rapid-response force equipped to address immediate crises--backed up by citizen-soldiers to be called up in the event of widespread hostilities.

"There's been no defense debate in this country since the end of the Cold War," Hart said in a recent interview. "Bush didn't want to talk about it, Clinton doesn't want to talk about it, Dole didn't want to talk about it. And there is a consensus around maintenance of the Cold War army for economic reasons."

He summons up what he calls "Eisenhower's nightmare," a reference to President Dwight D. Eisenhower's warning that "a military-industrial complex" might become a self-perpetuating behemoth.

"Nobody wants to question the status quo because too many people are benefiting from it," Hart added. "This is not an anti-Pentagon book. It's an anti-military-establishment book."

*

Hart sketches the kinds of crises he believes are likely to arise in the 21st century and suggests more flexible ways to face them. One scenario is what he calls "Persian Gulf II," the possibility of a war for oil. He also envisions more "peacekeeping, rapid-response, intervention kinds of activities," such as in Bosnia and Somalia.

It took months, Hart observes, to transport personnel and equipment to the Persian Gulf in 1991.

"The limitation is on the lift--air and sea lift. And so why have 1 1/2 million people under arms if you can't get them there?

"People say, 'Don't we need to respond quickly?' Of course, that's what 500,000 to 700,000 (regular troops) will do. . . . They are the point of the spear. The question is: Is the shaft of the spear reserve or regular Army?

"The Air Force, more than any service, has integrated its regular and reserve forces profoundly. . . . The Marine Corps is almost there. The Navy has gone a long way . . ." but "the Army doesn't want to give up its 10 standing divisions."

It's no surprise that a book-jacket endorsement for "The Minuteman" comes from Maj. Gen. Edward J. Philbin, USAF (Ret.), executive director of the National Guard Assn. of the United States, which has made the proposed National Guard and Reserve Components Equity Act of 1999 its top legislative priority. The measure would advance the group's effort to better utilize the Guard and the Army Reserve to maintain adequate readiness.

Hart was calling for military reform as early as his 1984 campaign. He also has entree to those at highest levels who might consider his ideas--President Clinton and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen.

In recent years Hart has volunteered memos to the president on foreign policy and military affairs. Cohen, who served with Hart in the Senate and in 1985 coauthored a spy novel, "The Double Man," with him, recently appointed Hart to an advisory group of military experts.

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