tv Great Decisions in Foreign Policy PBS January 14, 2011 9:00pm-9:30pm PST
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>> great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, inspiring americans to learn more about the world. great decisions is produced in association with the university of delaware. sponsorship of great decisions is provided by the aarp office of international affairs and the european commission. coming up next - is the u.s. safer ten years after 9-11? >> welcome to great decisions where americans make tough choices on u.s. foreign policy. i'm ralph begleiter. this week we ask, "is the u.s. safer ten years after 9-11?" to help answer the question, we'll be joined by great decisions participants in nevada and by our experts - marc lynch, professor of international affairs at george washington university and a blogger for foreign policy magazine. and malou innocent.
foreign policy analyst at the cato institute. thanks to both of you for being with us. marc, is the united states safer today than it was ten years ago before 9-11? >> yes, i think it is. if you'd asked me that question five years ago, i probably would have said, "no." i think we made a lot of very damaging decisions in the years immediately after 9-11 but then in, in the second half of the bush administration, i think they corrected course and did a number of things that i think have made us a lot safer. i think we're doing much better now in the battle against al qaeda. al qaeda, i think, is much more marginal than it used to be to, uh, to mainstream arab politics and it's much less able to mobilize anger against the united states. >> what did the u.s. do in terms of changing policy during that, the second five years that you mentioned? >> i think it, it did a number of things. uh, it corrected course in what used to be called "the war of ideas." it did a much better job of focusing strictly and very specifically on violent extremists instead of focusing on islam more generally. and i think that that helped
to reach out to the mainstream of the arab world. it began to re-engage on the israeli-palestinian peace process. it shifted course in iraq. it did a number of things which i think helped it to, to do a better job of building broad constituencies across the arab and muslim world which mean that al qaeda has, has a much harder time now gaining purchase with that mainstream. >> malou, you've told us that you don't think the us is safer today than it was ten years ago. >> well, i would say that it's sort of a balance between yes and no. i think that it is safer in the way that, that mr. lynch lays out and that we have crippled al qaeda's global capabilities and that's been thanks to a great deal of intelligence sharing and closer cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies and foreign law enforcement agencies as well. but i think we also have to ask, "yes, of course, we're safer but at what cost?" i think the american people have come to accept more infringements on their civil liberties, with the erosion of privacy and fourth amendment rights. we also have to look at the financial costs of both sort of the war in iraq and afghanistan that cost more than
one trillion dollars total. and even if you exclude war spending, since 9-11, the u.s. defense budget has actually doubled in real terms. and also, uh, just looking in terms of how we brought our own moral, ah, standards into a greater scrutiny, uh, with things such as abu ghraib, the cia black, uh, black sites, guantanamo bay and other sort of deprivations of due process. so i do think that we are safer in real terms, but again, we sure must ask, "what has this, what has this increased safety cost to our liberties and too, the financial costs?" >> what do you attribute it to? do you attribute it to the defense department? the department of homeland security? something else? >> i think, again, just a greater engagement with our allies in terms of intelligence sharing. uh, i think also what marc had mentioned in the sense that we have actually, uh, sort of peeled back a lot of al qaeda's "hearts and minds" campaign that they were winning. in fact, when you look at al qaeda's initiative and their methods, they've actually alienated a great number of muslims in, in the muslim world. and so i think going forward, that the obama administration
should sort of look toward repudiating a lot of these sort of "war on terror" rhetoric and they've been very good on that, and sort of, again, looking to, uh, sort of marginalize those few extremists that are at the fringe of the muslim world. >> if we look back over the past ten years, we could say, "there hasn't been another major attack against the united states..." and by that, i guess i would mean an attack of similar magnitude to the 9-11 attacks themselves, against the united states in u.s. territory. uh, but there have been other attacks around the world against americans and against american allies and so on. let's turn to our great decisions group for just a moment in nevad and see what they say about that. >> we've not been attacked but i'm not so sure that we're not in the world stirring things up to make the possibility more probable. >> i don't think america's safer ten years later. >> i don't know if i feel safe, um, you know with the whole
protocol that we do at the airports and with homeland security and everything that the u.s. has done since 9-11. >> it took us by surprise when they attacked but, but by all means, we could always be attacked again. >> i feel like there's still so much going on in the middle east that we don't know about that we can't just go ahead and say that al qaeda isn't a threat any more. >> i am somebody of color, you know. i remember first traveling with my family a couple years after 9-11 and scrutinized by security more so than somebody that was lighter skinned than me and my family. >> there's a theory called "the black swan theory" that you'll have one time events that'll shake things up and they're totally unpredictable. and i think, like, 9-11 was one of those events so i don't think in the future we can prepare ourselves for another one of those. >> look, i think everybody's doing great things to try and stem violence in the united states but also stem it around the world so, i mean, i have a mixed opinion. but i do think ultimately
we're a little bit safer now than we were ten years ago. >> my feelings about it is, you do what is necessary to keep your country safe. >> malou, there haven't been any major attacks like the one since 9-11 but there have been some others. what do you think about that? is that an indication that things have gotten better or not? >> well, i think we are better at identifying risks, at mitigating vulnerabilities, of improving readiness. that's just in terms of sort of stopping terrorism and mitigating its consequences. uh, so there have been improvements with homeland security. talking about the actual departmentf homeland security, which is a large, expensive, unwieldy amalgamation of various agencies, i, i don't think that that's working. i think it's sort of symptomatic of our tendency to over react to terrorism in the sense that, that - and this is actually an understated feature of the post 9-11 world is that the public fear produced by terrorism drives us toward very self-injurious overreactions that terrorists seek to provoke. and so i think that's really an understated part of this sort of, uh, this, uh, post 9-11 movement that we really need
to focus more on. >> marc, would you say, put the homeland security amalgam into the category of things you mentioned earlier as overreactions as malou mentioned? >> well, i think malou makes a really good point in a number of ways. one is that, i think my biggest disappointment with, uh, with, with the progress that's been made in making america safer has been, uh, that we've developed a legal foundation and a set of institutions which i think really do strike at the heart of some of the core american freedom's and values. and i think that this is a major cost which has to be calculated in and the obama administration has not been any better than the bush administration at that, because they've taken advantage of a number of legal changes that have been made, and in some ways, they've actually expanded the things that they've done, whether it's drone strikes abroad, uh, where you actually are having targeted assassinations, uh, reportedly against american citizens, umm, surveillance, wiretapping, a whole range of things
which are...have proven extremely difficult to roll back. um, in terms of homeland security, i think that we are seeing more of a trend now towards fears of domestic radicalization. but it would be a huge mistake and one that i fear we will fall into, to approach that from a war on terror approach. what we need to do is to deal with this as law enforcement. but the american political environment makes it extremely difficult to do that so every time you have a failed attack, whether it's, uh, on christmas day, or the failed attack in times square, you end up with a media circus which ends up making it very difficult for governments to make rational decisions about these things. >> i want to come back to a point both of you made a few moments ago - which is you referred to al qaeda being made more marginal and diminished in its scope. and yet, al qaeda in iraq didn't exist ten years ago. uh, al shabaab in the horn of africa, if it existed, was, uh, virtually non-existent
at that time. neither of you mentioned those kinds of developments. are those threats to the u.s. or do you just basically say, "no, that's not a problem for us?" malou... >> i think that there are manageable threats that can be dealt with, sort of through, again, either intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance work with drones, not just simply drone attacks, but simply for surveillance. i think we use them a lot also in iraq and afghanistan to search for ied's. so there is a surveillance component to drones as well. i think also when you look at the domestic political debate, i think there's sort of a gaping chasm between the threats we do face abroad and how they're played at home. uh, the way we view threats are totally out of proportion to the threats these, these, uh, small terrorist groups actually pose to the united states. >> marc, what do you think about the spread of those groups in iraq, in afghanistan, in yemen and elsewhere in the horn of africa? >> it, it's a very good point and it is something which is happening. the way that i would describe these are, there, you still have these pockets of, of extremist groups
that are able to do significant local damage. we had these in the 1990s as well. uh, we've often forgotten that there was a grinding islamic insurgency in algeria in the 1990s and one in egypt and these are very similar to those so the al qaeda in the arabian peninsula and the shabaab, al qaeda in islamic magreb. these are dangerous groups that can kill a lot of people at home and they are trying in some cases to expand their reach into the american homeland. but i agree with, with malou that these are threats that can be dealt with through normal, uh, through normal means. they don't require, i think, the extraordinary measures that we adopted after 9-11. >> let's dig in for a minute now in afghanistan and iraq, the two wars which you both have mentioned. let's ask our group in nevada of great decisions viewers what they think about whether the two wars the u.s. has engaged in in the last ten years have made the united states safer since 9-11. >> we're in such serious trouble here at home and although the, the 9-11 disaster was, needed to be dealt with
at the time, to go over there and put trillions and trillions of dollars and the lives of our military at risk for all these years has been, i think, a serious, serious mistake. >> sure, there hasn't been an attack on u.s. soil but i'd say that's because the focus has moved from the united states to abroad. it's easier for attacks to be committed on these soldiers and i think there have been an exponential amount of attacks on these soldiers compared to on u.s. soil. so, you could just say that the spotlight has moved from the united states to the middle east and that's going to account for where the attacks are coming from. >> you have people there that was about 13-14 years old ten years ago and now they're the same age as, you know, like me, 20, in their twenties and such. and going through a war for that long, going through such chaos for that long, you have to think how many disgruntled citizens that creates over time. >> nobody can stand up to the united states militarily. i'm a firm believer in that and i'm proud to be an american. and i think that nobody can, nobody can touch us in that way. >> the two wars in iraq
and afghanistan were launched essentially on the argument that they should make the united states safer. ten years later, did the two wars do that? marc. >> uh, absolutely not. i would argue in the case of afghanistan there was a strong case to go in and clean out al qaeda and actually focus on that threat. i think since that goal was more or less accomplished, i think that there's very little reason, in national strategic terms, for us to still be engaged in afghanistan. iraq, i think, has been a major, major net negative in terms of american security abroad that... >> why? >> that the number of lives that have been lost that... both american and iraqi... the damage done to the iraqi state, the waves of millions of iraqi refugees spread out both inside iraq and around the globe... uh, the, the effect in empowering iranian and other extremist groups across the, the, uh, both inside iraq and across the region, i think that we've forgotten a little bit that the fact
that we've managed to salvage some kind of manageable solution in iraq over the last couple of years can't hide the fact that the initial decision to invade iraq has proven extremely detrimental to america's image, its moral standing and the lives of countless iraqis. >> malou, how about you? do you think that the war has contributed to making americans safer or not? >> i would completely agree with marc. i don't think they've actually contributed to making america safer and i think that when you weigh the economic, political and moral costs, particularly in the invasion of iraq, that they outweigh any discernible benefit to u.s. national security. and i think the more important question we sort of need to begin asking ourselves as a nation is, uh, sort of, what important lessons can we draw from both of these conflicts? in the case of iraq, it should be that armed intervention should be undertaken only when absolutely critical to u.s. national security. and i think going forward, we sort of, we need to remember that it's easy to wage a war but much more difficult to govern a country and we sort of were lulled into a dangerous tranquility,
uh, mere weeks after we invaded iraq. uh, simply because, uh, the relatively ease, the relative ease of the military victory was so swift. but as marc mentioned, simply because we've cobbled together something that looks a little more stable, we really need to understand, sort of, what are the other costs that we aren't being told about. about the, uh, untold damage to the, in the, in the brain-drain within the iraqi society, of the millions of displaced, internally displaced peoples within iraq. uh, the millions of refugees throughout the region and again, sort of going forward, we need to understand that these armed interventions should be undertaken only when absolutely critical. >> devil's advocate question though - americans might say to you right now, "you know, as much as i like iraq and all that, i'm not all that concerned about the iraqi refugees or the iraqi people. we're concerned about american security here." what have those things you've just fingered done to threaten or improve american national security? >> well, they've certainly threatened our, our moral standing in much of the muslim world.
we're now viewed much more so as blatantly hypocritical seeing as how we sort of advocated a liberal democracy in iraq and then turned a blind eye to it, say in egypt or in other countries or in saudi arabia for that matter, uh, where we really don't care about the rights and liberties of those people. um, so it's, again, so it sort of draws our moral authority into question. but also the financial costs as we were talking about earlier. uh, simply the fact that 600 billion dollars have already been spent in iraq and the meter is still running. we also have to look down the line at long term veterans' care - how much that's going to cost. i mean, there are definitely costs to, to the united states economically, morally and politically. >> and marc, if you were osama bin laden - and you don't look a bit like him - but if you were, uh, and you lived back through... you were able to rewind through the last ten years, name a few places where you... what would you be thinking about the way the u.s. responded to the 9-11 attack or would you be saying, "yes, they stepping into that..." or "no, i wish they hadn't done that." can you do that for us? >> well, i think that when the decision was made
to attack the united states, i, i think that much of what they hoped for actually came to pass. uh, with the united states getting bogged down in a military occupation in the heart of the muslim world. i think they expected that to be in afghanistan and i think that they were surprised at how quickly they lost in afghanistan, but then iraq came along and served the same basic role. al qaeda's game, what they're trying to do is, is to radicalize the muslim world and to build islamist identity against the united states, to provoke a clash of civilizations. and the invasion of iraq in particular helped to fuel that. then, you spoke before about the pockets of, of, uh, of affiliate groups in and across the arab world and in... >> africa, yemen, >> africa, yemen... those are all in a very real way the product of america's response to 9-11. >> umm... >> go ahead malou. >> umm, yeah, i mean, i just, uh, another lesson that we must take away is the coercive occupation of states where terrorists operate is profoundly flawed.
uh, the 9-11 masterminds, they actually operated in the united states and germany and pakistan so there is no one central base that al qaeda or other groups need to really operate. and that's going forward as far as a stance is concerned, we need to understand that, umm, while 9-11 did originate from this region, uh, the, the terrorists don't necessarily need afghanistan to launch future op...operations. >> they can go elsewhere to do it. >> absolutely. >> we haven't talked about nuclear, uh, the nuclear threat up to this point and i want to make sure that we turn to that. uh, people are concerned about the possibility that nuclear weapons or the precursors for nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands, could fall into a terrorist's hands or a terrorists' groups' hands. let's ask our great decisions group in nevada what they think about that. >> i think it's definitely a possibility. i mean, all over the world there's nuclear weapons piled in bunkers and basically with just fences around them and if a country needs money at the time - specifically i'm thinking definitely terrorists can get them. and if they don't know how to use them, they can finsomeone that does. >> do we presume that they're going to get their hands
on like, you know, ex-soviet union, like, nuclear weapons? is that, like, what we think's gonna happen? or do we think that they're gonna get their hands on the nuclear weapons that we didn't find anywhere in the middle east? you know, is that what we think is gonna happen? no, i don't think so whatsoever. >> so, we've already had 'em in the hands of places like pakistan and north korea's even got 'em now and iran's wanting to sell 'em. so, i think it's a very big concern. >> if you have, you know, people that are willing to go out and blow themselves up and take, you know, innocent lives with you, why not? you know, they'll be able to get the funding for it. they'll be able to, you know, find people that have like leaks, people that'll be able to buy the stuff, knowledge of how to use 'em. yeah, it's a possibility. it's a scary possibility. >> the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into a terrorist group's hands or into a nation's hands that could facilitate those weapons getting in the hands of a terrorist, is something that the united states faces every day and has faced for a long time. marc, how serious a threat is that to the us now?
>> well, i think that both the bush administration and the obama administration have said that this is the highest priority and the greatest threat that they face. i'm actually less concerned with the risk of it falling into the hands of terrorists which is a real and terrifying possibility, but one which is i think a second order. in this case, i think the real fear that we're focused on right now is iran and iran developing a nuclear weapon. and i think there's been a tremendous amount of focus on the part of, of the administration to try and prevent that from happening... sanctions, containment, diplomatic action, all trying to persuade iran to uh, to rgo it's alleged attempt to get nuclear weapons. it's interesting, it's an interesting question that you frame it around terrorist groups because many people argue that it actually is possible to deter and contain states, governments, uh, that have nuclear weapons because, uh, they tend to be rational. they have something to lose and you don't have to worry about it so... >> and you can exercise leverage on them in one way
or another with sanctions or... blockades or whatever. >> eh...eh...eh...exactly. >> but that's not to say that's not, that's not the case in the case of an individual case of a terrorist organization. >> whereas with terrorists it's much more difficult to, uh, to do that sort of thing. they don't have a population to protect. they don't have diplomats with which you can bargain. but, uh, i think most of the focus with iran really is the possibility that if they gain nuclear weapons, they, they might use them but even if they don't, it would shift the balance of power in the region and that could prove very... make it much more difficult for the united states to do what it wants to do in the region. >> malou, iran is not the only country, obviously, that people are concerned about and the possibility of weapons falling into terrorists' hand did not come necessarily only from iran. what about other places? >> right. i think one concern that many people have... at least many people within washington, uh, is jihadists sort of fatally weakening the government in pakistan from within afghanistan and taking control of the nuclear weapons.
i think that, you know, we can't predict anything with absolute certainty but i think that scenario is highly improbable. uh, simply because pakistan's nuclear, uh, weapons are...they fall under a sort of a very sophisticated command and control system that has strict western standards of reliability. also when you look at the detonators, the warheads, the missiles, they're all physically separated and scattered throughout the country and so my concern isn't necessarily sort of a rambo-like scenario, jihadists swinging in on ropes into nuclear facilities. but more of another aqkhan network where you have a surreptitious pull operation from within the nuclear bureaucracy and that's sort of two other states, not necessarily to non-state actors. and i would agree with marc in the sense that there is a degree of rationality and that even rogue states, uh, what we consider to be rogue states, they do fall under sort of the nuclear deterrent umbrella and they can be deterred and they can be leveraged. >> what about north korea? they've al...supposedly already have nuclear weapons. >> right. and i think again, sort of their, their, not only their desire to possess but their possession of nuclear weapons shows a degree of pragmatism in their, in their sort
of efforts to secure themselves and expand their interests within the region. i don't think that kim jung il, uh, despite his horrible atrocities against the north korean people is necessarily suicidal. i think the, the more, uh, the pernicious problem is the, uh, 30,000 troops that are stationed on the korean peninsula that sort of can drag the united states into any sort of minor conflict that might arise between the two koreas. >> what about the possibility, the sort of big picture possibility... is it possible any more to bottle up nuclear weapons and prevent other states from getting them, prevent terrorists from getting them, prevent people that might not necessarily be considered terrorists but nonetheless could use them for other reasons - economic terrorism or something like that. >> it would be extremely difficult given the technical and the logistical obstacles that are just so daunting for a non-state actor to either manufacture weapons or to acquire those weapons. they would have to do so in total secrecy with the assurance that dozens of foreign intelligence agencies around the world would not get wind of it. it's just extremely difficult to imagine that. and i think we ao have to keep in mind that mass violence has historically been, uh,
sort of the production or been produced by sort of bureaucratic hierarchical organizations that belong to states, not non-state actors. >> marc, a final word on that topic? what about the big picture of bottling up nuclear weapons? >> um, i, all right, i think that this is a top priority of the united states and of, of much of the world. um, but it is complicated because of some of the double standards that are out there and so it's very difficult to explain why, for example, iran cannot get a nuclear weapon but india and pakistan were able to do so, without any serious penalties. why saudi arabia cannot have nuclear weapons while israel can. there's a lot of, uh, a lot of issues out there tied up with national prestige, security and the quest for power which make it very difficult to prevent states from wanting to have those things. >> and all of which end up affecting u.s. national security in the end because they're either allies or enemies of the united states. marc lynch, foreign policy magazine and george washington university - thanks for being with us. and malou innocent
of the cato institute, thank you for being with us on great decisions. thank you as well for joining us on this program and special thanks to our group in nevada. if you'd like to join a great decisions group in your area visit greatdecisions.org we'll see you next week. i'm ralph begleiter. >> to order a dvd of this series, visit shoppbs.org or call 1-800-play-pbs. >> great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, inspiring americans to learn more about the world. great decisions is produced in association with the university of delaware. sponsorship of great decisions is provided by the aarp office of international affairs and the european commission. >> it, it's very important that we engage with the rest of the world. we're, we're, you know, with everything going the way it is - china and everything
else - it's very important that we engage with everybody. >> i think that there's a lot to be said for um, the cultural and educational and um, other resourcethat we send to countries that are, uh, in desperate need of those kinds of things. >> for the most part, i think we are, we are getting more secure. the wars, uh, i don't think, uh, really helped us much at all. uh, in some cases, they have. i think, uh, in taking the fight to the al qaeda in, in afghanistan... >> i think we've set ourselves up for a, an unfortunate situation and, uh, it's just a matter of time an unfortunate situation and, uh, it's just a matter of time and, uh, the severity of it. [instrumental music] closed captions by captionlink. www.captionlink.com