Frank Sesno (FS): Good evening, everyone. If I may have your attention we’ll get underway here this evening. On behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations and our distinguished panel here, I’m Frank Sesno and I’m delighted to welcome you here this evening to those here in the room and to viewers joining us this evening, courtesy of C-Span. This is a critical foreign policy conversation that we’re going to have this evening, because we have simply so many issues confronting the nation and the world that are of such importance. It’s a conversation I’m sure that will be as informed, provocative and insightful as any you’re likely to have outside of the White House or the CIA. And since most of us are not current pass holders for the White House or the CIA, this isn’t a bad place to be or to begin.
Distinguished panel this evening, obviously, all former National Security Advisors, all of whom have had to deal with issues of terrorism in one form or another. All of whom have had to calculate the real world equation of America’s friends and foes and its place in the world and where it will play on the world stage. Sandy Berger, former National Security Advisor to President Clinton, 1997 to 2000, helped shape world events across the globe, obviously, but also as we know from Kosovo to China and was on the job when terror struck the U.S.S. Cole and America’s Embassies in Africa. He’s now chairman of Stonebridge International.
Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, Air Force retired. He was assistant to the President for National Security Affairs under both President Bush 41 and President Ford. He also served in the Nixon White House, and his distinguished military career and work on a vast array of policy advisory councils has been as distinguished as it has been influential. From the White House General Scowcroft helped shape events from the fall of the Wall to the Persian Gulf War.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981 under President Carter and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in the normalization of US/China relations and his contributions to human rights, national security policies of the United States during his tenure, Camp David and of course America’s hostages in Iran all unfolded. So a very broad and experienced, as I said, nuanced view of the world.
Tonight’s discussion: “What Should Be America’s Overall Strategy in Dealing with Terrorism?” It is a very broad question, and one that on one level is easily answered. We must combat it and we must defeat it. But at another level, it has to be one of the most challenging issues and questions we’ve ever faced as a nation, because it carries such complex issues with it and vast implication. How and when and for how long, for example, will we fight this war? What are the issues and the adversaries that are central to the conflict, and which ones are tangential? What should the role and responsibility of America’s allies be and America toward them? And is the prism of terrorism now the prism through which we will or should view the world, much as the Cold War was the prism through which we viewed the world for 40 years? And if this is our strategic prism now, how will that help or complicate our lives? If we’re in this for the long haul, how should our leaders talk to us, warn us or reassure us about our own security here at home?
Now as you think about those questions, as we contemplate those questions, just think of today’s headlines. The prism that I mentioned a moment ago, ranging from US operations in Afghanistan itself, to war very specifically, and materially to the nuclear trip wire we now see so dangerously being played out between India and Pakistan. From Israelis and Palestinians in the always volatile Middle East, to relations with the broader Arab world now, from Saddam Hussein in Iraq to narco-traffickers in Latin America, from the new Russia to the new Europe.
So our discussion, while focusing on terrorism necessarily because of the world in which we now live, ranges far afield. With that in mind, perhaps we can start with what is perhaps one of the most disturbing and frightening developments, and that is this nuclear trip wire that I mentioned between India and Pakistan. Pakistan plays a critical role in America’s war on terrorism, and yet we see literally a million troops staring at one another across a very dangerous border. General Scowcroft, would you start and we can just move it around really, with your assessment of just how dangerous, just how close this region is to explosion and the danger of nuclear conflict there, because that truly would be a global development of horrific consequence.
Scowcroft (LGBS): I think, Frank, one of the things you point out by starting on India/Pakistan is that the war on terrorism sort of is an overlay on a lot of other things that have been going on for a very long time, and this is one of the enduring conflicts. It has taken on an additional emphasis because of the war on terrorism. I believe it is probably the most dangerous immediate crisis that we face today, because of the fact that these two antagonists who have been quarreling over Kashmir since 1947 are both nuclear armed.
And President Musharraf of Pakistan presides over a very unruly populous, which to a significant extent over the past years have been Talibanized. He’s been very courageous in standing up against terrorism and has done I think a commendable degree of housecleaning. But it’s not over, and facing him are a bunch of terrorists who do not wish him well, and I actually believe that this current crisis, which began last December I think it was with an attack on the Indian Parliament by some terrorists, I suspect that was aimed as much at Musharraf as the Indians.
Indians themselves have a fairly stable, but not very strong coalition, and are looking in a way for ways to strengthen the coalition and being tough on such a populous issue is important for them. It is difficult for me to see how a conflict between the two, and there are over a million men now on the border, could remain conventional.
FS: It’s difficult for you to see how it could remain?
LGBS: How it could remain conventional.
FS: In other words, if it starts, you actually fear it goes…
LGBS: I think it is highly likely, because these two had nuclear weapons for a few years. They don’t have the practice that the United States and the Soviet Union did over decades with worrying about how you deal with crises in a nuclear conflict. It would be a severe test, and so I think it is probably the worst crisis we face.
FS: So gentlemen, presuming you agree with that assessment, and tell us what you think if you do not, what then does the United States and the world do about this?
Brzezinksi (ZB): Well, first of all, I think it’s very important to state that the Indian/Pakistani conflict is not about terrorism. Terrorism is a manifestation of the conflict. A conflict which is in part territorial, in part ethnic, in part unfortunately religious and long lasting. And I think there’s a broader lesson here to be drawn, and I refer to your introduction. Terrorism is a manifestation of serious political problems in the main, sometimes fueled by religious passions or by social concerns. But in the main it is a political problem, and to do with terrorism one has to view it as a political challenge and understand the underlying political dimensions of that particular challenge. In the case of India and Pakistan, I think some of our own rhetoric has made it easier for the parties, or for one of the parties to escalate, to retch up the intensity of the conflict.
FS: What rhetoric are you referring to?
ZB: Well, I have in mind generalized statements of the sort that, “Who is not with us is against us,” that “terrorism must be wiped out” and so forth, because that has the effect of giving a handle to people who want to push a particular formula to use force in the name of a legitimate cause, irrespective of the dangers involved. I think it’s very important to understand that terrorism is a manifestation that’s widespread. It’s global. We’re not the only victims of terrorism. We happen to be the latest victims of terrorism, but a lot of countries have had a lot of unpleasantness with terrorism for a variety of complex political reasons. And unless that is stated and assimilated, and unless terrorism is viewed in that larger context, there is a real danger of distortion of the priorities of our own policies and a real danger that others will highjack the war on terrorism for their own specific ends.
FS: Do you see that happening in India/Pakistan?
ZB: I think to some extent, absolutely.
FS: And that contributes to the crisis?
ZB: Absolutely. You know, war in Kashmir has been going on for years. Why has it escalated all of a sudden so intensely right now?
SB: Frank, I think the dynamic in South Asia now is propelling both sides toward conflict. The roots here are indigenous and relate to the conflict over Kashmir that Zbig and Brent have described, but it does play out within the context of a rhetorical and conceptual framework of terrorism that both leaders in a sense seek to use to their own advantage. Musharraf, I think, may feel the United States cannot afford to see something escalate to the point where it endangers our war against al Qaeda. I think the Indians for their part are saying, “A terrorist is a terrorist, and if you give aid and comfort to a terrorist, you’re a terrorist.” Essentially embracing our rhetorical framework.
I share Brent’s concern here that these two countries, having fought two wars before over Kashmir, now have nuclear weapons and don’t know much about each other’s capabilities, red lines doctrine. I think the closest that we came to a nuclear conflict, other than the ’62 Cuban missile crisis, was in 1999, the last time these two nations clashed over cargo. And where we saw, in fact, the Pakistanis moving toward deployment of missiles. President Clinton helped to diffuse that.
I think in this situation both sides would like a limited symmetrical war. That is, they both would like to bloody each other’s nose for domestic consumption and hope that the world rushes in and provides a way for them to back down, each feeling as if they’ve vindicated their national interest. But as we know, symmetrical anything is difficult here, and a conflict here can lead to a confrontation and even a disaster. So my own view is that there is a significant possibility of conflict here. I’m not sure that I think it’s inevitable that it goes nuclear.
As to your question about what the United States should do… I think this is very important. We’ve always had an interest in this region; we have an amplified reason now in the context of Afghanistan. And I think that on the one hand, we need to be President Musharraf as we are doing to in fact stop the cross border terrorism and infiltration which has not stopped. But I think we also have to be pressing the Indians here to give Musharraf some cover for doing this. This is not easy for him to do, and I think that the Indians ought to be prepared to say that in the context of demonstrable efforts on the part of the Pakistanis to stop the cross broader activity, to crack down on the terrorists, that they’re prepared to resume a dialogue. So I think we have to be very actively engaged here, pushing both sides away from this brink.
FS: General Scowcroft?
LGBS: I think we risk getting all mixed up again. This conflict is not basically about terrorism, as Zbig has said. It is inflamed by terrorism, and it is in danger of being highjacked. One of the things that the administration has forgotten apparently is their prevention against the highjacking of terrorism for all the different kinds of terrorism around. When the President first made his speech on it, he said what we’re after is terrorism of a global reach.
FS: An important distinction.
LGBS: An important distinction, and I thought it was a really skill to have put that in there, because it removes most of the… one man’s terrorism is another man’s freedom fighter. But we seem to have forgotten that in practice, and so whenever anybody has a local conflict they say, “We’re fighting your fight, United States, terrorism.” And I think we have to be very careful about that. The real problem here is that both sides, India and Pakistan, have reasons for wanting to have just a brief symmetrical war. And so it will be very hard. They want it for their own domestic purposes. It will be very hard to stop. I think we need to be very tough, because to me Musharraf is still very unsteady as the head of Pakistan, and a nuclear armed Pakistan without a government is something none of us should look forward to.
FS: Let me mention to the audience that in a few minutes we’ll turn over for your questions. There are microphones around, and when we go to the floor I would ask that you just identify yourself and ask your question, but we’ll go on here for another 15 minutes or so before we do that. Dr. Brzezinski, let’s make the connection then between the conflict on the subcontinent and specifically the fight on global terrorism. Because we know that what is happening on the ground in Pakistan, with respect to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and Taliban and others, is a materially important struggle.
ZB: Well, first of all, when we talk about war on terrorism, we’re talking about something very unusual, because we’re waging a war on a technique, a tactic. And the first question that occurs to me because I’m very literal minded, and so I sort of start from the bottom, up.
FS: That’s okay. That’s why we’re glad you’re here with us this evening. (Laughter)
ZB: Yeah, exactly. I represent the—My question is who’s the enemy? You know, terrorism is a tactic; it’s a technique of killing people or of intimidating people to achieve a political objective. But you don’t wage a war on a technique. You wage a war on somebody, and I would like to know who the terrorists are. Now terrorists with a global reach. That’s fine. That at least points us in the direction, but where do they come from? Are they from a particular region by any chance? Do they perhaps come from a region that has serious political problems? Do they perhaps have some grievances or hatreds that motivate them in their terrorism?
And once you begin to focus on these issues, you begin to understand that dealing with terrorism is in part a process of suppression, an extirpation absolutely, but also in part a process of dealing with the political dimensions that generate the phenomenon. The British have been doing that in Ulster. They’re not fighting terrorism in Ulster, or they aren’t fighting Catholicism in Ulster, they’re fighting the Irish Republican Army, which for a variety of ethnic, as well as religious nationalist reasons, is against the British.
The Russians are fighting terrorism in Chechnya, but the Chechens are a nation. They have a history, they have memories, they have grievances. In Kashmir, we have a serious problem in which the political expression of that problem is indeed manifested by terrorism. But to reduce these issues to terrorism and to wage war on terrorism is I think a prescription for failing to address these problems, and as I said earlier for highjacking of the issue by interested parties.
Now insofar as India is concerned, I clearly am of the view that India and Pakistan have to be pressed to address the problem of Kashmir if the issue is to resolved, just as in the Middle East we have to address the problem of the Arab/Israeli conflict, we have to deal with the future of Saudi Arabia and what happens and the reaction against us. We have to ask ourselves some very serious questions about Iraq, just as the British are doing politically with the IRA and Ulster or the Spaniards with the Basques and others. And it’s this dimension of the struggle against terrorism which I think has been somewhat slighted in our public discussions and in our official pronouncements.
ZB: One dimensional. Also a little bit for my taste, you know, the — for those in this room who studied Latin.
ZB: That’s right… by Italians, right? (Laughter) You know, it’s a question of how you determine the problem, and then that leads you to the answer. If you have a very narrow definition, which is particular theological, that was where I was uneasy, you reduce it simply to an abstract evil, you don’t have the point of departure for dealing with a problem on a separate level.
FS: Sandy Berger.
SB: Let me come at this a slightly different way. I think in expanding the definition of the war on terrorism as we’ve seen since the axis of evil speech, the great danger is that we lose focus on the enemy that we know is there. That is al Qaeda.
FS: Are you saying we’ve lost focus on al Qaeda?
SB: I think that we’ve had this conversation about how you define terrorism, and I think it’s reflective of a kind of dissipation of focus here. There is still a serious enemy. They have not gone away. George Tenent testified recently they are viable and lethal. And I think even if you define a terrorism enemy narrowly, forget about Iran, Iraq, define it as the anti-American Islamic jihadists…
FS: Al Qaeda and beyond.
SB:… al Qaeda and beyond, we got our work cut out for a lifetime. And we have all these other issues that we have to deal with as well, but we ought not to lose sight, in my mind, of the fact that the most clear and present danger in my judgment to the security of the American people continues to be the threat from this terrorist network. And I think there is a military dimension to that, which is taking place in Afghanistan, and there is a political dimension to that. Because we want at the same time that we are destroying and dismantling that network, we want to be isolating the extremists and not isolating ourselves.
FS: If I may, let me try to get you to be a little precise here as to what is required and what is required of the leadership of the United States, the administration? Does there need to be more clarity of purpose? Is that what you’re suggesting, that we have gotten away from the clarity of purpose and there needs to be more of that?
SB: I think the administration is focused on al Qaeda, but I think as we have expanded the definition of the war on terrorism to include now Syria… and we’re talking about globally, there is a danger of deflecting from focus here, which I think needs to be unrelenting, and that is with respect to the threat we know is there. And that is partly military, what we’re doing in Afghanistan, what we’re doing with other countries around the world cooperatively. It is partly stabilizing Afghanistan.
I think it’s a mistake that we don’t have an international security presence throughout the country, because I think there’s a great risk that Afghanistan will once again disintegrate. It means on the political side dealing with these conflicts in South Asia and the Middle East elsewhere so that we are in fact reducing risk and not seeing the world more radicalized than it is. But I think abstract discussions about definitions of the war on terrorism are really beside the point. I think that we have a real terrorist enemy, and we have to consider that a very high priority going forward.
FS: General Scowcroft?
LGBS: Yeah, I think the way we started it has helped confuse us a little. I think there is a war on terrorism, and it is global terrorism, and it is epitomized by al Qaeda. And it is a threat to the United States, it is a threat apparently to maybe 50 other countries where they have loosely affiliated networks, and that ought to be our focus at the present time. If we focus on terrorism per se, whether it’s Hezbollah, whether it’s IRA and so on, we’ll soon be dissipated. We cannot go after all of them. Al Qaeda is a serious problem, and I think we can go after that, and I think the military part of the war on global terrorism I think is probably coming to an end.
I don’t think there are going to be many more countries volunteering to be the next Taliban, but that is only the beginning, and from then on it’s going to be a war of intelligence. And ultimately our goal has to be every time these people move, every time they speak, every time they spend money, every time they get money, there are ripples in the firmament. We need to get those ripples and use them to track these people down. That is an immense job that we cannot do by ourselves, and we need to focus on that as a beginning.
ZB: And in assessing how we have done so far, I think we can probably say that by now we have done pretty well militarily in dealing with the challenge of Taliban and organizationally with al Qaeda as located and operating from Afghanistan. It’s less clear how well we have done regarding the al Qaeda cells around the world. We haven’t really discovered organized cells as such. We have captured individuals, but we haven’t unmasked entire cells with their archives and their plans. So the question arises, “Are there still cells in the United States or Western Europe planning significant actions against us?” And I think the answer to that is we don’t really know, and hence, we need much better intelligence.
And then thirdly, politically we have to focus on the fact that al Qaeda is not an abstraction, but it’s a group of people and they do originate from a portion of the world, and we have to ask ourselves, “What is the conundrum, the combination of the factors that has produced such an organization and the challenge from which we have suffered?”
FS: A specific, looking forward: What do we do with more or less friendly governments that are incapable of handling terrorism in a definitive way, and we can think of Philippines, Indonesia, Somalia, Yemen, where the requirements laid out do not match up with their capabilities? Does the United States go in there? Is it our job to go there? Do we engage in training? How deeply involved will we get in these very troublesome places and should we?
ZB: It varies from case to case. Some governments will welcome us, as the Philippines has. Some governments, like Indonesia, will not welcome us, and there’s no way we can intrude. Some governments may not welcome us and we may choose to intrude, as for example, Yemen. So we have to make choices on a case by case basis.
SB: Yeah, I think, Frank, that we should be prepared to assist and help in some fashion countries that seek our help as they deal with genuine terrorists threats. I think we have to be careful. There’s a fourth category, and that is countries who say they’re fighting terrorism and really are fighting their opposition. And I think we have to be careful that we do not get drawn into situations which are in essence very much indigenous and local in character.
I mean, our focus it seems to me is this larger movement, and we have to be careful as we embrace some of our new friends who all of them are not the most noble characters, that we do not produce a situation in which we are so associated with a corrupt or brutal regime that when its people rise up in anger, we reap the whirlwind. I think we have to be willing to help, but discriminating in what kind of help and where.
LGBS: That raises another problem, and that is our involvement in conflicts which are not terrorists basically in nature, or even like the Middle East where the terrorism is an important element. But our concern with the war on terrorism in the Middle East is the way it infects attitudes of people in the wider region toward the United States and toward our ability to fight the war on terrorism and get support for it. And that leads us into areas where I think we probably need to be involved, like the Middle East, but I think that’s one of the reasons that the administration feels so tenderly about Iraq, for example. Now we’ve got to be judicious in how we deal with this so that we don’t aggregate everything. All the world’s problems, whether they’re based on terrorism, ethnic, religious, whatever conflicts become lumped as terrorism and we try to solve every problem in the world at once, because then we’re finished.
FS: To the point that Sandy Berger I think you made about some of the bedfellows that we are going to make or inherit through this process, Amnesty International issued a report yesterday, many of you may have seen it, where it was suggested that the US may be downplaying issues of human rights as it pursues its policies and its alliances in the war or conflict or battle on terrorism, whatever we want to call it. Is that the price of admission for this war? From a very strategic point of view, and each of you is perfectly and absolutely qualified on this point: How must we now balance these issues? Has that consideration of balance changed as a result?
SB: I think we have to be careful that as we… I mean, we obviously need new allies. Uzbekistan is important to the fight in Afghanistan. Uzbeki government is a government that is a repressive government in many ways, and therefore, it seems to me that as we design our cooperation with that government, we have to be very careful with the rhetoric and very careful that we don’t overly embrace regimes that may not over the long term be stable ones.
FS: Are we doing that now? Are you seeing that happen?
SB: Well, I think we have to be careful about this. I think that it is a new situation we’re in, in terms of this war on terrorism, and it does mean that we have to deal with some folks that may not pass Amnesty International’s code of good behavior. I just think we have to do it in a smart way, so that we are getting the most out of a narrow range of cooperation without necessarily embracing everything the government does.
FS: President Carter made human rights a major issue, as we all know. How would he, how would you balance these potentially conflicting demands?
ZB: Well, every situation of this sort, you have to engage in some rough calculous of the political and moral aspects of the situation, and you have to make a judgment: How menacing is the context in which you find yourself? How menacing is the challenge? If you’re literally fighting for survival, then obviously you’re going to make more compromises in favor of necessity at the cost of principle.
FS: Are we doing that? Should we be doing that?
ZB: Now in World War II, we faced the Nazi menace, so we embraced Stalin, and we had to. Now towards the end of the war many felt we made too many concessions. That’s why Yalta is not viewed as a great success of American diplomacy but as excessively consentionary. I think we have to think of the situation currently in the same terms. Are we really faced with an all out assault? Are we really facing an all out threat? We are going through a very painful, traumatizing experience, but are we really facing a threat of the survival of our society?
FS: And how do you answer that?
ZB: I would say probably not. I would say that we should not make terrorism the wherewithal of our involvement in the world and the organizing principle of our policy for the world.
FS: If we read about radiological weapons, dirty bombs…
ZB: That’s right. We can read about it and we can psych ourselves into a state of total panic, especially if our officials go around saying, “This is going to happen any moment now and we are issuing all sorts of colored alerts.” And there is a risk at some point also the public will say, “You’re crying wolf,” and it could be very unfortunate. You have to have a sense of balance in this. I really don’t know, and it’s very hard to make a categorical judgment, how imminent the danger is, but my sense is if the danger was potentially very painful, extremely obnoxious, morally malignant is not a mortal threat to the survival of our society, and we have to deal with the world that’s very turbulent. And our overall mission in that world is to contribute to greater stability, to the resolution of some of the problems that contribute to that turbulence, and in that context, yes, deal assertively with terrorism. So on specifics, for example, if we need the Russians, I would say, “Yes, let’s work with the Russians.” But we shouldn’t hesitate to remind the Russians that killing a lot of Chechens is not part of the common struggle against terrorism. And the same thing today with the Chinese or…
ZB: Uzbeks or whoever. This kind of damage is essential because we are the lynch pin of global stability, and if this country becomes dominated by a panicky mood, we’re going to infringe on our civil liberties, we’re going to diminish our standing in the world, we’re not going to be viewed as serious, because many other countries have experienced terrorism. Take the British. They’ve had hundreds of people killed in London, senior members of the royal family assassinated. You don’t have that same sense of panic in Britain that we are periodically generating here.
FS: Some provocative points here.
LGBS: You know, I think the best way to promote democracy has been a fundamental issue in American politics since the timing of the republic. And if we’re going to restrict our communication and our contact only with people who think the way we do and who act the way we like them to act, it’s going to be a tough world. Take Pakistan, for example. When this administration came into office, they shunned Musharraf. Anti-democratic, came into power in a coup and so on. Suppose we had maintained that after September 11th? Suppose we had said, “We’re not going to deal with you. You’re a bad guy. We’ll wait for a democracy in Pakistan.” We would have one terrible mess on our hands right now.
It seems to me that what we need to focus on right now is primarily not how can we best make Uzbekistan a democracy tomorrow, but are they or somebody else trying to get us into their local quarrels on the grounds that they’re fighting terrorism? And I think that is a much easier thing, and I don’t think it entangles us that we’re going to have to deal for decades, if not centuries, with a lot of countries who don’t even closely approach the kind of system that we would like. But we can help them in a variety of ways, and in the process hopefully move them in that direction. But to set up this litmus test, “No, we’re not in mortal danger, so no, you don’t qualify and you don’t qualify, but if we get in mortal danger you do,” I think is the wrong focus for how we ought to deal with democracy.
SB: Frank, I think from my perspective, terrorism even narrowly defined, as I defined it earlier, which is dealing with the jihadist anti-American militants, is a central threat that we face. It is not the only threat that we face. We are a superpower and therefore we have super responsibilities in the world. What happens in the Middle East, what happens in South Asia, what happens if an AIDS epidemic is not slowed down in Africa. All of those go to the fundamental stability of the world and the safety of our people.
With respect to the terrorism threat itself, I think there is offense and defense. I mean, I think we have to be aggressive and unrelenting in going after these groups, and I think there’s a defensive side, which is called Homeland Security, and there I fear we have not brought the kind of focus and attention that I think we need. I think we need the kind of energy behind this that perhaps we brought to mobilization at the beginning of World War II. And I think Governor Ridge is a good man, I think he’s a competent man, but I don’t think he has the authority that is commensurate with his responsibility.
And part of our own sense of security and safety goes to over time, this is a process that takes time, how we move from a threat warning based approach to security, which is really the way we’ve approached things. We’ve relied upon threat, we’ve surged to the threat and tried to then prevent it. We’re not always going to have a warning now, and therefore we have to think about this much more in terms of our vulnerabilities, do it in a way that is not inconsistent with civil liberties, inconsistent with our Constitution. I don’t see that energy and focus.
FS: We’re going to in the next few minutes ask you to move to the microphones if you’ve got a question. We have some people around. But as folks do that, you’ll see some people standing with microphones throughout the room, Iraq. I’d like to hear each of you discuss please the centrality, in your view, of Iraq to the war on terror. I have heard directly from people in this administration who say flat out that dealing with Saddam Hussein and successfully achieving regime change in Iraq will materially affect and help the broader effort against terrorism and in fact will have positive benefits, a positive impact on the situation in the Middle East and throughout the region. So let’s keep it on terrorism and the issue of terror for a moment, the centrality and the impact and the probability of regime change in Iraq.
ZB: I do not know if Saddam Hussein has had anything to do with 9/11, and we probably will never know. But I think there is a real risk, a serious risk, that at some point Iraq, Saddam Hussein may choose to share weapons of mass destruction with terrorist groups. That’s a serious threat, so we have to address it. We have to address it by making certain that he doesn’t have such weapons to share. We don’t have to address it necessarily by insisting on regime change to start with, but a regime change may become necessary if there is no way of making certain that he’s not producing and then subsequently sharing weapons of mass destruction.
So the way I would favor going is focusing on steps necessary to inhibit the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq by massive inspections, serious intrusive inspection. If he’s not willing to accommodate to that, then I think we’re in a better position to have international support for doing what is necessary, although we will have to do it on our own, and we have the capacity to do it.
FS: General Scowcroft, we’re already talking about regime change, at least the administration is.
LGBS: Look, Iraq’s a big problem. It’s been a problem for a long time. It is not a problem because of terrorism. It is a problem because of the nature of the regime and Saddam’s apparent determination by whatever means to dominate the region. He fought a war with Iran, he occupied Kuwait and so on, and as near as we can tell every time he gets any kind of income, he spends it on rebuilding his strength. So we may have to go after him sometime. But terrorism is not the reason that we need to worry about Iraq.
And as for nuclear weapons, you know, our notion is that Saddam Hussein wants nuclear weapons in order to be able to blackmail the United States in the event we want to send forces here or there or elsewhere and he doesn’t like it, he’ll say, you know, “I’ll take you out.” Well, now if he develops nuclear weapons, why on earth is he going to turn those over to terrorists who have very different goals than he does and say, “You guys do what you want with them.” It seems to me he’s going to want to use them himself. I agree with Zbig on the strategy, which is that we ought to insist on an inspection regime, and my sense is the Russians are changing very rapidly in their willingness to support a thorough inspection regime, which would give us the kind of assurance we need that he’s not developing the weapons.
FS: Sandy, I’m going to let you take a swipe at this and then, again, we’ve got mikes on the other side. We’ll start down here with Dan. Go ahead, Sandy.
SB: Number one, I think Saddam Hussein is a menace, continues to be a menace. I think regime change is the right objective, and I think the President is correct in drawing our attention to the nexus between hostile governments, weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. I think, however, there are at least in my mind three hurdles that have to be overcome as we think about how to proceed, not whether we precede but whether we precede in Iraq.
Number one, it seems to me essential that the dynamic in the Middle East reverse. It’s very hard for me to imagine our conducting military action in Iraq in the midst of raging fire in the Middle East without disastrous consequences. Number two, while we may be able to do this by ourselves in some technical literal military sense, I think it’s important that whatever we do have legitimacy in the eyes of the world. We acted largely unilaterally in Afghanistan, but it was seen by the world as legitimate…
SB:… Hussein, we’re talking about American unilateralism. So, number two, I think that we have to do some work to gain a greater sense, shared sense of threat from others in the world. And number three, I think we have to have an honest conversation with the American people about what is involved in a military action in Iraq. Most Americans say, “Let’s get Saddam Hussein.” But I think they have in their minds a kind of Afghanistan-like approach, in which we use surrogates, special forces and air power, and this is a quick and easy deal, and I don’t believe that’s the case. I think that if we were to do this, I think our military would want 200, 300,000 troops to do it. We would be there for several years, and I think that we need to have, as I think a third step here, an honest discussion before we move too far down the road.
FS: Well, let’s turn the honest discussion over to the floor now for a bit, and Dan, we’ll let you start this off.
[Audience]: —help me with this. Our administration is preoccupied with rogue states. The threat that you’ve outlined is a threat of rogues who are not states. Why are we so preoccupied now with Iran, Iraq and North Korea when they are really not the problem that we’re facing. The problem that we’re facing has to do with, let me say rogue elements, conspiracies that sometimes may seek roots in a country like Afghanistan, but really are not states at all. And in that connection, to add to that, now that Khadaffi of Libya would like to join the anti-terrorism team, should we let him? (Laughter)
FS: Who wants to start?
LGBS: Well, I think the reason we’re focusing on rogue states is the concern that the so-called axis of evil will provide nuclear weapons to terrorists. As I said, I think that is not likely. The axis of evil, they’re all big problems, but they’re all unique unto themselves. They’re not all the same problem, and I’ll leave the other half to my colleagues. (Laughter)
SB: You know, I think, as I said, it’s a mistake to lump these together. I do think, as I said before, that the connection between weapons of mass destruction getting in the hands of terrorists is a serious problem, but you’re now seeing the administration move away from… they may still use the axis of evil phrase, but our policy toward Iraq, Iran and North Korea are very different. The strategies are very different. We’ve now got North Korea back to the table. I thought they were at the table actually when the Clinton Administration left, but they’re back at the table…
FS: You couldn’t resist that, could you?
SB: I know… (Laughter) So in the North Korean situation, there’s an opportunity for deterrence and engagement. I don’t hear anybody in the administration talking about going to war with Iran. I think most people see Iran as a threat, as a danger, as the principle supporter of terrorism, but also see the internal dynamic in Iran as perhaps being the most hopeful way, at least part of a strategy for changing the behavior of that country over time. So I think each of these presents very different challenges.
LGBS: I think we take help where we can get it. If Khadaffi has useful information on terrorism, should we say, “No, you’re a bad guy so we’re not going to take it?” No. I think we’ve been quite realistic so far. We’ve gotten some useful help from Iran, especially in the early stages in the Afghan war. We’ve gotten some help from Sudan, we’ve gotten some help even from places like Syria. So I don’t think we ought to look and make sure somebody’s fingernails are clean before we get some help on things that are important to us.
SB: Let me add one thing. It depends on what the facts are. If the facts are that he is no longer supporting terrorism, if he accepts responsibility for Pan Am 103 as provided under the UN resolution, I think there is something to be said by eliminating countries from time to time as appropriate from a terrorism list, lest the world think that this is essentially a one way street and there’s nothing they can do that will ever extricate themselves from that kind of isolation.
FS: And we can then do business with Muammar Khadaffi.
SB: Again, that depends on… I’d like to have a very serious look from the intelligence community as to whether there’s any evidence, I’m sure this is being done, that Khadaffi has been involved with terrorism over the past few years. It certainly was diminishing over the past few years. I think that’s still going on. But I think it is conceivable to me that we could have a different kind of relationship.
LGBS: If that’s what you mean by doing business though. If that means, “All is forgotten, fine, you’re part of the club,” and so on, no, of course not.
[Audience]:…American Enterprise Institute. Major allies are fighting side by side with American in Afghanistan. It’s not a NATO operation. There’s going to be a new wave of NATO expansion, which is not producing the same kind of comments and interests as the previous one, because NATO is not seen as so central to the security of the Western civilization. My question to the panel is what would European nations and NATO have to do to remain the “axis of good,” to coin a phrase, and to remain America’s preferred instrument for dealing with security issues in the future?
FS: Dr. Brzezinski, do you want to start?
ZB: Well, first of all, it’s not the preferred security instrument for dealing with all global issues. It’s the preferred security instrument in the Eur-Atlantic region. That’s terribly important. It’s probably the most important part of the world, but it’s not the entire world. In that context, the alliance is still terribly important. I have read all these editorials on how the alliance is an anachronism that’s become irrelevant and so forth. But there’s a very simple intellectual test for assessing these dire analyses. What would the situation be if the alliance was dissolved?
If American troops were to leave Europe, if the European states were on their own, if the Europeans became again aware of the great imbalances of power in Europe between Germany on the one hand and the much smaller states, Russia on the edge, France or German, alliance could unravel, Britain probably would turn its back on Europe and become more closely connected with us, and Europe again would become an arena for international conflict. So first of all, let’s not forget how important NATO is in providing for the largest secure, peaceful zone of freedom in the world. That’s a very major accomplishment. Second, I look in gradual expanse of influence. I think NATO in the possible future not only will expand its scope of membership, but it should increasingly also become involved in some strategically important areas for Europe. If there is a settlement in the Middle East, probably there will be some arrangement for security guarantees involving an American presence, and I would hope a NATO presence between Israel and Palestine and in that region as a whole, as the caucuses becomes increasingly the object of efforts to stabilize it. There’s even talk of some American/Russian cooperation to have a stabilization fund for the region. A greater NATO role is also quite possible in terms of peacekeeping and stabilization and so forth.
Last but not least, some NATO countries may choose to be involved in the anti-terrorist operations, as they are to an extent in Afghanistan. Not as part of an alliance as a whole, but as individual allies. So I think NATO is important, it’s relevant, but let’s not over burden it with tasks for which at this stage Europe and NATO as a whole are not quite yet ready to undertake.
FS: Anybody have a different take on that?
LGBS: No, what worries me is that as NATO expands there will be fewer and fewer tasks for which NATO is a useful instrument.
ZB: That’s true, and I think we ought to be very careful to insist on strict criteria of membership and not be hesitant to say, “Someone doesn’t qualify,” and therefore, we don’t take them in, and secondly, we probably ought to put some effort into internal arrangements of greater discipline by members in fulfilling their promises.
FS: Let me just play devil’s advocate for just a minute though. If we were attacked in the way we were attacked, NATO invoked the self defense clause at the time as we recall, and if we see this global war on terrorism as something that directly threatens the free and democratic world, why shouldn’t it be more of NATO’s business?
ZB: Well, first of all, don’t forget that some of our NATO allies have been the victims of terrorism before 9/11. We often act as if terrorism was discovered on 9/11. They have been affected by terrorism and we so to speak haven’t been rushing in to help them fight terrorism, largely because terrorism tends to be a specific political problem which sometimes is best dealt with by the party concerned. As an example— But yes, if individual NATO countries can contribute more to the war on terrorism through intelligence, through special forces and so forth, by all means.
FS: Sandy, do you want to jump in quickly and then we’ll go to the lady in the back.
SB: Let’s go on to the next question.
[Audience]: Yes, I’m Amanda—from Miller and Chevalier, and with all this talk about terrorism, nobody’s mentioned Osama bin Laden. Why haven’t we caught him, and with 20/20 hindsight, what could we have done differently to have caught him?
FS: Did you hear the question? Why didn’t we catch him and with 20/20 hindsight, what could we have done differently to catch him?
SB: Well, let me just start from one step beyond that. I think that it’s very important that we don’t write Osama bin Laden out of this equation. The message of September 11th has to be a message of defeat, not of defiance, and I can’t imagine, and I can imagine but I think it would be a horrifying scene, a bin Laden who reemerges in six months or a year or two years. I think we have to determine his destiny. It may take six months, it may take five years, but we can’t write him out of the equation in terms of this war on terrorism.
I don’t want to go back over ground over the last year. I know we certainly from 1998 on, the bombing of the Embassies in Africa, the President authorized lethal force to get bin Laden, we used it in one instance. We were persistent in trying to locate him, and if possible to attack him. Now at that time we obviously were not at war with Afghanistan, we didn’t have troops inside Afghanistan, we did not have Pakistan. The circumstances were quite different.
And I think that as to what’s happened over the year 2001, FBI, memos, et cetera, I think that, you know, Congress will look at these issues, as they should, hopefully thoroughly and hopefully with some sensitivity to sources and methods and secrets and reach some judgment about it. I think the most important thing to look at is what needs fixing and how do we fix it?
ZB: Can I just add a word? The short answer is we didn’t catch him because we didn’t know where he was. (Laughter) But the longer answer is: why didn’t we know? And that’s where I think we really have to put a lot of effort into correcting. My own experience strikes me that we are superb, really remarkably imaginative. Most people don’t realize how good we are at technologically based intelligence.
The things that are done by the intelligence community on a technological base really challenge your imagination. We are terribly poor in political intelligence. We don’t have the tradition, we don’t have the commitment, we don’t even have the Byzantine tradition that sometimes has to be cultivated to be effective, to penetrate, to plant and so forth. And we have to take a very hard look at our intelligence capabilities, because in the conflict with terrorists, we are not going to be as effective intelligence-wise, relying primarily on technological means. We have to have the ability to penetrate, to plant, to see agents, and that requires an enormously conflict, sustained effort.
SB: Including a look at what we need to do in terms of domestic intelligence, something that we’ve shied away from, but this plot took place here, and it’s, I think, clear to everyone that we have to reexamine the equation that has existed before with respect to what is appropriate domestic surveillance and aggressive counter-terrorism work here in the United States.
FS: And hence the reorganization, or at least in part, of the FBI that we heard today. We are very short on time. Here’s what I’d like to do. Let me just take a couple of questions, not take the responses, let’s just take the questions if we could, bounce around the room, I’ll jot them down and then put them quickly to the panel here. We’ll take about four or five minutes. Go ahead.
[Audience]: Thank you. Mark Fung— It seems to me that all the speakers has suggested that this war on terrorism runs the serious risk of Mission Creep, so that being said, I’d like to ask: Could you describe a future scenario in which there is an end game in sight which characterizes our end game? Thank you.
FS: Okay, thanks. Why don’t you pass the mike right over there.
[Audience]: Hi, Shane Green—I just wanted to ask each of you about your opinion on what the United States role in Colombia should be. They’ve been having elections for over 100 years, and for the first time a presidential candidate won in the first round, and it was not in small part due to the fact that he embraced the rhetoric of anti-terrorism.
FS: Okay. And one last one in the back, all the way in the back if a mike is back there.
[Audience]: I think Mr. Brzezinski was being generous when he says that we are slighting the political and motivational aspect of what is coming at us. And I think the discussion tonight encapsulates that emphasis on the inter-inter-governmental aspects and in the military aspects and in the intelligence aspects. And I just don’t see this war ever ending, unless we address the motivations of the people who are trying to hurt us. And I don’t say that so much in a more… the idea isn’t to justify or to ask whether the attacks on us are justified. It’s a pragmatic…
FS: (Overlap) Let me ask you to turn this into a question quickly.
[Audience]: Purely on pragmatic grounds, at what point are we going to start asking, “What about US policy and what about US image abroad is contributing to these attacks on us?” And again, very pragmatically, both Scowcroft and Berger have expressed the willingness to make political and military tradeoffs in our self interests, and at what point do we make trade offs on the side of motivations, and perhaps in the Israel and Palestine conflict?
FS: Okay, we’ve got three here. Let’s try to tick these off, because we are virtually out of time. Let’s start with the end game. Mission Creep and the end game. General Scowcroft.
LGBS: Well, I think we can do the job that we set out to do. I think there is a danger of Mission Creep, but I hope we will realize its danger and control it. We’re never going to have total victory. There’s never going to be a signing ceremony on the battleship. But we can make global terrorism not just a global crime. It’s around, but it’s at a level that we can tolerate. But that will take an awful lot better intelligence operations than we’ve shown so far.
FS: Role in Colombia.
SB: I can see us expanding our support for the Colombian government as it moves more aggressively against both FARC and para-militaries that are destroying that country. I think we have to be very careful. We’ve learned some real lessons about involvement in counter insurgency over the last 20 years, not pleasant ones, but I do think that Colombia is a start. I think it could be expanded to provide some more assistance as the new president tries to build a military that is capable of doing real damage, and bearing in mind the lessons we learned in Central America about the way in which we can get entangled in those conflicts.
FS: And Dr. Brzezinski, the last word to you on the US image abroad.
ZB: Well, I don’t think it’s so much a matter of US image, because images are fleeting, they change. It’s more a matter of US leadership and the US role at this stage of history. We won the Cold War, and the question now is: What is the purpose, what is the vision of our leadership in the world? And I think we have to define that much more broadly than the war on terrorism. We are to view the war on terrorism as part of a larger struggle to deal with the underlying sources of turbulence and violence and conflict in the world, of which terrorism is an important dangerous manifestation, but one of several.
And I think that we have done very well in mobilizing national support against terrorism, in sensitizing the world to the threat, but we’re also running the risk of overly narrowly focusing on terrorism as such, and being viewed by the world as a result as one dimensional, excessively panicky, overly preoccupied with one manifestation of a very complex, turbulent global reality.
FS: Well, on that provocative last note, a couple of notes for you. A transcript of this conversation will be posted on the Council on Foreign Relations website, which is www.cfr.org. And if you haven’t checked out the terrorism encyclopedia that the Council on Foreign Relations has developed, I urge you to do that. That’s at www.terrorismanswers.com. It’s a terrific site and updated frequently and a great resource for people who are interested in this conversation. So I thank all of you for the conversation this evening, for the questions from the audience and wish you all a pleasant good night.