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An Interview With Richard N. Haass

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
December 2012


Should the Bush administration have been better prepared for the national security threats that were crystallized in the attacks of 9/11?

Richard Haass: Armchair quarterbacks or Monday morning quarterbacks might say so. It's fair to say that mainstream national security thinking at that time did not place that high of a priority on terrorism. It wasn't that terrorism was inconceivable, but the scale of it was seen as modest, so people who were working on these issues were not as focused on it as they ought to have been. It took 9/11 to make clear that the nature of the challenge had changed. Hence the comprehensive response from the Intelligence Community, Homeland Security, [Department of] Defense, you name it. It wasn't just the administration—most of the people working in foreign policy or national security did not approach terrorism or counterterrorism pre-9/11 with anything like the intensity that became the new normal after 9/11. Any criticism you would lodge with the Bush administration, you would have lodged with any other administration, and indeed you probably could have lodged with the field at large.

Was the Global War on Terror, in your opinion, an effective and appropriate response to the challenge?

Haass: I never much liked the wording "Global war on terror." A "war" suggested too many things that were unhelpful. First of all, it suggested that the main instruments were military. Not necessarily. Intelligence is at least as important, as are politics, economics, and other tools. Second of all, war connotes concepts of battlefields. With terrorism, anything and everything could be a battlefield. Also, by definition, we were all combatants. You can't choose just to enlist in the war on terror or choose to opt out. There's no Canada to go to. I never found the image or the jargon—of Global war on terror, GWOT—helpful, and to some extent it was unhelpful because of the mindset it created.

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