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How Has September 11th Changed America? Has September 11 Changed America?

September 6, 2002
Council on Foreign Relations

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September 8, 2002
New York, NY

Ronald Steel [RS]: I’m Ronald Steel. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this panel discussion. Participants, as you know, are Frank Rich, Alan Brinkley, Wesley Clark. The rules you’re probably familiar with. This will be on the record. We will have the panel discussion until 1:35, at which point we will have questions from the audience from 1:35 until 2:00, and then we will adjourn promptly at 2:00.

The topic, as you know, is “How Has America Changed Since September 11th?” I think the panel does represent a wide spectrum of authority and views on this topic. Let me start it out by posing a question on the role of the, the role of the media in orchestrating and determining the kind of response that Americans have had to this event. I wanted to ask first of all Frank Rich how he feels about this issue, and then of course others on the panel should feel free to add their views as well. So, Frank, do you think that the media was the determining factor in orchestrating, if you will, the particular kind of response that Americans had to this event? And was the media fulfilling what one would assume is its responsibility in informing and analyzing, rather than simply, as we see this week, commemorating, presenting an event, a sad spectacle? Has it fulfilled its positive role, or has it engaged in a divisive or diversionary role?

Frank Rich [FR]: Well, my view would be that in terms of the American response to the actual event of September 11th, no one did a better job of orchestrating American response than Osama bin Laden. I think the media couldn’t orchestrate anything, they just had to cover the story. And I think for the most part, it’s hard to generalize about the media, but I think particularly parts of that apparatus such as television, from which one hears the worst, behaved very, very well in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Tried to sort out accurate information from rumor and hysteria, and so forth, something that the press has not always done carefully, and particularly in the past decade.

As the war started, the press I think behaved in varying degrees of effectiveness, but certainly it performed a really major educational function, however latently, in bringing a lot of the American public up to speed about exactly who our enemy was, the politics of Central Asia and everything else, which much of the press had ignored the entire week up to September 11th, even as there were obviously other terrorist incidences that pre-dated it.

You could argue that in recent months something else has set in, kind of old habits, including a lack of interest in the prosecution of the war itself and what’s going on since the Taliban fell, as witnessed this morning, the kind of shock coverage, or last night even on the news about the events in Afghanistan yesterday. I think a lot of the public ... I’m not talking about the New York Times, Wall Street Journal readers, but the general public that largely gets its news from television, probably wasn’t that aware that things were so unstable in this regime, and that there were so many problems and such potential for danger. Now I fear, and this is a very shorthand version of a very big map, but just to wrap it up, but what we’re about to have is another attack that won’t be lethal, but it will be on our sensibilities over the next five days, is like every event in American life, this one is sentimentalized, turned into a way to sell products, to boost ratings, to play it as show business and entertainment rather than to add any new analysis or to look forward that much. There will be exceptions of course, but we’re about to see a show, as someone was saying at the table at lunch, that’s going to resemble the Super Bowl in how it re-packages September 11th according to the guidelines of drama, soap opera, the most maudlin kind of sentimentality.

Wesley Clark [WC]: Well, I think Frank is right on the points he raises. In fact I’ll tell you, I was kind of surprised about three or four weeks ago when I realized the planning was going on for the production. And for those of you who might be interested, I’ll be at the Pentagon with Wolf Blitzer (Laughter) on the morning for the ceremony. And so we’re anxious to I hope not only report and entertain, but also bring some analysis into that. But I think it’s important when we talk about the media, I think today you have to confront at least one thing when you talk about the media, and that’s the charge of liberal bias. I think people in the media are acutely sensitive to the charge. Whether they’re guilty of it or not is another issue, but they’re certainly sensitive to it.

And what I have seen in my first experience being on the inside of the media is a very, very high degree of civic responsibility, a high degree of patriotic feeling, and a deep willingness to cooperate with the Commander in Chief and the agencies of the United States government to help protect American citizens. I remember in one of the first incidents that I had on CNN, I kept saying ... it had been about a year since I had been out ... and I kept saying, “We’re going to do this, and we’re going to do that.” And somebody came to me and said, “General, with all due respect, it’s no longer `we,’ (Laughter) you’re working for CNN, you’re not in the United States armed forces. (Laughter) And the next day I pushed it a little bit, I said, ”You know, I just saw Norm Schwartzkopf, he had an American flag behind him. I said, why can’t I have that?“ (Laughter) I said, ”You realize if Osama Bin Laden wins, there won’t be a CNN.“ And they said, ”General, you can say `we’ and get that American flag up there.“ (Laughter) And I think there is a real sense of responsibility. I know that not only in the media but also in the press in my context, people know a lot more than they report, and they err or the side of protection. And they’re very sensitive to the charge that public discourse will somehow undercut American security, and they safe side it, almost too much so.

RS: You know, I can’t be so optimistic as you are. I have a harsher judgment, I think. Because it seems to me that the essential question that the media has had to address this last year is to help Americans understand why this has happened. This is a basic question, this is a question we asked the first day, ”Why the United States? Why do people hate us?“ And I think that question has been left untouched. I think if you ask an American today, you may evidence the same set of mystification, confusion, perhaps rejection about that question. And the role of the media is not simply to inform, but to celebrate, or to commemorate rather, which is what we’re having this week, but to analyze and present different points of view. I don’t see that has happening. There are all kinds of voices that appear in the marginal press, if you will, about how to interpret this event. And I don’t see a presentation of that. And above all, I think that, here is one of the great traumatic events of American history, which is still shrouded in a kind of sense of mystery. So I think that that’s been a real problem that inhibits our ability to not only to understand this, but to respond to it as well. And I think we see a great confusion in the Congress and in the public at large.

FR: One point I would just to add to that that somewhat supports your view, is it’s been interesting to me to note in the major newspapers, including the LA Times to some extent, the New York Times, over the past week as they rev up, the discussion is very much about procedure, how these terrorists got to together and did it. It’s become almost like a police procedure, nuts and bolts issues of homeland security, but indeed not sort of larger geo-political issues.

Alan Brinkley [AB]: I think too you have to keep in mind that there’s great controversy about how we should be talking about this. And the media on the whole is uncomfortable with controversy. And when we see the way in which efforts to provide context for the attacks on 9/11 are greeted by some critics of these efforts, for example the attack on the NEA for its, you know, bland but hardly offensive curricula suggestions for dealing with the anniversary of 9/11, the attacks on the NEA as doing something close to treason by suggesting that we should consider what life is like in the world of Islam, or the attacks at the University of North Carolina on a perfectly educationally responsible proposal to get freshman to read parts of the Koran, it’s not hard to understand why ... it’s hard for people in the media to move too far in the direction that you’re suggesting.

RS: Do you think that the media response was determined to a significant degree by where this event happened, that it was a New York event, and the capital is the media? It was a visual event, and the visual quality, the photographic quality of the event is one that is constantly emphasized? Would it have had the same kind of presentation, would it have the same kind of resonance had it happened somewhere else? I was thinking particularly of Oklahoma City. We had a terrorist event in this country a few years ago, several hundred people were killed, not several thousand. But nonetheless a significant number of people were killed by a terrorist action, an individual terrorist whose motives remain puzzling to most Americans. We said it was a terrible thing, and then it was promptly forgotten. Now, was the difference that it was in Oklahoma City, was the difference that it was a smaller building, was the difference that it was domestic, and the fact that it wasn’t visual? Why was there such an extraordinary response? The response to September 11th I think among Americans was not only a sense of being perplexed, as I suggested, but also a victimization. And I don’t think that was the case in Oklahoma City, and it wasn’t the case of the Embassies in Africa as well when they were attacked by terrorists.

FR: Well, you know, when it’s closer to home of course the American media always pays more attention. And it’s hard to have an equivalency with these kind of numbers that we had on September 11th. But before and after September 11th terrorist incidents have just not gotten the play, even involving obviously al Qaeda because the numbers are smaller to be sure, but also they’re happening far from home. As far as the media, because of the center of the media, I don’t know. But these guys are smarter in their nasty way than Timothy McVeigh. They deliberate chose ... they’re students of American culture, they know what American iconography is. And so for their purposes they were smart, and they knew what they were going to get by going to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and whatever the third target might have been.

WKC: Well, I think when they hit New York they hit really the guts of the media, and in a way that no other action in our living memory has been. They struck in a way that it personalized it to the representatives of the media, the leaders of the media, and those who present the news to the public. So everybody knew someone, they had seen it, it was with their own eyes, the threat was real. It took away a false objectivity. It prevented the media from looking at it with detached skepticism for the causes and the sides. The media took sides, because this was a strike not only against America, but against us, and it did become personal, and it still is in a very real way. It hit at the very heart of the media when it struck New York. Even though it was aimed at Wall Street, it hit the heart of the media.

RS: Let’s just a little bit if we may, are there any historical parallels to this event in American history in terms of, let’s say, the public response? Obviously Pearl Harbor comes to mind as a possible parallel. What effect did that have on Americans, and on the relationship between the American people and the American government? It seems to me that the relationship between the society and the government has been profoundly affected by this event. Now, you may disagree. And there have been other events in our national history where there has been a tremendous upsurging of alarm, and then of opposition, or division, let’s say, within the society. Alan, would you like to comment on that?

AB: Well, I think you’re right that this event had an impact on the American imagination, a terrible impact on the American imagination that very few events in our history have had. Pearl Harbor certainly would be one of them. It also, at least for a short time, did profoundly change the way most Americans viewed their government. And there is this famous opinion poll, “Do you trust the government to do the right thing most of the time?,” and it cited “All the time.” And the positive answers have declined from about two thirds to one third since the ’60s, and suddenly they were back up again. I haven’t seen any such polls recently. I suspect, you know, they may not be back down to where they were, but I suspect they’re not up where they were a year ago.

I think looking at this event now from a year beyond it, despite the enormous hoopla surrounding the one year anniversary, I think what’s striking is how little the lives of most Americans have changed, how little has changed in our culture, in the normal social relations that characterize American life. I think in the last year the things that have had a more profound effect on the lives of ordinary people are the problems with the economy, and the crises in corporate governance, the crisis in the Catholic church. I think all those things have affected more people more directly than 9/11 has.

If you look beyond the culture in society and look into the political and governmental world however, there have been truly profound changes I think in the relationship between the Executive Branch and the rest of the government, and the militarization of our foreign policy, in the approach to civil liberties and secrecy. I think we’ve seen at least the beginnings, this may not sustain itself, of what could be a really profound change in the character of our government and our political system.

******** [Clark’s comments off the record]*******

FR: I’d also add that the whole issue ... and I second the emotion ... the whole issue of secrecy with this administration. What’s fascinated me is that before September 11th this administration had such an enormous desire to keep things secret, that they had gone to, as we know, extraordinary lengths to not give out information of what should be fairly innocuous information about an Energy Task Force that Dick Cheney convened to determine energy policy. And things like everything from the Bush presidential papers to the undermining of the Freedom of Information Act and those requests, was all going on before September 11th. So to what extent this event has been used as an excuse to just have more of the same for reasons that may have nothing to do with actual wartime security is a very big question.

Also just to get back to one point of Alan’s about Americans going about their business in much the same way. I for various reasons have done a lot of traveling outside of New York since September 11th to most parts of the country, and it’s really much different, I’m sure any of you who have done it, from the way it is here. I’ve found in speaking situations, even last fall people would ask me questions about New York and September 11th as if I had come back from the Middle East, you know, in places like Seattle. (Laughter) It didn’t hit people as hard, in spite of the power of the television imagery, which is now of course becoming devalued anyway by repetition and reruns.

RS: So what we’re saying is then that the war against terrorism, which of course we describe as a war with all the connotations that that involves, which means executive power and suspension of dissent, that this provides a carte blanche for actions that would not be taken freely, or would be considered safe to take otherwise? Is that in effect what we’re saying? And look at the projected proposed war against Iraq, would you say that that’s a function of the mentality that’s been created since September 11th?

AB: I think it remains to be seen whether it’s really a carte blanche. Many of the things the administration has tried to do have yet to be addressed by the courts and by Congress and by the political system, so it’s possible that some of these efforts will not sustain themselves. But, yes, I think the administration does believe that this war has, or at least should have, given them a carte blanche to do almost anything they wish vis a vis foreign policy and domestic dissent and protecting official secrets and other things. And this has not always been the case in war time. You know, some aspects of what the administration is doing, if characterized, the American experience in all wars large and small. And some things, you know, even World War II, there was a much more open flow of information than there is today. With the singular and terrible exception of Japanese-Americans, there were not the same level of violations of civil liberties that there have been against so many suspected people since September 11th. So it’s not inevitable that a war ... and this is a war of a different sort obviously from World War II, or even from the Vietnam War. This is more like the Cold War in a way, even though there will be real wars within it. This has been treated as if it is a continuing act of war that sort of suspends normal democratic processes, and I think that’s quite unusual.

RS: So in this case, and in response to the theme of the discussion, then you would argue that it’s profoundly changed the United States.

AB: I think in terms of the way the government has responded and the way it’s reorganized the power relations within it, it has, at least for the moment, profoundly changed the United States, or at least it seems to be an effort to profoundly the United States. Whether it will remains to be seen.

RS: General, pursuing your comments, are we in danger of becoming a garrison state?

WC: I don’t think there’s a danger in becoming a garrison state. But I do think there’s a danger in becoming a much more isolated and imperialistic state. There is a myth or a doctrine that began to circulate in the early ’90s, that with the demise of the Soviet Union America had no competitors, no peer competitors, no real challengers abroad. And if we led, managed and took responsibilities and had the courage to take action in the right way, we would never again face a competitor.

The first test of that is Iraq. This administration, much of its national security policy is focused on the need for national missile defense and theater missile defense. The reason? So that we had the freedom of action around the world to help our friends and go after our enemies without being threatened at home. Iraq was in the cross hairs before 9/11. It remains in the cross hairs as a test case. He’s been an obstructionist, Saddam Hussein, he’s a problem. If we knock him off, others will get the lessons. This is the first chance to roll back the potential proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It’s important, because it would preserve our ability to intervene in the Persian Gulf at a later time. And so far beyond 9/11 and al Qaeda, or even the Arab-Israeli problem, is this perception that if America leads the right way, we will ... we are now ... we will remain in perpetuity the hyper power without challenge. But I think it’s a very dangerous notion.

RS: But hasn’t September 11th fatally damaged the belief that it was possible for the United States to act with impunity without suffering some kind of damage? Didn’t it destroy this ... (Overlap) ...

WC: You could make the argument. I think it goes the other way. I think the problem that these people saw an opportunity to advance their case. They asked, how do you get the attention of the American people. I mean, how are we ever going to mobilize a Congress that’s concerned about Social Security and welfare reform and prescription medicine for seniors? How are we ever going to get these people to come and really understand the threat to the United States, and understand the historic opportunities that no nation has ever had, at least not since Rome, the opportunity to structure the international environment and take charge of it in a way that protects and advances our interests like this. 9/11 was that opportunity.

*****[Clark’s comments off the record]****

RS: I think that’s a good point at which to bring everybody into this discussion, (Laughter) so I’m going to open the floor now to all of you. Would you please stand when you pose your questions? Tell us your name and your affiliation, and wait for the microphone to come around to you. So here’s a question in the back here. Wait for the mike.

Gary Rosen [GR]: My name is Gary Rosen, I’m from Commentary magazine. At the risk of upsetting the consensus among the panelists, (Laughter) is there any sense do you think in which not only has America changed, but our situation in the world has changed since September 11th, and we might in fact be facing a foe that is a genuine threat to our country and our way of life that may in some way justify some sort of adjustment in how we think about the relationship between, say, executive power and civil liberties? Or is all of this just a continuation of Republican policies that were in place before September 11th, and which the Bush administration would have tried to implement anyway?

WC: I’m not sure why you think you’d upset the unanimity of the panel, there’s no cabal up here, I can tell you. But what I see is that as we move into this period there is a threat from al Qaeda. The problem is we don’t really understand that threat very well. We have not destroyed al Qaeda, it’s out there. We’ve taken out some of the top leadership, we’ve taken away their sanctuary, we’ve certainly disorganized their previous pattern of rotation and training and sustainment and replenishment. But apparently they still have finances, they’ve got lots of disciplined, capable people out there, and they still want to hurt this country.

That having been said, I’ve got to go back again and look at 9/11. And every time I do, it looks ... you look at it, you say, “These people were incredibly lucky, and we were incredibly unfortunate in this case.” Because so many things came together, and they were still successful, and we didn’t stop them. The policeman who could have stopped them, the people who looked at them get on at the last minute and so forth. They got away with something. Can they replicate something like that again? Probably not. Have we tightened up our security and are Americans more alert? Yes, they are. And have we really got the agencies working together better to identify people? Better than we’ve ever had it. We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s a lot better. It’s not over. We need to stay focused on al Qaeda.

And one of the concerns has been that because we didn’t have a clear vision coming in with this administration into terrorism, it was more about rogue states, the problem has been how do you get a hold of terrorism, it has so many non military dimensions to it. And frankly in the US government the best functioning group seems to be, other than the Internal Revenue Service, seems to be the United States military. They have the disposable resources, the manpower, the agility, the flexibility, the training system, the recruiting, and they get things done. And step by step during the ’90s they took over foreign policy under the Clinton administration, and it’s even stronger today. And yet they’re not the right agency for taking the lead in really combatting terrorism, because most of it has to be done by intelligence, police, and judicial activities. And so we’re in a bit of a dilemma on this. But, yes, there is a threat, and we need to work it.

FR: And also another issue is the specific efforts that have been made by the government since September 11th to try to address this threat beyond the military. The jury is still out on whether they make any sense. This Department of Homeland Security, is it really the kind of limber, refined, better bureaucratic operation we need to deal with it? The things about airline security have been largely smoke and mirrors. Yesterday it turned out that after months of planning a commercial that will endear America to the Arab world, it’s so misconceived America isn’t even mentioned in it by name, and no Arab station will broadcast it. Yet that represents months of effort in a supposedly urgent situation run I think by Charlotte Beers, a brilliant ad lady, but still ... So even the things that aren’t clandestine and don’t involve civil liberties, you have to wonder if they’re being looked at closely enough and if they have effectiveness whatsoever.

RS: And I think you were next.

(Background Conversation)

Rowland Paul [RP]: My name is Rowland Paul with Thaybare(?) and Howard. At the beginning of the discussion Ron introduced a question about the media, another institution. And I would mainly direct my question to Mr. Rich. I know you kind of lightly touched on the media’s coverage of the war in Afghanistan in your remarks very lightly. I’ve discussed it with several of your colleagues on the Times as the war was unfolding. And it would seem to me and to any objective viewer that the media was way behind the power curve in describing the events of the war. In other words, they were saying “Things are going to be bad, the Northern Alliance is a bunch of rag-tag guys, you’ll never take Kabul, you’ll never take Kandahar.” Which instead the message was it’s a miraculous victory for our side. So I wondered if maybe you’d tell me, has the media got the message? There were exceptions, but ...

FR: I think you’re conflating(?) two parts of the media. There are people who can spout off opinions, such as myself, and make wildly wrong guesses about anything, from the fate of the war against the Taliban to what’s going to happen in the next election. And news coverage, which can’t cover events that haven’t happened yet, so if a news analysis in the Times, say, predicted a quagmire and it turned out not to be true, that’s different from something that’s not an editorial. And one problem in covering the war, particularly at the beginning, is it’s been very hard for journalists to get close to it. So if anything, the coverage has again been limited by secrecy, some of it I’m sure quite necessary. Although certainly I don’t know of any news organization that wants to compromise the military operations. But some of it we just don’t know, and also we can’t predict the future. People on an op-ed page can and do with impunity, but that’s not the same thing as reporting.

RS: There’s a question here.

Deroy Murdoch [DM]: Thank you. Deroy Murdoch with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. I’ve been pleasantly shocked that in the last 51 weeks someone has not walked into Times Square with a backpack full of dynamite, or done the same at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles or elsewhere. Are we just lucky? Has this been a success of homeland security? Or has something else changed in America?

AB: Well, I don’t think anyone knows. (Laughter) I mean, it may well be that the heightened security that’s been instituted since September 11th, and what may be equally important, the image to or not of heightened security since September 11th, has discouraged potential terrorists. It may also be that the groups that are most interested in creating terror in the United States are interested in creating it on a scale that takes a very long time to plan. And so we have no idea why there have been no terrorist attacks in the United States since a year ago. I’m sure that, you know, it would be more difficult today. How much more difficult I don’t know, but somewhat more difficult. And that may be part of the reason we haven’t had anything.

RS: I would suggest they may be unnecessary, in the sense that I don’t think the objective of the al Qaeda group and other terrorists with their political agenda is to destroy the United States, to weaken the United States even particularly, because they can’t do it on any significant way, but to force the United States to take actions that would be to their benefit. Which is to say, to do what we’re doing, which is to have a massive military response, to exert American power globally in a way that has caused a great deal of antagonism elsewhere, to push friendly Arab governments into the position where they’re forced to choose between their own domestic population and American demands. And in effect, to weaken America’s hold on Arab states, and to change the governments of these countries that they’re concerned with. They’re not concerned with the United States, other than that here is a lever by which they can achieve (Inaudible). Now, the United States is responding perfectly according to the scenario. So I don’t think any terrorist acts would help them any particularly, because we’re already doing what they want. Let’s see, there was a gentleman here.

Rob Nelson [RN]: Hi, my name is Ron Nelson, I’m the new Fellow in Science and Technology here at the Council. I’ve been here three days, and this is my first meeting. (Laughter) Normally I would have kept my mouth shut ...

RS: My second day as a Fellow. (Laughs)

RN: Normally I would have kept my mouth shut, but I lost my brother on September 11th, he was on the 92nd floor of the first tower that was hit. And the question I have for you is one that I’ve been struggling with myself, and so it’s a hard one. But it was actually asked by my father who was a navigator in World War II, a 20 year old navigator in the South Pacific that flew 50 missions, and half of his squadron didn’t come back. And he said to me, “When we were fighting and someone didn’t come back, we knew why they had died, what they died for.” My father asks, “What did David die for?” And that’s a question that I’ve been struggling with and he’s been struggling with this last year. I know it’s a hard one.

WC: Well, I guess my first blush answer on that is David was a victim. He was a representation, he was a sacrificial representation of all of us. He died for all of us because of who we are and what we are in the United States. We’re the target. Osama bin Laden declared war on us in 1998, he issued the fatwa. We got it, we saw it. I spent most of the last two years in my US-European command hat calling troops to special alert to deal with the threat of an attack from Osama bin Laden or his terrorists, and we did get hit in the two Embassies in Africa, and we responded.

Every month there was an attack, but the American people didn’t appreciate it. And the American government, it’s hard to move. We’re having difficulty moving it now in homeland security. And so we didn’t take the right kind of preventive measures. We couldn’t get the political capital and the information capital we needed to sort of strike. We remained a target. David died because he’s one of us, and it could have been any of us in this room, and it could happen again.

RS: Let’s see, let’s move on. I think you had your hand up first, in the back here.

Darren Weber [DW]: Thank you. Dorrin Weber from the Sloane Foundation. You all spoke about the impact of September 11th as if it took place only in New York in the heart of the media capital. But of course, as we all know, the Pentagon was also hit. And even though I live in New York and I was personally affected like most of us here, I find on one level that the more shocking place ... that our military headquarters could be hit in broad daylight the way it was. I’ll start with General Clark since you’re representing the military. How is it that you guys could get caught with your pants down like that? (Laughter) And, you know, if there had been three planes, would the whole Pentagon have been vaporized? And what steps are being taken that something like this doesn’t happen again?

WC: Well, to take it in reverse order, there are redundant command and control facilities. But the Pentagon as a whole has never been a war-hardened headquarters. There was a modernization program under way, some of that had been done already. Some of the windows were put in, they were blast resistant. It could have been much worse had that part not been hardened. The Pentagon’s a tough target. I mean, it got hit by a heavy aircraft, and the aircraft didn’t penetrate even all the way through one side of the Pentagon. It’s a very hard target to hit. But it’s a peacetime target. And, you know, one of the things that deeply affected us in uniform is the fact that the focus of attention was on New York. It was not only more people killed here, but it was more shocking graphically. You had to look at the Pentagon picture again and again and again and again to try to understand it. I mean, you couldn’t quite see where it was and what it had done and what had happened.

But many of us have had offices in that wing, we’ve been there. It could have been any one of hundreds of thousands of Americans who have rotated through here. And there was somehow the idea that it was more tragic in New York because these people were just ordinary civilians, whereas the people in the Pentagon were somehow, “Well, they volunteered to serve, or they were working for the government or something.” Let me tell you, they were just as innocent and they were just as uninvolved as the people in the World Trade Center. In both cases the target groups were in a totally peacetime posture.

If you go to the Pentagon today you’ll find a lot has changed. You can’t get near. The 110 strip in front of it is filled with flashing lights, police cars, soldiers behind machine guns and Humpees(?), big concrete barricades. If you drive up the hill to Ft. Meyer where all the senior generals live, where we used to hold our parades and stuff, you weave your way through, they inspect your engine block, you get out and show your trunk, you pull everything out of your pockets. And when you get up there, the homes are now surrounded by four foot high boulders. It’s not decorative. (Laughter) But worse than ... worse than that ... there’s a sense of siege about the Pentagon.

And I would tell you that’s the last thing we want. We’re not going to win the war on terrorism by striking out in reprisal and anger. We’re going to win it ultimately by changing the hearts and minds, by being who we are as Americans, and giving others a true representation of this country. Not by putting our young men and women in uniform over there to shoot or blaze or drop bombs on people. That’s an immediate response, it was warranted in self defense, but it’s not a war-winning response.

RS: Let’s see, oh, you were waiting.

M: ... (In Progress) ... as to why this happened and why we haven’t explained it better. Perhaps the panel could answer in your words or your point of view why did it happen, and how could we help the press explain it to the rest of us?

AB: Well, I think if you look at the way the sort of polarized argument about this has taken shape, what happened on September 11th was either a result of the pure evil of al Qaeda, or on the left, you know, the imperialist depredations of the United States. And I think one of the sort of losses that we’ve suffered in the last year is in the ability to find a broad middle ground within which to discuss this issue, because that middle ground often gets drowned out by the extremes. I don’t have an answer to the question, I don’t think any of us does. I think finding an answer to the question requires us to know a lot more than we now know, both about where al Qaeda and its sympathizers fit within the larger world of Islam, and about what the actions of the United States in the world are doing to our image in the world. And I don’t think we know very much about either of those things.

FR: I just want to add one thing. With all of this week of commemorating these very sad events, and some of these presentations are very moving, I’d like to see one broadcast on really presenting various views on why this happened, and what is its political meaning, and what is its political origins. I’m just so struck by the fact that this seemingly basic question has been shunted to the side. It’s as though we know, and therefore we don’t need to examine this. Because elsewhere in the world these questions are being asked. And I’m struck by how in gathering ... licking our wounds, which we should, and gathering around the flag, we’re not asking some very important questions.

RS: And I would add, related to those questions, are any sort of looking into the future over there? What if Karzai had been taken out yesterday? What if we do take out Saddam? What does that future ... how does that play out in terms of the broader context that you and Alan just mentioned? But instead we’re not looking there. Let’s see, I think you had your hand up here, please? You can be next.

SA: Stanley Arkin. I know Alan Brinkley touched upon this briefly, but how much of what we perceive, if at all, that the change in America has been since 9/11 is truly a function of us being hegemonic militarily, economically, and by our own acknowledgment, morally? (Pause) I take the latter less seriously.

AB: Well, I think clearly our being alone in the world as a great global power, or virtually alone in the world, has had a huge effect on the way that we operate. But, you know, we could have responded to this in many different ways within the context of our being something close to a hegemonic power. And the way we have chosen I think, which is kind of a unilateralist way of envisioning a world that we will reshape as we choose, is only one of many options that were available to us and, in my view, not the best one. I think there’s a sense within the administration and among many other people in the United States, that the rest of the world, especially the rest of the Western world, is kind of wimpish, and they’re trying to just kind of keep things going as they were, and they’re not willing to face up to the hard jobs that we’re willing to take, and that we are the people who have to do the world’s dirty work, whether they like it or not. And it may be that there are occasions in which that will be true, and perhaps this is one of them, but I’m not yet convinced that it is.

WC: Can I add a footnote to that?

RS: Yes, please.

WC: Two specific cases to illustrate Alan’s point. First, we could have gone to the United Nations and asked for an indictment of Osama bin Laden for war crimes, for genocide. I mean, he declared war on the American people, and he followed through with it. And we’re prosecuting Milosevic for those kinds of crimes in the Hague. For whatever reason, we chose not to get ourselves on the moral, legal and ethical high ground. We got a United Nations resolution, and it’s authorized us to strike back and so forth. But it didn’t really give us the legitimacy that we could have used to bring greater leverage on all those pusillanimous nations around the world who just don’t want to do the dirty work like we do.

The other thing is I think we profoundly misunderstood the nature of Europe. Europe is our base. They’re the people who most closely share our own values. And in my experience in the Coast Guard operation is that despite the contrary myth that somehow the Europeans tied our hands behind our backs and almost caused us to fail in Kosovo, the opposite was true. We won in Kosovo because of the Europeans. Because they held our feet to the fire, “You said you were going to do this, you got us into this. We pledged our governments to your support,” they told me and to many others in the American government, “Now you follow through and continue to lead us until we’re successful.”

We need our allies, and they will be there if we work them. I don’t know why we didn’t take this through NATO. I wrote a book called Waging Modern War that lays this out in great detail. And I had to, because the lesson of Kosovo has been so understood. The lesson is our allies are there and strong, and effective American leadership can mobilize them. And we don’t have to act in the world alone unless we choose to do so.

I went through the Pentagon right after 9/11, I was called in by a very high ranking Pentagon official. I said, “I’d like to ask you how you think the TV coverage has been.” He said, “No, I want to talk to you about your book. I read it.” I said, “Oh, thank you very much.” He said, “But let me tell you something, no one’s going to tell us where we can and can’t bomb.” That’s the wrong way to look at alliances, and particularly in this case in a war on terror.

RS: Just a quick comment, because I thought it was an important question. I just came back from spending a year in Europe, and I can tell you the response there of course is very different than here. But even among our friends the response is, “If you are the number one power in the world, if you want that, then everybody who is discontented with the way the world works will look on you as responsible for it. You will become the logical target.” And so it goes with the territory. And so for Americans I think, for all of us to feel, you know, “Why us? We’re innocent. Why would anybody do such a terrible thing to us?” Well, who else would you do it to, (Laughter) if you’re looking for the person that you believe is upholding the government that you detest? Now, you may feel that nothing is wrong with their government, but that is not their position. Their government is simply a toady, and you’ve got to go to the ultimate source, and we are the ultimate source. So we can’t have it both ways. We can’t be loved and admired everywhere in the world and still feel that we are the most powerful nation, and that our wishes should be commands and should be obeyed. And that’s the price of being a great imperial power. I think we have time for two more questions, one ...

RS: Oh, okay. So let’s see, I think you, Madam, and then you here. Yes, please.

Unkown: I’ve spent a lot of time in the Arab world working in health programs, being involved in US aid and so forth. And I think one of the things we miss completely, and there’s a total disconnect, is the humiliation of the Arab for all the reasons. For the fact that many exist with the aid of the Europeans and ourselves, and we’re all over there doing our good works in effect. But I don’t think we educate our people in history and geography, not as much as we used to years ago when I was a girl, and they don’t even know about these countries, they don’t understand about the religion of Islam. And I believe that this is something we ought to take under serious consideration, and talk about educating our people in those areas.

When President Clinton came in ... and I’ll just tell you one quick aside ... my husband and I took all his new staff to our house to meet former ambassadors, thinking history teaches us lessons. I won’t tell you the man I took around and said, “This is the Ambassador who served in Mozambique, this is the Ambassador who served in India, wherever.” But he turned to me and he said, “Gee, lady, I didn’t know there were so many countries in Africa.” (Laughter) He went into the White House for eight years. That is not a question, I’m sorry to give a speech. But, you know, it tells me something about the preparation of what we’re doing in our school systems, and what people are not learning, which they should. But humiliation is one of the major horrors in that part of the world to those people.

RS: Well, we have time for one more question. Before I call on the questioner, I just wanted to belatedly say something about our panelists. Wesley Clark, I think you know, was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, (Laughter) and head of Bosnia, Kosovo operation, and his book was Waging Modern War. Alan Brinkley is Professor of History at Columbia, and his most recent book is Liberation and Discontent.

AB: Liberalism.

RS: Liberalism and Discontent, yes. And Frank Rich is of course the op-ed columnist and Senior Writer for the New York Times Magazine, who does the very brave task of writing both about art and politics, and the art of politics. I’ll ask now just the last question here please.

Jim Zirin [JZ]: Yes, I’m Jim Zirin. And President Clinton, and looking back on Robin’s mentioning President Clinton, said yesterday that he thought that we ought to conclude our war against Osama bin Laden before going into Iraq. And I wondered what Wes’ reaction was to this as a matter of tactics, as a matter of wisdom, and opening up a second front. And also whether we believe that the war against bin Laden is sufficiently concluded at this point.

WC: I don’t believe the war against Osama bin Laden is sufficiently concluded. I think there’s still a threat. Whether you would open a second front by going into Iraq depends not only on the problem with Osama bin Laden, but the problem with Iraq. And the newspapers are full of it, you’ve all read it. You probably saw John Kerry’s piece today. I don’t think the case has been proven that there’s an immediate threat. It’s a problem, but it’s a problem not only because Saddam might have weapons of mass destruction, it’s a problem because he’s defied the United Nations. And if we don’t want to do all the heavy lifting ourselves, we need to get with others, and we need to strengthen the international institutions we’ve put together.

And how we do that is a matter for the art of diplomacy. But I think there’s one principal that does have to be followed in the world that we live in, and that is we should use force as a last resort. We haven’t reached that point yet. Based on the information available right now to me as an American citizen, I don’t think we’re there yet. Let’s have those analyses, let’s have that information, let’s have that debate, I’m all ears.

RS: Just one last word, if I may. I think it’s unquestioned that America has changed. We’ve talked about various ways in which it has changed. I think it will continue to change as a result of this war. And clearly the way in which it does change in the future, the way in which we respond to events, will not be determined only in Washington, and shouldn’t be determined only in Washington, but by all of us here, and by being concerned with the manner of change, the direction of change. Because we’ve changed the world, but our society is being profoundly changed by these events. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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