Articles

Aug 15, 2003

The War on terrorism, CNN panel

SECTION: NEWS; INTERNATIONAL

LENGTH: 2688 words

HEADLINE: Q&A 11:30

GUESTS: Deborah Perry, Eric Margolis

BYLINE: Rosemary Church, Peter Bergen

HIGHLIGHT:
Has America lost its focus when it comes to terrorism?

BODY:
11:34)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The war on terror continues. See, the enemies of freedom are not idle. And neither are we. This country will not rest. We will not tire. And we will not stop until this danger to civilization is removed.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): One month to the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and the White House finds itself waging a public relations war about the war against terror. Critics say the U.S. has turned its back on the anti-terror effort, focusing instead on Iraq and the hunt for Saddam Hussein.

The White House stands firm, saying it remains committed to bringing down al Qaeda and its leaders.

On this edition of Q&A, we take a look at the state of the war against terrorism, and ask if the Bush administration is waging a losing battle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Welcome to Q&A. I’m Rosemary Church.

This week, U.S. and coalition intelligence officials warned of a possible new alliance with al Qaeda in Iraq. Just how is the U.S. planning to defend itself? And as the Bush administration maintains it’s making progress in the war against terrorism, there’s new information that two of the September 11 hijackers might have been caught had information about them been shared, and their names put on a single government watch list. There is no single watch list.

Well, has the White House lost its focus when it comes to terrorism? Joining me to discuss this is Eric Margolis of “The Toronto Sun.” He’s also the author of “The War at the Top of the World.” From Washington, Deborah Perry joins us. She’s a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. And CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Thanks to all three of you for being here.

Deborah Perry, I do want to go to you first and get an assessment from you, how do you think the U.S. war on terror is progressing?

DEBORAH PERRY, INDEPENDENT WOMEN’S FORUM: Well, I think as we are going further into this war on terrorism, we’re taking the appropriate steps that we need to do first in the sense of information gathering. We’ve got to remember, prior to 9/11, we haven’t really done much on the war on terrorism, despite the fact that it’s been escalating over the past decade for some time now.

So I think in a sense that we’re making great progress, but it still remains to be seen overall whether we can disperse these cells that we know about in particular countries, but make sure that the spread of terrorism doesn’t carry further into newer countries, so that we continue to fight battles on many fronts.

The differences between this war on terrorism versus having a containment policy towards a particular country is that you’re just dealing with these individual cells on an individual basis. Obviously, that’s more difficult to contain in a sense, but we know that we’ve got to work effectively within our own intelligence community, and also partner greater with foreign intelligence as well, and I think we’ll be much more effective in that respect.

CHURCH: Well, Eric Margolis, do you agree, making great progress?

ERIC MARGOLIS, TORONTO SUN: No, I don’t. Two misnomers. First of all, it’s not a war. It’s a police action. Secondly, it’s not against terrorism like an amorphous threat. It’s against specific anti-American groups who are fighting against or resisting violently American influence around the world.

The progress that has been made in these operations has been done largely by American allies, particularly Pakistan, it’s Arab Mideastern allies and by European security forces. The least successful have been these large, heavy-handed military operations as we conducted or are being conducted in Afghanistan, which have scant results, remind me of the search and destroy years when I was in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

And now the invasion of Iraq, far from — it was billed as an end to terrorism, has in fact, stuck America’s head into a hornets nest, and America is going to get stung more, and I think it’s going to provoke more rather than less terrorist groups.

And the only positive note that I can give you, is that the United States has not, happily, suffered a calamitous major terrorist attack.

CHURCH: Peter Bergen, how do you measure progress? Is it through the arrests, is it through the foiled attempts at attacks?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I’ll pick up on what Eric just said. I mean, for start, there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. Obviously, there were attempts. Richard Reid attempted to blow up the American Airlines flight between Paris and Miami. That would have been catastrophic. Obviously, that would have killed 150 or a number of people on that plane. But haven’t been any attacks since 9/11, so obviously that’s a pretty good yardstick.

Going to Eric’s point about Iraq, I concur completely. I think, you know, 150,000 American troops in the middle of the Middle East are acting as a magnet, I’ve been told now by several American officials, for al Qaeda.

If you look at the attack on the Jordanian embassy in Iraq last week, that was on the fifth anniversary of the attack of U.S. embassies in Africa, the 12th anniversary of the introduction of American troops into Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield. It’s an al Qaeda anniversary of considerable significance, and I think that attack may well be an al Qaeda attack. It would almost be surprising if it wasn’t. Attacking embassies is part of their modus operandi. They — it was a professional operation, and it was done on a significant anniversary for the group.

I would, however, disagree with Eric on the Afghanistan example. Al Qaeda, as you know, means “the base” in Arabic. They lost that base in Afghanistan. They lost their training camps. I think the situation in Afghanistan, while not perfect, is improving dramatically, and in terms of victories in the war on terrorism, certainly getting rid of the Afghan base was one of them.

CHURCH: All right, Deborah Perry, I want to come back to you. You did raise in your first answer there the intelligence gathering.

PERRY: Yes.

CHURCH: How successful has it really been, though? We heard today from a report submitted to the U.S. Congress that in actual fact, there was no single watch list. This is a critical…

PERRY: Unbelievably critical, and I can tell you that I was in the State Department during the first Bush administration. I mean, this is an issue we were grappling with back then. The problem is, to have, you know, half a dozen plus intelligence agencies that all have their hand in some level of intelligence, there does have to be a greater screening process, a greater consolidation, and that is going to be critical, but it wasn’t until the fact of 9/11 that we realized that we really need to step up to the plate to find a more effective, efficient way.

We’re not under the British system, where they had their MI-5, which is more consolidated. There is one place for information to share, and we do need to do a better job of knowing what the left and the right hand are doing. And that is a fault that’s been in our security and has been a huge risk for us for some time.

So I think in a way, that, you know, 9/11 in a sense has been a real awakening for a lot of the American intelligence community to figure out, very quickly, and I’m not sure we’re doing it in (ph) the appropriate time for that, we need to be doing it, what is the most effective way that we can all share intelligence, get everyone to the table so that we’re not in a position of dealing with a lot of intelligence again, like 9/11, that recently happened in the past couple of weeks that we can avoid if we do a better job information sharing.

CHURCH: Eric Margolis, why does a super power not have a consolidated system for gathering information?

MARGOLIS: Well, most powers have split up intelligence units. This is the curse of the intelligence business. There are at least seven agencies in the United States that are bringing in information.

The problem is not collecting it. It’s processing it. I’m sure the 9/11 figures were hidden there somewhere, if somebody had been able to read and translate all the tapes. But there’s not processing.

And what we’ve seen, and also particularly from the Iraq situation, is that intelligence does not agree with preconceived conceptions and the White House and the National Security Council is rejected. Look, John Ashcroft, the American attorney general, cut spending on intelligence just before 9/11. That’s how low the threat was deemed.

But the problem is also that they don’t have agents, they don’t have humans, human intelligence in the field. They don’t have native language speakers. The United States has had to rely far too much on intelligence agencies of foreign allies, particularly in the Middle East, that have far too often fed it self-serving or tainted information.

CHURCH: Peter Bergen, want to get an idea from you with your experience with terrorist groups. How far do the tentacles go with al Qaeda across the world? We know there’s a lot of activity in the Middle East, and indeed Asia. Just how far has this gone?

BERGEN: You know, al Qaeda is shorthand for a lot of different phenomenon, various things. I think one thing — al Qaeda the organization did 9/11, but I think you’re also seeing al Qaeda sort of morphing into an ideology, if you want to call it al Qaedism, or bin Ladenism or whatever, and I think that that is kind of what — when you’re talking about tentacles, I mean, this — you can arrest as many people if you want, you can’t arrest ideas. That’s a little more problematic.

Bin Laden’s ideas have received very large distribution as the result of appearances on Al Jazeera, CNN, the Internet, et cetera, and you don’t really need to go to Afghanistan anymore to get the ideologies, on the Internet, of sites like (UNINTELLIGIBLE), mujahideen.net (ph), these kinds of sites, and you can also get the, you know, explosives manuals et cetera.

So I think that, yes, we talk about a war on terrorism. Eric, I think, correctly said there’s some — appear some logical problems with the notion of a war, it is obviously a police action against groups of terrorists. I think it would be madness to say that a great deal of progress has been made. And if all they can do, and this may be rather cold-blooded, if all they can do are things like attack hotels in Indonesia and kill small groups of people, that’s appalling for the — it’s such an appalling tragedy, but we’re not talking about 9/11s happening every year. We’re talking about a very different scale of successes for these terrorist groups.

We’re never going to win the war on terrorism. We’re going to be able to manage it. That’s maybe not the most effective slogan, but I think that’s simply a fact.

CHURCH: We heard from Colin Powell today, pretty much talking about when this ends, when terror comes to an end, so you think leaders actually are giving people the idea that it’s possibly going to end, is not really being true to this story?

BERGEN: I’ll tell you when you can declare war — basically, when you stop inviting people like us to come on on this program. I mean, when it’s no longer such a cause of public concern that we’re really talking about it all the time. You basically put it back into the box in which it used to be in, which is it’s a problem, but it’s sort of manageable. And you know, before 9/11, more Americans got killed by lightning than by terrorists in a given year, so if you can put it back in that situation, I think that’s a kind of victory.

CHURCH: All right. We’ve got a caller on the line from the Netherlands. O’Van, go ahead with your question, please. O’Van, go ahead, you are live on the air now, tell us your question.

O’VAN: OK. My question is, first of all, is if America is going to lead the war on terrorism, and I am an American, and very strong, patriotic American, my number one concern then is how can America justifiably lead the war on terrorism when even our closest allies will condemn us and see us as terrorists, to some respects, the things we do, such as global treaties and our wars that we go in, like we did in Pakistan, Afghanistan, what we did in Iraq. A lot of our allies don’t even think that we did that appropriately.

And my comment is that when we started talking about the war on terrorism, what they’re really talking about is a war on people’s culture. America, you know, the McDonaldization of the world, America really comes across as saying the way we are, Americana is right, democracy is right, and the way we do it over here is the way that is appropriate for the world, and everyone needs to get on board.

CHURCH: Deborah Perry, your response to that.

PERRY: Well, I think the caller raises an important point. When you talk about American imperialism, in this modern (ph) world, American pop culture is what we’re talking about. The reason that America has had so much success, whether it’s marketing their products, goods, restaurants, whatever, is that there has been an invitation by these particular countries to bring the American influences in.

I mean, certainly, it wouldn’t be successful if the people don’t want it. And there are certainly countries like Italy, for example, that have maybe resisted more bringing in American pop culture, have really been in control of their own culture.

But with respect to our allies and sort of this war on terrorism, if you will, it is important to step up to the plate, because we’ve got to remember, we’ve got to look back over the fact of what happened during the Clinton years. I mean, there was an earlier attempt on the World Trade Center, to bomb it. There was bombing of our embassies, the bombing of the USS Cole. At what point do you say, enough is enough, we need to lead this effort?

And it is going to be a matter of greater consolidation, almost a Marshall plan for terrorism, if you will, so that we could have greater information sharing among our allies and hope…

(CROSSTALK)

CHURCH: Eric Margolis, I do want to go to you. I’m throwing you a curveball here. I mean, is it time maybe that the United States has to say, well, maybe there is something in some of the demands that these terrorist groups are making. Should the U.S. remove themselves from some Muslim nations?

MARGOLIS: Well, first of all, let me say I agree entirely with what Peter Bergen about fighting an idea rather than a terrorist movement.

Yes, you know, this is not a Kulturkampf fought over cheeseburgers and rock music. This is a violent reaction to American political and economic presence. Some people would call it exploitation of West Asia and the Middle East and the Arab world. And I believe, to answer your curveball question, that America will do well to lower its profile in a lot of these countries, starting with the unfortunate invasion of Iraq.

But to do this, America has to stop encouraging despotic regimes, from one end of the Middle East to the other. President Bush always called Saddam Hussein a dictator, but never spoke about the leader of Egypt, for example. And America has to stop being seen as the exploiter of the area’s resources, difficult for a global empire to do this. But clearly, Americans need to seek a political accommodation with the different forces in the Middle East, and outright military response chosen by Bush administration is not the right idea, and in the long run is going to earn America more violent enemies rather than less.

CHURCH: And unfortunately, we are out of time. Eric Margolis, Deborah Perry and Peter Bergen, thank you all three of you for being on our program.

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