Raymond F. Hopkins | December 3, 2001
Introduction: A good deal has happened in the last three months. "September 11" (or 9/11) has become a "condensation symbol." We use this term as a short hand way of referring to a complicated set of events, both in the US and abroad. Invoking the term can awaken a powerful debate, as did earlier symbols such as Vietnam or Watergate. Daily conversations and editorials debate questions of what is at stake and how well our responses are going.
Below I outline some thoughts for our conversation. Using the four question topics advertised in your invitation, I summarize a constricted and an expanded position for each. In general, I hold the expanded position. Both positions contain dangers. The expansive position, for example, justifies dangerous US military intervention, particularly in Iran. On the other hand, the restricted interpretation invites insufficient action to prevent or deter future terrorism. While both positions see terrorism as frightening, they disagree over the nature of the threat and the best response. Tension between constricted and expanded positions is the central theme of this note.
What is the threat?
Answer: Terrorism. Who did what and why on Sept. 11 are key questions. Two views answer these questions in more constricted or more expanded forms.
Constricted View: A few thousand terrorists, banded together in the late 1990s, are the threat. Based in Afghanistan, they find terrorism the most effective tool to threaten the US and other industrialized countries. They focus on America as a substitute enemy, displacing frustrations they found in their own countries. The repression of Islamic fundamentalist political movements in Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and elsewhere led to this formation of an al-Qaeda network. Sponsored by a rich Saudi, bin Laden, and protected by the regime in power there, the Taliban, this wahabist Islam group is a global threat. It must be identified and destroyed, primarily by military means. It may take months or even a couple of years to do this. Here is an expression of this interpretation excerpted from an op-ed essay: "This is not aimed at our policies," Henry Kissinger said after the attacks. "This is aimed at our existence."
That is precisely wrong. The "evildoers" who gave their lives on Sept. 11 and those who sent them have precise objectives and a clear plan to achieve them. They want to bring about a new order of purity and righteousness in the Islamic world and particularly in the moderate states of the Persian Gulf, where they see only wealth and corruption and autocracy, all of it held in place by the power of America, the inheritor of the old colonial order. They see American planes and ships not as symbols of freedom but as the mainstay of the corrupt order they seek to replace the obstacle standing between the corruption and oppression of the present and the new Islamic order that lights the way to the future.
Even more constricted interpretations are possible. The key to this view is that it looks principally to military and ideological "weapons" currently in existence as the means to respond. It presumes a return to equilibrium is possible and achievable within months or a few years.
Expanded View: This perspective sees the major threat arising from a flaw in our process of globalization. This process, by enriching some, spreading technology and diffusing secular culture, has disrupted lives. The interdependence of globalization is not matched by coherent agencies of restraint guaranteeing basic human values (life, property) to the extent demanded in "national" environments. By enabling crime and tolerating weapons proliferation, globalization threatens global security. Realists diagnose these social processes as containable by modern warfare capabilities. This is a false understanding of security. Global institutions to constrain threats from weapons of mass destruction are necessary. A letter written a couple of days after September 11 expresses my views.
You asked for my reactions after the sense of horror and denial faded. Here are my first thoughts.
We live in the most tolerant, safe, rich and connected time in human history. The structure of global society is highly technical and dependent on deep cooperation. An expansion and concentration of power has occurred, not only in "military" weapons, but in airplanes and buildings. This creates a permissive environment in which decisions by a few can destroy many. The cancer of terrorism, erupting throughout history, has never had a more fertile stage upon which to act out pathological intentions.
There have been previous eruptions of this cancer in dozens of countries. Think of the terrorism employed by Iraq on Kurds and Kuwaitis over a decade ago. Since then planes have been shot down triggering genocide in Rwanda, tourists have been assassinated in Egypt, shoppers bombed in Russia, hostages killed in the Philippines, Colombia, Brazil, Peru. Suicide bombers have killed or wounded the heads of state of India and Sri Lanka. Not only in Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans, but virtually everywhere terrorism in one form or another has appeared.
If the US and the modern world is to wage war against terrorism, expect a long, expensive, sustained restructuring of how the world works. This means expanded transparency and certification for all who participate in communal activities. It also means a shift from national security to human security as a goal. Our military are like a hospital full of heart surgeons: not irrelevant but not much help in fighting cancer. If we are challenged to fight a new and different war against terrorism, understanding how to kill the cells and sources of this global social pathology is essential. Humane concerns, social solidarity, reliable trust must be strengthened from households to global enterprises.
How are we doing on the home front?
Answer: We are failing to sustain either diagnosis above. Our sense of urgency at "home" is eroding. There is some "success" in arresting people here, and in more strict security measures for public areas and airlines. Europe may be doing better is sustaining a vision, but they unfortunately narrow it to West vs. Islam.
Constricted View: Domestic legal and immigration changes needed to control our territory from foreigners with harmful intent are underway. Better defenses and treatment for victims of biological weapons and other dangers are also now in place or being developed. We also are rebuilding a tougher CIA and FBI force. These are the principal measures needed. Some threats to civil liberties are raised by these measures, but these will recede as terrorism is brought under control. A stimulus package to get the economy moving ahead is still needed. This has raised issues of the form this should take, a debate that reflects prior partisan preferences over tax reductions and expenditures. Too bad that this debate has become politicized, but perhaps it is inevitable.
Expanded View: Redesigning our country to fight a "war" requires basic changes. While these will take time, we should be laying them out now. Goals for such change include expanded service for young people to national and international sources of terrorism. Some of this is military work, other components deal with education and social institutions. We need more sustainable principles for interpersonal caring and a vision of openness. Efforts at control over migration and "security" in public areas, while important, should not be seen as adequate for restoring security. Open knowledge about people is more important than privacy. All people, not just government agencies, need sharing of information adequate to make psychopathic actions preventable. The recent arrests in Massachusetts of high school students planning terrorist acts are a reminder of this need.
The idea of capturing and convicting "evildoers" is simplified and insufficient. We need standards to identify such people. It could turn out that there are millions involved in supporting terrorism, with more fanatics volunteering quietly each day than are being eliminated. Where is the social accounting for this "war" effort? Finally, a major "homefront" danger is the conflation of patriotism with spending sprees and a quick return to normal life. Prior policy preferences invoked by various officials and congressional groups have little to do with the "war" on terrorism. Consider how the House, and to an extent, the executive branch have pushed legislation on tax rebates and expanded powers for the attorney general that will mobilize virtually no resources to reduce the long term conditions that spawned the terrorist attacks. Old "politics" is emerging in ways that will lead to a renewal of cynicism by the non-attentive public.
How are we doing in the Pakistan/Afghanistan arena?
Answer: Here we can say little! Our TV and major papers have taken a short news cycle view of what is going on and so mostly we are getting noise about one or another "battle," "prison break-out," and Marine sighting. Both views worry about a deepening commitment to a quagmire (Vietnam) following a rout of the Taliban.
Constricted View: We are winning, but there is a long way to go. The coalition is intact, Pakistan is ready to cooperate, and pressure to end violence in the Israeli/Palestinian confrontation is undertaken. Military and diplomatic means are evolving. They must continue to be applied until the objective of "rooting out" the network of evildoers and those who assist them is achieved. We need to avoid being distracted by problems in Middle East politics, by economic downturns or by humanitarian disasters likely now in Afghanistan. The goal is to eliminate the threat without being overextended in any nation-building task.
Here is how a retired US military official phrased this position two months ago.
Dear friends and fellow Americans
14 September 2001
Like everyone else in this great country, I am reeling from last week's attack on our sovereignty. But unlike some, I am not reeling from surprise.
As a career soldier and a student and teacher of military history, I have a different perspective and I think you should hear it. This attack was committed by a ferocious, intelligent and dedicated adversary. Don't take this the wrong way. I don't admire these men and I deplore their tactics, but I respect their capabilities. The many parallels that have been made with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are apropos. These men hate the United States with all of their being, and we must not underestimate the power of their moral commitment.
As you listen to the carefully scripted rhetoric designed to prepare us for the march for war, please realize that America is not equipped or seriously trained for the battle ahead. To be certain, our soldiers are much better than the enemy, and we have some excellent "counter-terrorist" organizations, but they are mostly trained for hostage rescues, airfield seizures, or the occasional "body snatch" (which may come in handy). We will be fighting a war of annihilation, because if their early efforts are any indication, our enemy is ready and willing to die to the last man. Eradicating the enemy will be costly and time consuming. They have already deployed their forces in as many as 20 countries, and are likely living the lives of everyday citizens. Simply put, our soldiers will be tasked with a search and destroy mission on multiple foreign landscapes, and the public must be patient and supportive until the strategy and tactics can be worked out.
For the most part, our military is still in the process of redefining itself and presided over by men and women who grew up with — and were promoted because they excelled in — Cold War doctrine, strategy and tactics. This will not be linear warfare, there will be no clear "centers of gravity" to strike with high technology weapons. Our vast technological edge will certainly be helpful, but it will not be decisive. Perhaps the perfect metaphor for the coming battle was introduced by the terrorists themselves aboard the hijacked aircraft — this will be a knife fight, and it will be won or lost by the ingenuity and will of citizens and soldiers, not by software or smart bombs. We must also be patient with our military leaders.
Just keep faith in America, and continue to support your President and military, and the outcome is certain.
If we fail to do so, the outcome is equally certain.
God Bless America
Dr. Tony Kern, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret.)
Expanded View: The problem will not be solved by military or normal diplomatic action. We are not doing well because long-term actions to make a sustainable reduction in terrorism are not being developed. Unlike World War Two where, within months of Pearl Harbor, work was underway to create a permanent arena for maintaining peace in the post-war era, we have little effort or idea of how to create post-war on terrorism institutions. Without this we seem bound to follow the classic failure of winning a war and "losing" the peace, as occurred after WWI. Afghanistan exemplifies the problem, but it is not the problem. Indeed the threat is not limited even to the Middle East. While global, its presence in Afghanistan and our efforts there are important as precedents.
Here are some excerpts from writers who hold the more expansive position:
"The rabble of mullahs and seminarians known as the Taliban is fleeing the battered cities. To replace the Taliban with an enduring order, to build something where now there is nothing will require much greater power than America has shown itself to possess."
"The Taliban and bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who captured Afghanistan in 1997 and have been holding the country in bondage ever since. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a master plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think bin Laden, think Hitler. It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would love for someone to eliminate the Taliban and clear out the rat's nest of international thugs holed up in their country. I guarantee it." (The writer is an Afghan student in the US)
"It is a goal to avoid making innocent Afghans suffer further. To a fair extent US bombing and support of those opposing the Taliban has accomplished this. The task now is to find solutions that address both terrorism and the conditions that sustain organizations that practice it. This is difficult, and not underway. We are making efforts, largely unsuccessful, to get food and other help to displaced persons in Afghanistan. And we using ground troops. Whether they will be able to achieve the goal of finding bin Laden's hideout is unclear. If they do, and the outcome does not threaten others in the area, that will be excellent. This invasion approach raises a concern that it will heighten tension between Islam and the West. The other danger is that a war could last for years and millions would die." (Written in September)
What is the outlook for the future?
Answer: It is optimistic if you think we have learned and are responding well. We have certainly not behaved terribly. Bombing has been carefully targeted. Much pressure has been put on the Northern Alliance to allow for international solutions and a "broad-based" government to be created. It is less optimistic if you believe that the long term threats have not been addressed, at least yet.
Constricted View: A return to an equilibrium will occur, but not for one to three years. Economic, military and international diplomatic policies are working to offset the problems created or made worse by Sept. 11. While all the details are not worked out, the general plan for a global effort using an ad hoc US led coalition will prove adequate. As new shocks or information surfaces, adjustments will be necessary. On the whole we can be proud of how our country has come together. We will work more closely with allies to prevent or preempt such actions in the future. We are now alert and regret that earlier studies and assessments were neglected. Basic global threats have not changed — these rest on the growing power of China, challenges to US interests in oil states, the importance of stable US–Russia relations, and continuing US global economic leadership.
Expanded View: The threat of attack by weapons of mass destruction controlled by agents hostile to our country continues. Worse events may occur. We are missing the chance to make basic policy changes to avert future disasters. Most US government action so far has been aimed at making terrorism harder to succeed, not in changing intentions of those who might become terrorists. A clearer vision of the problem and solutions is called for. We need a redefined military, changed educational practices, and a social responsibility accepted by the US and other industrialized states. Such a view has not been laid out as a prospect to the American public.
Resources used to fight terrorism may be an expensive distraction, if they lead to "winning" a war and then losing the "peace." One future needed is state-building as an international undertaking. This means the very earliest efforts in Afghanistan should set up safety nets and governance that become sustainable institutions of restraint, agencies that will contain violence and liberate options for people. Nation-building is a false alternative correctly rejected as a task for outsiders. State building, however, is possible and is absolutely needed in our globalized world. Similar efforts are already underway in Kosovo, East Timor, and Sierre Leone. These places may offer lessons needed for international action in Afghanistan, and perhaps in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Preventing violence and state failure must be part of the overall task of a post Sept. 11 world. This task is workable only as a multilateral undertaking. It will take several hundred billions of dollars over the next decade or two. Given this requirement, we should feel concern as with each day such a commitment is ignored the motivation to support it, unleashed by Sept. 11, are weakened. As the costs for airport security and forces used in Afghanistan grow, appropriating government resources for this "expanded" position's goals becomes harder.
Concluding Thought: Ultimately, the goal must be to shape attitudes everywhere in ways consistent with tolerance for the modern world. Without progress in institutions of inclusion, our permissive globalized environment will continue to motivate and allow a few to kill many. Defining a successful response to Sept. 11 as displacing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and capturing or killing some hated leaders in that region risks trivializing the problem. Should we believe this definition of victory, then getting close to it will undercut more basic responses to the structural danger we face — from the diffusion of hatred combined with technical skills for making weapons of mass destruction. For a talk at Yale in October I wrote the following:
In Paul Theroux's science fiction novel, O-Zone, "owners" fly about the world blasting aliens who, it turns out, are mostly abandoned citizens of former nations. These people, living inside various regions and countries, are now estranged as the world has disintegrated into a high tech elite and disorganized servant and outlaw bands. Theroux's projection of future life provides a bleaker view than the unhappy ones in 1984 or Brave New World. Ecological disasters and social fragmentation, in Theroux's forecast, will create decentralized power centers from which alienated and armed elites fly out on adventures, blasting various underprivileged remnants from our current world.
This forecast comes to mind as one scenario that could lie ahead if the current disjunction continues between global integration of technological progress and the diffusion of failed states whose inequalities and anomie spawn terrorism. Avoiding such political failures was a goal Swarthmore College set for the "responsible citizens" it graduated. In our conversation I hope you will feel fully empowered to bring disciplined intellectual thinking to current policy decisions.
1) Bush at War, by Bob Woodward, Simon & Schuster, 2002.
3) The Neoconservative Persuasion, by Irving Kristol, Weekly Standard, August 25, 2003.
5) We'll Win This War, by Michael A. Ledeen, The American Enterprise Online.
6) The Future of War and the American Military, by Stephen P. Rosen, Harvard Magazine, May-June 2002, vol 104, no 5.
7) Michael A. Ledeen, quoted by Jonah Goldberg in Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two, National Review, April 23, 2002.
8) Beware of Bolton, by Ian Williams, May 30, 2002.
9) America's Imperial Ambition, by John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs, 2002.
10) Should We Evict the UN? by Patrick Buchanan, New York Post, December 27, 1997, page 15.
11) Washington Post, January 31, 2003.
12) The Guardian, March 21, 2003.
13) Why America Still Needs the United Nations, by Shashi Tharoor, Foreign Affairs, Sept/Oct 2003
14) The End of the American Era: US Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century, by Charles A. Kupchan, Knopf, October 29, 2002.
15) The Real Crisis Over the Atlantic, by Dominique Moisi, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2001.
16) Propaganda Isn't the Way: Soft Power, by Joseph S. Nye Jr., The International Herald Tribune, January 10, 2003.
17) Wolfowitz Stands Fast Amid the Antiwarriors, by Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, September 22, 2003.
18) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, June 2003.
19) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, September 17, 2002.
20) But What's the Legal Case for Preemption? by Bruce Ackerman, Washington Post, August 18, 2002.
21) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, September 17, 2002.
22) Law unto Themselves, by Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, March 14, 2003.
23) UN Resolution 1441, The Security Council, November 8, 2002.
24) Selective Intelligence, by Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, May 5, 2003.
25) The Economist, October 4, 2003.
26) A deafening silence, by Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, October 6, 2002.
27) Bush's Unreliable Intelligence, by David Corn, The Nation, November 12, 2003.
28) Rice: Iraq trained al Qaeda in chemical weapons, CNN, September 26, 2002.
29) President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat, by George W. Bush, Cincinnati, October 7, 2002.
30) Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11 Attacks, Washington Post Poll, September 6, 2003.
31) We're Taking Him Out, CNN, May 6, 2002.
32) May 9, 2003 interview of Paul Wolfowitz by Sam Tannenbaus, published in Vanity Fair, July 2003.
33) Iraq Said to Have Tried to Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avert War, by James Risen, The New York Times, November 6, 2003. Original article.
34) Stumbling into War, by James P. Rubin, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2003.
35) Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, by George Crile, Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2003.
36) Bush's Faustian Deal With the Taliban, by Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2001.
37) Iraqi Democracy Is a Pipe Dream, by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, October 19, 2002.
38) UN Resolution 1441, The Security Council, November 8, 2002.
39) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, July 7, 1991.
40) A War for Oil?, by Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, January 5, 2003.
41) US Diplomatic and Commercial Relationships with Iraq, 1980 - 2 August 1990.
42) US Support for Iraq in the 1980s, Center for Cooperative Research.
43) The Ghosts of 1991, by Peter W. Galbraith, Washington Post, Saturday, April 12, 2003.
44) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, June 2003.
45) Making of a Monster: How the US Helped Build Iraq's War Machine, by William P. Hoar, The New American, September 1992.
46) A Hard Look at Iraq Sanctions, by David Cortright, The Nation, December 3, 2001.
47) Iraq surveys show 'humanitarian emergency, Unicef Information Newsline, August 12, 1999.
48) Columbia News Video, by Prof. Richard Garfield, March 03, 2000.
49) Cool War, by Joy Gordon, Harper's Magazine, November 2002.
50) Squeezed to death, by John Pilger The Guardian, Saturday March 4, 2000.
51) Cool War, by Joy Gordon, Harper's Magazine, November 2002.
52) Iraq 'smart sanctions' derailed by Russia, by Anton La Guardia, telegraph.co.uk, April 7, 2001.
53) Pew's Global Attitudes Project, June 2003.
54) Andrew Kohut's Senate Testimony, February 27, 2003.
55) Jihad: Expansion et declin de l'Islamisme, by Gilles Kepel, Gallimard, 2003.
56) Terror and Liberalism, by Paul Berman, Norton, 2003.
57) Jerry Falwell, September 13, 2001.
58) General William Boykin, 2002-2003.
59) State of the Union Address to Congress, by President Carter, January 21, 1980.
60) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, May 4, 2003.
61) Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, by Niall Ferguson, Basic Books, 2003. Critics of US policy are racist, says Rice, by David Rennie, telegraph.co.uk, September 8, 2003.
62) Iraqi Democracy Is a Pipe Dream, by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, October 19, 2002.
63) Critics of US policy are racist, says Rice, by David Rennie, telegraph.co.uk, September 8, 2003.
64) A World Transformed, by Brent Scowcroft and George H. W. Bush, Knopf, September 1998.