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U.S.: Three Former Policy Officials Discuss Terrorism

  • Nikola Krastev

Three former top-level U.S. foreign policy officials met this week in Washington to discuss strategies for fighting terrorism. Samuel Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft emphasized their common view that the war on terrorism is global and presents as much a political as a military challenge.

Washington, 30 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A roundtable discussion this week in Washington sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations provided an opportunity for three former top U.S. foreign policy officials to share their views on international terrorism. The three former national security advisers, Samuel Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft, addressed a variety of topics.

Brzezinski, the national security adviser under Democratic President Jimmy Carter (1977-81), emphasized that while the sources of terrorism may be religious or social, in the end terrorism is a political problem: "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 deal with terrorism, one has to view it as a political challenge and to understand the underlying political dimensions of that particular challenge."

Brzezinski says the current U.S. administration of President George W. Bush must avoid the temptation to see terrorism only as a U.S. problem. He points out that many nations have suffered at the hands of terrorists. He says the risk of looking at the problem narrowly is that the "war on terrorism" can be appropriated by any nation or cause to further its own political interests: "I think this is very important to understand -- that terrorism is a manifestation that is widespread, it's global. We're not the only victims of terrorism. We happened to be the latest victims of terrorism, but a lot of countries 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 hijack the war on terrorism for their own specific ends."

The panelists agreed that among the various terrorist organizations at work in the world, Al-Qaeda continues to be the most serious threat to the United States.

Sandy Berger, who was national security adviser (1997-2001) in Democratic President Bill Clinton's second administration, says the current administration should not lose sight of destroying Al-Qaeda's networks globally. He says the administration risks losing this focus by shifting attention to countries like Iran, Iraq, and North Korea: "I think in expanding the definition of the war on terrorism as we've seen since [President Bush's] 'axis of evil' speech, the great danger is that we lose focus that the enemy that we know is there and it is Al-Qaeda. They are still a serious enemy, they have not gone away. [CIA Director] George Tenet testified recently [that] they are viable and lethal. Even if you define the terrorism enemy narrowly -- forget about Iran, Iraq, define it as the anti-American Islamic jihadists -- we've got our work cut out for a lifetime."

Brent Scowcroft served as national security adviser two times, first (1975-77) under Republican President Gerald Ford and then (1989-93) under President George Bush, the father of the current president. He says the strategy on fighting terrorism is shifting from a military operation to a war of intelligence: "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 Hizbollah, whether it's the [Irish Republican Army] and so on -- 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 is probably coming to an end. I don't think there will 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."