Co-sponsored with the Asia Society.
LISA ANDERSON: September 11th surprised most Americans, and those of us in New York were among the most surprised. That event was a very rude awakening from a long period of what can only be described as complacency in the United States about what the rest of the world looked like, about parts of the world that most people had hardly even heard of, much less given any thought to.
We are still debating the motive for those attacks. We think about the symbolism of the World Trade Center and its association with globalization, and the Pentagon and its association with American military power. We know the identity of the authors of the attacks, who funded them, and where they came from. But in some fundamental ways we still do not know why they did it.
It could be that there are profound underlying grievances, that this is really a clash of civilizations, "Islam against the West," as Samuel Huntington would put it.
Some believe that this was an expression of a global class conflict, that these people, even though most of them came from Saudi Arabia, reflected the position of the "have nots" in the world, people who have been left behind in the globalization of the last decade.
Some people think that it is an extension of the Arab/Israeli problem, a position that has more and more currency as that particular conflict returns to the front pages.
And some argue that this is really an internal Saudi dispute, that these were people who objected to Saudi Government policy.
Maybe it is one of those. Maybe it is all of those. But tonight we have a distinguished panel of people to help us consider what it was that the terrorists of September 11th, and maybe some of their brethren since then, have been trying to accomplish.
Each of our panelists will talk about how he sees the origins and motives of that attack, and perhaps subsequent ones, and what implications that may have for foreign policy, America's and others'.
Our first speaker is Zamir Akram, Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, D.C. Before coming to the Embassy in 2000, he was Director General for South Asia at the Pakistan Foreign Office in Islamabad. He has held diplomatic postings at the Pakistan Embassy in New Delhi, at the Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, and at the Pakistan Embassy in Moscow.
Simon Henderson is a London-based energy consultant for Saudi Strategies and an Adjunct Scholar of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He founded Saudi Strategies in 1999, after a twenty-year career with The Financial Times, during which he wrote extensively on the Middle East. He is author of a biography of Saddam Hussein, Instant Empire: Saddam Hussein’s Ambitions for Iraq, and After King Fahd: Succession in Saudi Arabia.
Finally, Ambassador Karl Inderfurth is currently Professor in the Practice of International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He is the former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs. Nominated in 1997, he had responsibility for the countries of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Before his presidential appointment as Assistant Secretary, he served as the U.S. Representative for Special Political Affairs at the United Nations. He has also worked for ABC News, first as national security correspondent with a special focus on arms control, and then as Moscow correspondent from February 1989 to August 1991.
ZAMIR AKRAM: Let me talk about whom do these terrorists represent. This is an issue that we think we know a lot about, that this act of terrorism can be defined in terms of their motives, and their relationship to the people whom they represent, and that they had a clear idea of what they were up to.
To be able to answer these questions and to understand how to deal with this problem in the future, we have to be clear about several ideas, and that is what I will address today.
Terrorism is generally accepted as the use of violence or force against individuals, civilians, noncombatants, in order to promote a certain political viewpoint or agenda. But you will be surprised to know that there is no legally and internationally accepted definition of terrorism.
Just a few days ago, in Kuala Lumpur, the countries of the Islamic world, the OIC, had gathered together to decide on a definition of terrorism. In the UN here in New York, every year the UN Third Committee meets to discuss issues relating to terrorism, and they still have not come up with a generally accepted definition of terrorism.
The problem is the argument, or the difference of views, between people who would like to see terrorism defined holistically, as a concept which applies across the board to anyone who uses force and terror as a means of policy; and those who argue that terrorism must be distinguished from what are called legitimate freedom struggles of people against foreign or alien occupation or domination. This legalistic approach is applied in Palestine and in Izmir.
We have to be clear that we are talking about people who are engaged in wars or struggles that relate to freedom that are legitimate, that have a root in the United Nations Resolutions calling for the right of self-determination, or whether we deal with all acts of terrorism according to the same definition and denominators.
The second element is the scope of terrorism. Is terrorism something that is only practiced by groups and individuals? How about terrorism by states against other states, but also against their own people or against people under their own control, whether it is occupation or otherwise? The use of terror by state entities against people under their control, is that also terrorism?
Many would argue today in the Middle East that the Palestinians are the subjects or the object of Israeli state terrorism. Many Kashmiris argue the same. Chechnyans argue the same against the Russians.
If you talk to people who have been subjected to this state control, many of them would tell you that they do not draw any distinction. When their families are the subject of terrorist policies of being kidnapped, incarcerated, tortured, then for them whether it is the state and whether these actions are being carried out by people in uniform or out of uniform; it does not really matter, because noncombatants, civilians, are being subjected to this violence.
We also need to understand that terrorism should not be seen in religious terms or given religious connotations. It has become commonplace to speak about Islamic terrorism, and we tend to forget these days that there has been, and there are still different forms of terrorism if you want to give it a religious denomination.
If you look at the State Department's own list of terrorism organizations or the areas where terrorism has taken place, if you want to give it a religious denomination, then there is of course terrorism that has taken place and been perpetrated by Muslims, but also by Christians, Jews, Hindus, and several other religious denominations.
We should not be talking in religious terms because, in reality, no religion, whatever it is, including Islam or Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism sanctions the use of violence against innocent people. So we must be careful not to give this connotation, especially because of the impact that it will have domestically in the United States and in the Islamic world, where the Muslims generally tend to look at the Western view of terrorism as being synonymous with Islamic practices or Islamic beliefs, and therefore see this as a clash of civilizations.
To understand the solutions to these problems we need to deal with the root causes. Much of the post-September 11th debate in the United States post-September 11th has dealt with issues such as poverty, dissatisfaction, the lack of democratic institutions, and freedoms in Muslim societies. These problems exist, but there are instances of terrorism in societies which do not suffer from these problems.
Look at Northern Ireland. The IRA as an organization has emerged in a society which has been relatively free, where economic deprivation has not been a major factor.
So we need to go further. It is important to understand that ultimately there is a political problem. Terrorism really emerges from political dissatisfaction, whether it is as a result of governments exploiting, manipulating, repressing the individuals of societies under their control, or becoming an instrument of that repression beyond their borders. In either case, there is a sense of deprivation, of repression, of frustration, anger.
And in the case of the September 11th incidents, the people who were involved here were acting as a part of this terror organization, Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. But we should be clear there is no hierarchy. There was no chain of command, that Osama bin Laden was actually manipulating this sitting in Kabul.
What it did represent is that there were, are, and probably, unfortunately, will continue to be for some time, at least until the root causes are addressed, individuals who feel a sense of frustration and anger in the Muslim world at what they perceive as exploitation, manipulation, and repression of Muslims in different parts of the world, whether in Palestine or Kashmir or Chechnya or Bosnia.
To get rid of terrorism, it is not enough to go after just Al Qaeda and wipe it out or bring Osama bin Laden to justice and hang him, because somebody else is going to take his place. We have to deal with the root causes.
President Musharraf of Pakistan in his UN speech gave the example of a tree, that you can prune the leaves and the branches of the tree, but unless you cut off the roots, you are not going to deal with the problem of terrorism.
One of the things we tend to overlook, whether it is right or wrong, is that Muslims do have a sense of alienation and anger. I will give you some of the examples from even recent days.
Whatever is happening today in the Middle East, whoever is right or wrong is not the point here. The point is that the way that the events are taking shape today in that part of the world, Osama bin Laden basically is looking at a whole new legion of supporters joining him down the road. The problems in the Middle East today is exactly the area that he is trying to develop. I am sure he is quite happy with things at this point.
Another example is the recent violence against Muslims in Gujarat State of India. There was a big hue and cry across the world when the Taliban and all their security destroyed the Buddha statues. The Indian Muslims were asking: "The world is getting involved in this issue. Where was the international community when the Barbar Mosque, built by Emperor Barbar almost 500 years ago in India, was being torn down by Hindu fanatics? Why did the world not stand up and denounce that kind of destruction as the world was doing about the Buddha statues?" So there is a feeling of alienation, of being treated differently.
In the United States itself, many people need to understand also what is happening here. President Bush made it clear that there is a distinction between Muslim and Islam and terrorism. But some Muslims in this country have been targeted and treated differently by the Administration’s instruments of government themselves.
So, ultimately, the United States together with the other countries, such as mine, deal not only with the outer manifestations, the criminal elements, the Osama bin Laden’s, but we also need to deal with the root causes. Unless we do that, we are not going to be able to overcome this problem in the long term.
SIMON HENDERSON: When thinking about what I was going to say today over the last few weeks, I tried to give it a shape. When I first started thinking and had filled up several pages of notes, I thought the shape was going to be as large as a parachute. I then whittled down my arguments to be a large pizza with individual segments. But in ten minutes, you will be relieved to know, it is less than that. The shape I have, therefore, chosen is a piece of paper folded in half, and I will go down one side and then the other, because one side is the detail and the other side is the larger questions.
The detail: Whom do the terrorists represent on 9/11? We do not know. But where we do have to look and where we have looked in the past but where we need to look even further, is Saudi Arabia.
The recorded arguments of Osama bin Laden before 9/11 were that he was against the Saudi royal family, whom he considered illegitimate, and he was cross with them because his advice at the time of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait had been ignored. His advice had been that he, Osama bin Laden, based on his experience in Afghanistan against the Soviets, should raise a Muslim army to defend the Saudi kingdom against Saddam. The Saudi royal family took the best part of thirty seconds to realize that this wasn’t the way forward and calling Washington was. The other side was that he was against the United States, both for its support of Saudi Arabia and somehow representing some greater contamination of Saudi society.
What we all know is that fifteen out of the nineteen on September 11th were Saudis. But they were middle-class Saudis. The father of one suspect has recently died. His obituary says that he was a merchant who was supplying the Saudi army with food and other supplies, and clearly prospered on that basis. So they weren’t just the impoverished middle class.
Fifteen out of nineteen is also the proportion of Saudis amongst those held in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay, and among the group of eighteen or so who the FBI announced in mid-February as representing an immediate and imminent danger to the United States, although only one of them was labeled as Saudi and the rest Yemeni.
What we are getting from Saudi Arabia is a series of red herrings possibly, or other events which take our mind off these key questions. Saudis let it be known via The Washington Post that on September the 12th, Crown Prince Abdullah said extra oil should be pumped through to the United States. Extra oil was pumped through, so The Washington Post reported. Eleven million barrels was the figure.
Crown Prince Abdullah might have thought that that was the case, but I can assure you that if you look at the figures, the amount of oil that the Saudis pumped through to the United States in the last three months of last year actually represents a fall; the graph goes down, not up. And, in case you wonder whether I’ve misinterpreted the figures, I only looked at the figures after a Saudi official had told me that they actually went down rather than up.
There has also been a report that Saudi individuals, indeed even Saudi princes, were paying off Osama bin Laden so that he didn’t attack Saudi targets. The last Saudi target which we can attribute to either Osama bin Laden or his friends was in late 1995, when five Americans were killed at a Saudi National Guard facility in Riyadh. Since then, there have been no Osama bin Laden attacks in Saudi Arabia, although there have been the Kenyan Embassy attack, the Tanzanian Embassy attack, and the U.S.S. COLE in Aden Harbor.
I will not bother to mention Crown Prince Abdullah’s peace plan, but cosmetically that is also a red herring as well.
So I leave you with, on this side of the piece of paper: What is it with the Saudis? What produces amongst the Saudi people such hatred of the Saudi royal family that they want to act in this way; and what produces amongst the Saudi Government such deviousness in their responses to what U.S. concerns should be?
Six months have passed since September 11th, and we have to look at the larger context, and not confine ourselves to the Saudi role. I would suggest if we are trying to find answers, there are several different lines to look at.
There is the historical line. The Middle East and South Asia is a far more turbulent place in the last twenty years than it had been before. I used to live in Islamabad in 1977 and 1978.
Islamabad at the time was a very, dare I say, hick place. Foreign diplomats in Islamabad used to drive to Kabul in Afghanistan for the weekend because Kabul was a fun place. It was particularly fun because it was hard to get alcohol, although there were privileges for diplomats and foreign correspondents, in Islamabad. But my French colleague from AFP used to drive up to Kabul, where the French Embassy had a huge store, and come back loaded with French wine and cheeses.
But since then, there have been several different incidents which alter the whole context of what we are about. There was the Iranian revolution; a pro-American leader was thrown out of power. There was the siege of the Mecca Mosque in Saudi Arabia in 1979.
At the same time, the American Embassy in Islamabad was besieged by irate Muslims who thought there was an American role in this. Americans died. Others thought they were going to be roasted alive in what was otherwise a safe room, including a couple of people whom I had met during my time there.
There was then the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan, which showed that you could kick a superpower out of the area.
It does not provide the easy answer to the question, of why Islam is in such a rage.
When I lived in Islamabad—and I have lived in Pakistan and Iran longer than I have lived in any other country in the world, bar England—even during the Iranian revolution, it was not difficult being a non-Muslim foreigner in these countries. One had to be street-wise, but it was easy to survive.
Indeed, at the time I was in Islamabad, the political leaders of Assad Kashmir—Free Kashmir, the Pakistani portion of Kashmir—were delightful, sincere, charming people, not militant in any way. Perhaps they should have been, but they were not.
The economic line: Are people aggrieved because they are poor? Certainly people are aggrieved because they are poor, but there is far greater difference between the rich and poor in Pakistan than there is probably here in the United States. So there is no simple answer to that one as well.
Apart from my comments just now on Kashmir, I otherwise have not suggested that Kashmir is a key part of it. I am not suggesting it is not, but I do not think it is an easy answer to it.
I am also not suggesting that Israel/Palestine is directly linked to 9/11, although it provides a coloring, an atmosphere, to 9/11.
Since I come from London, I also feel obliged to make a European comment, which will become more significant as time goes on. This European/U.S. relationship, or lack of relationship, will be a key feature of how we go forward.
There is always an anti-American part to European political thinking, and there is also an anti-Semitic part of European thinking as well. More recently, there has developed an anti-Islamic part, but that does not have a historical basis, and how that works out is difficult to imagine at this stage.
The Guardian’s first leader last Friday was "Imperial Delusions," which was actually a discussion of British foreign policy. But the subhead here is "America Is a Threat to Global Order Too." Think about it. This is an extraordinary state of affairs.
In one of the financial pages of The Guardian, there was a diary item which was discussing a new business book, Survival Is Not Enough. Its publisher is given as Simon & Schuster. Except the way The Guardian writes it, it says "Simon and Shyster." Now, that is a fairly extraordinary thing, and I would hope, but I don’t know, that somebody has complained to the Editor of The Guardian.
There would have been a time when if you were an American editor who was editing a newspaper column and you put "shyster" into the column rather than "Schuster," you would be out on your backside the next day. I doubt whether whoever was the culprit for this would be out on his backside.
KARL INDERFURTH: We have heard two excellent series of remarks already, so I hope I can keep up the pace.
Let me take you back just for a moment to the shock of September 11th, because that does frame our discussion. We all felt the enormity of that tragedy, the recognition of our own vulnerability, and the utter disbelief that anyone could hate us so much. We have asked: "Why did this happen?"
I recently finished reading the book The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton, by Joel Klein. This time he did not do it anonymously; he actually signed it. I recommend it as an insight into this President with great strengths and obvious weaknesses.
But a new book is needed, which would be entitled The Superpower: The Misunderstood Nation of the United States of America. We have just heard from our colleague Mr. Henderson quoting The Guardian, "America is a threat to global order." How could anybody think that?
We see ourselves in this country as a force for good in the world, a moral force, a generous force, a caring nation. Why do people hate us? Why are there those that have such a differing view? We are a misunderstood nation, and we need to do something about that.
I will give you a current example of that, and that is Afghanistan, which is something that I know quite well, having dealt with that country during very difficult times before 9/11. There are those in the world that talk about our bombing this country, that we are at war in Afghanistan.
I have to beg to differ. We have done something very good in Afghanistan. The country is no longer under Taliban rule. We have lifted oppression. You see children are going back to school. The threat of famine was averted for over 6 million Afghans. The international community has now committed $4.5 billion to help rebuild the country. There is a new government in Kabul. We are still hunting down the terrorists and the Taliban. We are working with our allies in the region, including Pakistan, in this endeavor. We have been a force for good in Afghanistan. And again, it greatly surprises me and disappoints me when I read that people don’t understand that we are doing this today.
Do the terrorists of September 11th, the bin Laden's and Al Qaeda’s, represent the oppressed peoples of the Middle East or the global south or the downtrodden?
My answer to that is an emphatic no. They do not represent any of these peoples. And indeed, it is insulting to suggest otherwise. The actions of the terrorists have been condemned by virtually every country in the world. The overwhelming majority of the more than 1.3 billion Muslims in the world have rejected their flawed beliefs.
Whom do the terrorists speak for?
They speak only for themselves and their agenda and no one else. I reject the notion that they were driven by social or economic concerns, that they were trying to rectify the inequities between the Muslim world and the West. More likely, they were driven by political and theological motivation.
Several theories have been advanced, and we heard Dean Anderson mention some in her remarks. I would like to put another possibility on the table, one that I find rather plausible.
That was contained in an essay by Princeton’s Michael Scott Doran, who argued:
"The United States has been sucked into a struggle within the Muslim world. This battle pits those, such as bin Laden, who seek to re-create the era when the Prophet Muhammad ruled the Islamic lands, against those who actually govern Muslim countries today. Bin Laden used Afghanistan as a base to launch a jihad across the Muslim world, hoping thereby to bring apostate regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, within the fold of his version of a true Islam and restore the caliphate from Spain to Indonesia. By this view, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were collateral damage in a struggle for the hearts and minds of the Uma, the worldwide community of Muslim believers."
According to Doran: "Bin Laden hoped that the attacks against the United States would spark uprisings by Muslims against their own American-backed regimes."
I find that a plausible explanation. Sandy Berger, the former National Security Advisor, has been quoted as saying that "bin Laden’s ultimate Twin Towers are Pakistan and Saudi Arabia."
So there are political and theological motivations here.
Now, the last question posed by Dean Anderson is the one that, as a former policymaker, I feel a certain responsibility to try to address. Do the answers to these questions affect what the United States and its allies may justifiably do in response? I assume that "justifiably" is a key word in this question.
There are two parts to my answer to that. First is that the war on terrorism announced by President Bush after September 11th is justifiable. This is a "just war."
Worldwide terrorism is another "ism" that must be confronted, just as we addressed and dealt with dangerous and threatening "ism's" of the latter part of the 20th century, whether it be fascism or communism.
Our methods will be different in how we confront this, but we must prevail. We must, as President Bush said in his first speech to Congress after 9/11, "pursue patient justice."
And we must do this with the international community. We cannot do this alone. And, indeed, a military response is only part of our response in this war on terrorism, and we have to work together for intelligence and law enforcement cooperation, as well as other things, financial transactions.
There is another part to our response which must also be pursued. The President has used the language "we must do more than oppose evil; we must also back the forces of good."
Let me read you from recent congressional testimony of my former boss and friend, Secretary of State Albright, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee two weeks ago. She said: "It is sad, but not surprising, that a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that our country is almost as much resented as admired overseas."
She continued: "The reason is not the extent of our power, the pervasiveness of our culture, or the tilt of our policies in the Middle East. We are resented because much of the world believes we are rich and we do not share and because they believe we are intent on widening the gap between haves and have-nots across the globe. In these perilous times, we cannot afford to allow the wrong perceptions to take hold.”
Unfortunately, she is right in this analysis. Although we see ourselves as a nation that gives, we are not doing very well at that. We are not pursuing the more secure, stable, prosperous, just world that we want to see. Indeed, today, on a per-capita basis, Americans contribute only about $29.00 per year through official channels for foreign assistance, developing free societies, and addressing issues of poverty and lack of educational and economic opportunity and justice. This puts us dead last among industrialized countries. That has to change.
I was disappointed in January, when the Bush Administration blocked a European initiative to pledge increased aid to poor nations, although the Administration, as it got closer to Monterrey, did come forward with increased levels of assistance, which should be applauded and encouraged.
But there is no question that we do need to do more to address the state of the world that we live in, and that is part of our justifiable approach, to what we have seen.
We are a misunderstood superpower. We need to elevate public diplomacy.
While he was running for office President Bush spoke about the need for greater humility in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Now, even as we conduct a war against terrorism, I would hope that we would not lose sight of that requirement. It is something that should be part of our approach in conducting our foreign policy. Indeed, it is my view that nothing becomes a great power more than to take into account the views and needs of others in the world.
LISA ANDERSON: We have set you up pretty well with three very different perspectives, all articulately and eloquently presented to you.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: You just talked about why is America hated in the world. Basically this comes out of the poll that was taken on March 1st by Gallup. Three days later, Gallup ran another poll in the United States, and here are the results: 41 percent of Americans say they know little about the Muslim world; 56 percent say they don’t know anything about the Muslim world. You are looking at 97 percent of the population of the United States.
And you are telling me that the United States did a very good thing or they are doing something very noble in Afghanistan? Where was the United States during the last ten years? There are 15 million mines in Afghanistan now. And you say the United States is doing the right thing there? It is all about oil.
KARL INDERFURTH: I was with you until the very end. I don’t know about oil in Afghanistan. I do know about natural gas. But it’s not about natural gas or oil.
You make an excellent point about where were we the last ten years.
For those of you who want a short course in Afghan history, they have been at war for twenty years, the first ten years under the Soviet occupation, in which we played a major role with Pakistan—and, indeed, Saudi Arabia – to get the Soviets out of that country. In 1989 they left and so did the rest of the international community and the United States.
There is a very legitimate criticism that we walked away and left Afghans to deal with this massive problem of the fighting Mujahideen factions, a destroyed country and millions of land mines. I am on the Land Mines Survivors Network Board of Directors. I care deeply about this. More has to be done on that subject.
We did leave, but there is an expression, “it’s never too late to do the right thing,” and we’re finally doing the right thing in Afghanistan.
Now, clearly we went there for the purpose of confronting the terrorist threat. Had there not been a 9/11, we would not have been as engaged in Afghanistan as we currently are. Over the last number of years when I was at the State Department, we tried to engage through the UN. I traveled to Kabul myself, met with Taliban officials, tried to engage them, got nowhere. During that time we were the leading provider of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. But, clearly, none of this was enough.
What we are now doing in Afghanistan is to give the Afghans an opportunity to reclaim their country, their lives, their culture and their religion, and it is a good thing.
But you are right. Where were we the last ten years, and the rest of the international community? We certainly were not doing as much as we should have done.
QUESTION: Would you address that 97 percent of the population of the U.S. doesn’t have a clue about the Muslim world, and then you can mislead them?
KARL INDERFURTH: That is a clear priority for those of us, Dean Anderson and myself, in the academic world and universities. We have to do more about that.
We were talking about this in the waiting room. The number of applications to both Columbia and to George Washington’s Elliott School have jumped since 9/11, 50 percent applications at Columbia, a big jump at the Elliott School. People want to know more about international affairs, and that provides us an opportunity to also address them about the Muslim world, its importance, and its impact on us.
QUESTION: This is for Karl Inderfurth. You mentioned us as not being a very generous country, and I wanted to know where those statistics came from, and how does it square with the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars that our taxpayers give and our country gives to foreign aid? I am very confused about that comment.
KARL INDERFURTH: These are the official government figures. I did not bring all my backup material, but I could provide that for you.
We are the last in the industrialized countries, percentage of GNP and those measures of foreign assistance.
Now, we do a great deal, and we are more of a generous and caring nation than many around the world see. But I do contend that there is more that we can be doing in that respect, that we can share more with other countries, that we can demonstrate that we are engaged in trying to address those things which lead to lives of frustration and desperation.
We can do more on this. We can do more on HIV/AIDS. We can do more on education in other countries, education in Pakistan. We are now able to do more on that issue with the Pakistanis, which will move people away from going to these medrassas where they have learned an ideology.
ZAMIR AKRAM: May I just add something here? With the U.S. emphasis on foreign policy, you would think that the United States would be the highest contributor to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan. But it would surprise you to know that the single country which has promised the highest amount of money for Afghan reconstruction and rehabilitation, is Iran.
QUESTION: For Mr. Henderson. Your comments about Saudi Arabia were just fascinating. The examples you gave of where to look were equally fascinating. But I don’t get a conclusion.
SIMON HENDERSON: I am still looking for a conclusion. It worries me because Saudi Arabia is a crucial country economically. It has 25 percent of the world’s oil. We will have given up using oil before the Saudis give up producing oil. And it is a significant leader of the Islamic world because Mecca and Medina are in the kingdom, and therefore it sees itself as a leader of the Islamic world.
But it is run by a royal family, the leaders of which are increasingly old. King Fahd is eighty-one. Crown Prince Abdullah, who is the de facto leader, is seventy-nine. Prince Sultan, the supposed leader next in line after him, is seventy-eight. In the past, they have always depicted themselves as taking the correct decision slowly. I am convinced they still do it slowly. I am no longer convinced they take the correct decision.
Things will get worse before they get better in the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., which has already been put into difficulty because Crown Prince Abdullah has been angry about the way that Washington has policy on Israel/Palestine.
The particular danger is that it will fall into worse relations because people will misunderstand what the other side wants or can do, rather than being deliberately led into those directions. It particularly concerns me because of the dominance of Saudis amongst Al Qaeda, although there is a small caveat there. Abu Zubaydah, the one whose capture has just been announced, is in fact a Palestinian. Indeed, the other caveat I would make is that the top leadership of Al Qaeda below Osama bin Laden was Egyptian.
So it is perhaps even a double-whammy to the U.S. in the Middle East because the U.S. major allies in the Middle East, Arab allies, are Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and there is much resentment in those countries, and their opposition and organization of that opposition can destabilize the current leadership of those countries.
There are no simple answers, and I make my money by telling people things are going to get worse.
QUESTION: Ambassador Inderfurth, you said two things that I find contradictory. One was that the world doesn’t understand what a generous people we are; but, in the end, you concluded with facts that show that on a per capita basis or on a GDP basis we are not so generous compared to other industrialized nations.
It’s not surprising, this tension or contradiction, because one of the things that we as Americans need to think more about is that we do have a romantic or a studied innocent view of ourselves in the world and, in particular, the role that our government or other institutions have been playing.
To take a couple of examples, the war which may have actually ultimately provoked the attack on 9/11, is the war against Iraq, and that’s why there are now American troops in Saudi Arabia, and that was bin Laden’s most central claim or grievance. Iraq, surely, before that had been essentially in the U.S.’s good graces. It was the same Saddam Hussein who was in the U.S.’s good graces. The U.S. fought that war over oil to push Iraq out of Kuwait and to protect Saudi Arabia.
Why? There are many horrible things that happen in the world. We all know about Rwanda. There was no great international or American effort on those kinds of atrocities. Why was there such an effort to defend Kuwait? Oil is at least a big part of the answer.
Correct me if I am wrong on this, wasn’t it also true that we had negotiations with the Taliban about proposals to have oil and/or gas pipelines go through Afghanistan into the Indian Ocean as a way to get energy from the countries, and that in fact we were trying to deal with the Taliban on those issues? We welcomed the Taliban early on as a stabilizing force in Afghanistan, until the harboring of bin Laden.
But if the average American is surprised, thinks we are the world’s greatest provider of foreign aid, we have this innocent, romantic view because we as individuals are not ourselves involved.
KARL INDERFURTH: I agree that there is a contradiction in what I said about generous and then where we are in absolute terms. We have done many important things around the world with our foreign assistance.
But, as those of you who watch Washington know, there is constantly a battle on Capitol Hill, about how much we can do. Some people say that this is just putting money down a rat hole. Indeed, just to the contrary, it is actually one way to prevent things developing in countries around the world that will ultimately come back to threaten us.
That is the lesson of Afghanistan, that had there been more attention and more assistance there, we may not have seen it become a sanctuary for terrorists and bin Laden.
But although we do a great deal, just in terms of our national wealth, we are at the bottom of the list of industrialized countries.
I will come to the last point that you raised about the Taliban and oil. The Taliban came on the scene in 1994 in a country that was in chaos and anarchy. They came out of nowhere. People didn’t really know who they were or what they stood for. They were imposing law and order as they came from the south. By 1996, when they took Kabul, people were beginning to get a sense of the nature of this regime.
There had been discussions with oil companies about building gas pipelines through Afghanistan, but it was always contingent on the country being at peace and stable. It was clear by 1996 and when I took office in 1997, that the Taliban were bringing much more to Afghanistan than simply disarming in the south and some stability.
Unocal and the other companies recognized that they would never get the financial backing for this. They left. There was never a negotiation with the Taliban on this. By 1997, when Madeleine Albright went out and described their practices with respect to women and girls as “despicable,” that set the tone for our relations with the Taliban from that point through the end.
QUESTION: Mr. Akram, I have a two-part question about Pakistan itself. What is the situation like in Islamabad? What does it look like in Pakistan? Are there problems brewing there?
And also, about U.S. aid going into Pakistan, it’s to go to education and poverty-alleviation projects. What is the chance that it actually does some good in that area?
ZAMIR AKRAM: On the first part of your question, what you are seeing is the backlash from these extremist groups that are reacting to what has happened in Afghanistan in the war on terrorism, as well as reacting to the policy that General Musharraf has been implementing by banning and putting their leaders behind bars and freezing their assets.
So this is to be expected. But keeping in mind the extent of the problem in Afghanistan, and across the world, and keeping in mind the size of the population in Pakistan, what we have seen so far, fortunately, is not a very major issue. It remains restricted to these very fringe elements of the country. There have been isolated incidents.
But the larger sections of the population have remained peaceful, whether it is ethic violence or sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis, so it has not permeated into the popular levels. That is the good part.
Now, it will take some time before the government is able to bring these people to book completely. They are underground and must be flushed out of their hideouts.
Economic reform and poverty alleviation, education reform, was something that General Musharraf had started doing and was focusing on even before 9/11 and the subsequent events. That has been a part of his national reconstruction program from the beginning.
QUESTION: My question takes up on the things that each of you have said, so it is for any of you who wish to take it up.
I will begin with Mr. Inderfurth. I read the Foreign Affairs piece and the article it referred to and I have seen other references to the notion of this caliphate. With all due respect, it is rather simplistic.
Historically, under the caliphate, the golden age of Islam was spawned and a civilization that actually was quite open and pluralistic. What you see today is quite different.
You referred to Saudi Arabia and the reference to fifteen out of nineteen. I’ll do you one better. I have heard that every single act of terrorism directed at the U.S. in the last ten years was perpetrated by an adherent of Ohavism [phonetic]. The Saudis have, ever since the Irani revolution, funded a militant, puritanical form of Islam, from Indonesia throughout the Islamic world, to Morocco, and in fact here in the U.S.
We have long supported regimes, our closest allies in that part of the world, whether it’s the Saudis or the Egyptians or the Pakistanis, that have used at different times militant Islam to their own ends. We used it in Afghanistan when it served our purposes.
If one sees democracy as the wave of the future, as the right path, and if we continue our support of regimes that are militaristic and anti-democratic, then doesn’t that put us ultimately on the wrong side of history and on a collision course with history?
KARL INDERFURTH: That is an extremely thoughtful question, and I find your concluding remarks something to which we should all give a great deal of attention.
Leaving aside the caliphate, in our negotiations with the Taliban, when we said that they needed to find a peaceful settlement for the war in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance to establish a broad-based representative government to include all factions, they had very little interest.
What had occurred in the latter part of 1997, 1998, 1999, was that the Taliban, through Mullah Omar, had become so entwined with bin Laden that they were pursuing a vision of a pure Islamic state as they saw it, one that had no interest in negotiating a peaceful settlement with others. They wanted to establish their total control over Afghanistan, to move from that to send extremists into Uzbekistan, Central Asia, other parts of the world.
There was a discussion about the “talibanization” of Pakistan, radical elements that could overthrow, destabilize, and threaten a more moderate regime in Pakistan. If you take into account bin Laden’s clear, strong views about the Saudi royal family and the American presence there—what Sandy Berger referred to as the “twin towers of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia”—that’s where this has plausibility to me as a possible explanation.
ZAMIR AKRAM: To address the last part of your statement, relating to democracy as being the only way out of this problem, I agree that democracy is the best possible political path available to society. But that does not correlate, and we should not forget historical examples where democracies themselves have also used terrorism as an instrument of policy, where they have used militants and extremists for pursuing a political objective.
India is the largest democracy in the world. India was responsible for creating and using the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ellam, the LTTE, in Sri Lanka. That was way back in the 1980s.
So we have to be clear, and we should not simply believe in this utopian view that if you have democracy, then you are not going to have extremism. The two can coexist in the same society.
SIMON HENDERSON: The conventional wisdom is that if the Saudi royal family isn’t there, it will not be democracy, but rather a “mullahocracy” of a type which would be Taliban-like or worse, worse in the sense that they will have money from oil to spend as they wish.
I accept that conventional wisdom, although people assure me that there is perhaps a middle way that the Saudi royal family could further co-opt the Western-educated middle class to give a broader representation to society.
If I could give a small European wisdom, America is a great country, and you are a great country because you see a problem and you set about solving it. There are many problems in this world which are incapable of resolution, at least at any particular point. And, indeed, perhaps that is the problem in the Middle East at the moment with Israel/Palestine.
QUESTION: I would ask Mr. Akram or Mr. Henderson, as non-Americans, to comment on the notion of why are Americans so hated. I pick up on what Mr. Inderfurth said about all the things that America is doing in Afghanistan. We are doing them after the fact because we were not doing them on September 10th.
In answering that question, can you take the scenario: if oil were no longer an important commodity, what would America be doing?
ZAMIR AKRAM: First of all, it is wrong for Americans to assume that the United States is hated by the people. I don’t think the majority of the people, at least in the Islamic world, hate the United States or Americans. There is great admiration for the United States. Many people in the Islamic world would like to come here to work or to migrate, or at least to visit.
What does exist is a sense that the United States has been pursuing a double standard over the years. On the one hand, you talk about democracy and respect for human rights and equality and justice; but then they say, “There are many places in the world where the U.S. can have an influence in ensuring these very things, but it hasn’t done so.”
And then, there is the view that the U.S. went into Iraq or to help Kuwait because oil interests were involved and it didn’t want to get into Bosnia until the situation became so bad. One cynical view is that President Clinton actually decided to get into Bosnia because Senator Dole, as the Senate Majority Leader, had taken a position on that issue which was becoming embarrassing for him.
So there is a certain cynicism about the double standards, as they are perceived, that the U.S. needs to address.
SIMON HENDERSON: I would suggest a European response to, why are Americans so hated? A combination of envy, because you have things which we don’t --bigger cars, bigger refrigerators; you appear to be richer—and schadenfreude, where we are watching and taking delight in the mistakes that you make.
KARL INDERFURTH: It’s like the New York Yankees; everybody hates the Yankees because they are so successful. But I do believe that, indeed, as the Yankees have proved themselves, you can be both admired for your success but also respected for the way that you conduct yourself.
I noted earlier that we must do more to work with the international community. We must also do more in telling our story about the role that we are playing and why we are playing it.
There are actions that we take that are related to certain imperatives. As the world’s remaining superpower, we have responsibilities around the world and we need to do all that we can to make sure that people understand why we are doing what we are doing, and again, taking into account other views and trying to work with the international community.
SIMON HENDERSON: 9/11 was an attack on the economic system as we know it, or the economic system which, despite its imperfections, doesn’t guarantee, but has the promise of, making everybody healthier, richer, not only in the United States and the industrial world, but also in the rest of the world; and a political system, which, despite differences and imperfections, at least provides a structure for discussing and resolving differences. One of the crucial aspects of the threat against those systems was that the nineteen people took advantage of the freedoms provided here in America to learn the skills to attack these.
The other crucial aspect was that governments in the rest of the world were prepared to finance and support such activities as perhaps the covert expression of foreign policy. That is a danger which still remains to be tackled.
ZAMIR AKRAM: In order to find a lasting, durable solution to the problem of terrorism, we have to deal with the root causes of these acts. I don’t just mean the acts of terrorism, the root causes that exist in the traditional areas, the Middle East and others, but if you see the correlation, for instance, in Northern Ireland, the process of a political settlement contributed to a reduction in the incidence of terrorism.
Similarly in the Middle East, in the days of President Clinton’s efforts to find a solution, you saw the agreement between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Rabin led to a reduction in acts of terrorism.
So there is a co-relationship between addressing issues and acts of terrorism. If not a solution, at least an effort needs to be made to address these problems.
LISA ANDERSON: Thank you very much to the panelists for edifying presentations, to you the audience for your penetrating questions, and to The Asia Society and the Carnegie Council for bringing us all together.