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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2001 - 2002

Advancing U.S. National Interests Through Effective Counterterrorism (Second in a Series)

Frank J. Gaffney, President, Center of Security Policy
Remarks to the Open Forum
Washington, DC
November 5, 2001

Opening Remarks and Introduction: Alan Lang, Chairman of the Open Forum

Photo of Frank J. GaffneyGood afternoon.  It's a delight to be back in this building.  Frankly, it has been a long time and I don't think I have ever been invited to the State Department before.  When we had interagency meetings here, it was more like a summons!   

Depending upon how my remarks are received, this may be my last visit.  Even so, I'm delighted to be here with you today under to talk about some different views on terrorism and how we might most effectively fight it.

I say "different" views even though they are not that different from the views that I have been expressing for a long time.  I'm not sure they're even that different from the views that President Bush has been enunciating since he came into office.  But they may be different from those of some in this room and elsewhere in the State Department. 

I look forward to, as Alan said, a real conversation about them.  The best part of this for me and hopefully for you will be the interaction rather than just laying out what I have to say.

I thought I'd start by going through four or five do's and don'ts in the war on terrorism that I would argue ought to guide American policy -- and that, if allowed to guide American policy, would make it more effective than would certainly be the case if they were ignored or if we failed to appreciate the underlying importance of these sorts of principles. 

Let me start with one that is particularly topical.  Some of you may not think it has much to do with the war on terror.  I happen to believe -- and I think the President does -- that it is central to the kind of terror we are likely to confront in the future, if not in the near future.  That is the threat posed to this country by a form of mass destruction against which we currently have no defense whatsoever: chemical, biological or nuclear weapons delivered by ballistic missiles.

One of the items that I've brought for you and placed on the table near the entrance of this room is a piece that ran today via the Center for Security Policy distribution system and that will appear tomorrow as my column in The Washington Times and elsewhere through the miracle of the Internet.   

It expresses real concern about the deal that the press tells us is being cooked up for consummation in some form -- and it is not entirely clear in what form -- between President Bush and Russian President Putin when they meet a week from now in Crawford, Texas.  As I'm sure those of you following this as at least as closely as I am know the outlines of this deal as they've been described in public:  The Russians would somehow assent to the United States pursuing research and development and testing of missile defenses that are currently prohibited by the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty.  This, it is said, would give us the latitude to do the sort of work that we are embarked upon now, work intended to enable us to effect the technological breakthroughs, according to some, or evolutions, according to others, needed to give us a workable missile defense system.  The quid pro quo, however, would be that the Russians would get to preserve the rest of the ABM Treaty, specifically the provisions of that treaty that prohibit the deployment of any missile defense system.

There may be people here who could clarify for me how this would work.  Frankly, I don't understand how.  I think Condi Rice has been exactly right when she has said on numerous occasions that you can't really line-in, line-out provisions of the ABM Treaty because, as I'm sure you're all aware, it was a treaty that was designed to prevent territorial defenses against strategic ballistic missile attack.  And even if you could figure out some way to change the numerous articles that prohibit the testing and the development of various kinds of missile defense technologies, specifically the most promising ones -- including the sea-based, the air-based, and the space-based systems -- you would still have a number of other constraints on, for example "circumvention," that is sharing technologies with our allies, to say nothing of the flat prohibition in Article I of the treaty:  Thou shalt not have a territorial defense against missile attack.   

I think it would not be unreasonable for the Senate of the United States to say, "Well, if you are going to make these sorts of changes, you are going to have to bring these new understandings back to the Senate for advice and consent."  At the very least, it is reasonable to expect that the Senate, assuming it went along this deal, would be affirming the principle that we should not deploy missile defense.  Test it?  Yes.  Develop it?  Yes.  But don't deploy it, because that's the part of the deal that would presumably preserve the ABM Treaty. 

My view is that the treaty is preventing us from having a defense that is at least as important as the other defensive measures we are putting into place to enhance the security of our commercial aviation industry, the security of our nuclear plants, our border controls, anti-smuggling measures and the other efforts we're now making to reduce our vulnerability and enhance -- we hope -- the capacity of this country to keep people from attacking us and doing us immense harm. 

Frankly, as you know, somebody who did have a weapon of mass destruction on a ballistic missile against which we currently have no defense would be able to do damage to places in this country that would make what happened to the World Trade Center look like a day at the beach.  You would have Manhattan, or certainly lower Manhattan eliminated, not just one building complex. 

So, I very much hope that the President will not take this deal.  We were talking, Alan and I, a moment ago about my favorite recollection of President Reagan and it was watching at fairly close hand him turning down a similar deal that was served up by his counterpart at the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev, during their summit meeting in Reykjavik 15 years ago, almost to the month. 

President Reagan was sorely tempted, as I'm sure President Bush will be, by the assurances that he could transform the relationship with Moscow, if only he accepts this deal.  He could end the threat that we have lived with for so long from this Cold War adversary.  If only he accepts this deal he could earn huge public relations kudos from all those who would like very much to see not only an improvement in relations with the former Soviet Union but, of course, the preservation of this treaty, as well. 

But, at the end of the day, ladies and gentlemen, he would be leaving the American people vulnerable to a missile attack, something he has said that he would not do, something I can't believe he wants to do.   

Yet, as long as that treaty remains in place, and particularly as long as it explicitly precludes us from having a missile defense, there is no getting around it:  We won't have one.  The development and testing of technologies, and so on, that's interesting and valuable and certainly an important step towards having a missile defense.  Such work is all well and good, but if you can't field an anti-missile system for the American people, if you can't put it into place, if you can't utilize it actually to defend the country, we shouldn't kid ourselves:  We will be as vulnerable under that revised arrangement or deal as we are today and as we have been for altogether too long as far as I'm concerned.  So deploying a missile defense is one critical ingredient in an effective war on terrorism.

A second -- and perhaps as controversial - ingredient is to be very clear who are, in fact, our allies in the war on terrorism and who are our enemies.  This would seemingly be a pretty straightforward proposition.  The President has described it in his speech to the Joint Session of Congress on September 20 and elsewhere in rather binary terms:  People are with us or they are against us.  People are either among the camp that is engaged in terrorism, or sponsoring terrorism, or harboring terrorists, or providing them financial or logistical or intelligence or material support of some other kind, or they are not.  And the first camp is not with us and the second camp is with us. 

That's the sort of dialectic that the President has laid out and I think it's right.  But that's not how his policy is being implemented at the moment.  For tactical reasons at least, or in some people's minds, for strategic reasons, we are making common cause with some of the people in that first camp -- the category of people who support terrorism, harbor terrorists, and provide terrorists not only with safe haven but finances, training, equipment, and other assistance.

I think this is a strategic mistake of the first order.  I think it is also an abomination from a moral point of view given what we stand for and what the President has said we are about in this conflict.   

Of course, the argument is made that prosecuting the war against terrorism means we have to have bases in Pakistan, or we have to have help from Uzbekistan, or we have to work with the Sudanese or the Syrians or the Iranians in the hope that they will give us intelligence that will help us figure out which caves bin Laden and company are hiding in.  I understand that argument.  I just think it's wrong -- wrong not in the sense that these marriages of convenience might, just might facilitate the prosecution of the war.  But it's wrong in the sense that I think that they really undermine the whole concept of a war on terrorism.   It puts you in a position where you are pretending there are "good terrorists," with whom it's okay to make common cause, and then there are "bad terrorists" whom you fight.

The upshot of such an approach, particularly as it relates to state sponsors of terrorism is clear:  Embracing regimes that are on the State Department's list of terrorist-sponsoring nations has the practical effect of legitimating those governments.   

I would argue that there is no more pernicious example of how wrong this is than what is going on right now in Iran.  The Islamist Government of Iran is arguably, one of the largest, if not the largest, state sponsor of terrorism.  It has American blood on its hands as a result of successful terrorist operations it has run against us in a number of countries.

Yet, today, even as we are seeking ways to improve our relations with the Government of Iran, it is simultaneously reaching out to the Taliban to figure out how they can try to prevent the King of the Afghans from being restored in some capacity, lest that serve as precedent for the restoration of the Shah of Iran.  We have them denouncing our bombing campaign, making very clear, at least in the person of its supreme religious leader -- that America remains their enemy and that there is no new détente going on. 

At precisely the same moment, we're seeing for the first time since 1979, the people of Iran starting to rise up against their regime -- a regime which many of them have concluded is certainly not much of an improvement, if any, on the Shah's.  In fact, as recent news reports indicate, we've been hearing more and more from the Shah's son.  He sounds like he represents a lot more of what the people of Iran are interested in than this clerical stuff, this Islamist stuff that has been forced down people's throats for the past 22 years. 

I make this point because I think what's true in Iran is true in a considerable degree in most of the countries in question.  The people of these countries -- whether it's Iran, Iraq Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Pakistan or North Korea -- have no love for their governments.  To varying degrees, they are known to be restive under the repression.   

We talk about terrorism.  These governments are inflicting terror on their own people at least as viciously as they would do to us and to our allies and interests elsewhere. 

So, I think we are on the wrong side of history to the extent that we find ourselves legitimating these regimes, distancing ourselves, as inevitably we must, from the people of these countries and finding excuses for making, to some extent at least, common cause with these governments and thereby justifying concessions of a political, or economic, or perhaps strategic nature with them.  I think this is folly.  And it will ultimately undermine support for the war effort. 

Let me make a related point.  There is a very high correlation -- in fact, I think it is a perfect correlation -- between these governments and the governments that are engaged in that other problem that I was talking about a moment ago -- the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), whether they are missile-delivered or otherwise.  These are not, in short, governments with whom we can safely make common cause.  We cannot turn a blind eye to what else they are doing precisely because so much of it is really, at least potentially, highly inimical to our security interests.

Another mistake we make that has the effect of legitimating these rogue state governments is to believe that we can use traditional arms control techniques to modulate their behavior with respect to the pursuit of missiles, biological weapons, chemical weapons, or nuclear weapons.  We now have plenty of evidence that this simply does not work. 

We can redouble our efforts.  We can come up with improved verification regimes.  We can try to get an international consensus to enforce these regimes.  But as a practical matter, to the extent that we are doing deals with people who have no record of honoring their commitments, particularly with respect to arms control -- which they have pretty clearly demonstrated they regard with contempt -- we are kidding ourselves.

If we want to constrain ourselves, that's one thing.  But we should be under no illusion; our negotiating partners are not going to do so.   

As it happens, the fact that we cannot rely on traditional arms control to address these problems simply serves to reinforce the import of the second of these major principles: regime change with respect to these kinds of terrorist-sponsoring, WMD-proliferating nations is as important an objective in the war on terrorism as is the goal of the taking out Osama bin Laden and his ilk.

Let me conclude with a couple of brief points. I think we have to be realistic.  What I just said applies in spades to other types of arms control -- specifically, "peace processes," most especially the Middle East peace process. 

As you all know, there is considerable sentiment -- particularly in the Middle East -- that we are in this fix, in part at least, because we haven't made more progress on the Mideast peace process.  Some believe that we would not be subjected to terror had we been more successful in inducing Israel to find a way to make the compromises that supposedly would secure a just peace for Israel and a new and viable Palestinian state. 

Again, at the risk of being controversial, I think that's wrong.  Not that people feel that way.  Certainly they do.  It is wrong to think that we can get to real accommodation, a real positive attitude, if you will, on the Arab street in the Middle East or in the Muslim world more generally, by compelling Israel to make the concessions that might satisfy Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. 

The reason for that very dire assessment is that, as long as the Palestinian Authority explicitly declares at least in symbolic form -- through the use of maps of Palestine on their official website, on their so-called "police" uniforms, in officially sponsored cultural events and news broadcasts, memorials to the "martyrs" of the Intifada and, worst of all, in the textbooks with which they teach their children -- as long as they reflect symbolically through a map that shows no Israel in Palestine, you have, I believe, no basis for thinking that concessions on Israel's part will translate into genuine peace for Israel and a homeland for Palestinians with which Israel can safely live.

In a column about 2 weeks ago, I noted that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon inflamed people at the State Department and the White House by comparing Israel's situation today to that of Czechoslovakia in 1938, when the most powerful democracies basically sold out a friendly nation.  I think there is a more apt historical analogy -- what Great Britain did to her principal ally on the continent of Europe, in France, in the early 1930s.  The British induced France, encouraged France, in some ways even sought to compel France, to make itself weaker, less able to defend itself than it would have otherwise been.  And Winston Churchill for whom I have enormous respect as I'm sure many of you do, rightly said at the time something to the effect of "I can't imagine a more dangerous policy than one that involves the deliberate weakening of an ally upon whose security we, in part, depend." 

Let me conclude, if this hasn't been enough grist for the mill, with one last point that I think is hugely important:  It is becoming increasingly clear as this war on terrorism progresses that there is real confusion, regarding not only who the enemy is abroad, but also at home.  And that is a result of an effort -- I think an honorable, decent and commendable effort on the part of the President, the Secretary of State, and a great many officials of our government -- to make clear that we do not view this as a war on Islam, no matter what bin Laden and Al-Jazeera say.

It is nonetheless the case that a great many adherents of Islam in this country, let alone overseas, view this as a war on the United States and in turn a war between the United States and their faith.  This is not an accident. This is a product and part of a sustained policy on the part of one of the "moderate" Arab governments -- Saudi Arabia -- to inculcate through mosques in this country not only enmity for Israel but hostility toward the United States as well.  And I'm sorry to say it's a hostility that is shared by many Muslims in this country and overseas. 

Finally, I was struck by reports out of China in the papers this morning of the strong interest being expressed by not only many in the Chinese "street," but also among the Chinese leadership in really hateful propaganda about how the United States got what it had coming to it in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.  This suggests evidence of a problem with China -- at least with the Government of China -- which perhaps we can talk about during my responses to your questions.

Question and Answer Segment

Mr. Lang: Thank you very much, Mr. Gaffney.  It is my pleasure to open the floor to your to your comments and questions. 

Question:  I want to make a comment and hear your reaction to it, sir.  It seems to me that in a world that is as complex as it is in terms of economics and politics, dividing the world into black and white, either you're with us or against us, is not only unwise but also counterproductive.  I can think of many situations involving states that could be firmly against terrorism but also firmly against the bombing of Afghanistan.  That puts them in a difficult situation when their survival depends on a gray instead of a black and white scenario.  I think we might be chagrined to find out that some of these states that might choose one of the two lose their hold on power only to be replaced by a more hard-line government opposed to the United States.

Mr. Gaffney: Thanks for that comment. Again, I think that if we were having this conversation before the President described our policy in that way, we could have a perhaps more free-form discussion about it.  But he has now declared that to be our policy.  That is not to say that even people in government can't say, "Well, the President is wrong."  That's one of the wonderful things about our country.  I would hope, however, that people within the government who disagree with him would not actively subvert the President.  And I would invite them if they really feel strongly about a given issue to leave their government jobs and pursue their concerns through alternative channels.   

This is one of those watershed issues that I was trying to get at in my opening remarks.  The president, I believe, is in a very difficult situation at the moment.  He is leading a war unlike any we have known before.  He is confronted daily with challenges as to how we have organized ourselves as a government to deal with security of our people, compounded by a global recession -- or at least an incipient one -- and possibly worse.  And it's my hope that, faced with those challenges, he will enjoy the full support of his government even if we have some misgivings about the clarity.

But I must tell you, I very much prefer a clear, binary depiction of the problem to one in which there is really no coherence to our policy -- where we seemingly are embracing people irrespective of their views on terrorism as long as they say they didn't like the bombing of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, or both, where known terrorist-sponsoring regimes are being admitted to the team without changing at all, as far as I can tell, the policies of supporting terrorism in which they have been engaged for years.  

So, are there gray areas and nuances, as you've described?  Yes.  Are there, for sure, countries where supporting us could give rise to domestic instability?  Absolutely.  But my basic message to you is I don't think you have a snowball's chance in hell of building a real coalition -- let alone a durable one -- to prosecute an effective war on terrorism based upon a series of inherently unstable and anti-American regimes. 

This is especially true insofar as the latter are combining such "support" for us with what amount to domestic policies aimed at undermining us -- whether it's the propaganda they disseminate, the ongoing support for terrorism that they engage in or through other means.   

So it's a hard call and it's an excellent question precisely because it's a hard call.  But I think the President had it right.  I think to some extent he is being undermined by the advocacy of these sorts of Faustian deals on the grounds that "in the real world you have to be more subtle, Mr. President. You have to be more nuanced. You have to, in the end, embrace some of these people."  Unfortunately, I think they are, by and large, unworthy of our embrace and will ultimately be very detrimental to our pursuit of the war effort."

Question:  Mr. Gaffney, you described Iran as the largest state-sponsor of terrorism. I'd like for you to elaborate on that point.  Could you tell us more in terms of the evidence you've come across that supports the claim that Iran is working with the Taliban to undermine U.S. interests in the region. 

Mr. Gaffney: Well, I think I said arguably the largest because it depends on how you count China.  If -- as the State Department, I believe, has repeatedly documented -- China is the largest supplier of weapons of mass destruction-related technologies to terrorist states, that would put them in the running for this dubious distinction, at least as far as I'm concerned. 

If, alternatively, one is talking about the sort of day-in/day-out, hands-on support to organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others, it may be that that distinction rests with Iran.   

The point is, basically, that Iran is a big supporter and sponsor of terrorism.  There is a news report, and frankly, I went through a bunch of papers this morning and I'm not sure which it appeared in, but check a Nexus site near you and you will find references to the Taliban having had a series of meetings in the past couple of weeks with Iranian officials.  And the report that I saw indicates that the thing that is bringing them together is a shared interest in not having the monarchy of Afghanistan restored in some capacity, perhaps ceremonial in nature -- something I gather Richard Haass is supposed to be working on.

I don't know whether this is true or not.  All I believe to be true is that the Government of Iran, as it is currently constituted, so-called "moderates" in its mix notwithstanding, is not on our team.  It is not a reliable partner.  And it is not a government that we should legitimate, especially in the face of the tremendous ferment underneath the brittle crust of this Islamist tyranny.  That ferment is especially vigorous among the young people of Iran who are desperate to be rid of the sort of pariah status that they have grown up under because of the character of the regime and the kinds of policies it has pursued -- the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or the support of terrorism, or domestic repression that they have known and hated.   

We now have had at least two or three of these episodes whereby thousands of Iranians have used the pretext of sporting events in various places around the country to express not only their pleasure or displeasure at the result of the game but to use it as a rallying point or a vehicle for expressing their profound displeasure with whom? Their government.  And their support for us.  Support for the bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

I can't imagine a more bizarre situation than this:  At the very moment that this is happening in the Persian "street," we find ourselves trying to embrace the government they hate.  A government we have hated and included on the State Department's various lists and one that is rightly regarded as a serious threat to the interests of this country, not just in the Persian Gulf but elsewhere.   

I can't document for you how much support for global terror is flowing from Iran.  I trust that the people who have been compiling these lists year after year, in which Iran has been prominently figured, have a lot more information about how much support for terrorism Iran is actually providing, but I don't think there is really any debate about it.

It is highly dangerous for us now to say that this is a government with whom we can do business.  We're appreciative to them for promising to rescue our pilots if they get shot down.  But we will wind up on the wrong side of history if we make common cause with the Islamist regime in Tehran. 

Question: I'd like to ask a follow up question. My sense is, having listened to your presentation, that this is something of a mutually exclusive proposition. But is it not possible to cooperate with governments in the various countries you've cited while working with people, with citizens in these countries to advance common goals?

Mr. Gaffney: It's a very good question.   I think the answer, in part, depends on the individual country. It may be that some of these governments -- you would like to think certainly some of those that are friendly to us -- would be amenable to our working with them at the same time we are working with their people.  Egypt comes to mind.   

In some of them, the despots are terrified of their people and any effort on our part to engage their people will clearly be seen -- and I hope properly so -- as a threat to the government. 

So I don't think it is an either/or thing.  And that's what makes this so problematic from my point of view.  We wind up having to endorse the government in order to arrange marriages-of-convenience, or maybe just dates-of-convenience, with them to get certain things done in the immediate context of the war effort.  That's a formula, I think, for distancing ourselves from people with whom we could and should be making common cause and discouraging them further.   

It's worth going back to an earlier episode.  We reaped the whirlwind when on the counsel, I think, of some people at the State Department and certainly elsewhere in the government and in many allied capitals -- we decided not to ensure that Saddam Hussein was removed from power at the end of Operation Desert Storm.  It was graphically demonstrated in that horrible moment when President George H.W. Bush, having decided not to allow American forces to be used to encourage Saddam Hussein's downfall, nonetheless called on the people of Iraq to rise up against the regime and then declined to have American forces still in the region stop the Iraqis from using helicopter gunships to kill those people by the thousands.  This sent a very unhealthy signal to the people of Iraq. 

Unfortunately, because Saddam wound up surviving, we got the bitter harvest we are now facing.   We have bin Laden appealing to the people of Saudi Arabia to get American forces out of Saudi Arabia.  Well, we weren't in Saudi Arabia before the war and I would argue that the principal, if not the only reason we are still in Saudi Arabia, is because Saddam is still in Iraq.  

We have done practically nothing, frankly, to work with opposition forces in Iraq in recent years.  In fact, we allowed them to be rolled-up by Saddam despite congressional directives, despite rhetoric of various kinds, despite money being allocated. 

All of which has unfortunately reinforced the propaganda argument that what we really want to do is destroy the people of Iraq.  I mean, if that were not our purpose, why would those sanctions still be in place wreaking the kind of havoc that they are.  We all know that they are. And they're in place not because of the sanctions per se but because of Saddam's exploitation of the sanctions.  Of course, the sanctions are still in place because Saddam is still there. 

Mr. Lang:  Mr. Gaffney, I'd like to thank you for participating in the Open Forum's Distinguished Lecture Series.  On behalf of the Forum, I would like to present this token of our appreciation to you in recognition for all that the Center for Security Policy is doing under your leadership to stimulate and inform policy debates on the critical defense and security issues of our times.  [Applause]



Released on December 5, 2001

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