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A Review Of How Did This Happen? Terrorism And The New War


Friday, Feb. 15, 2002

James F. Hoge, Jr. and Gideon Rose, ed., How Did This Happen? Terrorism And The New War (Public Affairs, 2001)

The question every American ought to be asking and attempting to answer, after September 11, is this one: "How did we get here?"

How did we go from peace to war, from a sense of security and well-being to a climate of fear and uncertainty, in the span of a few months? An outstanding essay collection, How Did This Happen? Terrorism And The New War, helps to fill in the gaps in our knowledge...

Working at warp speed to inform us about this moving target known as terrorism, James F. Hoge, Jr. and Gideon Rose, editor and managing editor, respectively, of Foreign Affairs, put together a collection of essays by respected former government and military leaders, journalists, and scholars. They published their work on November 15 of last year, a scant two months after the terrorist attacks.

Although the collection does not deal with some important legal issues - including the question of the classification of terrorists under the Geneva Convention and the looming constitutional issues sure to arise under the newly enacted Patriot Act - as a policy and history primer, it is invaluable.

What Is Terrorism And Where Does It Come From?

Fouad Ajami offers "The Uneasy Imperium: Pax Americana in the Middle East," which examines the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Arab-Muslim world's contempt for America. His opinions are not likely to sit well with those who hold a strongly pro-Israeli stance, yet many Middle East experts share his views.

In his essay "Somebody Else's Civil War: Ideology, Rage, and the Assault on American," Michael Scott Doran takes issue with the oft-repeated cliche that the September 11 terrorists, the Taliban, and al Qaeda "hate us."

Doran defines terrorism as a tool used to create some "rift" between a government and its people that the terrorists can exploit for revolutionary purposes. Accordingly, Doran argues that bin Laden's goal is not war with the United States, as many have claimed. Rather, bin Laden's terrorist campaign is an instrument designed to help his brand of extremist Islam survive and flourish.

In a sense, Doran suggests, we have been drawn into an Islamic civil war, between the forces of moderation and those of extremism. This is one of the most provocative essays in the book, for it challenges the myth around which is built much of the patriotic sentiment for the now-expanding U.S. war effort.

Three essays in the collection explain how and why Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Iran, Russian, and Uzbekistan have become fertile fields for terrorism's roots to take hold and flourish. "The Restless Region," by Rajan Menon; "The Kingdom in the Middle: Saudi Arabia's Double Game," by F. Gregory Gause III; and "Strangling The Hydra: Targeting Al Qaeda's Finances," by William F. Wechsler, all fill in the details about the geopolitical and financial background of bin Laden and his band. Collectively, these essays examine the depth and strength of support for al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups and reinforce the Bush Administration's warning of just how difficult it will be to effectively eradicate terrorism.

Meanwhile, three other essays focus on the historical contexts of September 11. "Was It Inevitable? Islam Through History," by historian Karen Armstrong, is a highly condensed version of Muslim history, beginning with the First Crusade in 1095. Walter Laqueur details the history of terrorism from the 1960s to the present time in "Left, Right, and Beyond: The Changing Face of Terror."

And Milton Bearden offers a succinct review of the history of the Afghans, beginning with the First Afghan War (1839-42), in "Graveyard of Empires: Afghanistan's Treacherous Peaks." A recitation of the wars and humiliations that Afghans have suffered for centuries is useful for helping to explain both the Afghans' hope and skepticism that routing the Taliban will bring peace and reconstruction to their war-torn country. Bearden warns of how difficult it will be to achieve a lasting peace in Afghanistan, given the difficulty of putting in place an Afghan leader who will have the support of most Afghans.

America's Failure to Prevent September 11: Errors of Commission and Omission

Eleven of the remaining thirteen essays are devoted to various U.S. issues, including intelligence gaps, skies that are unsafe for commercial air travel, homeland "insecurity," bioterrorism, and economic repercussions. These issues were just emerging as prominent when the collection went to press, yet are comprehensively and expertly covered in the collection.

Betts emphasizes that throwing money at intelligence and doing what bureaucracies tend to do--reorganize--will not remedy the essence of the intelligence crisis. Rather, he asserts that intelligence infrastructure is crumbling as a result of an aging government workforce, a pay scale that fails to entice younger workers, the lack of regional specialists, and a dearth of agents who are trained in Arabic and Muslim languages.

Betts' commentary suggests that the government reorganization that Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge is proposing may not be a panacea, but that the FBI's new efforts to recruit Arabic translators are long overdue.

Stephen Flynn, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, takes a less benign view than Betts' of pre-September 11 government lapses. He faults our leaders for failing to take counsel from the 1999 Hart-Rudman Commission on National Security, which expressed concern about the potential for "mass-casualty terrorism directed against the U.S homeland." He warns that the country's shipping industry and ports remain particularly vulnerable to attack.

What must we do in order to implement the recommendations of the Hart-Rudman Commission and other Blue Ribbon panels now? That question is explored in "Government's Challenge: Getting Serious About Terrorism," by Joseph Nye, Dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

Nye examines the legal, political, and bureaucratic hurdles to achieving homeland security.. Meanwhile, another obstacle to effective security - an air travel industry that has typically been more concerned for passenger convenience than safety - is the topic of Brookings Institution Fellow and author Gregg Easterbrook's "The All-Too Friendly Skies."

After reading these essays, a thoughtful reader is likely to wonder whether the government agencies that have their work cut out for them can achieve what seems like an impossible task. How realistic is it to think that we can defend our huge borders, our enormous number of commercial ships and airplanes? And if we could, how will we pay for it? These questions particularly loom large as Congress debates President Bush's proposed budget.

Changes On The Horizon: The Homeland

Another important question the collection deals with is what changes we can expect in the future. The book assesses September 11's impact on a number of fronts.

Two military heavyweights discuss how the Armed Forces will need to change to deal with a new kind of war at home and abroad. Former Secretary of Defense (1994-1997) William J. Perry (now a Stanford University Professor of Management Science and Engineering) submits an essay entitled "The New Security Mantra: Prevention, Deterrence, Defense." General Wesley Clark discusses how the military will conduct the war on terrorism in "Waging the New War: What's Next for the U.S. Armed Forces."

Meanwhile, the risks from biological terrorism, and our lack of preparedness to counter them, are explored by Richard Butler in "Germ Wars," and Laurie Garrett in "Countering Bioterrorism." Garrett's essay is particularly unsettling in its portrayal of a woefully inadequate public health system totally unprepared to deal with bioterrorism. She predicts that privacy and other constitutional issues will have to be addressed if a threat of smallpox or some other deadly germ were to necessitate mandatory testing, treatment, and quarantine of citizens. Though her essay was written before the government's awkward and learn-on-the fly handling of the post September 11 anthrax contaminations, her warning that the government has a long way to go to gain citizens' confidence in the public health system is eerily accurate.

The diplomatic, economic, and cultural impacts of September 11 are explored in essays by Michael Mandelbaum, Martin Baily, and Alan Wolfe. These essays, accurate representations at the time of publication, are perhaps the least useful in the collection - not because of any fault of the authors', but merely due to the passage of time and the constantly shifting political, social, and economic winds. While other essays in the collection are timely, these appear a bit dated. But who could have foretold the swiftness of the victory against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the support that President Bush would have for plans to widen the war effort?

Globalization, Realpolitik, and A Test For Western Civilization

The final two essays predict, more broadly, how the United States--and the world--will change as a result of September 11. In "The Cold War Is Finally Over," Anatol Lieven details the shifts in alliances and coalitions that will be required if American wants to wage a meaningful war on worldwide terrorism. He points out, for example, the need for the U.S. to retain Arab and Muslim allies, and perhaps forge new alliances as well, for intelligence purposes. Readers may want to consider this opinion as they ponder the Administration's plans to widen the war against Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

Fareed Zakaria's moving essay closes out the volume. In "Return of History: What September 11 Hath Wrought," Zakaria emphasizes how September 11 gave new meaning to the concept of globalization. He explains how and why many non-Western countries - most of the Arab world and Indonesia, for instance - perceive globalization largely as the threat of expanding Western power.

"Trade talks," Zakaria explains, are seen as one-way monologues, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as an economic dictator. Anti-Americanism is reaching its zenith, as the United States is perceived as the majordomo of globalization.

At the same time, circumstances dictate that the United States must patch together uneasy alliances and coalitions with countries having current strategic value, such as Pakistan and Russia. Whereas formerly the Bush administration was acting like the "lone ranger" (or at least the lone cowboy), post-September 11 it began to seek cooperation from other segments of the international community.

Realpolitik trumps tough talk, Zakaria concludes. International politics is being turned on its head; history is being rewritten.

Zakaria ends his elegant essay musing whether Western civilization and its gift of modernization will triumph in the end. This question is at the heart of many other good texts such as Thomas Friedman's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Lexus and the Olive Tree, whose thesis is that globalization is the central organizing principle of the post-cold war era, and Samuel Barber's prescient Jihad vs. McWorld, penned in 1996.

A Wake-Up Call

Having recently read Pulitzer Prize-winning author Haynes Johnson's The Best of Times: America In The Clinton Years - published a mere six weeks earlier than How Did This Happen? and written before September 11 - I found the juxtaposition of the two works interesting.

As Johnson reports, the end of the Clinton era found Americans experiencing unprecedented wealth, breathtaking technological achievements such as the growth of the Internet and the completion of the initial phase of the Human Genome Project, and no widely acknowledged enemy to our national security. (We know now, of course, that the Osama bin Laden threat was perceived by Clinton and his inner circle of security advisors.)

Johnson's retrospective ended, however, with an ominous forward glimpse at possible trouble on the horizon, with the decline of growth in Internet stocks and worries over how communications and genomic technology might threaten traditional expectations of informational and physical privacy. Still, like virtually everyone else, Johnson did not see war in his crystal ball.

To borrow a term that Johnson uses to refer to the Reagan era, Americans had been "sleepwalking through history." September 11 was a wake-up call on many fronts. It acted, among other things, as a reminder of our collective ignorance about the forces that shape geopolitics. What we didn't know hurt us.

How Did This Happen? succeeds in its goal of partially remedying that ignorance. Readers will find reliable facts and reasoned analysis, persuasive and provocative explanations of what got us to this juncture, and predictions of the perils and challenges that lie ahead.

Elaine Cassel practices law in Virginia and teaches law and psychology at Marymount University. Her textbook, Criminal Behavior (Allyn & Bacon, 2001), explores crime and violence from a developmental perspective. She writes and lectures for continuing legal education courses in Internet law, privacy, genetics, and health law. She is Co Vice-Chair of the Genetic Research and Testing Committee of the ABA Science and Technology Law Section and a member of the Section's Privacy and Computer Crime Committees.

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