Experts discuss America’s role two years after Sept. 11 attacks

College students, faculty, staff and local residents crowded into the Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall last Thursday night to listen to a discussion centered on the events of Sept. 11, 2001 the policies developed in response to those events and a consideration of the choices that now stand before America and the rest of the world.

The panel of experts brought in to discuss these issues was composed of Steven Kappes, Associate Deputy Director (Operations) of the CIA and Ray Takeyh, professor and director of studies at the National Defense University.

Robert Jackall, Gaudino Scholar and professor of sociology and social thought first introduced the two speakers and James McAllister, associate professor of political science, who moderated the discussion.

The panel began as Kappes and Takeyh took turns speaking. Kappes primarily discussed what the CIA has learned concerning the attacks of Sept. 11 and what new tactics have been employed to prevent a similar tragedy.

He began by describing the new threat that America now faces.

According to Kappes, the terrorists that carried out their attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were well-organized, well-funded, professional and totally committed to giving their lives for the sole purpose of doing as much harm to America as they could. 

Kappes said that Afghanistan was the preliminary target of the campaign against terrorism because its government provided a global base of operations from which al-Qaida could launch its operations. The American intelligence network already in place there before the attacks enabled the U.S. to launch an immediate retaliation against al-Qaida and the supporting Taliban government, while such a direct response would not have been possible in other nations. 

The invasion of Afghanistan struck a heavy blow to the al-Qaida leadership there and throughout the world, Kappes said. However, he reminded the audience that the essence of terrorism is the ability for passive cells to survive independently from central leadership and wait for an opportunity to harm an enemy.

Kappes explained that finding these passive cells before they become actively hostile is now the CIA’s main concern. Preventing terrorist organizations from acquiring weapons of mass destruction is also a primary goal.

He also stressed the need for more educational exchange programs, which he feels strike at the root of the terrorist problem by encouraging youths to stay away from radicalizing terrorist organizations. “I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job as a nation of transmitting a message to young men and women not to turn to terrorism,” he said.

After Kappes finished speaking, an audience member raised a sign which read “Central Investigating Assassins.”

But Takeyh picked up the discussion by addressing the situation in Iraq. “Iraq may become a new quagmire, estranging the U.S. from the Middle East,” he said. He also spoke about the Israel and Palestine conflict and the need for reform within the Palestinian Authority.

Takeyh believes that Iraq should be allowed to set up its own dictatorial government so long as it is one agreeable to American power. He cautioned that “a more democratic Middle East would be a more stable Middle East, but perhaps not as accommodating to the U.S.”

He also warned that people in that region likely have a very different concept of democracy than do Americans, which could lead to heated conflict in the future. “I just don’t see the U.S. as being the kind of power that democratic government in the Middle East could embrace,” he said.

“It is hard to escape the fact that [the U.S.] is an increasingly imperial power,” Takeyh said. He argued that while America’s goals center around influence of world politics, the global economy, colonization and resource exploitation, the practical outcome of its imperial power remains the same.

The floor was then opened for questions. Many audience members were worried that the U.S. had invaded Iraq without first stabilizing the economic situation on the home front, to which Takeyh responded with a realistic reminder: “At some point, we’re going to have to stop debating the war – it’s already taken place,” he said.

Others felt that the government, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, may not be doing everything possible can to keep Americans safe. In addition, many voiced concerns about the balance between national security and personal freedom.

“In most cases, there is going to be an imbalance in security and civil liberties,” Kappes said. He described the Department of Homeland Security as “an extraordinarily complicated bureaucratic [organization].”

The discussion ended with a question about the future of U.S. policies in Iran and North Korea. Kappes explained that Americans often misunderstand the situation with Iran since the U.S. maintains very limited relations and connections with the country. In his opinion, Iran posed the most immediate concern to the U.S. – especially regarding its nuclear program. The situation there is “very complex and very difficult,” he said.

 Takeyh concurred and said that the course of American policy for years to come will be decided by the U.S. response to the Iranian problem. According to Takeyh, this policy will revolve around cooperation with international programs and possible military intervention, but for the most part, the issues here remain largely unresolved. As to the question of how to handle Iran’s nuclear facilities, he said, “I have no idea how we’re going to deal with it.”

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