Would fears that Yemen will become the next big sanctuary for terrorists be an example of this mobility?
President Obama's administration may use different language than President Bush's administration to describe 9/11 strategy, [but] there are aspects of the Bush approach which continue to linger in the Obama era. One of those things that lingers is the notion that the best way to deal with violent anti-Western radicalism is by relying on military power to bring about some kind of fundamental change in threatening states. If anybody thinks about it for half a second, the notion that we should go from Iraq to Afghanistan to Yemen or to Somalia, to continue to pursue this idea, that's simply a recipe for bankrupting the country. We can't afford it and it won't work.
Obvious follow-up: what does?
We need to begin with realistically evaluating the threat. To listen to Osama bin Laden, he aims to establish a new caliphate that is going to bring the entire Islamic world under his direct control. Apparently there are some neoconservatives who take this threat seriously. But it's actually absurd. Bin Laden is no more likely to govern the entire Islamic world than George W. Bush was to liberate and transform the entire Islamic world. We do face a threat. It is a serious threat. It is not an existential threat. We would do well to compare the jihadists to an international criminal conspiracy. They are a mafia that draws a certain amount of their fervor or energy from a warped understanding of a particular religious tradition. And the proper response to an international conspiracy is an international police effort. Sustained, well-resourced, ruthless, but relying on intelligence agencies and national police forces, perhaps with some amount of use of military special-operations forces to root out and destroy this conspiracy. I'm not implying that this would be done quickly or easily. It would take a considerable period of time, but that approach, rather than the approach pursued by Bush, and now Obama, would be more likely to succeed.
In your book, you quote former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as saying, "we the United States, we are the indispensible nation, we stand tall." That was said 12 years ago, but it seems to me almost any national political figure since the end of the second World War could have made that statement. What do you make of it?
Well, I think it was a vastly exaggerated sense of our capacity to understand where the world is headed and an equally exaggerated capacity to direct the course of events. When you think about the events of the last decade, what we have seen over and over again is the supposedly seasoned and well-informed people who make policy are caught by surprise, respond ineptly to problems, follow a path in which we confront further surprises in the form of unintended consequences while in the meantime spending hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars, for very limited gains. All of this, of course, not even taking into account the enormity of the human toll in American lives and in the lives of others that end up being part of the price that gets paid. We need to grow up. We need to be able to engage realistically. We need to know who we are, and how much wisdom and power we have available. We should not worry about managing the world. We should be worrying about how to cope with the real-life, real-time events we do confront.
: News Features
, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Afghanistan, More