Strobe Talbott’s cell phone rang in the middle of his sentence as he sat before a group of about 20 people in the Ezra Stiles master’s house.
“A modern moment,” Talbott said before he received his call. It was his wife, reminding him to be at the train station by 6 p.m.
Talbott had been speaking about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 at a Master’s Tea Tuesday before the cheery interruption from his wife.
Returning to the more serious discussion at hand, Talbott, the former deputy secretary of state under the Clinton administration and current director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, said the terrorist networks involved in the Sept. 11 attacks are a formidable force.
“We’re dealing here with a considerable collective intelligence,” Talbott said. “We are playing chess in the deadliest of situations and there is a mass plan on their side — just think of the sheer logistical brilliance of Sept. 11.”
But Talbott said Americans should not let fear keep them from interacting with the rest of the world.
“We shouldn’t treat it as having the scales falling from our eyes and seeing that everything out there is hostile territory, from which we should all simply stay away,” Talbott said. “We’d be letting ourselves and much of the world down if we did.”
Talbott said he believes important choices regarding the U.S.-led bombings of Afghanistan are approaching.
“At some point, President Bush will have to make an extremely important decision: should he keep bombing, and perhaps extend the geographic boundaries of bombing, to show that there is such a thing as American political will?” Talbott said. “I sense this question [will have to be faced] soon, probably within a number of weeks.”
When someone in the audience suggested ground-level occupation of Afghanistan as a possible alternative to bombing, Talbott disagreed.
“Everyone who has tried to occupy Afghanistan has had their head handed to them, including two very powerful empires: Britain and Russia,” Talbott said. “So, if we should ever decide to occupy, we’d really be up the creek.”
Instead, Talbott stressed the importance of dismissing resentful perceptions of the United States in the Arab world. He criticized Bush for using language he said condemned those who question U.S. policy.
“I always had a problem with the rhetoric in the new doctrine in Bush’s speech, which seems to say that if you are not with us you are against us, that if you do not support U.S. policy you are somehow in league with the terrorists,” Talbott said.
But Talbott then offered a defense for Bush’s administration in light of the unexpectedness of the events of Sept. 11.
“The Bush administration is not responsible for [letting] Sept. 11 [happen],” Talbott said.
“It was a time-bomb ticking a year before Bush ever came into office, and no matter who might have been president at the time, Sept. 11 would have happened.”
Talbott, a former foreign affairs columnist for Time Magazine, said the experience of a direct attack on U.S. soil has surprisingly evoked the sympathy of several other nations, including Russia.
“Homeland security is a new part of our vocabulary,” Talbott said. “But not for much of the world. Now that we are experiencing a kind of vulnerability that much of the rest of the world has known, it will help in bridging some of the gaps [that have existed between America and other countries].”
Students who attended the tea were impressed with the depth of Talbott’s knowledge.
“The Master’s Tea was really relevant in that it addressed several of the more pressing issues [regarding Sept. 11],” said Philip Kim ’03, “[Talbott] really knew his stuff.”