Discussing such topics as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the war with Iraq, the Americans for an Informed Democracy held a panel discussion Thursday to add a new perspective to the way we look at America’s foreign policy.
Titled “The U.S. War on Terror and the Battle for Hearts and Minds,” the discussion was held at the Law School. The panel was composed of Columbia University political science professor Richard Betts, former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon and Tunisia John McCarthy, and senior Newsweek editor Andrew Nagorski.
The speakers addressed the complexity of the issues related to terrorism and the tendency to oversimplify foreign perspectives.
“The attitude towards the U.S. is not one dimensional; it’s not black and white, the feelings are very complex,” Nagorski said. “There is a mixture of envy, of admiration, of hatred, and everything in between.”
Despite the complexities of the situation, Nagorski said he felt that terrorism is a real and present danger.
“Terrorism is something that is real, it is something that happened to people I knew,” Nagorski said. “I remember the 11-year-old daughter of a very good friend of mine was killed in 1985 in a shooting at an airport in Rome.”
Key to the discussion were the numerous obstacles, foreign and domestic, that the United States faces in dealing with terrorists, including anti-American sentiment. “I would not pose the question as a choice between winning the war on terrorism or winning hearts and minds,” Betts said, “because you cannot do the former without the latter.”
Betts said one of the key problems with combating terrorism is a phenomenon he calls “Strategic Judo.”
“The necessary tactics to eliminate terrorists often alienate civilians who serve to recruit and mobilize more supporters of al Qaeda.” Betts said.
Though the military may be able to seize a terrorist stronghold, it may result in the loss of local support for the United States. Consequences such as these should be taken into account with every decision, Betts said.
Though many issues were addressed, some members of the audience felt that the more controversial matters had not been discussed.
“They did not address the paradox of prescribing democracy, but knowing a democracy may not satisfy our political interests,” Mark Aziz ’05 said.
Others said they felt that there were more controversial issues that could have been addressed and that there was far too much agreement among the panelists.
“I was hoping for more controversy, but the opinions converged more than I expected,” Kerrie Lenhart ’04 said.
However, panelists did display some disagreement regarding the war in Iraq. While Betts said the United States should not have entered the war, McCarthy said he would not “quarrel with the results.”
“The last year has been the first time in the history of [Iraq] that the people are really debating where they want to go,” McCarthy said. “They’ve never had that option before.”
But McCarthy said the effects of the war have extended beyond Iraq. He also described how, since the beginning of the war, North Korea has begun to use a more multilateral approach to communicate with the United States. Such trends have also become evident in Libya, which is ending its nuclear arms program and is trying to forge better relations.
“Libya was a very scary state, and it looks as though it is going out of the bad column and into the good column,” McCarthy said.
Since the start of the war, there has been more conflict resolution in India and Pakistan and the two nations are now in diplomatic discussions.
“Within the last year there have been some remarkably positive and unexpected movements,” McCarthy said. “And I think you have to take that into account when you talk about winning the war on terror.”
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