Q&A on the War on Terror

September 10, 2007

We are a much more vigilant people than we were six years ago. And that really has made a big difference. On the other hand, the threat has grown. And so, over the long term, I think we’re facing considerable challenges. There are more terrorists than there were then, in more areas, in more countries. And unfortunately, U.S. standing in the Muslim world has come down considerably. Now, for the overwhelming majority that’s nothing to worry about because most people are not inclined to violence. But among a small, small number who otherwise might not have been interested in joining up with the Jihadist forces, there has been a motivating factor. There has been a galvanizing period for them, so there is reason to worry.

Of course no one knows if another attack is imminent. I think it’s safe to say the following: that Jihadists will continue to try to press their advantage and will try to carry out attacks wherever they feel they have a good chance of doing so and wherever they have the operatives to take advantage of opportunities. So, there will certainly be more terrorist attacks in the near future. Whether there’s one imminent against the United States is hard to say. Now, over the last few months, administration officials have spoken repeatedly about a growing concern that there is an attack in the offing. It’s just impossible to say especially if you’re not privy to classified intelligence.

We cannot eliminate terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic and we can’t eliminate that. Terrorism in this case, Jihadist terrorism, is a very durable ideology. The best that I think we can hope for is that we’ll be able to significantly reduce the appeal of this ideology and get a lot of people who might otherwise have been tempted to follow in Bin Laden’s tracks not to do so.

We need in the near future to be out of Iraq. As long as we’re in Iraq, we’ll be seen as a predatory power. And, we have other security interests that may keep us in Iraq a while longer but we should renounce any intention to maintain bases there for the indefinite future and we really should recognize how that figures into the terrorist calculus.

I think we also should redouble our efforts to find peace in the Middle East… to create peace in the Middle East. It is not the number one driving force, but it is something that is a huge irritant within the Muslim world and it plays into some radicals’ determination to carry out terror. I think we need to also need to engage more deeply with Arab countries. In particular, we need to have a reform agenda, we need to have a positive agenda for the Muslim world, and we need to recognize that we can’t dictate.

So, it’s a sort of sustained engagement that aims to bring about a modernization, a liberalization of conditions for people in that region. I think that then we would be seen more as a friend to the Muslim world.