Bruce Riedel joined the Philadephia Inquirer’s Trudy Rubin to discuss terrorism related to Pakistan and what the United States should do in the region.
Trudy Rubin, host: Bruce, you say in your article that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world today, no issue is more critical to get right for the next President. What do you mean by that?
Bruce Riedel: I actually wrote those lines for the first time ten years ago in a memo for then-President Clinton. I think Pakistan is the most dangerous country because all of the nightmares of the twenty-first century that should concern Americans come together in Pakistan in a unique way. This is a country with nuclear weapons. This is a county with a history of proliferating nuclear technology. This is a country that has fought four wars with its neighbor, and at least one of those wars went very close to becoming a nuclear war. This is a country that has been the host of numerous international terrorist organizations and is today the safe haven and stronghold of the al Qaeda terrorist organization. This is a country also awash in drugs, narcotics, and this is a country where the clash between reactionary Islamic extremism and democracy is being fought out literally in front of us. All of those issues come together in this one place like nowhere else in the world. That is why it is so important to Americans.
Rubin: Some people argue, including Senator John McCain, that Iraq is still the central front in the war on terrorism and that al Qaeda itself has said that is the case. Is there some truth in this?
Riedel: Al Qaeda has said that the war in Iraq is one of the most important battlefields in their struggle. But I think that as Americans we ought to focus on where the enemy is. Osama bin Laden and his number two, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, are the heart of al Qaeda. They are the ones who planned the attack of 9/11, and who are planning new attacks on American interests around the world. And there is not one iota of evidence that they have ever been in Iraq. And there is abundant evidence that they are operating outside of Pakistan, in the badlands on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Rubin: Outside of Pakistan or just inside the border?
Riedel: Probably inside Pakistan somewhere, maybe going back and forth. The most important thing about their safe haven there is that it is growing. It is getting bigger. A lot of experts have focused on the FATA, the so-called federally administered tribal areas, which is the most lawless part of Pakistan’s borderlands. But, in fact, al Qaeda and its allies, the Taliban and other groups, operate along the entire western border, from Balukistan through FATA, through the northwest frontier province, into Kashmir; a 1500-mile long borderland in which they can operate with complete impunity.
I think it's unusual for the chief of staff to go on a trip, particularly on a trip this long. The chief of staff is usually more of a chief operating officer in the White House itself, and normally when your principal—whether it's the president himself or the head of Cabinet agency—goes abroad, you have his deputy and those folks staying behind to help manage operations in his absence.