ENEMY AT THE GATES: The War on Terrorism

Tuesday, September 25, 2001
George Shultz

We asked George Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, to help us put America's war on terrorism in historical, political, and moral context. What lessons can be drawn from previous attempts to deal with terrorism? What should we make of the complaints leveled against the United States by terrorist organizations? What will it take to win the war on terrorism and how long will it last?

Recorded on Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge, George Shultz on America's war on terrorism.

Announcer: Funding for this program is provided by The John M. Olin Foundation and the Starr Foundation.

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. On our program today, American's war on terrorism, a conversation with former Secretary of State, George Shultz. As of the taping of this program, the specifics of any American military response to the terrorist attacks on September 11th remain unknown but President Bush and his administration have made clear their intention to pursue a war unlike any other. In this conversation, former Secretary of State, George Shultz, puts this new kind of war into context. Historical, political and moral.

Title: All in Good Time

At the memorial service in the National Cathedral for those who died in the terrorist attacks, President Bush said that although this conflict was, quote, "begun on the timing and terms of others, it will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing." Moving rhetoric, is it a realistic expectation?

George P. Shultz: That was a very important statement and it set the strategy for what we're going to do. It was by way of saying that we're going to organize ourselves. Remember intelligence is a big part of this much more than in a typical war setting. We're going to organize our intelligence, we're going to organize our military capabilities and our friends and when targets of opportunity come, we'll recognize them and we will move. We will move when we can be effective. And we will keep moving and we will choose the time, we will choose the target and we will keep after it until we have prevailed.

Peter Robinson: Did the attacks of September 11th represent a specific failure of intelligence and security? It could be argued and some have argued, there are so many threats out there that sooner or later in a certain sense almost no matter how sophisticated we are, something is going to slip through. So we need to be better prepared in regard to civil defense and so forth. Others have argued, no. What happened should not have taken place. Our intelligence should have picked up something. Our security should have moved against them and prevented the attack. Where do you come down on that?

George P. Shultz: I think our intelligence did pick up something. I'm not talking from any certain inside information but on the Friday before the attack, the State Department put out a public warning that told Americans who were traveling, that is outside America, to be careful everywhere. And then they talked particularly about being near military installations or places that service people would use--restaurants or whatever--but it was to my knowledge, a very unusual statement for the State Department to put out. So they had some sort of intimation that something was brewing. And, of course, we have seen the attacks orchestrated by the same people on our embassies in Africa and undoubtedly on the USS Cole which I might say is an act of war, it's very important to get away from the rhetoric of, this is a legal problem. We want to apprehend people and bring them to a court and try them. This is a war problem and what we need to do is eliminate the capacity of the enemy to do less damage.

Peter Robinson: So now some people have said…

Peter Robinson: In years past, we've tried and failed to eliminate our terrorist enemies. What should we make of those failures?

Title: Remembrance of Things Past

Peter Robinson: Osama Bin Laden, we know, bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and was behind the bombing of the U--USS Cole. President Clinton launched a missile attack against Bin Laden which missed him in Afghanistan in 1998 and bombed a factory in the Sudan that the notion was it was producing chemical weapons. It now seems to be in doubt whether it was producing chemical weapons at all. He took a shot at Bin Laden and missed. Now there are reports that Clinton engaged in a covert effort in 1999. The commandos went into Afghanistan but yet again, missed. Let me quote the military historian, Victor Davis Hanson, quote, "Good and kind men like Clinton Administration officials here, Sandy Berger, William Cohen and Warren Christopher," and I'd add President Clinton, "have been shown not prudent as they promised but, in fact, reckless through their past inaction." Do you agree with that statement? Is it useful to try to hold figures who have held office in the recent past accountable, does that simply engage us in a parti--partisan dispute that has no place at the moment? What do we do with the recent past?

George P. Shultz: We should change the inflection in our voices when we say, that's history. It's a phrase we hear all the time and people use it to denote the fact that they think something is over and it's now irrelevant. And we should really mean by that, that's really important to understand history and to understand what's happened in the past and learn from it. So what we can learn is that we haven't responded to terrorist attacks effectively and in any sustained way. And so now I hope we have managed to get that lesson into ourselves by looking at past history and unfortunately by this gigantic, horrible wake-up call that we have. Maybe now we will say to ourselves, we're going to go about this all out, we're going to go about this relentlessly, we're going to have the kind of cool patience that the President is exhibiting and when we strike, we're going to be effective but we're going to keep going and going and going and going and we're never going to stop until we have completely finished this task.

Peter Robinson: Now Mr. Secretary, the terrorists killed some six thousand Americans but they never explained themselves, even now no one has claimed responsibility, that they ha--and seem to be intentionally leaving us hanging as to what they want.

George P. Shultz: Well let me interrupt you there. I think it's irrelevant what they want. The worst thing that we can do in circumstances like this is to say, well if we're going to deal with this effectively, we have to find out what these people want and give it to them. That is the route to nowhere. That's the route to defeat because there are endless grievances in the world and if you say, in order to stop terrorism, we've got to satisfy every grievances, it's impossible. It's not even desirable to try it that way. You have to say that this kind of behavior is outside the bounds of anything civilization can handle. And it is totally not acceptable and there are no reasons that can be given that we're interested in at all. I heard a man in San Francisco at a big meeting say, well, what do you expect? We didn't attend the Conference on Racism in South Africa and we have questioned severely the Kyoto Treaty. So that's a good reason why something like this should happen. It's a--it--it's outrageous. It's inconceivable. So don't start down the line of asking me if there is a good explanation for this or wouldn't it be nice if we knew--know what these people wanted…

Peter Robinson: These are questions that have no…

George P. Shultz: It's an irrelevancy.

Peter Robinson: All right. What affect should the event--the terrorist attacks have on our present policy toward Israel? None. Should we make it clear that we are even more firmly committed to Israel than before? Is that somehow outside the box of going after these terrorists or would that be viewed completely separately? How do we think about that?

George P. Shultz: We think about it the same way we have always thought about it, that Israel is a democratic friend and strategic partner and Israel is under attack and we're on Israel's side in that attack. We--we are friends with other countries in the region and we'd like to see some sort of settlement that satisfies everybody to the extent that that's possible, probably isn't possible but you can find your way to something that has stability to it, and then a promise of something further. But that's a goal that we want to nourish and keep alive. And there're things that we can be doing, I'm sure in that regard, but, this goes back to the root cause problem. If somebody says, well…

Peter Robinson: It's Israel.

George P. Shultz: …there'll be no more terrorism if you stop supporting Israel.

Peter Robinson: You don't buy that for a minute.

George P. Shultz: No, I don't buy that…

Peter Robinson: Let's look at the scope of our response to the terrorist attacks.

Title: Enemy at the Gates

Peter Robinson: Your successor, Colin Powell and his Deputy Richard Armitage reportedly favor action limited to those clearly responsible for the attacks in New York and Washington, principally Osama Bin Laden. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his Deputy, Paul Wolfowitz reportedly favor a broader campaign. Wolfowitz has talked about "ending states," that's in quotation marks, he's used the phrase "ending states," and they reportedly favor including action against Saddam Hussein in Iraq in this war effort. How broad gauged should this war against terrorism be?

George P. Shultz: Well you know a lot more than I do if you know what Colin Powell's views are and Paul Wolfowitz…

Peter Robinson: I'm stressing reportedly, reportedly. Reportedly they favor this…

George P. Shultz: …I don't have any information on that. So far as I can see the administration has a good process going on and people argue and the President decides, the President is turning out to be a person comfortable in making decisions. It's very impressive and good. And it's also impressive if it's so, that they're arguments.

Peter Robinson: That's healthy?

George P. Shultz: Absolutely. It'd be terrible if everybody just sat around and sucked their thumbs and agreed with each other and the President said okay. You're not going to illuminate the nature of what's going on by that kind of a process. You want people who are strong and who have views and express them, and argue a little bit. But, to come back to the question of what's the scope of what we're doing here, don't forget what the President said early on, was that states that harbor terrorists are as culpable as the terrorists. He's right. Terrorists don't exist in the middle of nowhere. They exist some place, and it's called a state. And so a state can take the attitude that we don't want you here, and try to get people out, or, more than that, to apprehend them and stop them, or it can tolerate them or even encourage them. So we're trying to say to all of the states--we are saying to the states all over the world, if you harbor terrorists, if you have any knowing support for them or just leave them alone, then you're in our sights, because they can't do what they do unless they have a place to be and to plan and to organize themselves and so on.

Peter Robinson: What about the argument that by going into countries in the middle east, by going into Afghanistan, which may be the first target as we sit here speaking, for every terrorist you get, ten more will spring up, because you will be radicalizing Arabs and Muslims throughout that crescent from North Africa up to Afghanistan. Against that…

George P. Shultz: I think your reasoning is backwards.

Peter Robinson: Okay.

George P. Shultz: If you fail to tackle them, that encourages them and says, here is something you can do and you can get away with it, and therefore we might as well pile on.

Peter Robinson: Well let me ask you about a precedent that happened on your watch. Our colleague Martin Anderson says, well, bear in mind that once we--the Reagan Administration--identified Muammar Qadhafi of Libya, as involved in blowing up the discothèque in Germany, where German civilians and American soldiers were killed, President Reagan gave the order to bomb, and as a matter of fact, Qadhafi's been much better behaved ever since. Is that the precedent that you would expect--you go after these people and it tends to straighten them up--power has an effect?

George P. Shultz: Absolutely.

Peter Robinson: Absolutely.

Peter Robinson: Now onto the relationship between America and the Islamic world.

Title: Crescent and Star, Stars and Stripes

Peter Robinson: How do we make it clear to the world of Islam that we're not after the world of Islam? Would you favor if, for example we go into Afghanistan, would you favor some sort of re--kind of small scale--smaller scale Marshall plan to help set the country up economically afterwards? Is there something we should be doing to reach out and demonstrate friendship to the wider world of Islam as we attempt to isolate and go after the terrorist targets?

George P. Shultz: The President has done a good job and in community after community there have been strong expressions that this is not about Islam, this is not about Muslims, this is not about Arabs--they're not our enemy. Our enemy are people who somehow have been caught up in this pattern of terrorism and violence--they are our enemy. And so in the spirit of what has made the United States a great nation, we are a diverse nation and we honor that diversity, and we think and people here are loyal Americans. And that's--I'll never forget, on July 4, 1986, we had the hundredth anniversary of the Statue of Liberty being put in New York harbor. It had been refurbished, and President Reagan--the lights went on, the torch was writ--lit, and President Reagan spoke. One of the things that he said was, you can go to France, you can never become French, you can go to Japan, you'll never become Japanese, you can go to China, you'll never become Chinese, you can go to Italy, you'll never become Italian, but anyone can come to America from anywhere and become an American. It was a thrilling--and a deep statement about the nature of America, and of our attitude. We're a diverse country. And when you attack America, you attack the world, because the world is here. And furthermore, in the World Trade Center, I'm told that nationals of some eighty countries are among the lost or missing. The Chinese representative called on me the other day, told me--I think he said a hundred and thirty one Chinese national's among them--just to take an example. And practically any country you name. So, the United States is the world. And we're in favor of the world, and these people are the enemies of the world.

Peter Robinson: A question of diplomacy: How do we hold together an unstable alliance of awkward partners?

Title: Come Together

Peter Robinson: Is it reasonable for us to push the Pakistanis, for example, and the Saudis very hard for support, given that they face difficult political problems within in--they have exult--both of the has--have Islamic extremists within their own nations, how do we handle that problem? Keeping their support, pushing them for support, but not pushing them too hard or too far.

George P. Shultz: Well we--we have to figure out what of the things that they can do that are going to be helpful to them and us in countering what's going on.

Peter Robinson: So it requires detailed diplomacy on a case-by-case basis.

George P. Shultz: Well you don't just go in and try to have American flags flying from every post. You go and you say we--here is what you can do that is really helpful, A, B, C and D. And we'll go about this carefully and quietly, not necessarily secretly, but quietly, not in your face, and we can achieve our goals.

Peter Robinson: Some have argued that this represents and opportunity for us to make an opening to Iran, that they have no long-term interests in harboring Islamic militants, and we have an opportunity to begin engaging them dip--diplomatically in a rigorous and thorough way for the first time since the revolution that overthrew the Shah. Do you have a feeling about that? Does it look to you like a diplomatic opportunity?

George P. Shultz: Conceivably. But I would be cautious, because Iran is a country that has sponsored terrorism. They don't like the Taliban, so we don't like the Taliban either, and that gives us something to work on together. On the other hand, Iran has been in the forefront of countries and their leadership--leaders who have been inflaming people in anti-United States rhetoric. And one of those things that I hope leaders in the Islamic world can do is to try to get a more balanced picture into their own government-controlled media.

Peter Robinson: Russia--they've offered us support--the terms of the support seems to be evolving day to day, but evolving in the direction of fuller support rather then more limited support--but they seem to be implying that they'll ask a price in return. Russian's recently sent a tough note to Georgia--where your friend Eduard Shevardnadze is President--demanding Chechen fighters, that Georgia is putatively harboring--and the note said quote, "It is time for Georgia to join the united front of civilized states to remove the threat of international terrorism," closed quote. Sounds as though they're going to use our war on terrorism as a cover to engage in mopping up operations on their own southern flank. Should we permit that, is that a concession we need to make to them in return for their support--are we in a position to object? How does one grapple with that problem?

George P. Shultz: I don't have any sympathy for the way Russia has handled their problems in Chechnya. They have tried to basically eliminate Grozny, but that's no way to proceed. And so, no, I don't think that we should go along with things we disagree with.

Peter Robinson: Last questions, how long will this war on terrorism take, and how will we know when it's over?

Title: The Long and Winding Road

Peter Robinson: I want to go back to that quotation with which I began, President Bush, "The war on terrorism," quote, "will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing," closed quote. The Civil War in the United States lasted about four years, the First World War, a little over four years, Second World War, something under six years--is there any way of gauging how long this war will last?

George P. Shultz: The first point to make is that this war bears zero resemblance to the wars that you mentioned.

Peter Robinson: It's a new kind of warfare.

George P. Shultz: It's a different kind of warfare. And it depends heavily on vastly improving our intelligence capability, on working closely with the intelligence agencies of other countries around the world, and of having a capacity to act in an almost surgical way in far away places and to do it quickly. That is, the targets that we're after, so they--they open and then they go away. So you have to have a process that acts quickly when you see something that you want to do something about. And in the meantime, of course, we have a broad effort--a diplomatic effort, a financial effort, as well as a potential military effort to strangle terrorists, and to fix it so that no state wants them, and we get rid of them that way.

Peter Robinson: Now President Bush campaigned in part on engaging in military actions that have specific objectives and clear end points. In this war, how will we know when we've won?

George P. Shultz: Well, one thing we can do is see when we don't have anymore terrorist things happen to us, we can see what our intelligence tells us, we can know that what we've done about terrorist organizations out around the world and we know quite a lot about those organizations. Now you can pick up any newspaper and read about them and where--more or less where they are and what they've done--it's not a mystery. So we know when we've dealt effectively with them, and we also will know when there are no more states that are willing to harbor terrorism.

Peter Robinson: We'll know when it's cleaned up.

George P. Shultz: We'll know when it's cleaned up.

Peter Robinson: Last question. You served in the Second World War, you lived through Korea and Vietnam, you helped to win the Cold War, you now have millions of Americans--younger generation who have come up without any memory, even of the Cold War, the most recent of those engagements--what would you advise--how would you advise Americans to go about leading their lives in these new circumstances of warfare?

George P. Shultz: Well, first of all, our circumstances aren't only warfare. We have a big life to lead here in the United States, and young people need to do what they're doing, namely, get themselves educated. We could use a lot better work on our schools--particularly the schools in the low income per capita areas of this country--it's a disgrace. We need to give parents more control and more choice to improve the quality of those schools. And we need to encourage people to educate them for the knowledge age--educate themselves for the knowledge age that we're in. Here at Stanford I see the return--the freshmen coming--and I look at those kids and I say to myself, oh boy do I wish I was a freshman entering college right now because with all due regard to the problem that we're facing--we'll deal with that--and the world out there for young people is a very promising world.

Peter Robinson: George Shultz, thank you very much.

Peter Robinson: Is George Shultz optimistic that we'll be able to prosecute this war successfully? Well you heard him say that he only wished he could become a college freshman once again. Who could ask for a more resounding endorsement of this country's future? I'm Peter Robinson, thanks for joining us.