ROCK MY WORLDVIEW: How to Win the War on Terror

Monday, January 19, 2004

Do the neoconservatives know how to win the war on terror? Much has been made of the influence within the Bush administration of neoconservatives—those who tend to take a hard line in the war on terror and who favored the war in Iraq. Recently two men close to the Bush administration, Richard Perle and David Frum, wrote a book laying out the neoconservative agenda for winning the war on terror and making America safe. Their agenda is bold and ambitious. Critics would say it is reckless and dangerous. Who's right?

Recorded on Monday, January 19, 2004

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge: Victory in the war on terror or a neo-con job?

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


Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today: do neoconservatives know how to win the war on terror? A great deal has been made of the influence within the Bush Administration of neoconservatives, those who tend to take a hard line in the war on terror and who favored the war in Iraq. Recently two men close to the administration wrote a book laying out the neoconservative agenda for winning the war on terror and making America save. Their agenda is bold and ambitious. Critics would say it is reckless and dangerous. Who's right?

Joining us today, two guests. Ken Jowitt is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. David Frum is a former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Frum is the author with Richard Perle of the book in question, An End Evil to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror.

Title: New World Ardor

Peter Robinson: Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times, reviewing the book in question: David Frum, co-author Richard Perle, An End to Evil. "The authors purvey a worldview of us versus them, all or nothing, either/or. To quote their willful, flame throwing language, there is no middle way for Americans," this is a quotation from David's book; "there is no middle way for Americans. It is either victory of holocaust." Victory or Holocaust? Is that the premise about the war on terror that you hope the President and his advisors have or will adopt?

Ken Jowitt: If they do, it will probably be the most significant mistake since 9/11.

Peter Robinson: Nice to start with a clear difference. David, care to explain yourself?

David Frum: I think that is the way the president thinks. It's a hard choice. I'm sorry it offended the New York Times but soft minds dislike hard choices.

Peter Robinson: You don't let up do you? All right, Iraq. We overthrew the Taliban government of Afghanistan which is harboring and providing direct support to Al Qaeda. We then continued to overthrow the government of Iraq. Now many months later, we still have more than 150,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. We're committed to spending at least $87 billion to rebuild the country. Once again, last time so don't worry but once again, Michiko Kakutani, "neither the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that might have posed have an imminent threat to America nor the failure to establish a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 seems to have given the authors, David Frum and Richard Perle, pause." Why not?

David Frum: Because those were only two of the entries in a long list of reasons why we believe that Iraq was necessary. They're only two of the reasons of the President's side of it. In my view, I'm not even sure they would be the two most important although they were the two most urgent. The real argument over the war on terror is this, is is the war on terror kind of glorified manhunt? Is the problem--you have these bandits who came into the Al Qaeda training camps and they've scattered over the planet. We now have to hunt them down and then either try them in an American court or some of the democrats want to do, try them before a U.N. tribunal. Or is this a major ideological conflict where terrorism comes under a terror ideology connected to terrorist states? Is it a big problem that emanates from the crisis of the Middle East? And if you think that way and that is the way that the hardliners think, it's the way the President thinks--I think it's the right way to think--that's the way we argue in the book--then you have--then you have a series of problems but where do we start? And one of the reasons that Iraq was so important and one of the debating points you often hear from people who oppose the war is that why do we do Iraq when 15 of the 19 hijackers come from Saudi Arabia?

Peter Robinson: Saudi Arabia.

David Frum: Excellent question but there's an answer. The answer is why has the United States been so soft with Saudi Arabia for so long? And it was that Saudi Arabia had a gun to the head of the United States and the world. You liberate Iraq, you bring Iraq…

Peter Robinson: A gun to the head in terms of what?

David Frum: The oil weapon. You bring Iraq back into the world market and you've knocked the gun out of the Saudi hand. And suddenly the United States can now talk to Saudi Arabia and that is happening at this moment in a whole new tone of voice.

Peter Robinson: There is a great deal else to discuss if you happen to agree with him on this point but I want to establish. Was going into Iraq when we did and as we did and on the grounds that we did correct?

Ken Jowitt: Yes. We should have gone into Iraq and Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and people like Mr. Frum and Perle and so on--they were right in that instance. They never came up with a clear rationale. And there is a clear rationale. Iraq was not a clear and present danger. It did not have weapons of mass destruction but it was a clear and persistent danger. So I would like to contribute that to my colleague's argument.

Peter Robinson: Can I--by the way, you are very kind to the president and even though your rationale is not exactly his rationale, you're kind to the president. Doesn't he deserve at least one or two demerits for providing a rationale that relied so heavily on imminence of the weapons of mass destruction?

Ken Jowitt: Yes, it was absolutely incorrect if you'll forgive me for interrupting…

Peter Robinson: No.

Ken Jowitt: Incorrect and playing to American public opinion. The idea was we elite know what the correct decision is to make but the American population will not accept it. Therefore we have to say there are little trucks running around with biological weapons. There are no biological weapons. They'll find no weapons of mass destruction and we were yet correct to go into Iraq.

Peter Robinson: Both our guests agree that going to war in Iraq was correct. But what should we be doing in Iraq now?

Title: A Bar Too High?

Peter Robinson: From his speech to the American Enterprise Institute, February 26, 2003, George W. Bush, "We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary. America has made and kept this kind of commitment before in the peace that followed the World War," Second World War he's talking about here, "after defeating enemies we left constitutions and parliaments, we establish an atmosphere of safety in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom." Is that not setting the bar a tad high?

David Frum: It's not--but listen carefully to what he says…

Peter Robinson: All right.

David Frum: …and listen carefully to what he does with it. He's not promising that those things will necessarily happen. He's saying that he--the United States will do its best to make sure that they do and he always talks about--not we are going to bring--not that we will bring democracy to Iraq, but that we will bring an opportunity for democracy in Iraq. And if you actually read what exactly is said, you will find it's appropriately modest. And I--I'll tell you that even now, even now we are so far ahead of the game because we are seeing the resumption of electrical production, the resumption of the flow of water through the irrigation canals. We've seen the oil coming back online. We are seeing the emergence of critical voices all through the Arab world who are able to talk about what happened to Saddam Hussein. And we are seeing an increasingly powerful squeeze on the Saudi monarchy which is in many ways the source of our problems in the region.

Peter Robinson: Has he set the bar too high for Iraq?

Ken Jowitt: Yeah…

Peter Robinson: Greatest expectations too high?

Ken Jowitt: Yeah, it's very funny. When you look at Bush, he starts out with a global, democratic revolution. Those are his words. It's rubbish. The fact of the matter is in a country where sixty percent of the people marry their first cousins, if you can have a democracy with…

Peter Robinson: Iraq.

Ken Jowitt: …give me a break. Give me a break. The fact of the matter is this administration…

Peter Robinson: The tribal society…

Ken Jowitt: …it is a tribal kin oriented society and all the people, Wolfowitz, Mr. Frum, Mr. Perle, all the rest of them, are invincibly ignorant about anthropology. They don't have a clue. Everything in the world is going to become Indiana. Iraq is going to become Indiana. This is a joke. The fact of the matter is what we want are weak authoritarian, corrupt dictatorships that will not aggrandize themselves territorially or go for weapons of mass destruction.

David Frum: Weak, corrupt, authoritative regimes may be what the president--what the professor wants…

Ken Jowitt: I do.

David Frum: …but it's not what the president wants.

Peter Robinson: But you're saying that's the best we can hope for? It's a question of realism?

Ken Jowitt: No, I want--it's what I want because that's what's realizable.

David Frum: And what he seems to have forgotten is it is precisely out of such regime that the 9/11 terrorist attacks came and the--that--this is--you're describing Pakistan, you're describing Saudi Arabia, you're describing all of our problems. One of the things you do is you take--and this happens a lot with some of the war opponents and some of the critics of the President--you take a--you don't listen to what he says. You take a cartoon version of what he says and then you criticize it and say how absurd of the President to use the phrase a global, democratic revolution. He used it in--I remember I was there and I remember how he used it to describe what has happened in the world since 1989. And if you can deny the reality of that, you're missing this colossal fact of the event…

Peter Robinson: On to fundamental questions of defining the war on terror.

Title: Biting Off More Than We Can Chew?

Peter Robinson: An End to Evil, you write, I'm quoting you, David--you and Richard Perle. You're talking about the president's critics, "They are eager to arrest the misfits and thugs who plant bombs and carry guns. But as for the larger networks that recruit the misfits and thugs, as for the wealthy donors who pay the terrorists' bills, as for the governments that give terrorists aid and sanctuary, as for the larger culture of incitement and hatred that justifies and supports terror, all of that they wish to leave alone." From misfits to wealthy donors to governments, to the larger culture, do you wish to wage a war on terrorism or turn upside down the entire one billion plus strong, Muslim world?

David Drum: Well those--upside down is not the description I would--is not the direction I would…

Peter Robinson: You feel entirely free to adjust my question?

David Frum: But I would say, I mean, I think in a way, you very well in this show have given a sense of what the debate is. I mean, Professor Jowitt says look, what we want to do is have a lot more regimes like the regimes that produced the 9/11 terrorists. These policies have been tried. And they've got a very fair airing over the past thirty or forty years and we have seen the result in the blood and slaughter and grief in New York City. What we I think need to take on board is this, that when you take--in a planet with television sets and global communications and when you give people--when you have a lot of people living in societies that do not work, that do not create jobs, also in societies, by the way, where the local culture requires if you don't have a job you can't get married. And if you can't get married, you can't have girls. So you got a lot of jumpy twenty year old men. In such a place, you are going to have huge security problems. And in your interest of calming--if all you want to do--your ambition is as modest as calming the region down, then you have to say well what will take? Well it'll take more marriages. It'll take more jobs. It'll take some sense of people aren't being stolen from all the time. It'll take some sense that people have a voice in their own fate.

Peter Robinson: What I'm trying to get at is the question that I think a lot of people share which is, just a moment here. The president and those close to him and again, you and Richard are close to the Administration, are simply taking on too much. And it sounds to me as though when I ask you do you wish to reform the entire Muslim world? In a word your answer is yes, we do.

David Frum: We'd like to give it a shot and a try because if we don't, we've--we have had…

Peter Robinson: Are they taking on too much?

David Frum: We have had forty years with the other way which is to say well we are going to--what we are going to find our security in cooperation with the secret police forces of the Middle East and that has not worked.

Ken Jowitt: Islam is a war-like religion. So I'm being more conservative than you. I have no problem with that. The idea that the world should be made up of Britain, Israel and the United States is Bolshevik, you know, fewer but better. So is the notion in their book.

David Frum: That's not what the actual Bolsheviks thought.

Ken Jowitt: Actually…

Peter Robinson: I refuse to get into a debate about Bolshevism.

Ken Jowitt: We're talking about fewer but better.

Peter Robinson: Go ahead.

Ken Jowitt: We're not talking about your policy.

David Frum: The few they had in mind were not Israel, Britain and the United States.

Ken Jowitt: No, you're absolutely right. We're talking about style. You are completely Bolshevik…

Peter Robinson: Will you grant that the president pussyfoots around the question of what Islam is like?

Ken Jowitt: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Of course he does. Of course he does and they don't want to say no because they want to influence his policy.

Peter Robinson: No I think--I think in a moment…

Ken Jowitt: The fact of the matter is Bush is purely wrong on the nature of Islam as a religion.

David Frum: When people absorb liberal ideas, they find ways of coping with the things in their religious tradition that are dark and bloody and reinterpreting them. And that has happened in the past in Islam. Seven hundred years ago, Muslim people were able to say these passages of the Koran that seem so blood-thirsty, they don't really mean what they sound like they mean.

Ken Jowitt: Or in the Torah where Moses kills

David Frum: Exactly. Exactly.

Ken Jowitt: …Jews three times, yes.

David Frum: Yes, but people find way--but people through the process of human reason find ways of understanding their holy books in ways that are consistent with civilization. And that is what the President's trying to get at. And he also thinks if you're trying to change the world, you don't begin by damning and condemning a fifth of its population. They are people just like anybody else.

Peter Robinson: But you do attempt to reform them. Go ahead.

Ken Jowitt: Look, the fact of the matter is we're dealing with an Arab Islamic world. You go to Bangladesh, Indonesia, or India, you don't have really a problem. It's a minor problem. The fact is…

Peter Robinson: It's not incubating terrorists. That's what you mean?

Ken Jowitt: For whatever reason in Iran or Persia and in the Arab world, it has resulted in a thoroughly, thoroughly genocidal attitude.

Peter Robinson: Now that we're discussing the Arab world, let's look at the place of the Israeli Palestinian conflict in the war on terror.

Title: (Middle) East of Eden

Peter Robinson: I quote you David. "For hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world or so the conventional holds, the plight of the Palestinians has become the most vivid example of all examples of Muslim humiliation and defeat. By bringing a Palestinian state into being, the United States would calm passions in the Muslim world, strengthen friendly Arab governments and prove itself a friend of Muslim aspirations. This thinking is completely wrong. Explain yourself.

David Frum: Because it over-promises. There's no doubt that a Palestinian state would be a very good thing for the Palestinians and it might even be a helpful thing if it were the right kind of state for the Israelis. And it could be in some objective sense, a good thing for the world. It is not a big thing but the idea that it is this, that it is to this one problem that we can trace everything that has gone wrong in the whole Islamic world, including in between India and Pakistan which are not harbingers of safety at all but which are, in fact, very troubled parts of the world where there's a lot of terrorism, we have got a large problem. And this is a small piece of it.

Peter Robinson: Let me quote you again, David. "The distinction between Islamic terrorism against Israel and Islamic terrorism against the United States cannot be sustained." William F. Buckley, Jr., "There is a critical difference between the Taliban," or Bill might have said Al Qaeda, "and the Palestinian insurgence which is that the Taliban has no case," zero case, "the Palestinians do have a case, never mind how they assert it." That is to say--I put this to you--that the Palestinians have a specific historical grievance, land that was for centuries Arab is no longer Arab and is now inside Israel. And that this distinction is one the United States has to bear in mind. Hamas and Hezbollah are animated by something quite different than what animates Al Qaeda. You don't buy that?

David Frum: I don't buy that. I might buy it with some of non-Islamic portions of the Palestinian movement. I think that in Hamas and Hezbollah you see the same messianic, apocalyptic vision that you do see in Al Qaeda. And I just--I think you would find in Hezbollah's case in particular, that Hezbollah does not stop at the borders of the area immediately around Israel. I mean, the author of, for example, the bombing in Buenos Aires that was the largest foreign terrorist attack in the western hemisphere until 9/11. So they've got big plans and they are interconnected with the Al Qaeda movement at least at the ideological level.

Peter Robinson: Your prescription is not to--well the road map has hardly made any progress--but your prescription is not to stop working on the Palestinian-Israeli problem but not to give that pride of place, not to permit the rest of the world to force the Administration to take actions at all. Not…

David Frum: Not to have unrealistic expectations of what it would accomplish.

Peter Robinson: All right.

Ken Jowitt: My own sense if that Hamas is horrible. Israel is on the margins of democracy.

Peter Robinson: Israel is on the margins of democracy?

Ken Jowitt: Yes, yes, it is truly a democracy if you're Jewish.

Peter Robinson: Oh, I see.

Ken Jowitt: If you look at two-thirds of the Arab-Israeli population which makes up twenty percent, they've been dispossessed of their land. I want Israel as our ally. The point simply is that what Sheron wants is Hamas, wants to get rid of Arafat. And so then you can have a truly ideological, murderous opponent which Hamas is. I'd like to destroy it. I'd like to destroy Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. But the fact of the matter is Israel has to get rid of those settlements, allow for a Palestinian state like Costa Rica with a good fire department and no army and Sheron will never accept it. And there's no evidence in his entire career that he will.

Peter Robinson: Let me ask you this…

Ken Jowitt: …and Israel and Palestine are a key to the Middle East.

Peter Robinson: Next, how should the United States behave toward our European friends--if friends is the word?

Title: Okay, Mr. Francy-pants

Peter Robinson: David says, "Acknowledge that a more closely integrated Europe is no longer an unqualified American interest and support the enlargement of the EU and NATO." Closed quote there but the notion there is the larger the EU and NATO become, the harder for France to dominate?

David Frum: Exactly. Exactly. That the--and the more it becomes--the more of our friends are inside those boundaries, the more influence we'll have and the less likely it will be to emerge as a rival superpower.

Peter Robinson: And in Eastern Europe, we have friends.

David Frum: We have friends.

Peter Robinson: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and so forth…

Ken Jowitt: Estonia.

Peter Robinson: Estonia. You agree with him there?

Ken Jowitt: Not at all. In fact, I think that the United States of America is a cultural mutant--one I love. It's based on individualism and as Herbert Hoover said, that is more important than capitalism or anything else. It's the basis of it. If you look at Europe, at the current time, the United States of America is the dominant global power in human history. We are the cultural minority in human history. The only culture that supports ours is Western Europe. The point simply is we need Europe. Who defeated Germany and made it liberal capitalist democracy? We did. The same with Italy. The notion that we should just hang on to little England and hope they'll be nice to us--what we want to do is make NATO an equal partnership where the Europeans and if France doesn't like it, good luck and good-bye--an equal partnership. And we should be part of the EU. The last thing in the world we should do is ask England to leave Europe, Europe to leave us and leave the only cultural area in the world that sympathizes with us.

David Frum: After all these lectures about realities, I think one of the realities you have to take note of is the fact that Europe is changing and that Europe--the disappearance of the Soviet Union which was a big fact--fact that many people who think things don't change predicted would never happen but it did and the world's responded. And one of the things that happens--has happened is that now that the Europeans no longer need American protection, they respond differently. And this has created problems and dangers. And the United States needs a new policy. The American policy toward the European Union today is exactly the same policy as it was in 1957. And a lot has changed since 1957. Now, of course, of course, Richard and I are passionate advocates of a North Atlantic community bound by common values but it is reckless--disregard the fact that there are people in Europe who want to turn Europe into a state--a state in opposition to the United States and we need a policy to deal with that problem. And one of the--the things we recommend are aimed at hemming in this French project, and by bringing in new allies into Europe precisely so that it will remain. It's precisely so that it will remain part of the North Atlantic community.

Peter Robinson: My favorite sentence in the entire book, "The UN is not an entirely useless organization." Give us what you want to have happen to the UN.

David Frum: Well the--look, they do some good work in feeding people and bringing water in cases of emergencies and the refugee agencies sometimes do some good work. But under the UN--the UN charter was written for a world of dive bombers and tanks. And it recognizes the right of self defense only in cases of aggression, that is, state action across an internationally recognized border. Well that is not the security challenge the United States faces. There is no danger that Canada or Mexico will invade the United States. The danger to the United States comes from these kinds of secretive covert groups, sometimes backed by states, sometimes not and the UN Charter makes illegal almost everything--or the courts make illegal almost everything the United States needs to do to defend itself against these organizations. That Charter has to change and the United States should insist in the most forceful way that it do so.

Peter Robinson: Reasonable. Have I at least found an area of total and complete harmony?

Ken Jowitt: Agree.

Peter Robinson: Last question: Can the United States really take on all that David is proposing? And if we can, should we?

Title: Not as Easy as A, B, C

Peter Robinson: I put to you a multiple choice question. Listen to a quotation. John Quincy Adams in 1821. The United States, "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She's the well wisher to freedom and to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own." Here are your choices. Adams was wrong. That's A. B, he was enunciating a policy suited to the small country that the United States then was. C, Adams was enunciating a policy based on prudence and certain enduring aspects of the national character that suggests our aims in the war on terror should be limited. Ken? What's your answer?

Ken Jowitt: American foreign policy should be based on excision not conversion. And what…

Peter Robinson: Excision--cutting out the bad guys?

Ken Jowitt: That's right. And what Mr. Frum and Mr. Perle--they reflect a missionary position which is conservative in sects and radical in politics. They want to change the world. They want to make the world one of liberty. It's rubbish. It's utterly rubbish. It will not happen and what we should do…

Peter Robinson: Rubbish because it's impractical?

Ken Jowitt: No, because it's impossible. It's impossible. Where there are really democratic forces, we should support them. There are almost none in Iraq. We should be engaged in doing what the President says where there is a clear and persistent danger, destroy them but not delude ourselves that we're going to create democracy.

Peter Robinson: David?

David Frum: When John Quincy Adams wrote that passage in 1826, the United States…

Peter Robinson: '21.

David Frum: '21, I'm sorry. I may be missing one but the United States was, I think, the only democratic republic and one of the very few republics in the entire planet.

Peter Robinson: And he's commenting, of course, on republican revolutions taking place in South America?

David Frum: Right. Two centuries later, we discover that we do live as the President said in an age of a global democratic revolution and enormous numbers of countries and a very large portion of mankind live under exactly the benefits of the liberty and human rights that only Americans or few others had then. Now I'm sure in the 1820's there are people who would have said for profound cultural reasons these changes could only come to the United States or maybe only to English-speaking countries. It was inconceivable they could ever settle in France, certainly in Germany because these were the havens of despotism and yet they did. And yet they did. And today we face similar kinds of possibilities. The monster in that quotation came to the United States. I think that--I don't think it ever would have occurred to President Bush before 9/11 this is how he was going to be spending his presidency. But it landed here. And the question is what is an intelligent and coherent solution to this problem? And the--one of the reasons I think one of the reasons that people who advocate the kinds of policies that Richard and I advocate--one of the reasons we got a hearing on the President--not us personally but people like us--is that when he went around the metaphorical cabinet table and said, we've been struck in this terrible way, does anybody have any ideas? He heard all kinds of people who said very similar things to what you said.

Ken Jowitt: I doubt that.

David Frum: And I'm sure--of course he…

Ken Jowitt: Wish I were there.

David Frum: Of course he did. And the question that I think he would have put to them was, what are you saying we should do that was different from what you would have said a week ago? And that policy failed. And we cannot be indifferent to the internal character of regimes from which these attacks on America come. The solution to this threat is bound up in the internal character of these regimes and not just in their external policies. That's why…

Peter Robinson: What about--how do you respond?

David Frum: That's why Adams' words were right for then for not right for now.

Peter Robinson: You've gotten the argument over and over and over again that you're just taking on too much.

David Frum: I actually think we're taking on rather less than our parents and grandparents took on. That as daunting as this problem is--the problem of Islamic extremism and terrorism, I actually think it is a smaller problem than the problem of the Cold War. And certainly a smaller problem than in the days when the world's second mightiest industrial state was in the thrall of a totalitarian ideology which it was determined to export by force. This is hard enough but harder things have been done before. And that's why I'm optimistic that this can be solved.

Peter Robinson: Ken Jowitt, David Frum, thank you very much. We're out of time.

Peter Robinson: I'm Peter Robinson for Uncommon Knowledge, thanks for joining us.