Five years after the events of September 11, 2001, Watson Institute specialists in terrorism and the Middle East review how far we’ve come – and the challenges that remain – in addressing the most pressing threats to global security.
Melani Cammett ‘91 is director of the International Relations program and Kutayba Alghanim Assistant Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Political Science at Brown University and Academy Scholar at the Weatherhead Center at Harvard University.
Michael Vinay Bhatia ’99, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute. He was awarded a George C. Marshall Scholarship in 2001 and a Scoville Peace Fellowship in 2000 supporting residence at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, DC.
Justine A. Rosenthal is a Watson Institute visiting fellow working in the Global Security Program. She is also director of the Atlantic Monthly Foundation, home to the Council on Global Terrorism, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She has also worked as a research fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution; director of the executive office at the Council on Foreign Relations; and as special assistant to former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin.
Presented by the Global Security Program.
Location: Joukowsky Forum.
Audio from this event:
Event SummaryA panel of Watson Institute scholars convened on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11 portrayed great cynicism in the Middle East toward American policy, a swelling of terrorist ranks worldwide, and a lack of consensus in the US about who the enemy is and how far the US should go in confronting it.
“9/11 + 5,” presented by the Global Security Program and moderated by the program’s director, James Der Derian, featured three Middle East and terrorism experts.
Melani Cammett ’91 led off the panel with a survey of Arab public opinion toward the so-called “War on Terror” and America more generally. The new director of the International Relations Program at Brown and an assistant professor of political science, Cammett drew heavily from fieldwork she has conducted in locales as diverse as Tunisia and, most recently, Lebanon before the outbreak of violence there this summer.
Beginning with a vivid sketch of the declining sympathy for America and the “democracy project” the Bush administration has embarked on in the Middle East, Cammett went on to forecast that American indifference to attitudes toward the US on the Arab street could have chilling consequences for American foreign policy goals. As long as cynicism surrounding American motives, the arbitrariness of American-led regime change, and the pervasiveness of authoritarian modes of maintaining order in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to deepen, Cammett said, homegrown democracy activists will have their efforts undercut. In addition, America’s capacity to fight terrorism will be undermined, and Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis will look increasingly real.
Cammett concluded, however, by sounding an optimistic note, arguing that “latent goodwill” toward Americans and the notion of America can still be found in certain subsections of the Arab population, but that it cannot be activated without a dramatic overhaul of US Middle East policy.
Next to speak was Justine A. Rosenthal, a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute and director of the Atlantic Monthly Foundation’s Council on Global Terrorism. Rosenthal spoke principally about the findings published by the Council last week in State of the Struggle against Global Terrorism. Among the report’s conclusions were a few successes: Fully three-quarters of al-Qaeda’s leadership corps have been killed or captured, and intelligence-sharing among Western governments susceptible to terrorist strikes is at an all-time high. Apart from these highlights, Rosenthal painted a grim portrait of a terrorist movement with a swelling base of support whose position has been immeasurably aided by ineffective US policy in the Middle East. She also pointed to the movement’s profound structural advantage: Where terrorists are prepared to wage war with the West for centuries, US leaders conceive of this struggle as finite and winnable, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.
Rosenthal went on to present a series of data points showing why al-Qaeda most likely believes it is pulling ahead in the “War on Terror.” The visibility of al-Qaeda has only intensified as internet broadcasts enable bin Laden and his affiliates to reach their supporters on a regular, unmediated basis. The US has, as a result of its insistence on going it alone, been to a very real extent estranged from its allies. Attacks in Europe have grown more frequent. Since September 11, al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have launched 30 attacks worldwide – not including those in Afghanistan or Iraq. Afghanistan is backsliding into the hands of the Taliban and its sympathizers. Alluding to Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, Rosenthal summed up the situation saying, “We (in the US) have sacrificed our core values in the name of very limited security gains.”
Michael Bhatia ’99, a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford and a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute, rounded out the panel with a look at the philosophical questions raised post-9/11. He urged the audience to bear in mind the diversity of lenses through which the events of 9/11 can be viewed, depending on where one stands. Bhatia posed a series of questions to underscore the complexity the US faces. What are the responsibilities of a government to speak honestly to its citizens? Is obfuscation in the name of security suddenly allowed in this new era? Bhatia sounded a pessimistic note when he concluded that Americans have been chronically unable to reach a consensus on two fundamental points: who the enemy is and how far the country should go in confronting it.
A lively question-and-answer session followed the panel presentation. Watson Associate Professor (Research) Peter Andreas questioned the gravity of the threat of terrorism, given the fact that no attacks have occurred on US soil since 9/11. Rosenthal replied that the threat has to a certain extent been successfully neutralized, but that the consensus among terrorism “graybeards” is that the appropriate question to pose is not if terrorists will strike again, but when and how. Another listener asked what steps the US can take to undercut the rising tide of terrorism, to which Cammett replied that American policy – rather than being too diffuse or strictly military in nature – must positively affect the “daily lived experiences” of people in the Middle East.
Submitted by Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Jeffrey Lugowe '07
Read previous article on the Council on Global Terrorism.
Learn about the Watson Institute's 2004 film, After 9/11.
Review comments at the 2002 forum and exhibition, "9/11+1."