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[No Comment]

An Interview with Tom Farer, Author of ‘Confronting Global Terrorism’


Tom Farer is dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver, a school whose best-known alumna is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and which was founded by the father of her predecessor, Madeline Albright. Farer’s career has been diverse, and much of it was passed far from academia. He trained an African police force in Karate, wrote about military strategy (Warclouds on the Horn of Africa, and served in a war zone (Somalia ’93). Farer served in the Defense Department and the State Department when Kissinger was Secretary of State, and was nominated by the Ford White House to the OAS Human Rights Commission. Starting with a series of lectures he delivered in Florence, Dean Farer undertook to formulate a grand strategy for American national security policy with traditional liberal values. The book critiques Bush Administration policies, but it presents an entirely different structure for counterterrorism policies, addressing the core questions surrounding the use of force (including preemptive force), interrogation techniques, the role of human rights law, and what combination of military and police tools can be used most effectively in a war against terrorists. His book Confronting Global Terrorism is just out from Oxford University Press.

1. You subtitle your work “the framework of a liberal grand strategy” for national security, and you launch it with discussion of the foreign policy tradition of “liberalism.” Of course, the American critics of liberalism, particularly the neocons, like to portray liberals as sixties-style peaceniks. But it would be more accurate, I think, to see the liberalism in the light of the Cold War policies of containment that Lyndon Johnson applied and that the peaceniks rose up against. But there’s one defining characteristic of classical American liberalism at the core that you skirt that goes to the military and its relationship to the state. The American liberal tradition worked from the notion of the citizen-soldier who rose into an army in time of need and faded back to his normal economic role in society when troubles passed. Washington and Lafayette founded the Society of the Cincinnati with precisely this vision. It was of course a somewhat Romantic and impractical idea, and a professional military arose over time, but it still held to the citizen-soldier idea. One of the key aspects of the neoconservative-influenced security strategy under Bush 43 has been a sweeping corporatization of the national security function, symbolized by the fact that the force deployed in Iraq right now includes more corporate contractors than uniformed military personnel. Liberals have largely acquiesced in this transformation. Was this a mistake? Should the next administration reassess the heavy reliance on the contractors and the quite extraordinary relationship that contractors have secured?


Is the corporatization or what others would call the “privatization” or “outsourcing” of the national security function in conflict with core liberal values? After all, nineteenth century liberals were the champions of market forces and a limited state. Could it not be argued that where temporary universal service is rejected by the electorate, the corporate soldier is as close as we can get to the “citizen soldier”? Well . . . surely the answer is “no”; mercenaries are not plausible surrogates for the citizen-soldier ideal. And “yes,” outsourcing does conflict with liberal, though perhaps not with libertarian, values.

The problem with libertarians (bless their well-intentioned Republican souls) is blindness to the ubiquity of power and the power of the ego. Libertarians insist on locating the risk to individual freedom in the state as if dominating power and the state were umbilically connected. Liberals appreciate that where there is no state, power will concentrate in a small minority of individuals adept at its acquisition and organized groups (like the owners and top managers of corporations) and, given the normal triumph of self-interest over altruism, that power will be leveraged to maximize and consolidate gains for its holders at the expense of the less-organized majority. A democratic electorate can regulate and limit private power only through the state. But where the electorate can be split up into fractions by appeals to racial, ethnic, religious and other group identities, democratic control wanes and private power waxes to the point where it can colonize or neuter the state as has been true in most Latin American countries since their independence.

Outsourcing national security functions enhances private power. Democratic oversight is always weakest in the area of national security. As the government’s dependence on corporate collaborators for the defense of the nation grows, oversight shrinks correspondingly: Note the lassitude bordering on positive reluctance of the State Department about developing effective restraints on the hair-trigger mercenaries it has used to guard itself in Iraq. Moreover, genuine market forces operate poorly if at all in the national security arena. It is no accident that politically well-connected firms have sprouted like unsightly mushrooms at a time of fear and insecurity and the engagement of our forces in a bloody war.

Another problem with privatization is its contribution to helping us evade discussion of national service. It is plausible to fear that over the course of time there tends to develop an unhealthy tension between democracy and a large professional long-service military, particularly one that is regularly engaged in morally ambiguous, politically divisive counter-insurgent wars. French democracy might not have survived the Indo-Chinese and Algerian wars if its military at the time had not contained troops conscripted from the general population. At a minimum, the combination of a long-service military strongly supplemented by private contractors insulates the electorate from the killing and maiming side of war and thereby makes the President’s choice of the military instrument to advance foreign policy goals less subject to democratic political review.

Furthermore, outsourcing increases the costs and undermines the efficiency of the military by encouraging highly skilled soldiers into early retirement and a lateral move into the corporate sector with its much higher salaries and more relaxed discipline.

From all this it follows that the next administration should do more than reassess; it needs to reduce reliance on contractors and depoliticize whatever contracting continues. To the extent we use private actors, let free markets reign.

2. It’s hard to say over the sweep of American history that liberals are any more or less inclined to wage war than conservatives–after all, over a broad stretch of the twentieth century, the conservative critique of liberals focused on the charge that they were too willing to wage war. But liberals were surely picky about the process, usually insisting on an informed public debate that came to an end with an up or down vote in Congress on the wisdom of war. The neocons clearly were not so enamored of this notion of public debate, and it could be argued that they very effectively sabotaged it in the run up to the Iraq War by pumping the public debate with facts that turned out to be false, and as we now know, were largely unsupported conjecture or worse even when they were made. How do we get the internal debate process back on track? Has the Iraq experience made it more difficult for a president in the future who wants to wage war pre-emptively?

Is it in fact true that “liberals were surely picky about the process” by means of which the country has gone to war? As a liberal I would like to agree. As an historian manqué, I have to equivocate. Let me take the risk of sounding like Bill Clinton on the ambiguities of the term “sexual” (oral intercourse somehow eluding his rigorous definition) and say that it depends on one’s definition of “war.” If war refers to every case where the President sends American forces into other countries to kill and be killed without an invitation from a widely recognized government and if Woodrow Wilson was a liberal (albeit a racist one), as he is normally described, then it is hard to say that over the course of American history liberals have been consistently more fastidious about process than conservatives. Wilson sent troops into Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Russia, Cuba, and Mexico all without invitations or consultation with Congress, much less the American people, if memory serves. Max Boot, the aptly-named Homer of the American Right, partners Wilson with that Republican enthusiast for muscular diplomacy, the rampant rooster Theodore Roosevelt, as the country’s two most interventionist Presidents (see Boot’s The Savage Wars of Peace). Savage as they were, these little conflicts, often between U.S. troops and armed factions in countries wracked by civil war where the locus of authority was uncertain (what today we would call “failed states”), were not generally regarded as “war” either by Congress, the press, international lawyers or, apparently, by the Presidents themselves. The outcome was never in doubt. Casualties on the U.S. side were light, although an occasional small unit could be badly mauled. The stakes were moderate. War, by contrast, was seen as a conflict on a large scale between the regular forces of recognized governments and conducted at least nominally under the laws of war. International lawyers tended to treat interventions by major states in weak countries as mere conflicts “short of war.” In the two volume post World-War II text by the eminent English international lawyer Hersh Lauterpacht, these lesser conflicts are discussed not in the volume on international law in time of war, but in the one on law in time of peace.

But even within this narrower definition of “war,” liberals don’t look all that fastidious about process, not at least if you regard Lyndon Johnson as a liberal, a not unreasonable way of seeing the President who drove though the most important civil rights legislation of the 20th Century and launched a war on poverty. One can hardly describe his decision to escalate the conflict in South Vietnam into an interstate war (in fact if not in name) by beginning air attacks on the North as one preceded by a full and honest consultation with the American people and their representatives. Indeed we have known for years that the stated justification for his decision, the supposed attack by North Vietnamese forces on U.S. fleet elements, was a fabrication.

That said, once the war began in earnest, it was liberals who retrospectively challenged the process though which we had entered the war as well as its merits. And it was the American Right that championed victory however many Vietnamese we had to kill to achieve it. As I note in my book in the chapter on the use of force, for liberals war is always the lesser evil, not a virtue or a phenomenon that brings out the best in a nation. For about war only two things are certain: One is that it will destroy things and two is that there will be “collateral damage,” i.e. innocents will be maimed. Because liberals believe in the moral equality of human beings, the fact that the killed and maimed are predominantly on “the other side” does not provide moral solace. No liberal will ever sound or think like the turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century German conservative Heinrich von Treitschke who declared that “The greatness of war is just what at first sight seems to be its horror—that for the sake of their country men will overcome the natural feeling of humanity, that they will slaughter their fellow-men who have done them no injury.”

To be sure, liberals are rarely pacifists and many, like myself, favor armed intervention to prevent crimes against humanity (as well as in self-defense), because that is a lesser evil than letting brutality triumph. But we know that the intervention must be conducted in ways that minimize pain for the people we are supposedly protecting. And where that cannot be done, then the intervention is unjustified.

Within the framework of American history over the past half century, liberals differ from neoconservatives (probably from conservatives of almost every stripe) in terms of lessons learned, particularly lessons learned from the war in Vietnam. Liberals see Vietnam as an object lesson in the damage we as a country are willing to inflict and, because firepower is what makes us hugely superior on the conventional battlefield, and because we value the lives of our troops (they being seen as citizens, not cannon fodder), that we are virtually doomed to inflict on another society when occupation is resisted by large elements of the local population. Since U.S. forces are irresistible in conventional military engagements, opponents must resort to guerrilla war which inevitably involves hiding within the local population, the ocean within which the guerrillas swim. So however good our intentions, our inability to distinguish fighters from the rest of the population will lead to a deadening of the will to discriminate.

Liberals also read Vietnam as a lesson in the difficulty we have as a nation in disengaging from a war once launched, even after it becomes apparent to detached observers that its costs are disproportionate to any possible gains. Disengagement is hard for a global power because it fears a loss of credibility for its will to achieve its ends, once they are announced. Hence losses in the immediate conflict are discounted by political leaders for the potential loss in the overall strategic position of the country. Loss of credibility was a mantra of Henry Kissinger in his angry justifications for prolonging the Vietnam War in the hope that withdrawal could be made on terms that would not be seen as the acknowledgement of defeat.

Another lesson liberals have drawn from the war in Vietnam is that wars difficult to justify in terms of international legal norms and widely condemned as unjustified by the publics at home and abroad most committed to America’s notional values–rule of law, democratic government, human rights–are likely to prove imprudent even in the most narrow strategic terms. International public opinion and international law are thus like canaries in the mine shaft of foreign policy.

Neoconservatives read the text of the war very differently. To them defeat was the product of defeatism, a loss of will occasioned in part by a hostile and unmanaged press, in part by excessive, almost pusillanimous, concern for that vapid abstraction, “the good opinion of mankind.”

Now, having quibbled with your premise, let me turn to the two questions of “how do we get the internal debate process back on track” and (whatever the track we get back to or invent), will it be more difficult in light of Iraq for Presidents to launch preemptive wars? As far as process is concerned, I am that odd liberal bird, a pessimist. At the height of national disillusionment with wars of choice Congress was persuaded to pass the War Powers Act. It was designed to force consultation with the Congress. Subsequent history certainly suggests that Act or no Act, consultation occurs to the extent that Presidents want or feel compelled by public opinion mediated through Congress or reflected in polls to consult formally or informally with the nation. Reagan did not consult about invading Grenada, much less about covert interventions in Central America. In the case of the first Gulf War, Bush 41 consulted with the Congress, but he was launching an undoubted war of choice against a foe, Saddam Hussein, he could not connect to an attack on the United States, a foe who had, indeed, been a de facto enabler of American policy as long as he was gassing Iranians. Bush 43, it could be argued, consulted informally with the nation. The build-up to war was slow. The media had ample opportunity to question facts and premises. Some of its players were intimidated by the country’s feverish condition willfully and effectively exploited by the Bush-Cheney-Rove phalanx; others are controlled by Right-Wing ideologues who have for decades been marching steadily through the country’s institutions for the dissemination of information and ideas. For various reasons the media abdicated the investigative, skeptical role it ought to play as part of the effort to sustain a measure of democratic control over foreign policy particularly when we have in the Presidential office a person who imagines himself a Divinely inspired Decider.

As for Congress, with a few honorable exceptions in the case of the Iraq War it proved to be an Administration echo chamber, not a consultative body. If at least one house of Congress is not controlled by the President’s party, then Congress may inhibit a rush to war, but if it fails and U.S. troops are engaged, then as in the past it will tend to vote the demanded appropriations, however sulkily, intimidated by the threatened claim of abandoning our troops in the field.

The process most likely to restrain an impulsive or addled President is one centered in the Executive branch itself. Where important foreign policy decisions are subjected to systematic vetting by experts and must proceed through a process of careful deliberation in which dystopian as well as utopian outcomes are debated and loonier courses of action screened out before options are presented to the President, disasters are a good deal less likely to occur regardless of the limits of the President’s character, emotional self-control and knowledge either of self or the world. One feature of the present Administration which even some of its former senior members concede is the short-circuiting of the normal policy process. But what the Bush ’43 era demonstrates is that a very small clique led by or able to lead the President can rip apart any process if it is determined to take the country to war.

Your question seems to imply a link between a good process and restraining pre-emptive war and the war in mind is of the larger kind like the present one in Iraq. Preemption in the form of covert killing of suspected terrorists wherever they may be found is doubtless occurring today and is likely to continue indefinitely. There is no indication that Iraq has had or will have any influence on this secret war against those deemed to be terrorists. As for process and the larger sort of war, it seems likely that war weariness and the stretched condition of our armed forces and greatly heightened awareness of the lacerating character of extended occupations of sizeable countries, like Iraq and also Afghanistan, will for a time translate into electoral restraint on proposals to do it again. But the bonding of neo-Wilsonian idealism and neo-Jacksonian ferocity that characterizes the neoconservative mind still resonates with a part of the electorate and should not be too sharply discounted as a force in the shaping of American foreign policy if not just now then certainly in the not distant future.

3. Speaking of pre-emptive war, the “Bush Doctrine” is the idea that given the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the threshold for pre-emptive attack on a hostile nation seeking WMDs is very low. Hence, Iraq and Iran have both been presented as existential threats. Although the arguments for both face some high factual hurdles, isn’t it true that technological developments will make the idea behind the “Bush Doctrine” more and more valid over the passage of time? How does the critique of the “Bush Doctrine” take this into account?

The Bush “doctrine” when first announced in the heady days when the President-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rove quadrumvirate were sweeping all before them, seemed to declare a right to attack, without regard to borders, persons and groups deemed to be America-threatening “terrorists” even if no attack was thought to be imminent. In effect they were adopting a policy Israel had been employing for years.

In the normal use of the word pre-emption in diplomacy or law, this was not a doctrine of pre-emption, because it had specifically excluded the condition of imminence with which pre-emption had been associated even before the adoption of the UN Charter. Rather it sounded like the doctrine of “preventive” war, that is war in anticipation of threats that are not imminent and may never materialize. In defending themselves at the post-World War II Nuremburg War Crimes against the charge of having committed as one “crime against peace,” the invasion of Norway, some Nazi defendants in effect invoked a preventive war justification, arguing that they believed the British would occupy Norway as a base for operations against Germany if Germany did not do so first. The Nuremberg Court found the defense to be without merit.

I do not construe the Bush doctrine as limited in its application to enemies armed or in the process of arming themselves with one or another WMD. But it is true that particularly in Cheney’s defense of the doctrine–namely that even where the risk of an action being executed is tiny, one percent for example, if it could produce mass casualties, then the United States should eliminate it–the scenario that seemed to drive him was in fact one involving weapons of mass destruction. The Bush doctrine obviously laid the intellectual foundations for the invasion of Iraq. Unrepentant neocons like Richard Perle invoke it today in declaring Iraq a success, a success because the fall of Saddam removed the risk that he, a murderous risk-taker with a grudge against the United States, might some day have reconstituted his WMD programs and just possibly given one of their products to a terrorist group.

The destruction of the World Trade Center, like the earlier Oklahoma City bombing, demonstrated that grave damage can be inflicted by means other than biological, chemical, nuclear and radioactive devices. Still, the potential casualty scale-up of WMD ought to frighten the hell out of everyone, liberals included. By all accounts it had precisely that effect on the Clinton national security team which, irony of ironies, seems to have been more alert to the risk (albeit not impressively effectual in responding to it) than the Bush team before 9/11. Knowing as I do that a nuclear weapon with at least the destructive potential of the atomic bomb that incinerated Hiroshima can now be delivered in a suitcase, I worry about members of my family who live in New York, a more likely target than Denver. And as you point out, the ever-growing dispersion and enhancement of technical competence related to producing weapons of mass destruction aggravates the risk that the next attack will make 9/11 seem like a mere scratch. Moreover, the steady acceleration of international transactions and of our nation’s dependence on international trade together with the immense length of our borders makes their physical defense a near impossibility.

The Bush doctrine declares a strategy of defense of the borders by striking threats far from our frontiers. As a political slogan, it’s a winner. How about as a strategy? We need to consider all the things we might do to protect ourselves from WMD and then ask whether a declared and actual readiness for preemptive attack is a complementary element of an optimal strategy or is likely to undermine the overall effort. Entire books can and have been written about defense against WMD, so this space obviously needs to be telegraphic both in analysis and prescription.

I would start by distinguishing the two possible sources of a WMD threat: on the one hand, governments controlling human and financial resources; on the other, terrorist networks and even independent grouplets scaling down to the size of a single misanthrope quietly splicing genes for the creation of a superbug in his own or some pharmaceutical or university laboratory. The Bush national security team, channeling a pre-existing stream of right-wing thought, tended to conflate the two. Hence the feverish effort to connect Saddam to Al Qaeda. Particularly in the case of nuclear weapons, outside a James Bond film non-state actors may not be able to make a deliverable nuclear weapon on their own. So arguably the nuclear threat, the one we quite rightly fear the most, requires some collusion between a state or at least elements of a state’s military and security establishment and a free-standing terrorist organization like Al Qaeda.

It is plausible to argue that to some immeasurable degree an increase in the sheer number of states with nuclear weapons increases the risk of their being transferred to or appropriated by terrorist organizations. Of course it also increases the risk of nuclear war and accidental firing of a weapon; we would, after all, have a WMD problem even if there were no malevolent non-state actors. The non-proliferation regime was constructed as the answer to that presumed correspondence between increased numbers and increased threat. There is growing appreciation that it is inadequate and that much more dramatic steps are required to limit proliferation. The most stunning evidence of the gathering fear of a nuclear cataclysm is the recent announcement by conservative “realists” including the uber-realist, Henry Kissinger, that we need to work toward eliminating nuclear weapons from global arsenals.

Within this changing technological and psychological context, and faced with the multiplication of precedents for, and groups committed to, mass-casualty terrorism, what kinds of preventive military action should the U.S. be prepared to take? One option is elimination of unfriendly regimes simply because they have the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction. A second is to attack any such regime once it actually attempts to develop or acquire such weapons. A third is to attack if the regime attempts to acquire or acquires such weapons and is known to be in contact with organizations deemed terrorist.

It is probable that a policy of unilaterally attempting the decapitation of every regime satisfying one or more of these criteria would end up being a recipe for perpetual war. The resulting environment of international relations seems likely to turn Hobbesian, with spiraling paranoia poisoning cooperation among states generally. Furthermore, my bet would be that the threat of decapitation is more likely to accelerate attempts to acquire WMD for deterrent purposes than to deter them and to encourage pre-placement of such weapons inside the United States. In short, I fear the effects of a generalized doctrine of unilaterally determined preventive attack where we are not faced with an imminent threat.

The worst likely effect would be the deterioration of cooperation even among the great majority of states that share U.S. concerns about terrorists acquiring WMD, this deterioration occurring just when what we require to limit the risk are extraordinary levels of cooperation in all aspects of intelligence and in safeguarding nuclear and radiological materials and in monitoring many kinds of dual-use materials that could be used to develop chemical and biological weapons. It seems unlikely that the needed cooperation and transparency will characterize a world where the U.S. reserves to itself and employs the right to attack countries where there is no imminent threat.

Unilateral action against latent or developing threats seems less necessary now than previously because most states share our concerns and there is unparalleled readiness within the community of nations to authorize the preventive use of force. That was the message communicated by the 2004 report of the so-called “High Level Panel” of diplomatic nabobs set up by the then Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. Its members represented every sort of bloc at the United Nations. From such a group one expects the least common denominator of political conviction and national interest. And what it revealed is the change in that denominator. Nothing in the Charter, it said with unanimity, prevents the Security Council from approving military action even where the threat is occurring in “the more distant future” and “whether it involves the [target] State’s own actions or those of non-State actors it harbors or supports; or whether it takes the form of an act or omission . . .” Moreover the Panel members said that where there are good arguments for preventive military action and good evidence to support them and the Council does not take action, states are then free to pursue other strategies among which they include containment (i.e. the threat of retaliation) and “the military option.”

4. One of the most interesting chapters of the book was, I think, “Liberal Values and the Temptation to Torture.” You make the case very compellingly that the neocons were focused on taking the war-making constraints of international law, especially international humanitarian law, down a notch or two. The neocon view has been that the international law advocates are their enemies (a point which is certainly true in terms of domestic U.S. politics, but far from clear on the international stage), and that international law would only serve to constrict the potential of the U.S. as a global hegemon. The liberal view has been, to the contrary, that the international legal system establishes an ordered system in which America, as a stable, productive society, will thrive and dominate. Obviously there are sound critiques to make of both perspectives. But turning to torture, you seem to draw close to suggesting that the Bush Administration pushed to adopt waterboarding, long-time standing, hypothermia and other established torture techniques as a means of collapsing the system of international humanitarian law, rather than because it actually thought it would get some material benefit from torture techniques themselves. Am I reading too much into this? In any event, the Administration has been pushed back on this issue, now retreating to a position that would allow torture only in the hands of CIA operatives. Right now we have three presidential candidates who all reject the Bush position and want to see more a restoration of the status quo ante. How would you see it implemented after January 20, 2009?

As I elaborate in my book, for years prior to the ascension of Bush 43, neocon publicists had been disparaging international law and institutions and calling for the American Gulliver to free itself from these puny restraints so that it could fulfill its noble mission of remaking the world. In effect, they were calling on the U.S. to become what it had opposed both by fighting the Axis powers in World War II and by confronting the Soviet Union in the Cold War, to become, that is, a revolutionary state, a state determined to overthrow the Westphalian order of sovereign states each to a great degree free to do what it wished internally.

From the moment it assumed office the Bush-Cheney Administration began translating neocon doctrine into national policy. The withdrawal of the U.S. signature from the Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (as opposed to merely letting it languish in the U.S. Senate without hope of ratification), the refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming: These and other acts were a declaration of independence from the constantly growing web of international obligations that the U.S. more than any other country had helped to weave at least since the end of World War II.

The assault on international humanitarian law, like Attorney General Gonzales’s reference to aspects of the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” was of a piece with this overall strategy of aggression against constraint in the form of the consensus of lesser states about the rules of the game which, in Dick Falk’s words, is “encoded” in international law and international institutions. But I do think this particular assault had its own motive force. I think that after September 11 Bush and his little circle genuinely feared further attacks and were convinced that torture was a necessary means of securing actionable intelligence and that the widest possible roundup and isolation of suspects in gulags was an important measure for disrupting Al Qaeda. The fact that they were hard-ass conservatives, intellectually and emotionally unconnected to the great 20th Century development of a human rights perspective on the world, meant that they could proceed without emotional discomfort. In philosophical terms there are extreme consequentialists. As long as, in their mind, they were serving the greater good, the quality of their means are irrelevant. Individual interests whether to life, due process or protection from torture have to yield to the tribal good.

I make the same point in my book where in explaining why, despite similar rhetorical commitments to freedom and democracy, liberal and neocons are separated by an unbridgeable philosophical chasm, I compare the neocons to Marxist true-believers. The Marxists too envisioned greater freedom as the endpoint of the triumph of communism. Once the world passed through the stages of class war and proletarian dictatorship, Nirvana would be reached, a Nirvana where, with the problems of production and distribution solved, a person could be a mechanic in the morning, a fly fisherman in the afternoon, and a poet in the evening. Unfortunately a great deal of blood would have to be spilled along the way. Both neocons and radical nationalists like Cheney are ready to spill the blood. Well, not personally, of course, if one recalls the vice president’s statement that he avoided service in the Vietnam War, despite supporting it in theory, because he had more important things to do.

Insofar as torture and cruel treatment is concerned, I expect the next President to extend the ban on torture to the CIA and to agree on a definition that includes water-boarding. Quite possibly he or she will apply the Army Manual restrictions on coercive interrogation to all agencies. I expect renditions to end and a way found to return Guantánamo to its former status as an obsolete coaling station and a wart on Castro’s ass. But all bets are off if we experience another 9/11.

5. Richard Posner, Jack Goldsmith, Neal Katyal, and others have been pushing for the establishment of a “national security court” which seems, from my perspective, geared to a recognition that the military commissions system established in Guantánamo won’t work and something will be needed to replace it following its inevitable collapse. But beyond this, we have to deal with the problem that Olivier Roy calls the “troisième generation”–that after a generation of Arab nationalists, and then a generation of a more pan-Islamist movement, we will come to a third generation which includes radical Islamists who are passport-holding citizens of the major Western democracies–a problem that is present in Europe already, and clearly on the horizon for the United States. This presents a severe challenge to the criminal justice concept that sits at the heart of modern liberalism, but also for foreign policy, since it raises issues about cooperation with non-democratic states, and even states that use torture as a cornerstone of their system. Certainly the Clinton Administration accepted and used renditions, for instance, and the difference from the Bush Administration is largely one of degree. I get the sense from your book that you’re shaped by the long experience of Latin America in this area. How do you see a new administration tackling this?

Here again I am going to be telegraphic and hope that people will turn to my book for detail. I think I have already made clear that I share the view of non-liberals about the severity of the terrorist threat coming as it does in an age of open borders, vulnerable systems of transportation and communication, intense global interdependence, and ever more widespread diffusion of scientific and engineering knowledge relevant to fabricating WMD. Where I frequently disagree with right-wingers is on methods for alleviating it. And my disagreement is on prudential, no less than moral, grounds for this is an instance where a grand strategy shaped by cosmopolitan liberal values and premises coincides with one shaped by realists indifferent to the moral consequences of policy.

That said, the question you have posed about how to confront citizen-terrorists, the so-called “troisième generation” problem, is a particularly tough one both for liberals and for that small sub-community of conservatives also committed to protection of the individual from the state, the few who spoke out against Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. I am afraid that we will have to grant governments, including our own, greater powers of surveillance. That will include a more free exchange of information, for instance between the Internal Revenue Service, the Census Bureau, and law enforcement agencies, and between police and prosecutorial authorities–at the national, state and local levels, and at the national intelligence agencies. There will probably need to be some relaxation of Fourth Amendment restraints on search, including search of the Internet. And there will need to be more extensive exchange of information with foreign intelligence services.

How can we contain these relaxed restraints on government intrusion on the citizen’s privacy at a time when the means of surveillance available to government are multiplying? How do we adjust to the very real security threats without gutting constitutional privacy values? Certainly we need to strengthen monitoring of the agencies of surveillance both internally, for instance through independent agency ombudsman, through the courts and through the Congress. That is why among the many delinquencies of the Bush Administration, few seem to me as destructive of the common good as the appointment of federal judges and justices of the supreme Court on the basis of litmus tests that include excessive if not cringing deference to Executive discretionary power.

If we strengthen the legitimate surveillance powers of the Federal Government, it will be easier to convict terrorist conspirators as well as to identify them in the first place. Thus the need for a special court would be diminished. In light of the overall tendencies of the members of Congress appointed on its intelligence oversight committees, I anticipate that a special security court is likely to be staffed with judges peculiarly deferential to prosecutorial claims regarding such matters as the exclusion of classified documents, without much if any consideration of their actual content, and the admission of hearsay or testimony from anonymous informers. But given the packing of the regular courts that intensified under Bush, perhaps the regular courts will not be much better.

One means of balancing the need for enhanced surveillance with the liberties of the citizen is to establish an independent executive agency equipped with prosecutorial authority and a right to command access to records and personnel of all agencies concerned with surveillance, detention and interrogation to assure fidelity to law. In addition, we would need to establish as felonies with minimum sentences violations of the law governing surveillance, detention and interrogation.

6. You close with a fascinating argument for what looks suspiciously like the focal policy of the Cold War, a policy of containment. Tell us how your policy of containment concept differs from Kennan’s, and how it bridges the more complicated risk environment–America must, after all, be concerned not solely about Islamic terrorists but also conventional powers which have WMDs and whose hostility to the United States seems to be back on the rise.

Kennan, as you know, was an old-school conservative, a self-invented Brahmin and no great fancier of moral enthusiasms like the ardent defense of human rights for people in other countries, including people of color in apartheid South Africa. Undoubtedly he would have had even less enthusiasm for neoconservative fantasies of democratizing the world at the end of a bayonet. Although he seemed to affect the posture of a straightforward realist, his view of containment implied belief in soft power, the power of Western Democratic culture to prevail over Communism as long as we prevented the Soviet Union from military intrusion into Western Europe. Thus he advocated military containment only there. He brilliantly anticipated the consequences of Soviet overstretch outside Europe and the long-term weakness of the Soviet model of political economy.

Are his views about containment relevant to our present danger? As I intended to imply above, they are in the loose sense of underscoring both the limited (but still important) role of military and paramilitary force and the efficacy of the West’s soft power which, although temporarily depleted by the Bush Administration, can be renewed. My main thesis, which I share with a variety of strategists–who, as far as I know, think of themselves not as liberals but simply as practical realists—is that we should see the jihadi terrorist threat as analogous to a guerrilla insurgency–indeed a number of insurgencies which, like the communist ones of a previous era, are united by a shared narrative but which also have local roots and actual or potential social bases of support. As in any counter-insurgency effort, the main instruments for isolating the already committed and violent militants from the social groups they claim to represent are political and economic. The military one is decidedly secondary.

The jihadi narrative in its essence is a story in which the United States seeks to dominate the lands where Muslims predominate and to impose on them an alien and exploitative rule both directly when it must and indirectly through Muslim collaborators. In effect, according to the narrative, the United States is at war with the Islamic World. And in the conduct of that war it and its collaborators are ruthless, killing warriors and civilians alike. So jihadis must be equally ruthless, all the more since the distribution of military power between the two sides is so asymmetrical.

Whether we think of our task as deconstructing the Bin Laden narrative or constructing one of our own, we have work to do. And we need to start by stopping things that we have been doing, things like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo and debates about how brutal we can be without crossing the line into what even John Yoo might deem torture and, as I argue at length in the penultimate chapter, seeming to underwrite Israel’s colonial domination of what little land is left in old Mandate Palestine for a sovereign Palestinian State. As you know, I have a variety of suggestions beyond these obvious moves, suggestions which would entail in the first place a reconceptualization of the national security budget so that it includes all of the instruments of foreign policy from tanks to education and training.

The way we treat our own Muslim population and the way in which other Western states respond to theirs will certainly influence the persuasive force of the jihadi narrative. Thus far we seem especially successful in integrating Muslim immigrants into full citizenship. But relative numbers are larger in Europe and the United States is far more discriminating in granting entry to the point where we are dishonoring ourselves right now in failing to admit more than a tiny handful of desperate Iraqis who compromised themselves by working with our occupying force. Particularly in the European case, as I discuss in the fourth chapter of my book, the integration issue requires one to reason through the huge, thorny question of on what terms people of ardent faith can coexist more or less comfortably with secular liberal regimes and peoples. I make an effort to limn the possibilities without discounting the difficulties.

Containment in the Cold War sense is not relevant to a threat that has no fixed venue, no sunk investments, that flows through cyberspace in the form of a narrative that reaches out to unknown potential adherents and converts them from alienated youth to murderous bombers. As for the longer-term classical threat to a great power like the United States-the threat of collision with a rising state, in this case China–it seems clear that a preemptive strategy of containment is impossible to reconcile with the cooperation we need from the Chinese in the struggle against terrorist networks and in the effort to address other great threats to human security. To deal with the present danger, it helps to assume that the past is not always prologue.

7. You provide a pretty bleak review of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and seem to feel that the last seven years have been a squandered opportunity. Do you sense that the de facto United States–Israel alliance which has directed much American conduct in the Middle East is going to be restructured in the near future–perhaps even that the United States will withdraw from a strategy which focuses so strongly on policies justified in terms of Israeli security, though it’s surely questionable whether they serve that end?

Ending the iconic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is not a counterterrorism silver bullet. But it is, I believe, a necessary although not sufficient element of a grand strategy for minimizing the appeal of terrorism within the islamic world, as well as for facilitating political change particularly in the Middle East, and stabilizing the states and the state system in that part of the world. One irony here is that we went into Iraq in part, according to the neocons, as part of a strategy for getting the conflict in old Mandate Palestine resolved once and for all. Now it is apparent to me that resolving that conflict will help us get out of Iraq without risking the stability of the entire area.


When less than two years ago Israel was devastating Lebanon’s infrastructure and Shiite neighborhoods, Condi Rice spoke blithely about the “birth pangs” of a new Middle East. I don’t know what, if anything, she was smoking at the time, but however aberrant her vision of how that birth could occur and what the child would look like, she was right to hope, because the status quo is so fragile and dangerous to the health of the global system, never mind to ordinary people living in the area itself. To be sure, problems, however imperative, do not necessarily command solutions. I believe that multiple moves are demanded if we are to have any serious hope of helping to foster that limited stability possible in an area being dragged by force of circumstance through processes of revolutionary social and cultural change. We must take the initiative to normalize relations with Iran and encourage cooperative relations between Iran and its neighbors.

If Hobbesian paranoia convulses the near-neighborhood of Iraq, Iraq cannot be stabilized. Continued convulsion in Iraq tends to block moves to ease tensions around it. The parts are connected. Breaking the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, imposing a settlement that could endure because it would be seen by most Palestinians (there will always be spoilers, as in any long bitter sectarian/ethnic conflict) as meeting minimum standards of justice, will help in the process of moving toward a comprehensive security system for the region that eases the anxieties and animosities of all relevant actors.

My thesis is that where, as in this case, a radical asymmetry of power characterizes the parties to a negotiation, a successful negotiation is virtually impossible absent incentives and threats from a powerful third party or parties. Why? Because the stronger state, particularly if it is a democracy, will be unwilling to make the minimum concessions that the weaker negotiators must have in order to secure support from their constituents for the result and in order to convince sympathetic observers (throughout the islamic world in this instance) that the settlement is just and reasonable rather than imposed. But, I ask in my book, where can we find widely accepted criteria of justness? (In a negotiation between states of roughly equal strength, it will be evident that neither could impose on the other, so normally whatever they agree to will be accepted as “just” by outside observers.) And it seemed to me evident that the only place to look is international law, for unlike domestic law it is a normative system built by voluntary consensus, it encodes widely shared views of what is just as well as what is useful.

So I try and apply those criteria, taking account as well as I can, of the historical context and the behavior of both sides over the course of the conflict and I conclude that Israel no longer has a right to occupy a square inch of the territories it acquired through victory in the 1967 war, even if one accepts the view that the original occupation was legitimate. (That does not exclude some exchange of territories at the margin in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, negotiations that would have a very different character if Israel had already conceded, under pressure from the United States and Europe, to surrender all claim to the territories once it had reasonable security guarantees.) One reason I come to that conclusion is my belief that there are alternative ways of guaranteeing Israeli security. Better ways, in my judgment.

What I propose in summary is Israeli withdrawal coincident with the creation under Security Council auspices of a trusteeship in the occupied territories and the substitution of a large UN-sanctioned force to replace Israeli forces. Since this force would protect Palestinians from Israeli assassination squads as well as protecting Israel from rocket and other attacks, and since it would be the prelude to real sovereignty and since the West and the Gulf States would pour development resources into the area, and since the force would guarantee a level playing field for the political competition of all Palestinian factions, I believe the great majority of Palestinians would accept this temporary occupation. At the same time, I would extend NATO’s shield to cover both states and possibly admit them to a qualified membership in NATO. A final key element would be dramatically large compensation payments to every Palestinian refugee family in the camps of the Middle East, so that each was transformed from impoverishment to affluence. Compared to the costs of the war in Iraq, that cost would be modest.

In laughably short compass that is my settlement scenario, a scenario that includes, I add again, U.S. initiatives to normalize relations with all area countries and factions. Utopian? Has anything else worked? Is not the effort itself a counter to the Jihadi narrative? If the threat of WMD terrorism is as great as I believe, and if the instabilities of the Middle East are as grave as I believe, is it not time to let unconventional ideas enter the policy discourse as we wait through the long final days of an administration that for all its arguably good intentions, has surpassed many predecessors in trashing the national interest.

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