Drawing Lessons From 9/11, Ten Years Later
NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan at the Aspen Ideas Festival in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Jerome. Just over a week ago, Jerry Borg was added to the long list of those killed at the World Trade Center. He did not live to hear the news that Osama bin Laden was dead. The actor and inventor died of pulmonary disease last December from the dust he inhaled near Ground Zero.
We've learned a lot since 9/11 about places like Kandahar and Fallujah and Guantanamo Bay, about al-Qaeda and the Middle East, and about ourselves. What have you learned since 9/11? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
We'll also get questions from the audience here in the Grand Ballroom at the Hotel Jerome. Thanks to everybody for joining us today.
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CONAN: Our guests at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Michael Chertoff, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Ambassador John Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence; former Representative Jane Harman, long-time member and sometime chair of the House Intelligence Committee; and author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. And we welcome all of you to the program today.
And let's start with Congresswoman Harman. She recently left her post as the representative of California's 36th District to become the head of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. And tell us: What have you learned since 9/11?
JANE HARMAN: I think there are many lessons. Let me say first that I left Congress because I had a fantastic opportunity to succeed Lee Hamilton as president and CEO of the Wilson Center. Our chairman, Joe Gildenhorn, is sitting in the audience right here, and it is a marvelous opportunity to be bipartisan in Washington. Now, I know that sounds like an oxymoron
What have I learned? Here are a few things. I was in Congress on 9/11, headed toward the dome of the Capitol where the intelligence rooms were then housed. They've since moved underground to a bunker that's called the National Visitors Center. But at the time we had no evacuation plan.
The fourth plane, which passengers heroically crashed in Pennsylvania, we now believe was headed for the dome of the Capitol. So I was at the second Ground Zero at the time.
Here are a few of the things I think we've learned. One, calling this a war on terror was a misnomer. Terror is a tactic. It is not an enemy, and playing whack-a-mole just to take out people is not a narrative that will ever win the argument with folks who could become suicide bombers, and sadly many are, or who could join the ranks of the educated and hopefully those with opportunity in countries all over the world. So I think we misnamed what we did.
Secondly, I think that we viewed al-Qaeda as a monolithic organization, a top-down organization, and we thought we could take out the top, and then the rest would crumble. Well, it's morphed into a horizontal organization with affiliates all over the world, and I think it's more lethal than ever. So I think that was the second mistake.
Third, we had failed to connect the dots on 9/11. So we did a very good job, I think - of course I'm one of the co-authors of the intelligence reforms, so I'm totally objective - of connecting the dots horizontally across our government. I think John Negroponte would agree with this. But we still haven't done an adequate job of connecting the dots vertically to first responders and law enforcement in our communities, and they're the ones who miraculously have unraveled most of the plots that are still going on in the United States.
And finally, we thought we had fixed the lack of interoperable communications. You'll all remember the NYPD helicopters were circling overhead, and the Trade Towers were glowing red, but they couldn't communicate with the firefighters who were climbing up the stairs, so tragically.
We fixed that problem in regions and cities, but we still don't have a national interoperable capability 10 years later, and there are new warnings from TTP, one of the terror groups in Pakistan just today, that they are planning to attack us, possibly as many as 10 times in response for the Osama bin Laden takedown.
So I think we've learned some lessons. We have a lot more to learn.
CONAN: Let me turn next to you, John Negroponte. What have you learned since 9/11?
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, I think, first of all, taking this abroad for a second, and our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think - and relating back to my own personal experience, having served almost 10 years working on the Vietnam issue way back when, the whole question of time - we are an impatient country. We engage ourselves in operations and activities of this kind, and we tend to think that they're going to be over in just a matter of months, or certainly not, not - we don't tend to measure these things in terms of years. And yet the lesson we've learned repeatedly - and I'm afraid we learned it again in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as we did in Vietnam, what started out as what we thought was going to be quite a short-term operation has dragged on, persisted for a long, long time. So I think that's one takeaway from what we've been through in the past decade.
The second, and it's related, I felt in Vietnam that we didn't focus on Vietnamization - handing over and building up Vietnamese capabilities in the area of security and policing, soon enough, and I think that was true in Iraq. And I think it was true in Afghanistan. So that would be my second takeaway: You do have to focus on building the capabilities, particularly the security capabilities, of your local partners so that you can contemplate and plan for a reasonably early withdrawal of our own forces, which turns out to be really the most politically sensitive and neuralgic aspect of our engagement in these foreign situations.
And then lastly, I would say to Jane's point, we have really improved our intelligence and counterterrorist capabilities, and there's a lot of events to confirm that: the demise of Zarqawi in Iraq, which was a brilliant operation, which integrated all the different modes of intelligence collection; bin Laden and so forth.
So I think as we go forward, I look to an American engagement abroad, if these kinds of situations arise, more based on counterterrorism and drawing on our great special operations and intelligence capabilities.
CONAN: Then going to counterterrorism, the former secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: I'd focus on three things. First, to follow on a point that Jane and John made, it's difficult to overestimate the significance of how we have improved in integrating intelligence in the broadest sense, in operational behavior.
You know, we're simply much better now in not only collecting information, including open-source information, but in integrating it and making use of it in decision-making in real time. And that yields benefits, whether it's the bin Laden killing earlier this year or whether it's our better ability to detect who's coming to the United States through the airports and things of that sort.
I'd say the second lesson we've learned is that key ultimately is perseverance. It's not about technical capability or money, although those are important, but in the end, if we don't have the perseverance and the focus to carry through and execute on our strategies, we will fail, and I think that's true whether you look at what we do at home or what we do overseas. And it's frankly a big challenge for this country, is to maintain that sense of focus and perseverance.
Finally, here's something I don't think that we have learned, and that is what makes people become suicide bombers. The preconceptions we have, which is that it's a long process of people becoming brainwashed and then finally at the end of that process, when they become fervent fanatics, they become willing to become suicide bombers, turns out not to be right.
In many cases, the distance between what we would consider to be a normal Westerner and somebody who's willing to blow themselves and their children up in an airplane is a matter of weeks, and we don't fully understand that. We don't understand the mechanism of that.
It may be there are many mechanisms, but I think we don't often pay enough attention to trying to unpack what it is that motivates people and produces a pool within which fanatics and extremists are still quite capable of recruiting.
CONAN: Turn next to Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist and a Pulitzer Prize winner. His new book, "That Used to Be Us," which he wrote with Michael Mandelbaum, comes out in September. Tom Friedman, what have you learned since September the 11th?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well, Neal, I by accident was in Israel on September 11. I was there covering the latest Israeli-Palestinian fighting. And I actually learned the most important lesson on the morning of September 12, that has really guided my thinking ever since.
That morning, I called friends of mine in the Israeli defense establishment and said you guys have dealt with suicide bombing a lot. I really want to know everything you've learned from that experience.
And they brought a group together, and we had a conversation very early on the morning of September 12, and what they said was - this is not verbatim, but the basic message was this. They said: Tom, we're really good. Our intel is really good. We can get Khalid(ph) before he blows up a pizza parlor. We can get, you know, Marwan(ph) before he blows up a disco. But you know what? Mohammed will get through.
Mohammed will get through unless the village says no. It takes a village. And that has guided my thinking ever since. Until and unless the Arab Muslim community fundamentally delegitimizes these kinds of attacks, they're not going to go away. And I was equally guided by, in that I believe first year, going to India.
You know, it was very interesting. If you look at Guantanamo Bay and the population in Guantanamo Bay so first let me just say, what's the second-largest Muslim country in the world? Well, it's not Saudi - the first is Indonesia. It's not Saudi Arabia, it's not Pakistan. The second-largest Muslim country in the world is India.
Well, here's an interesting statistic: There are no Indian Muslims, and to my best of my knowledge, maybe the experts here can correct me, and never have been, in Guantanamo Bay. Now, that's very interesting. Guantanamo Bay has been kind of a Noah's Ark of, you know, people from all across, you know, the Muslim world, but there's one huge exception. The second-largest Muslim country in the world is not represented.
Why is that? Could it be because the richest man in India is a Muslim software entrepreneur? Could it be at the time of 9/11, the president of India was a Muslim? Could it be because actually, I was in New Delhi when we invaded Afghanistan.
There was a debate on Indian national TV between the country's leading imam and the country's leading female movie star, and he called on all Indian Muslims to join the jihad in Afghanistan, and she told him to shove it live on Indian TV, because she lived in a context that enabled and empowered her to do so. Context matters. It's the whole story.
CONAN: What have we learned since 9/11? We want to hear from you, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Back after a short break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Aspen, Colorado. We're at the Aspen Ideas Festival in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Jerome. Nearly 10 years after the worst terror attacks in U.S. history, lessons continue to play out on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, in the halls of the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI and Congress and the White House and at dinner tables across the country.
We're learned about places like the Pech Valley and Guantanamo Bay, about al-Qaida and the Middle East and about ourselves. What have you learned since 9/11? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And we have these emails, this from Charles in San Jose: Since 9/11, I've been surprised at how ready Americans are to surrender their freedoms in the name of security. The Patriot Act is the best example.
And this from Lauren, who wrote: I learned that it takes a tragedy for people to band together and help one another out. If only it could be like this on everyday basis. 9/11 also made me realize how much I love and appreciate this wonderful, free country of ours.
Our guests today, all with us here at the Aspen Ideas Festival, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Ambassador John Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence, former Representative Jane Harman, who served as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
Let's get a question from the audience here in Aspen.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi. I think this is for Michael Chertoff. Airport security that started after 9/11 seems so inconsistent and more of a nuisance than a well-thought-out plan. Do you think it's working?
CHERTOFF: Well, let me say that one of the difficulties in dealing with any security is proving what didn't happen. And as a deterrent, actually, airport security works quite well. Witness the fact that we have not had a hijacking or a bomb on an airplane since 9/11, although we came close in December 2009 on the flight to Detroit, which originated, of course, overseas.
In fact, it's quite consistent, although there's a deliberate effort to make a certain amount of randomness, because one of the operational lessons we learned is that terrorists are very careful about establishing routines. And so when you unsettle routines, you inject randomness, you actually make it harder for them.
Now, it's going to progress over time. There will be new technological changes that will probably streamline it. But if you're asking me will we come to a time that we'll go back to the days when you didn't go to a magnetometer, I think those days are gone.
CONAN: Are we going to go back to the days, like last week, when we were patting down grandmothers in wheelchairs?
CHERTOFF: Well, you know, I hate to - I mean, I don't know the particular incident, but I will give you a dose of reality, because I remember when I was in the job, and my successor gets this, too. People say, well, why do you pat down children? Why do you pat down people who are elderly? So here are a couple of answers.
What was the age of the man who walked into the Holocaust Museum to try to kill people? Ninety-two years old. How many mentally impaired around the world have had bombs strapped onto them and had themselves launched to blow themselves up, eight-year-olds, 12-year-olds? What about the couple in 2006 that was going to take their one-year-old baby on an airplane and blow the plane up?
Unfortunately, the people we worry about don't have the same set of scruples and the same intuitions that we have about what is a combatant and what is not a combatant.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to a phone call, and we'll start with Maria. Maria's on the line with us from Ann Arbor, in Michigan.
MARIA: Hi. I have been - I'm a practicing Muslim, and I had been living in a small town in Michigan for three years. And we moved to the next town, and a few months later, 9/11 happened. And I was struck by the kindness of my former neighbors, who phoned me to make sure that I was all right and offered to go to the grocery store for me in case I would feel intimidated.
And I also must say that the police in Ann Arbor guarded the mosque to make sure that no one would be prevented from attending the mosque. And at the University of Michigan, girls who were not Muslim put on scarves, and they said: We have solidarity with the Muslim students here, and we recognize that there are many Muslims living in the United States, but they, too, do not approve of these measures.
And I was very happy to see that the rule of law and the following of law and protection of individual rights did not diminish in the United States, and it was preserved.
CONAN: Maria, has that been your experience in the years intervening?
MARIA: Yes, it has. And I'm very pleased with the American system and laws that people, of course, are very upset and Muslims are very upset about this horrible event. I mean, this is an abomination. But I'm very pleased to see that the American system is not shaken and that investigations are made properly.
If there are innocent people, normal Muslims living in the United States, they are not being attacked or wrongly persecuted for something that they do not believe in and that they do not condone themselves. In general, I found it wonderful and remarkable that the law was preserved here.
CONAN: Maria, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
MARIA: You're welcome.
CONAN: Tom Friedman, I'd like to turn to you. Her experience, I don't think, is universal, and I don't think everyone would agree that the American system was not shaken.
FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, we all know that there are incidents because when there are incidents of discrimination against Muslims, they're rightly reported in the newspaper. But I thought that was a beautiful call and a beautiful sentiment, and I think it does reflect, you know, the broad experience. And I think that's something we should be proud of.
And I would give President Bush credit for having sort of immediately made that point. At the same time, you know, in our earnest desire not to, you know, make this a, you know, sort of pan-Muslim issue, we also ended up actually not identifying the problem. We said the problem was a problem of terrorism. We are at war with terrorism.
George Friedman, I'm just reading his book. He said that's like, after Pearl Harbor, saying we're at war with aircraft carriers.
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FRIEDMAN: You know, we weren't at war with terrorism. We are at war with radical Islam, and that's been the struggle. That's who the enemy is. And we've never really had an honest conversation where this came out of. This came out of basically Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq because Pakistan had nukes, and Saudi Arabia had oil.
And it is the ruling bargain in Saudi Arabia that's been animating force for this radical Islam. We've never called it by its real name because addicts never tell the truth to their pushers. We are the addicts, and they are the pusher.
CONAN: Jane Harman?
HARMAN: Yeah. There's a lot to speak to here. It is good to hear a good Muslim story in this country. There are millions of people in this country who are of the Muslim faith. It's a growing faith here and through Western Europe, and it's a law-abiding religion, and we should understand that.
And back to Tom's point about it takes a village, if we don't build trust with Muslim communities in this country, we will not identify the few bad apples in those communities who are plotting, as we speak, to harm us.
I think the next attacks against our country will probably come from homegrown folks. There is a long list we've apprehended, but there's a longer list out there somewhere reading radical materials in colloquial English put on the Web by this cleric, al-Awlaki - who's hiding out in Yemen, and others - and how to build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom isn't that hard to figure out. So I worry about that.
I just want to make a couple of other points. We went into Afghanistan by a resolution approved by Congress, the authorization to use military force, because that was where, basically, the folks who attacked us were trained. That authorization was intended to be limited in time and scope, and obviously, Tom, as you know, it's been used for all kinds of actions around the world.
I think Congress was rightly upset that permission was not requested for the action we recently took in Libya. I think it should have been requested, and I think to some of the earlier points you made, security and liberty and not a zero-sum game. We have to be very careful, not just in balancing these two concepts, but in protecting them both as we develop policy.
The Patriot Act was narrowed by Congress because the first version wasn't as protective as it should have been, and there's still work to do there. But my bottom line is this is a great country, and we've made some mistakes, but I think we have made some course corrections that are the right corrections.
CONAN: Should Congress have been asked to approve the undeclared wars we're fighting in Pakistan and Yemen?
HARMAN: Well, I don't know that those would be called wars. I think it's a tricky question...
CONAN: Dropping bombs on people is usually considered war.
HARMAN: The actions that we're undertaking in Pakistan are mostly classified actions, and that is true. And you can roll your eyes, but we have to be - I have to be very careful, given how I know about this material. And in Yemen, I would - I think we have to have a robust debate about the War Powers Act, which is a flawed statute, and when Congress needs to declare war. But Congress should be fully and completely informed under the terms of the National Security Act, and I think that has been a problem for all the years since 9/11. It's getting better, but it's not fully fixed. And Congress should do a better job of organizing itself to do effective oversight over the Executive Branch, as it's supposed to, as an independent branch of government.
CONAN: Let's go next to the microphone here at the hotel ballroom in Aspen.
DALIA MOGAHED: Thank you. My name is Dalia Mogahed. I direct the Center for Muslim Studies at Gallup. I study Muslim public opinion around the world. And what I've learned since 9/11 is that the primary victims of extremism that uses Islam as an excuse are actually Muslims, and that Muslims around the world are among the most likely - and, in many cases, more likely than others - to reject terrorism, and that most of the foiled terrorist attacks that we've had in this country have actually been turned in by other Muslims. So I don't necessarily agree that terrorism continues to happen because Muslims have not rejected it. They are, in fact, its primary victims. Thank you.
CONAN: John Negroponte, I wonder if you want to respond to that.
NEGROPONTE: Well, I think they do reject it, and I think talking about Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, I agree that they've been a source - both those countries - of some of the problems that we've suffered. But I think that if they think they can feed the crocodile as they're trying to get across the river, I think they've got two thoughts coming. And I think in the case of Saudi Arabia, that became very apparent to them back in 2003 when they had some very severe terrorist attacks in their own country.
And I've noticed a shift in their approach to these kinds of issues since that time, and in Pakistan, it's the same thing. There was a time when a lot of this terrorist activity was confined to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and into the cross-border activities over into Afghanistan. But in recent years, this activity has now spread into what the Pakistanis call the settled areas. Even Mrs. Bhutto, the prime minister of the country, was killed by these terrorists.
So I think sooner or later, they're going to have to come to terms with these issues. I think, in the case of Pakistan, it's a reflection of the weakness of their security institutions that they have not been able to adequately confront this threat. But I think deep in their hearts, they know they are threatened by this, and sooner or later, they've got to do something about it.
CONAN: We're talking about what we've learned since 9/11 at the Aspen Ideas Festival. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And, Michael Chertoff.
CHERTOFF: Just to pick up on a point that John made and also Tom made, I do think that this is - there are two challenges in dealing with this issue. I think the last questioner made a very important point about where the majority of Muslims are, and they're really victims of this rather than perpetrators. But there is a minority - and in absolute numbers, it's not a trivial number - that have enlisted in this extremism, that part of the challenge here is, first we have to recognize that it is an ideology of extremism, and we've got to confront it as such and not merely as a tactic.
And secondly, we have to make the point that you cannot make a pact with the devil. As John Negroponte pointed out, in 2003, the Saudis suffered a series of attacks, and they turned into a phenomenal cooperator with the United States in terms of intelligence sharing and joint activity. In Pakistan, as we've seen just in recent weeks, there's a fundamental ambivalence, and they have been times that - and we see elements of the Pakistani establishment that appears to support groups that are terrorists.
They may be focused on India rather than the U.S., but the problem is you can't tame the tiger. Once you feed the tiger and you get on the tiger's back, it's going to take you to eating up places that you didn't think. And I think that's a point we have to drive home.
CONAN: Tom, I was just going to ask you to come in on this one.
FRIEDMAN: I think it's, you know, a very serious point. I think one has to distinguish between rank-and-file Muslims who, as the questioner indicated, have been the biggest victims of bin Laden and bin Laden-ism. And then I think you have to distinguish them between the clerical leadership, the government-sponsored leadership. How many fatwas have been put out on the head of Salman Rushdie, and how many fatwas by the official sort of clerical leadership have been put out on the head of Osama bin Laden?
CHERTOFF: I'll take the over-under on that, OK, because it's quite striking, the differentiation. We just saw, in Pakistan, the murder of a minister, you know, whose job was really to promote interfaith dialogue and cooperation, and the government wouldn't even go to his own funeral. So I totally agree with you about rank-and-file Muslims, but let's not exaggerate this, either. Somebody - we had a civil war in this country 150 years ago because people believed really bad things.
They believed you can discriminate against someone because of the color of their skin. We had a civil war over that, and we defeated those people. We defeated them so badly, that five generations later, their descendants still put Confederate flag decals on their pickup trucks, OK? And the only way this ends is in a struggle within Islam. This is an intra-Muslim war over how to embrace modernity, and it only ends when Muslims take on other Muslims over these ideas.
CONAN: Jane Harman, we've got a minute.
HARMAN: I just - yes.
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HARMAN: I think that is true, but as Robin Wright, who is one of the scholars at the Woodrow Wilson Center - that's a plug - pointed out yesterday in the program about a single great idea, there is a counter jihad going on. I think the Muslim community is pushing back, but I also think we have a problem - we, the United States. We are not projecting a narrative of what we stand for, which is persuading people, not the leadership - I think some of those are beyond rehabilitation - but the followership and the kids that we are not the evil empire.
We stand for the rule of law. We stand for opportunity. We stand for fairness. We don't stand for bombing Muslim countries without an explanation - an adequate explanation of why we're bombing them. So I think our country needs to put forth a much better national security narrative, and it's high time that we did that.
CONAN: This email from Alan(ph) in Saint Louis. Here's what I think we should have learned when someone tries to provoke a violent or an emotional response: think twice before you allow yourself to be provoked. How much differently things might have played out if we've been less sudden and less extreme in our reaction. More about what we've learned since the attacks on September the 11th, 2001, in just a moment. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. We're at the Aspen Ideas Festival at the grand ballroom of the Hotel Jerome. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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CONAN: Right now, we're at the Aspen Ideas Festival in a packed ballroom, and we'd like to thank all of you for coming in today to join us. Appreciate it.
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CONAN: We're talking about lessons learned from 9/11, almost 10 years on. And we're talking with some of the people who worked to put those lessons into practice in the months and years after the attacks: Michael Chertoff, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Ambassador John Negroponte, first director of National Intelligence, former Representative Jane Harman, longtime member and sometime chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Also with us: author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
What have you learned since 9/11? 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. And John Negroponte, let me turn to you. We went to war in Iraq, at least in part, to create a dynamic, democratic, capitalist state in the Middle East that would serve as a model to help that region transform itself. Things did not turn out as planned. Should one of the things that we have learned since 9/11 is the limits of U.S. ambition?
NEGROPONTE: Well, it was a point I was trying to figure out how I was going to weave into this conversation this afternoon, the whole question about the limitations on our ability to engage in nation-building. And I've really had an opportunity to watch that over a 50-year period in Vietnam and Iraq and elsewhere. And I think it's just very, very hard to do. I think that if you look at America's experience going all the way back to our occupation of the Philippines, back at the turn of the last century, our efforts in Central America in the 1910s and 1920s, where we sent these expeditions there that governed these countries, and then immediately their political systems lapsed back into disrepair once we left.
So I think we just need to approach that side of things with a little bit of humility as to the limits as to what we can accomplish. And I think that we - when we go into these kinds of situations, I think we should focus on enhancing local security capabilities, and perhaps some of the macro economic issues, help them set those things up. But the idea that we can start helping them devise their political system in some kind of a detail, I think, is very hard indeed.
And I think it's something that we just haven't quite gotten right yet. It's a lesson we haven't yet learned, how to go about nation building. Having said all of that, I looked at what's happened in Iraq with a reasonable degree of optimism as to the political system there. And I think they're doing a darn sight better than things looked to us back in the dire days of 2006 when the country was on the verge of a sectarian civil war.
CONAN: I've got to say, that's a pretty low bar, you know.
NEGROPONTE: It was a low bar, but I think things are looking better than we have reason to expect.
CONAN: Jane Harman?
HARMAN: Yeah. I don't think that that is why we went into Iraq, or that is certainly not why I voted to - I voted for the Iraq War resolution. I voted for it, and I think the way it was sold - especially by General Colin Powell at the U.N. - was that Iraq was on the verge of using - or had the capability and the intention to use weapons of mass destruction against us and the West, especially chemical weapons and biological weapons. And they had some air transport capacity to do that.
That intelligence, obviously, was flat wrong, and I did not and I would not authorize action in a country for the purpose of nation-building. And I think if we're going to do nation-building, as the president said the other day, we ought to do it here in the United States. This nation needs a lot of building.
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HARMAN: So I think those who espouse this notion that Iraq would change and then the whole Middle East would change were wrong, and I think the difficulty of doing what we've been doing in Iraq - I agree with John, that it's turning out a little better than we ever thought. But the difficulty of doing it there, and certainly, the enormous difficulties of doing it in Afghanistan - I applaud the president for changing our strategy a few days ago, because I think it's - we're moving to a better place - should show us that there are limits to our power.
And at some point, this is a zero-sum game. There aren't anymore troops to send anywhere and there isn't any money - more money to pay for this, and so we better choose wisely. And our interests and our values have to align before we go somewhere in military terms.
CONAN: Question here at the mic in Aspen.
BILL FRAZER: Yes. I'm Bill Frazer. I'm on the Board of Governors of Los Alamos and Livermore Laboratories, and you in the intelligence community and Homeland Security make good use of research that's done there. But I have a criticism and I want to ask you if you agree what you would do about it.
You're not investing in the basic research of the future. You're taking gadgets off the shelf that have been developed in the past and not investing in the basic research and in the infrastructure which will make the detectors of pathogens, the detectors of nuclear radiation that are improved in the future. You're not investing in the future. If you agree, I'd like to know...
CONAN: Michael Chertoff.
FRAZER: ...if you think this can be fixed.
CHERTOFF: I actually do agree. And I think that, you know, one of the challenges we've had in dealing with the budget over the last 10 years is that, initially, of course, the budget really was not much of a constraint. Frankly, Congress funded a lot of things, including basic research. And when we were - when I was at the DHS, we allocated among our budget for science and technology a certain percentage that was used for - we used to call it a Hail Mary pass, transformative research that was maybe low probability but could be really a game-changer.
What has happened over time as the budget has become more constrained is there's a tendency to want to have investments in things that will yield immediate, short-term results. And I agree with you. I think it's foolish.
In fact, I would argue, in general, one of the problems that we have in our political system is a tendency to focus investment on things that we are - we've experienced recently and we can see again, even those of really consequential things we haven't experienced but are ultimately much more important. And that's where we have to drive more of our investment.
CONAN: Let's get Ahmin(ph) on the line, Ahmin with us from Salisbury, Maryland.
AHMIN: Yes. I wanted to speak about - for in reference to the Arabic-speaking world, not the entire Islamic world. So as far as I know, in the Arab world people don't have freedom to protest or demonstrate against anything. The bottom line is freedom. After 9/11, they couldn't go out and protest against it because as far as I know they hate this radical Islamic thing called al-Qaida. They don't like it. They hate it. But they cannot protest. They cannot demonstrate because they don't have the kind of freedoms we have here in America.
(Unintelligible) could speak your mind. If you don't like somebody, you can vote him out. If you, you know, whatever you don't like, you can speak against it. They cannot. How can they demonstrate? How can they do - they'll get shot if they go and protest the rising price of coffee or sugar. They will get shot at. Look at the news. And how could they protest against al-Qaida or against bin Laden or against fanatic. They don't like them but they have no choice in the matter. That's why they are afraid to protest.
Once they have freedom, then they can have any form of government they want. They can have representation and a democratic system of government. But they don't have that freedom to do that. First, you got to have freedom then you can have anything else you want. What they have is absolute monarchies or dictators, which is...
CONAN: I just want to say thank you. We want to move on, give other people a chance to call. But I want...
AHMIN: Exactly. They are afraid to protest in the past 10 years or so.
CONAN: I wanted to put that point to Tom Friedman. You wrote in a recent piece that there was a surge of popularity for Osama bin Laden's fist-in-the-face of America, but that he also lived long enough to see his ideas rejected.
FRIEDMAN: Well, that's the beauty of the Arab Spring. And I want to go back to this whole - again, to me, my view of the whole problem is rooted in misgovernance, OK? That's where it starts. It starts with what I call the wheel of bin Laden. That's what I wrote right after 9/11. And it starts with autocratic, unelected Arab dictators put there either by colonial powers or military coups who, in the absence of consensual elections, empower anti-modernists, religious figures, basically.
And there's a really nice deal. These religious leaders bless the regime with authority. The regime blesses them with money. This ensures that these anti-modernist leaders keep the education system backward that produces millions of sitting-around people. 25 percent of the Arab world - I'm sorry - half of the Arab world is under the age of 25. These sitting-around people are deeply frustrated. We now see, something I believed back after 9/11, how much they hate their own governments for that. Their governments take a giant mirror and take all that hatred and refract it on us. That has been the problem since 9/11.
That's why Bush, he - we screwed up Iraq 10 ways to Sunday, but understanding that unless you change that governance model, OK, you have changed nothing. Now the beauty of the Arab Spring is precisely that the Arabs have done that themselves, attempted to do that, are attempting to do that courageously in so many countries. And that is what gives me hope, because what I'm - what I've been telling people, you know, you see - I was in Tahrir Square. I had the privileged to witness this firsthand.
Now, you're taking the lid off deeply controlled societies. When that lid comes off, now you're going to see some black bats fly out. You're going to see some people say some really angry, intolerant things about America, about each other, whatnot. But the real test of the Arab Spring is if you now see white bats, progressive, modern, Arab parties forming to take on and denounce the extremists in their community to be able to put together political platforms that can win governments and win control. That is the ultimate answer to the problems of 9/11. It's all about ownership.
I said this after 9/11. In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car. And in the history of countries, no one has ever washed a rented country. Arabs have been renting their countries from kings, dictators and colonial powers their whole lives. They are now blessedly and beautifully taking ownership. I wish them all the success in doing.
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CONAN: New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, his forthcoming book, "That Used To Be Us," written with Michael Mandelbaum comes out in September. Also with us, Ambassador John Negroponte, now vice chairman of the McLarty Associates and served as the first director of the National Intelligence. Michael Chertoff is with us. He served as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. And Jane Harman, president and the director now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a former representative, a Democrat from California and member of the House Intelligence Committee and sometimes chair of that committee. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And this email from Kingsby(ph) - Kingsley(ph), excuse me, in Jacksonville. I would say I've come to fear "normal" Americans more after 9/11. He put that normal in quotes. I live in south, near - very near a mosque in Jacksonville, Florida. I actually fear the militant conservatives, like the man who tried to bomb it a couple of years ago, more than the peaceful Muslims who practice there. Americans have begun looking for this faceless terrorist every day and it has become a far - a real issue.
Michael Chertoff, I wonder.
CHERTOFF: Well, you know, I would say first of all, there - you're going to find people who have extreme positions in every religion and in almost every walk of life. I still think - to go to the point that was made earlier - if you look across the whole country, the degree of inner faith interaction and support for the Muslim community in this country has actually been much greater than you see in some of the countries of Western Europe. That's not to say there haven't been real pockets of intolerance.
It's incumbent on us, though, to make sure that we build on the positive aspects of our response and continue to outreach and engagement with - between all of our communities and not lapse into what some people would like to see, which is a very much of an us-and-them attitude. This is true not only from a law enforcement standpoint but, frankly, because the vibrancy and the health of culture. And the best inoculation against an increase in homegrown terrorism is continuing to tell everybody, whether they're Muslim, Jew or Christian, that we're all equal partners in the venture of America.
CONAN: John Negroponte, I wanted to ask you, we have seen a change in leadership in al-Qaida and speculation that the new number one may have some interest in demonstrating that his organization is alive and well, even though we know that it is not. Should we be as afraid as we were on September 12th?
NEGROPONTE: I think not and I think the country is safer than it was back then for the various reasons we've discussed today, including our improved intelligence capabilities. I don't doubt that they will try to strike back somewhere. I think, more likely, it will be in some other part of the world, outside the United States, perhaps against some kind of United States interests in Europe or in the Middle East or Asia or elsewhere. But, no, I don't think we should be more concerned or even as concerned as we were after September 12th.
CONAN: Jane Harman.
HARMAN: I disagree. I think that we have done many things right, but I think that al-Qaida is a very different organization, as I said earlier, from what it was on 9/11. It's no longer a top-down, highly centralized organization. It has morphed into a loose affiliation of groups, not all of them called al-Qaida, around the world. And I think we can worry less about al-Qaida central in Pakistan than we ought to worry about al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, headquartered in Yemen by this cleric, Awlaki. I think that what's going on in the boonies of Yemen directly affects homegrown radicals in the United States.
And I do fear, not massive 9/11-style attacks, but a series of conventional attacks which we can't protect 100 percent against. Let's understand that. We can manage risks very well, but things will happen and have happened in our country. And it's false security to tell people to go back to their jobs. What's important is to tell people what to look for and what to do. And I think that people - I think about the Times Square bomb plot was uncovered by a couple of street vendors - are very capable of looking at - or finding strange things in their midst.
And I'm hoping again to come back to this point that we've all made, that we can build more trust with the Muslim community in this country. Most of it totally law-abiding and much of it integrated in our country in a way it is not in Western Europe and that will help us keep the country safe. But, no, I don't think, in absolute terms, we're safer than we were on 9/11.
CONAN: We'll end with a couple of emails. This is from Robert in Bexley, Ohio. In the immediate days and weeks following 9/11, I was sobered to my core regarding an obligation I sensed to try to live graciously toward and productively with others in honor of those who, dying in terror, abruptly lost their gift of life. For a brief moment, our nation was one. Quickly, I believe we returned to our general, though, certainly not exclusive state of squabbling, pettiness and selfishness, in my view, dishonoring the sacrifice of life that was extracted from the victims. I'm deeply saddened by our divisive course, attitudes and behaviors. We can and must do much better.
This from Brandon(ph) in Chapel Hill. I've come to realized just how fundamentally 9/11 altered our national consciousness, our world view and our sense of ourselves and others. This is the real tragedy of 9/11.
We're broadcasting today in Colorado, at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Thanks to our audience hear in the grand ballroom at the Hotel Jerome. Special thanks to Jennifer Myers, Kitty Boone Brett, William Stevenson, Tarek Rizk and Jim Spigelman. They are at the Aspen Institute.
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CONAN: Tomorrow, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us, and we hope you will, too. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Aspen.
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