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Professor: Jihadist Threat Is Bigger Than Afghanistan

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Professor: Jihadist Threat Is Bigger Than Afghanistan


Professor: Jihadist Threat Is Bigger Than Afghanistan

Professor: Jihadist Threat Is Bigger Than Afghanistan

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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One analyst watching the new Afghan strategy with some disappointment is Andrew Bacevich, a foreign policy specialist at Boston University who is a Vietnam veteran and whose son was killed in Iraq. Bacevich tells Steve Inskeep that the jihadist threat is transnational, and the U.S. staying in Afghanistan won't solve the problem.


We're going to hear now from a man who believes President Obama should focus more on tracking terrorists, and less on the countries that might harbor them. Andrew Bacevich is a veteran of the Vietnam War. His son was killed in Iraq. He's also a Boston University professor whose most recent book is called �The Limits of Power.� Steve spoke with him.


Some people will, having heard the president's speech this week, heard him make the argument that the 9/11 attack originated in Afghanistan. There have been attacks before and after 9/11 that seem to be connected to training camps and various other kinds of installations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is a clear, ongoing problem that needs to be addressed. What is missing in that analysis?

Professor ANDREW BACEVICH (Boston University; Author, �The Limits of Power�): You know, the president described Afghanistan and Pakistan together as the epicenter of the global jihadist threat. And I think that really is a distortion. The jihadist threat is transnational. It's not located in any particular place.

I find this notion that we need to pacify Afghanistan, because that's where the 9/11 attacks were planned, to be absurd. It's really the equivalent of saying that if we want to prevent the assassination of any future presidents, we need to station Secret Service agents in the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas because that's where an assassination happened.

INSKEEP: You're saying that al-Qaida and a terrorist threat is not a physical place. It's an idea, which could be anywhere.

Prof. BACEVICH: Actually, an idea is probably a way to begin getting at this thing. I would not want to be understood as suggesting that the threat is not real. It is real. I certainly would argue that the invasion and occupation of countries doesn't reduce that threat. In all likelihood, it exacerbates the threat.

INSKEEP: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has testified before Congress this week that a failure in Afghanistan would mean the Taliban would take over Afghanistan once again. In your view of the world, does that not matter much?

Prof. BACEVICH: It would matter. But frankly, no, it would not matter much. I think it's frankly absurd that what is ostensibly the most powerful nation in the world should allow its behavior to be dictated by a bunch of guys hiding in caves and running around carrying RPGs and Kalashnikovs.

INSKEEP: And also killing a lot of Afghans when they get the chance, as well as Americans.

Prof. BACEVICH: And killing a lot of Afghans. And bluntly speaking, the fact that there are a lot of Afghans being killed does not in and of itself mean that the United States needs to be involved there. I'm struck by the fact that over the past several years, something on the order of 2 or 3 or 4 million -nobody knows the number - of Africans have been killed in this war in the Congo. I don't see any great hue and cry that barbaric violence in sub-Saharan Africa somehow impose an obligation on the United States to go sort that out. So our policy needs to be informed by a realistic assessment of our interests.

INSKEEP: I want to understand a little better what your alternative way of thinking is here. You were a sharp critic of President Bush's view of the world and the terrorist problem, which if I may oversimplify, was simply that there needed to be more stable governments and if there was an unstable government that might be in some way supporting terrorism, the United States had the right and the obligation to go fix it. You seem to be arguing that President Obama is buying into that same rationale, at least as far Afghanistan and Pakistan go. What is an alternative way of addressing the problem of global terrorism that gets at the very real security threat that's there?

Prof. BACEVICH: Yeah, specifically with regard to the jihadist threat, the basis of U.S. national security strategy should shift away from occupying countries and redefine the threat as an international criminal conspiracy for which the proper response is an international police effort: well-resourced, sustained, ruthless, rooting out the terrorist networks such as al-Qaida. And I believe that that approach is likely to be much more effective, and will also be much cheaper.

INSKEEP: Ruthless. Can various world governments working together through their police forces be ruthless enough to deal with a threat this serious?

Prof. BACEVICH: The question is a good one. It is not clear, for example, that the government and the army of Pakistan views its Taliban problem with as much seriousness as we would like. We need to help them to understand that their internal threat is something that deserves to be taken with great seriousness.

INSKEEP: Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, thanks very much.

Prof. BACEVICH: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: And Steve spoke with Andrew Bacevich yesterday.

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