Failing Grades in War on Terror

September 10, 2007
Miranda Daniloff Mancusi

On the eve of the second anniversary of the Sept. 11,2001 attacks, a panel of Kennedy School scholars gave mixed reviews to the American-led war on terror at a Forum on Wednesday night. Panelists generally gave the Bush Administration credit for its immediate response to the attacks while faulting its longer-term strategy for countering international terrorist threats.

Kennedy School Dean Joseph S. Nye compared the Sept. 11th attacks to a "flash of light on a summer evening that reveals a new and interesting landscape." Among the revelations, Nye said, are that "globalization has a dark side" and that the information revolution and new technologies have ushered in a "major change in world politics."

Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, answered "no" to the hypothetical question: are we safer today than one year ago? He gave the Bush administration a C+ grade in its international campaign against Al Qaeda, a C- for efforts to defend the American homeland, and a D for efforts to prevent nuclear and bioterrorism.

Taking a different tact was Jessica Stern, lecturer in public policy and author of "Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill." Stern analyzed how well the terrorists are faring two years after 9/11. "They are doing very well," she said. "We are fighting a very flexible enemy." She warned of the dangers of failed states - like Afghanistan and Iraq - which inevitably become havens for terrorist groups.

The Bush Administration's choice of language in response to 9/11 also drew criticism. "We've gotten carried away with the word 'war,'" said Philip Heymann, James Barr Ames professor of law. "It doesn't do a lot of good to talk about war against terrorism." Heymann explained that a sustained effort to diffuse terrorist threats will require a coherent strategy in Washington and one that counter-balances the "long-term costs to American democracy and American ideals."

Belfer Center Senior Fellow Juliette Kayyem analyzed the administration's efforts to organize a Department of Homeland Security. She was critical of the fact that no office for internal review exists at the department, claiming that DHS "should be transparent to the public and open to criticism. Unfortunately that is not the case."

Federal support for state and local responders is also a critical element in the nation's domestic preparedness efforts, stated Arnold Howitt, director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government. "There are long steps to go," he said. "Conditions are not hospitable to them and the federal government is going to have to step up to the plate."

The panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Kennedy School's Executive Session on Domestic Preparedness.

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