The Terrorist Attack: What Response? A Kennedy School Community Conversation

September 14, 2001
Sarah Abrams

The terrorists who attacked the United States last Tuesday were part of an organization capable of violating all moral restraints according to Jessica Stern, a Kennedy School lecturer and expert on terrorists. Few organizations in the world fit such a profile, said Stern, a panelist at event last evening to discuss Tuesday's tragedy.
Stern cautioned against the temptation for immediate revenge. More information is needed, she said, before the United States should strike back. Only when the perpetrators have been identified, can there be a military response. "If we rush to retaliate, we will repent at leisure," Stern said.
Panelist John White, lecturer in public policy and former deputy secretary of defense, also cautioned against moving too quickly. U.S. military capabilities, he said, were built for different kinds of threats than what the United States now faces. The challenges confronting us today are not military ones, he said, but ones with deep roots in biological, chemical, and cyber warfare.
The United States, he said, now has the opportunity to build long-term, multi-agency strategies, which could include reorganizing government agencies, increasing the power and resources of the embassy system, and raising the question of how we deal with countries who harbor terrorists.
"Use of the military puts in the shadow the good solid use of police work," said Michael Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center, who also expressed frustration at the dilemma the United States now faces.
"There are aspects of U.S. policy that need to be reviewed," said Ignatieff, and "sound policy reasons why people hate the United States, but we can't change these policies under duress and that's a real problem," he said. The horror of this event for me, Ignatieff said was the severance that it has created between what the United States now faces and thoughtful discussion.
"In light of the crisis the United States is now suffering," said Ignatieff, "a shift in political policy is impossible under duress, although in the long term it will be essential for the United States to reassess middle eastern policy."
Fred Schauer, academic dean at the Kennedy School and the evening's host, discussed the issue of using the U.S. court system to seek justice against the terrorists. Our system, said Schauer, is designed to protect the innocent, and, as a result, guilty people sometimes go free. U.S. citizens must not be willing to use our system, unless they are able to accept the results, he said. Last evening's event was one of a series of ongoing discussions organized by the Kennedy School to attempt to put Tuesday's attack in perspective.


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