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On the five-year anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks ever on American soil, several panelists at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum suggested Monday evening (Sept. 11) that major strides in securing the nation against future terrorist attacks are being undermined by an aggressive foreign policy that has alienated many in the Muslim world.
Juliette Kayyem, a Kennedy School lecturer in public policy and former member of the National Commission on Terrorism, told the standing-room-only audience that while toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan disrupted al-Qaeda’s capacity to target America, the subsequent invasion of Iraq “raised the temperature of the world.”
Kayyem said America is safer today than it was on Sept. 11, 2001, but isn’t as safe as it could have been under a more nuanced foreign policy.
Baroness Kishwer Falkner, a member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords and a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, said her country’s intelligence and law enforcement security gains also have been diluted by its actions abroad.
“We are safer, yes, but we’re also slightly less safe,” said Falkner, a former member of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s task force on Muslim extremism.
While he agreed with other members of the panel that America isn’t entirely secure from terrorism, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Tad Oelstrom said there was little doubt that the country is safer than it was five years ago when the World Trade Center towers crumbled in a dark cloud of smoke and debris. Oelstrom, director of the Kennedy School’s National Security Program, said the government understands the threat far better now and subsequently is in an improved position to meet it.
But Samantha Power, Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy, differed with the other members of the panel, claiming that the United States is less safe today, more than three years into a military occupation of Iraq that she said has eroded America’s legitimacy and competency in the eyes of the world.
Power said she remembered thinking on Sept. 11, 2001, that the attacks could push the nation in one of two opposite directions – either toward greater empathy with the world or into a destructive cycle of fear and defensiveness. Five years later, she said, it’s clear to her America has taken the latter path.
Oelstrom, who argued against immediately pulling American troops out of Iraq, said the country must do a better job of promoting its democratic credentials around the world.
“We need to figure out how to get our message out without forcing it out,” the retired general said.
Moderator Joseph Nye Jr., a Kennedy School professor and former assistant secretary of defense for international security in the Clinton administration, rejected the notion that America is in the throes of an epic clash of civilizations with Islamic radicals.
“There’s nothing Osama bin Laden and his colleagues would like more than to turn it into a clash of civilizations,” Nye said, adding, “We cannot win unless the mainstream realm of Islam wins.”
Photos by Jon Chase, Harvard News Office
Moderator Joseph Nye looks on as Baroness Kishwer Falkner speaks to the audience at the JFK Jr. Forum.
Tad Oelstrom and Samantha Power were two of the speakers on the Forum panel.