Monday, May 17, 2010

"Top Secret" 2

The first extended morning session included Dr. Scott Atran,a cultural anthropologist, long-time journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave, who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Dr. Whalid Phares, who is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a Visiting Scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy.

These men offered an overview of the national security terrain, including who some of the key players are, how the dynamic of national security has changed over time, and what the future could be.

Dr. Atran refuted the popular (and I think flawed) notion of a clash of civilizations. Instead he suggested the world is dealing with a "crash" of civilizations as peer-to-peer relationships challenge the historical hierarchical relationships that traditionally defined geopolitics.

I found his most cogent remark coming when he discussed how the media have played a negative role in the discussion of national security. In his words, there has been "an hysterical reaction through the media" that makes the so-called national security threat appear far worse than it actually is.

Mr. de Borchgrave acknowledged that he was not at all interested in the political correctness that too often dominates discussion of war, terrorism, national security and the civil rights associated with them. In acknowledging that the United States is fighting an "irregular war," in that the traditional "bad guy" who is a state actor with a fight taking place on a battlefield, he asked the students to consider what is happening in Pakistan.

There, Mr. de Borchgrave said, Pakistan can turn out 10,000 students from various madrassas on an annual basis. As a result, he suggested that "Jihadism needs to be contained as Communism was" because it cannot be defeated.

Dr. Phares suggested that in understanding who non-state actors are, it is important to remember that many of them are interested in becoming state actors. In addition, transnational non-state actors are interested in influencing as many state actors as they can.

He noted that since 2001 there has been a marked change in jihadi-terrorist organization in that they have become more numerous, and that while some of them are "linked to the Mothership" (meaning al-Qaeda), others are "lone wolves."

Underscoring this discussion was how can the United States win in the Middle East not through hard power alone but also through its soft power. Dr. Atran indicated that providing hope for young people who today can gravitate toward terror organizations or seemingly isolated terror cells can be a valid national security strategy for tomorrow but not today.

But for any of that to happen, there must be a commitment from the American government to provide money and resources for such programs. Here any opportunity that is lost will not necessarily return.

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