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The War for Democracy (Continued) By: James Woolsey
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, December 09, 2004


Now, I think after 9/11 that advice could be shown to have had some rather serious flaws. And those who acted upon it, such as the Taliban and Saddam, are sadder people today, just as the Japanese Empire, which made the same judgment about us at the beginning of the 1940s, was sadder and wiser after they saw what we did after Pearl Harbor.

But both – those who might have looked at our behavior in the ’20s and ’30s and made the decision to attack us at Pearl Harbor, and for those who looked on our behavior in the ’80s and ’90s and made the decision that it was a risk-free proposition to go to war against us – both of those advisers had some facts on their side. Well, if that’s whom we’re at war with and why we’re at war, how do we have to fight it?

 

There’s two aspects to the war here at home that will change a lot of our lives in substantial ways for a long time. By the way, when I call this the Long War, I mean decades, not years. The Cold War was 45 years. That’s probably not a bad benchmark.

 

One aspect of the war here at home is the tradeoff we’re going to have to make between liberty and security. Now, in the latter part of the Cold War and in the ’90s, our view was hey, we’re Americans. We want all good things. Security is good. Liberty is good. We’ll have 100 percent of both. And security will be dealt with by those folks like the intelligence community and the armed forces and NATO and stuff. And that’s all overseas.

 

And here at home we’ll have about as much liberty as any modern society could conceivably have. And we’ll make sure that these never impinge on one another, even theoretically. And what we’ll do – the Congress said at one point, for example – is we’ll construct the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure this way. We’ll make it illegal for the FBI, if it obtains material on terrorism in the United States that may have foreign sources to it, we’ll make it illegal for them to give that information to anybody except a prosecutor.

 

Now, that sounds a little odd. But that was Federal Rule 6E of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, until the passage of the Patriot Act. So, what was the consequence of that? 1993, first World Trade Center bombing, people with all sorts of ties to God knows where. One of the lead bombers, Yasin, goes back to Iraq and lives the life of Riley in Baghdad for years on a stipend from the Iraqi government.

 

The blind sheik, penetrated by the FBI, Mr. Nosair, who killed Rabbi Meir Kahane, is captured. All of these activities by the FBI produce boxes and boxes and boxes of documents and materials and files in Arabic. We don’t have any translators up there in New York. What happens to those files? They sit in New York FBI headquarters for years. They’ve just rather recently been translated. That was not the FBI playing its cards close to its vest. They were obeying the law.

 

We had a lot of things like that in the ’80s and ’90s, to make absolutely sure liberty and security never, ever conflicted. Well, after 9/11, we rather readily, I think, came to the view that yes, we want foreign students in the United States. But 19 of the ones who had been here were learning something we didn’t want them to learn, which was how to fly airplanes into buildings. And we learned shortly thereafter that there really were terrorist cells in places like Lackawanna, New York, not thought previously to have been a hotbed of terrorism.

 

And we learned that in Herndon, Virginia, about two miles from CIA headquarters, there’s a major terrorist financing operation. We began to realize that there may be some cases in which we’re going to have to make some choices. Now there two things, I think, that are really important about this. One is that we have to understand that we are not a race, not a religion, not a language. We are nothing in the world but a bunch of immigrants and children of immigrants who have, God bless him, Madison’s Constitution. And everything we do has to be pursuant to that.

 

But it is also the case, as Justice Jackson said in a famous Supreme Court decision once, that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. And it is quite permissible, historically, going well back to before the Civil War, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution in such a way as to give the Executive Branch broad authority on security matters, particularly when they are operating pursuant to statute.

 

So something like the passage of the Patriot Act, with a sundown provision, congressional hearings, decisions whether to make a change here or there or not, that’s the way the American Constitution historically has dealt with the need to adopt security steps during wartime. We need to see to it that these steps are undertaken wisely, and without racial or religious discrimination. But we also need to understand that we are at war with totalitarian movements.

 

And although Americans aren’t comfortable talking about people’s religion in a lot of ways and a lot of circumstances, we have to realize, for example, there may be some very good reasons why we’ve put Wahhabi charities in the United States under far stricter scrutiny than, say, Sufi Muslim charities. We may have to realize that if you live in an apartment in New York City and you buy, from six different locations, six different loads of fertilizer of the sort that Timothy McVeigh purchased, you may have in mind a really first-rate garden on the roof of your apartment building. But you also may have something worse in mind.

 

So without profiling your race or your ethnicity or your religion, if you are an individual of whatever stripes who buys half a dozen loads of fertilizer of that sort, you may need to have a call paid upon you. And data mining and various types of new technologies make it possible for us to utilize behavior that people exhibit, to understand some things that ought to be looked at a bit more closely.

 

These decisions will not be easy. We have to make them carefully. And it’s important to make them wisely. But we not only want to be successful in presenting or deterring and degrading the effectiveness of terrorist attacks, we also want to be successful, because we don’t want the country to get scared. Because even this wonderful country, if they get scared, is capable of sometimes doing ugly things. We don’t want that to happen.

 

There’s another aspect to the war here at home that’s going to be important. We are the most technologically sophisticated society the world has ever seen. And we live at the heart of not just dozens, but hundreds of networks of all kinds. The electricity grid, the oil and gas pipeline, toxic chemical production and delivery, food production and delivery, the Internet, on and on. People who work in areas such as chaos theory and network theory have a phrase they call the butterfly effect, which has now given its name to a new movie.

 

The notion is a butterfly flutters its wings on one side of the world, and the ecosphere is a complicated system. And because of cascading effects and unpredictable consequences, we could end up with a resulting tornado on the other side of the world. Well, that sounds kind of theoretical. But realize a year ago August, a tree branch fell on some power lines in Northern Ohio. And before too many minutes were up, 50 million electricity consumers in Canada and the U.S. were out of electricity, some of them for up to a week.

 

Now, I don’t think butterfly effect is real descriptive of that. I’d call it a malignant effect. The body is a complicated system. The electricity grid is a complicated system. A disturbance can create cascading chaos, a metastasis, in a sense. And so, as we look at our increasingly complex globalized economy and modern networks, we have to realize that we’re going to have to keep solving some of these problems. And some of them are hard to solve. It’s not hopeless.

 

For example, a couple of years ago there was an earthquake, I think about 6.7 on the Richter scale, outside Paso Robles, California. About four people died. There was one a few weeks later of almost exactly the same power on the Richter scale near a city called Bam in Iran. Forty thousand people died. The difference is California building codes.

 

We have learned over the years how to deal with even some severe disruptions, such as earthquakes, but we haven’t learned to deal with all of them. And there are a number of our systems that require some fairly substantial change to make them resilient. If that were the only problem, then we’re just playing against nature. Einstein used to say, “God may be sophisticated, but he is not plain mean.” And what I think Einstein meant by that, since for him God and nature were pretty much the same thing, was that if you’re playing against nature to make something better or discover something, even E=mc2, you are not playing against somebody who is trying to defeat you.

 

The problem with our modern structured networks is that we’re not just playing against nature, we’re not just trying to solve the problem of malignancy. We also have another problem, because it was not a malignant effect that occurred the morning of 9/11. What happened there was that a group of, to use the President’s words, evil men got together a couple of years before, and they said, well, let’s look at some of the American networks. Let’s look at their civil air transport network. That one we might be able to do something with.

 

There are three things about it that are sort of interesting. One is that they let short knives through baggage checks at airports. And that’s really good, because box cutters can slit flight attendants’ and pilots’ throats just as readily as long knives. Second, if you can believe it, they’re polite to hijackers. They developed this doctrine back when they were just going to be flown to Cuba and have to stay on the ground for a few hours. They figured why create any disruption. Something, an accident, might happen. So they tell everybody, their flight crews and everybody, be polite to hijackers. That’s terrific.

 

And third, amazingly, they have flimsy cockpit doors on their airlines. That’s the best of all, because that means we don’t have to be satisfied with just killing the people on the airplanes. We can take over the planes, fly them into buildings, and kill thousands of them. Now, that is not malignancy. That’s war. That is like fighting Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. That’s going up against an enemy who gets inside your head, understands how things work, and goes for the weak point.

 

And these networks that serve us so well have been put together over the last, some of them, the electricity grid, 100 years, in an environment in which the only things that were important were openness, ease of access, efficiency, ease of maintenance, full information for everybody, without a single thought being given to terrorism. Not a thought. After all, we haven’t had to deal with a foreign enemy in North America going after our infrastructure since the British burned Washington in 1814.

 

So, no wonder we weren’t thinking about that. But that means that as we work on fixing these networks and making them more resilient, we have to think both about malignancy and malevolence. And we do not get to choose.

 

Our European friends like to work on malignant problems, like global warming. I think one can make a reasonable argument that by buying SUVs and putting more carbon into the atmosphere, 40, 50, 60 years down the road we may be contributing to Bangladesh sinking a bit beneath the waves. We’re not trying to sink Bangladesh beneath the waves. We don’t want to do that. Europeans like to work on these malignant problems. They don’t like to think about the malevolent ones, at least not until what happened in Amsterdam last week. Some of them may be beginning to wake up a little bit.

 

If you are a heavy smoker, there are few things clearer in medical science than that you are contributing to an increased risk of lung cancer. And if you’re standing at your bedroom window and having a last cigarette of the day, and you look out and you see a burglar climbing into your basement in a ski mask, carrying a .45, the sum total of your response should probably not be, you know, I really ought to stop smoking.

 

Yeah, you should. But that’s not all you ought to do. With a family shotgun or call 911 or something, you’ve got to deal with the malevolence problem as well as the longer-term malignancy problem. And you don’t get to choose. We have to tell our European friends.

 

Let me close with a few words about the war abroad. I think that the President and I think one of those who has inspired him [Natan Sharansky] are exactly right, that over the long run we are only going to have peace and security in the Middle East, and indeed the rest of the world, by helping countries where it is now not the case, move toward democracy and the rule of law.

 

And when I say democracy and the rule of law, I do not mean one election, once. Osama bin Laden might win an election today in Saudi Arabia. No. Lukashenko won one in Belarus, and it’s still a dictatorship. It’s not one election, once. It’s the whole panoply, with the rule of law, open economies, respect for human rights. Election is part of it.

 

But nobody should pretend this is going to be easy in the Middle East. Twenty-two Arab states, no democracy. Maybe one beginning in Iraq in January, we can hope. But the Arab world and the rest of Central Asia and China are an exception in the world today. The world had 20 democracies in August of 1945. And today it has 117, an increase of almost 100. Over 60 percent of the world’s governments and over 60 percent of the world’s people live in democracies.

 

Now, some of these are not perfect – for example, substantial corruption in a country like Indonesia. You can’t really say it has a full rule of law. But it now has regular elections. And Mrs. Sukarnoputri does not have to worry about a knock on the door in the middle of the night just because she lost this presidential election. She can come back in four years and try again.

 

Sixty percent of the world, up vastly from August of 1945, lives under electoral and democratic systems, and systems where there’s at least a modicum of civil liberties. And in many of those cases, about 90 of those countries, essentially full democracy and the rule of law. And it is true in some places that you might not think of.

 

For example, Mongolia and Mali are both perfectly fine, functioning democracies. Well over half of the world’s Muslims live in democracies: Indonesia, Bangladesh, the big Muslim population of India, Turkey, Bali, Senegal, is over 700 million Muslims.

 

The Middle East and the Arab world – plus the extended Middle East, including, say, Iran – is a very special problem. For historical and cultural reasons – some of them the influence of the Wahhabis – I believe it is a very, very big task. But what I love to tell my European friends is that although it’s going to be difficult to bring democracy and the rule of law to the Arab world and the rest of the Middle East, it won’t be nearly as hard as it was to bring it to Europe. And they say, what?

 

And I say, well, you know, the German Empire the first part of the century, the Nazis, the Fascists, the Communists. At times in the 20th century, Europe was entirely under either empires or autocratic states, or one type of totalitarian dictatorship or another. It took us two hot wars, World War I, World War II, a cold one, something on the order of a couple hundred million deaths from war, the Holocaust, and so forth, before we got Europe sorted out – we and the British and some others. So, I think the Arab world is going to be tough, but it can’t be as hard as Europe was.

 

I think that we have to be patient about this. We have to build on potential alliances with friendly movements – such as certainly, within Islam, the Sufi and, I believe, if we work this right in Iraq, the Shi’a as well. And then those portions of the Sunni Muslim world that are not committed to totalitarianism and to Al Qaeda and Wahhabism and the like. This will not be easy. But look, if you’re interested in peace, this is the only way to go. Modern democracies don’t fight one another. You really can’t think of a case. They fight dictatorships. Dictatorships fight one another. We even sometimes, as we did in Iraq, pre-empt against dictatorships.

 

But modern democracies, what do they do? They choose up sides and argue about things like agricultural subsidies. That’s fine. That’s a perfectly reasonable way for them to spend their time: international affairs. And if you’re interested in disarmament, what are the three great cases of countries turning away from nuclear programs, until Libya finally got a little – we got Libya’s attention with a quarter of a million troops in Kuwait. And they said, hey, we’ll talk. Yes.

 

Until then, the three great successes were in the ’80s and ’90s: Brazil, Argentina and South Africa, all turning away from nuclear weapons programs. Why? Because they became democracies. It had nothing to do with United Nations or arms control agreements or anything else.

 

So, this will not be easy. And I think the only word for someone who believes we need to move toward bringing democracy and the rule of law to the Middle East, the only accurate word for someone who says this is going to be very, very difficult, is ‘realist’. For someone who goes further and says this is impossible, Arabs just can’t do this, I think there’s only one word. And that word is ‘racist’, because if you look at the Middle East today, there are some sprouts of green coming up through the sand. Bahrain is one example. Morocco on some things, or others. A few brave Saudi intellectuals who go in and call on the Crown Prince and talk about the need to improve rights of women. And in Saudi Arabia, things are beginning to happen a bit. And it’s not by accident. It’s in part because of some of the things that have happened in the course of the last two or three years.

 

So let me close by saying that as we undertake these efforts, we will find that people such as the Saudi royal family or the Mubarak regime in Egypt, or others will say, you damned Americans. You don’t understand our culture. Our culture is that I am in control. You come over here and you spread these disruptive ideas that don’t have any basis or roots in our civilization. You worry us a great deal.

 

And I think our response should be, well, OK, we would like to have you on our side. You can come over anytime. But if you choose not to be, you’re right to be worried, because it takes us a long time to wake up sometimes. But we’re now awake. And you’ve got a problem, because we’re on the side of those whom you most fear – your own people.

 

Thank you.

James Woolsey is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.


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