Sept. 11 Two Years Later: Are We
With Mel Goodman
Senior Fellow, Center for International
Thursday, September 11, 2003; 2:00 p.m
Are we safer two years after Sept. 11? Homeland Security has
focused on security of our nation's ports, airports and borders. But
how much has really changed in two years? In this discussion, we
will examine the national and international security situation for
the U.S. in the wake of Sept. 11 and to assess the overall picture
for American interests.
Mel Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International
Policy and former CIA analyst, will be online Thursday, Sept. 11 at
2 p.m. ET, to take a critical look at how national security and
intelligence have changed.
your questions and comments before or during today's
Goodman is the author of the upcoming book, "Bush League
Diplomacy: How the Neoconservatives are Putting the Nation at Risk"
(Prometheus Publishers, March 2004). The book is a comprehensive
critique of the national and international security policies of the
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Mel Goodman : This is a sad day for us all. We must commemorate
not only the victims of the terrible attacks two years ago, but also the
heroic Americans who did so much to minimize the loss. We all need to
reflect on this day on how our lives have changed, but we must examine
closely the actions that our government has taken at home and abroad in
order to understand if our security has been strengthened or weakened by
the actions of the Bush administration. Much good has been done in the
last two years, but sadly we are at greater risk because of the war in
Iraq. I hope that this dialogue can include a net assessment of the
plusses and minuses of the past two years.....Mel Goodman
Somewhere, USA: we're not safer, and I think your book's title
pins it down. We chose to rush forward alone rather than to work on the
sympathy the world had for us on 9/11. Instead of our natural allies, real
democracies with some respect for human rights, we have chosen to buy
allies that are from convenience only and would desert us in a minute -
like Uganda's Museveni.
Mel Goodman : Yes, I have to agree that we are less safe. We are
less complacent and that is a good thing. But instead of focusing on
terrorists and terrorism, we chose to invade a country that had nothing to
do with 9/11 and was not an imminent threat or a clear and present danger.
Now we are overextended and fighting the wrong battle in the wrong place.
In doing so, we have exhausted much of the world's sympathy that we had
gained in the wake of 9/11. Very sad.
Arlington, Va. (Ballston): What are our biggest security holes?
What areas could we get the most bang for our bucks?
Mel Goodman : The biggest security holes are in the fields of
transportation (other than air safety) and in commerce and shipping
(particularly America's ports). We need to do more in funding first
responders on the state and local level and have generally underfunded the
strategic task of homeland security. Both the Council on Foreign Relations
and the Rand Corporation believe that the underfunding has reached nearly
$100 billion over the next five years.....and our economic mess and our
Iraq morass do not permit us to address serious security needs.
Atlanta, Ga.: Why do we not directly address the enormous
economic, political and cultural tensions generated by globalization and
efforts to control precious oil and raw materials?
Frequently, the "bad guys" have valid points too: before the civil war,
the North never seriously discussed steps to compensate for potential
economic losses of the South due to abolition of slavery; before the world
wars there was no serious effort made about getting rid of imperialism;
similarly before initiation of the cold war against a Russia in shambles.
We appear to be stumbling blindly, slowly but surely, on the way to a
Mel Goodman : There is no question that this admistration
refuses to address the root causes of instability and terrorism in the
world today and has instead added to the problem by using force. When the
president said that Iraq was now the "center" of the war vs. terrorism, he
was admitting the defeat of his policy and conceding the greatest
self-fulfilling prophecy in recent history. If we wanted Iraq to be the
center of the struggle, then we merely had to invade to make it so. That
is what we did in March and that is what we have to deal with now and the
Plymouth, Mass.: Reports of the TSA's squandering of our tax
dollars have been plentiful. Do you think the American taxpayer is getting
its monies worth of aviation security from the TSA? Are we getting what
we've payed for? Is the traveling public being afforded the protection it
deserves or are we still for the most part dealing with a "facade of
Mel Goodman : We have probably overcommitted funds to air safety
and ignored the rail system and other forms of communication and commerce.
Our air system is certainly safer, but we have not addressed the soft
targets that abound in this open society. The Department of Homeland
Security is simply not the center of gravity that it was designed to be.
Its major failing is the lack of a central repository for intelligence
information that deals with both domestic and international security. This
is a fix that would require a great deal of commitment but not a great
deal of funds. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has permitted DHS to
become a bureaucratic backwater that cannot even keep its top leaders and
still has noone in charge of intelligence analysis issues. This is simply
unbelieveable in view of the intelligence failure that led to 9/11 in the
Plymouth, Mass.: If the Transportation Security Administration
is doing such a good job with aviation security, how did a young man ship
himself home in a box? How did three young men float ashore unnoticed at
La Guardia? And, why do screening checkpoints across the nation still
continue to fail the lead film shield bag test? Who's kiddin who? I'm sure
Osama is not fooled by the continuing facade!
Mel Goodman : I cannot imagine four teams of terrorists boarding
aircraft with weapons in the fashion that the 9/11 terrorists operated in
2001. There will always the kind of events that you cite in any security
system, but the overall picture for air safety is better. I would look
elsewhere for the government's failures, particularly in the areas of
first responders, medical safety and security, container traffic on the
seas, etc. etc.
Kansas City, Mo.: Two years on, Osama is shown on TV, strolling
about the mountains of Pakistan, and Newsweek says he's planning
biological and chemical outrages. Should the US have concentrated more on
destroying al Qaeda in Afghanistan, or was the subsequent war in Iraq
actually a better way to fight terrorism and prevent more attacks on the
Mel Goodman : The war in Iraq was unnecessary and totally
counter-productive. It diverted us from the task of counter-terrorism and
achieved exactly what OBL had in mind for the United States in the Middle
East. We are not the Western infidels that OBL said we were. Live and
treasure are being wasted and a country (Iraq) that did not support
terrorism is now a sanctuary and safe haven for terrorism. This is
dereliction of duty on the very people who brought us this war.
New York, N.Y.: As someone who lives four blocks away from
Ground Zero, I was disturbed by the recent news that the EPA may have been
pressured into lying about the danger of living or working in lower
Manhattan. Do you know what's being done to ensure that residents are
safe, and whether journalists, politicians and others are interested in
following up on this story?
Mel Goodman : The media response to the important EPA story has
been timid and inadequate. This story deals with the politicization of a
regulatory agency in a way that put lives of Americans at risk. Where were
the whistle-blowers at EPA? Where were the investigative journalists? Why
is the Bush administration permitted to put important sectors of the
government at the service of the administration itself and not the people
of this country. Treasury and the intelligence community have been
Concord, N.H.: I actually think we are safer in the short-term,
if only because we have substantially disrupted the organizational
structure of al Qaeda . But that does not justify the policies of the Bush
Administration that have cost us dearly in world opinion and likely left
us less safe in the long-term by energizing a new generation of radical
Islamists, not to mention the deal we made with the PATRIOT Act devil by
trading some freedom for the false promise of more long-term security. I
think this short-term vs. long-term perspective is missing in our debate,
and the President is able to exploit the appearance of progress in the
short-term to score political points and keep himself in office.
Mel Goodman : I totally agree that we are safer in short-term,
tactical ways and certainly we are less complacent, but we have made
serious strategic blunders at home and abroad and will pay a long-term
price. The debate is not there and our congressional leaders have failed
us miserably in this regard.
Washington, D.C.: There has been some attention brought to the
state of chemical plants in the US and being a potential terrorist threat.
Can you please comment on chemical security overall and your thoughts on
the Chemical Security Bill brought forward by Senator Corzine (D-NJ)?
Mel Goodman : Sorry, I'm not familiar with Corzine's bill, but
noted earlier that all elements of our infrastructure and basic componets
of our economy are vulnerable and have not been sufficiently addressed.
The emphasis on air safety has been overdone at the expense of the rest of
the economy. Fighting the next terrorist attack with the scenario of the
Mt. Rainier, Md.: I live with a paramedic and volunteer with
firefighters, so I'm all for first responders. That said, throwing money
in the air for every village with a fire truck is a wasteful use of money.
We should be targeting the money to the most likely targets (major cities,
major monuments) and for the best impact in any general disaster. So far
the programs they're funding in northern VA are a big waste of time and
Mel Goodman : I cannot argue with you. I'm merely saying that we
are terrible underfunded for security issues at home, particularly for
first responders....while the Bush administration has committed over $9
billion to a national missile defense that will give us NO security and
will NOT work. That is my point.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: I understand the US has been extremely
concerned about security at the airports. Meantime, we hear about a man
travelling in a plane inside a box safely and we feel that mistakes are in
very little things which are never checked. Even when a foreigner
sometimes changes just one letter in the passport and enter the country as
another person. My question is about how meticulous is your safety
criteria if 3 airplanes threaten almost at the same time 3 powerful
targets and why the key perpetrators are still safe and alive. So many
soldiers in Afghanistan and Irak and the devils Osama and Sadan can
survive eating and sleeping somewhere nobody finds despite so many
arrested, including people from their organization?
Mel Goodman : The basic problem here is that the Bush
administration has gone to war against nations that had nothing to do with
terrorism regarding the United States and have lessened the focus and
attention on the terrorists who should be the target. The emphasis should
be on the on-the-ground terrorists...and war against Iraq is a terrible
diversion and there will be terrible opportunity costs.
Payne's Depot, Ky.: Given the fact that security measures have
been beefed up at airports and that people are just plain more vigilant, I
think that it is safe to say that we at least feel somewhat more secure
than we did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11/01. In your opinion, does
the threat of increased terrorist recruitment due to our involvement in
Iraq threaten to overwhelm the improvements that have been made to
homeland security? Could we have made better use of the billions being
spent in Iraq by further improving security at home instead?
Mel Goodman : I agree that we are less complacent and more
alert, hence somewhat safer....but on the larger strategic map, the war
has created the groundwork for the recruitment of more terrorists, opened
up a huge sanctuary for terrorists, and compromised the essential sympathy
and support that any struggle against terrorism requires. Overall, I
consider that a net loss for security and safety. And as long as the
unilateralist approach of the neoconservatives carries the day, we will
continue to be vulnerable and at risk.
Washington, D.C.: It seems to me that the wars with Afganistan
and Iraq have really addressed only the organization & symptoms of
terrorism not the root causes. While I agreed about the war with
Afganistan after 9/11, I think that the continued military emphasis on
'The War on Terrorism' is a distraction, keeping us from discovering and
dealing with the hard issues. What do we need to do in order to start
addressing these causes?
(PS: I consider the current war with Iraq to
be apart from 'The War on Terrorism' - it seems to have been started on
Mel Goodman : The war vs. Iraq had NOTHING to do with terrorism.
The worldwide, continuous war vs. terrorism was also wrong in its
doctrinal and operational message, because the "war" will require more law
enforcement and more intelligence and less in the way of military power.
There are many lessons to be drawn from the European struggles with
terrorism in the 1980s. We need to debate these issues and develop a
strategic agenda for the problem of terrorism. This administration has not
done that, and the president's remarks to the nation last Sunday pointed
to the intellectual vacuum at the top of the nation's leadership.
Plymouth, Mass.: The dichotomy is evident. We have an
Administration that is hell bent on holding Sadam accountable at the cost
of billions and the sacrifice of American lives, yet President Bush will
not demonstrate the same resolve to hold accountable those within our own
government who were responsible for the vulnerabilities of 9/11.
Accountability, like charity, begins at home. No accountability - no
justice - no progress. Without accountability we'll never achieve a sense
of justice for the victims' families and we'll never change the culture of
bureaucracy which prevented our government from achieving its most
important mission - that of protecting its citizenry. Not a single person
- no one in the FBI, CIA, DOT or FAA - has been held accountable for the
most dismal failure in our history since Pearl Harbor. Osama bin Laden
continues to run free, while our government bureaucrats, rather than being
held accountable, are rewarded for failure. The dead from 9/11 must be
rolling in their graves.
Mel Goodman : The accountability issue is an important one. No
one is ever held accountable anymore for anything....and the CIA director
continues to state that the agency did a good job despite the intelligence
failure that contributed to 9/11 and the politicization of intelligence
that got us into the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time with
the wrong enemy. There is an intelligence scandal here, but as you say no
one is accountable.
Harrisburg, Pa.: As a general, but important, philosophy for how
we handle international relations, wouldn't it be better for our
international standing if we diverted more of our military spending to
direct economic development assistance that directly assists the people of
other countries? I know these general discussions are usually dismissed
for being too simplistic. Yet, I believe we would improve our standing,
lessen the fears of those that fear us, reduce the threat of terrorism in
the long run, and improve our own economic standing if we would become the
humanitarian assistance country, rather than just the country that can
impose its military will on most others. Is this a good general direction
to move, or am I being naieve?
Mel Goodman : I totally agree with you so perhaps we are both
naive. Military power is a blunt instrument and until we address root
causes of terrorism, we will continue to make the mistakes that the
Israelis, for example, continue to make. Irresponsible use of military
power, whether on the West Bank or Baghdad, will create a better terrain
for terrorism. We have totally underfunded the foreign economic aid and
assistance programs of this country...plus the Department of State and the
Agency for International Development....and devoted far too much money to
Defense and Intelligence. And we are now paying a terrible price for these
Washington, D.C.: Please explain to me why we don't screen
airline cargo but we are assigning color codes to airline passengers?
A terrorist can become a stowaway
and not be screened at all!
Mel Goodman : A good place to start would be to ban all color
coding of everything. Tom Ridge is resorting to security gimmicks instead
of conducting strategic assessments of the overall problems. Color coding
will be profiling under another name.
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Mr. Goodman,
The primary strategy to make us safe appears to focus on physical
security and endless detention of Muslim men. But what of the U.S. foreign
policy issues that fuel the hatred for us? Is anyone really looking
seriously at how to create a situation where people will stop wanting to
attack us? Or, is the Israeli approach of tit-for-tat violence without
end, the only solution the neocons can think of?
Mel Goodman : As I just mentioned, we are taking a page from the
Israeli security book and suffering as a result. Israel is clueless on the
issue of terrorism and geopolitical stability. Their desperate resort to
strictly military violence is another form of terrorism in many ways and
it always appears counter-productive. Similarly, our emphasis on military
power in Iraq and the lack of any planning for the transition is
counter-productive and dangerous. We have failed miserably in the Persian
Gulf and appear to have no policy to find a solution.
Bowie, Md.: Most international terrorism is rooted in a part of
the world marked by despotic government, anachronistic belief systems,
intolerance, and sexism.
Even if the Iraq invasion wasn't directly about stopping terrorism,
isn't taking the first step in the "reverse domino theory" a necessary
Mel Goodman : No! The war against Iraq had nothing to do with
terrorism or with creation of democracy. We are being totally hypocritical
in our discussion of democracy in the Middle East.....we use it as a
rationalization for a war that has gone terrible wrong. Let's face
it....we couldn't live with the results of democracy in the Middle East,
which would bring us a Shiite government in Iraq and probably
anti-American governments virtually everywhere else in the Islamic world.
Kansas City, Mo.: Haven't military efforts in Afghanistan and
Iraq destroyed terrorist training camps, making it harder to mount attacks
Mel Goodman : Just the opposite. With the exception of the
northeastern corner of Iraq, which Saddam did not control, there were no
terrorist training camps to speak of in Iraq. We have created a sanctuary
and safe haven for terrorism where one did not exist. That is the terrible
self-fulfilling prophecy brought to all of us.
Wheaton, Md.: Doesn't the widespread protests against the US war
on terrorism, along with the constant criticizm of Israeli
counter-terrorist efforts show that there are many who still don't
understand the international threat of terrorism?
Mel Goodman : I believe that the world understands the threat of
terrorism and rushed to support and sympathize with us in the wake of
9/11. Every capture of an al Qaeda leader has been accomplished with
international support of one kind or another. The world's objection is to
the policy of preemptive attack that Bush declared at West Point in June
2002 and the policy of dominance that Wolfowitz developed in 1992 and then
returned to in the Defense Policy Guidance statement of 2002. We have met
the enemy...and he is us?
Washington, D.C.: I completely agree with all the comments that
you have made - this administration has failed miserably in many ways, but
this war on Iraq is the worst example of policy failure that we will all
be paying for for many years ahead - in fact I think it will have
contributed to a remarkable turn in history that will be very hard to
right. We will need incredible leadership to fix the mess we're in and it
will take a while.
What I just can't understand is why republicans are still so devoted to
this guy. They still love him, they still support him, even though its
becoming more and more clear that the decision to go in was not only an
intellectual and humanitarian disaster, but a financial one as well. At
least republicans should have been worried about all the money that would
be drawn out of our economy to rebuild Iraq.
Why is there such complacency in this country? No outrage? I just don't
understand it. The whole world is outraged but us and we're voting for the
next round soon.
Its very very sad. I used to be proud of our flag and this country -
but I can be no longer.
Mel Goodman : I believe that this country always defers to the
president in a national security crisis and that is what we are seeing
now. But the president's remarks on Sunday were counter-productive...and
there are signs that both Democrats and Republicans are getting
restless...and that the loss of lives and treasure is creating havoc for
the White House. Remember that Desert Storm costs $80 billion and the
international community paid for most of that....we have seen two recent
appropriation measures totalling over $150 billion and WE are paying for
ALL of that.
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