Retired General Michael Hayden was director of the CIA and the NSA.
BY FREDA MIKLIN
The Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (CELL) presented leading national security experts Sept. 12, retired four-star general Michael Hayden, who served as director of both the CIA and the NSA, former presidential adviser Elliott Abrams, and former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani, in a panel discussion. The event was led by Tom Sanderson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a 50-year-old Washington-based, bipartisan, nonprofit policy research agency. The panel addressed security threats around the world to a full house, including dozens of local elected officials, at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Performing Arts Complex.
The panel’s experience was global and bipartisan. Hayden was appointed NSA director by President Bill Clinton and served in that position for four years under President George W. Bush, who then appointed him director of the CIA, where he stayed two years into Obama’s presidency. Abrams was assistant secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan and an adviser to and deputy national security director throughout the two terms of Bush. Haqqani, who served four different prime ministers of Pakistan, was ambassador to the U.S. during Obama’s presidency.
The program opened with a moving tribute to the victims of Sept. 11, especially the first responders, as well as an acknowledgment of the recent loss of Sen. John McCain, described as an American hero and fierce defender of our country.
Sanderson asked the panel if we are safer today than we were before Sept. 11, 2001. All agreed that we are, but with caveats. Abrams talked about the role of repression in terrorism, using Egypt as an example. He also mentioned the use of drones as a threat. Haqqani said we are safer from 9/11-type attacks, but not necessarily emerging threats. He talked about the role of Russia, who is now supporting the Taliban and trying to get the U.S. out of Afghanistan, while also making friends with Pakistan.
Asked what they viewed as our greatest threat, Abrams named Iran, while Aqqani named China because of its efforts to supersede the U.S. in dominance. He also included Russia and Iran on his list, saying Iran wants to flex its muscle all over the Middle East the expense of Israel and the U.S.
Hayden said he worries most about the erosion of the post-WW II consensus that had been established. He posed the question: “What do Americans view as their role in the areas of immigration, free trade and our traditional alliances? He said that, under Obama, his foreign friends asked, “Where are [the U.S.] guys?” Now they ask, “WHO are you guys?”
Sanderson next queried the panel about their view of the ISIS threat today. Abrams said, “ISIS has been pushed back. I’m more worried about Hezbollah and a resurgent al-Qaida.” Haqqani followed with, “ISIS was al-Qaida 2.0. Who will support al-Qaida 3.0? They found a home in Yemen and Somalia. Will they return to Syria? The real question is, can we anticipate them?”
Husain Haqqani was Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States during the tumultuous years of 2008 to 2011.
Hayden said, “War is complex. It has four phases: deployment, shaping, force on force and stabilization. We are now on phase 3 (force on force) at the Euphrates River. Washington is debating whether to go to phase 4 (stabilization). The military believes that if you don’t use your military advantage on the ground to complete phase 4, you will end up repeating phases 1 to 3. He quoted a foreign diplomat as saying, “You Americans never lose a war. You lose interest.”
He went on, “This is not a war between Islam and others. It is a civil war within Islam. We need to enable elements within Islam who are not extremists.”
Abrams said, “Al-Qaida is an ideology. To defeat it we need to provide another more appealing ideology.” Haqqani said, “If the U.S. suppresses al-Qaida in one place, it surfaces in another. ISIS is now showing up in Afghanistan.” Agreeing with Hayden, he said, “I think the majority of Muslims want to live in the world, but many Muslim countries have failed governments.”
Addressing the impact of different presidential administrations, Hayden said, “Overall, there has been surprising continuity from Bush to Obama to Trump. Policies are really unchanged regarding ISIS. The only real difference is Trump says bad things about Islam.”
Haqqani differentiated Trump from his two predecessors. “Bush and Obama dedicated pretty much the same resources. Trump is different. You need people who understand other cultures. If you cast all Muslims as enemies, where will you find people who can help you understand? You need government allies and you also need individuals.” Haqqani agrees with Trump that the U.S. has gotten nothing for the billions it has given Pakistan, but he thinks there is a larger consideration. “Pakistan has 200 million people and nukes. The U.S. and Pakistan are drifting apart due to different values, and Pakistan is about to provide China with access to the Persian Gulf because China plans to invest $62 billion in Pakistani infrastructure.”
Sanderson asked the panel what they think Russia will do in 2018. All three sounded a similar theme. Abrams said, “The Trump administration’s policy toward Russia is better than Trump. There is no real change in U.S. policy. I’d increase economic sanctions against Russian oligarchs whose money is laundered in New York and London real estate.” Hayden said, “Russia is not a resurgent power. Texas, New York and California each have larger economies than all of Russia. Their strategy is to pull other countries down. In 2016, their goal was to erode our confidence in ourselves. They identified already existing fractures and exploited them. We should fix our own politics.” Haqqani said it this way: “Russia wants to erode American leadership to create space for themselves at a low cost. The U.S. should extract a bigger price to stop them.”
A part of the Mizel Institute, the CELL was formed in 2008. Its mission is to prevent terrorism through education, empowerment and engagement. It is best known as a sponsor of public events focused on current security issues, domestic and international.
Elliott Abrams was former Deputy National Security adviser & Deputy Assistant to the president
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