- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

Editor at Large Arnaud de Borchgrave of The Washington Times spoke last week to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. The following is excerpted from that interview:
Question: How do you view the enormity of the tragedy that has befallen the U.S., indeed the world?
It's so huge it defies imagination. But the whole world is now involved. The casualties are from many nations. It's a wake-up call for all of humanity. We've all read intelligence reports about terrorist groups and their plans to do this and that, but absolutely nothing prepared us for hijacked civilian airliners plowing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the very nerve centers of America's financial and military might. And the White House itself narrowly escaped total destruction. It's a science fiction nightmare come true.
Q: How is this going to affect the world?
Finally we're going to get really serious about transnational terrorism, by decisive action rather than lip service. But we must be careful not to embark on the wrong course of action. The Bush administration's plans for a coalition of nations would simply divide the world between those who are part of the coalition and those who are not — and thus fail to reach the objective.
Q: So what do you think is the right course?
An international conference at the highest level, held at the U.N., to sign a solemn treaty on counterterrorism, a document that must be well-prepared beforehand, leading to a strong binding resolution, with no wiggle room, to be implemented by all the countries in the world. This is a prerequisite if we want to live safely on this planet.
Q: But you had a counterterrorism summit that you chaired at Sharm el Sheikh in 1997, with lots of tough language.
And not implemented!
Q: What was decided then and not implemented?
It was a stillborn agreement because Shimon Peres lost the elections and [Benjamin] Netanyahu came to power. He had no intention of following through on anything. Then Ehud Barak became prime minister and I had high hopes, but I think he was ever-mindful of what happened to Yitzhak Rabin.
Q: But did you not decide on counterterrorist measures then that were binding to all nations present? Even Saudi Arabia's foreign minister was there with the Israelis for the first time.
Nothing came of it. Many key nations were absent. This time every nation has to be present to make sure that terrorists have no place to hide.
Q: And now what practical measures do you see emerging at the global counterterrorist summit you are recommending?
Those nations who ignore resolutions agreed to at such a summit, big or small, should be isolated, ostracized, boycotted.
Q: What kind of resolutions with what practical effect?
How to deal with transnational terror.
Q: But how would you deal with it?
Starting at the technical level and moving on to foreign ministers, [the counterterrorism agreement] should be meticulously prepared for a U.N. summit of heads of state and government.
Q: That's still rather vague. What does your imagination tell you as to what practical steps could be taken?
Not a single country would be allowed to hide terrorists who committed acts of terrorism in other countries. These terrorists now move freely from country to country with impunity, making contacts, picking up money, coordinating through encrypted e-mail messages. Even your director of the National Security Agency [Gen. Mike Hayden] said [last February on "60-Minutes II" that Osama bin Laden's organization had managed to outplay your vast, global electronic resources.
Q: But how does one remove Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan?
When all the nations of the world agree that no safe haven for terrorists will be tolerated, Afghanistan will have to extradite him or face a total cutoff from the assistance it is now getting from Pakistan. The three nations [Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates] that now recognize the Taliban government would have to sever all ties.
Q: A summit resolution is still only words. Can we come to grips with practical measures that will eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, the terrorist menace?
There are no quick fixes or silver bullets. Any country that doesn't implement a solemn, global treaty will have to face sanctions imposed by the Security Council. No sympathy and no exceptions.
Q: What motives lie behind the kind of all-consuming hatred of the U.S. demonstrated by such acts of barbarism?
The feeling of injustice — and the root cause is the Middle Eastern crisis. Muslims everywhere see America giving arms to the Israelis to kill Muslims and America not putting any conditions on the arms it gives free to Israel. Muslims see the media taking the side of Israel whatever it does.
Public opinion is seething against an America which continues to support Israel irrespective of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's policies that are designed to prevent the Palestinians from having their own state. Go to all the so-called moderate states in the region, from Jordan to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. Their leaders have told me that their streets are on the verge of boiling over.
Q: So what is to be done in the immediate future?
Both sides in the Palestinian-Israeli crisis should start implementing the U.S.-sponsored Mitchell report, gradually but quickly, withdrawing Israeli tanks and troops from the occupied Palestinian territories.
The increasingly desperate Palestinians are encircled. They cannot send their children to school. They cannot feed them. They cannot send them to hospitals. They cannot earn a living. They cannot … cannot … cannot. So to recruit suicide bombers in such dire circumstances is not difficult.
Q: Specifically, what should the U.S. do to defuse the situation?
The U.S. must abandon its posture of diplomatic neglect that has led us to this impasse, and get Sharon to implement the Mitchell report with no further equivocation.
Q: How does one use military muscle to combat the international terror network?
First you need genuine, real-time intelligence sharing — for example, between the Pakistani service and U.S. agencies. They know a lot of critically important things. Secondly, you should bear in mind that spectacular precision bombing and Tomahawk missile attacks make nice headlines but are counterproductive. We need special forces to go in and kill the snake's head, not its tail, and then retreat.
Q: You mean U.S. Special Forces?
No. From other countries. American forces would be seen in the Muslim world as evidence supporting the worst paranoid suspicions of the fundamentalist extremists. Some countries are much better suited than the U.S. for such operations.
Q: But who would get the job of cleaning out such terrorist groups as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and other extremist groups that supply and train kamikaze human bombs?
They are nothing, small fry on the world stage. As soon as the Palestinians get a viable independent state with all of East Jerusalem as their capital, you will see them fade away.
Q: And what about countries like Libya and Iran that also harbor terrorist training camps?
In Libya, I can assure you they are all gone and that Colonel [Moammar] Gadhafi considers fundamentalist extremism as much of a threat as we do. As for Iran, I don't know.
Q: Iraqi TV hailed the world's most devastating terrorist attack as "the operation of the century."
Iraq is a special case.
Q: But you can't dismiss the possibility that one of Iraq's intelligence services, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and so forth bring aid and succor to the transnational network? U.S. and British fighter-bombers have spent the best part of 10 years bombing Iraqi anti-aircraft facilities. Wouldn't Saddam Hussein be interested in cooperating with bin Laden's network to get back at the U.S., his archenemy?
I don't think Iraq was involved. [Saddam] has no wish to unleash the wrath of the U.S.
Q: So by process of elimination, you, too, have focused on Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda ("The Base") terrorist network. What do your intelligence services know about him?
That he is very wealthy and spreads his money around Afghanistan.
Q: The best estimates are that he has now run through his original family inheritance of some $200 million, and that's why the Taliban regime now regard him as more of a nuisance than an asset.
Don't you believe it. He's worth at least one or two billion dollars.
Q: How did his terrorist kitty grow so large?
The opium trade. But don't forget that bin Laden's organization was America's creation after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in late 1979 — along with the recruitment of Afghan Arabs from all the Arab countries and several non-Arab Muslim countries.
After the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, America lost interest in Afghanistan and abandoned the Afghan Arabs. I think we know the rest of the story.

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