September 9, 2011

Ten years after that devastating day, Americans are remembering the events of 9/11.

At Columbia University, SIPA and the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies marked the occasion by hosting a panel discussion on Friday, September 9: 10 Years Later: 9/11, the U.S. and the World.

The four-hour event, moderated by Professor Tonya Putnam of Columbia’s Department of Political Science, assessed the policy and research implications, and developments of the past ten years. After a brief introduction by Professor Richard K. Betts, director of the Saltzman Institute, five panelists (each a member or affiliate of the Institute) spoke on their unique perspectives. A spirited debate and audience questions followed their presentations.

SIPA Professor Stuart Gottlieb reviewed the macro changes in policy-making in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He described a swirl of policy-making in Washington, D.C., where he was working at the time.

“Policies that were unimaginable the day before became no-brainers… It was easily the most monumental shift of policy-making,” Gottlieb recalled. "Obama has maintained and in many cases bolstered Bush's most controversial acts, including renditions, drone strikes, and warrantless wiretapping."

Barnard College Professor Kimberly Marten delivered the perspective of social scientists studying terrorism and counterterrorism. She described the research conducted in the past ten years, summarizing the work of about a dozen scholars and journalists. Marten dispelled many stereotypes and popular beliefs on who commits acts of terrorism and why. She also reported findings of research that show most terrorism is local.

“Al Qaeda is the exception, not the way of the future,” Marten added. She  finished by looking forward, saying the real key to counterterrorism policy is to get networks of friends and social support to advocate against acts of violence.

Professor Page Fortna of the Department of Political Science took the audience through her research on the effectiveness of terrorist rebel groups versus terrorist non-rebel groups in civil wars. She found that terrorist rebel groups are very unlikely to win, with non-terrorist groups being more effective in reaching victory. Fortna also found that terrorism is relatively more effective against democracies than autocracies, but points out that her research applies to the domestic terrorism that “most people around the world face, not transnational terrorism.”

Professor Alexander Cooley turned to terrorism and, specifically, counterterrorism activities by the United States, Russia, and China in Central Asia.

“The three great powers all use counterterrorism as a plank to engage and try to influence Central Asian countries,” Cooley said.

The latter, he explained, learned to leverage the great powers against each other, play up terrorist threats and create an environment where it was easy to invoke a permanent international state of emergency that excuses questionable activities beyond legal norms.

Finally, Professor Austin Long took the audience into Afghanistan, from where he has just returned after three months of field work as an intelligence analyst. Long started with the reasons the U.S. is in Afghanistan: to prevent Al-Qaeda safe havens and secure the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear material.

“I think that the U.S. being in Afghanistan to protect Pakistan’s nuclear material is farcical,” he said, adding that it is a real threat but must be dealt with from inside Pakistan.

He also stated that, contrary to current belief, “In Afghanistan, we are still in the midst of civil war. Because we've confused ourselves in the diagnosis, we've confused ourselves in the solution.”

Long does not find any real solution to the many regional and local problems faced in Afghanistan. “Sometimes you can overreact, sometimes you can underreact,” he said. “We need a Goldilocks solution.”

That seemed to be the message of the day.

 

Michelle Chahine, September 9, 2011