The End of The Somalia Syndrome
Madeleine Albright is the former US secretary of State.
She spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels in Washington on Thursday, Sept.
NPQ | Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
said that the kind of terrorism that struck New York and Washington is
"the battlefield of the future." You said something similar
in 1998 when the US embassies were attacked in Kenya and Tanzania by Osama
bin Laden's network.
What lessons did you take away from that experience? What are their aims,
what is the nature of their network, what are the difficulties in tracking
them down and punishing them?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT | We are being attacked because of who we are.
We are global, and we stand for democracy, freedom and an open society.
This is the essence of America from which we cannot retreat. Indeed, one
of our key responses to deny the terrorists' victory is to not let them
shut us down, but to redouble our efforts to invest in this country, to
return as soon as we can-and as hard as it is when we think of those directly
affected-to normal life.
We learned from the bombings of our embassies that an open society has
vulnerabilities that have to be defended on as systematic a basis as possible.
How do you balance the fact that an embassy which represents the open
society of America abroad with the need to protect our diplomats? This
lesson is now writ larger with the attacks on US soil. How do we maintain
America's openness and democracy-our greatest source of security-yet endure
the physical limitations that will be necessarily required for people's
We learned it is difficult to put the intelligence pieces together and
track people down. You have to be systematic, and you have to stay with
it. We ultimately brought the terrorists to justice for the bombings in
Kenya and Tanzania and responded as effectively as we could with military
attacks in the Sudan and on Bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.
The situation now is very different, though: America has been hit on our
own soil, and we have lost more people in one day than ever in the history
of this country. The battlefield has changed.
It is important for us and our allies to hold those who harbor terrorists
responsible for what is going on. This is the time to choose sides.
NPQ | Does this attack mark a shift in American public opinion
that ends "the Somalia syndrome" in which the US public was
highly reluctant to suffer casualties abroad? After all, thousands of
casualties have already been taken in the heart of New York.
ALBRIGHT | It certainly looks that way now. There is a huge outpouring
of outrage and patriotism. There is a sense that we have been violated,
and we need to defend ourselves.
We were living in an unreal world when we thought we could carry on everything
in an antiseptic way without casualties. There has to be a shift here.
Innocent people have died.
Our military men and women are very brave. If they have the public's support,
they will do what is necessary. The time of antiseptic warfare is over.
NPQ | What are the prospects of building a global coalition against
terrorism that stretches from the NATO countries to the moderate Arab
ALBRIGHT | This happened to America. If we can't get others to
respond with us, though this does not appear to be the case, then we must
do it alone. But, ultimately, terrorism cannot be dealt with by one country
alone. We need to rededicate ourselves to engagement with the world as
part of the strategy to defend ourselves on this new battlefield.
Fortunately, the prospects are better than they've ever been for such
a coalition. This act has been so horrendous that it has shocked people
across the world. The invocation of Article 5 of NATO is unprecedented.
[Note: This clause calls on all members of NATO to respond if any are
attacked.] The UN Security Council has passed a strong resolution. There
is a much stronger sense of the need to take action internationally than
at the time of our embassy bombings in 1998.
As essential as this is, it will become more complicated in the long run
as countries come to understand what it means for them-when they understand
the costs of solid economic embargoes or of joining military actions.
For example, will the Europeans want to be as tough as we want to be on
some of these states that harbor terrorists? What about the so-called
"moderate" Arab states? How will they deal with us? How will
dealing with us affect the relationships of the ruling groups with more
militant members of their own societies?
It is very hard to say in this context, but we will also need to get back
into the Middle East peace process. Such issues will provoke big internal
In short, it will take a sustained effort by the US to keep such a coalition
together. It will take an immense amount of diplomatic work and, as I
said, a dedication to engagement with the world.
The US was hit hard. We must respond in a way that is proportionate to
what has happened. But it is not necessarily something that has to happen
tomorrow. It is more important that it be done effectively and over the
long term than it be done quickly.
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