Immediately after the September 11th terror attacks, the world came together to support the United States. Ten years and two wars later, the situation is dramatically different. A look at how the world views America today.


  • Tom Gjelten NPR national security correspondent and author of "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause."
  • Lionel Barber Editor, "Financial Times" in London
  • Minxin Pei Professor of government, Claremont McKenna College
  • Ambassador Nabil Fahmy Former Egyptian ambassador to the United States and founding Dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at American University in Cairo


  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Former U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband recently said after 9/11 al-Qaida was able to send the most powerful country in the world into convulsions. He argued the West has spent a decade focused on this threat instead of building an inter-dependent world.

  • 11:07:26

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me here in the studio to talk about global views of the United States ten years after 9/11, Tom Gjelten of NPR. He is the national security correspondent for NPR. Tom Gjelten, I want to thank you for co-anchoring this program with me this morning.

  • 11:07:51

    MR. TOM GJELTENIt's my honor, Diane.

  • 11:07:52

    REHMWell, you have traveled to and reported from so many countries in the world. I know you'll be able to both share and elicit wonderful comments from our other guests. We go to London to Lionel Barber of the Financial Times. Lionel, in fact, was one of my first members of the "Friday News Roundup" all those many years ago. Good morning to you, Lionel.

  • 11:08:31

    MR. LIONEL BARBERAnd really nice to hear your voice.

  • 11:08:33

    REHMAnd it's good to have you with us. And also joining us from Claremont McKenna College in California is Minxin Pei whom I see on Skype. Good morning to you, Minxin, it's good to have you with us.

  • 11:08:52

    MR. MINXIN PEIGood morning.

  • 11:08:54

    REHMAnd now, let me also invite listeners to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to Feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Tom Gjelten, let me start with you here. How does the world view the U.S. today, ten years after 9/11?

  • 11:09:28

    GJELTENYou know, it's been an interesting trajectory of views, Diane, because, of course, you recall that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was a huge international outpouring of sympathy for the United States even from countries that were adversaries. You know, I have spent a lot of time in Cuba and of all countries, even Cuba was expressing sympathy for the United States and sort of solidarity with the people of the United States.

  • 11:10:01

    GJELTENAnd Le Monde, the newspaper in Paris, famously put in a headline, we are all Americans now. So in the immediate aftermath, the United States really enjoyed a great solidarity and sympathy from around the world. But what's happened, I think, briefly in the last ten years, is that the United States has been humbled, humbled by its inability to achieve military dominance over its adversaries and, I think, humbled by the decline of its economic power and its standing in the world so that we now see in opinion polls around the world more people seeing China as the world's number one power than the United States. This is the change that has occurred over ten years.

  • 11:10:48

    REHMTom Gjelten, he's NPR national security correspondent. Turning to you, Lionel Barber, how would you say that the world sees us now ten years later?

  • 11:11:08

    BARBERWell, I would just like to go back to that initial period after 9/11 where, as Tom was saying, there was universal sympathy across the world. Cuba, Sudan, China, they all signed up into this kind of coalition against terrorism, but some, of course, were fair-weather friends. They were never going to stay the course and some used the so-called war on terror declared after 9/11 by the Bush presidency as an excuse for cracking down on domestic dissent. And you can see that, for example, in China and other countries where there are ethnic tensions.

  • 11:11:45

    BARBERWhat happened, of course, is that the decisive moment came not after the invasion of Afghanistan, but the run-up to the invasion of Iraq where the U.S., in effect, was cast, cast itself as a rogue nation not prepared to go through the United Nations Security Council and essentially said, we'll go it alone. We don't even really need Britain as a military ally to do the necessary business in Iraq and crucially also served notice that it was willing to attack or tackle other countries deemed to be in this axis of evil, sponsoring terrorism or harboring terrorists. That was the moment that solidarity split.

  • 11:12:28

    BARBERIf you go back -- if you go forward to today, I would say that America's standing has recovered in large degree. Maybe everybody's not quite so enthusiastic and starry-eyed about the Obama presidency as it was in 2008, '09, but still people -- and particularly people who know America admire the spirit of self-renewal and they would also give some credit even perhaps to George W. Bush who identified the aspirations of Arabs in the Middle East for democracy and for casting off the yolk of autocracy.

  • 11:13:11

    REHMLionel Barber, he's editor of the Financial Times. And now to you, Minxin Pei. Would you agree with Lionel that, in fact, sympathy, empathy for Americans began to wane shortly after the attack?

  • 11:13:35

    PEIOh, absolutely. I think even in China which viewed the U.S. much more skeptically than Western democracies. The 9/11 attacks did engender quite a good deal of empathy or sympathy among the people. But soon that changed. The feelings in China were more mixed. I think there was certainly resentment against American unilateralism on the one hand, but there was also a great deal of sense of relief because prior to 9/11, the New Conservatives in the Bush administration were obsessed with China's rights. They thought China would pose a long-term threat to American dominance so policy toward China was hardening, but 9/11 happened and then China felt, ah, we're off the hook.

  • 11:14:32

    REHMMinxin Pei, he's professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and now joining us on the line from Cairo is Ambassador Nabil Fahmy of the American University. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Ambassador.

  • 11:14:57

    AMBASSADOR NABIL FAHMYThank you for having me, Diane. It's good to be back on your show.

  • 11:15:00

    REHMAre you there, Mr. Ambassador?

  • 11:15:04

    FAHMYYes, I am.

  • 11:15:05

    REHMGood, exactly from your perspective, how did the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq change perceptions of the United States after 9/11?

  • 11:15:24

    FAHMYWell, I think perceptions changed four different ways. It started off with empathy because of the attack. It then shifted because of the Iraq war and also because of the language used to explain the war internationally, loose language used rather than the objective, to animosity, particularly with the beginning of the Iraq war or the lead-up into it.

  • 11:15:56

    FAHMYThen it went back into enthusiasm with the election of Obama because of the feeling that Americans can reinvent themselves and presently, it's fallen back, a worn sense of apathy. There still is a warm feeling towards America, but there's a frustration that America's not delivering, a disappointment, but there is -- the animosity is not there any longer.

  • 11:16:23

    REHMAmbassador Nabil Fahmy of the American University in Cairo, Tom Gjelten, we often hear that people, countries believe that America has somehow lost its moral authority. What is the meaning of that?

  • 11:16:46

    GJELTENYou know, the United States is famous around the world for its 200-year tradition of protecting and upholding individual rights and civil liberties as defined in the Bill of Rights, a document that is really without parallel anywhere in the world and this is part of America's reputation. It's part of what has made America such a symbol to peoples around the world. And what's happened in the last ten years more than really at almost any other point in American history -- although there certainly have been other war-time moments where our protection of civil liberties has been compromised.

  • 11:17:28

    GJELTENBut what's happened in the last ten years has been really a historic shift in the direction of security concerns overriding privacy and civil liberty concerns and this is something that really, inevitably, I think, has changed -- has probably weakened America's reputation as a nation that really symbolizes and affirms civil liberties.

  • 11:17:58

    REHMYou know, in our last hour focusing on the domestic changes, Laura Murphy of the ACLU talked about those changes that have gone on here in this country, but, of course, that's affected everyone coming into this country as well.

  • 11:18:21

    GJELTENWell, the United States, you know, again, has been -- for decades and decades has been seen as a safe haven for refugees fleeing persecution and now people coming into the United States have to be fingerprinted and questioned and it certainly has been an unsettling experience for them.

  • 11:18:40

    REHMTom Gjelten, NPR national security correspondent, we'll take a short break. When we come back your calls, stay with us.

  • 11:20:04

    REHMWelcome back. NPR's national security correspondent is here in the studio. Tom Gjelten has certainly been a guest on this program many times. This morning, I asked him to co-anchor our program, which includes Lionel Barber, the Financial Times, from the BBC in Cairo, Egypt Ambassador Nabil Fahmy. He is founding Dean of the School of Public (sic) Affairs at American University in Cairo. And Minxin Pei, he joins us from Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. Tom Gjelten, you've got a message there to read for us.

  • 11:20:59

    GJELTENA couple of them, Diane. First, Wendell who wrote on Facebook, just in view of what we were just talking about, the way that foreigners feel when they come to the United States now. He has traveled a lot in the Middle East, he says, and he quotes a Saudi friend telling him that in the past when he landed at an American airport, he felt as if the roof had been lifted and that he was a free man under the open sky. Now, he fears for his safety and that of his family. This is the feeling he says his Saudi friend has when he arrives at an American airport nowadays.

  • 11:21:35

    GJELTENShirley writes also on Facebook. She thinks that the reception that President Obama continues to get when he travels means that our country and our president remain respected. And she says that taking out Osama bin Laden made us look impressive to a number of countries. She's concerned that about what she says is the growing number of Americans who don't care what other countries think of us and who don't understand that we are in this thing together.

  • 11:22:07

    GJELTENI'm curious whether either of our other guests, Lionel or Minxin or Ambassador Fahmy, has this sense from abroad that Americans no longer care that much about what the rest of the world thinks of us.

  • 11:22:23

    REHMAmbassador Fahmy.

  • 11:22:27

    FAHMYWell, in fact, you've never actually cared that much. What I think you need to know -- when I say this, I mean, if you move away from the shoreline in America into mid-America, Americans -- because it's a big continent, it's a rich country and it's a prosperous country -- are basically concerned with themselves. I don't think, however, you can afford to do that any longer. We live in a global society today. You have international interests and there are also international threats which, if you don't deal with, will ultimately also affect your interests.

  • 11:22:54

    FAHMYSo I share the concern, but this is not new. This has been there for a long, long time.

  • 11:23:01

    GJELTENAnd, Ambassador, you're saying this as a former Egyptian ambassador to the United States.

  • 11:23:04

    FAHMYYes. When I was traveling United States beyond the shoreline, beyond the waters, I would be received, frankly, as a novelty. I think you notice that the -- after 9/11 was more difficult, of course, because people were concerned about our region. But just to sort of see as somebody coming from Egypt was -- it's like a new film on the block.

  • 11:23:31

    GJELTENMinxin Pei.

  • 11:23:32

    PEIYes. Well, I travel a lot and one of the ironies for travelers nowadays is that it is more -- it takes more time to get through an American customs immigration control process, which is supposed to be a free country then going through China, which is supposed to be un-free. You whip in and out of China very quickly and takes longer. But I think in terms of how the Americans view the rest of the world, there is a very worrisome trend.

  • 11:24:01

    PEIWhen you look at the current presidential debate, you feel that because it's all about the U.S. How the U.S. relates to the rest of the world, it does not come up. And some of the American policies that have huge impact on the rest of the world, such as its energy policy, isn't really mentioned. So this obsessive focus, even looking at nature of the political dynamics in the U.S. stays deeply worrisome to the rest of the world.

  • 11:24:32

    PEIThere's another trend which is parallel to this that the rest of the world probably is now feeling that it can get away without American involvement. If these two trends continue, we're going to have more trouble ahead because the world today is so interconnected. And we need global solutions to global problems. America is not leading.

  • 11:24:54

    GJELTENLionel, one of the comments that Shirley made on Facebook was that our cooperation with NATO -- and she didn't say it, but I bet she's referring to Libya here -- makes us look like a team player. In view of what Minxin just said, that the rest of the world may now be thinking it can get along without American involvement, is that really the view from Europe in the aftermath of this operation in Libya when really the shortcomings of NATO and of the United States NATO allies have been underscored?

  • 11:25:25

    BARBERWell, I hope it's not the view because as you say, Tom, Britain and France who took the lead role, somewhat skeptical view in Washington, in saying that we needed to impose a no-fly zone and use military force against the Gadhafi regime and help the rebels topple Colonel Gadhafi, we ran out of munitions within -- or nearly ran out within a matter of weeks.

  • 11:25:52

    BARBERAnd I would tend to side with former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates who gave a blistering speech in Brussels just before he stepped down, saying essentially NATO is becoming irrelevant because countries are not stepping up. They either don't have the military capacity -- remember we've got, if you include the United States, more than 2.5 million people in uniform -- military uniform in NATO. And yet we struggle within our own European limits to come up with anything, a fighting force of 30, 50,000 that we can deploy at any -- for any length of time.

  • 11:26:31

    BARBERSo the danger is this is a European problem. It's not an American problem. We need to be more relevant. And if you -- and we've talked a lot about America being diminished over this decade. I can assure you coming back from America in the middle part of this decade and living in Europe, Europe has become seriously diminished since 9/11.

  • 11:26:54

    REHMWell, Lionel, that's what I want to ask you about. Why do you think Europe has -- and especially Britain -- have gone through this period of deep financial difficulty? Is it in any way connected to 9/11?

  • 11:27:18

    BARBERNo. It's connected to the great financial crash, which happened in 2008 and to the structural, the fundamental flaws in the original design of the monetary union which now encompasses 17 members which (word?) of urgencies between countries in the periphery and the Mediterranean, Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and the other out lie island, all of which were speculated wildly on real estate, had unsecure banking systems with deeply uncompetitive visa with their stronger North European neighbors.

  • 11:27:56

    BARBERAnd the fact is that the response has been poorly designed and there are questions now about whether this can survive. I would say on balance that I still think it will, but this is the real problem in Europe. The second issue, which is related, is that we don't have a federal union in Europe. It's not like the United States. We don't have one system of government. We've got a -- in effect, we have a horse called the European Union and we've got 27 jockeys.

  • 11:28:26


  • 11:28:27

    BARBERAnd, you know, in a race, it's not good if you're running one horse with 27 jockeys.

  • 11:28:32

    REHMAll right. And to you, Ambassador Fahmy. What about the killing of Osama bin Laden? To what extent do you believe that restored some prestige to the United States?

  • 11:28:51

    FAHMYI actually believe that President Obama restored a tremendous amount of prestige to the United States when he was elected in his inauguration speech. Talked about that it was America's interest to be part of the world and it was in the world's interest to engage in America. And if I may, just to comment on what was just said.

  • 11:29:08


  • 11:29:09

    FAHMYMy problem is -- my perception at least, the problem is not that we have 21 or 25 or 190 at the UN, jockeys and one horse. The problem is that we don't understand it's a wagon rather than a horse. We have to work on this together.

  • 11:29:24

    FAHMYIn terms of Obama -- excuse me, bin Laden, bin Laden's murder, his killing, his -- I mean, his demise, whatever way you want to put it, frankly was story for a day or two or three days or four. He, except for a very few marginal friends, was not a hero in the Arab world. There were questions about how he was killed, but at the end of the day, that was -- that passed.

  • 11:29:50

    FAHMYWe need to, whether it is in our part of the world or in America or in Europe, explain to our public foreign policy in the positive sense, not only in terms of threats out there. America's problem in foreign policy is it's always explained to the Americans the threats out there. And that's why they have to be in the Soviet Union, China, NATO, war zones and so on. Europe is the same thing. There's no big threat out there that they can explain why they're out there.

  • 11:30:17

    FAHMYAnd we in the Middle East tend to explain foreign policy in terms of conspiracies against us all the time rather than trying to balance it out. These are the threats, these are the opportunities. That's why we make the investment (unintelligible) ...

  • 11:30:28

    BARBERDiane, can I just come in briefly and just say that there are threats out there. And if you happen to be living in London where we had suicide bombers on our underground or you were living in Bombay or Bali or Madrid in 2004, these were terrorist attacks which killed hundreds of people.

  • 11:30:47

    FAHMYWe were attacked by terrorists in the '80s before you were. I'm not saying that you weren't attacked. I'm just saying that there are negative and positive parts to foreign policy. We need to explain both of them.

  • 11:30:56

    GJELTENAmbassador Fahmy, I'm curious. As you mentioned, after President Obama's election, there was kind of a second bounce of appreciation or positive feelings toward the United States around the world. The Pew Research Center found, for example, 93 percent of Germans expressing confidence in Obama, 91 percent in France. And yet, that bounce was far less pronounced in Muslim nations. In some Muslim nations, there was really no bounce at all. How do you explain that?

  • 11:31:28

    FAHMYWell, at the very beginning, there was a tremendous bounce. I went to post-election parties to meet Egyptians and see what they were talking about. And I asked them, why are you so enthusiastic? And the answer was, Americans proved that they could be Americans again. That they could challenge themselves and elect somebody who was different, somebody who was engaging rather than wanting to do it alone.

  • 11:31:49

    FAHMYSo there was this reaction to Obama, a positive one. With time people started looking at, okay, has this enthusiastic result resulted in change in policy? Has it brought dividends to me? And frankly one of the problems and the disappointments with the Obama Administration has been yeah, I was very confident. Now I'm not saying it's the beginning of the end of all the problems. I'm just saying that in the Middle East this has been where the disappointment has been.

  • 11:32:15

    REHMMinxin, how do you see it?

  • 11:32:19

    PEIOh, Obama's foreign policy? I think Obama's election was greeted in China, as in elsewhere, with a great deal of enthusiasm and expectations. And over time, this has cooled. That's because President Obama has encountered enormous difficulties at home and that certainly limited his capacity to lead on the global stage.

  • 11:32:44

    PEIRegarding the killing of Osama bin Laden, I think it was rather anticlimactic in China because by the time Osama bin Laden was killed, he was not exactly a central challenge to American foreign policy anymore. It was rather a global financial crisis and the war in Afghanistan.

  • 11:33:06

    REHMMinxin Pei. He's professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Fayette, Ala. Good morning, Michael.

  • 11:33:32

    MICHAELGood morning. Oh, and to the foreign correspondent for public radio, we really enjoy hearing your voice on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. And I'm really honored to speak to the other two gentlemen as well. I love seeing more immigrants here in this country.

  • 11:33:52

    MICHAELMy question is how foreigners see the average ordinary American people, especially women, children and the handicapped and other civilians who can't be military. And visa vie the thing that angers the -- understandably angers most people in the third world, the USA's foreign policy. I'm thinking of the huge -- especially the way the United Sta -- ordinary Americans extend their hands to people in other countries.

  • 11:34:32

    REHMAll right. Ambassador Fahmy.

  • 11:34:35

    FAHMYLook, there are two ways to answer this. First of all, one has to admit that most of the world doesn't understand America. They understand, again, the shorelines and what they see in the movies. When I was traveling in America I was always very well received. I was always received by very generous Americans and very warmly received.

  • 11:34:55

    FAHMYPresently, I'm at the American University in Cairo and we have a lot of American students there and they're treated very well. They're received with a tremendous amount of warmth. Sure, occasionally there will be political debates about foreign policy and they can go either way. And frankly, not all the Americans agree with the administration anyway. So it's not a negative point.

  • 11:35:15

    FAHMYI honestly believe that the anti-Americanism, per se, has decreased. But that the problem with the anger about foreign policy -- or in this case now it's frustration rather than anger, remains. So the average American is still looked upon as something good. But not enough people know that because they don't travel inside America.

  • 11:35:41

    REHMMinxin Pei.

  • 11:35:43

    PEIAmericans outside the U.S. are deeply -- what should I say, loved by -- admired as individuals, admired by other people in my experience in China. But when ordinary Americans travel in China they are received very well. They're seen as friendly, as very approachable. Very different from how the world sees American policy.

  • 11:36:14

    REHMAnd, Lionel, do you want to comment?

  • 11:36:18

    BARBERWell, I think those foreigners, people outside America who have a sense of history would know that America has largely been on the right side of history, certainly in the 20th Century. If you think of the fact that Franklin Roosevelt saved Europe from fascism. If you think of the way in which America constructed the NATO alliance, encouraged European integration after 1945 and provided the cornerstone to our security, all of this we should be very grateful for. And I think similarly in the states.

  • 11:36:57

    BARBERI think there was a period between about 2003 to 2006, it had already changed by the end of -- by the beginning of the Bush Administration. But that period where we talked about -- or the talk was at the access of evil and people had the impression that the United States military, the strongest in the world could literally pick whatever target it wanted outside any rules of international law and also was condoning torture. That did tremendous damage to America's standing.

  • 11:37:35

    REHMAll right. Lionel Barber of the Financial Times. Short break, we'll be right back.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. My co-anchor Tom Gjelten of NPR, you have a question for Minxin Pei.

  • 11:40:12

    GJELTENRight, Diane. Well, Minxin, you said earlier in the program that before 9/11 the United States was, I think in your words, obsessed with China's rise. And you said it in order to -- and your point was that we were at that point sort of favoring kind of hard line policies toward China. I think you could make the argument that in the last ten years we have been far less obsessed with China and far more obsessed with Islam as an adversary.

  • 11:40:39

    GJELTENAnd I'm wondering if that has been in some ways an unhealthy development. I mean, China and the United States are competitors. The United States does have to compete with China in fields of science and business, research technology. Perhaps we'd have been better off if we remained a little bit more obsessed with China. What do you think?

  • 11:41:00

    PEIOh, I think for China the last ten years was obviously a golden decade because the U.S. was obsessed with Islam, with terrorism. And -- well, let me just give you some figures. They are astounding. On the eve of 9/11 the Chinese economy was ten percent of the U.S. economy. Today it is 45 percent of the U.S. economy. On the eve of 9/11, China held $160 billion of U.S. debt. Today, it owns about $2 trillion of U.S. debt. And so I can give you all kinds of figures to show that if there was one country that seized the last ten years to focus on its economic development, that is China.

  • 11:41:48

    PEIWhere the more competitive relationship between China and the U.S. will be good for two countries, it all depends on the nature of the competition. If it's military competition they will not be good for either country. If it's much more friendly competing in science, economic growth then it will be good for both countries.

  • 11:42:08

    REHMDo you fear that there could be a military competition?

  • 11:42:14

    PEIOh, yes, I do fear that. I think in the long term because China is after all a one-party state and the U.S. and China do not have fundamental strategic trust. As long as distrust continues there's going to be long term competition insecurity. And that worries me a great deal.

  • 11:42:37

    PEIBut I want to say that the U.S. still remains in a scientific economic field a very dynamic competitive player. The current difficulties may be short term. When the Chinese sees the U.S. today there's three different feelings. One is gloating on the part of some leaders who feel ah, the U.S. is now in decline. There's also puzzlement. A lot of people in China who say, how come the U.S. cannot get its act together at home. And then there's a third feeling that is worry because there are people in China who still believe that American leadership is necessary for this world.

  • 11:43:14

    REHMInteresting. Tom.

  • 11:43:16

    GJELTENYou know, Lionel -- Lionel Barber, you mentioned the developments in the aftermath of Libya that sort of showed Europeans how much they still depend on the United States for protection, for security. And yet, on the other hand, there is this countervailing tendency where U.S. prestige -- economic prestige and power has declined. We have a e-mail here from John Kelly who says that, "When I was in Western Europe this summer I heard from many that U.S. responsibility for the financial collapse has diminished our standing in the world almost to the same degree as the invasion of Iraq."

  • 11:43:56

    GJELTENSo from an economic point of view this listener is saying that the U.S. profile in Western Europe, for example, has really declined as a result of the financial crisis.

  • 11:44:08

    BARBERWell, I don't subscribe to the notion that the United States exported the subprime financial crisis to Europe and the rest of the world. There were -- it is true that the decision in Washington taken by Secretary Paulson to let Lehman Brothers go was one which was looked upon with some consternation by people such as the president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet.

  • 11:44:41

    BARBERWe, in Europe, were a bit more aware perhaps of the risks of letting that go but the United States cannot be just merely blamed alone for the financial collapse. There are other reasons. For example, the global imbalance is between U.S. and China with China saving too much and America borrowing too much, which also contributed to the crisis. And those conditions are still apparent.

  • 11:45:05

    BARBERI think the real issue is one which was touched upon earlier which is if America really wants to regain its standing and prestige it needs to tackle its own domestic problems in terms of entitlements and debt. And it cannot -- it's striking that Admiral Mullen, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, when he said -- he was asked -- when he talked about the greatest national security threat to the United States, he did not say it was radical Islamic terror or Osama bin Laden. What he said was the indebtedness of the United States.

  • 11:45:46

    REHMAll right. We have an e-mail from Dewitt in Chapel Hill, N.C. who says, "President Bush said we were attacked because of our freedoms. Why did al-Qaida attack us? In all of the current 9/11 rhetoric, I've not heard this addressed." Ambassador Fahmy, do you have an answer?

  • 11:46:15

    FAHMYI don't think it was because of your freedoms. I think that's a simplification of the issue and an attempt to sort of explain it to the American public, which is politically understandable, but I don't think it's precise. Bin Laden's original problem with America was its presence in Saudi Arabia. I would argue that the bin Laden movement, regime, al-Qaida and all that built on that but expanded it to be opposing America because it represents modernity and they didn't want modernity in the Muslim Arab Middle East in particular.

  • 11:46:50

    FAHMYAnd then, frankly -- and I don't want to appear to be cute by using this term -- attacking America got you a much larger bang for your buck than attacking us in Egypt. And it was -- it did definitely have a -- gave a name to al-Qaida that people didn't know when they were attacking us in the past. So I think it was more about your presence in the Middle East, more about you're having modernity. Whatever the reasons it is reprehensible and condemnable. But I don't think it simply was because of your values and your freedoms.

  • 11:47:29

    REHMAnd do you believe that our invasion, our attack on Iraq and subsequently Afghanistan, has helped to further the aims of al-Qaida?

  • 11:47:49

    FAHMYNot directly, but it did in a sense that by raising the Iraq issue, you divided your supporters. Before Iraq, people really felt empathy towards America. When you then raised the issue of Iraq, and I initially already at one point explained it as being also part of the war against terror, then you start dividing your own friends here because people will disagree with you politically on that act, but they don't disagree with you that terrorism is reprehensible anywhere in the world and against any target.

  • 11:48:24


  • 11:48:24

    GJELTENWell, Diane, one of our listeners Ryan has written us this morning to say, "The United States is at war and has brought al-Qaida to its knees. So despite America's somewhat collective cultural insensitivities, I think it has done what no other country can do or is willing to do in the global war on terror." And in this regard, Diane, because this is the week before 9/11, we've had a lot of sort of presentations this week here in Washington about where things stand in the war against al-Qaida.

  • 11:48:55

    GJELTENYesterday John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism advisor, says that we are approaching -- and this is his term -- the strategic defeat of al-Qaida as a result of the death of Osama bin Laden, the raid on Osama bin Laden and several other top al-Qaida leaders in the last few months. This morning I was at a meeting at the Treasury Department where the evidence was laid out about the way that al-Qaida is really in a very precarious financial situation.

  • 11:49:25

    GJELTENSo I think one thing to keep in mind -- and I'm curious what, you know, our other panelists think about this as well -- is that for all that these ten years have cost us in terms of our values, in terms of our blood, in terms of our treasury, apparently we have as a country made progress in this battle against al-Qaida. That's something to keep in mind.

  • 11:49:49

    REHMMinxin Pei, how do you respond?

  • 11:49:53

    PEIOh, absolutely. I think in a technical sense the U.S. has achieved enormous gains against -- weakening, if not ultimately eliminating al-Qaida as a terrorist network. But the change -- the costs, as well, are huge. But the real challenge is long term because we have to deal with the social economic and ideological context in which terrorist groups can continue to exist, if not strive in the future. And that's, of course, something that you cannot deal with at the moment.

  • 11:50:26

    PEIBut, as I said, in terms of fighting the war on terror, the U.S. victory (unintelligible) the U.S. success is enormous.

  • 11:50:35

    REHMAll right. Let's go -- sorry, Lionel. You wanted to comment?

  • 11:50:39

    BARBERWell, just briefly. I was going to say I think the Americans have done an extraordinary job in disrupting and destroying the Al-Qaida network, decapitating it, if you like. But it's a mistake to talk in terms of victory. This isn't a conventional war. It's not where two large armies face up against one another and at the end of a few weeks or a couple of years there is a clear victor. This is a struggle -- not just on the battlefield but as we alluded to earlier, it's a struggle of ideas.

  • 11:51:11

    REHMTom Gjelten, there are some people in our audience who believe that the media is making too much of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 that, in fact, it's the U.S. somehow extending its role as victim. And I wonder how you see that.

  • 11:51:35

    GJELTENWell, I don't think there's any question, Diane, that we in the news media love anniversaries because it sort of gives us a readymade excuse to do a whole bunch of stories that we might not otherwise find good angles to do. We have indeed, at NPR and at virtually every other news organization, seen just a tremendous amount of stories just in the last few days and the last week around 9/11.

  • 11:52:00

    GJELTENBut I think that the issues that we are looking at are important issues. And I think that this is an appropriate time to look -- I mean, these ten years have been so momentous in terms of the way that the United States has changed. We're talking here about the change in the U.S. role in the world but also our domestic priorities. I think this is an appropriate time to reflect on all those changes.

  • 11:52:22

    REHMAnd you're listening to the "The Diane Rehm Show." Minxin Pei, how do you see the U.S. role? Is this notion of its prolonging its victimhood something that you see?

  • 11:52:39

    PEIWell, I hope that commemorations the U.S. is holding today will dispel this sense of victimhood. I think the sense of victimhood was especially strong ten years ago. And that led to a series of policy mistakes. But today I think -- I'm glad that in fact the media and the rest of the metro society are spending so much time reflecting upon 9/11. And these reflections will dispel -- will give us a better understanding of why 9/11 happened and what occurred afterwards in response to 9/11. And as a result the sense of victimhood will be weaker not stronger.

  • 11:53:22

    REHMExpand on your view of those policy mistakes.

  • 11:53:27

    PEIWell, the policy mistakes, I think, are twofold, two dimensions. One is the foreign policy I mentioned. The U.S. became far less cautious in its use of force and led us into Iraq which is a debacle for the Bush Administration. And at home, I think the policy of cutting taxes, of loosening regulation, of encouraging (unintelligible) this is to project, as a sense, that we can fight a war and we don't have to pay for it. And that has created enormous long term financial strains for the U.S. economy. And of course now we're paying for the cost of these mistakes.

  • 11:54:13


  • 11:54:14

    BARBERCould I just interject here, Diane.

  • 11:54:16

    REHMOh, sure.

  • 11:54:17

    BARBERI think the policy -- some of the intellectual diagnosis was correct in terms of radical Islam being incubated in the autocratic regimes in the Middle East. But the execution was poor and flawed particularly in Iraq, and just a couple of examples. Overestimating the efficacy in what you can achieve through military force, then saying that a conflict, for example, in Afghanistan is absolutely vital to national security, but then telling the military and letting everybody else know that there's going to be a deadline for withdrawal. All these inconsistencies.

  • 11:54:58

    BARBERUnderestimating culture in the country. If you think how we approached Iraq, there's a fundamental ignorance about how that country worked.

  • 11:55:10

    GJELTENI have to point out that Lionel wrote a tremendous piece in last weekend's Financial Times about the very subject that we're discussing today. So, Lionel, I want to congratulate on that. You made a point there...

  • 11:55:22

    BARBEREarlier this week actually, Tom.

  • 11:55:26

    GJELTEN...quoting World Bank President Robert Zoellick as saying that after World War II, the United States per capita GNP was only a quarter of what it is today, and yet U.S. voters supported billions of dollars in rebuilding efforts in Japan and Europe. What has happened that now with our economy in comparison much stronger, the whole question of whether the United States should really help out has almost disappeared?

  • 11:55:51

    BARBERWell, I thought that Bob Zoellick's comment was fascinating because essentially he was saying America was a much poorer country back in those days. But it was still, to quote John F. Kennedy, "prepared to bear any burden, pay any price." And today, it's a lot more crablike. But it was also an attack against, if you like, the bean counters' approach to foreign policy. I mean, if there really are matters of great security than you have to be able -- you have to pay that price. And if America is going to be a global power, then it needs to be able to pay for those policies.

  • 11:56:30


  • 11:56:30

    BARBERAnd the problem is that there is a whole generation in America that are not prepared to give up entitlements and not prepared to tackle this deficit and debt. And I could go on, but I'll sound like a congressman.

  • 11:56:43

    REHM...and at that point, we'll have to leave our discussion, as much as I am loathe to do. Lionel Barber of the Financial Times, Ambassador Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. He's now at the American University in Cairo. And Minxin Pei, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, and to my co-anchor Tom Gjelten, NPR's national security correspondent, I thank you all.

  • 11:57:22

    GJELTENWhat a treat it's been, too.

  • 11:57:24

    REHMThank you so much and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Revisiting The Decision To Drop The Bomb

Thursday, May 18 2023As President Biden's visit to Hiroshima dredges up memories of World War II, Diane talks to historian Evan Thomas about his new book, "Road to Surrender," the story of America's decision to drop the atomic bomb.