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New Allies

March 12, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: In marking the passing of six months since the September 11 attacks, President Bush yesterday sharply expanded the U.S. commitment in the global anti-terror campaign.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I’ve set a clear policy in the second stage of the war on terror.

America encourages and expects governments everywhere to help remove the terrorist parasites that threaten their own countries and peace of the world.

If governments need training or resources to meet this commitment, America will help.

MARGARET WARNER: The help has already begun in Asia, in the Philippines, where some 600 American troops have been deployed to help the Philippine military battle Muslim extremists. The targeted group, known as Abu Sayyaf, is believed to have links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network. Abu Sayyaf guerrillas have kidnapped foreigners for ransom, including two Americans.

In the Gulf state of Yemen, the President said, the U.S. is working “to prevent another Afghanistan,” especially along Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia, where many al-Qaida recruits come from.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We will help Yemeni forces with both training and equipment to prevent that land from becoming a haven for terrorists.

MARGARET WARNER: General Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, met with Yemen’s President last month to discuss sending 100 U.S. soldiers there. And Pentagon officials said today a U.S. military team is following up.

VICTORIA CLARKE, Pentagon, spokeswoman: The government of Yemen has made it clear they want to work with us; they want assistance in fighting the terrorism in their own backyard.

We have about 20 people over there right now, a small team from central command that’s working out the details of what will be done.

MARGARET WARNER: And in Central Asia, the president yesterday announced plans to dispatch U.S. forces to a former Soviet Republic.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: In the republic of Georgia, terrorists working closely with al-Qaida operate in the Pankisi Gorge, near the Russian border.

At President Shevardnadze’s request, the United States is planning to send up to 150 military trainers to prepare Georgian soldiers to reestablish control in this lawless region. This temporary assistance serves the interests of both our countries.

MARGARET WARNER: Georgia borders the rebellious Russian republic of Chechnya.

In the past few years, Russia’s war against rebels in the heavily-Muslim Chechen republic has sent some 40,000 refugees fleeing across Georgia’s border.

While most made their way to other predominantly Muslim countries, some 7,000 Chechens remain in the Pankisi Gorge along the border, including an estimated 1,500 Chechen rebel fighters.

Chechen rebels have clear ties to al-Qaida. Many fought alongside al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan. American involvement in Georgia’s troubles began last fall, when the U.S. sent ten unarmed military helicopters and a handful of military advisers to train pilots and technicians.

In addition to sending advisers to help local military forces, the Pentagon has also established new U.S. Military bases for its anti-terror operations.

Since Sept. 11, bases have been established in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan Some of these countries have been cited by the State Department for numerous serious human rights abuses.

This afternoon, the president of one of these new allies, Uzbekistan, met with President Bush at the White House. Uzbekistan has one of the worst human rights records cited by the State Department.

But as Afghanistan’s northern neighbor, Uzbekistan provided critical help in the Afghan campaign, letting the U.S. use a former Soviet air base there, and welcoming some 1,000 U.S. troops.

In return, the Bush Administration tripled its aid to Uzbekistan, to $160 million.

MARGARET WARNER: We look now at the benefits and risks of applying this new Bush doctrine in one particular corner of the world, Central Asia.

Joining us are Tobi Gati, former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence in the Clinton Administration, she is now a consultant at a Washington law firm; retired Lieutenant General William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency in the 1980s, he’s now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and an adjunct professor at Yale; and Martha Brill Olcott, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of a new book entitled Kazakhstan, Unfulfilled Promise.

Welcome to you all. Tobi Gati, beginning with you, what do you make of this commitment the President made yesterday to help governments everywhere, as he put it, militarily to fight terror?

TOBI GATI: Well, I think it’s a breathtaking commitment because it’s open ended. It has no exit strategy, as we used to talk about, and basically the president is saying we expect countries to help us. We expect them to act and if they don’t have the resources that’s not an excuse, we will help with the resources.

What he has left unsaid is that if countries don’t help us we will probably act unilaterally. And that’s a theme, which was in his speech but not as dominant as in other speeches like when he talked about axis of evil and things like that.

He also in effect said things like the Middle East peace process will have to wait until we deal with the really important problem and that is to deny sanctuary to terrorists.

His theme was to terrorists nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and we’re going to make sure that takes place.

MARGARET WARNER: General Odom, does this strike you as a wise or smart commitment on a military level?

LT. GENERAL WILLIAM ODOM (RET.): I think at present it’s a good rally speech. In other words, it I think sharpens the pace and it gathers attention and makes countries take us seriously in a way that they haven’t probably in the past.

If one speculates about where this leads down the road, I think there will have to be some changes. I think the president has enough room to make the appropriate changes as the situation requires.

Of course it’s open ended, keeping peace and order in the world is an open-ended requirement, particularly for a country as wealthy as we are.

MARGARET WARNER: Martha Brill Olcott, your view particularly on expanding this into Central Asia.

MARTHA BRILL OLCOTT: I think the president’s speech really makes it clear that the post-Cold War period is really over.

No longer the states of caucuses a Russian sphere of influence, the U.S. will make its presence known wherever it feels it’s appropriate.

This really changes the whole future of states. If you like you can say the period of independence began for them in earnest after Sept. 11.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s take Georgia as a specific example, and that’s the going and actually training the local military.

Tell us about the terrorists in Georgia, who are they? Who are these folks in the Pankisi Gorge, who are they a threat to?

MARTHA BRILL OLCOTT: Well, the people in the Pankisi Gorge are Chechens as well as members of the al-Qaida network so people of various nation nationalities, including Arabs.

They are a threat to Russia, they are a threat to Georgia and to the degree to which they have safe haven they are a threat to the global community, but most particularly the introduction of U.S. trainers and U.S. equipment in Georgia really changes the equation potentially for the Georgian government.

It means for the first time Georgia can look at the Russians and say we now have the capacity to maintain our security, which is something they hadn’t had previously.

MARGARET WARNER: General Odom, what can the U.S. Military do — let’s use Georgia as an example — with just 100 advisers and trainers that the Georgian military couldn’t do itself?

LT. GENERAL WILLIAM ODOM (RET.): Well, these trainers, Special Forces teams, have skills and competences that the Georgians don’t have at all. They’ll simply be in a basic training mode. They will set up basic training programs for units.

I suspect that certain units will be singled out, put under their training regime and they will introduce probably some new and more effective weapons. They will teach them tactics and techniques that are not necessarily natural to them, and just raise the tactical operational confidence of these units.

It’s not that the Americans are going to fight. It’s my understanding that this commitment is pretty much on the lines of commitment to the Philippines where U.S. Forces are not there to be the trigger pullers or the fighters, except in the extreme incidence where they would have to defend themselves, but as trainers to raise the competence level.

That’s what I see them doing. I see them creating forces that can go up into the Pankisi Gorge and do pointed operations to pull out particular people and be successful at it.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you see, Tobi Gati, as both the benefits in terms of anti-terror and the risks of this?

TOBI GATI: I think it’s important to strength the Georgian capabilities because the Georgian military now is not in control of Georgia. And there are parts of Georgia where the central government is not in control. But we’re assuming a rational process where you train people to do something and then they do what you have told them to do.

MARGARET WARNER: And no more?

TOBI GATI: And no more. And if we look at the history Afghanistan we trained a lot of people to do things during the Soviet occupation and now they’re doing and it’s biting us in the leg.

So I think we have learned that you can’t control always what these troops may do. For example, parts of Georgia are not under Georgian control, Abkhazia and Agaria, two regions of Georgia.

These — the Georgian government has been smarting at having lost control of these areas, which are really under Russian domination. There’s no guarantee over time that the Georgians feel they now have the capability to take , and you set in motion a process which the president laid out of helping countries and leading toward a more peaceful freer world, but in some of these regions you really open a Pandora’s box.

MARGARET WARNER: And that brings — you wanted to add something to that?

LT. GENERAL WILLIAM ODOM (RET.): I think you also close some Pandora’s boxes because the Pandora’s boxes are the lack of control over Georgian control over its own provinces in Agaria and Abkhazia, and I wouldn’t be at all disappointed to see the Georgians go in and do that.

I quite agree that it’s a Pandora’s box of a kind, but any commitment like this anywhere has these kinds of risks.

And any American president has to make judgments about whether the payoffs are worth the risks and the problems that arise. I don’t think anybody is naive at this stage of our history, after Vietnam and many other commitments, Latin America, and Africa and elsewhere, about what is it involved.

The issue is the balance and judgments about how much risk to take and when to turn around to the regime that is running awry on you, doing what you don’t want them to do, and say you’re not going to do that or say we’re abandoning you if you continue to do it.

MARGARET WARNER: But that of course raises the issue of so-called “stans” — the former Soviet republics, which are predominantly Muslims, like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and so forth, which some of them have terrible human right records.

Do you think the U.S. Military can go in and help and not get dragged into seeming to be supporting these regimes?

MARTHA BRILL OLCOTT: I think it can if U.S. foreign policy is multifaceted enough.

I’m encouraged by the talk of how we’re going focus our policy in Uzbekistan and by the agreements that are going be signed today and are in the process of being signed in the future with Uzbekistan.

If we just give Uzbekistan military assistance, then I think we’re entering a long and difficult friendship with a repressive regime, but if, as we’re doing, we really push the Uzbeks to engage in economic reform, to have respect for human rights, to have respect for property, then I think we really have a good chance of affecting the outcome to our liking and to the liking of the Uzbek people.

MARGARET WARNER: Is Uzbekistan facing a terrorist threat in this united movement for Uzbekistan or Islamic movement for Uzbekistan?

Are these really terrorists and are they terrorists that could pose a threat to U.S. interests?

MARTHA BRILL OLCOTT: The Islamic movement of Uzbekistan are or were terrorists because a lot of them have been destroyed in the operation in Afghanistan.

And with any terrorist group they are certainly detrimental to U.S. Interests But one of the problems with Uzbekistan’s policy has been that it didn’t distinguish with radical Islamic groups and violent terrorist groups, and thousands of peaceful Islamic radicals have been arrested in the last few years since the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan heated up.

MARGARET WARNER: So that really complicates the U.S. role there?

TOBI GATI: I think it complicates it a lot. We’re in a region where each leader is looking over all of his many of shoulders, looking at the other countries in the region, looking at his own people sometimes as an enemy, sometimes thinking how to keep them malleable and under control, and also looking up North in many cases at the Russians, a factor we haven’t mentioned, which is — and I agree with Martha — that this is — the era of Russian control is over, but the fact is that Russia is located very, very close to all these countries, has had an influence, will have an economic influence, will always regard these countries and what happens in them as important to its security.

And, one of the main accomplishments of Sept. 11 was of course the changed policy towards Russia. And if we are serious about dealing with terrorism and saying to the Russians lets deal with it together, there couldn’t be an area of more concern to the Russians and now to us than Georgia.

If we’re going distinguish between al-Qaida fighters and Chechen fighters, I think we’re going to somehow have to some involve the Russians, and the question is how do you do that without making it look like year dealing over the heads of countries involved.

LT. GENERAL WILLIAM ODOM (RET.): I think Martha is on to a very important point. As we go down the path with countries in central Asia, those regimes have created the Islamic problem to a large degree by their repressive measures –

MARGARET WARNER: You mean because the Islamic movement is in a way — it’s really the only outlet people have.

LT. GENERAL WILLIAM ODOM (RET.): It is the vocabulary with which they can articulate their problems with repressive Karimo -

MARGARET WARNER: All these various leaders -

LT. GENERAL WILLIAM ODOM (RET.): Yeah. — It’s the rally… it’s the rallying language, it’s the only political language of the area, and so it’s going to be very complicated for us.

I think the problem for the president is going to be making judgments about the advantage we gain from the military operation of having bases there and these kind of political problems.

I’m not as optimistic as Martha that putting pressure on Karimo is going to bring about general structural reform in Uzbekistan.

These regimes are best understood as models very much like Iraq and Syria, Baathis regimes with Soviet type institutions and sort of a vague socialist rhetoric where they are pretty well state controlled economies with large private sectors underneath, and those don’t behave very well in political transformation.

So I think we’re going to have some difficulties with these new allies out there.

TOBI GATI: Let me mention one thing that is really amazing — we’re giving Georgia $64 million, which is three times it’s entirely military budget. We’re giving Uzbekistan in aid $150 million.

When I was in government, if we could find a million dollars to help build democratic institutions or a free press or any of the institutions, which we say are so important, we would have been ecstatic. And we have now poured money in places and it’s only for military options.

So the question remains what do these countries see that we think is important.

MARGARET WARNER: On that note we have to leave it. Thank you all three, very much.