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Shape of the World Series: Part 6

January 16, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: And joining me is Trudy Rubin, a foreign affairs columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Welcome, Trudy. It’s nice to see you in person for a change.

TRUDY RUBIN, The Philadelphia Inquirer: It’s very nice to be here.

GWEN IFILL: You have written in your columns that what separates pre-September 11 from post- September 11 is a new global or an old global reality that we just weren’t paying attention to before. Elaborate on that.

TRUDY RUBIN: 9-11 was really a wake-up call. We were living in a very happy 1990s la-la land, where I think we didn’t understand that being a superpower has costs as well as benefits. Everybody was familiar with the benefits you gain from trade– we were doing very well economically, no one could really challenge us abroad. But I think what most Americans didn’t realize was that being a sole superpower breeds resentments and it breeds more resentments if you handle it casually or arrogantly. And I think they also didn’t understand that in the kind of world we live in now where information and mobility are so easy to come by and where everyone can move without being tracked, that it was very easy for stateless groups or individuals to harm America and that a highly industrialized society is very vulnerable to low-tech threats.

GWEN IFILL: But clichés aside, you write that September 11 did not change everything.

TRUDY RUBIN: No. It didn’t change things as much as we think because I think a lot of the same issues that we were discussing without the same intensity before 9/11 still exist: For example, the whole question of multilateralism versus unilateralism. Certainly we went into Afghanistan virtually alone. We had an alliance and the Brits helped us militarily, but basically it was our show, yet there were still questions about multilateralism that resonate more strongly after 9/11. For example, if you have failed states like Afghanistan, who is supposed to pick up the pieces, and who is supposed to do the peacekeeping? If you have a situation in Afghanistan where the country could break down again, if the United States isn’t involved in strengthening multilateral organizations that can provide the wherewithal and the people and money for that, then it’s not going to get done.

GWEN IFILL: So are you saying that the unilateralism of the United States that this administration was accused of prior to September 11 will come back in a different form?

TRUDY RUBIN: I think it never really went away. For example, the issue of how to deal with Russia — it is true that we have a new alliance, an antiterrorist alliance, but the same questions still resonate. The U.S. has unilaterally decided to pull out of the ABM Treaty, and the relationship with Russia is still uncertain. And that needs to be worked out. And the same issues about peacekeeping, about foreign aid that were on the back burner before 9/11 haven’t really emerged to the front burner, and I think they will because they’re relevant in dealing with the kind of failed states that breed terrorism.

GWEN IFILL: You talked a moment ago about what happens next, nation-building, peacekeeping, whatever you want to call it. But you also have written that in order to, that the United States can’t get into this war without planning to win it. What is winning in a war like this? How do you define that?

TRUDY RUBIN: Winning, I think is a word that is… Now needs to be redefined after the fighting is over in Afghanistan. Winning does not mean ending terrorism because terrorism is a phenomena that was with us before 9/11 and there will always be terrorists at some level. There will always be local conflicts that will breed terrorism. And it doesn’t mean that we will be able to wipe it out everywhere in the world, because local conflicts, whether it’s Etta in Spain for Basque separatism, or the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, are going to be there. We can give advice, help cut off funds, we can share intelligence. But winning, in terms of Afghanistan, I think we have already done what I would think of as winning.

GWEN IFILL: Can the United States claim any kind of real victory if bin Laden has not been captured?

TRUDY RUBIN: Yes, and I think bin Laden probably will be captured because I think somebody will sell him out. I think that the elements that we have achieved which are extremely important, we have broken his charismatic glow. Bin Laden on al-Jazeera will not have the same impact. People see the fraudulence of his dreams of rebuilding an Islamic radical caliphate in the whole world. So we’ve struck a blow in this regard in discrediting radical Islamism. It won’t go away, but we have achieved something. Pakistan, crucial. General Musharaff made an incredibly courageous speech. He’s basically trying to do just what many Pakistanis had dreamt of and hoped, which is end the Talibanization of his society. These are real victories.

GWEN IFILL: Is it possible to replicate this kind of victory that has happened in Afghanistan — if that’s what it is — in Iraq? That’s the big debate.

TRUDY RUBIN: Right. You can’t just take the template and transfer it. There’s no northern alliance. There’s no southern alliance. The Iraqi National Congress once had a base in northern Iraq. President Clinton basically sold them out in 1996. They don’t have the fighting force on the ground. There are some Iraqi exiles in Iran. It’s not clear if they could come across to fight or if they’re still Islamists or have changed their tune. That’s one big difference. A second big difference is you have to convince Iraq’s neighbors and Iraqis themselves that we’re serious. We called on them to rise in 1991; we sold them out then, too. They rose and were smashed by Saddam. So you have a harder sell. In Afghanistan people believed we would fight to the end. In Iraq, you will have to convince people, and you will have to count on convincing them and have Iraqis rise.

GWEN IFILL: Another difficult part of this puzzle is what’s happening in the Israeli-Palestinian question. You have written that you’ve never seen it this bad. Is it because it is getting lost in the Afghanistan swirl, or is it its own intractable issue that the United States hasn’t figured out how to cope with?

TRUDY RUBIN: I don’t think it’s insoluble. At the moment, it seems intractable. Obviously, the U.S. attention was taken away from it, although with this horrible phase, even with new attention paid, it’s not so clear that you can move. One big plus: If we do go after Saddam Hussein and succeed, I think that might be the lever that could unleash a new peace process in Israel and with the Palestinians because if that threat were taken away, I think there would be a lot of changes in the Arab world. It would make it easier to deal with Israel and the Palestinians.

GWEN IFILL: But you’ve written that Yasser Arafat is a failed leader; “a tragic failed leader,” I think were your words. Is he the one we still have to deal with in order to work this through, in spite of that?

TRUDY RUBIN: At the moment, there is not an apparent alternative. After Arafat is either chaos or Hamas. If one wants to cultivate an alternative amongst Palestinians themselves, because they have to pick the new leadership, there are people on the Palestinian side who are very clear in the commitment to states no more final end to conflict. And Israel has to cultivate those people. But unfortunately leaders like Saren Asayba and Mustafa Bargudi have been arrested recently, although released after a few hours. Mustafa Bargudi, a prominent doctor heads medical relief committees, beaten up. This is not the way to deal with moderate leaders that might be the future.

GWEN IFILL: Finally, I do want to throw some of your words back at you and have you respond. You wrote at one point in October, “Perhaps these dark days will produce some positive legacy, shock some leaders into wiser behavior. It may only be a dream, but I can’t bear to wake up yet.” Have you awakened yet?

TRUDY RUBIN: I actually am hopeful to a certain extent about the Middle East after this, because I see the beginnings of debate. I am thrilled with what is happening in Pakistan. The debate in the United States, however, I don’t think has been engaged, yet because we do have to debate what kind of a superpower we want to be in the world, what we need and want to do beyond military, and how to reach out; better trade policies, more opening to third world trade, more aid. We can’t solve the world’s problems, but if we’re the sole superpower, we have to do more than provide weapons.

GWEN IFILL: Trudy Rubin, thank you very much for joining us.

TRUDY RUBIN: You’re very welcome.