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Military Mission

October 3, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: For more on the Secretary’s trip we turn to: Former U.S. Senator Wyche Fowler, ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Clinton administration.

Martha Brill Olcott, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and author of “The New States of Central Asia”.

Michael Vickers, a former Special Forces and CIA officer; he is now director of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary assessments, a think tank.

And Mamoun Fandy is a Professor of Politics at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University. He has written extensively about the Middle East.

So Michael Vickers, what is it that Secretary Rumsfeld is hoping to accomplish by this trip?

MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, I think he has both near term and longer-term objectives. First, by visiting several of these key states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular, are leaders of the Islamic world, so shoring up a broad Islamic coalition, those are two key states.

All four states provide important logistical support for military operations in Afghanistan. Egypt being the most far away provides a very important logistical hub in the Cairo Air Base. Saudi Arabia has a new state of the art air control center, Prince Sultan Air base south of Riyadh. Uzbekistan is very important as a front line state for search and air rescue missions, for example, for Special Forces personnel. And Oman has been a traditional base for power projection in the region, particularly for U.S. surveillance assets.

GWEN IFILL: Does the fact that Secretary Rumsfeld has to make this trip at all mean that these are reluctant allies?

MICHAEL VICKERS: No, I think a lot of the cooperation has been achieved. But this is a near and long term problem, and part of it I believe would be security cooperation.

Remember, this conflict is not only about Afghanistan states and the global terrorist network, but a lot of it is outside Afghanistan. So the longer-term struggle in these states and beyond will be very important.

GWEN IFILL: Mamoun Fandy, why is such a trip necessary?

MAMOUN FANDY: I think it is very important shoring up this coalition, it’s very important that the heart of the Muslim world becomes with the United States, it’s very important to make clear that this is a war against terrorism, not against Muslims or Arabs, because local governments, for example, Egypt.

Egypt had a big problem with terrorism for 15 years. And Egypt realized for one it can’t solve it alone, for two it took Egypt a long time to make the case that it is, the war is against terrorism, because everybody wanted to portray this as a secular government against Muslims inside. And it took them a very long time to make this case. Again, they realized also that it is a multi-dimensional problem and it’s very important, I think, at this point in time to make sure that everybody understands the issues, everybody understands that this is a long-term kind of problem. The level of cooperation ought to be on various levels.

GWEN IFILL: When they talk about secondary effects of these countries joining in the U.S. effort, what does that mean?

MAMOUN FANDY: I mean there are problems, to sustain a coalition against terrorism, for countries that work with issue of terrorism like Egypt, it took Egypt 15 years to finish this problem. So with that, there were all kinds of problems associated with the campaign.

One of them was actually the terrorists themselves shot at President Mubarak. So there is a great deal of involvement that you have to involve, not only just the states, but also civil society organizations, you have to involve Muslim preachers and everybody else, to make sure that this case is against terrorism, not against Muslim and Arabs. And it’s very, very difficult case to make.

GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Fowler, it seems hard to figure out exactly how to read our relationship with Saudi Arabia right now.

There are the public statements, which are very generalized statements of support, and then there seem to be some question about whether they would let us use their bases for launching attacks. Where do we stand with that that you can tell?

WYCHE FOWLER: Well, I think I can endorse that the cooperation by the Saudis with the United States could not be any closer.

What is often overlooked is that the first bombing that killed Americans was in 1995 at the National Guard, killed four Americans. But Saudis also were killed. In 1996 the Khobar Towers, 19 American servicemen were killed, but Saudis also were killed and they got the first wakeup call that there were terrorists inside their country, something they could never have imagined.

Since that time, we have worked together in almost every way, in law enforcement, in police detection, in secret ways, as you have to do if you’re going to catch these people. And when it comes to whatever our concerted action is, along with our allies, whether it be in ways that are necessary, as Dr. Fandy has described, or if we find bin Laden and have a precision strike to take him out, then the Saudis will be with us shoulder to shoulder.

GWEN IFILL: So how do we read what seem to be conflicting messages? Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld say we have all the assurances we need, but we hear from Saudi leaders, as we did today–tonight actually–meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld, the Prince said we do not feel there are any strikes that are going to be taken against the Taliban.

Now that seems to counter to what it is we’re trying to accomplish in that region.

WYCHE FOWLER: Well, first thing is, we’re not going to tell the Taliban what we’re going to do, we’re not going to tell bin Laden. And you can’t.

You’ve got to strike when the iron is hot and when you hope you’ve got the intelligence, which you are only going to get from people in that neighborhood. Again, as our other two guests have said, it could come from this country or that country, but it has to have the element of surprise.

But I guess, Gwen, what you’re really asking is, this is a time for what I would call sensible diplomacy. It has to be a two-way street. We are asking different countries to help us in ways, where we know they can help us.

But also we have to have a recognition from our side of their domestic problems, and they have been domestic problems as the unintended consequences of the Gulf War, where we went over and we fought a war and we went home. But a lot of these fundamentalists and bin Laden and his ilk did not like the fact that American forces were called in on what they determined to be holy ground.

And we have to recognize that they have problems too in helping us.

GWEN IFILL: Ms. Olcott, Uzbekistan. Why is this country, which most Americans are trying to familiarize themselves with, why is this signature cam right now as we begin this ramp up?

MARTHA BRILL OLCOTT: Well, Uzbekistan is really the friendliest of the states that border on Afghanistan and a potential strong base for American operations in Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan, as a former Soviet republic, certainly has been on the front lines of the war in Afghanistan for other two decades now. And it brings to the table familiarity with the terrain in Afghanistan and military bases that were used for the launching of the Soviet attack in the 1970s, and for sustaining the soviet military operation.

It also brings the participation of a former Soviet state to the alliance against terrorism and the possibilities of cooperation, at least indirectly, with Russia as well as the direct cooperation.

GWEN IFILL: When you look at the map, you see a relatively short border between Uzbekistan, compared to the other countries that surround Afghanistan. How significant — what’s that border like, are you familiar with that?

MARTHA BRILL OLCOTT: I’m familiar with the part of it right by Termez. In fact the fact that it a short border really is its strength. It’s the least porous us of the borders with Afghanistan.

It was the bridge between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan at the time of the invasion. It probably is the strongest point from the former Soviet Union that one could enter into Afghanistan and has already been noted, it doesn’t bring the risks that military operations coming from Pakistan would bring.

GWEN IFILL: Mike Vickers, we hear Secretary Rumsfeld talk about intelligence sharing being almost as important as military basing. What are our chances of getting useful intelligence information from these particular countries that he’s choosing to visit at that time?

MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, quite good. As Dr. Olcott said, the Uzbeks have a long history in this area and have been battling Afghan spread Islamic extremism for some time now and have important information. The Pakistanis as well, Pakistani intelligence service is very effective in Afghanistan. Saudis have things to contribute as well.

GWEN IFILL: Can the Middle Eastern nations, Mamoun Fandy, how caught up are they with what’s happening with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how can they function with the United States out of the context of that conflict?

MAMOUN FANDY: I think the main message that will weigh heavily on Mubarak’s head or on King Fahd’s head when they talk to the Secretary was the idea that the Palestinian issue has always been a vehicle that was hijacked by these Islamic groups to make headways in domestic politics.

And he would want him not to allow them to hijack it one more time to disrupt this anti-terrorism coalition. So in that sense this is a major issue and I think the statements made by the President the other day about the Palestinian state is –

GWEN IFILL: Do you think that was a signal?

MAMOUN FANDY: — it’s really playing well in the region now that indeed the Americans are engaged and they are serious and they are not hands off any more.

GWEN IFILL: And that the United States thinks there should be Palestinian state, just to remind people what you said.

MAMOUN FANDY: That’s absolutely right. So in that sense I think the Egyptians will be absolutely, they will be absolutely unwavering on their support to this campaign, but they will be honest and say look from our own domestic experience for 15 years there were three issues that we found problems.

One, you have to make a case that you’re fighting terrorism, not Islam, and it took us a long time to do that. Two, the issue is multi-dimensional and requires international effort and we realize we can’t do it alone.

And three, there are issues that can be hijacked like the Palestinian question by these groups to prey on the domestic grievances and push people away from the coalition, and that’s probably what the Egyptians will say.

GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Fowler, there are other issues which could also intervene in this kind of coalition building. Should the United States be turning its head away from issues like human rights concerns in Uzbekistan or concerns that the Saudis have supported Islamic fundamentalists?

WYCHE FOWLER: Well, again, we have to be careful as to who do we say and what.

GWEN IFILL: Allegations of.

WYCHE FOWLER: There are a lot of allegations that are not proven. For instance, I don’t know of an instance where the Saudis have supported any kind of fundamental terrorism that has a direct link.

What we are worried about and what we’re moving very carefully on is the fact that so many legitimate Muslim charities, the monies that have been given not only by Saudis but Muslims throughout the world for the best of circumstances, the largest and the most legitimate of these charities, there has apparently been significant leakage, and money has ended up in the hands of that it was not intended.

We found that to be the case in Bosnia, for instance, where money was traced down there as part of certainly non-charitable purposes.

GWEN IFILL: Martha Olcott, I want to ask you about human rights concerns involve Uzbekistan.

MARTHA BRILL OLCOTT: I really think in the short run this should not be an issue that Secretary Rumsfeld focuses on.

But I hope that our actions and engagement with Uzbekistan is the beginning of long and closer cooperation, and as part of that cooperation I really hope that we return to the issues of political democratization and human right in Uzbekistan. But this week would really not be the time to focus on those concerns.

GWEN IFILL: Finally, Mike Vickers, are there guarantees that the United States should be prepared to make with these nations in exchange for their support?

MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, we have a longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Oman; and with Uzbekistan it’s a new relationship, essentially new. There’s been some engagement the last several years. And they’re a front line state. So that’s probably a case that requires the greatest intention.

GWEN IFILL: Okay. Well, thank you all very much.