Attacks on U.S. Soil
With Adm. William J. Crowe (USN-Ret.)
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2001; 3 p.m. EDT
Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, in a horrific series of events two hijacked planes hit and destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one plane crashed into the Pentagon and another in Somerset County, Pa.. Thousands are presumed dead or injured as emergency services and relief workers continue to make sense of the chaotic scenes. The FBI and authorities across the country continue to track down those responsible for the crimes.
William J. Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ambassador to England, was online Thursday, Sept. 13 at 3 p.m. EDT to answer questions about military involvement and foreign policy related to the attacks.
During a 47-year military career, Crowe commanded U.S. forces in the Middle East, was the commander-in-chief of NATO forces in Southern Europe, and headed the nation's largest geographical military operation-the U.S. Pacific Command. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Admiral Crowe received a master's degree in education from Stanford University and a master's and doctorate in politics from Princeton University.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control
over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests
and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Admiral Crowe, thank you for joining us today. You can provide us with some valuable insight into what military leaders are assessing and possibly planning today. Could you share some of that insight with our audience?
William J. Crowe: I'm not privy to exactly what the current administration is doing, but I can assure you the military has laid out a list of options of things they can do and they're fleshing those out in a planning sense, but they're probably awaiting further developments and guidance from the president before they decide.
What are your thoughts as to the motives of these terrorists? How widespread are anti-American feelings in third-world nations around the world?
William J. Crowe: I lived for over a year in Bahrain and it always comforted me that despite the differences we have over Israeli policy, there's a large resevoir of goodwill for the U.S. in the Arab world. That fact alone makes what we do next very difficult. We have to make sure retaliation does not alienate the rest of the Arab world... many of whom are firm friends right now.
We have to ensure it hurts the terrorists more than helps them. That makes this very difficult.
How may Pakistan's arsenal of nuclear weapons influence our military strategies against Afghanistan? The thought that suicidal fanatics may have access to nuclear bombs makes me shudder.
William J. Crowe: Clearly we don't want them to have access and we don't know that they do. we have no evidence that Pakistan would share their weapons with terrorists. They're inventory would be so small, they'd save it all for their problems with India. It is a scary thought that weapons of mass destruction could fall into terrorists' hands.
The Pentagon has its own air defenses does it not? Why weren't they deployed when they saw the inevitable on their own electronic systems? Perhaps they do not have such defenses, but the White House certainly does, why wouldn't the Pentagon?
William J. Crowe: Number one, the Pentagon does not have a system. We always relied on the air restrictions, but that's passive, not active. I don't of one for the White House either.
Those are two questions that will be looked at carefully in light of the events.
Why is it that the Middle Eastern region has not produced leaders embracing non-violent political protest, similar to Gandhi, Martin Luther King or the Dalai Lama? What the so-called "independence movements" boil down to are self-interested despots manipulating hot-headed youths into acts of violence against civilians. Why have no Middle Eastern advocates for peace and non-violent social demonstration emerged on the scene?
William J. Crowe: I think one of the problems is that the Arab countries are not under anybody's domain as India was under Great Britain's. They're not looking for independence for their people. They attract just an extreme faction that hates the U.S. You have to be wacky to subscribe to this to begin with. That's why their cause is not represented intellectually.
Could you briefly summarize the current firepower the we likely have in the Arabian Sea that could be directed at Afghanistan in the near term?
William J. Crowe: We, day by day, keep a carrier task group in the Indian ocean. And that involves one carrier full of aircraft at the minimum, sea to shore missiles and usually we have a Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) in the area; which has roughly 2,000 Marines that can be deployed quickly for any action ashore.
Since you are familiar with the Middle East and, having also served as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.K., have thus seen the decision-making processes of both the American political and military spheres up close, what factors do you believe are the most important for leaders to consider in any response to Tuesday's events?
William J. Crowe: Number one, I do not envy the president right now. He has some very hard choices in the next days. The American people would like for every hard problem to have a simple solution, but the world doesn't work that way.
The first thing is securing the wounded and injured and assisting those grieved. Secondly, we move urgently to return to normal. That's the biggest defeat the terrorists can suffer. That would signal our great resilience. Then I think we should look carefully at this for lessons learned so we can protect ourselves better. In that process we'd uncover those responsible for this. And develop from all this a suitable, prudent retaliation.
But I hear so much about retaliation. But returning to normalcy and looking for lessons learned are most important. That does not satisfy everybody, I understand.
How can the United States win a war against an enemy that's not state-based but individual-based?
William J. Crowe: We're not going to develop a solution that will eliminate individual opposition. We can retaliate against those who harbor those individuals. We will not have a flawless defense no matter what we do.
There will always be a small element that will look for ways to harm us. So we need to make sure there are no easy ways to harm us. How we protect and control airlines and how sensitize the public for riding the airlines and get across the thought that security is an All Hands proposition. I saw that in London, where they've been under the threat of IRA attacks for some time. They're patient, sensitive and report things immediately and put up with the inconvenience of higher security. The British are very tolerant. But they've been under threat for many years.
I've heard from news that Britain has placed jet fighters in the Middle East, with the U.S. military. Is this information true?
I've believed that Osama bin Laden gets supported by the Russian government. What's your comment on that?
If Britain combines with the U.S. to fight Middle East (Afghan), in particularly one man who is believed bin Laden, do you think that it is possible of creating the third world war since that man gets back up from middle east and russia?
William J. Crowe: I don't know if this is true. I"m not privy to the day-by-day movements.
Given the difficulty of locating Arab terrorists, what is the chance of success of a large, land-based military campaign, and what countries would be the likely initial targets?
William J. Crowe: I think the prospects for success would be very high if the American people would be willing to support it and take casualties on our own -- whether it's wise to do that is a separate question and a very difficult question.
The Taliban government and Osama Bin Laden both have cozy relationships with Pakistan, and many Afghani Muslim clerics received their education in Pakistani schools. Though the Government of Pakistan has -- I understand -- issued a formal statement declaring their full cooperation in any NATO action that may be undertaken concerning Bin Laden, how much cooperation do you believe we may really expect from them? And, given that Pakistan is a member of the Nuclear Club, how do you feel that any such cooperation or lack of cooperation might destabilize the Pakistani government in particular and the region in general?
William J. Crowe: Interesting question. They will always say they're against terrorism, but when you get to specifics and ask for support, they may not feel as strongly about the specifics.
So, you're exactly right that the degree of support we receive remains to be seen. Many will claim support and the only way to find out is to test the claims.
How are the repercussions of the past two days going to be felt within the immigration system in the U.S., and immigration between Canada and the U.S.? As well, I would like to say that your Canadian family's prayers are with you.
William J. Crowe: It may very well. That's one of the areas that people who are reviewing the problem are looking at very carefully.
Admiral Crowe, what kind of planning would have had to be behind a terrorist attack of this magnitude?
William J. Crowe: One of the interesting aspects of the attack is that it has simplified some things over previous efforts. They didn't need explosives, fertilizer, large trucks or many outside equipment. What they needed were people -- particularly pilots, which they had to get into the U.S. and coordinate, but that's all planning that can be done pretty subtly. In many ways, that makes intelligence collection difficult.
There are some sophisticated aspects, but not as many as some in the past.
© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company