Security panel urges diplomacy, education

Although notable progress has been made to ensure the safety of American interests both domestically and abroad, the United States still faces a host of challenges in its ongoing attempt to achieve security, according to panelists on the 15th Annual George F. Kennan Forum on International Issues.

Even more progress is possible through patching the United States' strained international relations, keeping better track of terrorist funds and weapons material and through education reforms in countries hostile to the United States, the panelists said.

Peter Brookes, senior fellow for National Security Affairs at the conservative policy group The Heritage Foundation, and Charles Kupchan, a Madison native and associate professor of international relations at Georgetown University, were the panelists for "Are We Safer? A Debate on the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy." The program, held Thursday in front of a half-capacity audience at the Pabst Theater, 144 W. Wells St., was arranged by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Institute of World Affairs.

Both Brookes and Kupchan agreed that now, nearly four years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States is safer than it was then.

Kupchan listed better communication between the FBI and CIA and progress on freezing the financial assets of terrorist groups as evidence of that progress. For his part, Brookes said the United States' recent breakthrough negotiations with the North African nation of Libya — which have resulted in Libya allowing its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction to be examined — also was a good indication of progress made.

Much work, however, confronts the United States in its continued pursuance of security, the panelists said.

Both Brookes and Kupchan were keen on seeing the United States do some diplomatic fence mending with their "key democratic allies," particularly in Europe.

Kupchan said that by taking a "dismissive" attitude toward international efforts, such as the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol and the U.N. Security Council and attacking Iraq largely before it had international backing, the United States has distanced itself from many of its former allies.

"I'm deeply worried about America's relations abroad," Kupchan said, citing global polls that show the U.S.'s plummeting popularity. Kupchan did not name which polls he was referring to, nor did he give any as examples.

Brookes was somewhat more blithe than Kupchan on the state of America's popularity and questioned the validity of the polls, claiming they were conducted in countries without freedom of the press rights. But like Kupchan, Brookes encouraged better relations abroad.

"Diplomacy is important (and) coalitions are important," Brookes said.

Brookes also decried the recent downsizing of the U.S. Information Agency, which he said has had its staff slashed by 40 percent since President Bush took office because it hampers international communication.

Brookes said new challenges confronting the U.S.'s anti-terrorism efforts include the increasing stealth of terrorists' financial negotiations. The use of formal banks by terrorist groups is on the decline, Brookes said, and is being replaced by traffic in diamonds, commodities and drugs — especially opium.

The transactions are difficult to trace, Brookes said, and not knowing the details of a terrorist group's financial transactions will cut into the U.S.'s ability to predict major attacks such as 9/11, which cost al-Qaeda $500,000, according to Brookes. Muslim charities also are being utilized to transfer funds, Brookes said.

"Some of the Muslim charities are doing good works and are unwittingly laundering money and helping terrorists," he said.

Both panelists also said the United States should hasten to develop education programs in other nations, particularly ones they could cultivate into allies in the future.

Brookes said that reforming the education systems in poor Muslim countries would stem the flow of anti-American youths emanating from those nations.

"A lot of (the religious schools in poor Muslim countries) are not only teaching them the Koran, but hatred," he said.

Kupchan agreed with Brookes' view, but pointed to Saudi Arabia as a more pressing example.

Lackadaisical and uneducated youth are more likely to subscribe to the anti-American sentiments rising in the country, Kupchan said. The combination makes Saudi Arabia a "time bomb." The bomb can be diffused, he said, through education reform.