WASHINGTON – As the four-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches,former government officials and members of the 9/11 Commission are working to find ways to protect the country through better international relations.
Foreign policy is key in the aftermath of the attacks,according to two former government officials who worked in the Middle East and Asia and who met Tuesday to discuss U.S. foreign policy in key countries.
They and Lee Hamilton,former vice chair of the 9/11 Commission,focused on U.S. frustration with the inaccessibility of areas in Pakistan,where Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding,and concerns about Pakistani children in religious schools.
The discussion was the seventh in a series hosted by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project,a nonprofit organization formed by former 9/11 commissioners. Previous discussions covered CIA and FBI reform and civil liberties concerns. The discussion,held at the Woodrow Wilson Center,was open to the public.
The group also discussed U.S. relations with Afghanistan,Pakistan and Saudi Arabia,countries that “present very difficult problems for the U.S.,” Hamilton said.
Access to the northwestern region of Pakistan where bin Laden is thought to be hiding is limited,and both the U.S. and Pakistan are looking for him. In this light,U.S. relations with Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf are increasingly important,said A. Elizabeth Jones,who was assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs from 2001 to 2005.
U.S. leaders don't want to push Pakistani leader too hard despite their frustration for fear of what the Pakistani people would do,but it is vital for U.S. policy makers to maintain a balance between public and private criticism,Jones said to the audience of about 20.
“We need to keep a consistent public posture of what we expect from Pakistan,” said Dennis Ross,a former coordinator for Middle East affairs for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Educational reform is important,as many Pakistanis are receiving a very limited education,Jones said.
Many children attend religious schools,or madrassahs,that have been “incubators of violent extremism,” the 9/11 Commission report said.
With the death Monday of Saudi leader King Fahd,the new king,former Crown Prince Abdullah,could make small policy changes,but nothing drastic is expected of the new leader,Ross said.
The United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia often correlates with America's need for oil,which has led to poor decision making on behalf of the U.S.,Ross said.
U.S. diplomacy should focus on motivating Saudis to vote and get involved with government affairs,which would dispel feelings of alienation that often lead to terrorism,Jones said.
While recent elections in Afghanistan are encouraging,narcotics trade is a threat to democracy,Ross said. Poppy farmers often don't have any other choices for cash crops,and the U.S. and NATO should work to help them find different crops,he added.
Continued assistance is necessary to ensure the democratization of Afghanistan.
“We took it on,” Ross said. “It can't be a set of half measures.”