The most immediate threat is Iraq. The most long term threat is the evolution of the international system where, on the one hand, you have shifts in the definition of great powers and, on the other, you have the creation of vacuums within countries which make it possible for terrorist groups and other non-state organizations to threaten the international system without the restraints of the international system.
It appears mostly as a threat to the United States because the United States has been most active in resisting it and also because the United States is a great symbol of the kind of society that the terrorists are trying to undermine. So any success they can have in the United States simultaneously frightens a larger number of people than a similar operation would in Canada or any other allied country. But the nature of the threat is really fairly uniform. We've had terrorist attacks now in Berlin, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Spain, Uzbekistan, Russia - all in the space of two years. So we are talking about a global tendency, not a particular American problem.
The United States has not been equally successful in convincing other nations of the importance of the role that it is playing. Part of that is America's fault; part of it is due to the fact that other nations do not have the same experience of danger nor do they react to it like Americans did, because, at least in Europe, they're used to danger and Americans are not used to attacks on their own country. And especially not by people they never knew were enemies.
I think the greatest security threat to the United States stems from the increasing isolation of the Untied States in the world, the crisis of American credibility and the focusing of a variety of complex and disparate resentments on the United States itself, with the growing probability of more terrorist strikes against the United States.
And the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to various rogue groups is a future problem. So far, assertions that this has happened have been not proven to be all that accurate, as we all too painfully know. And we have to be very careful when we speak of weapons of mass destruction because the administration has been indiscriminate in its definition of the meaning of those words.
I think we have to be very careful in thinking about the future with the present and particularly not to slide into panicky, gross exaggerations which have the effect, I think, one, of inducing fear which is not a good basis for making decisions, and secondly, perhaps even producing self-fulfilling prophesies. This is not an argument for minimizing threats, but it is an argument for differentiating threats and particularly for differentiating threats of today from possible threats of tomorrow.
Dealing with the manifest problems of the world of which terror is both a manifestation as well as a symptom, we really need friends. I often say that we are preponderant in the world today, but preponderance is not omnipotence. And I think the best proof of that is what is happening in Iraq. It took us practically no effort to defeat that regime because it was weak. It wasn't armed with weapons of mass destruction, as we claimed. It only took three American divisions three weeks to overthrow that regime. And yet, a year later, we're up to our necks in problems and the reason is that we have transformed a military success into a political setback because we've been unwilling to engage others with us - the United Nations, our principal allies and so forth. And I hope we learn something from that because otherwise we run the risk of repeating it.
Most of the problems we confront in the world cannot be solved by American power alone even though American power is indispensable to their solution.
This essay is based on the interviews conducted by Steve Paikin, Host of Diplomatic Immunity, a television program of TVOntario (http://www.tvontario.org/), on April 14, 2004. Used with permission.