Former national security adviser warns of future terrorist attacks

“There are no ethical limits to the weapons that will be used against us,” former national security adviser Leon Fuerth said during his presentation titled Attacks on America at a president’s breakfast seminar in Muskie Archives Dec. 7.

Fuerth was national security adviser to former Vice President Al Gore and is now Shapiro Visiting Professor of International Relations at George Washington University.

After a brief review of the chemical, biological and radiological agents that might be used as weapons of mass destruction, Fuerth noted that even small atomic bombs are within the reach of terrorists who hate the United States. He said such bombs require only a “Coke can-sized container of plutonium or enriched uranium.” He said the construction of an atomic bomb would require no more computational capacity than that of a personal computer.

“We are in a battle against time to block this,” he said, although he predicted it will take “years” before the new Office of Homeland Security “develops the kind of homeland defense system that we need.”

Fuerth said that countries around the world must change laws so that terrorists will be denied secure electronic communications and banking services. He said the American government should be willing to consider preemptive military strikes that set back development of weapons of mass destruction, such as the air strike Israel made against an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction in 1981.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he said, remains “a menace, and there is no way to discriminate between him and the unfortunate nation that he dominates.”

Fuerth observed that since Sept. 11, Republicans have been espousing  the same sort of engagement in foreign affairs that they criticized during the Clinton Administration. “If the Republicans succeed in nation-building (in Afghanistan), it will be because of Democratic experiences in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.”

Fuerth declined a request to say what he would have recommended since Sept. 11 to a Democratic administration, had Gore won the presidency. He said he would use the same reply that Gore gave a reporter, that “President Bush is my commander-in-chief.”

He noted that in the Arab world, the meltdown of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has increased the militancy of average citizens. He said a very large and young Arab population in the Middle East is being raised in a “culture of anger, in part against globalization with an American face. It is a cultural anger taught in the schools.”

Asked by a listener how Americans might defuse that anger, Fuerth replied: “I don’t know if that is possible.”

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