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Posts from the ‘The Power Problem’ Category

The United States vs Al Qaeda: Who’s winning?

The Power Problem: Part of a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.

Stephen M. Walt

Stephen M. Walt

By Stephen Walt

Who won the war between the United States and Al Qaeda?  Which side is better off today?

My answer would be: neither.  In fact, both sides are worse off than they were before that fateful day.   Although the United States is certain to outlast Al Qaeda and its various affiliates, the response to 9/11 combined both intelligent reactions and some self-inflicted wounds.  Fortunately for us, Al Qaeda made many mistakes of its own and is a declining force in world affairs. Read more

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Can al-Qaeda pull off another large-scale attack in the US?

The Power Problem: Part of a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen

By Rolf Mowatt-Larssen

Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Reflecting on the tenth anniversary of 9/11:

There has been a run of good news on the counterterrorism front.  The recent flurry of action against al-Qaeda appears to be part and parcel of the Osama Bin Laden raid – the exploitation of actionable leads and locational data mined in the haul of documents and thumb drives. Al-Qaeda is taking some serious hits.  Its future as a global terrorist movement is in doubt.

I am concerned, however, by the significance ascribed to the next-generation leaders captured or killed in Pakistan. The intelligence community knows its stuff, and has enjoyed ringing successes, but the mystery is this: where does senior al-Qaeda core member Sayf al-Adl come into the picture?  He was named as Bin Laden’s temporary replacement.  Now, he apparently isn’t listed on the organizational chart. Read more

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Counting the costs of the response to 9/11

The Power Problem: Part of a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.

David E. Sanger

David E. Sanger

By David E. Sanger

Chief Washington Correspondent, The New York Times; Senior Fellow, National Security and the Press, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

This summer, in preparation for the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, The New York Times set out to assess the costs of America’s response – a daunting task, as many who have tried to tally up elements of the total can attest. The number was astounding: $3.3 trillion.

We drew on the work of many scholars, including some here at Harvard. We weighed which studies seemed based on good data and reasonable assumptions, and set aside some about which we had doubts. And we knew, of course, that when you are dealing with numbers and problems this big, quantification is always open to argument. Read more

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Are we safer 10 years on? Yes, but let’s look forward

The Power Problem: Part of a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.

Juliette Kayyem

Juliette Kayyem

By Juliette Kayyem

Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School; former assistant secretary, Department of Homeland Security

Are we safer? Those three words, so difficult to answer, permeate the atmosphere on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. Why?

The answer, of course, is a resounding yes, if you just look at the threat we faced on the anniversary. In terms of the threat, al Qaeda is essentially a shell of what it once was, though its ideology isn’t completely dead yet. Lone-wolf actors exists, as they surely always will, but likely do not have the capacity to wreck such monumental violence. Our defenses — what we call generically homeland security — are better, more organized, and sweeping. They too are not perfect, but they are working. Read more

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With terrorism, too, politics is local

The Power Problem: Third in a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.

Monica Duffy Toft

Monica Duffy Toft

By Monica Duffy Toft

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from September 11, 2001 is that even with international terrorism, local politics matter.  And the domestic politics of other states can have profound implications for what happens in the United States. For instance, the Al Qaeda of the 1990s was not engaged in a global jihad. Its main focus was Saudi Arabia and the ousting of foreign and western influences from that country. Only after repeated failures did Al Qaeda broaden its sights, targeting not the near enemy at home but the far enemy abroad,  and in the process transforming the movement into a global network of committed comrades. The point is that although the resources Al Qaeda mobilized were global, the issues over which they and allied groups struggled were fundamentally local. Read more

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The Economic Fallout from 9/11

The Power Problem: Second in a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.

Linda J. Bilmes

Linda J. Bilmes

By Linda J. Bilmes

The US response to 9/11 has been a major contributor to America’s current economic malaise.

The most economically costly decision post 9/11 was not whether to attack Iraq and Afghanistan, but how to pay for the ensuing conflicts and the related increases in defense and homeland security. War costs always linger well after the last shot has been fired.  But this is especially true of the Iraq-Afghanistan conflicts.  The $1.6 trillion or so already spent has been financed wholly through borrowing.  Add to this a further $800 billion in defense increases that are not directly war-related and hundreds of billions in new homeland security measures. The resulting debt accounts for well over one-quarter of the increase in US national debt since 2001. Read more

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Lessons learned since 9/11: Narratives matter

The Power Problem: First in a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11. Comments from readers are welcome.

Joseph S. Nye

Joseph S. Nye

By Joseph S. Nye

Was 9/11 a turning point in world history?  It is too soon to be tell. After all, the lessons of World War I  looked very different in 1939 than they did a mere decade after 1918.

As I argue in The Future of Power, one of the great powers shifts of this century is the increased empowerment of non-state actors, and 9/11 was a dramatic illustration of this long term trend. In 2001 an attack by non-state actors killed more Americans than a  government attack did at Pearl Harbor in 1941. But this “privatization of war”  was occurring before 9/11 and some American government reports in the 1990s even warned it was coming. Read more

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Joe Nye’s answer to John Deutch on governance

At a Harvard Kennedy School conference last week, John Deutch, the former director of central intelligence and deputy secretary of defense who is now an institute professor at MIT, challenged his friend Joseph Nye to complete an unusual “assignment.” Nye — a former senior Pentagon official, a Harvard University distinguished service professor, and former dean of the Kennedy School — has now handed in his homework. We hope this kicks off a useful discussion among those concerned about governance in the United States. Readers are invited to use the comment form at the end of this post to contribute their views and join this debate.

Joseph S. Nye

Joseph S. Nye

My friend John Deutch has challenged me to explain the breakdown of governance in the United States and to identify what can be done about our capacity to deal with it.

The problems are real, but “breakdown” is too strong a word to describe them, and it is important to put current problems in historical perspective. The founders deliberately designed American government to be inefficient with checks, balances, and delays. As the joke goes, it was designed so King George could not rule over us — nor anyone else. Some argue that an inefficient 18th century design cannot cope with 21st century global problems like the rise of Asia or the transnational diffusion that I describe in The Future of Power. However, our inefficient system has coped with even greater problems in the past with only one serious breakdown a century and a half ago. Read more

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A Homework Assignment for Joe Nye

By John Deutch

By John Deutch

John Deutch, the former U.S. director of central intelligence and deputy secretary of defense and who is now an institute professor at MIT, has challenged his friend Joseph Nye to complete an unusual “assignment.” Deutch called on Nye to use the analytical lens that Nye has long focused on international problems to tackle a domestic crisis – what Deutch describes as the breakdown of governance in the United States. Deutch gave Nye this assignment at a gathering of colleagues on May 17 at the Harvard Kennedy School to honor Nye’s decades of academic and public service. Nye, a former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, is a Harvard University distinguished service professor and former dean of the Harvard Kennedy School. Deutch is a member of the board and International Council of the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The Nye assignment forms the basis of a new installment of The Power Problem, an occasional feature on the Power & Policy blog to allow experts to propose answers to pressing policy problems. Joe Nye will respond soon on this blog to Deutch’s challenge – and virtual comments on Joe’s proposed repairs will be welcome, from participants at the gathering and from others who care about the problem. The goal is to foster a serious debate that generates specific suggestions. Read more

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Responses to The Power Problem: What should the U.S. do about Libya? (Updated)

Last week we launched The Power Problem, an occasional series of mini-forums on Power & Policy, which asks specialists from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School to suggest policy responses by the United States to pressing world issues. For our inaugural Power Problem, we asked our experts: What should the United States do now that Qaddafi is digging in? And what is the gravest risk for the United States in the Libyan crisis?

Nicholas Burns, Stephen M. Walt, and Rami G. Khouri weighed in, and we gathered responses from readers and other Belfer Center colleagues. Here are three responses to the Power Problem posts, from Samer Salty, David Mednicoff and Joseph P. Nye.


Response from Samer Salty

Samer Salty

Samer Salty

Samer Salty is a member of the Belfer Center’s International Council. He founded zouk ventures in 1999 and has successfully raised two technology venture funds including its current fund, Cleantech Europe.

  1. The Obama administration must recognize the Libyan Transitional Council as the official representation of the Libyan People without any further delay. They should have been the first to do so, and are now appearing very late to take the position. Read more
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