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CIS forum confronts terrorism

A former senator and two scholars who served as national security analysts in the Clinton administration discussed the type and timing of the next terrorist attack on the United States in "Report Card on Terror," a panel held Monday, Oct. 17, in Wong Auditorium.

"Report Card" host Gary Hart, a former Democratic senator from Colorado and presidential candidate (1984 and 1988), co-produced a January 2001 National Security report warning of a terrorist threat and urging changes in security policies.

Former National Security Council staffers Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, co-authors of "The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam's War Against America" (2002), are counterterrorism experts. Their new book, "The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and Strategies for Getting It Right," was the focus of the "Report Card" discussion, a Starr Forum organized by the Center for International Studies (CIS).

The trio might have opened with a chorus of "we told you so," but resisted. Instead, Hart placed a copy of "The Next Attack" - with its searing red and black cover - front and center on the panel's table.

"Report Card" gave comments but no grades. The three said they expect further terrorist attacks and agreed that current U.S. foreign policy "must change." They did not make the Bush administration the object of their attack.

According to Benjamin and Simon, "our own policies," trends in other nations, and the "energy behind the jihadist movement, with its sense of inequity and imposition by the West" will fuel more terrorism worldwide.

Benjamin noted the role of the media in showcasing militant jihadists and pumping up "Islamophobia," and the effect of Christian fundamentalism, which "views confrontation with Islam as a theological necessity."

Hart offered a revised view of American casualties of the war in Iraq -- "It's 25,000 casualties, meaning wounded or killed, not 2,000" -- then asked, "If U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, will jihad continue?"

Simon was positive. "Iraq gave a huge boost to jihad, and the effect of the war in Iraq will be long-lasting. When the U.S. withdraws, parts of Iraq will be ungovernable."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 19, 2005 (download PDF).

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