Arnaud de Borchgrave's Big World
Interviewed by Bill Steigerwald
Few people know as much about the world and the major and minor geopolitical events of the last 60 years than journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave. Since beginning his career as UPI's bureau chief in Brussels at age 21, de Borchgrave has been a senior editor of Newsweek for 25 years, an editor in chief of The Washington Times and an author of books about such things as cybercrime and organized crime in Russia and around the globe.
De Borchgrave, 79, has rubbed shoulders with scores of premiers and presidents. But he also still gets out into the countryside and dresses like a native. That's what he did three weeks ago while traveling for UPI in remote Waziristan, the mountain region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where even the Pakistan army has trouble distinguishing between the al-Qaida, Taliban refugees and local tribesmen. I talked to him by telephone from his offices in Washington:
Q: Isn't Waziristan where they think Osama bin Laden is hiding?
A: North Waziristan is where most locals believe he is hiding in perfect safety and, I assume, comfort, as well. One forgets that the people in that part of the world think he is some kind of a god, certainly a "freedom fighter" who enjoys the kind of romantic picture that Che Guevara did in an earlier time -- a cross between Che Guevara and Robin Hood. You see his poster everywhere on the back of buses with "freedom fighter" written under the poster in English and in Urdu and in Pushto. The guy is walking just in from a little stroll on the Sea of Galilee.
Q: What are your personal politics?
A: I just call it the way I see it.
Q: Neither liberal nor conservative? Isolationist? Interventionist?
A: Throughout the Cold War I was obviously very anti-Soviet and anti-communist. Having been through World War II, I had seen what the Soviets were up to in Eastern Europe. I've always been against totalitarian regimes, and that led me of course to be a great supporter of Ronald Reagan. He is, after all, the one who brought the Evil Empire down. ... You're a Republican one day and you could very well be on the Democrat side of the issue the next day. You go back and forth, depending on who you think is right.
Q: Has the world become more or less dangerous in the last 50 years?
A: Oh, I think without question more dangerous, because I don't think there is any doubt that we will see a weapon of mass destruction used by the bad guys. It could be tomorrow, it could be five years from now, but it's bound to happen.When I started my career with Newsweek in 1950, you had 87 million Arabs. Today you have 310 million. And in 2020 you will have half a billion. It is inconceivable to me that they won't by then have managed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, if only to establish a level playing field with Israel, which has about 300 of these weapons.
Q: How would you rank terrorism as a general threat? Is it real or overrated?
A: It's totally overrated because terrorism, to begin with, is simply a weapons system, the way a howitzer or jet plane or bomber is a weapons system. For 5,000 years it has been the weapon of choice for the poor and weak against the strong. Now we think we're fighting terrorism. We're not. We're fighting a global movement today, just as much as we were fighting a global movement under communism. Today you have a global, political, religious, ideological, spiritual movement that fishes in many of the same spawning grounds used by the communist parties throughout the world during the Cold War. These are the poor, the disenfranchised, and led, of course, by people from middle-class families with very good educations.
Q: What are the most dangerous hot spots that will cause the United States and its citizens the most grief?
A: Well, China is a long-term danger. I don't see it happening anytime soon, but there's no question that China wants to become a major player in the world. And there's no reason we should not allow them to become a major player. You can't stop a country of 1.3 billion people that now has the most modern equipment of science and research.
Q: What's the most important thing you know about U.S. foreign policy that every American citizen should know?
A: That we've been totally wrong on Iraq. I testified before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Nonproliferation after I returned from Afghanistan. The hearings were on the evolving counterterrorism strategy. I said, "There's an understandable reluctance to recognize that the Iraq war has served as a recruitment poster for al-Qaida and for the Iraqi insurgency. The global network of Islamist terrorists and its seldom-mentioned support groups have been energized by events in Iraq. The war has turned Iraq into the world's most-effective terrorist training camp."
Q: You were always against the war, right?
A: I was very much against it. To begin with, we were being totally misled about the reasons. The more you dug into it before the war, the more you discovered that the neoconservatives were driving the campaign to take us to war. ... It seems to me you don't go to war to establish a democracy in a country that has really never known democracy.
Q: Is Iraq going to be trouble all the way to the end?
A: Iraq should be breaking into three component parts. We'll see what happens with the referendum. I don't think one in a 100 has managed to read the constitution that they will be voting on. They vote the way their party people tell them to vote or their tribal leaders or their religious leaders. I hope and pray that I'm wrong, but I have an awful feeling that we may be going through the same scenario we went through in Vietnam. ... What happened in Vietnam was not an American defeat. It was Congress yanking the rug right from under the Nixon-Kissinger plan for peace by refusing to go on helping the South Vietnamese and the Cambodians.
Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org. © Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.
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