Lee Hamilton, one of Washington's wise men on national security issues, called for the US to take a firmer line with two key allies in the war on terror, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at Wednesday's Monitor breakfast.
"I think that our relationship with Pakistan needs to be reconsidered, reevaluated.… What has driven our relationship with Pakistan has been the fear that the alternative to Musharraf would be a radical government with a nuclear bomb. I think that fear is overstated…. I believe it is necessary for the United States to be able to go after the sanctuaries in Pakistan," he said.
When he was asked whether such action could cause the Musharraf government to fall, Mr. Hamilton responded, "It is a risk, and it is a risk I would be willing to take."
The US also should be tougher in dealing with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on the need to meet performance benchmarks, Hamilton said. "We have given him half a dozen deadlines. He comes up to the deadlines, and nothing happens. He doesn't do anything; nothing happens. Well, he has got that figured out. He doesn't need to pay attention to it, and he hasn't.… You have to have some enforcement mechanism, and I would not be too specific about what kind of enforcement," Hamilton said.
Hamilton, a Democrat, represented Indiana's Ninth District in Congress for 34 years where he served as chairman of the Committee on International Relations. More recently, he was vice chair of the 9/11 Commission and co-chair of the Iraq Study Group. Currently, he is a member of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the president's Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the FBI Director's Advisory Board,.
As a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Hamilton had been briefed on the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that the White House released Tuesday. The document, which offers the consensus view of the nation's intelligence agencies, said that Al Qaeda had found a "safe haven" in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
"The thing that is most worrisome to me about Al Qaeda is the sanctuary. It seems to me that, if anything, we have learned that we must not permit the terrorists to have a sanctuary from which to regroup, train, plan, and launch strikes within Europe or here or elsewhere," Hamilton said.
On Iraq, Hamilton has not abandoned hope despite the major challenges the US faces there. "I still think there is a chance here. I don't know that I can quantify it. There is a chance that we can come out of this with a reasonable stability and a reasonable protection of the American national interest in the region," he said.
The former member of the House does not support congressional efforts to set a firm date for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. "I have not favored a rigid timetable. The Iraq Study Group report favored a goal," Hamilton noted. "Once you set a rigid timetable it drives your policy. It becomes very inflexible. You can't respond to conditions on the ground. I understand, obviously, the political pressures for it but I don't think it represents good policy. Now having said that, if I were in the Senate … I would give serious consideration to voting for it because I want to put pressure on the president to move, and I know he is not going to accept the rigid timetables."
A lasting solution to the problem of terrorism requires dealing with the radicalization of Islam, Hamilton said. "The root of the problem then is how you get at this radicalization of Islam. I think we have to think far more deeply than we have and go far beyond a military and a law-enforcement, intelligence response.… if you are going to stop terrorism you clearly need to have vigorous law enforcement, intelligence, and military action. But I don't think it is sufficient," Hamilton said.
His view is that, "You have to figure out ways and means of approaching those [alienated] people and seeing if you can reduce, to a minimum, the alienation. And the depth of that alienation has to impress us all. These people hate us.… I don't think we solve the problem of terrorism without providing, if you would, a vision for these alienated people of what life could be like … providing them, as we said in the 9/11 report, an agenda of opportunity."