Festival of Books: Iraq as 'distraction' and other post-9/11 loose ends
Terrorism expert Brian Jenkins says the war in Iraq was a "distraction" that kept the U.S. from focusing after the 9/11 attacks on what should have been its priority, Al Qaeda.
In an L.A. Times Festival of Books panel Saturday examining the subject of terrorism, 9/11 and beyond, Jenkins, of the Rand Corp., also expressed concern about domestic U.S. government actions in the wake of the 2011 attacks, saying, "We've put in place the superstructure of a potential tyranny in this country."
He noted the rollback of civil liberties since 9/11 and said that while the Obama administration had stepped back from making use of the strengthened domestic security policies now in place, that may not be the case with future presidents, or in the event of another attack on U.S. soil. "It hasn't happened ... but we're dancing around the edges," Jenkins warned.
The panel, moderated by L.A. Times senior editor Scott Kraft, also featured former L.A. Times reporter Terry McDermott, New York Times writer Eric Schmitt and Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow with the New America Foundation. All three, along with Jenkins, have written well-received books on terrorism, Pakistan or Al Qaeda.
In a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as troubled Pakistan, Schmitt said the recent U.S. use of drones against militants has been effective in killing individual insurgents but also creates significant blowback against the U.S. and in the region.
Lieven agreed, saying that although such strikes were probably inevitable in some cases, Pakistani public opinion would no longer tolerate the close security cooperation with the U.S. that existed in the past.
Jenkins said that U.S. drone strikes reached a high in 2010, declining in 2011 and even more so this year. He said there were two reasons for that, including anger in Pakistan about the killings and "in part because we're running out of lucrative targets." Most remaining targets are low-level operatives, he said, and spend most of their energies on the run and trying to survive.
-- Rebecca Trounson
Photo: Brian Jenkins Credit: Jay L. Clendenen / Los Angeles Times