Free To Choose Network | Turmoil & Triumph: The George Shultz Years
Turmoil & Triumph: The George Shultz Years
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Shultz on Terrorism
The following is an interview excerpt by the filmmakers on the subject of terrorism.

Shultz: From the standpoint of economic advancement around the world, it’s a golden moment. What can go wrong?  Well, there are a number of things that can go wrong. But probably the thing to worry about the most is the emergence of radical forces within the Islamic religion who use terrorism as a weapon and have learned how to do it in a destructive way. If this [approach] is conducted on a wide scale, it can disrupt things badly. So in addition to the human cost, and the destruction of the terrorist act, it has a potential ripple effect....

So we need to be aware of it and we need to be doing everything we can to counteract it and to stop it. I think of us as in a third stage in our work on this subject. When I was in office I was [minority] on the subject and I thought that we should be ready to retaliate; we should be ready to take preventive action and so on. But most people didn’t. … I don’t claim to have understood it fully. So we went through a long period of time when we were attacked and attacked and attacked and really didn’t do anything substantive about it. In other words, there was a passive attitude. We took what was called a law enforcement approach.

Somebody does something, you find out who did it and you bring them before a court. With 9/11 we suddenly woke up and we said that passive approach doesn’t work and reacted. We said with the destructiveness of these acts the importance underlined preventing [the act] from happening in the first place. Preventive action. And you can see that a lot of it is working. Regionally there’s been a lot publicity about [these] incidents that didn’t happen in London and Scotland. But it’s obvious when you read, even slightly, between the lines, there are a lot of other things that didn’t happen because [the government] found out about them and prevented them. So prevention has got to be a key and that means you have to be willing to you use force to prevent. That’s uncomfortable, but you have to be willing to face up to that. You know--

Interviewer: Are you still supportive of preemptive strikes as a choice?

Shultz: Well, suppose you have a very good idea about something that is likely to happen and you decide not to do anything about it. Then it happens and ten thousand people are killed. How do you feel? Stupid and really terrible. And people can say to you, “Can’t anybody connect the dots around here, figure out what’s going to happen?”  I think preventive action when you know something is coming at you is a no-brainer. …  You know the problems come when the intelligences are mushy, are difficult. And a decision-maker… It’s very hard. Intelligence is hardly ever really clear cut. So the policymaker has to make judgments.

The judgment to use force obviously is controversial, but the judgment not to use force becomes clear to the terrorist that you’re afraid to use force. That’s a big marker too. So I think you have to be willing to use force.

We went through this reactive stage and we’re digesting that. And I think we’re in another stage now where we have to say to ourselves the job is to sustain action over a long period. That means we have to conduct ourselves in certain ways that are different but sustainable. So there has to be an improved understanding -- a genuine willingness to do certain things by way of surveillance; a realization about what preemption means; a way of working with our allies so that we have support for whatever it is we’re doing.

We have to rally them after all. Since 9/11 there have been a lot of terrorist acts but not in the United States. It’s a worldwide problem. It’s a global problem and everybody’s got it. So we need to rally people to work with us and sustain an effort – [also doing something] within the religion of Islam. [We need ] to get mainstream Islam in a sense take hold of this [problem] and defeat it themselves, because they’re the ones that who have to… defeat it in the end and not allow their religion to be stolen by extremists who are giving it a bad name.

This interview has been edited lightly for readability.