To call the current conflict between the United States and the religious extremists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks "The War on Terror" sounds good, but it is an oversimplification that may cause more problems than it solves, according to intelligence expert David Rothkopf.
It makes the conflict sound equal to the Cold War, when the U.S. was facing a massive nation with nuclear weapons, Rothkopf told an audience of about 600 at the University of Delaware's Mitchell Hall in Newark on Wednesday.
Osama bin Laden is an evil thug who has to be dealt with, but he and his followers are no Soviet Union, he said.
"People seek scapegoats and enemies to make the world seem more manageable," Rothkopf said.
Rothkopf was the first speaker in UD's Global Agenda lecture series. The title and topic of this year's series, organized by UD professor and former CNN correspondent Ralph Beg- leiter, is "Enemies List: Not Always What They Seem."
Bin Laden deserves to be hunted down and killed, Rothkopf said. But removing bin Laden and his supporters would do about as much to solve the terrorism problem as arresting one street-corner drug dealer would to solve the drug problem, he said.
The real threat comes from the billions of poor people in underdeveloped counties who feel oppressed or ignored by the United States, and could lash out like bin Laden did.
Terrorism is a tool or a method, and wars can't be fought against a method, Rothkopf said. One must understand and deal with the underlying causes, or the threat does not go away, he said.
The solution, he said, is to pay attention to other nations and make sure they are not left behind. Part of this also is putting more money into intelligence so problems are identified before they arise, he said.
Rothkopf also said the Internet and 24-hour news channels have contributed to the problem by demanding instant answers to instant problems.
"It was a good thing when it took three months to send the fleet across the ocean," he said. Leaders had time to think things through.
After his speech, several audience members said they appreciated Rothkopf's perspective.
Vicki Swift, 22, a UD senior, said the talk was insightful because it showed the world has shades of gray, not just black and white.
"He talked from points of view I had not thought of," said Matt Hopkins, 21, a UD junior.
Reach Sean O'Sullivan at 324-2777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.