Peter Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst, reflected on his experience interviewing Osama bin Laden in 1997 and the implications of his death on the future of al-Qaeda with an audience of more than 300 people at the University of Central Florida on Tuesday.
The event, organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office, was part of two 2011-2012 themes, “People Power, Politics and Global Change” and “Covering Crises from the Frontlines.”
Bergen, who is also the director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation, began by sharing breaking news with the audience: the United States uncovered allegations that connect Iranian intelligence operatives with a foiled assassination plot targeting the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Bergen went on to highlight steps taken by the Bush and Obama administrations that make such interventions possible, such as the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, increased security measures at airports and better cooperation among federal agencies.
According to Bergen, while these steps were necessary, it is important to put the threat of terrorism into perspective. He advocated for a renewed focus on policies that address the issue of terrorist threats while doing so in a more measured manner.
He also addressed the criticism of the current administration, and he pointed to the overwhelming similarities between it and the Bush administration. He said parallels include the tripling of American troops in Afghanistan, the quadrupling of drone strikes in Pakistan and counterterrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia.
Having written extensively about Osama bin Laden, Bergen also addressed the effect the terrorist leader’s death will have on al-Qaeda.
In addition to the obvious loss of an influential figure, he listed four fundamental problems that al-Qaeda faces: the unrestricted killing of Muslim citizens; a vague, undefined return to an Islamic caliphate; extreme actions that have led to a unification of opposition; and the tactical methods of terrorism that have overridden their strategic goals.
Responding to a question regarding the possibility of a terrorist attack using nuclear weapons, Bergen explained that he was far more worried about a conventional conflict triggered by terrorism that could escalate into a nuclear exchange. Another terrorist attack like the 2008 Mumbai attacks carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organization based largely in Pakistan, could trigger a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, Bergen explained.
In addition to the Global Perspectives Office, sponsors and partners of Bergen’s presentation included the UCF Terrorism Studies Program, the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, The Sibille H. Pritchard Global Peace Fellowship Program, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, Larson Allen LLP, the UCF Nicholson School of Communication, the UCF Diplomacy Program, the UCF Middle Eastern Studies Program, the UCF Political Science Department, the UCF International Services Center, the UCF Book Festival 2012 in association with the Morgridge International Reading Center, UCF LIFE and the Global Connections Foundation.
For a full list of upcoming events or to learn more about the Global Perspectives Office, visit http://ucfglobalperspectives.org.