James S. Robbins (Senior Editorial Writer for Foreign Affairs, The Washington Times)

03.01.2011 - Interview conducted by Katie Dickmeyer


Q1. You have stated before “So long as Osama Bin Laden is alive, he is winning.” Do you believe this to still be the case, and what is your assessment of Al Qaeda’s operational capacity and organizational structure?

Yes, I think on a symbolic level Bin Laden is winning because as long as he is alive, he is the guy who got away with it. He inspires young terrorists and people aspire to the idea that if they do nothing else in their lives, at least they can do one great act and survive, and I think that’s the kind of inspiration he offers. With respect to their operational capacity, it has been significantly diminished compared to what it was around 9/11, and it continues to be diminished. This is why they are shifting to new techniques of trying to get franchise groups and independent operators to try to inspire people to act on their own- to not even make contact with them but to go off and do things independently just like the Times Square bomber did.

Q2: Do you think greater cooperation is required between America and Europe with regard to combating the so-called “War on Terror?”

Yes, I think so because we face common threats. If you look at the situation in Britain, with various problems they have had with terrorism, also in France and now in Germany, and recent events in Denmark and Sweden, what you see is that they all face a common enemy. Therefore, a unified effort would be a good thing- certainly I don’t see how cooperation could be a bad thing.

Q3: In a previous interview for the American Family Association, you stated that the enemy in the War on Terror knows that they cannot defeat the US on the battlefield and so they fight the war in the media and try to gain support that way. How important is the power of media both at home and abroad during war time and should the U.S. allocate more funds to spreading this message, rather than on military activity?

Yes, I think spreading the message is very important- having a good message and then spreading it well. I don’t think the U.S .has done as well as it could do in that respect, so more effort is obviously important. Osama Bin Laden said that media is 90% of the battle in unconventional war, and it’s true that the terrorists can’t defeat the U.S. militarily. They’re not going to come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue with their banners- that’s not how they win. They win by weakening our resolve, by weakening the policy makers, their resolve, and then having the U.S. retreat. We can fight back with our own message which I think is a very positive message and nothing to be ashamed of.

Q4: Although Obama described in his speeches a different foreign policy to that of Bush, and indeed did so during his election campaign, do you think significant policy change has been implemented?

I think there is more continuity than change. I think it was hoped that the high profile things like closing Guantanamo or ending practices that were described as torture would make a difference. But those policies haven’t turned out as well as the Obama administration would have liked and in the case of Guantanamo, it’s been something of an embarrassment. But in other respects, such as the drone activity and attacking terrorist financing,, I think there is a lot of continuity and I think that it’s a good thing.

Thank you for your time.