Secretary Michael Chertoff (Former US Secretary of Homeland Security)

11.05.2011 - Interview conducted by Freja Thies & Maite Herrero Gorostiza

Q1. Given your experience as Secretary of Homeland Security how do you think that the death of Osama Bin Laden is going to change the perception of the Homeland security of the American people and do you think it will lead to any significant policy shifts?

I don’t see it leading to a major policy shift in Homeland Security. The first question would be who succeeds Bin Laden as a leader. There are a set of younger leaders who are very experienced and dangerous and depending on the new hierarchy that establishes, that may require Americans to take another look at the tactics that terrorists use and make adjustments in terms of Homeland Security, but I think that’s going to become evident over a period of time.

Q2. How do you think it is going to change the approach of the Obama administration with Islamic countries and the protests taking place there, especially considering the coming of elections in 2012 will there still be space for soft power methods?

I think that the elimination of Bin Laden will not change the desire to have soft power as well as hard power because I think a part of an overall strategy which actually has been interesting, at least to me, is that the demonstrations over Bin Laden being killed have actually been nonexistent. The Pakistanis obviously have been, to some extent, upset about the fact that they view this as an intrusion of their sovereignty but I think realistically it’s understandable why the United States went in and did what we needed to do with Bin Laden. So I think the strategy will probably not be to overhaul, whereas you may see some change to the use of the debate about Afghanistan and what our continued role in Afghanistan will be.

Q3. What in your opinion is the main difference between foreign policies of Bush and Obama’s administrations, as you’ve had the opportunity to work with both presidents?

If I was restricted to security policy I would say that there’s not much difference. I mean that as a compliment. There have been some differences in presentation and tone but I think the major elements of the strategy that the Bush administration had are really present in the current administration. That shouldn’t be surprising because American politicians whether they are republicans or democrats are basically focused on protecting the country and therefore it has generally been the practice of the United states to have leaders of both parties largely take a similar approach to security problems.

Q4. Obama started his mandate as the use of soft power as the main instrument in order to solve conflict between the US and their adversaries or non democratic countries. However as we have seen we could both argue that he has used a mix of both soft and hard power. Knowing what hard power is the historically accepted norm in preserving the of the Homeland in the presence of a real and concrete threat, do you think that it would ever be possible to use only soft power to solve US disputes? 

No. I think that unless the world and human nature changes dramatically it will always be a combination of hard power and soft power. Although you always want to refract a large number of people by persuasion and example, there are times when there is no substitute for force and I think that that’s again a way in which both president Bush and president Obama demonstrated and recognized that both elements of power and the spectrum of power between both extremes are all tools that have to be used to protect the United States.

Q5. We remember that during the Cold War, American music, art, and culture were successful instruments of cultural diplomacy. After the last two decades do you think that it can still influence the foreign policy of the US in terms of attracting the interests and passions of potential enemy countries?

The answer to that is yes. But I also think that if you look at some of what ideologues of extremism have said, sometimes American culture, or Western culture is negative, and is viewed as inspiring hatred or contempt for the US. For example when it comes to areas involving more permissiveness in what you see on television or fashion or things of that sort, that is actually part of a narrative that religious extremists have used against the United States to say that it is a sign of decadence and it’s an offence against their religion. A great example is the number of plots there have been- terrorist’s plots to kill cartoonists because they had cartoons they viewed as disrespectful. So you know culture is a two edged sword, it can be attractive but it can also motivate people to have a negative attitude.

Q6. Following recent events we are facing a new Diaspora of people coming from North Africa, especially Lybia and Tunisia to Italy and Europe and the difficulties the EU countries are having to finding a solution. President Sarkozy said that we shouldn’t give them political asylum, as they are not escaping from a real war. What’s your opinion on this?

You know, the issue of mass migration is probably the most significant and the most under discussed challenges around the globe. The US has a set of issues involving mass migrations the Europeans have it as well. Part of the challenge is you do have to evaluate the regime of asylum in terms of the practical reality that when you’re dealing with tens of hundreds of thousands of people, it's hard to conceptualize an immigration policy as based on asylum. There are huge issues in terms of integrating people into the country and the culture of Europe and how that may be affected by a large migration of people. So I don’t know enough about European law to know specifically what president Sarkozy was talking about, but I do think that there is increasing discussion around the globe to come up with a framework for evaluating how to deal with mass migration in a world where huge numbers of people may be moving around because of war, famine and things of that sort.