Interview with ambassador Edward Walker

“Our country has been struggling with the definition of terrorism for long time and has not worked out a unified definition. But in general I can say that terrorism is the illegitimate act of killing innocent people for a political cause. If one goes to a restaurant and blows up a bunch of innocent women and children for any political cause, that is terrorism.” Edward Walker

The role of the United Nations

We did not take the issue of our military campaign against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to the United Nations because it is self-defense. But if we took the issue to the UN, I think the nine votes of the Security Council are not a problem, but what could hinder us is a Chinese veto against our campaign.
The UN is a very difficult organization to manipulate, I mean to run, because it represents so many different states. It is hard to get a consensus out of the UN because it has a great structural problem that it has to overcome to be really efficient in terms of reacting quickly to timely issues. The UN can play an enormously important role in international conflicts. I believe we have to be doing more to make the UN effective and use it for many issues that are troubling the world. Now, we should not expect the UN to do things that it cannot do without enough power and authority.

The United Nations vs. the United States

There are different American opinions concerning the UN. There are people who think that the UN is a threat to the sovereign state concept, and a substantial number would prefer if we were not even a member of it. But also there are others who think that we should turn much of our sovereignty over to the UN. I personally believe that we should be using the UN more effectively.

What changes has Sept. 11 made

I think Sept. 11 can have a profound effect on the way we do our business. It has marked that the United States is vulnerable to terrorism. We used to feel very immune from attacks of such a destructive nature. I think that myth has been shattered now. Most people realized that they have to give attention to what is going on in places elsewhere.
Basically the U.S. used to have a very isolationist kind of view. We have taken part in wars that are occurring elsewhere, but the U.S. itself was never attacked. But now we cannot assume this anymore.
That will mean a greater attention to the Palestinian problem and more efforts to resolve it, more concern to the Iraqi situation. It will also mean a massive increase of the interest of normal American people in what is going on outside the U.S.; that was not happening much. I hope we will be able to educate our people about what is going on the outside world, and then they will be less likely to accept policies that tend to create or increase tension and confrontation between the U.S. and other nations.

Negative aspects of Sept. 11

There are some influential American people who have an unrealistic view of the power of the U.S., and they can harm America if they push it too far in confrontations with the outside world. They don’t understand what the limitations in our military power are. Our generals do know the limitations, but unfortunately sometimes politicians cannot see them.

Concerning the degradation of human rights after Sept. 11, our society has a great capacity for self-correction, and if reactions go too far in one direction, there are always people to push them back the other way. There are organizations that have already been very active to protect the rights of those who have been arrested without charges, for example. There are some areas in which we need to tighten our control, of course, and I believe the dynamics of our society will protect it.
The real terrifying problem is for countries with low records of human rights and lacking powerful organizations that can protect the rights of the civil society. We have to be very careful about what we are doing and what our allies are doing. Violations of human rights are already happening. The Israeli government assassinating people without trials is wrong, and vice-versa is also wrong. For instance, I don’t believe that we should be trying to assassinate Osama Bin Laden. If we kill him, it is a murder, because he must be captured and sent to trial.

Are the Americans arrogant?

I think the better definition is ignorance, not arrogance. I don’t believe people tend to be arrogant, but because they are ignorant, they misunderstand the situation and seem to be arrogant. I am not saying that there are no arrogant people in the U.S., but I don’t believe they are the majority.
If people have knowledge about the outside world, their attitude will change significantly. I bet you that 99 percent of the American people have no idea what a Palestinian goes through when crossing from point A to point B that is three miles away or how he is disgraced in front of his family by the Israeli soldiers. The kinds of harassment the Palestinians face are not thought about by Americans, because they just don’t even know about it.
Therefore America needs a long course of education about the different situations outside the U.S., and the role of the media is very important here. Not only the American media, but all different media from all over the world. In the example I gave, it is certainly a failure of Arab media, not only because of the lack of its presence but also the lack of credibility. There should be more proper communication, because otherwise when there is some sort of communication it creates more problems and misunderstanding. Arab people and media should give much more attention to the American public if they are keen to seek its support.

The Egyptian warning to the U.S.:

Unfortunately, we did not take that warning with adequate seriousness. We should have worked with Egypt and other countries to build international cooperation against terrorism. It is a mistake that I hope we will learn from. But I don’t think Egypt should make human rights pay the price of terrorism. It is not acceptable that when a police squad captures a suspect, he gets shot in the head rather than going to a proper trial. There should be limits on the power of the state. Every representative of the state should respect those limits. I would simply say that harsh tactics do not work.


Former American Ambassador Edward Walker has served extensively in the Middle East since his entry into the Foreign Service in 1967. In the course of his career he served as the American Ambassador to Egypt and later to Israel. He had tours of duty in Syria, Lebanon, and Tunisia. He also served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia. His Washington, DC, assignments included two years as special assistant to the president’s special representative for the Middle East peace negotiations from 1979 to 1981, and two years as executive assistant to the deputy secretary of state from 1982 to 1984. In 1988, he was appointed deputy assistant secretary in the Near East Bureau of the Department of State. Now Mr. Walker is the president of the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC.
Ambassador Walker was born in Abington, Pennsylvania. He received an A.B. degree from Hamilton College and an A.M. degree from Boston University. In 1962, he enlisted in the United States Army, serving 3 years in Heidelberg, Germany. Later, in 1985, he attended the Royal College of Defense Studies in London. Ambassador Walker is fluent in French, Hebrew, and Arabic.