WAYNE — Paths toward defeat of ISIL and its worldwide terrorist activity were suggested by Robert Charles, a former official under U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, at a community meeting at Cary Memorial Library’s Williams House in Wayne on Sunday afternoon.

Mistakes that were made early in the Iraq War were seeds of the “toxic mix” of hatred being spread by radical Islamists, according to Charles.

“The Middle East is not insane — it is deeply divided,” Charles said.

He said ISIL will fall when the Arab world steps up, comes together and “re-moralizes the global discussion.” 

But “peace is not going to break out tomorrow,” he said.

Robert (Bobby) Charles, a native of Wayne, addressed a gathering of about 50 local residents at the Williams House. He presented an in-depth look at his service as Colin Powell’s assistant secretary of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement during the administration of President George W. Bush.


When asked what might have been different about Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Charles said, “What it really boils down to is, somewhere along the line, we got the intelligence wrong. We have, in the Western world, the technology to interrupt their operations security. They obviously had good operations security, but there are ways to penetrate that. Something happened that wasn’t supposed to happen. There’s no way they can do a coordinated effort without some communication — and it wasn’t all face to face.”

Charles said the attacks in Paris are a lesson to us.

“It reminds us that we are going to have to be quicker and more forward-thinking,” he said. “We’re going to have to think around corners.”

He also said China “is looking for our limits,” regarding challenges to international navigation in the South China Sea.

His extensive experience in the State Department position under Powell included programs to counter narcotics trafficking in Columbia. Drug money continues to be a significant factor in financing terrorism, he said. Lessons learned there could be applied in the battle against international terrorism, advocating a “Plan Columbia,” he said.

Charles set up America’s police training programs in Iraq, Jordan, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Colombia. He pointed to the failure to utilize American-trained Iraqi police forces as a mistake that led to young Iraqi men falling away from their commitment.


“We must have no more lines in the sand,” he told the Wayne audience. Noting that the world has “a lot of warm spots that could quickly become hot spots,” he warned that “indifference is indefensible.”

The 2016 Presidential campaigns also came up for comment. He said he could support “four or five” of the current candidates, adding that he favors those who exhibit “humble qualities.”

Charles said the press tends to follow stories like currents in a river.

“We have got to survive Twitter,” he said. “It is scaring away good candidates.”

As the world continues its fight against ISIL and terrorism, Charles emphasized that America and European countries cannot think of Europe as we did when the Berlin Wall fell. He said the massive influx of refugees from Syria includes many people other than Syrians.

Charles managed rule of law programs in 70 countries. He ran a 400-airframe global air wing, and he has spent time in more than 50 countries.

From 1998 to 2009, he served as a U.S. Navy intelligence officer. Previously he worked in the Office of Domestic Policy for both the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Later, he became staff director for the House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs and Criminal Justice, and at the same time, led the Speaker’s Task Force on Counter Narcotics.

Charles has written widely on security and constitutional topics, and his columns have appeared nationally. He has appeared on “60 Minutes,” as well as CNN, Fox, NPR, ABC, CBS and NBC news.

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