American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal


Good afternoon, I’m Daniel Benjamin. I’m the director of the Dickey Center and I am really delighted to welcome you to today’s class of 1950 Senior Affairs lecture This is always one of the high points of our calendar and I particularly want to thank the members of the class of 1950 who are out in strength today, so thank you for that and thank you for the support that it’s made this possible this is a Really a distinguished lecture at this point Well, I was just looking back through the list of people who have participated and it includes Paul Kennedy the the great scholar from Yale General Jim mattis who did this and I think 2013 Rand beers who’s also with us today and Lisa Monaco who was our lecturer last year and who of course is a former colleague of our speaker today I want to thank the audience in particular because there’s nothing that a Dickey Center Director hates more than a beautiful day and yet here you all are well. How wonderful well, I’m glad you recognized The the importance of this event and I’m really delighted you’re here Our speaker today is bill burns former deputy secretary of state bill Is the son of two philadelphians? his father was a distinguished Army officer and his and he had a devoted mother of four and grew up all over the Globe as is often the case in the military. He is a graduate of Lasell College He was a Marshall scholar at Oxford where he was a student of the renowned Hedley bull the student of international politics and the great historian Albert Hourani and He acquired both a masters and a PhD in political science Students often come to my office and want to talk about a career in diplomacy and the first thing I always tell them is it’s extremely rewarding but advancement is slow and as your friends go off to consultancies and investment banks you have to be prepared to feel like you’re Left behind because there’s not much of a fast track and it takes a long time to get where you want to go. Well Bill birnes is reproof to that advice and Though he began in Amman Jordan stamping visas, like all first tour foreign service officers He quickly came to the attention of some of the leading lights in the Reagan foreign policy team he served as Director for the Middle East on the NSC staff working in a converted women’s bathroom on the third floor of the old executive office building And like most of us who ever got the chance to work there. He was probably still glad he got the Opportunity he was part of what has become regarded in the profession as part of the diplomatic dream team of James Baker’s Department working with Dennis Ross Dan Kurtz or another class of 1950 speaker And Aaron Miller and others Eventually he became ambassador to Jordan and later ambassador to Russia assistant secretary for the Near East Under secretary for policy, which is usually the highest position That a foreign service officer achieves and finally between 2011 and 2014 He was Deputy Secretary of State Despite this lightning ascent bill was remarkable for not leaving a trail of deceased rivals in his wake Actually bill burns is testimony to the fact that nice guys sometimes finish first I remember well speaking with a colleague in the Near East Bureau who when comparing the various? Assistant secretaries that he had worked with Noted that bill was not only a tremendous Strategist and manager. He was also the guy who left a bottle of champagne on everyone’s desk when they got a promotion The Foreign Service has a lot of different steps and a lot of promotions and I am guessing Bill’s Wife was wondering why he was spending so much money at liquor stores As for my own experience at state let me say we worked When I was fortunate very closely and I found every minute with bill provided a new lesson At least if I was smart enough to understand and I learned More than I can say about diplomacy Strategy bureaucratic sand even that little studied subject manners from bill. He was always soft spoken yet crisp serious, but unflappable I Don’t remember him ever raising his voice In 2010 we visited Beirut together and then drove to Damascus for what was the last meeting I believe between senior US officials and Bashar al-assad We drove about three hours or so from Beirut to Damascus and while bill Was probably hoping to get some shut-eye I think I peppered him the whole way with questions, and I cherished that memory and I’m really delighted that he hasn’t held it against me and is here today though I have to confess some disappointment that there is a picture in here of Bill with Bashar and I thought it was from that trip and there in silhouette and somehow I’ve been cropped away but That’s okay the books about him Bill birnes is now president and CEO of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington Which is truly one of the world’s great think tanks I would say more about it if I weren’t still affiliated with the think tank next door and He has written a really memorable book the back channel a memoir of American diplomacy in the case for its renewal His former colleague one of the really distinguished Diplomats of his generation recites who has the additional virtue of living in Orford Wrote in the London literary review that it belongs on the shelf. Net next to a Kison cannon Kissinger and Schultz David Ignatius writing in the Washington Post said it is a masterful Diplomatic memoir his clarity good judgment and basic decency comes through on every page The book describes the trajectory of American policy in the period that bill was in Diplomatic service and I would say that if we wanted to make this Graphic, we would say it looks something like a suspension bid bridge say the Golden Gate except that after the from one support down up to the other support and then down and Maybe the bridge disappears and that’s not his fault The Excuse me one sec The back-channel Takes place across a period of about thirty five years and it will describe both the high points of American diplomacy in that period and also the challenges that That bill and others Incur and encountered and the problems we face as we try to restore our diplomacy And put our foreign policy house in order so that I’d ask you to welcome bill birnes to Dartmouth he’s actually got a green tie and green socks on and and We’ll get on with our conversation You can’t miss the Sox re See recovering diplomats contou remember those things. Yeah So In the book bill the first really remarkable person who stands out and in your history is Jim Baker and You know, I think too many people who are not in the line of work that we were in Baker right now is mostly remembered as the man who organized the the aftermath of the 2000 election and was really the captain of the Of the bush team Bush 43 team that led to ultimately Bush v Gore and the installation of George W Bush and so I thought that I would ask you to start out by you know reminding us of the other Baker and maybe recount some of the Reasons why you found him such an impressive Character well first let me say it’s great to be with all of you. Great to be a Dartmouth and it brings back such good memories to be sitting alongside Dan of our service together in government You know the in many ways the formative period and my diplomatic Professional life was working for President George HW Bush and Secretary of State Baker at one of those plastic Moments, you know an international history that comes along, you know, maybe a couple of times a century we saw it in 1945 at the end of the Second World War the beginning of the Cold War and then again in 1989 the end of the Cold War the collapse of the Soviet Union that was a moment of singular American dominance on the Internet no landscape But it intersected with a group of people much as was the case in the late 1940s with a group of American statesmen who I think had a particularly astute understanding of that landscape But also of how to apply American power and influence and I learned a lot from Baker in those years About strategic purpose because both he and and President Bush the elder President Bush Understood very well at this moment of American dominance was not a permanent condition. It wasn’t gonna last forever and what they sought to do Imperfectly, sometimes was to shape an international order that would outlast that moment of dominance they also had I think a really keenly developed sense of strategic empathy to in the sense that if you you know if you look at their relationships They with Mikhail Gorbachev the last leader of the Soviet Union. They understood his predicament You didn’t see them swaggering at a moment went by any objective measure. The United States could have swaggered on the international stage nor did they spike the football on top of the berlin wall at the end of the Cold War they had an understanding of of what he was going through about Russians in that era were going through and last but not least Baker had a Really well developed sense of tactical agility You know how to implement strategies because one of the things I learned over the years is that you know You can take an A level strategy and if it’s poorly implemented it doesn’t do you much good and Baker was a stickler for discipline and implementation and he actually translated that discipline a lot of other ways to Remember one instance you mentioned meetings in Damascus before This was a meeting with the previous bloody dictator of Syria pathi vilasa the father of Bashar al-assad In the spring of 1991 when you know This was a period when Saddam Hussein had been expelled from Kuwait and Baker was trying to organize a big Peace conference on the Middle East for the first time to bring Arabs Israelis Palestinians together in the same room around the same negotiating framework a really arduous task but this one meeting I’ll never forget went on for nine hours straight and I said I always thought had a Surgically improved bladder because he would he would sit there like this Hour after hour drinking endless cups of sweet Arabic tea and not budge So Baker ever the competitive Texan was going to match him cup for cup about four hours into the meeting our then ambassador in Damascus a wonderful diplomat cracked an invented excuse about an urgent phone call he had to make Yes, he had urgent business, but it was not a phone call and then Baker and I said having broken the ice You know spent the next 45 minutes making fun of bladder challenged American diplomats. So it’s a different form of discipline It’s not exactly a high moment in American diplomacy But but Baker, you know, he brought a keen sense of persistence and perseverance Which is oftentimes crucial in getting things done in diplomacy? So well, I should tell you first of all, this is a truly great book and you have to all read it but one of the sub themes actually does have to do with liquid and It seems like it’s either you’re spending time with Hafez al-assad who you know tortured or in Christopher this way for years and years and Or you’re with Russians who are forcing you to you know, pour an immense amount of vodka down your gullet, right? diplomacy stuff They’re worse things in life, you know, I mean, you know Russians, it’s always especially when I was ambassador Which is now ten years ago in Moscow, you know one of the sort of cottage industries for Russian officials around the country is to see if they can drink the American ambassador under the table And so you think you perfect all the fine arts of you know, just sipping instead of you know, chugging you know shot glass of vodka or pouring it in the plant or Something else. But yeah, it’s amazing my liver survived all the years Well, this is a serious conversation. But I do want you to just recount what you were forced to consume in Turkmenistan, I believe it was highlight of American diplomacy Yeah I was I was this is when I was Deputy Secretary of State and was making a tour of Central Asia the president of Turkmenistan at the time Thought it would be a great idea to honor the visiting senior American diplomat by serving the ears of deer Anyway and they’re probably I won’t go into how complicated that is. Yeah, but you got through it and that’s great So, you know just a little more on on Baker because he is a fascinating character and He’s not really a self-promoter. We don’t know he’s written a very good memoir, but he’s not well known in the public what? What’s it about? I mean he I mean, he’s a lawyers lawyer in many ways. Was that really at the heart of it? Well, he was a really fine negotiator You know I worked for ten secretaries of state and learned a lot from each of them and admired them but Baker was as fine a negotiator as I ever worked with I mean You know like a really good poker player he knew when to hold them and when to fold them and he had a lethal sense of when to close a deal He also had a relationship with President George HW Bush which is as close as you know Any secretary and president I’ve ever known, you know, they were you know had been best friends for 40 years And that meant that alongside all his other gifts you know in Washington people rarely messed with Baker which is You know a nice thing if you were great the state department at the time But he also had he knew how to navigate politics in Washington too, which is you know, a crucial part of diplomacy It’s not just about understanding the international landscape. It’s about you know, building some sense of support at home not just in the Congress, but with the wider public as well, and that’s one of the disconnects that I think it’s has developed over the last couple of decades too that all of us are gonna have to wrestle with the bush 41 period was fascinating because First of all, he had a Secretary of State who was the closest person to the president But you also had a national security adviser who was almost as close. Yes, and so there was a confidence in foreign policy that Unfortunately has often been lacking in the ear sense. And in the years behind before it really, I think it’s true I mean it was a pretty as I was saying at the start it was a Remarkable group of people in a sense that they disagreed with one another I mean debated issues, which is a healthy thing But I think President Bush 41 Had a real sure feel for the reins in terms how to get the best out of you know each of his senior advisors Brent Scowcroft Became the gold standard for national security advisors. It was I mean it seems Almost quaint now but his national security staff had about 60 professional staff members by the end of the last administration the NSC staff was probably 300 now some of that growth was inevitable given the complexity especially of counterterrorism issues as you know, very well they need to Coordinate and integrate in the White House and also the rising importance of international economic issues, too So you needed that kind of coordination, but you know somewhere between 60 and 300 is probably a more sensible number but it was it was a quite again, effective group of statesmen at a moment of profound transformation on the international landscape and you know I kind of took it for granted then but I’ve learned since that’s a pretty remarkable intersection So let’s come back to the NSC a little later in the White House. I think you make a great point that about how Baker and Ann Bush treated Gorbachev, you know well summed up by Churchill’s in victory magnanimity Not a lot of that going around right now, but we can talk about that later, too I’m hard to fit into 140 or 280 characters, right? something like that, so this is the period when the post-cold war world is being arranged and When we move from the Bush administration into the Clinton administration, of course one of the signature Achievements of that group was NATO enlargement and you know will come to talk about Russia and I’m just I kind of want to Get you to tease out your feelings about me enlargen. It’s a big debate in Political science and in the newspapers now was it all a big mistake? What do you think? No, I don’t I don’t think it all was I served first time I served in Russia in the early 1990s I was the chief political officer in the embassy And I’ve always thought if you want to understand the smouldering aggressiveness of leading their Putin’s Russia It helps to understand the chaos and disorder of Boris Yeltsin’s Russia You know, it was a moment when Russia was flat on its back economically politically and socially I mean traveling and Russia in that period across Russia’s 11 time zones was always memorable I member going to Grozny the capital of Chechnya during the first Chechen war in the winter of 1994 95 And you know, there were 40 square blocks in the middle of that city that were leveled I mean, they looked like picture photographs of Dresden in 1945 the Russian general who had accomplished that said he had wanted to make the ruble bounce most of the civilians who were killed in Grozny in that bombardment were elderly ethnic Russian pensioners who couldn’t get out but to drive into you know Grozny in that period I remember vividly here was the Red Army that In the height of the Cold War was supposed to be able to get to the English Channel in 48 hours And it looked more like a street gang I’ll be at a street gang armed with nuclear weapons, but you know, they were having a huge difficulty suppressing a local rebellion in an isolated part of Russia so You know that the backdrop to this as I was sitting at the Embassy in Moscow Trying to offer our view of how the Russians would react to the first wave of NATO expansion Which included Poland and other central in East European countries? It was our job to highlight that we should not underestimate what the Russian reaction to that would be Because there was bound to be a conviction on the part of a lot of Russians not just in the political lead That the United States and the West had taken advantage of Russia’s moment of historical weakness now if I were sitting in the embassy at Warsaw I would have made the argument that poles had a lot of reasons to feel insecure about their future caught between the ambitions of Germany and over the years so To make a long story short. I did not think well you can argue Tactically we could have taken a little bit more time and that first wave of NATO expansion The then Secretary of Defense bill Perry had launched, you know, I really thoughtful mechanism called the partnership for peace Which was meant to build some greater confidence between the former Warsaw Pact countries and NATO you know arguably you could have played that out for a few more years, but I don’t think the expansion of NATO in that first wave or even in the second one that included the Baltic States a Few years later had a lethal effect on us Russian relations where I do think we made a mistake and I know this fast forwards a little bit was a decade later in the spring of 2008 towards the end of the George W Bush administration and again I’m sitting in Moscow as the US Ambassador and we pushed quite hard to open the door formally the NATO membership for Ukraine and, Georgia None of that was a justification for Putin’s later aggression against Georgia first and then later, Ukraine But it fed his narrative that you know We were all about taking advantage of Russian weakness and it animated, you know A lot of what he tried to do including even in our election of 2016 so again you know the starting point for effective diplomacy in my Experience is that you don’t have to accept somebody else’s point of view or narrative You don’t have to indulge it either but you do have to understand it as you make those kind of choices So I think it was that’s in that second instance in 2008 where I think anyway, we made a mistake So naturally I agree, but I wanted to ask you Did you view Sort of Russia and Russia Russian rule over the loss of Empire at that time as An inevitability as something that we just weren’t going to be able to avoid and my own feeling in retrospect. Was that certainly the first the first tranche of enlargement The visi grodd come countries made sense We were talking at that point about fears of a zone opening and my own view was you know? we cannot maybe we should have a Russia first strategy, but it’s also not a nonsensical thing to say We ought to safeguard this Population which has suffered so much from the next bounced back if you will. Yeah, I mean it was hard I mean, I I certainly didn’t imagine when I was sitting at the Embassy in Moscow in the early 1990s The Russia would reassert itself as fast as it did You know in an essentially the Emir Putin was a little bit lucky By his second term as president when I was ambassador. He was surfing on $130 a barrel oil And so that economic recovery came more quickly But what it enabled him to do was make a political recovery as well and he was determined to do two things You know when he first became Russia’s president now almost two decades ago The first was to restore the power of the Russian state Inside Russia and the second was to restore Russia to where he thought was its rightful place at the table of great powers He knew he was playing a weakened. But you know, he’s played it quite ruthlessly and quite effectively. I remember him saying but a year and a half ago he Said, you know, it’s not my essentially He said it’s not my fault that I play a we can’t strongly when people with strong hands play that weakly and you know who he was talking about but So you probably spent more time with Putin and just about any American by the time I gray here came from yeah By the time your Successor Mike McFaul showed up. I mean Putin was engaging in torturing American ambassadors But why don’t you talk a bit about him? Personally? Yeah, I mean in my experience Putin is a Combustible combination of grievance and ambition and insecurity all wrapped up together. I remember vividly my first meeting with him as the newly arrived American ambassador a summer of 2005 and when you have that first meeting you do it in the Kremlin, which is a place that’s built on a scale That’s meant to intimidate visitors, especially new American ambassadors So you walk through these huge ornate halls down long Harder’s at the end of one big hall You come up against these two-story bronze doors you’re kept waiting there for a few minutes just to let all this sink in and Then the doors open a crack and out comes flitting there Putin who despite his bare-chested Persona is not actually that intimidating in person. He’s about five six. He carries himself with great self assurance though So he comes walking through the door looking you dead in the eye which is his habit. He’s professionally trained and the Russian security services And before I got a word out of my mouth it alone hinted over the letter I had from President Bush He said you Americans need to listen more. You can’t have everything your own way anymore We can have effective relations, but not just on your terms in my experience that was vintage for the amir putin It was not subtle. It was almost defiantly charmless But he was conveying a message You know his sense that we and others had taken advantage of russia when it was down on its luck And he was going to push back And you know, I had lots of other experiences with with Putin over the years, but that one always stuck in my mind The grievance thing is what really comes out in the book and the I think one of the real accomplishments of your book is how well it encapsulate all the things that we did without recognizing how the Russians would react and we we seem to have developed a kind of Pattern there a habit if you will Yeah, I mean, I’ve always thought Rodney Dangerfield wouldn’t feel right at home in Russia I mean there is always this sense of you know, disrespect and so to some extent that’s inevitable I mean you just gotta navigate it and it doesn’t mean that every American policy choice has to be shaped by other people’s sensitivities I mean, sometimes we pursue our interests because they’re important to us But as I said before, I think if you want to navigate a really complicated landscape like Russia You know effectively you do need to take into account a lot of those sensitivities sometimes hypersensitivities, right Do you think that the relationship with Russia is Salvageable, it’s almost like we have to thread this needle now they have you know our mutual friend Michael Morell called the hacking of the election the political equivalent of 9/11 and I don’t know how sort of less politicized people feel about it. But I think that that’s a pretty good description Yeah, and on the other hand, you know, they have a sizable percentage of the world’s nuclear weapons And so you need a floor on this relationship you do and it’s a mistake to be dismissive of Russia I mean it is a declining power, you know by any measure economic. It’s a one-dimensional economy today Demographics are a big challenge. The Russian population is slowly decreasing But it’s you know, a knock occupies a huge expanse of the earth across 11 time zones You know President Obama for him I have very high regard a Few years ago made the comment that well Russia’s just a regional power and my reaction of that was was pretty goddamn big region And it’s still a permanent member of the UN Security Council still the only other nuclear superpower in the world So, you know Russia matters, whether we like it or not impudent likes reminding people of that as well. I Think that the dilemma is that you know, it’s in the near future We shouldn’t have any illusions about this and dealing with Putin’s Russia I think we’re gonna be dealing with in a pretty narrow band two possibilities from the sharply competitive to the nastily adversarial that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pay attention to guardrails in that relationship and one of the things that worries me today is The old arms control architecture that began and the worst of the cold war with the Soviets is about to fall apart You know the intermediate nuclear range forces treaty Now more than 30 years old Is about to die this hour and that new start agreement that President Obama Concluded which reduces and regulates strategic nuclear weapons and not least gives us Transparency and to what the Russians are doing with their nuclear forces is going to expire at the beginning of 2021 and there’s very little evidence that I can see either in the Kremlin or in Whitehouse of interest and trying to negotiate an extension of that so you do need those guardrails, but you have to Shed your illusions of dealing with Russia So I guess my view to oversimplify it is it’s really important not to give in to Putin’s aggressiveness, you know Whether it’s in Ukraine, whether it’s interference on our own elections again Putin didn’t invent the polarization or dysfunction our political system in 2016 but you know like a good judo, you know expert which is what he is. He looks to take advantage of Stronger players weaknesses and that’s that’s what he did He tried to sow chaos and he succeeded beyond his wildest imagination. So it’s important not to give in to Putin’s Russia, but I also think it’s important not to give up on the Russia that lies beyond Putin There’s a middle class in Russia today. It’s not revolutionary, but I think it’s restive because Putin’s deal, you know with his Citizenry was you stay out of politics? That’s my business What I will ensure in return are rising standards are living. He’s been stuck for the last four or five years He’s not able to produce that in part because when he could have diversified the economy he chose not to Because what mattered most to him is political control So I think over time that middle class Especially beyond Putin is going to develop more of an interest in healthier relations with Europe with the United States The last thing I’d say is you know I also think Russians are gonna chafe at being China’s junior partner or just as they chafed at being the junior partner of the United States right after the Cold War So I do think over time. There’s space for artful American diplomacy in dealing with Russia. I just wouldn’t expect that to come anytime soon Setting aside the issue of who would conduct that our full diplomacy at least in the near term So let’s move on to The Bush 43 term and just talk for a minute about the post not immediate post 9/11 period You saw early on that the move to invade Iraq is going to be faithful and And not a positive experience and you wrote a memo called the perfect storm. Do you want to describe? Yeah, I was like that was yeah I ran the Middle East Bureau in the State Department when : POW was the Secretary of State so the first term of the George W Bush administration and You know in the first six months of that administration in dealing with Middle East issues There’s a very restrained view of the region of American power of what our expectations should be Then came 9/11 and as most of you in the audience know very well I mean, this was a huge shock to our system and it Had led to a much different view of the Middle East I think on the part of the President himself for reasons that you can understand He was animated by a sense of mission to ensure that such an attack on our homeland could never happen again And I put a premium on preemption and prevention That intersected with two other strands in that administration in my experience. There were the Neoconservatives who had what I thought were recklessly rosy assumptions about how the United States could affect change in the Middle East There’s was an assumption that the United States through the exercise of our power Could not only overthrow Saddam Hussein, but then use that Lay the seeds for democracy in the Arab world You know lots of other changes and then there was a third strand which was sort of the paleo conservative strand which identified more with Vice President Cheney and with secretary Rumsfeld and there’s was not the Ambition of the neoconservatives there’s was a more basic view that you know overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan Was necessary but not sufficient if you really wanted to intimidate people to get your point across you needed to deliver a stronger blow in a part of the world where in their view people only understood one thing and that was force and the assertion of American power You know their view was American power also was best served Unilaterally, you know By allies and institutions or UN Security Council resolutions. I remember one time when both secretary Powell and his deputy secretary were either too fed up or Traveling or something, but I got deputized to go to the White House Situation Room, you know very well For a meeting with the sort of cabinet principal’s this was in the run-up to the war in Iraq And what we were trying to do in the State Department was make the argument for a Security Council resolution which would authorize the use of force on the theory that You know, what was gonna be most complicated was the day after? Saddam Hussein was toppled and so you needed a lot of company on the takeoff Internationally if you were going to manage, what would be a very tricky landing? So I dutifully made this argument I remember the vice president was sitting across the table from me and he listened politely and then at the end of it Said, you know usually a pretty laconic person but said after I had made the argument that this would help our legitimacy you know if we were to go to war and he said the only Legitimacy we need comes in the back of an m1a1 tank I Remember calling Powell Afterwards and saying you need to find somebody else to represent the State Department in those meetings because I wasn’t getting very far But the memo that you mentioned and was something that came out of the most depressing Brainstorming session that I ever had in 35 years in the State Department two colleagues of mine and I in the Near East Bureau Spent several hours one afternoon in the summer of 2002 trying to list everything We thought could go wrong on the day after Saddam Hussein was toppled That’s what we called the perfect storm and you know You read it in hindsight because when I was doing this book, I managed to get about a hundred and twenty different documents Declassified Because there’s always a temptation when you’re writing something like this to write what you wish you had said or what you wish you had Recommend it as opposed to warts-and-all what you really said? So if you read this memo now, which is on the carnegie website because we put all those documents up there thinking This is a good way to help people understand diplomacy. We got it about half, right? You know we missed some things we exaggerated others, but I mentioned only because it was an honest effort lay out our concerns to this day, you know I Am not at all certain that I was nearly as effective as I should have been running the Middle East Bureau and making our concerns clear And there are a lot of honorable people There were three in the State Department in that era who resigned because they couldn’t in good conscience Pursue or carry out a policies that they fundamentally disagreed with over the Balkans in the early 1990s are about 20 Career State Department people who resigned there a number over the last couple years who have as well It I have huge regard for people who choose to do that. I also ever think there’s there there is some honor in Continuing to work within a disciplined service But that can only be honorable. If you’re honest about your concerns, even when they’re not convenient So that was the imperfect effort that we made and it had zero impact The remarkable thing looking back is To the outside world it seemed like the government was moving forward except for a few people who resigned but the fact is The NEA Bureau was writing memos saying it’s going to be a perfect storm the national intelligence officer Out at Langley was writing similar memos saying, you know This is this is we’re courting disaster here by doing this and yet none of the expert opinion pierced the armor of some really true believers Which is pretty extraordinary. Yeah, and I think that sort of basic process that kind of a duty You know that makes sure that you’re surfacing different views often times conflicting views had broken down for you badly by that point and again I come back to the the impact of 9/11 and the sense of mission that a lot of people You know felt coming out of that, you know, I felt that too. So did you know lots of Americans? I just thought there was a different way in which we could use our power In a sense to take advantage of that moment and put us in a stronger position on the lens In one passage, you describe Iraq as the original sin and You know to those of us from outside that tradition original sin is something that pervades Every since the Irish Catholic that make up. Yes And so but you know I think of original sin as something that you can’t get over and so I guess the question I have for you is Having, you know really mucked up and already screwed up Middle East You know, is there any horizon is there any Do you have any hope that things are gonna sort themselves out in the Middle East? Yeah, I mean I think this in the Middle East is first in class and dysfunction as you look at regions of the world, you know it’s a place where pessimists always feel right at home and rarely lack for either company or validation and you know the honest answer if you look at over the next 20 years, I Think you’re gonna see lots of reasons to continue to be pessimistic about the Middle East I don’t think for the United States that means we have the luxury of abdicating any engagement with that part of the world We don’t depend on the Middle East for energy resources in the way that we did earlier in my career But it still matters and I think you know the long game of President Obama his broad Strategy in the Middle East made a lot of sense to me. It wasn’t, you know, he’s criticized I think unfairly for wanting to disengage the United States from the Middle East and I always thought it was more a question of changing the terms of engaging with the Middle East to move away from What had become an over militarized? American strategy in the Middle East toward one that put relatively greater emphasis on diplomacy on development in the sense of focusing on the deeper drivers of disorder in the Arab world the sense of indignity and lack of political and economic opportunity that produce the Arab Spring in 2011 and there were a lot of things about the Arab Spring that we did not get right in terms of our reaction to that You know oftentimes the best long games When the short game appears, you know because stuff happens That’s what defines statecraft remember the foremost former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was asked once so what’s what defines effective statecraft in the world and he said events dear boy Events, you know and you know, there’s a lot of truth in that too because it’s how you react in the short term so I think there are things that the United States can do in the Middle East you have to look at those islands of relative stability or hope whether it’s a country like Tunisia or Jordan or a few others and Try to invest in them and amplify that I think there are things the United States can do To try to reduce the risks of regional conflicts that are unresolved You know, we can talk more about this, but I think that’s what President Obama tried to do on the Iran nuclear issue. I continue to believe even though this is unfashionable today that the arab-israeli issue still matters the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, and I don’t think this is going to end well for anybody if the two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis expires which it’s very close to doing I think right now so there are things that the United States can do even if we’re disciplined and careful about match against two means so the any discussion of the Middle East leads almost inevitably to reflections on our limitations and I think one of the really interesting aspects of your book is its candor about What foreign policy and what diplomacy are really about and the limits that? You know, we as mortal humans can can achieve You often you talk at one point about? diplomats being gardeners and of Yeah, well they’re you know up here we have a lot of gardeners and of you know, I need to recognize the limitations of The possible. I think that’s really one of the great themes here. It’s actually in some ways a An elegiac theme and a theme of some Well, it’s Neeb Orion and it’s it’s But it’s it’s not a very American theme and that’s part of the problem that we’ve had I think with our foreign policy Yeah, it’s hard because I think as Americans were generally optimist. We’re problem solvers and I think particularly at the moment You know, we’re talking about after the end of the Cold War in a moment of you know Singular American dominance on the international landscape there didn’t seem to be a lot of limits to what we could achieve and you know We accelerated the end of that moment through overreach and mistakes that we made Iraq 2003 being one of them But also the global financial crisis a different kind of hubris, you know five years later as well So yeah, understanding having the discipline to understand limits is important I mean that’s something I’ve learned from my experience working for Baker. I remember vividly You know when Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi forces had been expelled in a hundred hours You know have the ground effort from Kuwait in the spring of 1991 the most tempting thing in the world for President Bush and secretary Baker and general Powell and others would have been to pursue those Iraqi forces all the way to Baghdad and Overthrow Saddam and they chose quite consciously not to do that partly because they knew it would break up this International coalition that they had assembled whose aim was to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait not topple Saddam Hussein in part because they were worried even in that time about the day after in Iraq, you know, because then you would inherit The responsibility for order in that society and so, you know that at a moment of unchallenged American power You know that restraint taught you a lot about smart diplomacy, too but even though there are limits of American agency in the Middle East there are other places where you can achieve things if you use that moment wisely I remember even you know We were talking about the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2003 and the tragic mistakes that we all made In that period you know, I was conducting an other kind of secret diplomacy with Gaddafi’s Libya to Qaddafi’s mind was focused, you know by 9:11 and he was nervous that he might be next to the hit parade as the United States You know looked across the landscape so we managed through a series of secret talks over more than a year and a half to persuade Qadhafi to Accept responsibility for the terrible terrorist attack at Lockerbie Scotland when he shot down a Pan Am aircraft At the end of 1988 to get out of the business of terrorism and also to give up what was a rudimentary nuclear program Gaddafi was by far the weirdest Leader I ever dealt with in the Middle East or anyplace else I remember his prime time for meetings was like 3 o’clock in the morning, which is not my prime time She’d be sitting with him one on one. I remember one time in a tent in the desert So it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and he had you know, which you can only describe as plastic launcher You know furniture in the tent. I mean it wasn’t really extravagant So he’s sitting there in this long several hour conversation. He had this really disconcerting habit of pausing in the middle of the conversation and staring at the ceiling for 3 or 4 minutes this I guess was to collect his thoughts, but you know as a diplomat I’m trained to carry on conversation So this was a little strange, but fortunately for me in a way, he was a snappy dresser So he was on this occasion Wearing what can only be described as a pajama top and on it were photographs of dead African dictators So I would spend the 3 or 4 minutes while he’s staring at the ceiling trying to guess how many of the dead African dictators I could understand so So anyway, but but over time, you know, we we managed even within the limits of American influence To produce a positive result through diplomacy for the United States So speaking of Libya. I don’t know if you have read these reports, but apparently, you know, the president called General Huff sir. The the insurgent from eastern Libya and Actually according to I think Bloomberg encouraged him to take Tripoli where there is a UN backed government That is to say government that we have backed It’s astonishing. Yeah, it doesn’t make a lot of sense either for Libya’s future for American interests I mean I think the president does have a pretty well-developed case of autocrat Envy and so their strongman a former general for Qaddafi who set himself up as the liberator of Libya You know his bases in eastern Libya and Benghazi where our you know for diplomats were murdered in the fall of 2012 he’s supported by the Egyptians by some of our Gulf Arab friends, but I think the notion that you know, One of the various factions in Libya is going to militarily you know restore stability to Libya is not tethered to history as we’ve seen it in Libya in recent years and what I Doubt that he’s going to be able to militarily succeed because what he’s now managed to do is unite all the other warring factions in Libya who are united around an interest in Resisting his effort to take over Tripoli so I think it’s just going to bring more pain and bloodshed to Libya rather than playing a more classic diplomatic role for the United States supporting the United Nations envoy on the ground and Working with other players to try to stop the bloodshed as opposed to encouraging So I You know completely agree with your assessment and I’m impressed by your ability to lay that out with equanimity as opposed to having steam come Out of your ears and thinking about what the US is doing you know, I’m very mindful that we don’t have exactly of a pristine record at Libya or in other places to I mean You know, there were things we got wrong in our reaction to the revolution that began in Libya in 2011 I mean I I I Do not second guess and I supported at the time I support it to this day President Obama’s decision to participate in a military Intervention because based on my own dealings with him over the years I was convinced Qadhafi was entirely capable of massacring thousands of Libyan civilians in Benghazi I did not think there was any chance he was going to negotiate himself out of existence. I Thought you know here you had an instance where the Arab League which never agrees on anything Was calling on the United States and the UN Security Council to intervene militarily Unanimously in part because at one term or another Qaddafi had tried to off everybody sitting around the Arab League table So he was a unifying force through the Arab League, right? We had a couple of our principal partners in the Arab borough the Jordanians the B the Emiratis who said they would participate Militarily intervention the British and French and David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy were champing at the bit to intervene militarily And we had a UN Security Council resolution that the Russians allowed to go through that legitimize the use of force So if you put yourself back in that in President Obama’s shoes, it would have been hard not to you know participate in intervention What we got wrong all of us got wrong we’re a medium term assumptions about how hard it was gonna be to restore order and security in Libya post Gadhafi a Lesson, we should have learned from Iraq Second we overestimated the capacity of our stalwart European allies for helping to produce that order and stability afterwards and we Underestimated the tendency of our friends at the Arab world to take sides in the civil war that broke out afterwards and make things worse so other than that Right mrs. Lincoln hedge like to play right? So the title is the back-channel and you know, I described at the outset the the the trajectories that that is being traced in this book and the Back-channel itself is sort of the top of the second support of this suspension bridge I Think everyone has a general idea of what a back-channel is But why don’t you tell us about the back-channel do you mean in particular? I meant it in two respects? I mean first diplomacy in general is kind of a back-channel in the sense that while Diplomacy is one of the oldest of human professions It’s also probably one of the most Misunderstood it does oftentimes operate in back channels out of sight and out of mind so that’s the general way in which I meant it but then it has a more particular meaning for you know those Instances often times when you don’t have formal diplomatic relations with another country It was true. You know what Kissinger opened? dialogue with China in the early 1970s It’s often that kind of a back-channel is facilitated by a third party. So it was the Pakistanis in 1970-71 facilitated that for Kissinger when we did the secret talks with the Iranians through all of 2013 With a very tiny team of people which included Jake Sullivan who’s a fellow at Dartmouth now and a wonderful public servant You know that was facilitated by the government of Oman and so we met been this you know secluded abandoned Omani officers retreat on the Arabian Sea when the temperature outside was 130 degrees Fahrenheit he didn’t have much else to do but talk to the Iranians And then there was the Libya example that I mentioned before with Qaddafi, which was facilitated by the British. So You know It’s it’s it’s an instrument or a mechanism that’s rarely used But there are times especially in the case of the United States and Iran when there’s so much baggage on both sides You know We’ve gone 35 years without sustained diplomatic Contact and us-iranian relations were a minefield and nobody had a good map for it and so if you had any chance of getting Diplomacy off the ground it made sense to start it quietly out of the glare of publicity And you know President Obama was criticized for that afterwards all of us were but I think it was the right call That was the only way in which we’re going to get any traction. I think diplomatically just to illustrate how difficult it is to Talk to the Iranians or was at one point you and I work together on one issue, which was the weirdest assassination plot ever which was the plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a restaurant to be named later in Washington DC and I remember we had conversations about a message to the Iranians and I remember Bill throwing back his head and saying I Don’t think there’s any way to word this that they won’t misunderstand Yeah, well problem is You know the in Iran to the people we were talking to and the nuclear Negotiations were not the same people who were trying to whack the Saudi ambassador in a restaurant in Washington and so the difficulty of finding authoritative Representatives or channels is also a considerable one But in the case of the nuclear talks, I think we were able to do that Yeah, well with that assassination plot, it was so implausible that we could hardly get our own people to believe it because you know Supposedly a drug cartel. It just so happened that the drug lord was in the pay of the DEA it was one thing after another I Mean Foreign Affairs isn’t always this absurd but that was that was an impressive moment. Yeah do you have any sense of where we are going in terms of our Iran policy because when I look at the designation of the Revolutionary Guard Which is an unprecedented thing to do and at least in terms of the law makes no sense And in terms of our counterterrorism practice makes no sense and the Rhian position of all these different sanctions the only conclusion that I can come to is that perhaps driven by john bolton, perhaps driven by Pompeo or together They are trying to get the Iranians to pull out of the of the nuclear accord The natural conclusion to that is that would be the predicate for a military action. So that’s one argument The other thing is that they’re trying to get Trump so frustrated with the lack of progress and the Iranian Patience that he decides he wants to take military action but it seems like Almost unintelligible what the policy is Yeah, and there are different people of different views. I mean the President himself. I don’t think as a military Interventionist, I do think that there are some people around them the National Security Advisor the Secretary of State Whose view is not that what you’re trying to produce with? All this pressure is a better nuclear deal It’s rather an effort to produce either the capitulation of this theocratic Iranian regime or its implosion and You know I’m the last person who needs to be convinced that Iranian Actions across the Middle East don’t threaten our interests or the interests of lots of our friends. They do I just thought that much as we did with the Soviets during the Cold where I’m not trying to equate the Iranians and the Soviets the Iranians aren’t an Existential threat to the United States or international order or anything else But they can cause a lot of pain But much as we did with the Soviets when we made arms control agreements, we tried to limit the most eminent set of risks Which was a nuclear confrontation? But we pushed back in different regions of the world on human rights issues that that’s that version of containment makes the most sense to me in dealing with this Iranian regime, which has a lot of Contradictions within it doesn’t really have answers for a very young population 70% of which is under the age of 30 so, you know and that’s what animated I think the decision in President Obama made to try to use diplomacy to Limit the most eminent set of risks, which would be an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program But at the same time on that foundation pushed back against other kinds of Virani and behavior as well So, I mean, I think that’s the logic of it. I think president Trump has turned that on its head by abandoning the nuclear agreement And by a set of decision since then which create a number of problems I think You know first it erodes American credibility in the world Credibility is an overused term in Washington. It’s often used to Corner presidents into taking military action But it does matter, you know, when it’s part of a pattern of retreat not just from the Iranian nuclear agreement But the Paris climate agreement the trans-pacific partnership the big trade agreement in Asia Second. I think it increases the dangers of collisions between us and the Iranians and then the dangers of escalation Because you know the truth is we’ve gone all of us are very fortunate We’ve gone almost two-and-a-half years now in this administration without a big prolonged international crisis I never served an administration where you went that long without a prolonged international crisis So I worry about the capacity of that this current team to manage that kind of an escalation I worry about the temptations of some members of that team to actually, you know, encourage the escalation as well We encourage the Iranians to bail out of the nuclear agreement Third I think you know what we’re doing is reinforcing The grip of the hardest of the hardliners in Tehran that regime they thrive on pointing to enemies at the gate Fourth I think, you know we’re widening the fissure between us and our closest European allies We’re doing Vladimir Putin’s work for him in a sense and fifth and not least We’re roading the utility of economic sanctions over time You had even the foreign minister of Germany stand up a year ago and say all of us need to reduce our vulnerability To the American financial system. So this won’t happen overnight It’s not going to happen next year, but we’re gonna wake up four or five years from now and find that economic sanctions Which we haven’t always used wisely in the past We’ve overdone it sometimes but they’re not going to be as effective a tool as as they once were So I could ask questions all day but other people here may have other ideas about sending some people to leave at the very thought of it, but I just had one last question and then I want to open it up to the audience and that is I think Reading your book fairly carefully that the spirit of George Kennan actually hangs Heavy over it. I think that’s a compliment because he was a personal a great pro stylist and second of all A profound thinker even if you didn’t always agree with him but in this particular case, what I’m thinking of is that Kenan was very dubious about the ability of democracies to carry out Complex foreign policies and ones that would pay off in the long term And I think that a theme in your book is very much along those lines and you mentioned the growth of the National Security Council staff which we both served on if Years ago I was at a panel discussion with with Toni Lake and Brent Scowcroft and they got into exactly this debate over The NSC Brent Scowcroft put out the classic Let’s go crafty an argument that the NSC is supposed to be a neutral arbiter between the different Agencies and Tony Lake said I agree in principle But the fact is every issue is now becoming a presidential one everything is being politicized and presidents don’t have the luxury of Leaving it to agencies that may just be thinking over the horizon. And I guess the question I have for you is can we reach that point of balance again where we can actually conduct a back-channel where we can do dangerous things where we can actually be in victory magnanimous because things seem to be so Red-hot. Well, you know, I’m I’m deeply worried about you know, this era for the United States in the world and kind of the hole we’re digging for ourselves because You know at a moment when so much is being transformed on the international landscape, you know My concern is we’re digging a hole for ourselves. Now. We’ll eventually stop digging but the worry is that when we climb back to the top of the hole we’re gonna be looking on a Landscape that’s hardened against our interests and our values in some ways. So but I’m not a decline about the United States. I mean I Retain, you know a sense of optimism You know while we’re no longer the only big kid on the geopolitical Block today with the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia. We still have a better hand to play You know, it’s far out into the 21st century as I can see as our principal rivals you know, we we do have an ability to draw on coalition’s and alliances which you know lonely empowers like Russia and China don’t have So, you know the question is can we play that hand wisely and you know when you look at you know Whether or not we can renew Diplomacy or that sense of statecraft and how the national security bureaucracy works. I think it’s going to require It’s going to require more than I’ve never been a particularly partisan person. I’m becoming more partisan I guess these days but you know It’s gonna but I think people are making a huge Take if they think that all that that’s going to require is a change a leadership because the truth is it’s going to require you know a leadership that understands this moment on the International landscape and can Wisely use the various tools that we have not just the US military as important as that is But the whole range of other tools that we have including diplomacy Second it’s going to require some honest self-criticism You know the State Department has lots of dip individual diplomats who can be incredibly innovative and courageous and Entrepreneurial as an institution we’re rarely accused of being too agile or too full of initiative so You know the State Department needs to Delayer itself and become more nimble as well if it wants to play a more Effective role then you got to build on to that traditional skill set new skills in you know technology because it’s the Revolution and Technology the advanced and artificial intelligence and synthetic biology that’s going to be a huge challenge for diplomats the the challenge of devising workable rules of the road that maximize their benefits Minimize the dislocations same is true of climate change, you know the biggest existential threat out there as well. So Diplomacy is going to have to evolve as well and then last but not least We’re really gonna have to address the disconnect that’s developed in our own society, which was not invented by Donald Trump, you know The disconnect that’s been building. I sense since the end of the Cold War between people like me card-carrying members of the Washington establishment Who when we preach the virtues of disciplined American leadership in the world, there are lots of American citizens I think who don’t need to be persuaded of the importance of American engagement in the world But are pretty skeptical about the discipline part because the mistakes we’ve made or in discipline that we’ve demonstrated So you’re also going to need leadership that You know is committed to trying to narrow that disconnect a little bit And then as you said when you look at the NSC staff or the, you know different parts of the national security bureaucracy again It’s always the hardest thing to find but you need a sense of balance there to the NSC staff has gotten too big Decision-making and oftentimes the implementation of decisions is over over centralized that breeds what the State Department does best which is Passive-aggressiveness sometimes so that people who feel they’re not in on the takeoff feel less Responsibility for the implementation of policy in the landing. We’ve got to right the imbalance I think between military spending acuity and diplomacy and development You know in this White House for the third year in a row the most recent budget proposed a few weeks ago was 440 billion dollars for all of the State Department and Development just a lot of money and it’s seven hundred and fifty billion dollars through the Pentagon So that’s 19 times bigger and there’s always going to be an imbalance there, but that’s so foolishly wide imbalance. I mean, I remember the former Secretary of Defense Bob gates used to remind people that you know There are more members of American military bands than there are American diplomats There’s only about 8,500 and I grew up in a military family I have nothing against military music but it reflects an imbalance in the way We look at the world which we’ve got a you know much more consciously, I think try to write Questions We have any students with hands up This one right back there and please wait for the mic Hi, I’m thank you for coming and speaking with us today Earlier, you mentioned that you Russia would not take too kindly to being China’s junior partner for long And so I was wondering if the policy towards China is one of containment How possible or preferable would it be to see a partnership between the United States and Russia and containing China? I? Don’t I mean I don’t think that’s practical anytime soon Just because I think the marriage of convenience in a sense between Russia and China, even though China is by far the stronger power Suits both of them pretty well right now they both have an interest I think in some way for different reasons and chipping away at an american-led order And so but I think as you look out over the horizon meaning over the next decade beyond Putin as I was suggesting before He looks pretty healthy today. So it could be a longer horizon but I do think there’s space there for American diplomacy and I Thought that you know, even if we’re no longer the singular dominant player on the international landscape We still ought to be the pivotal player, you know In other words using the hand that we have to play to be able to move in any direction Pretty artfully to be able to mobilize Coalitions of countries take advantage of our alliances and even take advantage of you know that the differences that begin to emerge Between other major powers as well. So I don’t think that’s going to happen overnight, but it it could over time Questions Thank you very much for being here today sir, my question is Probably a spin of what Joe Biden said this morning and that is do you think? That our democracy is all of us and this rule. No it Can survive a second term of the Trump administration? See I work for a nonpartisan institution now the current again down But but but my honest answer is I think there’s a huge difference between four years and eight years And I mean that not just in terms of the resilience of our own democratic system Which I actually put more stock in than I do What eight years would mean for our role our influence our stature on the International landscape? I? Think we’re I think we’re doing a lot of damage to ourselves right now and I say that fully Recognizing that you know, the drift in America’s role in the world didn’t start in January 2017, you know, we’ve wrestled with this as we’ve been discussing you know for much of the post Cold War period But we’re accelerating it now at precisely the moment when that landscape is being transformed So, you know what’s gonna happen is over eight years These allies that are gonna are already losing faith. They’re gonna start to hedge adversaries and rivals that are already taking advantage are gonna cement those advantages in Institutions which we work so hard in our enlightened self-interest to help build and defend over the last seven decades or teetering today and they’re gonna collapse and then you’re gonna end up with this world that I think the president thinks suits American interests, which turns Enlightened self-interest on its head. It’s much more about the self apart than the enlightened and you know Which holds that we’re kind of Gulliver tied down by the lily push ups or alliances International institutions. I think that’s exactly wrong. I think Those are our strengths today if we’re no longer the singular dominant player It matters more than ever to be able to draw on those coalition’s on those alliances and adapt those institutions And I think that that’s what could easily be lost To stretch this out for eight years Administration we would be in that much more jeopardy leading to an answer of no from you To an answer of I’m sorry. No, yes Survive, you know, I’m like I said, I’m not I think the United States has survived huge challenges in the past but I think it would do permanent damage to our role on the international landscape and to institutions That matter and honestly to all of us as American citizens Damage that you you get you can you can’t entirely recover from so that’s not a question of survival, but it’s a question of You know severely damaging our future Hi hi First up thank you for coming second in the medium term What do you believe would be the region of the world where the United States is going to happen? The most is most important for the u.s. Engagement and diplomacy You know, it’s actually gonna be two that I haven’t talked about at all today Africa first you know the population of Africa as a Continent is going to double by the middle of this century from 1 billion to two billion people There there are particular societies in Africa today, which I think hold enormous promise But if you if you play out over the next decade, you know as the population increases The problems of unresolved regional conflicts of food water health insecurity and poor governance You know and if we don’t pay attention to those leadership switch our getting things right and support them Then I think not only we but lots of the rest of the international community are gonna be asking for trouble too So I you know Africa’s a part of the world that’s often suffered from benign or not. So benign neglect in American foreign policy I’ve been guilty of that too over time But I think that’s a part of the world that we ought to pay more attention to and the second is our own hemisphere You know, I mean our own hemisphere But particularly North America Canada the United States and Mexico that ought to be our natural strategic home base It takes a particularly artful kind of diplomacy to piss off the Canadians You know, that’s And that’s kind of what we’ve managed to do and the same the same is true in our relationship with Mexico I think to today so Those are those are two parts though I mean to answer your question, which is a very good one that I’ve kind of demonstrated in my earlier remarks We don’t you know, we don’t pay as much attention to as we should Gentleman it’s a very patient. Thank you Yes, once again, thank you very much Going back 30 years when we were all young or not here. Yeah. Was there any thought during the fall of the Berlin wall of Creating a glide path or a way of an adjunct membership for Russia so that they would become members of NATO you know, there was some debate on that at the time I Hope you with that having spent a lot of my career in Russia. Is that It’s really hard to imagine a NATO that Russians would really want to be a part of in the sense that you know We Americans have an exceptional as few of ourselves Russians I can guarantee you have an equally exceptional as few of them So so you would have to construct an entirely different kind of security architecture, it wouldn’t be just Russia becoming a member of NATO it would you know essentially be ditching NATO and starting over again and You know tempting as it is to think in those broad terms about European security architecture I tend to think it would have been a mistake to have ditched those Institutions at that time as I was trying to suggest earlier I think there were better ways in which we could have managed some of you know Russia’s sensibilities in that period and anticipated the moment when Russia would be able to push back again But I’m not sure that you know Russian membership in NATO would have worked Thanks so much for a really compelling presentation My question is also on Africa In 1994 as you know, there was the genocide in Rwanda and that this is the 25th year Commemoration of it There’s a recent book by David rawson who was one of your colleagues a former ambassador to Rwanda called prelude to genocide in which he criticizes the Arusha Accords which led up to the He argues were a factor, of course in the in the violence And he portrays us as failed diplomacy very gently his critique of the US is I think kind of probably gentler than I would have been like so my question for you is I Know it’s not your area. But certainly you were in the State Department. And you saw how the State Department was trumped by the NSC and you had mentioned this is an issue What was the what was the reaction of people in the State Department when they saw What was going on, and I’m sure a lot of them Certainly, the people in the Africa desk knew what was going on and they were they wanted a different policy So, how how do you cope with a situation like that? Pretty hard. Yeah, I was sitting in Moscow in those years and 94 so I you know, it’s terrible to say but had my own preoccupations in Russia But I remember talking to colleagues of mine Who worked in the Africa Bureau and elsewhere in the State Department that were served in embassies in Africa, and it was a horrific experience because You know, those are moments when you realize that the United States if we use our influence in our power can help avert Horrible things and that’s where it becomes really difficult to You know match ends to me and you can understand in many ways why at that stage in the Clinton administration? You know, there was a focus on domestic issues There was a natural tendency to try to avoid, you know overextension overseas but that’s a where it was a place where we could have saved tens of thousands of lives and You know so I think to answer your question the feeling on the part of you know diplomats at that time was one of horror and you know deep anxiety too because when you realize that You know American power can be applied in ways that would You know reduce those kind of dangers You know First off. Thank you so much for coming my question is about the future of the jcpoa obviously with a lot of the Sunset clauses beginning to expire and what would be either the second term right this current administration? Or the first term of an incoming administration in 2020 Do you see any sort of way back for the jcpoa now that we’ve lost considerable leverage over the Iranians by pulling out? It’s a good question. I mean, I think the inclination of the Iranian regime right now Is to try to wait out the Trump administration Now there’s a lot of time between here there even if you’re just talking about November of 2020 I talked before about the danger of collisions between now and then and it’s got to be tempting for some people especially the real knuckle-draggers inside that regime To think that it’d be convenient who were sceptical of the value of negotiations in the first place To see some merit in trying to pull out right now I mean Iran after years and years in which we work so hard to isolate Iran You know internationally they’ve met we’ve managed to isolate ourselves now in some ways So from an Iranian point of view, you can understand why they’d want to try to hang in there I think if they become convinced that a second term is coming and they’re all you know Amateur specialists in American politics then I think the temptation to pull out will become that much gray and I think even if you have a new administration You know in January of 2021 It’s going to be a complicated proposition I mean, I’m a believer in trying to return to the jcpoa to the comprehensive nuclear agreement but we’d also have to begin almost immediately as you do in most arms control processes a Negotiation of a follow-on agreement to deal not just with those sunset clauses, you know You know the period of years in which some of the restrictions not all of them But some of the restrictions on the Iranians began to expire but also to try to deal with the range of other huge irritants and our irritants or that areas, in which Iranian aggressiveness You know creates huge problems for us on ballistic missile development on You know efforts to undermine or subvert lots of other countries in the region So and now that will be really hard to do so it won’t be just as easy as flicking a switch Returning to the agreement because the ground will have moved by that. I’m afraid Right hi if you were advising the candidate of your choice in establishing key elements of a foreign policy platform for the campaign for 2020 What would some of the you know, maybe three or four the key? Elements and priorities of that platform be I mean, I think the first thing is, you know, an honest diagnosis of the challenge So what does the international landscape look like? What are the biggest problems from the point of view of the United States our biggest challenges? So we’re clearly in an era Where a great power rivalry is a feature of that landscape And so, you know managing very complicated sometimes adversarial relations with Russia with China are going to matter Second in diagnosing the landscape is to look at those big overarching challenges and I would cite at least three, you know It’s its climate change, which is the biggest existential threat out there. It’s the revolution and technology and accelerating an effort to begin to develop some workable rules of the road on some issues like what kinds of critical interest You oughta be off-limits to cyberattacks and that kind of thing and then third is the competition and ideas You know between democratic systems and more authoritarian systems as well. So that’s the diagnosis then the prescription is, okay So what what are what are our assets on that landscape? We still have a really good hand to play militarily and economically You know, we we have to Reinvest in alliances in coalitions of countries we have to look at ways in which we can adapt existing institutions a number of which you know, whether it’s the IMF or the World Bank or others, you know resemble the world of the 1970s more than they do the world today and so there’s a need for you know adaptation of those kind of institutions and then I think we you know We have to look carefully at you know, what are the first kinds of things you’d want to do early on new administration? I mean, I think even if Asia is increasingly the center of gravity you know in the both geopolitical ENGO economically I think you’d want to focus on Europe which you know in many ways is more not less Important than it was during the Cold War cuz we’re going through a nervous breakdown on both sides of the Atlantic right now And we ought to pay more attention to that I think on Asia itself It’s a question of you know If you look at priorities its its Asia where our challenge I think is not so much to contain China’s rise as to shape the environment into which China rises So that’s where we ought to look at ways of restoring American participation in the trans-pacific partnership Not because it was a perfect trade agreement I mean perfect Israeli on the menu in diplomacy But because it you know applied a set of pretty high end trade and investment standards that over time Because it knit together 40 percent of the global economy affect china’s incentives and disincentives To there’s a web of countries across Asia from India through Southeast Asia to Northeast Asia That share are concerned that China’s rise not come at the expense of everybody else’s security and prosperity so we have a lot of assets to play with there and then Asia Europe third I think in our own hemisphere as I mentioned before we ought to be paying a lot more to what should be our natural strategic home base and that means reversing some of what I think are the Stupidities of you know, a largely invented border crisis the Mexican border I’m not trying to suggest that we don’t need to ensure security on our borders But it needs to be coupled with comprehensive immigration reform as well And then the final thing I’d say it comes back to the point. I was trying to make about domestic disconnects It’s to understand that you know any new leadership Is gonna have to be honest about the disconnect that’s built up within our own society across administration’s of both parties Because you’re not going to get very far in the world unless you have a sense of public understanding behind that so I know that’s a mouthful but I mean, I think those are among the things that you know, You’d want to focus on but first its diagnosing This moment on the international landscape looking at what assets we have In our hand which are pretty considerable and then looking at how we play them across strategic priorities Sarah Hey Sure Question is about the State Department’s descent channel and whether you think it is an effective means for Foreign Service officers to express their dissent and I ask that in light of the somewhat mass exodus of senior state foreign service officers leaving and then perhaps posting their resignation letters on media forms which suggests that perhaps this Dissent channel is not effective and if if it’s not what what do you think is an effective means of allowing Foreign Service officers to express their dissent of Policy they are implementing. Yeah. I think the problem is less with the mechanism This is the descent channel which is managed by the policy planning staff at the State Department But which allows people officers within the discipline of the State Department? so in other words You’re not running off and publishing this in the New York Times But to write a cable or a memo which which descends from a particular Policy direction and it’s been in existence since the late Vietnam period it was started in the 1970s and you know What there been moments when it’s worked pretty well I used to be the you know The number two and the policy planning staff and then I was the acting director of it for oil So I managed this and I think if you take it seriously, it can have an impact on policy There was a dissent message that was done over Bosnia in the 1990s That had had an impact on policy Eventually that perfect storm memo that I mentioned before wasn’t a descent channel message That was just something that we sent to the secretary himself at that time, you know Then there was very early on in this administration I think it was beginning of February 2017 a thousand foreign service officers Which is a lot and what you couldn’t have done except in this age of information Technology because before you were literally handing around to get people to sign now You can do it electronically quickly, but a thousand officers dissented from that initial decision about a Muslim ban You know on immigration That had a powerful effect on the White House’s view of the State Department, you know Convinced that this was a deep State at work in the State Department. Which in my experience is BS. I mean, you know of anything You know career foreign service officers and civil servants are almost loyal to a fault You know, we won’t we I say because I spent three-and-a-half decades there You know one a leadership that pays attention to our expertise doesn’t have to always heat it and we don’t have a monopoly on wisdom either but pays attention to it and respects it and That clearly wasn’t the inclination of this White House and that dissent message just reinforced it so you have a situation today Where you know it breaks my heart to talk to some of the very best of the younger and middle level Foreign Service officers people I worked with you know When I was still in government who are thinking of leaving now and the best of them have options and The problem with that is getting back to the point about damage you do to yourselves is it takes a lot longer to fix than it has taken to break and you look at Sorry to get off on this now. But I mean you look at some of the practices which are not just a function of budgets It’s a function of you know whether people are respected or Disrespected public service general and this is an era where public service is all too often belittled and demeaned, you know We may painfully slow progress over the 35 years I spent in the State Department toward a foreign service that looked more like the country we represent You know I came in the Foreign Service Most people look like me nine out of ten Foreign Service officers were white Only a quarter were women By the time I left the gender balance was closer to 5050 still woefully inadequate at senior levels of the Foreign Service But some painfully slow progress to a gender and ethnic diversity and the American diplomatic service That’s been reversed in recent years and you also have this really pernicious practice of going after individual career officers just because they worked on Controversial issues in the last administration like the Iran nuclear negotiations. That’s how you got an Institution and hollow out morale and you know, that’s unfortunately what’s been the pattern over most of the last two years Okay, well Uplifting note. Sorry. Sorry, we have reached the really I’m an optimist I did the book does end on an optimistic note and I really do encourage you to Buy it to read it to tell your friends about it and to discuss it because I think it’s some of the queerest thinking about Where we are how we got here and how we get to a better place so with that I really want to thank our guests today bill burns for




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