Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski and General Brent Scowcroft in conversation with Frederick Kempe
KEMPE: I’m back. We’ve actually got three courses to go. This is the intellectual course and then there are 2 more food courses. Let me read you something. It was written by David Ignatius, an old friend of mine, Washington Post Columnist on February 5th 2009. “Whom shall President Obama appoint as his Emissary to Iran to take on what may be the most important diplomatic mission in decades. The right person or persons would have the stature and experience to engage Iran on the highest level and to explore what Obama in his Inaugural address called a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” David Ignatius writes further: “my nominees are Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisors for Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush respectively. They would elevate the Iran mission, connecting it to the tradition of bi-partisan strategic thinking that shapes America’s role in the modern world.” So, bi-partisan strategic thinking that shaped America’s role in the modern world, exactly what the Atlantic Council is all about. I’m delighted that these two gentlemen are on our International Advisory Board, particularly delighted that Brent Scowcroft is the Chair of that board. And just as David Ignatius wanted them to elevate our Iran policy, I will now ask them to elevate all of our discussions of today to a more strategic level. We have talked ahead of time and they have agreed to address some of the elephants in the room during today. So we’ll talk about Russia, we will talk about Iran, and we will also talk on Turkey and its relationship with the United States in the wake of the event between Israel and Palestine.
Let me welcome Dr. Brzezinski and General Scowcroft.
We‘ve had some really good discussions here and a lot of people have been talking about which is very quickly shifting landscape of this week (inaudible). Relations aren’t the best they’ve ever been with Turkey and the United States. Both of you have been in the White House. Dr. Brzezinski was National Security Advisor to President Carter, General Scowcroft was the only National Security Advisor to two presidents-Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, but the real truth, in my opinion, was that you were National Security for three terms because you were but also deputy National Security Advisor to Nixon with Dr. Henry Kissinger as National Security Advisor.
I’d like you to reflect a little bit on Turkey because both of you were in the White House with a quite different Turkey and a different Eurasia and reflect a little bit on the role this region, this country played during the time you were consulting in the most intimate way with the President of the United States in the White House and spin that forward that until now and see how that’s changed in today’s world. General Scowcroft maybe I’ll start with you.
SCOWCROFT: This is an intimidating question….Turkey was one of our staunchest NATO allies against the Soviet Union (inaudible) and was the key to U.S. interests wherever they were. Turkey has tremendous military strength. For example, in Korea there were Turkish troops along side U.S. troops. We took each other for granted in a defense relationship.
We didn’t go very deeply beneath that and then the Cold War was over and we’re distracted now in the Middle East and Central Asia. Turkey is developing and realizing its role is not simply for the West. We’ve had a number of misunderstandings that I won’t go into it in this conversation. But I will say, they fundamentally started when we realized the old world was over. In 2003 when we wanted to go into Iraq, and said of course we want to go in from the north through Turkey. We were told no. That produced a shock on both sides.
KEMPE: Talk us through that shock more. How did this play out and how did we handle it?
SCOWCROFT: I think the shock was quite frankly the result of American behavior because as in the past we took Turkey for granted. And of course, when we proceeded to go into Iraq, we thought they would agree. We happened to catch them at a very difficult political moment -without a Prime Minister. Mr. Erdogan was not in the Parliament in the beginning. Then, there was a vote and in constitutional terms, it was illegal. It was a misunderstanding. But in my judgment, we should have known. Because in the first Iraq adventure when President Ozal was President of Turkey he said “we want to help you in any way we can, but you have to do everything in the name of NATO not the United States.” Because I can’t cover that if it’s just the U.S. Partially it was this misunderstanding. We still have to come out and we’re better off than we were in 2003. In the meantime, Turkey is changing significantly both internally and in its foreign policy. The United States is looking at its old ally and saying “what is going on here?”
KEMPE: We’re going to dig deeper on that. Let me turn to Zbig though. I want to mention two things, we are on the record, but I am told only prominent columnists are here tonight, but they both told me that it doesn’t really matter. But I think part of what we’re trying to do in the conference in general is to somehow get out the ideas here to a wider world. The second thing, we had a conversation with someone who said how much he enjoyed talking with prominent and brilliant individuals but he also used the word retired. Anyone who lives in Washington knows that that’s the last thing these two men are. Not even in terms of their full time jobs, but in terms of who they consult within government and who they advise. These men are listened to in the highest levels of government. Many people in this audience don’t understand Washington, but they are still very much involved.
Dr. Brzezinski, what was your Turkey in the Carter administration and what is today’s Turkey?
BRZEZINSKI: Perhaps a better way of answering is to say that the world is different and as a consequence we are different and Turkey is different. As a result our relationship is different. When I was in the White House the Soviet Union was a powerful and dangerous enemy. It doesn’t exist anymore. Iran was a good friend on whom we could rely. Something very different is there now. When I was in the White House, Turkey was a NATO country who shared our concerns about Soviet Union (inaudible) but it was relatively weak and a less democratic country, but now it is one of the greatest success stories of the Middle East. While then it was a relatively weak country. When we were in the White House today there are some differences. There are many differences within the alliance today. There is a great criticism of the U.S. and the world. In all of these aspects, we are both relating to each other in dramatically different contexts. And yes, I do hope and I can be optimistic about this relationship. Largely because the friction that I’ve noticed and the criticism that’s dominated the relationship Turkey’s concept of what ought to be happening in this region and how they think they should be manage this region is actually quite close to how the U.S. looks at the region. We know that education of this region is necessary. It is important to avoid conflict with Iran. We know that the Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation is absolutely necessary. So in that sense, our basic regional interests are complimentary. Turkey is rapidly becoming in every respect a great democracy: a relaxed but intelligent balance between traditional religion and a secular state. It’s something that we very much wish would become the dominant reality in the region. So that too is a very important point. From that aspect, I feel reasonably optimistic about the relationship. I think we have to do much more. I think we have to do more to communicate: what is the source of friendship?
As we discussed this today, I think we have more to learn from each other. I think you have to do much more to enhance American public understanding in Turkey than you do about other countries in the world.
We are uninformed compared to other countries in the world. Reacting to American media: TV, magazines, conferences -Turkey is not sufficiently active in shaping American perception.
KEMPE: General Scowcroft, I was wondering if you could pick that up. Are you as positive on what’s going on? What are your concerns?
SCOWCROFT: I think our two strategic visions are very much in parallel. I think we have a natural relationship- a partnership. Our vision for the future of the region is remarkably similar. But, we do have these misunderstandings. In my sense, the domestic situation in Turkey is reflecting a change in Turkish society. And the economy is booming. And what that has said is that much of what’s outside of the Istanbul economy is now illegal and it’s a more conservative nature that has grown. In a sense the government is a reflection of that and moving to say that the old Ataturk, Draconian measures to wrench Turkey from the Ottoman style of coexistence of political and religious domination is no longer necessary. And as Zbig said, the Turks can be more normal and can behave the way they want to behave individually.
And we look at this in the eyes of 9/11 and wonder where Turkey is headed. They were together with us against the Soviet Union. There was no problem.
Now turkey has discovered that there’s a vast interlay, and they’ve included their foreign policy to include their neighbors to the East and the South East. That is fundamentally in our interest. But that leaves some critics- that are already questioning- to believe that Turkey is turning its back on the West and turning back to the East in a regressionary way. I don’t think that’s true. But that’s a feeling I have being closely associated with Turkey for a number of years. One of the things that Americans don’t hear is an explanation from Turkey on what they’re thinking and where they’re going.
KEMPE: What I’m hearing is you’re both calling for a regeneration and a new type or new quality of strategic dialogue between the U.S. and Turkey but also call upon that Turkey to explain what it is to the world and the United States. In a time of such rapid change, it would be useful.
BRZEZINSKI: I would not use the word explain, because Turkey doesn’t have to explain what it is or apologize. It should be proud of what it is. They’ve brought Islamic values and religion into the modern word. This is a remarkable act of modernization and democratization of the modern world. In many ways, we think this should be emulated by others in the region. One particular neighbor that’s rather difficult for Turkey and the U.S.
KEMPE: Oh thank you for providing that transition. I’m not sure how many Americans would know that Turkey is Iran’s neighbor.
BRZEZINSKI: At most maybe between 5-10 % –I’m not joking. There was a poll of young Americans about world geography, 70% couldn’t find Great Britain, 50% couldn’t find New York City on the map. 30% couldn’t find a large mass in blue called the Pacific Ocean. We don’t teach geography in the United States.
KEMPE: None of them are members of the Atlantic Council.
Let’s move on and talk about Iran.
I’ll let you choose what part you want to take on. We talked a lot about the Southern Corridor with uranium usage. Can you imagine a time when all of these grids could factor into Iran? And another thing, a little Turkey related. This will be an interesting 12 months ahead for Iran. How is this going to play out? What role could Turkey be playing particularly given the differences between the Turkish and the Brazilian leaders in negotiations with Ahmadinejad?
BRZEZINSKI: Let me pick up your last point on Turkey. There was a letter from President Obama about (inaudible) The problem unfortunately was almost 6 months had passed. Some felt it impossible to resolve the problem. Development of uranium capabilities. There’s a time gap between what was initially done and what can be done now with negotiations. What was initially learned (inaudible) but I’ve dealt with this in my life. We ask “What’s feasible?” We can negotiate intensely, and you hardly resolve the issue and you’re two minutes from signature and a new uranium negotiator shows up and claims that everything is wrong. We have to begin again in the near future. Having said this now- one thing we do know, even then I don’t think the use of force is this type of policy we want to use. One thing we know that it’s usually much easier to get into a war than to get out of one…..
SCOWCROFT: I agree completely except that last part because the environment is changing . All is different so we have a tendency to not use protocol and diplomacy stuff or we could go right to the heart and use force. Clean quick and certainly not what…..I think it’s striking here that despite the differences that Zbig described between the Turkish and Brazilian leaders—of the Turkish mission both President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan have said negotiations are the way to go. And we’re both headed in that direction I certainly agree with Zbig on the difficulty of this. Not only do you have a unified country, (inaudible). Now we have a problem that, the government itself lead by Ahmadinejad… there are the mullahs have the supreme political power and then there’s revolutionary guard that takes care of the crowds in the streets. And then there are negotiations, and if any one of those three negotiated without including the other two there’s a problem. The way through this –however difficult –is negotiation. There is a way I do believe if we can get a united front, who do I mean by we? The U.S., the Turks, the E.U., the Russians and the Chinese (something) that uranium will probably not for now get positioned … They may not. But I think the alternative, the only one we’ve come up with so far, is the use of force….
SCOWCROFT: I would never say in call cases, but I wouldn’t say it’s even a close second in terms of options.
KEMPE: I won’t go into whether we will or not, but I wanted to ask one other question on Russia. I’ll start with General Scowcroft. Russia didn’t come to this conference and we didn’t completely understand. We have new START, we have the reset –Gee, I thought we were friends.
I guess I am wondering if you could assess the reset at this point? Has it been successful? Is this a point where you can look at the Obama administration and say they got it right? Or do you think it’s more nuanced than that. Where are we now? Has it been successful?
SCOWCROFT: I think the reset was essential because at the end of the Cold War, President Bush, Sr. tried to say,” look no one won the Cold War. We all won the Cold War.” We changed the NATO charter to take out the pejorative terms and then we got concerned with the attempt to build a Europe whole and free. In the eyes of the Russians, we took advantage of their weakness and pushed the borders of NATO right up against them because they were weak. That’s not why we did it. I think the reset was an honest attempt to say, okay let’s start anew. One of the things that’s struck me in our discussions so far is the Black Sea Caucus. As you say, the Russians were not here, and we tend to treat them as one possible supplier of national gas. Let’s suppose that in the future, Russians have a greater supplier role in Turkey. And what if they behave as they have and use this role for political pressures. What then?
KEMPE: I couldn’t agree more. Dr. Brzezinski, let me quote from your Foreign Affairs article:
“Seeking to expand cooperation with Russia does not mean condoning Russia’s subordination of Georgia (through which the vital Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline passes, providing Europe with access to Central Asian energy) or its intimidation of Ukraine (an industrial and agricultural heartland of the former Soviet Union). Either move would be a giant step backward. Each would intensify Russia’s imperial nostalgia and central Europe’s security fears, not to mention increase the possibility of armed conflicts. Yet so far, the Obama administration has been quite reluctant to provide even purely defensive arms to Georgia (in contrast to Russia’s provision of offensive weaponry to Venezuela), nor has it been sufficiently active in encouraging the EU to be more responsive to Ukraine’s European aspirations. Fortunately, Vice President Biden’s fall 2009 visit to Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic did reaffirm the United States’ long-term interest in political pluralism within the former Soviet space and in a cooperative relationship with a truly post-imperial Russia. And it should always be borne in mind that the survival of the former makes the latter more likely.”
Are you concerned about Russia? Are you encouraged by some of the progress in relations with Russia in the Obama administration?
BRZEZINSKI: I am not concerned but perplexed with many difficulties with resolving its relationship with its own past. Politically, historically and geopolitically. It’s been many years since the fall of the Soviet Union and it still cannot define its relationship with this past. They cannot decide how do they feel about democracy in general. Stalin is very much still in discussion. Georgia, Ukraine, but not… there is still talk about the Islamic Union…. with nostalgia to a degree that is difficult for the Russians to come to terms with their new with a new historical context. Same problems have faced Germany, France and even Turkey. Turkey has made a magnificent adjustment in reconciling itself. They have a current discussion about what Turkey can do and how it can be meaningful to its positive…it’s a sign of a mature opportunity so that they have a central role in Russia. Modernization should come forward. The debate about the central role of Russia. The crisis is deeper. The reconciliation with the west—which didn’t have to come will come but will be much longer.
SCOWCROFT: I don’t disagree with all of that but I’m less concerned because I think Russia has for centuries has had to come to terms with what it is. Even in the time of Peter the Great there were the Slavophiles and the Westernites. Russia is still searching for a soul and the best part of the reset button is …and we hope that future Russians decide that their future is with Europe. But they’re not going to decide this because we tell them to or say wake up and get modern. They will do this on their own not because (inaudible)
And we say wake up and that is the essence. I think we’re saying the same thing. In terms of what we’re bringing.
BRZEZINSKI: That is what they have to come to terms with and have not yet defined. They have a demographic crisis in Russia is difficult for them to reconcile even if they were interested.
SCOWCROFT: I agree with that but part of the essence of Russia’s attitude (inaudible) again, for centuries we can provide security for the heartland by pushing the borders out to give us strategic room. This is the Russian psyche about security and what makes them feel secure.
KEMPE: Thank you for letting us in on your conversation. We have 10-15 minutes for conversation. Minister Simsek, do you want to comment?
Simsek: I am only going to comment on the first part on Turkey. No one wants to move Turkey away from the West. Turkey today is (inaudible), let’s say hypothetically we have a hidden agenda. (inaudible) we have over 30 million, no. 7 in the world. We have 1100 radio channels, more than 400 TV channels more than 2000 weekly newspapers. It is a very open society. My government is committed to not only democracy but EU accession and common economic policy. Which means we want further integration. We want to be a regional and global financial center. We have worked very hard.
As you agree, we are a natural ally. I really don’t understand. Yes we have increased our trade with Arab nations by more than 7 time in 7.5 years. It makes a lot of sense. That’s what we have. It is still Europe or in general the West. In terms of the rule of law, this is what we really want to achieve. A country that generally interested in joining the EU, cannot be a country that at the same time wants to regress. So we have 66 million mobile subscribers, many 3G, we’ve 32 million, half our population on the internet. We can no longer (inaudible)
So we are a natural ally. I can tell you why the Turks have an unfavorable view of the U.S. I can tell you first hand, the PKK has gotten stronger. And many believe you are to blame. Maybe it’s not true, but that’s the perception. Turks get that we’ve had our ups and downs but the Armenian genocide. ..Regardless of what happened (inaudible). Again, Turks feel that Americans are…. We are an asset to the EU.
Armenian issue…Turkish issue…after 2004 when we agreed with the UN …only the mission…I think that is part of the perception. Whether we like it or not Turkey is…Here …Turkey there is a history and ..the west we are a social inspiration. Otherwise whether we like it or not, we are at the center of everything. What I’m trying to say is that Turkey is prospering and we general. In Turkey there is an allusion…we are a source of inspiration. I come from …and I know how many …I know how much Turkey changes that…Iraq….Why because ..
So my point is that we are committed to the values that are at the heart of the American model. That is not appreciated…and very bad ….People want…(inaudible)
Thank you very much.
KEMPE: Thank you.