Reception and Closing Gala Dinner
President and CEO,
The Atlantic Council
The Honorable Stephen Hadley,
RiceHadleyGates and former US National Security Advisor
Counselor and Trustee, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and former US National Security Advisor
6:30 – 10:00 p.m.
Friday, November 16, 2012
Federal News Service
FREDERICK KEMPE: Testing. Oh, good. It seems to work. Can you all hear us? Can you hear me all corners of the room? OK.
I’m not going – this is going to be informal in a sense but formal in a different sense. I’m not going to introduce these individuals again except to say national security advisor to George W. Bush, national security advisor to Jimmy Carter. My name is Barack Obama. I’ve just been re-elected the president of the United States. (Laughter.) I know we don’t look quite the same, but the fact is that Barack Obama does this. He calls in former national security advisors. Tom Donilon, the current security advisor – national security advisor does the same thing.
So the game we’re going to play tonight is actually real-world, and this is real advice. Both of these gentlemen are still listened to in this White House. Both of these gentlemen are still called upon in this White House. They’d be too modest to say and give detail on that themselves, but I know that to be a fact. So as President Obama, I’ve just been re-elected. This is the Oval Office. We’ve just redone the walls. And I want to know two things, but let’s do it in order.
First of all, I’ve just been re-elected president. I’m looking after my legacy. It’s important for me to be a great president in history. I know I’m going to be a historic president anyway because I’m the first African-American president. So I’m going to be written big in history for that reason. There’s no doubt about it. But on the other hand, I needed to be re-elected to become a great president. Now I have a chance to be a great president. So I’ll look after the domestic policy of this, but I need you folks to help me think about what I do in terms of foreign policy, in terms of national security policy. And so let’s do this in order.
First of all, I want to understand the world I’m coming into. I want you to tell me what is this world, and what is this world I’m facing? What do I need to understand about it that’s unique for me as president of the United States versus other presidents? And once we’re done with that, then I’ll want to have your advice about what I should do with my next four years and what I’m going to be facing and what’s the most important difference I can make.
But first of all, I want to understand the world. So Dr. Brzezinski, could you help me understand what kind of world I’m coming into?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Mr. President – (laughter) – what I would tell him –
MR. KEMPE: Could you say Mr. President, sir, please?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: That’s the game. You like this.
MR. KEMPE: I’m really liking it.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Mr. President, my first recommendation would be that you take off for about one hour and sit down and reread the speeches you delivered just about when you were to become president and immediately after you became president because if you go back and read those speeches, you will see in them not only a very relevant diagnosis of what is happening in the world but on some key issues, particular issues which pertain to the most troubled regions of the world. You’re engaging in a very acutely insightful diagnosis but also in a prescription of how the United States are to conduct itself.
This is what in many respects fired the imaginations of those who supported you and not simply because they liked you but because they felt that you really had the grasp of some of the underlying problems that our country’s confronting that you would be confronting as president.
And if you reread that, those series of statements, I think you’ll have a very relevant guide to action because the problems, particularly in the most troubled part of the world, which is that part of the world that ranges from Suez to Xinjiang, from the Caspian Sea to the Indian Ocean, are confronting you now. They’re worse than they were when you became president during the first term.
You have some excuse for not responding then, although I have to admit, Mr. President, I have been critical of you for not responding sooner. But you still have that chance. You are now going to be registered in history as a unique president, and you have been re-elected. So you’ve been validated what has been largely an accomplishment which is especially significant in terms of your DNA.
Now, in your second term ,you have a chance to become a historically significant president by doing some of the things that you indicated you might be doing. So that is your challenge. Now, we can go into more detail, but that would be my initial response.
MR. KEMPE: Well, let’s do go in just a little more detail before I ask Steve Hadley his view on this. But sounds to me like what you’re saying is that I gave good speeches, but I didn’t execute well enough. So in those speeches, what is it that you think would be most important for me to execute on in this second term?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I would say at that stage that he probably knows that I’ve been publicly critical of him because I’ve argued publicly that he has proven himself very good at preaching, not quite so good at strategizing. And perhaps because he was a street organizer who had to preach to get action going, he sort of assumed that giving speeches was part of the answer, whereas it is only the beginning of the answer.
I think he really has to address seriously, while there’s still time, because the United States is still relevant to the problems in the Middle East, to address the underlying problems in the Middle East. And that includes, first of all, Israel and Palestine because that is one of the major sources of motivation. All public opinion polls show that in the Middle East for Arabs, for Muslims, and for some in terms of extremism.
And secondly, we now have the problem in Syria with an unfinished problem next door in Afghanistan, and those are the issues that have to be addressed most immediately. And in the background of that is larger longer-range issues of course. There’s the question the relationship with Europe, with Russia, and with China. But the Middle East is your most urgent, most important, and most testing challenge.
MR. KEMPE: One last follow-up, before I turn to Steve. On Israel, Palestine, forgive me, but I’ve seen my predecessors waste a lot of time on this and burn their fingers. And Bill Clinton thought he had the brass ring. Good God. Do you think either the Israelis or the Palestinians are anywhere near this? And I’ve only got four years. Why should I spend my time on this when there’s so many other things that are just popping up so urgently on my plate?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: The fact is that most presidents haven’t done very much about it, including Clinton, who only tried in the last months of his eighth year. He had been in office for eight years, and he hadn’t. And the other presidents who really tried seriously were Eisenhower, Carter, and Bush one. And yet this problem now is a destructive problem in the Middle East, and we can’t evade it.
And it’s a form of evasion to be saying, well, it’s up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to solve it, because, in fact, they’ll never solve it. The Israelis are too strong and self-confident to make the concessions. The Palestinians are too weak and too insecure to make concessions. It requires a third party but a third party that is assertive and at the same time fair.
So Mr. President, for example, you’re now saying privately to the Palestinians, don’t ask for recognition from the U.N., and if you do, we’ll penalize you. That is taking sides. It’s punishing the Palestinians for trying to accomplish something for themselves when you are not punishing the Israelis for building settlements or maybe now for engaging in a larger attack on Gaza.
If we are to promote peace, we have to be a mediator but a mediator who’s bold enough to be fair and to use your leverage to make sure that your negotiation is successful. And if you look at the Palestinians and the Israelis closely, they both know that ultimately that America – if America decides to be decisive, they have to accommodate.
And they know in their guts, and the Israelis particularly because they’re smart and open-minded, that if there’s not a settlement and America’s pushed out of the Middle East, 30, 40 years from now there will be no Israel.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you very much for that. Steve Hadley, same thing. And first, help me understand this world, and let’s talk about that for a bit. What world am I coming into? How should I understand the world for me as president? How is this world different than American presidents before me? And then let’s get to my priorities after that.
STEPHEN HADLEY: Well, I would say, Mr. President, in terms of the sort of strategic setting for the world, you ought to get Dr. Brzezinski in to talk to you because he’s a lot better at this than I am. So having set that aside, I would then go in sort of the less tall order.
I would say, Mr. President, there are a couple things that happened over the four years that require you – require us to think differently about some things. And so one I would say is, Mr. President, you’ve been brilliant on the war on terror as – and you would run through those things to remind him.
And then I think you have to say, but, Mr. President, the terrorism problem you’re going to face in your second term is going to be different than the one in the first term, which was focused heavily the tail end of Iraq – which was heavily about al-Qaida – Afghanistan, Yemen.
You’re facing a different kind of al-Qaida that is rearing its head in Libya, in Syria, in Mali, in Nigeria, as well as some of the unfinished business in Somalia and Yemen. And simply dealing with it exclusively kinetically is not going to work. It’s not going to work in places like Libya and Syria and some of the others.
And we need for you, Mr. President, to prepare a broader strategy that puts more emphasis in places like Syria and Libya of politically isolating al-Qaida so other groups do not affiliate with it and then finally taking it on ideologically and figuring out how to reduce its appeal and get the people of the Middle East hooked on building positive societies for the future rather than using terrorism as their vehicle. So we need a more robust strategy, I think, in terms of the terrorism problem.
Second, I would want to reinforce to the president that getting our debt and deficit problems in line and our economy growing is not just a domestic imperative. It is a foreign policy and national security imperative because our failure to do that is undermining our leadership internationally. It’s undermining the military, the diplomacy, the economics that are the sinews of our leadership. And it’s undermining the power of the American model of free peoples and free enterprise leading to a better life.
So you’ve got all kinds of reasons to do that, Mr. President, and it is a prerequisite to establishing a foundation for interacting with the world in your second term. I don’t want to run on here. There were two other areas I would talk about and say our priorities in Middle East and Asia. Let me say a little about the Middle East, and we can stop, Fred, if that’s all right. And we can separately talk about Asia.
Middle East, I think I would say, Mr. President, there are three challenges. One is you’ve been very wise not to respond to Benghazi and the violence by stepping away from regimes that are emerging in Tunisia and Libya and Egypt and the like. You’ve been right to stay engaged because these transitions matter.
We want to transition to Democratic or more responsive and pluralistic and tolerance states that provide a better life for their people. That’s the way we’re going to get states that are stable over the long-term and friends of the United States. And we have a huge interest in helping them get that right, recognizing that our tools are limited and our currency is a little bit – been besmirched by our past policy. We’ve seen what a revolution gone wrong looks like. It’s Iran in ’79, and we don’t – and it’s been a problem for us for the subsequent 40 years. We don’t need that.
So one, focusing on the transitions as you have. Two, Syria, we can talk about it at more length, but failure to get more actively involved in Syria is not only a humanitarian disaster but it risks a Middle East that descends into sectarian war that will make – will be very adverse to our interests. And third, Iran. And Mr. President, I would say if we are not careful, about a year from now we’re going to have run out of options in Iran and there’s going to be a lot of pressure to use a military option.
And we need to do two things for you, Mr. President. One, we need to think not just about options but scenarios, multiple steps that might move the Iranian issue into a better place and give you some scenarios of play. And we need to do that now, before we reach into that kind of dead end where the only options seem to be accepting Iran on pass the nuclear weapon or use military force, which nobody wants.
And then finally – and this will get me in trouble with my colleague, Dr. Brzezinski. But I would say to him, Mr. President, we need to step – we need to deal with the Palestinian issue, but we need to step back and do a review because getting the parties into negotiating face to face may not be the best way to get on the road to a Palestinian state.
I think the politics in both communities may just be too hard at least right now, and maybe we need to try to preserve the progress that has been made on the West Bank and see if we can choreograph some steps where the Israelis step back, the Palestinians are able to step forward, and gradually a Palestinian state can begin to emerge on the West Bank more fully. That may change the calculus and facilitate some negotiations down the road. But I think there’s got to be some preparation before you try to drop the parties back into negotiations.
MR. KEMPE: So Dr. Brzezinski, I’d love you to comment on what you’ve just heard from Steve Hadley, but as I listen to all this, it makes my head spin a little bit because we haven’t even started talking about Europe, North Korea, Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and already I’ve got more on my plate than I can handle. How do I prioritize what to do? I’ve seen this coming at me every morning. I’ve got to think about my legacy. I’ve got to think about how to take American forward. Is Steve right about Iran, that I’m running out of options? Help me prioritize.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I can help you prioritize, Mr. President, but I also recognize that you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. And some problems have to be dealt with at the same time.
MR. HADLEY: The president is not going to like that formulation. I’m just warning you now. (Laughter.)
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, he did reply to the Republicans when he asked them to consider it.
MR. KEMPE: But then you have to dribble the basketball and watch the hoop at the same time.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. OK. That’s much better. That’s much better. Let me make just two points on the issues that have been raised, first of all, Israel, Palestine, and then Iran.
On Israel and Palestine, simply waiting is no solution. The problem’s getting worse and the possibilities of an accommodation based on two states are receding. Just think of the colonization, the expansion of the settlements. They reduced the possibility of a territorial compromise.
There are still Israeli leaders willing to make that compromise. And public opinion polls in Israel show that the majority favors that kind of a compromise, but it’s receding. And besides, the parties themselves will never resolve it. It will have to be done from the outside. There’s never a good moment, but it’s better to do it early in your presidency, if you want to succeed, and not towards the end of the presidency.
One, Iran. Let me make my own point of view explicitly clear here. I don’t think that a military solution is a solution of any kind. There’s no such thing as a limited strike on nuclear facilities. The nuclear facilities in Iran are well-protected. It will have to be a serious strike if we want to damage them so that, in fact, Iran is deprived of the nuclear option at least for a reasonably lengthy period of time.
It will have to be a major strike. A major strike will produce a lot of casualties. Face that. We have to face that. We’ll have to kill the scientists operating in them. We’ll have to kill people in the immediate vicinity, and we don’t yet have a good estimate of what might be the contagion resulting from fallout because there is uranium stored in these facilities.
This will be released depending on the weather, the winds, and so forth. We could kill hell of a lot of Iranians. We’ll thereby make 80 million people, very intelligent able people into permanent enemies of the United States. I don’t think this is a reasonable calculus.
Obama has fussed that – you, Mr. President, fuss that in order to not antagonize Netanyahu by saying all options are on the table, but this is not a real option, and you can now move away from it. And there is a way out, incidentally, short of an attack, even if there’s no agreement.
If there’s no agreement, the Iranians will have first just one bomb. They’re not suicidal. They’re not going to attack Israel with one bomb. Israel has about 200. What would it accomplish for them? And they’ll have to build up their arsenal.
But beyond that, we have succeeded over 30 years – 40 years of guaranteeing European security from the Soviet Union, which have the capacity to destroy us. And we have protected the Japanese and the South Koreans from North Korea, which has nuclear weapons and which appears to be ostensibly irrational.
We can issue a blanket guarantee to the Middle Eastern states, including particularly Israel, that any military threat by Iran directed at any one of them will be viewed by the United States the same way we will have viewed such a threat by the Soviet Union at the Europeans, for the North Koreans at the Japanese and the South Koreans.
That would be far more effective, far less dangerous, and would at least deprive the Israelis of what I think is, in fact, a highly exaggerated, irrational argument that the Iranians are just pining for the first opportunity to commit suicide while blowing up Tel Aviv. So I think that problem, frankly, has been vastly exaggerated, and we haven’t been frank enough in addressing it.
Now, that’s dealing with those sort of specific issues. I think the immediate problem, of course, is how do we respond in Syria. And if you want, we can talk about that, but I don’t want to hold forth too long.
MR. KEMPE: (Off mic) – Syria is such a burning case. Let’s do that, but let’s do it in the context of since I’ve moved the oval office to the shores of the Bosporus and since we’re in Turkey, not only tell me how to deal with Syria because this is on my plate now. I can’t avoid this now.
In some ways, I’ve been kicking the can down the road waiting to get past my election, and I’ve been telling my allies in the Middle East, just wait. Just wait. Just wait. I’m going to get re-elected. Then we’re going to do something. So what do I do now? And particularly, how do I view my relationship with my ally Turkey, which seems to be wanting to play a greater role in the world? How do I – how important is that relationship to me in this context?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Are you asking me?
MR. KEMPE: Yes. How do I deal with Syria?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, the Turks are not all that keen on going to war. They have said this to us, and they are objecting less to the possibility of us going to war. But I’m not sure that’s such a good bargain for us because if we go to war in Syria in some fashion, I think the chances are quite high that the Syrians will resist.
It’s going to be a major undertaking. The military have recently concluded a study of how many American troops would be needed to neutralize the chemical warfare capabilities of the Syrians. And they came up with a figure approximately 75,000.
MR. KEMPE: Seventy-five thousand troops to neutralize the chemical weapons?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. Because we will have to take out and occupy on the ground also the major facilities. This would be a major undertaking. The Iranians presumably would provide some assistance to the Syrians, just enough to keep that war going and to be more painful for us.
And they will be tempted, I think, very strongly and maybe even if they weren’t tempted, it would happen anyway, to provoke a Sunni-Shiite collision in Iraq openly, thereby creating a joint front linking Syria, Iraq, Iran, in effect. We know that Lebanon is vulnerable. We know that Jordan is becoming increasingly vulnerable. We could have in no time flat a very serious, serious military conflagration on our hands.
I think we should, at this stage, at least try to see if an alternative works. And what we ought to do is to try to correct something that we didn’t do that terribly well over the last four months or maybe even longer. When President Assad first started confronting domestic opposition in a violent fashion, the president announced that Assad has to go.
The United States said he has to go. But that was announced even before we formulated any policy as to how to make that happen. That’s not a wise way of formulating policy, particularly that policy is articulated publicly. If he doesn’t leave, what does it mean?
And I think we ought to give a chance still for the Brahma effort right now to see if a cease fire can be arranged. If a cease fire can be arranged, it could perhaps provide a cooling off period in which the tendency to violence would subside perhaps the most extremist Salafi al-Qaida groupings partially supported by Saudi Arabia but continue some fighting. But by and large, violence might subside.
At that stage perhaps international supervised elections could be arranged. But if we’re going to have the Russians and the Chinese in with us, we’ll have to agree to the proposition that anyone can compete in these elections. That’s a polite way of backing out of the demand that Assad leaves in advance, and we would find out what’s going on.
The situation is far more murky than our press presents it. The large majority of the Syrian people are sort of kind of passive, maybe waiting for the outcome. The resistance is very marginal still at this time. Maybe it will work. If it doesn’t, well, then let’s see what happens then.
But I think to start right now working mainly with some Syrians, having the Turks sort of back us but having us in front, having the French announce that they are prepared to be more active is not very smart. Neither the French nor the British are the best allies for us to have in the Middle East because they’re not particularly popular in these countries.
So I’m not sure that really gives us much political leverage. I don’t see a better solution at this stage, and certainly rushing into a conflict I just find hard to imagine how we can calculate its end.
MR. KEMPE: So I’m going to turn to Steve Hadley. But since I can’t maintain character any longer, I’m going to shift from being the very unconvincing President Obama to being the moderator again. So how would you advise President Obama right now on how to handle Syria?
MR. HADLEY: This is very interesting because Dr. Brzezinski and I have done this a number of times, and we’re usually not very far apart. On this one we’re – both of these we’re quite far apart, and it’s interesting.
And let me play it out this way on Iran. The problem the president has said is that he’s actually ratcheted it up a notch from President Bush and said, we are going to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Now, that’s a very high bar. You can say that it’s ill-advised, but it is what the president said.
Second, I think we can deter Iran with a nuclear weapon from attacking us or our allies, but that – those are not the only risks presented by Iran with a nuclear weapon. And the rest of it you all know. It is an emboldened Iran supporting terror, being even more aggressive, interfering with its neighbors, other countries in the region pursuing nuclear weapons. So the deterrence thing I think is a limited answer, but I think the way this is going to play out and what troubles me is the following.
I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to see the administration rightly test a diplomatic outcome, try to put together a proposal to the Iranians, which would have them stand down the vast bulk of their program but probably let them have some kind of enrichment and a peaceful nuclear program to test the Iranians.
And the risk is that the Iranians – that the two circles don’t overlap. The kind of proposal we can make is one that the Iranians can’t accept. And that becomes clear sometime middle next year. So what is the –
MR. KEMPE: Middle of 2013?
MR. HADLEY: Middle of 2013. And I also posit that Iran will keep going forward with its nuclear program, which it has been doing, producing 20 percent enriched uranium, which is very close, in terms of effort, to what you need for fissile nuclear material. So what do we do then, if the proposal fails, the Iranians continue to come – go forward on their nuclear program, and the president has said, I will prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon? It is a problem. It is a problem.
At that point there will be very little credibility, and I think the president is going to look at very limited nuclear options that just – sorry – very limited options that go after the enrichment facility to enhance his credibility and maybe then trying to get back some kind of negotiating outcome. It’s very treacherous ground, which is why I think we have to be thinking through it because I think this process is going to continue.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Before you go into Syria, let me ask you this. So you are saying therefore, to prove his credibility, he’s going to bomb the Iranians without asking himself what happens after he has bombed them?
MR. HADLEY: No. He’s going to have to ask that, and if he contemplates that, he’s going to do it – have to do it in a scenario. And this is why I think we need to be thinking about scenarios and not options. It only makes sense if the situation after the use of military force has been improved in terms of preventing the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, give an example of how that would be done.
MR. HADLEY: And that is the question. And I think what you will see them doing is trying to do a major diplomatic effort to try to test the Iranians, whether they’re willing to resolve it or not. And if it fails, they will then have established a predicate that would allow them to go to the allies and saying, look, you know, we’re now down to those two unacceptable options. Iran is moving forward towards nuclear weapons or something that will change the game.
And the question is whether – and I’m not advocating – the question is whether at that point he will be tempted to do a very limited attack as – in a way that hides our hand as much as possible on enrichment facilities to make the point to the Iranians that when the American president said we will prevent, he means it and whether he will have the international community so that after that, rather than fragmenting, the coalition will stay together and put even more pressure on the Iranians and where the Iranians at that point will feel that they have to make a deal.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well –
MR. HADLEY: My point is not – let me just – let me just be clear about this: My point is not that I am arguing for that option, my point is we need a robust discussion of alternative scenarios now to get the president some options because otherwise I think he’s going to be in a situation where he’s out of gas.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: And just –
MR. KEMPE: I want you to answer this, but let me also have him answer in the following context as well. Why don’t I, as president, abandon what I’ve said because maybe I just want to shift to a containment strategy?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Precisely.
MR. KEMPE: Maybe this is just too dangerous.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Precisely.
MR. KEMPE: So is that what you’re saying?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think he has new options. He doesn’t have to be committed to every single word he said. It wasn’t a commitment by United States. It wasn’t a specific pledge to the Israelis. It didn’t outline the circumstances in which this could happen. But let’s assume he does what you say, Steve. So he goes in; he bombs their facilities. There’s no way of doing it without killing hell of a lot of Iranians.
MR. HADLEY: No, I think that’s not true.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: You mean they’re going to – we’re going to tell them in advance we’re coming, and they’re going to leave these facilities so they’re empty?
MR. HADLEY: No, no. But we can run this through. I’m talking about probably three facilities.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Yeah.
MR. HADLEY: If I could do it through cyber weapons, so much the better rather than kinetic weapons. But it is to make good on the statement, which is not just an offhand remark that he is going to prevent Iran from nuclear weapon.
And then the other thing that I have to say on it is we don’t get the only vote here. The Israelis get a vote. And one of the dilemmas is, I think, if the Israelis think we’re moving in the direction of a containment strategy, I think they are not prepared to accept that. OK. They being the Israelis.
MR. KEMPE: Containment strategy that would work for – (inaudible)?
MR. HADLEY: That’s correct.
MR. HADLEY: And so we – we’re not the only player here.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, let me make my case here.
MR. HADLEY: Yes, sir.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: First of all, the Israeli military almost uniformly have rebunked (sic) – debunked Netanyahu in their capacity to do it. They just don’t have that capacity to be that effective. They can strike them. They can hurt them, but they can’t really damage them significantly, and they have said this repeatedly.
The Israelis really need us to back them up, particularly then if the Iranians retaliated against Israel and then we go in and hit the Iranians more hard. But if we hit the Iranians on our own, we will be killing quite a few Iranians.
We’ll be enraging the Iranian public, including that large proportion of the population which is against the ayatollahs. We gained – have some evidence in those two public opinion polls. Most Iranians think they have a right to nuclear program, not necessarily the bomb.
Then there’s a further factor – you said 2013 – 2013, 2014 is the time when we’re disengaging from Afghanistan. Do you think the Iranians are going to sit back and simply say, well, we didn’t like being bombed? Let’s go on to other things. They’re going to retaliate. The places where they can retaliate are Iraq, first of all, which would make life miserable for us. If the Syrian problems didn’t resolve, they can make that worse. They can play around with the Strait of Hormuz.
We can keep it open, but the sheer effort of keeping it open will drive the insurance costs for the flow of oil to the world economy dramatically, significantly damaging the world economy. And of course they can do a lot in Western Afghanistan to make life miserable for us at a time we’re disengaging.
We’re going to do this, all of this in order to show that the president was credible when he said all options are on the table?
MR. HADLEY: No. We’re going to do this –
MR. BRZEZINSKI: If he says all options are on the table, one option is we’ll make it clear to the Iranians you threaten any of our friends, and we’ll treat you the way we would have treated the Soviets or the North Koreans. I think that’s far more credible, far more doable because then it is a response to an Iranian act of aggression but not something that we initiate in laterally for the sake of the Israelis.
MR. HADLEY: This is why we have to have this conversation in a serious way because I can agree with everything Dr. Brzezinski says about the risks here. I don’t agree with him on the military planning, which is something I know about from the work that I did when I was in the national security advisor.
But my only point is this. If you don’t think that containment as he described it will work and if you don’t think the Israelis will think it will work and if you don’t think that a lot of our friends and allies in the region don’t think that is an adequate policy response, then you’ve got some very hard choices coming up. And they are not pretty, and we need to be starting running a variety of scenarios. And we have not talked that way.
We’ve sort of treated this argument very two-dimensionally. Do you bomb? Do you not bomb? Do you want to go to war? Do you not want to go to war? It’s much more problematic than that.
MR. KEMPE: Yeah. I think this is a great insight for this audience into the decisions facing President Obama right away match point the day after the election. Plus, we’ve got 10 minutes for questions. Let’s pick up some questions, please. The minister from Afghanistan.
Q: Thank you. I don’t know that I can address you the same way as the two national security advisors that have addressed you, Mr. President. But in any event I’ll address you as Mr. President because you are the president of the Atlantic Council. So let’s go at it from that way.
I’d like to have reflections on two issues which is basically a lot has been on our mind. Number one, which we have discussed today also in number of sessions and which comes out one way or the other which calls for your sort of reflections on it.
A, the recent elections in the United States where the Democrats have won a little bit good majority I would say rather than a very narrow narrow majority, that brings me to the question of the Republicans’ and the Democrats’ philosophies how they want to go about it. What is your views on the question of the Republicans and the Democratic stands in the United States and elections for the presidency?
Number two, the second question is, because that will link to it further, the leadership role of the United States. As I earlier at some point mentioned that in the developing countries in general, United States have key leadership to run basically and guide and so on. Will any changes within itself in the United States domestic policies will reflect on any leadership qualities of the United States, in specific, now that the China, India, and other BRIC countries are also getting the regional and economic powers and that? That will be the next question I will ask, if you like to reflect on it.
On the Iran, certainly I heard both issues and so on. The only thing I would request you is to say is there any third way? Is any third solution to it? Thank you.
MR. KEMPE: I think I’m getting signaled because of buses and various things. So I’m afraid I’m going to have to make this the last question. And I think I sort of understood the intention of it, but let’s – let me pick out.
Part of it was the question between Democratic and Republican approaches, I think, to the world’s foreign policy. Because we didn’t touch on China and because he’s raised China, you may also want to tell me why you didn’t when you were coaching the president on what to think about going forward.
MR. HADLEY: I did.
MR. KEMPE: Oh, OK.
MR. HADLEY: But we thought we were going to come back to that.
MR. KEMPE: Pick up, if you – pick up from this question, but let’s do a last round here.
MR. HADLEY: Well, one of the things I think Republicans and Democrats split on is Syria, and I think Dr. Brzezinski set out a view. I think there is another view that many Republicans share, which is in Syria it’s a humanitarian disaster. It risks engulfing the region in sectarian violence. We’ve been sitting on our hands. We need to do something more.
And that more, I think, is not boots on the ground, not invasion, not air strikes, not no fly zones. It is strengthening this emerging coalition that is cross-sectarian as the French have tried to do by recognizing it and then considering giving it the arm so it can finish the job and get rid of Assad. And I think that is where Republicans are. I think it’s actually where the Turks want to be. And the question is whether the administration is prepared to do something like that.
I think in terms of China, whether it was a Republican or a Democrat, the challenge is the same. It is we want a China that is economically successful, but we do not want a China that tries to throw its weight around and impose its will on its allies. That in order to encourage the former and deter the second, we need to be present, we the United States.
And as Dr. Brzezinski said and I discussed earlier, we need to be present not just military and indeed not primarily military but overwhelmingly in terms of trade and economy – and economically. And we need to be that in part because China is going to be critical to solving any of the global issues we face, whether it’s energy, environment, terrorism, proliferations, all the rest. So it’s going to be a relationship we need to find a way to make work.
MR. KEMPE: Dr. Brzezinski.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, on Syria I’ve already explained what I would be doing. But if we were to follow the line that Steve advocates, then we still have the obligation to ask ourselves, well, what do we do if arming the opposition doesn’t work? And then we’re back to the original problem, and I won’t go any further than that. But that’s an issue one has to think about in advance.
MR. KEMPE: Right. Absolutely.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: On China, assuming the Chinese remain successful, which I think is more probable than not – we’re taking a lot of refuge in the thought of perhaps they will fail. But let’s assume they’re going to be successful, more or less. Then we’re going to be faced with a situation that for the first time two great powers are preeminent in the world, and yet they know that if they got into a conflict, it would be mutually destructive.
This is something which during the 20th century was not necessarily the outcome. One could have won, and the other side could have lost. Hitler could have won. Stalin could have won, but they lost. But the conflict between us and the Chinese would be mutually destructive.
So we have to strike a relationship with China which is unique, historically. Can two major competitive powers coexist? And to do that we have to be very sensitive to the fact that we cannot conduct ourselves towards the Chinese in a way that we would intensely dislike if they conducted themselves towards us. What do I have here in mind? Well, two specific examples and one more general.
One example, specifically, is our naval patrols. They’re right up to Chinese territorial waters. That’s what we do. How would we feel if there were Chinese war ships right up on the edge of San Diego or San Francisco? You have to ask yourself how does it affect one’s attitude? We fly air patrols right up to the Chinese air space. Lately no longer single planes but actually escorted planes. The Chinese sent planes up to fly here. There was one condition already. How would we feel about it if the Chinese were flying air missions off our California ports? This is something again you have to take into account.
Beyond that there is the question of the South China Sea. The Chinese are being assertive. The claims are complicated actually, and they are not that clear-cut either in favor of the Chinese or the Vietnamese or the Filipinos and similarly between the Japanese and the Chinese. But we’re acting as we are as if we were the arbiters of this issue or perhaps even as protagonists. For example, we encourage the Filipinos, who misunderstood our encouragement. They actually sent some military patrols into the contested areas, and then we had to tell the Filipinos to pull back because that’s too provocative. But how would we like it if the Chinese tried to tell us how we are to operate in the Caribbean Sea?
The point of the matter is that we don’t have to adjust to the reality that China, given its power, is going to be the preeminent force on the mainland of Asia. We have residual interests and commitments to Japan and as an extension to that to South Korea.
But do we really need to get involved on the mainland in contests between China and some of its neighbors? And some of these conflicts are deeply rooted, and there’s a possibility that there could be even a replay in the far east of what Europe experienced in the 20th century, territorial national conflicts. Do we really have to be involved in them? I think a wiser policy for us is to pursue the position that the British took during 19th century towards Europe, balancing, offsetting, but avoiding involvement on the mainland. I think we can do that and in the process see if we can accommodate with the Chinese in the rules of the game. And here a – and I’ll stop at that.
And here, a sort of prologue to that is, in fact, the Obama-Hu Jintao communiqué of January 2011, which spelled out an unprecedented detail what the rules of the game ought to be, if we are to be a partnership of sorts while still competing with each other. I think that’s a better policy than announcing out of the blue that we’re pivoting back to Asia, from which we have never left anyway, but announcing that we’re pivoting back to Asia because we’re now increasing the free of our military engagement in Afghanistan. And therefore, we can be militarily engaged in the far east.
Ask yourselves, how did the Chinese interpret that message when we coupled it with announcement that as a token of our military seriousness, we’re deploying 2500 Marines in Australia? To my knowledge, Australia’s not currently threatened by Papua New Guinea. But it might have occurred to the Chinese that we really mean them.
The point is what was the point of that exercise, in fact? I think the White House actually mishandled that. I think the president knows that and that we’re going to be pulling back from that. And I hope as soon as we can on both sides we begin to undertake a really serious dialogue to see whether for the first time in history two major powers can coexist and even be partners. And I don’t think this is not doable. We don’t have fundamental conflicts of interest. We have some possible ones, but they shouldn’t be elevated to the level of hostility.
MR. KEMPE: Dr. Brzezinski, I think people here could go on all night. I see several more people who want to ask questions, but I think it would be overstretching the endurance of our speakers and probably all of you as well. So let me just say a couple of things in closing this session and really in closing this summit.
First of all, the gimmick of being in the Oval Office I think was effective in two respects. I think you saw an insight into just how powerful and overwhelming are the demands on the president of the United States and his staff, and we just scratched the surface tonight of the issues he’s dealing with every day. The disagreements you saw between Dr. Brzezinski and Steve Hadley – let’s not forget in the attack on Osama bin Laden the president had his cabinet ministers in disagreement and in the end had to make a very difficult decision. That’s leadership. That’s what one has to do.
Before I thank both of these gentlemen for giving us an insight into the sort of brilliance that can be applied to dealing with these decisions even when two brilliant minds actually disagree on the issues – and I do want to thank you – this is the last moment of the summit.
So I want to do just one other thing. If I thanked all the staff that were here that had contributed, I would go on far too long. You know who you are. I’ve come by your table tonight. I’ve thanked you personally. I can’t list all your names right now. I do want to thank Ambassador Ross Wilson and Orhan Taner for leading these teams and for really putting on an event that was terrific from the substance of the speakers to the taste of the food. So thank you very much on behalf of all of us. (Applause.)
Please, all staff – if all the staff could stand up, please. All the staff stand up. All the staff, please. That’s a good idea. (Applause.) I just want to say what an honor it is for me to be associated with you all and to see how much you self-start and just get things done at every turn on your own undirected. And that is a criticism of me as well as a compliment of you all.
Now, to the thanks of our speakers. This was just a terrific close to the – a great dessert for the dinner and a great dessert for the entire event. Please, on behalf of all of us, thank you for taking this time late on a Friday evening. Thank you for coming to Istanbul for this event. We thank you for indulging a miscast president of the United States.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: But you enjoyed that. I could tell.
MR. KEMPE: It was a good few moments. Anyway, thank you. (Applause.)
MR. BRZEZINSKI: It was fun.
MR. KEMPE: Now, travel safely.
Just a minute. Hold on, hold on, hold on. I forgot something very important. Stay in your seats. It’s – I can’t believe – I was supposed to be tantalizing you all evening by the surprise that is now coming. If you think that this was the finale, you haven’t seen anything yet. The finale is coming right now.