Brent Scowcroft: Soldier, Scholar and Statesman
Vice Chairman Designate, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security,
The Atlantic Council
President and CEO,
The Atlantic Council
Former National Security Adviser
General James L. Jones (Ret.),
Former National Security Adviser
Former National Security Adviser
Former National Security Adviser
Location: Washington, D.C.
Date: Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Federal News Service
GEORGE LUND: Fantastic. Good afternoon, everybody. I’m George Lund, the vice chairman-designate of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. It’s a great pleasure to be here today. We have an extraordinary gathering, as you can see here, of four former national security advisers discussing the incredibly interesting times that we’re in right now. The reason, of course, for tonight’s special dinner is to pay tribute to General Scowcroft in his over six decades of international leadership and public service, and to celebrate the creation of the Scowcroft Center at the Atlantic Council in his honor.
The Scowcroft Center is the Atlantic Council’s ambitious response to a strategic moment in history. The Scowcroft Center aims to offer answers and insights to a rapidly changing international security landscape that has been shaken by emerging powers, influential nonstate actors, nontraditional security threats and historic shifts in economic and political influence. The center will offer thought leadership on trans-Atlantic security, strategic foresight, emerging threats, trends in the defense industry, critical regional security issues – such as Asia and the Middle East – and important functional issues like nonproliferation and emerging technologies.
The center will build on the council’s non-partisan tradition and rich trans-Atlantic heritage, while bringing new global partners into our analysis and policy debate. We’ll pay tribute to General Scowcroft’s remarkable legacy of mentorship by serving as a beacon for the next generation of foreign policy leaders. I’m delighted that so many of you share our vision, and for how we can pay tribute to our friend Brent Scowcroft and make a positive impact on the world by building this center. I thank you for your generous support and leadership in supporting this initiative.
It is now my pleasure to introduce the central figure whose energy and leadership are turning the vision for this center into reality, Atlantic Council President Fred Kempe. Fred has been the dynamo that has animated the Atlantic Council since his first day on the job. His hiring owes everything to the man we are honoring here today, since it was none other than Brent Scowcroft who cajoled and perhaps nicely bullied Fred into taking this extraordinary challenge, and doing so well with it.
The Atlantic Council is fortunate to have him at the helm at this pivotal moment in the history of the world. And we hope that he will shape and define the Atlantic Council and lead our effort with the Scowcroft Center to great fortune ahead.
FREDRICK KEMPE: George, you’re too kind. And it is true that General Scowcroft saved me from my misbegotten life as a journalist. The – and thank you for that – not only for that kind introduction, but your leadership and generosity as vice chair-designate of the Scowcroft Center on International Security. George is one of those people who understands the security world – national security world as well as he understand the business world. And he understands both very well.
So I had started to write my introduction of these four individuals, and I started by writing the well-known cliché – all clichés are well-known, that’s redundant – (laughter) – the men beside me require no introduction. And then I stopped myself. And I remembered former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner, who told me about how he introduced Dr. Kissinger once by saying just that – this man needs no introduction. Dr. Kissinger then came to the podium and said, to Lou and the audience, thank you for that introduction, but it was far too modest. (Laughter.)
So Lou Gerstner – so Lou Gerstner waxed poetic when he was asked a second time to introduce Dr. Kissinger. He spoke of his brilliant mind, his best-selling books, his government service, his Nobel Peace Prize, his good looks, his sense of humor. And Dr. Kissinger came to the podium and said, Lou, it is true that no man requires an introduction less than I do, but no man enjoys one more. (Laughter.)
That said, I will not introduce these four individuals by their credentials, except to say how rare it is to have four former national security advisers – two of them served Democratic presidents, two of them served Republican presidents, in a way embodying the ethos of the Atlantic Council – on the same panel. And they all are members of the Atlantic Council. Dr. Kissinger is our longest-serving board member. Dr. Brzezinski is a member of our International Advisory Board. General Jones is our former chairman, and chairman-designate of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.
And Brent Scowcroft is, of course, in many ways the human embodiment of what the Atlantic Council has stood for for 50 years: principled but tough-minded; bipartisan but decisive; acting consistently in the American national interest but never forgetting nor ignoring, but indeed working into our calculus our friends and allies and the world’s needs at large.
I also was thinking of introducing the discussion by adding up the years total advice to American presidents and their cabinets these gentlemen have provided, but that would prove impossible since they acted in that role before they were national security advisers, and they’ve continued to serve that purpose since they have left office. So let’s get right into the discussion instead.
General Scowcroft recently said the United States, its trans-Atlantic allies, and our global partners face a strategic moment the likes of which we have not seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Quite a statement since General Scowcroft was in the White House as that shift in history was – that inflection point was taking place.
So my opening question – and I’ll go in the order as you served as national security advisers, beginning with the Nixon administration, Dr. Kissinger – is, are we at that dramatic of a new strategic moment – an inflection point in history? And if so, perhaps you could try to define in your own terms what is the nature of that moment and the potential consequences.
HENRY KISSINGER: I would say, I once – if I can digress for a half a minute – I once took President Nixon to a military command. And I told the commander, he doesn’t like to hear about technical things. He’d like to hear about strategic things. So let me ask you a question about the technical things so he will blame me. And so – question came, and I said, would you say something about the technical things. He said, thank you very much for asking that question. May I have the first slide please? (Laughter.)
So I don’t want to do this. I think we are living in a situation in which the circumstances that we have been familiar with are fundamentally altering in every region of the world simultaneously. And that – it’s – but they are not changing for the same reasons. They’re changing in Europe because the traditional concept of sovereignty is unable to take care of the problems for which it was designed when the Treaty of Westphalia was formed – which is the basis of the international system – and changing – and through – this is moving into a post-modern period.
They are changing in Asia because of the emergence of China as a rising power. And there, in – a kind of European-type equilibrium is emerging or attempting to be created based on the statements that have been made by leaders. And it’s changing in the Middle East, where a revolutionary series of events is taking place.
And all of this is occurring at a moment when the United States is obliging itself, even if it hasn’t yet fully, to alter its post-war pattern based on being the predominant superpower, where we are withdrawing forces from strategic regions and reducing our military forces, so that from a strategy of physical control we have to move to a strategy of denial of key areas that we consider essential. So these are – all these things are happening simultaneously (and ?) in every part of the world. And this is why I think this is a good question.
MR. KEMPE: Let me pick this up with General Scowcroft, and then we’ll try to make this as quickly – as informal as possible so these gentlemen can interrupt each other and say when they agree and disagree.
You made that statement as an explanation of why Scowcroft Center at the Atlantic Council now – a strategic moment, the likes of which we have not seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Can you flesh that out for us? But at the same time, is Dr. Kissinger right that there’s nothing to connect this, or is there something to connect what’s happening in Tahrir Square, European markets and Russia? Is there something that’s fundamentally changed about the way that we consume what’s going on in the world that has some connectivity through these – (inaudible) –
BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, I supposedly made that statement, so I better defend it. (Laughter.) I agree with what Henry said. I would add one other element, which to me suffuses all of it, and that is a change of the Westphalian world brought on by the forces of globalization. Globalization is eroding national boundaries.
More and more of the things that we need for our national interests are – have to be gained by reaching out to others across borders rather than do it independently. The world’s population is now politicized; everybody’s in earshot or eyesight of TV, of iPhones, of all of these things. And we’re energized by them. And no longer is it the case that children thought that they would live just like their parents, and their children would live just like they did. That was the ordained order of things. They see it now, it’s not ordained at all.
And I think part of the Arab Spring was this kind of revelation, coupled with another aspect of globalization and communications, and that is it’s no longer hard to mount demonstrations or even riots. You don’t have to go door to door knocking and it’s a – and have the police following you. Just push a button and say turn out in Tahrir Square at 10:00 tomorrow morning, and you get a million people.
That is underlining the other kinds of things that go on, and it makes it very different from the fall of the Wall. That was an abrupt end to a (world ?) organization. This is more gradual, but it’s suffused in the (East ?) – we have a China now – and I’m stealing Henry’s comments – that has a very different world view than the Westphalian system – the central kingdom system. Now, how do you have a power that’s growing rapidly that thinks about the world in very different terms? So I think the statement is true, but it’s complicated.
MR. KEMPE: The – one short follow-up for Dr. Kissinger before I turn to Dr. Brzezinski on China, since you’ve written the – recently written your book, and as a book author I know all authors like their book mentioned on stage, so – but if you – if you look at China in this world order, if you look what’s happening in Russia right now, how does – go to – dig a little deeper on how you see China changing. And when they see what’s happening in the Arab awakening, when they see what’s happening in Russia, do they connect this to themselves? Do they think this is the sort of thing that could also challenge how China is being run?
MR. KISSINGER: (Inaudible) – for me?
MR. KEMPE: For you, yeah.
MR. KISSINGER: First of all, I agree with Brent’s description of the Chinese view of the world – that it’s been based on the notion of China as the middle kingdom, as all other societies as in a kind of tributary relationship to China – and tributary taken in a very broad sense – but not based on the balance of power within an agreed system.
Now, of course, the Chinese leaders are very concerned about the precedent of the Arab Spring and the ease with which demonstrations – or the relative ease of which demonstrations can be organized. But I don’t think they have yet related it to a concept of world order in which they should participate. And so that one of the great challenges will be – in fact, I believe that they will try to come up with an alternative concept of world order rather than feel themselves constantly on the defensive. That hasn’t happened yet, but that’s what I think might happen.
But surely one element of instability of any autocratic – or maybe of any government – is the ease with which a protest can be organized and the difficulty of establishing a relationship between the protest and the purpose of government – so that it is very exciting to create a protest, but then the dilemma of any revolution is how you strip away – how you reduce the confluence of resentments that produces demonstrations to a core that can lead in the direction of a purpose – of a common purpose. But China is very torn by the conflicting forces that are now in the world, and will undergo its own domestic debate over the next decade.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Dr. Kissinger. Dr. Brzezinski, interesting comment by Dr. Kissinger – alternative concept of world order perhaps to emerge from China; General Scowcroft’s view (as ?) strategic moment, the likes of which have not seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Would you agree with the – with the general concept that this is a historic moment? You’ve all lived through a lot of historic moments, so is this really fundamentally different than other things that you’ve seen in your lifetime?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I think it’s different, and I think the difference comes from the fact that, for the first time in all of human history, the global population is politically awakened, politically stirring, restless, dissatisfied. And there is no real common thread between that condition from continent to continent, from culture to culture, from nation to nation, because it is effected (sp) simultaneously, even though it’s a common phenomenon, by very diverse notions of respective historical narratives. Different populations are motivated by a different sense of the past and by different catalogue of grievances, and as a consequence also by differing aspirations. So the general condition, so to speak, the political condition of mankind, is much more volatile than ever in history, ever in history.
One could have some sort of world order when there were large entities governed in somewhat similar fashion and with the population of the world massively passive. That, I think creates much more tension, much more difficult – and puts different parts of the world – and particularly the major powers – under different stresses. In America I think it manifests itself in a kind of ignorant escapism from the world. You know, I can’t help but think, when I listen to the presidential debates, how unbelievably ignorant are both the candidates and the publics listening to them. (Laughter.) Yeah. And that is staggering, but it affects how America is also perceived on the outside.
In China – after a long period of time in which the leadership was successful in imposing a kind of uniform injunction on public pronouncements, causing all of them to be very modest, very patient, very deferential, reminding everyone else that China’s still very poor and decades behind – has shifted now to a kind of triumphalist mode which is perplexing and dangerous, and has more and more indications of some surfacing antagonism, which may be partially historically rooted and partially simply a reflection of growing impatience.
Take the so-called Arab awakening, hailed immediately by our mass media as the dawn of democracy, without realizing the fact that aroused populism is not necessarily democratic. That populism is the necessary point of departure for democracy, but it has to have also democratic content – that is to say, groups that share a certain sense of civic rectitude and shared democratic aspirations, with some emphasis in constitutional definition. That populism conversely can be a sense of impatience and rage and dissatisfaction, but not necessarily democracy, like, for example, the events in Central Europe in the late 1980s, 1990s, where the democratic content defined the Solidarity quest for democracy and independence. Which of it will be in China? It’s hard to predict. But we know that the middle class is rising in China. And it’s going to start asserting itself.
And last but not least, we now see Russia entering what I think can fairly be described as the third post-communist phase in Russia. The first phase was desperate efforts at containment of the disruption of the collapse. That was Yeltsin and so forth. The second phase was the restoration of authority. And now for the first time we see in Russia – for the first time ever – the appearance of a civic society based on the new middle class – interestingly younger than most, much more cosmopolitan, internationalist, trained abroad, travels abroad, with a deep sense that there are certain fundamental principles that need to be respected and are universal. So we have this (numerous ?) diversity in the world in a very tumultuous fashion.
And my last point is, until recently the framework for it – and the sense of historical direction for it – particularly over the last 20 years – tended to be defined by the United States. But I have to say, on balance – and I say this regretfully – that I think we have by and large blown our chance, that we have wasted the 20 years. And this applies both to the Democratic portion of it and the Republican portion of it. I think your president, Brent, was the last one who had some sort of concept of how to deal with it intelligently on the international scene. After that we had a period of inward self-gratification and then outward self-assertion driven by fear and demagogy. And as a consequence, United States is not in a position to deal with these forces.
And this is why my bottom line is that I think we’re in for a period now of tumult, of turmoil, of confusion in the world, which we’re not going to be able to manage. Maybe we can reduce some of its negative aspects, but it’s going to be tough. And I think there’s a growing pressure in the United States to get sucked into positions on controversial issues, which will increasingly narrow our freedom of choice and may engage us even in some new adventures, which cumulatively could be much more dangerous than the ones that we have recently experienced.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Dr. Brzezinski. A lot there now on the table – or both on the nature of the U.S. at this point in time, nature of Russia at this point in time. I – we’ll come back to this in the open discussion, but the comment you made about the period of tumult, turmoil, confusion – the person who has been most recently national security adviser General Jones.
Before I ask him, did it feel that way, what did you feel you were up against, I’d like to actually ask the other three national security advisers: Do you think right now it’s fundamentally harder to be a national security adviser? Do you think it’s just fundamentally different to be sitting in the White House? And you say the world is fundamentally different – in a fundamentally different world, how much harder is it to guide American – U.S. foreign policy? Did you – did you gents actually have it easy? Who would like to start? Please; and then – and then I’m going to talk –
MR. SCOWCROFT: I’ll just be very brief.
MR. KEMPE: Yep.
MR. SCOWCROFT: I believe relatively, yes, because many of the currents that we have been describing here are less susceptible to the policy of individual countries. The Cold War in its terrors was still a fairly organized condition. And it was more predictable, and one had, I think, a better sense of cause and effect than is possible right now.
MR. KISSINGER: I must say I’m sort of amazed at the developing nostalgia – (laughter) – for the Cold War – for the Cold War.
MR. SCOWCROFT: Good point.
MR. KISSINGER: When I became national security adviser, and the same is true of my colleagues, one of the – (inaudible) – things we had to look at is the so-called PSYOP, which – it’s the – broad terms, the war plan, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw it, but it faced you with the consequences that you might involve tens of millions of casualties in your decisions. And that hung over our decisions in a way that we never articulated, because if you articulated it too much, you in a way limited your diplomatic – (inaudible). So I think the Cold War had starker risks, and it had many tension points. They were not unified the way they are, and there wasn’t a globalized – it wasn’t a globalized system.
But we really shouldn’t talk ourselves into a nostalgia for a period where you were facing a hostile power that had the capacity to destroy you, and when you still had many of the crises in the Middle East that we are now familiar with, although you didn’t have them in the form of an ideological conflict. But it’s a different world, and it is more – it is more globalized. So I would think the choices before us now are less stark on a day-to-day basis and require a more long-range strategic view than you necessarily needed in the Cold War confrontation. I think that is a fundamental difference.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, but I think it’s important to note in this context that to recognize the novelty of the challenge and its unique qualities is not an argument in favor of nostalgia for the past.
MR. : Yeah.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: The past is the past. The past posed an enormous difference which Henry correctly outlined. We could destroy tens of millions of people in just a few hours. It also had the advantage of concentrating your mind on that issue. And our mind was concentrated on that issue, and so was the Soviets and then later on the Chinese. So we avoided it. Of course it could have been a tremendous disaster, but the concentration of mind and of power on these issues created control.
Today the risk, in my judgment at least, is that we’re sliding into a pattern which is inartistic and (unsusceptible ?) to effective control. And a lot of small decisions are being made which in the meantime narrow your freedom of choice in the future. I am, for example, concerned about the escalation both of the rhetoric and the narrowing of options involving the American-Iranian relationship. I happen to be very convinced that if we slide into a conflict with Iran in this or that fashion, the consequences for us will be disastrous, disastrous on a massive scale, and also globally at the same time.
Now, this is not the same thing as a nuclear war in which in six hours probably approximately 80 million Americans and Soviets would have been killed. It’s a different kind of a challenge. It’s one which means that there is now the possibility on the horizon of a massive breakdown of the international system, of the global economy, of conditions of stability. It’s a different threat, and that’s what makes it so difficult to understand and to cope with.
So the answer to it is not a nostalgia which cannot be translated into reality anyway; it’s just a feeling. But it’s not a policy. I think the response to that has to be to make an effort to understand what the issues are and then see if we can galvanize this country into a deeper understanding of these complex problems. Because one of the most appalling things that I see is that we are more challenged than before in a more complex fashion, and our public is driven by fear, ignorance, demagogy to a very high degree. And that I think has a paralyzing effect on intelligent management of the novel era that we now confront.
MR. SCOWCROFT: He made – very skillfully made a point I was trying to articulate. (Laughter.) Thank you.
MR. KEMPE: But let me turn to – let me turn then to General Jones. You are the most recent person to be in the White House. On the other hand, you have lived through the times that these gentlemen are talking about as soldier, as Marine, as Marine commandant, as supreme allied commander Europe, so your body of service to this country is not only remarkable but tracks these change.
How did the world look to you as national security adviser in the White House, as you hear these other national security advisers describe it? And did you feel this strategic change – you know, what concerned you the most, you know, what is your view of this strategic – historic strategic shift from close up?
GENERAL JAMES L. JONES (RET.): Well, I associate myself with my colleagues here in stating that this is, I think, a historical moment, a strategic moment the likes of which we haven’t seen, and the likes of which we probably don’t fully understand. If you listen to the debate that’s going on in our election process, it is really worrisome that this kind of dialogue is not more developed.
But the world is fundamentally different. And we have to figure out – at a time that’s very difficult for us, with both not only external challenges but serious internal challenges – how we’re going to position ourselves and recover from the internal economic difficulties in a way that allows us to compete more successfully in this – in the changing world of the 21st century. It’s largely a world that we helped create, and it’s largely a world in which other countries are now taking pages out of our playbook and adapting it to their political situation and playing it quite skillfully.
The 21st century is not going to be a century where you can sit back and take a lot of time in making decisions, because problems – first of all, national security as a – as a subject matter is much broader than it ever was. It includes many more things than it – than it used to. The problems come at you in a – in a cyclic way that causes you to have great difficulty to think strategically, because you just don’t have time. It’s just – when you think of the – of the amount of issues that we face every day, it’s a daunting proposition to think that you can take a lot of time to reflect on things. But you have to.
So the question is, I think – and I think Dr. Brzezinski said it very well – that we have to understand the world as it is, and that it is – as it is likely to become. We cannot sit back and think of the world as it was, and reminisce about our position in that world. If we want to keep the position of leadership, if we want to be a nation of great influence by the middle of the century, if – even trying to approximate the way it was in the 20th century, we’re going to have to make some fundamental changes in how we make our decisions, address the world, change some of our institutions so that we can be more rapid, and understand that being much more proactive is probably going to be the coin of the realm instead of the reactive thinking that we – that we dealt with in the last century.
MR. KEMPE: Before I turn to Dr. Kissinger, who – (inaudible) – to kind of this point – one follow-up: While you were national security adviser, in an interview you did for the Atlantic Council for a publication we put out, you were asked what kept you up late at night. And you said one thing that was expected – weapons of mass destruction, nonstate actors – and the second was national competitiveness. And some who are trying to give a moniker to this new era are calling it the era of global competition. So we’re not at war, we’re not in struggle with China or anyone else, but we are in competition.
Is that what you meant? And are we not rising up to the challenge of competitiveness, or how – what did you mean when you said that that’s what kept you up late at night?
GEN. JONES: Well, I think that we have been slow in making the transition from when we were probably the only technological superpower in the country, and we were able to write rules and regulations on how we dealt with most of the world – what we would do, what we couldn’t do, what – you know, how we would transfer technology and how we would control that technology. And it was pretty – it was pretty directive in nature and offensive to many people.
As the world changed and more technology has been made available, countries now have choices that they can – that they can choose from. They have a rising China, India, Brazil, the European Union, and other technologically advanced nations. We still have trade policies that actually inhibit our American industry from doing trade. And in other words, we have a – we have a system of dealing with the world as it was and not as it is, and we have been slow in adjusting.
(Trading ?) our export control laws – five years to pass a free trade agreement that was in our national interest – and all kinds of evidence that we’re being not only out-cycled but out-hustled in many parts of the world by different – by other powers who have a greater agility in making – (inaudible) – decisions that are in their own interests. If you look at the African continent, for example, you can see a good example of where the United States is probably losing market share at a staggering ¬– at a staggering rate vis-à-vis China and other countries.
And so it’s a holistic change – it’s not any one thing. But it’s a – we need to be better educated by what’s going on; we need to better educate the next generation of leaders so that they can thoughtfully deal with the world that they’re going to face because it’s not going to be easy. And what’s at stake is, is really the future of this country and how it plays on the global playing field, and what our children and grandchildren are going to inherit.
MR. KEMPE: And then, one other question before I turn to Dr. Kissinger. This is the last question from the panel, (then ?) I want to turn to your questions. Again, because of your proximity in time to the White House, as you look at 2012, there’s so much out there to be concerned about. But what would concern you the most, and what would you put as top priority? You have a eurozone potential collapse, you have – which is, we think at the Atlantic Council, a strategic issue for the Atlantic Council and not just an economic issue – you have a relationship with China, you have Iran – a situation that could turn hot, perhaps, and you have Pakistan. You dealt – hands-on on many of these issues yourself – which would concern you most now, looking out to 2012?
GEN. JONES: Well, it’s hard to – I mean, that’s a daunting list to choose from, but I have said – and I continue to believe – that the Middle East peace process is at the center of mass of the undoing of knots of everything that’s going on around it. And I think that not capitalizing on the first two years of this administration with a Middle East peace plan that we were aligned with – with largely the Europeans and the Arab world. And there was a great expectation, soaring rhetoric about what we could do, and then it was interrupted by the Arab awakening, the Arab Spring – whatever the title is – and Iran was able to slip under the radar.
So all of these things kind of have a vortex of concentric circles that go all the way out to Afghanistan, Pakistan, West Africa, and the like. But I still believe that apart from the – you know, I still think that, obviously, proliferation and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of nonstate actors will be a phenomenon, could be a phenomenon that we have not yet dealt with. We can control state actors, we’ve proven that, but we’ve not really addressed what happens when a nonstate actor gets those types of weapons.
And secondly, I think that, since we all agree that the Arab Spring is the most significant event since the demise of the Soviet Union, it is critically important that however this comes out, it comes out the way the people who started these movements want it to get to because it’s a high probability that people are trying to hijack each one of those awakenings.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Thank you for that answer. And then, Dr. Kissinger – I’m about to turn to these other three gentlemen to answer this question – response to General Jones’ comments, particularly the response of what you look at in 2012, and then we’ll go right to the audience. Please, Dr. Kissinger.
MR. KISSINGER: One thing every national security adviser is haunted by is that at any one moment there are more tactical questions before him than he can possibly solve. And so to – to move from the tactical to the long-range is in itself a huge effort because – (when ?) it’s always in danger to have the urgent drive out the long-range important. We all agreed on the fact that we need (analogies ?) of the world as it is, and we’re all agreed that the world as it is, is different from the world with which we have been familiar and with which America had been familiar.
But we also face the problem that this is not just an issue of demagogic politicians. It’s an issue of the cultural perceptions of Americans towards foreign policy. We tend to believe that every problem as a nation has a solution, and every solution can be achieved in a limited period or a definable period of time, where in the world that we have describing – globalized, interconnected – every problem solution is an admission ticket to a new set of problems that we are now engaged in an endless process that has no terminal point.
And so the political process is driven in part by demagogic people because, on one side, there is an illusion of power, of America being able to reach everywhere in the world and achieving finite solution. On the other side, it’s sort – illusion of moral reach and a kind of narcissistic view of the whole world watching us with rapt attention, and we can use this.
In fact, all of us, however we mix it, have had in our – in our advice to mix the world of power with the world of morality. We have never had a choice of absolutely perfect outcomes, but how to achieve the optimum outcome is the challenge, and that is now uniquely difficult because the way our campaigns are conducted, the way our perception is formed through sorts of networks – its focus is on the short-range, on the immediate, on the emotional, on quick judgments on what people – what people say. So we now have a philosophical and cultural problem as a society – not the (decision ?) of which particular decision to make, but the day-to-day decisions still go on day after day. We can’t take a pause to contemplate the world. We have to do both, and that’s extremely complex for our society, but I think it’s our deeper challenge.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Dr. Kissinger. And let me turn to General Scowcroft and Dr. Brzezinski. Very quickly – 2012, what concerns you most? And then go to the audience. If you’re looking – I’m sure you could pick a hundred issues, but if you’re talking one issue that you would watch for next year as being an issue that you think is either a potential black swan event or an event that could really catch this administration off guard by both being important and being potentially possible – so a strategic shock of some sort or another.
MR. SCOWCROFT: Well, I’ll go through a list of them. Iran, Syria – one can go on. I’d like to point out a new element which is a recurring element that’s going to face us, and that is, for the past decade, we have tended to deal with problems actively and unilaterally – in other words, to use force to deal with a lot of those problems. The result has been now weighed down by the burden of Iraq and Afghanistan. The American people are getting battle fatigue and economic fatigue on top of it. Remember Vietnam? It took us about 20 years to recover our “we’re never going to do that again” – until we did it again. But it seems to me that is looming on us, and the danger of a withdrawal from anything is unusually high.
MR. KEMPE: Particularly Afghanistan in this case.
MR. SCOWCROFT: Yes.
MR. KEMPE: Dr. Brzezinski.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I’m not sure I understood your question.
MR. KEMPE: I’m not sure I understood when I asked it. The question is: basically, 2012, you’re sitting as national security adviser in the White House. You walk into the Oval Office, and you say: Of everything you’re looking at, President Obama, this is what you have to pay attention to most, at a time when you’re running for re-election.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well then, I think what I would say to him is that we are now at a stage in which there could be a major eruption, a major discontinuity or a major upheaval in any number of critical points in the world, and this is what’s so special about it.
Look, we could have, for example, a collapse on the EU, even though it’s been propped up and some initial steps have been taken. But the good thing – months to implement them, and there could be many pitfalls along the road. So you could have – all of a sudden – major crisis in Europe, which would be very disruptive.
You could have an upheaval in Russia. We don’t know how this new middle-class civic society rising in Russia is going to play out. Putin may be stupid enough to crush it. Well, if he crushes it, he’ll produce all sorts of subsequent reactions. He may decide to play possum, hoping that it dilutes itself. It may gather momentum and produce upheavals. And then you throw in the uncertainties involved in Belarus and Ukraine – you could have a major crisis in Central Europe and in Russia.
China – we now have a middle class of about 300 million people, and we have about 200 million people are totally still dispossessed. The middle class is politically restless, but the dispossessed are becoming increasingly dissatisfied. And then you’ll have the issues that Brent mentioned and Jim mentioned – the Middle East. I very much agree with you in that the major setback of American policy in recent years has been the failure to go through with what we seem to be pointed to doing, and this has all sorts of ramifications. The withdrawal from Afghanistan could all of a sudden involve a major crisis with Pakistan, and then the spreading of that violence in Central Asia.
The conflict with Iran – our options are being narrowed because we’re – (audio break) – pushed towards an increasingly one-sided solution, which is compulsion. We think we’re going to avoid war by moving towards compulsion, but the more we lean towards compulsion, the more the choice becomes war if it doesn’t work. That narrows our options in a very dramatic way, and I have not the slightest doubt that a war with Iran will be economically devastating for the world, militarily stretching to us, and regionally absolutely destabilizing. That’s a major problem. Which one of these is most likely? I cannot tell you, but all of them are possible. And maybe even more than one at the nick of the moment.
MR. KEMPE: Dr. Kissinger, you and General Jones both wanted to jump in here?
MR. KISSINGER: I just wanted to tell a personal experience because it’s relevant to what security advisers – the dialogue between security advisers and the president. In my very – long time ago, in the third year of the Kennedy administration, I had taken a trip through Europe, and I was invited to see President Kennedy and to give him my impression. And then afterwards, I talked to somebody about this, and he said: What did you tell the president? I said: I told him that he had a lot of problems in Europe – (laughter) – and that person said to me: President knows he’s got a lot of problems.
That’s the nature of the presidency. So if you want to be useful to a president, then you tell him a problem, give him at least an indication of what we should do about it, because that’s what presidents do. You can’t expect him to sit there and ruminate about your definition of the problem. I don’t know whether my colleagues agree with that. (Laughter.)
MR. : Oh, I agree.
MR. KISSINGER: I (did ?) know they followed that advice, I must say. (Laughter.)
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I agree with this. But, in that case, let’s set aside another three hours – (laughter) – and deal with these problems seriously and not merely kind of in passing and with grand phrases.
GEN. JONES: Yeah. Well, I happen to think that the biggest challenge for this country right now is getting our own internal house in order economically because I don’t think there’s any example in history where economic chaos within a country contributes to its, you know, its authority, moral or otherwise, in the global playing field. And I think this – I think this is the clearest and most present danger to what the United States is going to be. If we get our internal house in order – and I think we can – but it’s hard to see, in the political dialogue that’s going on right now people with courage who will take that on. And we had absolute – must be taken on.
You know, I don’t know when decline starts in a nation-state, but I have a feeling that it’s somewhere around the time when a nation cannot bring itself to do those things that it knows in its heart it must do.
MR. : Very good, yeah.
GEN. JONES: And I think that there are some things that we must do that we’re not doing. And we don’t show – we haven’t seen yet a willingness to do them. I’ll give you an example: This nation has no energy strategy whatsoever. It is – it is a clear and present danger. It is a – but there is good news here. For six out of the last nine months, the United States has actually been an exporter of oil-based products like diesel, gasoline, and the like. We have an abundance of natural resources in this country, of energy resources, that properly organized with strategic thinking could contribute greatly to our economic – our economic future. Within the single number of digits of years, we could be a net energy exporter if we wish to be.
We don’t have a strategy. And this contributes to jobs, it contributes to the balance of payments, the deficit, and everything. I don’t understand why we don’t have a national strategy or we’re not – don’t even appear to be working on one. It’s at best à la carte, and it’s ad hoc. This is an area, I think, where the public and the private sector of the United States can and should come together for the good of the country, for our economy, and for our future. That’s one example, but there are others.
So I think everything that’s been said here is absolutely right. It’s very difficult to foresee; the world is in turmoil – it’s dangerous. But for us to be able to better compete, we need to first fix what we haven’t – our basic problems internally so that we can – then we can be – we can speak with persuasion and conviction when we try to tell other people what to do.
MR. KEMPE: But just very briefly without going into it too far, when the national security adviser says to the president of the United States and to an administration, we need a national energy strategy – why doesn’t it happen? Or what stands in the way? General Scowcroft, would you like to – (laughter).
MR. SCOWCROFT: You’ve picked a – you’ve picked a unique problem for a unique department. But I agree with Jim; we have to get our domestic house in order. But the world is not going to call a recess while we decide to get our house in order, even if we’re able to do it. These things are going to happen whether our (war ?) house is in order or not, and we’re going to have to react to them whether our house is in order or not.
GEN. JONES: I completely agree with that. And I think that’s what different about this time is that everything’s happening at once, both internally and externally. But that’s the nature of the problem, and there has to be some – some vision and some evident willingness of, A, do we understand the problem in our national discourse, and B, that we’re willing to do something about it. And I’m not sure that we do either of those very well.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: But you know, that raises an interesting question: Why is it so – what is the matter with both sides of the political fence? And let me sort of hazard a quick comment. On the Republican side, we have had the political trend go to the extremes, and the leading candidates tend to be extremists and kind of almost dogmatic about it. Even the concept of the tea party is kind of historically weird – (laughter) – and it gives you a kind of a sense of some extreme.
On the Democratic side, in all frankness, it has to have something to do with the president in power. And, you know – (inaudible) – in support of him; I was in support of him – I am. But I do have a theory that somewhere or other he doesn’t have what, for example, Lyndon Johnson did, which is a kind of practical, political determination to twist arms, use pressure – even intimidation to get political deals and then to – (inaudible). And I think we have this kind of a strange situation in which the party in power is kind of almost frozen in the face of this complexity, and the party out of power is raging mad. (Laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: Would the two Republicans like the right of response to this – the party out of power is raving mad – Dr. Kissinger, General Scowcroft?
MR. SCOWCROFT: All I want to say is, especially to Jim’s comment, is that what he was describing is every day in the life of the national security adviser – too many problems to cope with. So I don’t – I don’t see that as new.
No, I think we’re in a strange – a really strange period now, and there may be a lot of causes for it. But it seems to me the government has tended to get more and more difficult, probably since Vietnam, with less and less dialogue across the aisle, less and less willingness to do what this country’s built on, which is compromise and cooperation. And I will let others divine what the cause is, but I think it is as serious as any, looking back to the 19th century.
MR. KEMPE: Dr. Kissinger, any response to the attack on the Republican Party – tea party’s historically weird? We are a bipartisan institute, that doesn’t mean we are boring and everything’s consensus, but I thought you might at least want to respond to that.
MR. KISSINGER: Oh, I’ve stated my view on this. I think on the Republican side there has been the memory of America as a superpower that could intervene everywhere. On the Democratic side, there has been the argument that if we only – if we – that the purification of America morally is the key. And these two extreme positions within each party have been accentuated by our primary system, in which – which goes on forever and in which the candidates have to spend all their energy on worrying about what – how they’re going to be judged.
At one fleeting moment, when I first started meeting politicians 50-plus years ago, they asked me, what do you think? Today when one meets politicians, they ask one what to say. Those are two different problems. And I don’t blame the politicians for that. It’s in the nature of our system. And when you look at all the – but this is a cultural difference. And so you form your opinions in a different way in this society than you did previously.
And so everything becomes instantaneous, when you have a rudimentary change in our society, and you need long-range thinking. So how to bring this – (inaudible) – we have – domestic policy is not my forte, to put it mildly – but we have the Bowles-Simpson plan. It was so – it’s a strategy. But no serious attempt to implement it, even though it had as much bipartisan support as one is likely to find; that is our dilemma.
And I think our national leaders, of both sides, will have to get together at some point. I often, if I repeat myself, quote something from the philosopher Immanuel Kant. He says – he wrote that someday there will be perpetual peace. The only question is, will it come about by human insight or by catastrophes of a magnitude that leave mankind no other choice? And that’s the essence of these problems.
If we don’t solve them, they will become more and more acute. And at some point, some extreme solution will emerge. And that’s our – that is our – the real challenge before our society, not which tactical move to make – important as those are, and even though that’s what security advisers do much of the day. But in the back of their minds they should always ask: Where are we trying to go and what do we (have to ?) – (inaudible)?
MR. KEMPE: On that sobering note, we do have about 20 minutes left before we go a little bit into the reception for questions and – OK, I see three already. So let me – let me pick them up. One here, then two here, three – OK. Maybe I’ll gather a – gather a couple of them; so quick questions and then rapid answers. And say who you are and who you’re addressing your question to.
Q: OK. I’m Paula Stern (sp). And my question is to Dr. Kissinger. In light of your deep and long study on China, I’m wondering if you can tell us, say, 10 years out, what difference it would make to the world if China took the leadership position with regards to political and – political and diplomatic influence? In other words, economically they’re getting very close. You suggested we’ve got 10 years, in a certain sense, to see some changes in China. They’re not ready now to be the leader. What difference would it make?
MR. KISSINGER: No, I didn’t – I didn’t mean to say it that way. I think China will face over the next 10 years the implications of its own development and the emergence of a new generation. And the limited point I was trying to make was that for the United States, it is easy to invent and – (inaudible) – strategic challenges, but to see whether in these next 10 years both sides can get into a pattern of cooperation that makes confrontation less and less likely – but it’s a very tricky thing.
But to take your question, which is more important – your question is based on the proposition that China should play a leadership role in the world as we know it. And so we say stakeholder and – but the notion of world order as we conceive it, as Fred had said – and it’s not a Chinese notion. The Chinese notion is that they don’t feel they have an obligation at this moment to world order. They have an obligation to things that affect their vision of the ultimate role of China.
So if we want their cooperation on Iran, we have to convince them at this point of the implications of nonproliferation for China. And I don’t look at the process as an American educational process, but of China suddenly (understand ?). But I do believe it is possible that in 10 years of engagement in the world on complete – (inaudible) – something like a new concept of world order might emerge because, as my colleagues have pointed out, there’s so many new problems that never existed before. And it can only be solved on a global basis – and that therefore, (impelled ?) in a mature environment.
So I’m not saying that I know this is going to happen, but I think that that sort of perception is what we should strive for; but nothing drives the Chinese more up a wall than American or Western perceptions that they need education in order to learn the pristine purity of our thinking. It is something that has to be evolved in a historical process and to some extent by both sides.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Dr. Kissinger. Steve Shapiro (sp).
Q: Thanks, Fred. Steve Shapiro (sp), council member from New York. And I just have to say what a treat it is to be able to ask a question to the four of you gentlemen. A few of you have mentioned steps – small steps that are being taken now which are narrowing our options in the future. General Jones, you referred to being out-hustled and out-worked. And putting those two things together and finally touching on the issue that you just raised, which is something of paramount concern to me, and that’s energy, and I’d like to take it to the strategic level – when one speaks to our politicians, our diplomats, our senior statespeople, our senior military leaders, NATO commanders subsequent to you, I’ll point out, they’ll all say the same thing: It’s really not a strategic question – energy – it’s control, supply, delivery. It’s not a strategic question, it’s a market question. And U.S. personnel are abroad trying to promote our market forces in energy, but they don’t have a concept of how it fits into the strategic chess game.
We are being out-hustled by our rivals, primarily Russia, who has gobbled up all the sources of supply and delivery – or almost all, and certainly in Europe; output contracts along the North African rim. China, of course, is voracious in other continent in that regard. And we are not playing that game because we think that the markets will play it for us. But of course, the markets have their own interest – bottom line and profit and nonstrategic questions.
And so how does one – so it’s a two-fold question. How do we educate our own leaders to the idea that energy isn’t purely a commercial question but is actually a national security issue on a global basis? And how do we compete with those rivals, primarily Russia, who are only too happy to use what I would call state capitalism in their game, when we refuse to do the same thing?
MR. KEMPE: Let me put that one to General Jones. Sitting in the White House, obviously China is approaching an energy strategy – Russia’s approaching an energy strategy. You’re saying we don’t have one. I think that’s the problem he’s pointing to.
GEN. JONES: Well, I think the first thing you have to do is recognize that in order to have a strategy you need to have an organization that can develop one. And we are massively poorly organized to deal with energy in the way our government is set up. The Department of Energy is not the Department of Energy, it’s the department of nuclear energy. The president has really no one to turn to, and it’s not a criticism of the current secretary, but this is the way our system works.
But the president, when he wants to talk about defense, talks to the secretary of defense; foreign policy, the secretary of state. He has no single person that he can talk to on the overall energy portfolio of the United States. You find that energy is divided up into 10 or 12 different agencies and departments, maybe more than that. And they are being – the oversight for that is by 30 to 32 committees and subcommittees in the United States Congress. You cannot get there from here without some fundamental reorganization.
You get your organization right, then the strategic thinking can follow. It doesn’t mean that all of these departments have to give up their energy portfolio. And the analogy I’ve used on this is how we reformed the intelligence community. Ten, 15 years ago we were saying that the intelligence community could not work together, that we had too different – too many different stovepipes.
So after much discussion and analysis, we created the position of the director of national intelligence. We have the advantage, I think, of a forcing function of the war on terror to cause the intelligence communities and law enforcement agencies and the like to move towards the middle – but nobody gave up anything. We just changed the leadership and the philosophy. And now I think we can recognize how much safer we are as a result of the intelligence community’s stunning performance over the last decade or so in dealing with global issues that have made not only ourselves safer but also many countries around the world.
I think you can do the same thing with energy. So the first thing I think you do is deal with the organization and change that. And I don’t think that’s terribly difficult. And then you – and then you really do need to understand, yes, the market is extremely important, but there are – there is a – there is a framing responsibility by the government. And it’s not just the federal government, but it’s all governments. And governors – local governments have to be involved in this.
But we’re blessed in this country with more abundant source of energy than any other single country in the world. And for us not to capitalize on that – I don’t like the term energy independence because it had adverse connotations to our friends and allies, but I do like the term energy sufficiency. We can be energy-sufficient. That’s a strategic imperative. It’s good for our markets. It’s good for our position in the world. It’s good for our climate discussions. And it should be – I think it should be done. And it’s something we can do, so I hope we do it.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you. General Jones – thank you, General Jones. Steve Clemons.
Q: Thanks. Steve Clemons, I’m editor-at-large at The Atlantic and, as Dr. Kissinger knows, publish a blog in which he has appeared a few times, and it’s big as well, The Washington Note. What I’m hearing from all of you, and I know from your writing and work, is we’re going through a phase where strategic clarity had eroded so dramatically. And it sounds as if – that President Obama and his team are dealing with a much muddier situation, where strategic goals and objectives seem to be less reachable.
But when I listen to Dr. Kissinger and General Scowcroft, Zbig Brzezinski, and have read what they have shared in the past, I do get a sense that there’s strategic clarity in their minds and that they’ve not only served presidents that they were directly attached to but all the presidents that we’ve had for a very long period of time in various national security advisory capacities. And so while the Cold War may not be the defining sobering moment, whether it’s been Middle East issues or energy issues or looking at how to deal with the rise of China, there hasn’t been any lack of advice or voice or calibration of these questions by all of you.
And so my question is, is it a failure of the national security decision-making process today that is the result of this blurriness and this lack of strategic clarity, or do we just have a very different kind of character at the top of the helm – at the president – in the presidency that is – that is fundamentally different than what we saw in ages past? And – because I think it is a – it is a very, very key in whether this country is going to come to terms with the real challenges. And I know that all of you have been working with Obama, have been dealing with President George W. Bush and others along the way. And I’d just like to know why the seeming degree of failure has risen so high in recent years.
MR. KEMPE: Which of you would like to pick that one up? (Laughter.) Yes.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I can have a crack at it. (Chuckles.) You know, every president is different from the other presidents, because every president is a unique human being with certain gifts and certain shortcomings. I don’t think any one of our recent presidents has been totally perfect. Everyone has had some inadequacy, but they have performed still in a significant fashion.
What I think is new, however, is the degree to which world affairs impact very directly on the state of mind, anxiety, concerns, opportunities and aspirations of the American public. That was of course the case during the war, and it mobilized everybody in a common response because there was a clear enemy. Now we have the outside world, in a way, impacting on America, but in a terribly confusing fashion so that there is no one single point of reference, one single overriding challenge which can then mobilize us and provide the basis for consensus.
Compounding that problem is the underlying fact that in the age of complexity an intelligent foreign policy has to be sustained by a public that endorses it and understands it. And yet the fact of the matter is – and there’s abundant evidence on this from public opinion polls and studies and other sources of reference – that the American public is quite literally abysmally ignorant about the world – abysmally. We don’t teach people world history very much. We hardly teach them geography. We don’t have a mass media that provides a significant degree of pertinent information about the world.
The so-called television evening news has gone downhill. It’s one or two lead items and then lots of trivia and human-interest stories. The major newspapers are few; you can count them literally on the fingers of one hand. And even our leading newspaper in this city has – for a variety of probably (good ?) economic, financial reasons – become increasingly a very local paper rather than a world paper.
So we have a public which on a variety of issues shows stunning ignorance. There have been studies for example in the National Geographic of knowledge of the world of the college entrants. I don’t have the precise figures in my mind, but I have sort of vague estimates. Something like 70 percent on it, in the course of our war in Iraq, couldn’t find Iraq on the map. Some 50 percent couldn’t locate New York City on the map. Thirty percent couldn’t locate what appears on the map as a huge blue area, the Pacific Ocean.
I mean, these are examples which can be multiplied over and over again; namely, what countries are where – what countries are in Europe, what countries are in Asia. Then you add to it of course reactions, emotional reactions. It’s terribly difficult to formulate in that context a meaningful and intelligent foreign policy.
Take those foreign policy debates. They didn’t show that our candidates are ignorant, because I suspect most of them know better. But they knew what they had to appeal to, which was the common denominator. So I think that is very much at the root of the problem today. We are a genuinely democratic, pluralistic society in which ultimately the popular will is decisive. The popular will, however, is really thoroughly uninformed, and on top of it fearful. Because unfortunately the war against terror, so-called – even though terror is not an enemy, it’s a technique – (inaudible) – you know, so we’re waging a war on a technique – has been translated in many people’s minds as a war against Islam, jihadism and so forth, with great deal of anxiety.
I mean, look at this city. You can’t go into any building on K Street without being stopped by someone who pretends to be a security guard but who’s thoroughly bored and who asks you who you’re going to see, what floor is it on or room, and then they sometimes ask you for an ID and then sign it. I’ve gotten so tired of that and so irritated by it because it makes no sense. We don’t protect Kennedy Center, we don’t protect the hospitals, big shopping centers, but all of these buildings have to be protested by these – protected by these security guards. I sometimes sign when I’m asked for my name, literally I sign “Osama bin Laden.” (Laughter.) I’ve never once been stopped. (Laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: (Inaudible, laughter.) I think I saw – I think I saw one more – one more question, the woman – (inaudible) – you, if she’d still like to ask it. Does – OK. Let me take one more question and then I’ll ask a final question as well. OK, let’s scoop up these two, one after another; one sentence each please. Please, yep.
Q: Bill Jones, Executive Intelligence Review. One of the things we’ve seen over the last 10 years is a growing close strategic relationship between China and Russia on all levels, in terms of economics, politics, military cooperation. For a long time we have used a hedging strategy with regard to Russia and China. But in this new situation, where the Soviet Union is no longer a threat, it seems that the U.S. involvement in that relationship would be very beneficial.
Over the last few weeks or so I think, the reset has kind of been set back a little bit. China has been very upset about the way that the shift towards Asia occurred, and we’ve, I think, done a little bit of damage in terms of doing that. But in the long term, it seems to me that if we’re going to deal with the overall global problems we’re dealing with – not least of which is the economic crisis – it is the relationship between China, Russia and the United States, and maybe pull in India there, which would be absolutely important in trying to get stability in the international economic situation. And we’ve kind of shot ourselves in the foot in many respects with regard to that.
And I was wondering if any of you would like to comment on how we could go about creating that kind of relationship between these three very important powers, to try and create the kind of concert of countries which could deal with some of these global problems.
MR. KEMPE: Yeah. Sadly we’ve run out of time, so I’m going to give that one to Dr. Kissinger with a specific emphasis on what’s going on in the Russia-China relationship, and is there really – we used to talk about this three-way relationship before.
I would like General Scowcroft to close, however. And I’d like to pick up this question from Stephen (sp) on presidents and their personalities and how strategic they are. You are the only one of these four who has served two presidents as national security adviser, and if you count the role that you played in the Nixon administration when Dr. Kissinger was national security adviser and secretary of state, perhaps you were de facto national security adviser for three presidents.
And so I – after Dr. Kissinger dealing with China-Russia, I wonder if you could deal with: How would you size up President Obama against the presidents you’ve served, and to what extent is it leaders, and to what extent is it their times?
Dr. Kissinger. And I’m actually asking you the China-Russia question.
MR. KISSINGER: I just want to point out that never before and never since have relations between the State Department and the White House been as good as in the period – (laughter) – in which I held both jobs. (Laughter.)
On the relationship between Russia, China and the United States – during the Cold War, my view was that it was in the American national interest to be closer to each of these two countries than they were to each other. This did not preclude any friendly relations between them, but it put us in the ideal position.
In the present period, I think we should look at the – (inaudible) – the long-term strategic relationships and tactical issues. On tactical problems each – as a general proposition, I think we should have good relations with Russia and China both. That principle has not changed. But we shouldn’t be too nervous at occasional fluctuations, because there are some strategic realities. One of them is a 3,000-mile frontier, which has 30 million Russians on one side and a billion Chinese on the other, which will put limits on the degree to which Russia will throw itself into a situation in which they move into total opposition to the United States on the side of some other country.
So I think it’s a general proposition. We should maintain friendly, neutral relations with Russia, China, and I cannot quite see it as a directorate for the world. I cannot see it at all as a directorate for the world, because it leaves out Europe. But it – we should be in close contact – the evolution of Russia has been described by – (inaudible) – evolution of China is different. So for us it is very important to make a distinction between the strategic evolution and the tactical issues, and we should not – either permit domestic issues to guide us into stances that will enable that long-term objective.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Dr. Kissinger. General Scowcroft, on presidential leadership?
MR. SCOWCROFT: I don’t think it’s possible to answer that question in any direct way, because there’s so many things that influence how a president behaves. First of all, it’s his makeup, it’s how he got into office, the issues are, the state of the world, the relationship with the Congress. So there are so many things. But let me say one thing, that we’re talking about China a lot tonight. And I think China is probably one of the most successful U.S. foreign policies of the last at least 50 years. Because beginning with Richard Nixon, every president – Republican and Democratic, some of them starting out with some pretty bizarre ideas about the relationship – has come to the conclusion that broadening and deepening our relationship with China is in the national interest. And it’s been very consistent.
But if you – if you look at differences in the president – well, take President Bush Sr. Probably the best president we have ever had in terms of his preparation for the foreign policy, given the jobs he had had before. Gerald Ford didn’t want to be president. The only president we’ve had who didn’t actually seek the job. So he had a very different approach to it, and his dealings in the – (inaudible) – were primary on domestic policy. And he tended to defer to Henry – not that he wasn’t interested, not that he didn’t participate, but he knew what he didn’t know. But President Bush, again, lost the election in ’92, and partly because Clinton said: It’s the economy, stupid. Just after he had won a war with almost no casualties.
So the accidents are more important. But this president, for example, has had virtually no foreign policy experience. And if you ask yourself, who are his buddies around the world? Most presidents have friends that you can identify, like Bush Jr. and Tony Blair, those kinds of things. I don’t – I can’t find one for this president. I can’t find an – a personal affinity that gives him the kind of communication with a foreign leader that broadens his perspective. So that, coupled with the fact that we had split government most of the time for – well, for 40 or more years – and that tends to make presidents more broader; let me put it that way.
I don’t think that we’re helped in this whole – by the process of getting to office and the polarization of the country. But I think the polarization has two important elements – maybe more, but two seem striking to me. The first is redistricting, gerrymandering if you will, so that fewer and fewer congressional districts are up for grabs. And they’re safe so the candidate gets to run as rabid a campaign as he wants to, because he’s talking to the convinced. The other thing is campaign financing, which is eating up the time available – the time and the attention span of our political leaders.
And it seems to me that those two – and there are probably more there – those two really need to be attacked, because this country is built on compromise. The Constitution is a masterpiece of compromise. The House and the Senate, for example – how do you balance the big states like New York and Massachusetts, and the itty bitty ones like Delaware and Rhode Island? Well, you have two houses, one based on population and the other on the state. And it suffuses everything we do. It’s easy to block things in our system, between departments – easy. It’s hard to make things happen because you have to compromise around those blocks to do it.
And I wish I knew the nature of the problem here, but I don’t think we can – we can’t blame our presidents, because they all have their idiosyncrasies. But they have succeeded and failed in many ways that are very unusual. Just one, for – Lyndon Johnson probably knew more about how to get things done inside the Congress than anyone else – (inaudible) – in our lifetimes. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective. And I think he would – he would have gone down as a great president had it not been for Vietnam, which he inherited and for a variety of reasons wasn’t able to manage.
So there are any number of things. It’s work that Henry ought to make his next book. (Laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: I’m sure Dr. Kissinger would think that a plug of his next book was a totally appropriate way to end this session. (Laughter.) The – let me just say a couple of things before you thank our panelists – enormously impressive panel, going into the kind of depth we don’t often hear on these sorts of issues.
First of all is, reception is outside. You’ll be guided to it; our staff will also guide you to check-in and registration.
More importantly, what we’re celebrating tonight – it’s very interesting – John Kerry – Senator John Kerry, Democrat – said that we’re actually not just celebrating General Scowcroft, his life, his legacy, but we’re actually celebrating a methodology, a way of thinking, a way of interacting to achieve solutions. So it’s not just – as we started thinking about, how do we bottle this legacy, how do we – how do we make it a permanent part of the Atlantic Council – and the Atlantic Council has nine programs and centers – the Scowcroft Center will be the international security hub off which these others will also operate and have synergies. Bahaa Hariri is here tonight. We’ve launched the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East – the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and the Scowcroft Center will work very closely together. That’s the way we work at the Atlantic Council.
But this methodology, this way of thinking, this interacting to achieve solutions, that is what Senator Kerry, in the midst of the supercommittee, said we were celebrating this night – to achieve solutions both nationally and internationally. We’re devoted to do that, no matter how hard it is. We are just delighted that General Scowcroft has entrusted his good name and his legacy with us. And I want to thank the panelists and thank General Scowcroft – and you’ll enjoy the dinner tonight. There will be some surprises. (Applause.)