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Views from Abroad: International Perspectives on the United States

Speakers: Yasushi Kudo, Thierry de Montbrial, and Igor Yurgens, Chairman, Institute of Contemporary Development
Presider: William Drozdiak, President, American Council on Germany
March 15, 2012
Council on Foreign Relations

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(Note: Mr. Kudo's remarks are provided through interpreter.)

WILLIAM M. DROZDIAK: Well, good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the council's office here in Washington. I'm Bill Drozdiak, president of the American Council on Germany, based in New York, and I'm a special adviser for Europe for McLarty Associates, which is based here in Washington.

The -- if -- in the time-honored tradition of the council, if you would all turn off your cellphones and all other electronic devices, just so it doesn't interfere with the microphone system.

This meeting will be on the record, and I would like to also give you an announcement about a forthcoming event which will be on March 20th, a release of the council's Independent Task Force on U.S. Education Reform, featuring the co-chairs Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice. And you can refer to the insert on the back of tonight's program, if you wish.

Tonight's subject is going to be the views about the United States, from the rest of the world. And to lead the discussion, we're honored to have with us three leading representatives of major think tanks in key countries that have a great interest both in the United States and also the international scene. The -- on my far right is Yasushi Kudo, who is the director and representative for Genron NPO; in the middle is Thierry de Montbrial, the president of the French Institute for International Relations; and Igor Yurgens, on my right, the chairman of the Institute for Contemporary Development in Moscow.

There's been a lot of talk, particularly in this election year, about the dysfunctional nature of the American political system and the weakness of the American economy and whether indeed America's time as a -- as a superpower is now in decline. There are other places you can go to, such as Palo Alto, where I'm originally from, where you can see the predominance of the United States more manifest than ever in the world of high technology, with the rise of Apple and Google and Facebook.

But I think it would be great to start with the views from some of our friends abroad, just how they see the United States in the heat and light of our election campaign, whether they think America still has a strong future and particularly whether our relations with your countries are likely to improve or decline.

Let me start with you, Igor. You've just had an election in Moscow, which Vladimir Putin has apparently consolidated his power for the next six years at least.

IGOR YURGENS: Six to 12, yes.

DROZDIAK: Six -- let's start with six.

YURGENS: No pass around -- six years. (Laughter.)

DROZDIAK: And there's been of course some rough edges with the relations with Vladimir Putin. How do you see the United States from the perspective of Moscow and are we in for further difficult times with your country?

MR YURGENS: It's -- our relationship, you know, I tried to (pass it ?) on because there's no chance to show the slides.

Our relationship was always like the last one -- but the last slide. It goes like this: It had dips and -- ups and downs, ups and downs. So before the -- before the Putin's election campaign, we had still another historical up, when young President Medvedev, in spite of the down of the Russo-Georgian War, which was regarded in Moscow as one probably not instigated, but approved by some of the republicans and "helped" by them -- so after the down of this Georgian war, Putin -- Medvedev pulled himself together, met with Obama.

Obama's visit to Moscow was a historical one. The public opinion polls surged in favor of the U.S. We managed to reset. We managed SALT II, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, a second stage. Everything was very, very good until Libya. And then Libya and Syria gave Putin a very good reason to consolidate his patriotic and conservative clan and group of people and big segment of population I would say.

Everybody understands, though, that a new Cold War is not in the interest of Russian Federation. Russian Federation could not sustain any kind of confrontation with the U.S. There are no reasons for confrontation. All serious people in Moscow read the last strategic guidelines of Pentagon saying that there is no danger for us, Americans in Europe, at all. We bring back two brigades. We disarm in Europe. We leave Europeans to find their own fiscal solution, including Russians. OK?

So after a spell of bad weather because of the election campaign, my prediction is that, being a rational and pragmatic man, Mr. Putin will come to Camp David very soon and will show another face and will exchange some very serious and pragmatic things with Mr. Obama in quite constructive manner. This is my prediction.

DROZDIAK: Could we see Russia playing a more constructive role in its relationship with NATO?

YURGENS: Another spell of bad weather after a spell of good weather. (Laughter.) Medvedev, against all odds, went to, last November, Lisbon summit. I know that people around him from the diplomatic, military and intelligence communities were against that. So he went there and he managed a reset with NATO, with Rusmussen personally and between Russia and NATO.

They agreed to work on ballistic missile plan, on some kind of a sectorial or global anti-ballistic system, where Russia would be inclusive. Unfortunately, after that and probably before -- because of our election, something went wrong, in the technical sense of the word, but I'm absolutely determined that there will be ways to find solutions to these problems also. At least the rhetoric will go down for sure. Technological, military, intelligence components are much more sophisticated than that, but the rhetoric will go down and we will restart there again, I'm sure.

DROZDIAK: Thierry, French-American relations have been notoriously fickle over the years. How are things seen now from Paris? You're on the eve of an election, a presidential election in Paris that will determine whether Nicolas Sarkozy stays on for another five years or whether he'll be replaced by the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande. Will the basic relationship, which has been generally pretty good in recent years, be changed by this election, or do -- and do you see other factors affecting, such as the euro economic crisis?

THIERRY DE MONTBRIAL: I thought that the debate tonight was about the view of the United States. (Chuckles.) But I would first make the same remark as Igor. If you look at French-American relations, you have also fluctuations with a relatively high degree of volatility. I remember very well having participated myself in a number of exercises in 2003, at the time of the Iraq War. It was supposed to be the beginning of the end of the ultimate, final end of French-American relations, and then Sarkozy came and we are supposed to have had, under Sarkozy, the best possible relations. I think it's very difficult to predict short-term fluctuations in relations.

I would like to focus perhaps on three quick points. The first one is that the world itself has become fundamentally disorganized. That's the reality of the beginning of the 21st century. We are -- when I say "we," I mean we, all of us. You know, we are facing the risk of moving towards chaos, anarchy for the international system or a new fragmentation in the world in new blocs; not a bilateral division, necessarily, but new blocs. That's a very serious risk that we are facing.

And as an observer of America, it seems to me that this is reflected today in a sort of confidence of crisis -- a confidence crisis. I remember Huntington, whom I happened to know relatively well, like many of us, his last book, I think it was "Who Are We?" -- "Who are We?"

And it seems to me, as an outside observer, that there is a little bit of a identity crisis in this country -- not only in this country; in my country as well, because -- you are referring to the forthcoming elections -- this identity issue is almost explicit, almost, because it will be politically incorrect to do it explicitly explicit. So that's one point.

In the case of the U.S., you -- I was just reading a book in the bookstore today -- I like very much to go to bookstores in the U.S. I'm very sad, by the way, because they are disappearing one after the other. The Barnes and Noble bookstore on M Street -- that was the biggest shock of this trip, to find it closed. But I saw in another bookstore a book, is America becoming Islamic? That was a bookstore in a -- a book in a good position in this serious shop.

So there is an identity problem. There is clearly the fear that sooner or later, China will become THE new superpower. And I think this is mesmerizing the Americans, even if they do -- not thinking 24 hours a day, but I think this is very much in the back -- and there is this picture, for instance, of -- a very -- (chuckles) -- famous picture of President Obama bowing, you know, to Hu Jintao. That's a symbol of a certain concern, maybe, about the future of the U.S.

Well, so much for this subject, but I think it's a very important -- and it's not only an American subject. I don't want to give you the impression that it's -- no, it's not only an American preoccupation; it's much more -- it's more diffuse --

DROZDIAK: Well, a consequence of globalization, more or less --

DE MONTBRIAL: Yes, but with the risk, as I said, of fragmentation, globally -- fragmentation or anarchy.

And another point which I would like to stress -- perhaps it could fuel a debate among us -- we have in -- not only in France but elsewhere the impression that the U.S., although trying to do its best, you know, has done some very fundamental mistakes, at least in two areas -- was -- is the financial management, and many of us in -- not only in France, I repeat -- consider that the U.S. was fundamentally responsible for the 2007 (sic) crisis and the current state of affairs, and we have the feeling that it was not repaired, I mean, that it was not taken seriously enough.

The other issue is the Middle East. And personally, I one -- I was one of those in France who criticized Chirac and Villepin in 2003. I think we should not have confronted the U.S. as we did. But this being said, that -- this being said, I think it now turns out to be recognized almost by everybody that it was a huge mistake to do this -- Afghanistan is a big failure, Iraq is a big failure, and we are very, very much concerned about the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran that would be supported by the U.S. And probably the U.S., if it happened, would not have a choice. They would be obliged to support the Israeli, which means that the real decision-makers are not in Washington; they are in Tel-Aviv. And that's a very serious concern that we have.

So there are other issues, but maybe I can stop here and wait --

DROZDIAK: Well, we'll come back to those in the questioning.

Let me get to Yasushi Kudo and your views from Tokyo. As you know, the administration has spent a lot of time focusing on its relationship with China. Do you feel that the -- there has been a neglect in the relations between Washington and Tokyo? And what would you like -- what would your country like to see develop in the future?

YASUSHI KUDO: Well, I prepared a script to read, but to answer your question, I would like to speak ad lib.

Yes, we feel that Japan is being neglected by U.S.

However, one year ago, we were hit by the big earthquake and tsunami. At that time, U.S. actually sent 20,000 American troops to the disaster-affected area. And as a result, a lot of Japanese people view America as a strong ally. And we did the poll, and 84 percent of people said they (like/love ?) America.

However, it's been two and a half years since the Socialist Democratic Party came to power. There has been no official visit by the Japanese prime minister to President Obama, and this has been happening under this U.S.-Japan alliance.

Japan regards U.S. as engaged in strategic dialogue with China. And because this strategic dialogue with China is not working well for U.S., so they are actually starting -- you are starting the dispersion of location of the military bases or (troop ?) strength, and this makes sense.

However, since there is no dialogue between Japan and U.S., therefore there is a misunderstanding in Japan about U.S. moves.

So if there is a threat and then as an -- as allies we should think together, plan together and communicate with each other. However, even though this U.S. strategic change in the diplomatic relations makes sense, Japanese people think, because of the China threat, U.S. is actually backing up the Marines in the Pacific Ocean. As a result, it is putting or thrusting Japan on the forefront.

When we read newspaper every day, all it talks about or covers is the military spending, and the U.S. is actually asking for funding for relocation. And we believe as an ally it is important that we communicate with each other. So I would like to suggest that instead of asking us how we view U.S., we would also like to know how U.S. views Japan or rather what U.S. wants Japan to do.

The most concerning issue is the rise of nationalism and the -- actually, China is actually having the -- more nationalism and -- which is actually expressed in the expansion of their military forces. Eight years ago I experienced that. We had the problem between China and Japan, and I myself visited China by myself. And I have started dialogue -- China -- between Japan and China. So I have experienced it. I know it is really difficult.

DROZDIAK: Let me ask the other speakers how their countries see the so-called challenge of China. Would this be an area where Russia and the United States should work more closely together to contain China?

YURGENS: I don't think that we will ever choose the term "contain," because we have our own strategic relationship with China. I think that the most adroit thing for Russians to do is to counterbalance a superpower on our north, which is the United States of America, and on our east-south, which is China. And consultations about how these three (G ?) could live together and -- in Asia and the Pacific is very important. I talk -- I think it's going on.

But with all due respect to my own country and beloved motherland, at the moment our possibilities and potential to contribute to this dialogue is only twofold. You would expect from us energy dialogue, so-called, both China and Russia -- I mean, the United States. China would expect us not to let you into the Central Asia as a soft underbelly. You'll expect us to contain China in the same region.

This is about it. With some clever diplomacy, building up trust at the highest echelons and then at the civic society level -- that can be done. I think that can be done. Chinese friends are inviting us regularly for all kind of consultations on a trilateral basis. They don't cover this. They don't hide this from -- from here I'm going to Shanghai for the trilateral -- United States ex-generals and diplomats, Russians, ex-generals and diplomats, and Chinese, the same.

And we more or less discussed this, how to do that in a peaceful and -- but sometimes China says peaceful rise -- peaceful rise, and then when we look at this rise, it's not so peaceful. That's also -- (inaudible) -- but I would like to finish with one point: Judging by what your friends are -- my friends are telling you about the relations between their countries and the United States, since our expectation of friendship and love is lower, we probably is the most reliable partner. (Laughter.)

DROZDIAK: Thierry, talk to us a little bit about how the United States and China are seen in France. Is there a feeling that American power is slowly being eclipsed by China? And would this be an opportunity for France and its European partners to work more closely with the United States as a way of reasserting Western interests, given the rise of China?

DE MONTBRIAL: Well, first, I will not give you France's view, but my view. I am sorry because I think there are many views -- (laughs) --

DROZDIAK: You incarnate France on this panel.

DE MONTBRIAL: So -- well, first, I think there are two things that everybody equally fear. One is a too-strong China, and the other one is a too-weak China. I think it's important to remind the two sides of the coin because if China becomes too weak -- suppose, for instance, there were a major economic crisis or perhaps even starting of a decomposition of China, as some people have thought possible. That would be a disaster for the whole -- for the whole world.

Second, we have to remember that China has no international experience. If you look at the history of China, China has of course always dealt with its borders, what our Russian friends would call the -- its -- (in Russian) -- but China has never experienced world affairs. And they know it, and they recognize it. So there is -- there is a learning curve.

My third point is that I believe that so-called collective security and balance of power -- it's not a matter of either/or; we have to do both. And my personal definition of collective security is the management of balance of power or the management of balance -- of balances of power, because you must have also regional balances of power.

Whatever my dear friend Igor says, Russia has a big problem with China. Now, if you look east of the Ural in Russia, they have 10 million square kilometers. The total area of China is 9 million square kilometers, which means that the Siberian or the west (sic) of the Ural territories in Russia are larger than the total -- (inaudible) -- of China. And what is the Russian population east of the Ural?

YURGENS: Eight million.

DE MONTBRIAL: You say 8 (million)? Well, it's --

YURGENS: A little -- a little more, but --

DE MONTBRIAL: OK, so you say 8 million. I --

YURGENS: One person per square kilometer.

DE MONTBRIAL: I would have said 15 (million). So -- but you know, 8 million, and on the other side, 1.3 billion. So they have a big problem. (Laughter.)

So we -- Igor, would you call it big?

DROZDIAK: How do you feel about the borders?

YURGENS (?): No.

DE MONTBRIAL: You have a very big problem. (Inaudible) -- and so -- but the problem is not to contain. And that's why -- you know, so we have -- and also, China will evolve in the next few decades. We don't have time to elaborate.

So -- and a last remark: I think it's very important also not to take a confrontational, Cold War kind of approach to China. For example, personally, I am not shocked that they want to develop serious and strong armed forces. You know, it's very legitimate for a country of that size to have the kind of armed forces that is proportional, so to speak, to what they really are.

So we -- it's very important when we discuss the subject of China to remain wise, you know, and reasonable. And if you give me one more minute --

DROZDIAK: Just briefly.

DE MONTBRIAL: That's why I say one more minute, because I assume that one minute is brief. (Laughter.) Maybe I -- maybe I'm wrong. I were to jump -- for -- in the electoral campaign here. I think that what we find very disappointing is the level of the debate. And frankly speaking, we are very, very concerned about the Republican Party. The kind of debate that is occurring within the Republican debate is absolutely fascinating, and it proves, actually, extremely -- but maybe the word is not correct because of my poor English, but I would say archaic.

DROZDIAK: Let's turn to the audience for some questions. Please give your name and affiliation, if you would.

Yes, here in the back. A microphone is coming.

QUESTIONER: Yes, my name is Bill Courtney. I was U.S. ambassador in Kazakhstan and Georgia. Professor Yurgens, the constant anti-U.S. propaganda on the state-controlled television networks in Russia must be having an impact on the attitudes of ordinary Russians toward America. It certainly is having an impact in the near-abroad countries, and Kazakhstan is a -- is a good example. How much do you think state-controlled networks and the state propaganda -- how much does that influence the attitudes of ordinary Russians toward the United States? And second, is there anything that we could or should do about that, including through our Voice of America, Radio Liberty or other channels?

YURGENS: Yeah. Two things: First, you are absolutely right; television -- first four channels of television and probably one radio station are controlled by the state, and television, especially for the rural areas, still play an enormous role -- enormously important role.

But second thing is that the country's already divided in two parties: Internet party and television party. A lot of my friends, including my wife, doesn't switch on television at all. All their news and analysis comes through Internet, and the Internet is absolutely not anti-American.

And in spite of all the efforts during the election campaign -- I can give you -- it's Chart 2 of the thing which is available there -- Russian people, 52 percent of them, think that our relations with the United States are predominantly good. In spite of all the effort and all the -- about 20 percent say they are predominantly bad.

So my personal experience, during Obama's first visit to Russia, was, 40 percent thought that United States is good, 60 percent thought that it's bad. And then all of a sudden, two weeks, probably a month prior to the visit, those four channels were switched to the positive side of it -- (laughter) -- and some of the most notorious narrators were taken off the stage. It reversed in two weeks: 60, 40 (percent).

Your point is well-taken: Definitely television still plays a serious role in this rhetoric. But first of all, it doesn't persuade and convince all the people of Russian Federation. Second of all, Internet definitely is much more vocal and influential. And now we have 138 million users in the Russian Federation. So it's almost the whole population.

But something can and should be done on this positive images. I don't know whether it's Voice of America, because, again, through Internet, people listen more -- I mean, look more at the sites than listen to the radio. But a special program of rapprochement of some kind could be conceived and should be conceived. And if, as I hope, the first visit of the new President Putin -- new old president -- to Camp David goes relatively well, then I think that we will be working in this direction.

DROZDIAK: Further questions?

Yes, in the back, please.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Sonia Schott with Globovision Venezuela. I will like to know what is your (perspective ?) on Russia trying to get some close ties in Latin America, specifically on Venezuela. Thank you.

DROZDIAK: And let's take maybe one or two other questions, so we can -- in the interests of time.

Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Balan Wood (ph). I would like to ask Thierry de Montbrial to speculate a bit on how relations between France and the United States will evolve if the socialist candidate is elected president.

DROZDIAK: OK, fine.

And yes, this lady here.

QUESTIONER: Diane Van der Hoft (ph) from Department of Defense. I'm curious of what your thinking -- since you see the -- Afghanistan and Iraq as kind of a failure, where should we go with the Arab Spring now? What are your feelings on that and what should the United States do in regard to Syria, Yemen, Egypt now?

DROZDIAK: OK, so maybe -- Igor, you want to respond to the --

YURGENS: Sure.

DROZDIAK: -- question about Venezuela and it also mentions Syria, of whether --

YURGENS: OK.

DROZDIAK: -- the visit of Putin to Camp David might result in greater cooperation of -- between the United States and Russia on the problem of Syria.

YURGENS: Fair enough. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we abandoned many geographies, simply lack of diplomatic force, lack of financial resource and many other things. We concentrated on our domestic problems, of course keeping relations with the major nations.

So now there is a comeback to Latin America; I agree with that. And this comeback doesn't -- is not restrained to Venezuela, though with the -- with this president of Venezuela, some of Russian people -- some of the Russian leaders with a special interest in energy, established very good relations -- sometimes predominantly good and sometimes, to my understanding and taste, a little bit disbalancing.

So, for example, being in Colombia, I realized that the real interests and economic ties of Russia and Colombia, for example, at the moment, are much more important than that with Venezuela at this stage of political development of this country. But that's my point of view. I made it absolutely clear back home, and I hope that we balance somewhat the views of some people who say, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, those are our friends, alongside with Nicaragua of course, and the rest of it, we'll see. It's not true. It can -- and it should be corrected; it will be corrected; it's being corrected.

On Syria, at the beginning, it looked like a barbaric boycott and veto of Russia and China. The more we advance into this situation, we see that it's not so one-sided. We see that there is a little bit of truth in the fact that, if you don't have exit strategy or you don't see the whole of the picture in the Middle East, including the concerns of our Israeli friends, for example, then probably a hasty decision on Syria, unequivocal resolution of the United Nations Security Council, which would again give some forces same possibilities they used so harshly, I would say, and aggressively in Libya, probably Syrian case would be not such a nice -- not such a nice case.

I'm not supporting now the very staunch position of Russia and China. I'm trying to be analytical: forces which are behind Assad and forces who are against him, to be analyzed, their final objectives to be known, and so on and so forth. Of course Russia has vested interest. Of course Russia has an exposure of about $20 billion in Syria, the only naval base left in the Mediterranean, and regular sale of arms up to 2 (billion dollars), $3 billion. So it's not negligible for Russian economy. It's not negligible for the pride of Russian military, intelligence, diplomacy, and so on and so forth.

So what Russia needs at the moment, I think, is to restore somewhat the status quo from the point of view of neglect which was shown to her, to Russia, in the Libyan case when we passed the resolution and then received nothing, neither in terms of consultations nor in terms of the reflections on the future of this country. So some prestige and some assurances that it will be a little bit more equitable than in -- than in Libya. After that, I think Russian diplomacy would be ready to handle it -- to pass it on to Kofi Annan and to league of Arab nations. And definitely this question should be discussed in Camp David.

DROZDIAK: All right.

Thierry, there was a question about possible change under Hollande.

DE MONTBRIAL: I would like to answer that and also to say a few words on Syria, et cetera, because I think the question was also addressed to me, if I am not mistaken.

On the foreign policy of a would-be president Hollande, vis-a-vis the United States, well, very friendly in the sense that -- well, the French socialists have always been very friendly with Americans since Guy Mollet, always. The question is what do we mean by that? I think you would not expect Hollande behaving like Villepin in 2003. That's unthinkable. The question is, what would he do on substance in delicate situations?

Now, Sarkozy -- by the way, if we had held this meeting yesterday, if you had asked me what is the percentage of chance for Sarkozy to be re-elected, I would have told you 10 percent -- yesterday. Today, apparently, a little bit more from the polls I saw this morning. But nevertheless, it would be great surprise if Sarkozy were re-elected. It is not totally impossible because he's a great campaigner, but this relates to the question in fact because, you know, Sarkozy's a great transgressor fundamentally.

He is very bold, and he can take risks, very high risks. Hollande, I think, is not that kind of stuff. I do not see Hollande doing what Sarkozy did in the Ivory Coast. I think the Ivory Coast -- France was very successful. I have less -- I am less convinced about Libya, although, frankly speaking, just to allow this madman of Gadhafi to crush --

MR. : (Inaudible.)

DE MONTBRIAL: -- to Benghazi without any kind of reaction -- it was hardly thinkable. And also in passing, about Libya, Libya is a totally different problem from Syria --

DROZDIAK: Syria, yeah.

DE MONTBRIAL: -- because Libya is very confined problem. I think they are very limited in real international stakes in the case of Libya. Syria is totally different. I put that in parentheses.

But it's unimaginable -- Cameron is in town today. You know, I cannot imagine Hollande and Cameron in the -- getting together to intervene anywhere and convincing Hillary Clinton or whoever to -- (chuckles) -- to bring the United States -- that's very difficult to imagine.

And also, one element that will be very important in the case we are talking about is the economic situation, because I think if Hollande is elected, there will be a period of hesitation, economic transition, which will also have a number of consequences in terms of foreign policy.

But there will be no anti-American rhetorics. And by the way -- I have a few old friends in this audience -- I have always thought that the French people like what they -- even love the Americans. I mean, there is no hostility in the French and the Americans. I say that also in passing. I think it's important to keep in that in mind.

Now I would like to make a brief comment on the issue -- not on the back, because we could spend -- we don't have much time. Personally, I think that Afghanistan, Iraq -- all that is a failure, but I would not have time to comment. But let's take -- let's take the future, Syria. See, the problem is that -- first, that many people in the region are strongly opposed to any kind of intervention. If you take the Christians in the region, they are absolutely opposed to that, because they know that the victims of any civil war in the region are the minorities. It's exactly what happened in Iraq. That's one of the reasons, by the way, of my very severe -- not the only one, but judgment about Iraq. Point -- that's point number one.

Second, do we really want a civil war? Because the problem is that all those who in the names of human rights want to intervene as well, when the situation deteriorates, they leave, no? And even, I'm sorry to say, that in -- the Americans, you know, when the public opinion changes its mind, they withdraw and they -- and they -- what do they leave behind? And if we intervene in Syria, how long -- well, what kind of forces would we have to commit, who would do the job, how long would we stay, and what would we leave behind?

And the last remark is that if we increase chaos everywhere, I am not sure that it's the best way to construct your future.

But all this being said -- (chuckles) -- at the same time, it is also true that just to allow Mr. Assad to crush his people is also unacceptable. The problem with unacceptable -- usually people say this and that is unacceptable, and they accept it, de facto. So -- and here -- and that's here, I think, that we should cooperate with our Russian and Chinese friends, because I am sorry to say that the Russian and the Chinese give the impression that they are totally cynical.

That's what -- you know, we perhaps give too much the impression that we are too much idealistic, and we agitate the flag of human rights, but then we cannot deliver because we are not consistent with our own -- with our own proclamations. But they give the impression that they are totally cynical and the only thing they are interested in is no change and no -- and pure conservation of the status quo.

And in fact, I think that there should be a margin of maneuver, you know, to push -- when you say Assad -- but it's not Assad. Assad is -- Assad is just a name. In fact, it is the old Alawite clan which is at stake; it's not a man. Assad is not -- unlike his father, he's not the real dictator; he's the flag. He is not the real boss. It's important also to keep that in mind. But I think that if the so-called international community were more consistent to pressure Assad, perhaps we might have some agreement.

So to sum up, it's a very delicate situation. And I am not very satisfied by the way -- with what we are leaving behind in Libya. But again, Libya -- the problem is much, much more confined. And in that sense, it is different.

DROZDIAK: Let's take another round of questions.

Yes, sir, in the front row.

QUESTIONER: Herman Cohen, Academy of Diplomacy. In view of the negative experience of the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq and the fact that we stood back to allow the Europeans to do Libya -- and we were very much praiseworthy of the French experience in Libya -- is there sort of a frisson of feeling that maybe the U.S. as a force for world stability is in decline?

DROZDIAK: And next question over here.

QUESTIONER: Hello. Jonathan Brown, Georgetown University. My question is about the relationship between Japan and the United States on the cultural level. It's -- I don't know much about this. It was my impression that there's been very rich interaction between the two countries, between Japan and the United States, for the last couple of decades on the cultural level. And I was wondering if over the last couple of years if the rise of China and things like that -- if there's been any shift in interest on the cultural level about -- you know, as to the role of American culture as an influence in Japan versus other influences.

DROZDIAK: And one more question over here.

QUESTIONER: I'm Priscilla Clapp. I'm retired foreign service. Staying on Japan, I'm wondering, we hear a lot here about -- a lot of complaints about the Futenma base in Okinawa, and it seems to be the issue in U.S.-Japan security relations. I know the relationship is much broader than that. My question is how do the Japanese see it? Do they look at it in terms of Okinawa, or do they see it in a larger context of Asia?

DROZDIAK: OK, Yasushi, let's start with you. There are two questions -- the cultural relationships, and then of course Okinawa.

KUDO: I'm not really sure about the -- how Japanese have changed the view in cultures as a whole. But I myself actually went through the cultural transformation. So I'd like to share that with you.

Until 10 years ago I disliked China. They all talk about (red tricks ?), and I never really thought that we can agree on anything with China. But eight years ago I started to visit China and started to have more and more dialogues. And I have visited them more than 20 times. And I gradually realized that we are actually standing on the same playing field, that we can have a good dialogue together.

And we had a forum with the Chinese media last year, and there was something very interesting. This China newspaper actually criticized about the incidents in Senkaku Island, but the other media actually sort of fought back against this coverage. And we were able to actually stand on the same page with China at that time. That means that Chinese people realize that life of citizens and people there are more important just than the institution, and we were able to get connected last year.

Well, the consequences, that this Chinese media was closed -- was forced closed because that they will criticize against this China central bureau. However, this really shows the changes happening in China. And the Chinese government is struggling to suppress the changes and transformation that is really happening in China.

So we realized by having communication and dialogue, we are able to actually understand each other among ourselves between China and Japan.

Now going back to your question, what is the changes happening in -- I mean, what is changes happening culturally between Japan and U.S., I'm afraid that we don't see much discussions going on between China and -- rather Japan and U.S.

Can I talk about Futenma airbase now?

DROZDIAK: Yes, like you to address Okinawa question.

KUDO: Well, the Genron NPO, our organization, evaluate the policies of the political parties, and we consider what former Prime Minister Hatoyama did was something of our embarrassment. He overturned the result of the product of the strenuous effort between U.S. and Japan over the 16 years.

It is -- what Mr. Hatoyama did was something that we actually (graded ?) negative, but talking about the opinions among the Japanese population, general people consider that the -- we have to relocate the base from Okinawa and we have to lighten the burden from the shoulders of Okinawa people.

However, what we call the public opinions which are the result of the (thorough ?) debates and discussions among the opinion leaders is not the same as the -- those public sentiments. Those people believe that, due to the security issue, it is an important base and the -- for sake of democracy, we really have to build a stronger policy, and we will have to change the politics, and it's going to change.

Well, I just wanted to add that there will be a general election in Japan this year, and we are going to change. So please give us a high expectation.

DROZDIAK: Good.

I want to do address Herman Cohen's question. Was that -- directed at Thierry or (anyone ?)?

Yeah, go ahead -- (inaudible).

DE MONTBRIAL: Well, Herman, first I have no doubt that the United States will remain, at least for the next 20 years, the number one power in the world by any criterion. Does not mean that it will dominate the world -- it's no longer possible -- but it will remain number one and continues to enjoy huge economic and military power. So the question is how to use that power in a smarter way. That's the real question; that is, to rely less on brutal military power and more on a variety of indirect ways. I think we don't have time to go into the details, but I will say one word about Iran because it's a topical subject.

Number one, the Iranians are smarter than all of us. They are real --culturally geniuses, you know, in terms of -- as diplomats, in diplomacy. They are extremely good; they are -- they have always been. They can be very cruel sometimes. Remember that.

And number two, I think -- I am absolutely convinced -- I may be wrong -- but I am absolutely convinced that they do not want to have actual weapons. They want to have the -- to reach the nuclear threshold like the Japanese, exactly like the Japanese: no less and no more.

Number three -- that's of course very important -- number three, the regime is very shaky, and if we intervene in some way or another, we will give it another 20 years. The whole population will be behind because we should not forget that it is under the shah that they started to build the ambition of becoming nuclear. It's -- it is very, very popular in Iran. That's a great country. So we should be very careful.

Instead of that, we should have a kind of -- well, I think that sanctions, if well-engineered, could contribute to accelerate the fall of the -- of the -- of the regime. But, in terms of national interest, (you know ?) -- and they know it very well -- you know, what the Iranians -- to have nuclear weapons, they know that, in the next 10 years, the Saudis, the Turks and so on, all of them would have nuclear weapons. Is it in the interests of the -- of the Iranians?

So, again, we don't have time to elaborate very much, but I think that we have to learn how to be smart. And one footnote: The -- I think all experts of international relations admire the consistency of the United States during the Cold War. It's quite remarkable than -- that during 40 years, the United States, on the whole, has been consistent in its war -- a contest -- vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. And they won -- and so they won. The Soviet Union as Soviet Union was defeat. Yes, it was defeated like as Kennan had predicted, essentially, and for the kind of reasons Kennan had predicted.

But that is not -- it is not a normal American attitude to be consistent over 40 years. (Laughter.) Usually, you know, the Americans start with -- (inaudible) -- and then two or three years later, or 10 years at most, they withdraw. So it is a matter of time and to be smart, consistent and all this over time.

DROZDIAK: Well, this has been a fascinating global discussion about how the United States relates to the rest of the world. Our three guests represent think tanks that are part of a Council of Councils initiative that CFR has launched. We bring together, I guess, 16 councils on foreign relations from around the world. And I hope that we will have more in the -- in the future in discussions about global governance and indeed, the nexus of international relations that will continue through this initiative.

This has been on the record. Thank you all for coming. And we enjoyed it. (Applause.)

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