Rand Beers, Democratic nominee John Kerry’s top national security adviser, says that “the basic difference between [Kerry and President Bush] is that John Kerry truly believes we need to work together with other countries to deal with problems around the world” while Bush pays only “lip service” to that idea.
Beers, a career Foreign Service officer who resigned last year as the Bush White House’s anti-terrorism senior director, also discusses Kerry’s international affairs brain trust, which includes several former high-level officials from past Democratic administrations.
Beers was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for cfr.org, on August 5, 2004.
Clearly, thanks to his membership on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Intelligence Committee, John Kerry has a background in foreign affairs. What kind of national security advisory group have you put together for his campaign?
We have within the campaign an increasing number of people who were among the lower rungs of the upper levels of the Clinton administration and an advisory group of senior-level types that goes beyond the Clinton administration. Then we have another circle of people who are on what we call our “policy teams,” who are experts on specific areas. They are either preparing papers on issues or are available for rapid reaction or are available to go out and speak to the press about issues at appropriate times.
Let me start with the people working full-time in the campaign. In addition to myself, the national security director, Susan Rice, who last worked for the Brookings Institution, came aboard in the last month as my deputy for national security affairs. She was assistant secretary [of state] for African affairs in the second half of the Clinton administration. Jamie Rubin, who was Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s spokesman, has come on to serve as the foreign policy adviser for the traveling party. And Brooke Anderson, who was the communications director at the National Security Council in the latter part of the Clinton administration, is the foreign policy/national security communications director on the campaign staff.
In the period before the primaries were settled, John Kerry and I both talked to a number of people. But at that time they were generally advising all of the candidates— with two exceptions: William J. Perry, former defense secretary in the Clinton administration, who signed on with Kerry last summer, and former Senator Gary Hart, who signed on in the early fall. Those are the two longest-standing senior people.
After the primaries were settled, Albright, Sandy Berger— who was [President Clinton’s] last national security adviser, but has since withdrawn from the campaign because of [the investigation of his removal of documents from] the National Archives— Richard N. Holbrooke, former ambassador to the United Nations for Clinton, and General John Shalikashvili, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all came aboard, as did, more recently, Leslie H. Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Then there are other people to whom Kerry speaks occasionally, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, or former Senator Sam Nunn [D-Ga.], who for many years was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he always talks with Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. And Nancy Stetson has been his assistant on the Foreign Relations Committee for about 10 years.
Do you all talk on a regular schedule?
We generally speak once a week. It is not a set meeting time. It’s with the senior people. The other people— Nancy, Susan, Jamie, Brooke and I— talk incessantly. And, of course, there are individual discussions when necessary.
You resigned from the Bush White House in 2003 because of differences over the anti-terrorism policy. You signed on with Kerry in the summer of 2003. What’s the main difference between the two candidates?
The basic difference between these two men is that John Kerry truly believes we need to work together with other countries to deal with problems around the world. That isn’t to say we shall always be able to achieve that objective. But that is the starting premise for moving forward. He feels— and I agree with him very strongly— the Bush administration does not take that attitude. They pay lip service to it on occasion, but there are enough divisions within the administration that when it comes time to actually do something, they don’t behave in that fashion. Secretary of State Colin Powell has always talked in terms of building coalitions and would choose to do so in the current environment were he free to operate alone. But he is obviously not.
The second thing I would say is John Kerry believes that, while this country always has to be prepared to use forces, we should be very careful and use force only when necessary. As he said in his acceptance speech, he wanted to be able to look families in the eye and say, “I tried my best to avoid this conflict” before sending people into battle. It’s not clear that this administration has this same sense of responsibility. I’m not saying that George Bush doesn’t care about American fighting men and women. But I think there is an important, if not fundamental, difference in attitude about the approach to the use of force. The corollary to that, of course, is that you have to be prepared to use diplomacy and other means of persuasion other than the use of force to a much greater degree than this administration is prepared to do.
And finally, our domestic energy policy needs to be viewed in the context of foreign as well as domestic policy. The degree to which we are dependent on foreign oil is a vulnerability that we need to try to alter.
Let’s talk about Iraq. In the March 15 edition of Time magazine, Senator Kerry talked about sending out a team to Iraq and then having it report back to him. Is that still under consideration?
It’s still a possibility. But I can’t tell you it is active right now. One of the things that has happened is that Joe Biden has been out there several times, and when he comes back he talks to John. We talk to him and to the people who go with him. So, to a certain degree, that kind of fact-finding has occurred. I would be misleading you, however, if I said it was perfect, in terms of having the detailed level of knowledge on what is actually going on in Iraq. That would be nice to have in order to formulate the best possible policy, but that’s what comes from being in the opposition.
Do you agree that this is a critical time in Iraq’s political development?
I certainly think it is a fluid and dynamic situation. Obviously, the chief actors at this particular point are the various elements of the Iraqi body politic, whether they are the three major communities [Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd] or the independent actors, like Muqtada al-Sadr, who have their own agendas.
Kerry seems to believe he would be able to get NATO and other countries to contribute personnel, troops, training, and money to Iraq.
That is certainly what we all believe, that a Kerry administration and a President John Kerry making a major effort to repair relationships, which have become frayed or broken in this administration, would lead to a new era of cooperation that would be reflected in the war on terrorism and Iraq.
Do you have any indications that the French, who clearly have at least a sentimental attachment to Kerry because he speaks the language and has family ties to France, would do more than just welcome his election?
I don’t want to get into what France or any other specific country has or has not said, but I would say, as a general proposition, that the discussions which we have had with a number of countries through a number of channels of communication are suggestive that different attitudes will prevail during a Kerry presidency. I am being very guarded here.
On Afghanistan, the Kerry team has been very critical of the Bush administration for not doing more to get NATO to do what it has promised. Is this the United States’ fault, or NATO’s fault?
It is the United States’ fault. After 9/11, the United States had an opportunity to have NATO be a participant in a broader way after it invoked Article 5 [the mutual defense article of the North Atlantic Treaty]. We didn’t do that. There were repeated opportunities when President Hamid Karzai or others within Afghanistan and outside of the country said the International Security Force should be broadened in numbers and mandate so it was more than a police force in Kabul. The administration was unprepared to look at those actions. I think it is fair to say that the major responsibility lies with the administration’s unwillingness to look at NATO options until late in the game. Obviously, at this particular point, you can say that NATO could be doing more, more quickly. It is not 100 percent the administration’s responsibility, but the administration could have moved earlier to bring NATO in.
On North Korea, the Democratic platform refers to continuing the six-party talks [among the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia aimed at an agreement to reverse North Korea’s nuclear weapons program] and also having a dialogue laying out all the issues with North Korea.
At the last six-nation meeting, it was reported that there was a separate meeting between the United States and North Korea. Is this what you are talking about, or would you like a separate channel?
No, it would be within the context of the six-party talks, because the dialogue would have to include considerations or activities that others than the United States might have to take responsibility for, either wholly or in part, [such as economic assistance]. The idea here is that there are a range of issues that ought to be discussed. The administration has been slow to put any serious strategy on the table. It puts itself in the position of saying we have to get the six-party talks organized before we can do anything, which, to some degree, allowed the administration not to have to come to a formal negotiating position while it worried about who would participate in the talks.
Our concern is that the administration doesn’t have a very realistic negotiating strategy that’s capable of bringing the North Koreans to serious negotiating positions at the table. That’s not to say that a Kerry administration is talking about giving a lot of carrots to North Korea. It’s talking about what the range of issues are that need to be discussed and figuring out, in that context, how to bring about an end to North Korea’s nuclear program.
If I read the platform correctly, your terms would be tougher than those in the 1994 Agreed Framework [under which the North agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for aid]
Yes. We would go beyond that. We would want dismantlement, not a freeze.
What is Kerry’s position on Iran? It seems that the administration is not doing much.
It looks that way from the outside. And that’s what I remember when I was on the “inside.” I think that naming Iran as a member of the “axis of evil” does not suffice for a policy. We have a number of issues with Iran that need to be dealt with. They are: the nuclear program, Iranian support for terrorism, and Iran’s relations with Iraq. In addition, there are obviously questions of what is going on internally in Iran, in terms of human rights and the development of a democratic government, which are also important issues.
But as we look at all of those issues, it looks as if the administration is not prepared to find ways to engage. It doesn’t mean that the Kerry team advocates recognizing Iran or having formal negotiations with Iran. But we have to find a next step, given the impasse that seems to have occurred as a result of Iran’s seeming to pull out of the agreement it reached with the Germans, French, and British last year [on nuclear issues]. We have to develop some next steps, which are going to do more than simply allow Iran to continue down the path it is on, unimpeded by the international community.
What would Kerry do on terrorism?
In terms of the military side, which the administration has emphasized, we would certainly continue that and expand that, where appropriate. But we would take a much more active role, in Afghanistan, for instance, to insure that it did not fall back into failed state status. I’m not saying that is about to happen, but I do believe the administration has gone far too slow with far too little effort in terms of stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, and so we find ourselves now in a situation where we have had continuing delays and postponements in the electoral process. The administration did not do anything about the drug crop. It has done little or nothing about either bringing the warlords into the political process or isolating them. As a result, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and others have had a resurgence within Afghanistan and are creating a lot of turbulence and violence.
While it may not have been possible to eliminate [what resulted], I do not think we had to accept [it]. This [is due] in part [to] a shift in focus to Iraq and in part [to] a disinclination for the hard work of post-conflict stability operations, as they are currently called, or nation-building, as it used to be called. Afghanistan is only one part of this.
The second thing is that a Kerry administration would pay much more attention to doing homeland security instead of simply paying lip service to the notion. The administration was a latecomer to the concept as envisaged in the Homeland Security Act and has been not a particularly aggressive program or budgetary advocate in real and practical ways. The administration‘s budgetary requests have been below everybody else‘s estimates. The programs that have been undertaken have been of limited scope and underfunded. The programs that have been ignored, such as chemical plant security, are major vulnerabilities, according to reports by many people.
The third issue is what are we doing in order to reduce or prevent the ability of al Qaeda or its affiliates to recruit terrorists or to find support within broader communities for their organizations or their activities. I think a Kerry administration would spend a lot more time and effort working with countries and with groups within countries, both in public dialogue and private diplomacy, to create a better sense of hope and opportunity in the Islamic world so that people are less inclined to join terrorist groups. It will never be a perfect and final status that results, but I think it is something that has to be started and engaged in, because the terrorists themselves are not going to negotiate to get themselves out of business.
And lastly, we have to do everything we can to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists.