Tempe Missions Palms Hotel,
ANDREA MITCHELL: Good morning, if everyone will take their seats, welcome. I am Andrea Mitchell from NBC News. I’m very happy to be here with the Council on Foreign Relations, and my friends and colleagues, new and old. I understand you had a pretty invigorating session this morning, and we hope to follow on that and give you plenty of opportunities to join in and interact. So, what we’re going to do is talk about what the foreign policy challenges are for whoever is elected president, and discuss this amongst ourselves, and then engage all of you in the conversation, and do it as informally as possible. I am honored here today to have several distinguished members of the Council, and others with us. So, immediately to my left, Walter Russell Mead, the Henry Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council, and, as you all know, a leading interpreter of foreign policy; James Lindsay, vice president and director of studies and the Maurice Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations, and someone who has written extensively also on international multilateral cooperation; and Orde Kittrie, who was previously with the Department of State and now is here at Arizona State on the law faculty here in Tempe.
A number of questions come to mind about what whoever is elected president will be facing. Those of us who cover this campaign day in and day out, and all of you who read and watch, having seen the first few debates would acknowledge that there are very sharp differences between these two candidates. You can argue that perhaps whoever is elected will face the same policy choices, which is something we should raise today, but certainly their philosophical differences have been very clearly demarked in these debates. I don’t think I’ve covered a campaign that has been as contentious in many, many years. This is not a campaign where people can logically say, I’m not going to vote because I don’t see a dime’s worth of difference between these two candidates. And I think you will see more of that tonight. I am very reluctant, in contrast to many of my colleagues on cable television, to predict what will happen in the debate before it has happened, but I do think you will see at least one of the two candidates, and most likely both, turn and try to pivot to foreign policy at various points in tonight’s debate. I would suggest that you are going to hear that the world has changed since 9/11, and you will also probably hear something that has to do with consistency can also be stubbornness, consistency in pursuit of the wrong policy can be a mistake, wrong choices, the word “liberal” will be spoken. There’s no question in my mind that you will hear the word “liberal.” So, we’re going to hear the same team, “big spending liberal,” as a matter of fact, may be mentioned, and “out of touch with middle class Americans” may also be one of the themes. But foreign policy will come into play. When we talk about the foreign policy choices, the first question from my colleagues here is, will it make a difference? You have two men who have completely different approaches to the world, but at this stage with the war in Iraq, are there other choices? Walter?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, you know, I think it’s interesting how few choices there are. [Democratic nominee] Senator [John] Kerry [D-Mass.] has talked about the need to get other countries to send troops in, but I think it’s pretty clear that nobody will, or they won’t have a lot of luck in that. And I would even argue that getting more foreign troops into Iraq now isn’t the right thing to do. Iraqis need to feel the occupation moving toward an end, not getting bigger, deeper, and more entrenched. So, in effect, both [President George W.] Bush and Kerry on January 21 are going to have to face the question: how do you win the war in Iraq? The only viable strategy that seems to be on the table is trying to get as many Iraqi security forces ready and active so that it’s an Iraqi conflict rather than an American-Iraqi conflict. I fail to see how either of them is going to be able to evade doing exactly that no matter what the campaign rhetoric has been.
MITCHELL: Well, let me ask you, Jim, because you’ve written about the United Nations and its lack of capacity to handle some of these challenges. If the United Nations is not even on the ground with more than, perhaps, 35 people in advance of the elections, if NATO is still refusing to become engaged, why would the [Senator] Joe Biden [D-Del.] prospect of more NATO troops, why would the John Kerry approach make any difference? Why would there be any differences, as Walter has said?
JAMES LINDSAY: Well, I think there are two things, Andrea, that Senator Biden and others are hoping for in talking about internationalizing it. One is sort of the narrow American interest in relieving the burden on American forces, and being able to say to the American people, we’re burden-sharing here, which is obviously politically very powerful in the United States. The second issue: I would, I think, take issue with Walter’s description saying that in order to make Iraq work for the Iraqis we have to provide security, and we can’t train Iraqis to provide the security for themselves fast enough. But here’s the real rub for whoever becomes president on noon time January 20, 2005.
MITCHELL: You’re assuming that the election is decided by that date.
LINDSAY: That actually may be a bit of a bold assumption on my part, given the way things could turn out, but I think as you look at who the next president is going to be, I’m reminded of what I often tell my children, “Be very careful what you wish for, you might get it.” Whoever becomes president is going to have a very full in box. Iraq is still going to be the big 800-pound gorilla on the desk, but there are an awful lot of other issues. Iran, North Korea, Russia, potentially the crisis over Taiwan, avian flu, and perhaps a variety of other issues we haven’t even considered. Moreover, whether this president is going to be facing the prospect of an Iraqi election happening— either having just happened, or happening very shortly after. How does that election go? Do we have a boycott in particular parts of the country? Does fighting break out? I don’t think we know what the situation is going to look like on Inauguration Day, which makes it even harder.
MITCHELL: Ambassador Kittrie.
ORDE KITTRIE: I think with respect to Iraq, it’s not clear that there’s a huge difference in terms of what they are actually going to do going forward. I think there are good signs in Iraq, the [rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-] Sadr militia disarming in the last few days, we’re heading towards elections, we’ve finally put an Iraqi face on the government in Iraq, which should have been done long ago. We should have done what we did in Afghanistan, which was to put an Afghan face, [President Hamid] Karzai, on. My concern is that Iraq is distracting us from the real challenge, the foremost challenge facing this country right now, which is the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
MITCHELL: In fact, picking up on that, how would a John Kerry White House approach Iran and North Korea differently than a George Bush White House, and one subtext here is, how has the Bush administration’s approach to North Korea and Iran changed the situation on the ground in both of those countries?
MEAD: Well, I think obviously— a reporter asked [former British Prime Minister] Harold McMillan, “What will be driving your policy when you form your government?” He said, “Events, dear boy, events.” I think that’s going to be true with both of those situations. If North Korea were to test a bomb, you have one kind of a situation. If Iran were to declare itself a nuclear state, you can just imagine a lot of things that would force a president’s hand. I think in Iran it’s likely that Kerry would try to work a little bit more closely with the Europeans and put— Kerry seems to believe more than Bush does that Iran and North Korea are prepared at a certain price, which we can afford and are willing to pay, to give up their nuclear ambitions. I think the Bush position is more— they’re really not willing to do this peacefully, there’s nothing we can trade them that is worth giving this up. So there’s sort of a basic difference in the way they approach it.
MITCHELL: You think the Kerry position is naive, given the way North Korea took advantage of the Clinton administration’s negotiations [on North Korea’s nuclear program] in ’93?
MEAD: I would say it’s more to the promise— the only thing that North Korea has discovered it can produce to sell to the rest of the world is weaponry. And so if we buy their nuclear weapons, so to speak, from them once, I don’t know what’s to prevent them from coming back in two years and offering us to repeat this useful bargain. On the other hand, they have suggested that, in exchange for a nonaggression treaty, a statement from the U.S., that they’d be prepared to give it up. I have a hard time believing that, just because, in fact, even if we ignore the nuclear weapons that they may or may not have, they’ve had a deterrent that’s worked against them since 1953— China. And it’s clear that they don’t trust us one little bit. So I don’t know what they mean when they say that they’re willing to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for a paper promise from the U.S. not to invade them. But it’s a difficult situation. I’d say, in general, I give the Bush administration reasonably good marks for keeping the six-party talks [among North Korea, South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia, and China] going in East Asia, involving North Korea, and going as far as it has with the European initiative vis-à-vis Iran.
MITCHELL: But haven’t there been detours based on which part of the Bush administration was dominating at a particular time, because of the schisms on how to approach nonproliferation, the [Undersecretary of State] John Bolton group, and the more accommodationists.
MEAD: I’d also say that there was a big miscalculation in the Bush administration, and that is to say that they really believed that we were going to settle Iraq’s [inaudible] fairly quickly, and have stability. They thought that by now, certainly, we were going to have a stable, working situation in Iraq, so that in terms of confronting Iran and North Korea, we’d have a much stronger hand than we now do.
MITCHELL: I guess one of the issues is, which Bush administration face, if Bush were to be re-elected, would we be seeing regarding the other two axis of evil [states]. When [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice is on the Sunday shows most recently and says that we will pursue a diplomatic solution with Iran, when there are other people in the administration who would like to be much more confrontational, Jim, I’m wondering what you think is going to dominate if Bush is re-elected.
LINDSAY: A second Bush administration is going to have the same competing voices as the first Bush administration had, which is— I mean, administrations are really “theys” not “its,” and there are lots of people in very powerful positions who have very strong policy preferences, especially true in this administration, and they fight it out. I think clearly the constraint that anyone in a second Bush administration would face is that we are right now militarily over-extended. If not over-extended, we have our hands full in Iraq. And that tends to, on all sides, caution people about taking the Iraq solution and applying it elsewhere. I mean, it was not an accident or coincidence that we invaded Iraq out of the three axis of evil countries. If you look at Iran, it’s three times as populous as Iraq, it has many more friends, its government is much more politically popular, is legitimate. If you look at North Korea, every military scenario I’ve seen about a war in the Korean Peninsula says, an awful lot of people are going to get killed, and it won’t be necessarily restricted to North Koreans, it could be South Koreans, it could also be Japanese, as well. So the consequences for American alliance relations in East Asia are substantial.
I actually have a different sort of take on the Bush administration’s policy toward North Korea than Walter does. I actually want to step back a second and say, both Iran and North Korea are hard cases. When I turn on the TV, the people are basically suggesting that somehow there’s a magic bullet, you do one thing, you do the other, and you’ll all be taken care of. The problem is that, neither of these strategies is likely to work, in part because we’re dealing with people who have very significant reasons not to give us what we want. There’s a criticism, obviously, of negotiating with Pyongyang, because they signed an agreement, then they cheated on it. The Bush administration takes that as, “Well, we’re not going to talk to cheaters.” Well, what happened was, they said, “OK, we’re not just going to cheat, we’re going to walk out of the entire agreement [the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], and we’re going to proceed.” And now, we’ve gone from having potentially one nuclear weapon to, I’ve heard various people say, four, five, seven, eight, what have you. And that’s a great concern. Now, rather late in the game, when the administration realized it had a problem, then it decided to switch to so-called multilateral talks, six-party talks, which at least in their initial phases didn’t seem to be terribly substantive. They seemed more to be able to say, “Look, you’re criticizing us for being unilateral, and here we are talking to other countries in the region.” But, at the end of the day, we still haven’t been able to extract anything from the North Koreans. And I think the hope of many people in the Bush administration is what will happen is, if we just talk long enough they’ll cry uncle. Part of the problem is they might not cry uncle; they might say, shop is open, weapons for sale, and we have a nuclear Wal-Mart on the Korean Peninsula.
MEAD: I think it’s worth adding here that it was remarkable in the second debate to see Bush talking about how much leverage China had over North Korea, and said that China has more leverage than we do, which is, I think, the first time I can remember hearing a Bush administration official claim there was anybody anywhere in the world on any issue whatever who had more power than the United States. It was actually quite interesting. And I think, again, the hope is— there’s a sense that China may have more to lose from an arms race in East Asia. If North Korea keeps nuclear weapons and becomes publicly acknowledged as a nuclear state, it becomes very hard for some forces in Japan to restrain their desire to go nuclear. It’s also a tremendous opportunity for Taiwan to go nuclear, which from the standpoint of the Beijing leadership would be one of the worst nightmares imaginable.
MITCHELL: And Japan.
MEAD: Right, Japan and Taiwan. This is not the East Asia that China is seeking in the world. So there comes a sense in which possibly China, which is the country which has the most leverage over North Korea, might be induced to do something. To some degree what’s going on, under the aegis of these six-party talks, is sort of a game of chicken between the United States and China. We’re both saying, “I’m not doing anything, I’m not doing anything, the car is going to crash,” each hoping that the other will step in and do something. I’m not sure how this works.
MITCHELL: Orde, you’ve worked in the State Department, you’ve seen the way these things work from the inside. If there were a second Bush administration, would the more ideological members of the foreign-policy establishment, Bush establishment, be able to pursue more aggressive policies toward Iran, and possibly North Korea, on non-proliferation? Or would a certain realpolitik take over, because whoever is elected is going to have to deal with the complexities on the ground?
KITTRIE: My sense is that in a second administration, with Secretary [of State Colin] Powell gone— and he’s basically made it clear that he’s not going to be there— my sense is that the hawks may be in the ascendant, which actually, in some ways, might not be a bad thing. Because it seems to me that the biggest problem for the Bush administration, the reason why we’re in the mess that we are in Iraq, is precisely because the State Department and the Defense Department, the hawks and the relative doves, couldn’t agree on anything, and the national security adviser wasn’t doing the job of the national security adviser, which is to knock heads and get people going in the same direction. What happened in Iraq was that the Defense Department had a plan for going in there and taking over; the State Department had the plan for occupation. The Defense Department wasn’t interested in the State Department’s plan for occupation. They weren’t speaking to each other. So we ended up with a mess.
Going back to the nonproliferation point, it seems to me that neither Bush nor Kerry is focusing on the most important problem, which is Iran. I was surprised. Both of them were asked in the first debate, “What is the single most serious threat to the national security of the United States?” They both answered, “nuclear proliferation.” But they focused on the Russian loose nukes. I think that’s important. I think the Bush administration had been too slow in working on securing those loose nukes. It seems to me that Kerry is right that that should have been a higher priority. But most important, it seems to me, is the existential threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program. The most important step, it seems to me, we can take to prevent a nuclear 9/11 is to stop the Iranian nuclear program in its tracks. Iran has made no bones about its desire to join the nuclear club. If you read the 9/11 Commission report, you see it as Iran, rather than Iraq, which had significant links to al Qaeda, and even allowed some of the 9/11 hijackers to transit it. At a military parade in Teheran last month, one long-range missile had draped over it a banner claiming, “We will crush America under our feet.” The message was, “We will use this missile to crush America under our feet.” And it seems to me that neither candidate is facing up to the fact that we need to be really tough with the Iranians. The European approach has simply proven a failure. The Iranians are stringing them along, just the way North Korea is stringing them along.
MITCHELL: What about the United Nations approach? Let me ask you, Jim, about [Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammed] ElBaradei and the IAEA, whether in light of the Duelfer report [on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction], whether you think that ElBaradei is likely to be tough enough with Iran, reflecting the European, more European approach, or whether the United States really has to be the one to hold Iran to its commitments?
LINDSAY: Well, I have no particular knowledge of what Mr. Baradei is going to do, so I will learn as everybody else does. I think there’s a problem here, and it’s illustrated by Orde’s remarks. It says we have to be tough with Iran. That’s a bumper sticker; it’s not a policy. The real question is: What do you do to Iran? What is the or-else? And the problem we face is that when we talk about the or-else it’s not attractive, because at the end of the day, we’re going to have a problem of getting our allies and friends to put sanctions on Iran. Even if we do, the history of sanctions forcing governments to change their behavior, particularly things that are very important to them, is not impressive. That leaves us with the possibility of military retaliation or military strike, pre-emptive strike. And quite clearly, on that score, Iran is not as advantageous an opponent as the last several countries we’ve gone up against, whether it’s Iraq, Panama. Granted, I mean, Iran would be a very, very significant problem. I think this is— whatever policy we choose, we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that somehow, because we are very powerful— we are more powerful than the Iranians— we can necessarily force them to do what we want. And that’s the real tough problem that, whether it’s President Bush in 2005 or President Kerry, is going to have to face. And I don’t have any simple answers. Clearly what you want to do is to bring your allies along. But we have the or-else problem.
MITCHELL: Well, speaking of allies, let me just quickly ask you guys for quick answers. Do any of you take seriously Israel’s very blatant signals in the last couple of weeks that they are prepared to do something pre-emptively if Iran has a discernible nuclear facility?
MEAD: Well, you know, I have to say that if the Israelis were to destroy the Iranian nuclear program, we would be shocked— just shocked.
MITCHELL: Shocked? [Laughter.]
MEAD: I think we might even go along with a resolution in the Security Council deploring this act— heinous act, may I say. [Laughter.]
MITCHELL: I mean, you don’t have to be a tremendously discerning reporter in Washington these days to pick up all these signals about what Israel is prepared to do, similar to what happened when they took out the Iraqi [Osirak] facility [in 1981].
MEAD: I’m not sure they’re able to do it. You know, I think this is the problem—
MITCHELL: This is a longer range than they’re used to.
MEAD: And also the Iranian program is a little bit diversified and may be in more hardened targets.
LINDSAY: The Iranians saw what happened to the Iraqis. They’ve constructed their program to make it harder for the Israelis to do what they did at the Osirak reactor back in ’81.
MEAD: Possibly with more equipment they could do more, and wouldn’t it be terrible if somebody sold it to them?
LINDSAY: Well, speaking of equipment, what the U.S. has done is the U.S. is selling Israel bunker-busting bombs that it’s pretty clear are meant to be used by Israel.
MEAD: Again I’m horrified. [Laughter.]
LINDSAY: And that’s what Israel would use it for.
MITCHELL: Which are the 500-pound bombs which could clearly not be used against enemy Palestinian targets. So there is really one real purpose for that particular armament. Let me move to the next—
LINDSAY: Let me just add one point, going back to what you said. The problem is that it does look like the Bush administration is going to sell these bunker-buster bombs to Israel and pray that the Israelis get it right. The problem is that the Israelis do not have the reach, they don’t have the planes nearby to do the job right. And the biggest disaster would be to try and take out Iran’s nuclear program and fail. The United States would have a much better chance of getting the job done. And so it seems to me the U.S. needs to step up to the plate. And if it comes down to it, if negotiations fail, the U.S. is the one that needs to step up to the plate and get the job done.
MITCHELL: Be prepared to do it— and not by proxy. Would it make any difference whether John Kerry or George Bush is elected in terms of the moribund road map for peace and the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? Let’s go down the aisle here.
LINDSAY: One of the most striking things about the first presidential debate was that we had no real discussion about the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, the road map, whether it was going to work or not.
MITCHELL: Is that because neither has solutions, and they would both rather avoid being pinned down on—
LINDSAY: I think it’s partly—
MITCHELL: [Inaudible]--constituent groups?
LINDSAY: It’s partly the choice of moderator, what questions the moderator asks; but also neither one seemed to really want eagerly go into it, because historically the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been one that can consume vast amounts of a president’s time but not produce the kind of breakthroughs that presidents like to see. I mean, presidents want to get things done. They have limited amounts of time. It’s not attractive. And this is another one of these issues that’s in the in box which is really, really hard. And I think this is something Walter has talked about at great length. We clearly are seeing sort of a divergence between the United States and its European allies over the question of relations toward Israel, how Israel is perceived, which is a real irritant, not just in terms of America’s relations with the Arab world, but also in terms of our relations with the Europeans. And I’m not sure how we are going to get it back on the road. The Bush administration has sort of come back to the Israeli-Palestinian issue sort of fitfully when events have forced them to do something. I’m not really sure what exactly it is that Senator Kerry would do that would make a difference, other than that he’s made it very clear that he believes in diplomacy, in part because it’s again hard to imagine a solution that is going to satisfy people, and there are lots of people active in this process who have a very big stake in making sure it doesn’t succeed.
MITCHELL: Well, would a President Kerry have a special envoy or park his secretary of state in the shuttle diplomacy, in stark contrast to President Bush where Colin Powell, after getting burned a couple of times and having the White House change the policy while he was literally in [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon’s front yard, that the press secretary disavowed the policy on that very day. Would the next secretary of state in a Kerry administration be more emboldened and take a bigger risk than Powell has taken and commit to it?
KITTRIE: It seems to me that that is the case. That was one of the big mistakes it seems to me that the Bush administration made. You know, Dennis Ross had been the special Middle East coordinator— and Dennis will be here later today— he was the special Middle East coordinator for 12 years, and so long as the dialogue was kept going there were fewer deaths, there was more hope on the Palestinian side, on the Israeli side. The Bush administration did not do enough to strengthen the Palestinian moderates. I think they did the right thing by disengaging from [Palestinian leader Yasir] Arafat. But it seems to me they could have done more to support Abu Mazen [also known as Mahmoud abbas], for instance, the Palestinian moderate prime minister who was there. One thing that I’ve read recently that I rather like— actually I hope you’ll talk about it— is Walter’s idea that what you need to do is find a way— that it’s not a zero-sum game, you need to improve the Palestinian quality of life, and you can do that without necessarily harming Israeli security.
MITCHELL: In fact, won’t Israel remain insecure as long as there is such disparity between the Palestinian quality of life, the standard of living, and the Israeli?
MEAD: Well, I think it’s not simply a question of a few dollars here are there. This is one of those bitter disputes that has engaged people for so long. I’m not sure that a complete solution to that is on the table. But, again, I think we might be better off as Americans in saying, OK, this problem may not get solved right away, although we should be exploring any possible avenues that could lead there. But in the meantime, how do we reduce the damage that this situation is causing in the broader region to our foreign policy, to our relations with other countries? And this is where I come at the ideas of if you think about what a final two-stage compromise solution would look like, what was interesting about what was on the table [in 2000 Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations] at Camp David and [in 2001 talks] at Taba [Egypt] with [then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak is that the parts that would be of greatest benefit to the Israelis— i.e., secure boundaries, recognitions, and so on— were really in great detail hammered out. But the parts that could really make more Palestinians think, “Oh, that’s good for me,” were not. And the two things I would mention are, first of all, only about half or so— or even less— of the Palestinians of 1948 live in the West Bank or Gaza. Not that many of those are going to be able to go back because the land just doesn’t sustain such a large population. In fact in Gaza, people probably should be moving out. There’s—
MITCHELL: You don’t think right of return [allowing Palestinians to return to land they occupied before the establishment of Israel] is a deal breaker?
MEAD: Well, what I’m saying is, going back to the original U.N. resolutions on this subject in ‘48, ‘49, for Palestinians who don’t return the question of compensation has always been presented as an alternative. So what— let’s start raising some money, let’s start— and then we go, by the way, to some of our good European friends and ask them to participate in this bold initiative for peace— like the Germans, for example— and perhaps remind them that there are historical reasons why there were a lot of homeless Jews turning up in the Middle East in the 1940s. And then I think we look at— we work with the U.N., we work with other agencies, to use international juridical precedents to set up a method where Palestinians, without giving up their right of return, can enter into a process that declares what their compensation would be when there’s peace. So that for every Palestinian family the idea of peace is not just abstract. If you’re just sitting in a miserable refugee hut in Jenin or some of these cities— and I’ve been to these places— I don’t know if other people here have— but you think, peace? What does that mean? Well, the Israeli flag comes down, the Palestinian flag goes up. What else? And there’s a fear. You know, for 50 years the social services, the education, and so on that you’ve been getting has been coming from refugee relief associations. So what happens on independence day in Palestine? They say, “Congratulations, you’re not a refugee anymore. You’re a citizen. Go forth and prosper, be free.” We need to think about a road map to the future for Palestinian families. And the people who live in Lebanon or Syria, they have to have passports— whether they’re Palestinian passports— they have to have full legal rights to participate in their economies, in their societies. They have to have homes. And so it seems to me that the United States, if we were to work on this end of the problem and start getting a more humane, holistic vision for Palestinians of what the two-stage compromise would mean for them— I don’t say that this is going to lead right away to some kind of solution, but I think it improves the atmosphere in which we continue to press forward working for a solution.
MITCHELL: Before we open it up to questions, which I want to do quickly, let me ask you all about Russia. And there are so many parts of the world, and I’m hoping that questions will also raise some of these other conflict areas. But would John Kerry be appreciably different toward [Russian President] Vladimir Putin? Be more challenging? Be more confrontational when Putin fails to, quote, “adhere to democratic principles” than George Bush? Or is Russia such an important partner of ours in these other conflict areas that we cannot afford to be more challenging?
LINDSAY: Well, to judge by how little Senator Kerry has talked about Russia on the campaign trail, my guess is we wouldn’t see substantial differences in dealing with Russia. And part of it also gets back to presidential calculations of how many issues can you afford to tackle at one time. We talked about the issue of priorities earlier and what should be the issues that you want to tackle. And some issues you’re forced to tackle because they’re there: Iraq, you can’t ignore it. There are some issues that you really want to tackle, because you really think that you can make a difference— on nonproliferation— I think Senator Kerry has made it clear that he wants to vastly speed up efforts to rein in loose nukes. And I actually take a different position than Orde here. I think loose nukes is a bigger problem than Iran.
MITCHELL: But we have a framework for loose nukes, and we put more into Nunn-Lugar [Cooperative Threat Reduction Program] and make a bigger commitment.
LINDSAY: A bigger commitment. And I think there’s something to be said for doing everything that you can to round up loose nukes as fast as possible. And, of course, in all these things you have in policy it’s just all kinds of devil-in-the-details and counterproductive sorts of things, and it’s a serious thing to do.
But the bigger challenge facing the Kerry administration— we need Russia for lots of things and, particularly, Russia is very helpful on the intelligence front. How far can you push them? And then the great challenge to all presidents is even if you want to push them, the best way to push somebody is by doing things publicly, so that everybody knows and people write in the op-ed pages of the [Washington] Post and the New York Times what a wonderful guy you are. Or whether you do it privately and everybody saying you’re not doing enough. And, of course, you do things privately. No one knows you’re doing it— maybe you’re not doing anything at all. And the bottom line is, at the end of the day, what are the real levers the United States has to get Russia to go down the right path? I think, at the end of the day, we occasionally— President Kerry will speak out about democracy in Russia, but I would imagine that by the nature of events and his own agenda it’s not going to be his overriding priority.
MITCHELL: Orde, what is your sense? Let’s say that we have a Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice versus Secretary of State Dick Holbrooke-slash-Joe Biden, or whoever?
KITTRIE: My sense is that the Democrats tend to place more emphasis, at least rhetorically, on human rights. It’s not clear to me again that, in practice, there’s going to be that much ability to focus on that issue when we do need Putin for helping with respect to so many things.
It seems to me that the one area that I’ve been very disappointed in the Bush administration— I worked on nuclear nonproliferation under the Clinton administration, negotiated some of these nonproliferation deals with Russia— I have been surprised and disappointed at how this effort has gotten bogged down during this administration. We have secured fewer tons of loose nuclear material in the last two years than we did in the two years before 9/11. And if you look at the joint statement that came out of the Bush-Putin summit in September 2003, it was shocking to see the subject of securing Russian nuclear stockpiles was not even mentioned. Intellectual property rights protection was on there, but securing Russian nuclear stockpiles was not mentioned. And it seems to me that Kerry is at least saying the right things in terms he wants to speed up the securing of those nuclear materials. It seems to me that should be our top priority with respect to Russia, as well as more globally addressing the existential threat. Intellectual property rights are nice, but they won’t matter if Russian nuclear materials end up in the hands of terrorists.
MITCHELL: Walter, do you want to—
MEAD: Yeah, I’ll just— I think it’s worth remembering how much political capital the United States lost in Russia in the 1990s by the support for [President] Yeltsin. You know, we contributed— I don’t think we bear the main or sole responsibility, but in a lot of Russia, for a lot of educated, thoughtful, patriotic Russians today, you can either have strong leadership and a recovering country on the one hand or democracy, chaos, decline, disintegration on the other. And that’s one of the reasons that Putin has been able to attract as much support as he’s been able to in this process of clamping down in Russia. It’s a very old Russian phenomenon of the dictatorial modernizer, the enlightened despot— Peter the Great, Catherine. It’s an historical pattern. And it was probably to some degree always likely that Russia might move more or less in this direction. I remember Nina Khrushcheva, [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev’s granddaughter, once said to me, you know, “You have to remember,” she said, “at the end of the day there is something Russian about Russia.” [Laughter.] And so it’s— you don’t know how— whether this was the hour or not for Russia. But, in any case, our— we were, I think, not critical enough in the Yeltsin years of some decisions that were taken, you know, the theft of the national patrimony by the oligarchs, the real crumbling of social safety nets and basic standards of living for most people in the Russian Federation, and so on and so forth. So I think we actually have much less of an ability to go in there and tell the Russians what they should or shouldn’t be doing, and to some degree, public criticism about human rights against Putin may strengthen Putin politically. You know, it’s like being ferociously attacked by [Cuban President] Fidel Castro— it doesn’t weaken an American president. And in the same way Putin might very well be able to stand it. And then if you look at our need for Russian oil and our need to have Russian oil produced, it’s unlikely that we’re going to be able to apply the kinds of economic sanctions that might get people to listen. So I would say probably our best shot at bringing democracy into Russia was in Bush One and the Clinton years. We didn’t do a very good job at that time, and now we’ve made our bed and now it may be time to live in it.
MITCHELL: That’s a good transition to opening it up to questions from all of you. I think we have microphones. And if you wait until the microphone reaches you, and identify yourself. Yes, sir— so everyone can hear.
QUESTIONER: I have two questions related to nuclear proliferation, one related to Korea and one to Iran. Do you really think that public will in Japan could allow it to go nuclear, given that they are the only recipients of the effects of nuclear weapons? And with regard to Iran: wouldn’t any strike on Iran lend further support to the concept that there is a crusade against Islam and exacerbate the problem with Muslim jihadists or terrorists? I’m Guy Cardineau from the [Arizona State University] law school.
LINDSAY: Let’s talk about North Korea or Japan first. Do I think there are circumstances under which the Japanese could decide, as a matter of national self-interest, that they should go nuclear, or perhaps at least have the nuclear capability get so far along that they could have nuclear weapons in short order? I think the answer is yes. The goal of American policy is to avoid getting into that situation. I think Walter laid that out quite ably earlier. Even notwithstanding what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese, when faced with a nuclear-armed North Korea, may decide that, from their point of view, it’s not clear they can count on the United States to protect them. Is it necessarily likely? I don’t know. I can’t put a probability on it, but I wouldn’t rule it out of hand.
On Iran, I think we have to play the scenario right. Imagine that the United States decides to, opponents like to call, take the tough stand and do the right thing and attack the nuclear weapons-related sites in Iran. And let’s assume for a second that we succeed— and of course, this would be a highly difficult military mission; however, we have a very capable military. But these are missions where everything depends upon intelligence, and if you don’t have the right intelligence, or if you know the map’s wrong and you hit a building three blocks away, it would be a thing that doesn’t succeed. The problem doesn’t just end at that moment. OK, the question is, what are the repercussions— as I think your question points out— of an American attack on Iran? And this is where I can give a couple of things. No. 1: Iran is, by all accounts, the premier sponsor of terrorism, and I could imagine— and indeed I think many people in the intelligence community suspect— that Iran has some latent sleeper capability in much of the world that would use terrorist attacks on the United States. I think, No. 1, the question is: Are we prepared for that, and if that were to happen, what would our response be? I think, beyond that, even if they don’t have the capability to reach American targets in Europe or American soil, you would then get into the question of they can make our life even more difficult than it already is in Iraq next door, make life in Iraq more problematic. And beyond that is this real question of what does an American attack on Iran do for the international jihadist movement. I know the president has said in both of the debates that we’ve taken out 75 percent of al Qaeda’s leaders. What we’ve done is taken out 75 percent of the al Qaeda leaders that were identified before 9/11. But terrorist organizations can replace people— in fact, they have. And one of the real problems would be to what extent would this exacerbate all of the problems that we already have in dealing with the Arab and Muslim world— what kind of repercussions? How would it play out in terms of the politics in Southeast Asia where there’s a great deal of concern that a more militant fundamentalist version of Islam is taking hold and creating all kinds of problems? I don’t know, and part of the problem is, we don’t know how this would play out. But I think it’s important we keep in mind that the game does not end the moment the bombs are dropped from the F-17.
MITCHELL: OK, we’ve got a couple of questions. Let me get to the gentleman in front of you, and then we’ll come to you. Yes, sir, would you identify yourself?
QUESTIONER: I’m John Grant, a student. My question is with regards to nonproliferation also. ElBaradei indicated that the nonproliferation treaty and regimes and norms against proliferation are failing, and that we need renewed support for that regime. And the United States in recent years has taken actions that many people say have weakened that, including withdrawal from the ABM [Antiballistic Missile Treaty], and rejection of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Do you think that reversal of those trends would strength the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and norms against proliferation sufficiently to prevent global proliferation, including in areas like North Korea and Iran, and, if not, what types of actions outside of the NPT do you think are better to prevent those actions?
MITCHELL: Orde, and then Walter.
KITTRIE: Yes. I think the premise of your question is correct that the NPT— part of the bargain, the grand bargain, behind the NPT was that the number of countries that would have nuclear weapons would be kind of capped where it was, but those countries that had nuclear weapons would take steps— and this is spelled out in the NPT, the Nonproliferation Treaty— would take steps to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. It seems to me that we do need to look like we’re making progress, and we do need to make progress in that direction. We have more nuclear weapons than we need right now.
But I want to get back to the previous question with respect to Iran, and the question of, well, you know, wouldn’t this be bad public relations in the Arab world if we do this? Well, the thing about foreign policy is that there are no perfect choices. There is always a greater evil and a lesser evil. They are already waging war against us. Iran has already shown interest in staging attacks against the United States. Three different sets of Iranian diplomats at the U.N. have been thrown out of the U.S. just in the last two years for suspiciously photographing infrastructure and transportation sites in New York. Iran has a record of direct government involvement in terrorist acts against civilians, including the  destruction of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina, and the ‘96 bombing in Saudi Arabia at the Khobar Towers housing complex in which 19 Americans died. The FBI has testified in court that Iran has done this, but Iran has never paid a price for either attack.
It seems to me this is a case where if we don’t draw the line with Iran and its nuclear program, there’s nowhere to draw the line. Either we’re going to get serious in our efforts to prevent an Iranian bomb or we will watch the world descend into hell where every hostile country or group will have the power to end the existence of the United States, and we will just have to count the days before the next [September 11 hijacker] Mohammed Atta goes ahead and does it.
MITCHELL: Even though facial reactions are not permitted here, we have reaction shots from Walter.
MEAD: Well, again, I certainly hope those Israelis don’t do anything for the nuclear capacity. But getting on the nuclear proliferation which, in many ways, is the key to the whole problem that we find ourselves in, it’s clear that the system of nonproliferation is breaking down. You think about India and Pakistan getting the bomb. You think about Libya making some strides in that direction before it gave it up. You know, what’s driving this is progress. In 1945, to build a nuclear weapon it took a measurable fraction of the GDP [gross domestic product] of the world’s richest countries, and we had a consortium of the smartest, best scientists from all over the world. People like Albert Einstein were part of the bomb team. Today, countries that are nowhere near the cutting edge of global technology and who are using scientists who might not be able to get tenure at leading research universities, much less win Nobel Prizes and so on, are able to put these things together. And as technology advances, it’s easier and easier to put them together undetected, because when it was very hard and expensive and complicated to build one of these things, it was not that hard for intelligence agencies and monitors to notice some very unusual things happening. They were able, with a high degree of certainty, to know who was doing what, and what state different people were at in their efforts. That has disappeared. In a sense, the technological basis of the existing multilateral proliferation regime has collapsed. The existing institutions are not good enough. The methods of detection are not effective enough, so that we can’t tell to any great extent where countries are on these things.
And, furthermore, in reaction to our satellite technology, which was giving us pretty good windows on the world, many more countries are doing things they don’t want anybody to watch underground. So, we’ve lost some of our ability to monitor. That’s the problem that we face. On the one hand, you have an international system that is largely outmoded by changing events. And on the other hand, you’ve got us facing what can be, in certain cases, existential threats from bad actors getting this.
Now, you can imagine, this basically gives us a set of unacceptable choices, and that’s partly why we’re having the kind of debates we’re having now in our country, and why we’ve had some of the problems that we’ve had in the last three years. Do we— alternative A would be to try to strengthen the multilateral system, taking into account these changes and, therefore, allowing far more intrusive methods of inspection, verification, and so on, at a level that we just don’t have now. I am not sure you could get a consensus of countries who would be willing to accept the much tighter regimen you would need for an effective multilateral regimen. So, the problem that we face in our nonproliferation strategy is intense. And then if you add biological and chemical weapons to the mix, you can see it’s going to just get worse, because it’s much harder to check if somebody is making anthrax than [if] somebody is making nuclear bombs. And if you project the curve of technology forward into the 21st century, what you see is a steady, comprehensive, multifaceted worsening of this already very grave problem.
On September 11, 1901, what was the worst thing that could happen? Then September 11, 2001, you get something else. Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen September 11, 2101? Because by then high school students in their labs at school will be able to do things, particularly in biology, that Nobel Prize winners can’t do now. So the range of problems— the reason that we as a country are having such difficulty with our foreign policy, the reason that we find it so impossible to find choices that work is not because we have suddenly become stupid, or evil, or witless. It is because we are facing new and extremely challenging issues.
MITCHELL: I’m going to suggest that even when our intelligence gets it, as with Pakistan and [nuclear scientist] A. Q. Khan [who sold nuclear technology on the black market], with the help of Great Britain and other countries we detect something, because of the competing foreign-policy choices, and our need in the war on terror, we back off of severe sanctions against Pakistan, and we permit players like A.Q. Khan to be pardoned, because we need [Pakistani President] Musharraf. So even when our intelligence works, this is the reality of what we face. Just a moment, this gentleman here, and then we’ll go over there.
QUESTIONER: Noel Fidel from the [Arizona State University] law school. You’ve described the worsening of the challenges we face, and the overextension of our forces, and that leads to a question about the draft. The president says he doesn’t want it. Senator Kerry says he doesn’t want it. The military says they don’t want it, but ultimately, how will we avoid it? Enlistments— people facing re-enlistment must be rethinking that possibility with extended tours of combat, and volunteers must be facing the same issues.
MITCHELL: Let me just say that as I travel and talk to young people on campuses, and maybe some of you can validate this, this is an issue that has taken off in terms of urban legends. And I think the Democrats are very quick to exploit it, because they know it is a motivator to get people out there. But John Kerry may have been correct in raising the issue in terms of the backdoor draft. If you talk to Reservists, as far as they’re concerned, these quick turnarounds and second and third tours are really the same thing as a draft, but I have not spoken to a single military leader who wants a draft. They believe that the volunteer army works for them, for all of the obvious reasons, both talent and training, and reliability.
MEAD: We have a problem, but the draft is not a fix to that problem. I think, to some degree, we should all remember that [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld turned out to be brilliantly right about how to fight war, not how to establish peace, but he was right that we could win the conventional war in Iraq with a different kind of very skilled and quite small military. And the technological revolution is going to continue to drive that, at the level of that kind of combat. What we’re faced with now is the, sort of, boots on the ground for security, policing, that sort of thing. Technically, one could imagine that draftee grunts could do some of that. But, my guess is, too, that there are ways of involving— of increasing the global capacity, so there are more countries that are able to provide that. And that is both politically and economically more effective. I think there are a lot of militaries out there that would welcome closer ties with the United States, and a bigger peacekeeping role, because there would be some budgetary consequences.
MITCHELL: In fact, in Haiti, and a couple of other places, we saw a great willingness by Pakistanis and some of the other countries, because they make money on those kinds of operations.
MEAD: That’s right. So I think the current situation, where you look for Germans and Canadians and French to do this, it is as economic as asking them to make your shoes or work your textiles. There are places where this capacity could be developed.
MITCHELL: Wait for the microphone for one second, sir.
QUESTIONER: I’m Bert Thomas, you know me. I’ve been an ambassador in the past, a career foreign service officer after that, and I was also an intelligence officer for many years, 14 years. And I’ve been to— [inaudible]--and know all about— from the ‘50s, from a time when nobody talked about it. But, you brought it up today, and it’s something to consider. But, I think it’s been a very valuable discussion, I want to thank you for your leadership, both here and on the TV, too. I do think that we’ve got references that we need to keep in mind. Think about Libya for just a minute. Nobody has given any recognition to Libya. Why did Libya do what they did? They did it, because they saw what happened to Iraq. It’s plain and simple. Nobody talks about that, because if Bush were to talk about it, they’d say, “Well, he must be defensive about this.”
The point is, we’ve got to have an America who will speak out and say, this was an example about, we mean what we say, and we want to work with people of the world. We’ve never acquired any acquisitions of any land, anywhere. This country is not— by the time we go through this campaign and hear people tearing the hide off people who are moderates on this whole thing, it’s going to be hard to get some of it back. But we wouldn’t have a Libya today if we hadn’t had courage in Iraq.
My wife served in Iraq, during the Iraq-Iran war. I’ve been in touch with a lot of these things through the years, as I indicated, in different capacities. But, I don’t want to make a political speech here. I do want to ask a question of the panel, which is: Are we going to give more recognition and emphasis to what’s happened in terms of the real world, in terms of the progress that’s been made the last few years? We’ve got too many people that are quibbling away, as typified by the draft discussion that just came up. I mean, we’ve got a couple of members of Congress that are talking about it, they only got two votes for it the other day. Yet you’ve got people scared to death all over this country about a potential draft. Cheap demagoguery is what it is, call it what it is. And the point is, gentlemen would you please respond to this in terms of your outlook. I hope it’s positive, in terms of the outlook for what we’ve done, typified by Libya.
MITCHELL: Thank you, sir. There’s no question that we have made a tremendous achievement in terms of the disarming of Libya and bringing Libya back into the community of nations.
LINDSAY: Libya definitely is put in the victory column, no question about that. We can quibble until the cows come home as to exactly why Libya did what it did. But, let’s accept the interpretation that it was because of the Iraq war. Looking out over the terrain right now, it appears that other countries didn’t draw the lesson that you are suggesting Libyans drew from the Iraq war. But rather, the lesson they’re drawing is that if you want to avoid tangling with the United States, make sure you have nuclear weapons. That’s why we didn’t go after North Korea, and that’s presumably part of the calculus dealing with Iran.
So I guess I’m not at all sure that we would— [inaudible]--that they called demonstration effects, go out and hit somebody with a two-by-four as a way of instilling obedience necessarily works terribly well in this case. And there has been no evidence that, with respect to the North Koreans, for example, in that way, in part because the North Koreans realize their situation is different. They realize that they have something— actually, they have two things the Iraqis didn’t have. One, they have nuclear material, if not a nuclear weapon. No. two, they hold the [South Korean] capital of Seoul, 10 million people, hostage. In essence, that changes dynamics. And I think we have to keep in mind, as we talk about this— and this really is a routine of dynamic interactions with other countries, where we need to be very sensitive to the power we have, but they can be very sensitive to where we’re weak; where they can sort of maximize their leverage, and in essence say to themselves: Is this really an existential threat to the United States?
To what extent is Iran, for example— I think we’ll use this phrase existential threat. I’m not sure Iran, even with a nuclear weapon, is an existential threat. I don’t believe it can actually destroy the United States, or at least it’s not an existential threat in the same way the Soviet Union was to the United States. And that was also an implacable ideological foe, and as I recall, we were able to navigate that through deterrence and very smart diplomacy working with our allies. So I think that it’s important to talk about this, just in what political science calls game theory. Think about the different sort of routes you can take, and if you do one thing, how are they likely to counter, what kind of outcome is this going to take you to, and at the end of the day, is that a destination you want to be?
I think one of the great things with having these opportunities to talk is for people to begin to think about, well, what if we did bomb them, what would happen next? Or what if we just let them go along their way and get it, how bad would it be? And to do a mind experiment, we play along and say, what would that look like? Then evaluate across them, which is the more desirable world, and which is the most likely to get to.
MITCHELL: And we would hope that our policymakers, no matter who is elected, would be gaming all of these choices as well, and as aggressively, rather than being hard bound in the ideologies of preconceived notions or campaign speeches, or debate positions. I think we have time for one more question, maybe two more.
QUESTIONER: I’d like to go back to—
MITCHELL: Are you a student here?
QUESTIONER: Yes, I am a student. I wanted to go back to talk about the future administration. Somebody said that Kerry would probably work more closely with Europe. But, I was wondering, if Bush were to win the election, is there any hope for reconciliation with Europe and even China? Do you guys think that war is inevitable with North Korea and/or China?
LINDSAY: No, I don’t think war is inevitable. I think taxes are inevitable. [Laughter.] You’ll learn about that soon when you finish school.
MITCHELL: Let’s say that— I’m going to— there’s a given that whether John Kerry or George Bush is elected, that there are certain international issues, such as the [International] Criminal Court, what would have been the Kyoto Accords [on global climate change], that neither of them would have been able to support.
MEAD: Kerry would have supported it, but he couldn’t get it through the Senate.
MITCHELL: He couldn’t get it through the Senate, and in fact, given what has happened in the Senate, that is clear. But, would there be a difference with Europe, with what George Bush would call the French Democratic candidate?
MEAD: I think probably not, in the sense that relations with France were actually pretty bad under Clinton, and the French view—
MITCHELL: Relations with France were bad under [Ronald] Reagan.
MEAD: Well, you know, relations with France were bad under [Thomas] Jefferson. I remember [inaudible] was talking about the possibility of a nuclear force in Europe. He says, “Yes, that would involve our traditional friends like Germany and our current friends like France.” So— but I think the real thing is when Kerry opened one of his debates by giving an impassioned hymn to the wisdom and necessity of pre-emption, he basically is saying he is on the Western side of the Atlantic on this issue. Basically the Europeans— at least some of them, and there’s a real complexity— there’s a lot of them, they have a lot of different points of view. But the ones who like to think of themselves the most as speaking for Europe really believe that the world is heading to becoming a kind of large European Union in which law will replace politics— and worse than politics, war— in determining what happens between nations. And, in a sense, we’re there now, if the United States would only behave. And, you know, most Americans, though not all Americans, aren’t willing to go there.