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International Affairs And Obama's First 100 Days: Policies, Priorities And Politics

Speakers: Samuel R. Berger, Chairman, Stonebridge International; Former Assistant To The President For National Security Affairs, National Security Council, and Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Former Secretary of State
Presider: David E. Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent, New York Times
May 7, 2009, New York, NY
Council on Foreign Relations

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DAVID E. SANGER: Good evening. Welcome to the new beautiful digs of the Council on Foreign Relations, a vast, vast improvement over the old, more cramped space. It's great to see so many here and so many old friends here.

Tonight we thought we would talk about the first 100 days and what new trends we have seen in both foreign and national security policy. We have a great panel of two today for whom, in the best reportorially fashion, I think the best I can contribute here is to basically introduce them and shut up and get out of the way. They don't really require any introduction.

Sandy Berger, to my immediate right, was, of course, national security adviser under President Clinton. And you can read the rest of his biography in the handout that you have. Secretary Lawrence Eagleburger was, of course, secretary of State starting in 1992. And we are eager to hear their views on what the past 100 days have brought and, I think in many more interesting ways, what the next 100 days may bring as President Obama turns from some really interesting initiatives to actually having to begin to execute some very difficult situations around the world.

I thought that we would just start by asking each of our panelists to talk for about five minutes each. And then I'll ask a few questions, and then we'll turn it out to all of you.

I'm asked to remind all of you to please take your cell phones and turn them to stun. (Laughter.) If you insist on leaving them on, at least have the decency to slip them into the pocket of your neighbor so that they're the ones who's embarrassed when they go off.

LAWRENCE S. EAGLEBURGER: I don't want to stay here any longer. (Laughter.)

SANGER: This meeting is, contrary to many at the council, actually on the record. I say this with joy as a journalist. So if anything really interesting and witty is said, you can quote it. If it's really, really witty, just attribute it to me.

So that takes our normal warnings here. And I think we will start with Sandy and ask for your impressions of the first 100 days.

SAMUEL R. BERGER: Thank you, David. It's a great pleasure for me to be here. It's a particular pleasure for me to share this podium with Larry Eagleburger who's (carried ?) such a distinguished career and a good friend.

Let me make some observations about the first 100 days, from my perspective. The first thing I would say is that Obama has not let the economic crisis rob him of his ambition on foreign policy. I think you can argue that the first 100 days has been the greatest burst of foreign policy initiatives in a comparable period in over a generation -- setting a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq, grappling with the twin problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan, setting a date for closing Guantanamo and banning torture, entertaining negotiations with Iran, pressing the reset button with Russia, we could talk more about that, a very vigorous outreach to the Muslim world, moves on Cuba, a new global policy on climate change, a recalibration of the defense budget. It is clear that, from the 100 days, that President Obama is seeking to lead the country in a different direction.

Second, I think what is notable is that there has been a significant change in how American foreign policy has been conducted over the first 100 days. There is a greater willingness for dialogue with our friends and adversaries. Some have described his willingness to talk to Iran and Syria and Cuba as a sign of weakness. President Obama clearly believes that negotiation does not mean concession, that it's a way of seeking common ground and, failing that, of laying the groundwork for tougher collective action if negotiations fail.

In a sense, what he's done is, I think, take the America card out of the hands of autocratic leaders around the world, the card by which they can demonize the United States in order to preserve their own position of power.

We've seen a much more pragmatic, less dogmatic foreign policy. No more rhetoric about democracy as the defining purpose of American foreign policy, no more discussion of ending tyranny in the world. This is America as problem-solver rather than crusader.

And there's been a willingness to be self-critical; again, criticized by some as unhelpful. But acknowledging that the drug problem in Mexico is partly our responsibility, that our Cuba policy, our Burma policy have failed, I believe this actually enhances our credibility in the world.

So all in all, it's been, I think, a new chapter of American engagement.

The third observation I would make is that, as is always the case, events intrude upon the best-laid plans of leaders. So a spike in violence in Iraq, while it has not yet jeopardized the withdrawal timetable, not least because the Iraqi government insists upon our moving forward with that timetable, nonetheless is a source of real concern. We have to be concerned that we don't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The election of Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel certainly complicates President Obama's desire to move urgently and expeditiously to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process toward the objective of a two-state solution. Netanyahu, who argues that we have to trim Iran's wings before we can contemplate a Palestinian state. President Obama will argue back to him when he comes next week, I'm sure, that we need a viable peace process, not least because we have to be in a stronger position if we're going to confront Iran if negotiations fail.

Finally, in the realm of events intruding, obviously has been the deteriorating situation in Pakistan. Not a month ago, the administration completed a 60-day review of the Afghan policy and concluded that the aperture had to be open to look at Pakistan as a function, as part of dealing with the war in Afghanistan and the safe havens in Afghanistan. But over the last just few weeks, the assault on the government of Pakistan itself by the Taliban in Pakistan perhaps shifts the focus from Af-Pak to Pak-Af and is one of the most vexing problems, obviously, the president will have to deal with.

Finally, as David suggested, the first 100 days is just prologue. The real challenge comes now over the next weeks and months. Can we help the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan stem the Taliban tide? Is the violence in Iraq manageable? In the Middle East, Rahm Emanuel this week said to APAC that when Netanyahu comes next week, it's the moment of truth for Israel. But maybe to us, a moment of truth for Obama. Will there be a negotiated solution that's achievable with Iran? Or are we facing confrontation? Will Russia's action against its neighbors sabotage the effort for a new engagement?

All in all, this is a very ambitious beginning, in my view. As President Obama said in his inauguration, American leadership is back. He has great popularity. But as Les Gelb reminds us in his excellent new book, popularity is not power. Notwithstanding his popularity, he was not able to get the Europeans to increase their stimulus. He was not able to get them to increase troops to Afghanistan. Nonetheless, he is the dominant leader on the world stage, and it has been, I think, a very impressive 100 days.

SANGER: Thank you very much.

Mr. Eagleburger.

EAGLEBURGER: First of all, to show the difference between the two of us, he has talking points as well, but they're on a small piece of paper you couldn't see. I was stupid enough to come with them like this. (Laughter.)

Now, having said all of that, when we first were asked if we'd do this, I thought at first, well, you know, I don't know if you can tell anything in 100 days. But when I began to think about it, the first thing that occurred to me was to remember a meeting on June 4th, 1961 between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev. And Khrushchev very clearly came away from that meeting misjudging, I think, JFK but thinking he was a very weak president. And that probably, as much as any single thing thereafter, led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. And I have to say, on the basis of my looking at our new president over this 100-and-some days, I see the same kind of problems for us in terms of how he is going to be judged, not so much by Americans who may or may not have it right, but rather by others.

And I would note that, as Sandy said, the president got nowhere when it came to trying to ask the Europeans to help us in Afghanistan. I would only say that shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. I can remember way back when I was in office, making a speech in which I complained about the Europeans never doing anything for us -- (inaudible). I don't think that's changed just a great deal.

And while apologies and all of that activity may look good to us, I think you need to think about how the Russians and the Chinese and the Iranians and some of the rest of our friends, allies and enemies may have looked at all that activity on the part of the president. And there were some Americans, and I'm one of them, who didn't like what he was doing. But I don't think that's half so critical as the kinds of judgments that may or may not have been made by friends, allies and enemies over the qualities and the general thrust of President Obama's policies.

As to some of the issues, the documents issue, the torture issue, while I don't happen to believe, in many ways, it is an issue worthy of much discussion in terms of foreign policy, there are a couple of points to make, I think, the first of which is the to and fro on the part of the president about, are we going to investigate, are we not going to investigate? Damn it, I have to tell you, I don't know how in the world anybody who's been in this town for anything over two weeks at least can't at least wonder about the impact of these kinds of activities on the CIA. This is not the first time. There's a wonderful article, a piece by Stratfor on the whole question, the impacts on the agency of all those various different investigations over time.

I think it's worth very much thinking about whether what's being done, what the president has said and has not said, isn't something to worry about. I have a different view on torture, a lot of Americans don't. I must say, when you're talking about Khalid Sheikh Mohamed who was the fellow who entered the Twin Towers in New York, I don't think a little waterboarding would be anything to worry about much. But again, I have an unreconstructed view on this sort of thing. I do think there are times and there are people who deserve this kind of activity.

Now, having said that, the release of a number of documents but not all of them is, I think, and then the statement by the president as well, you can't tell from the documents that weren't released whether you could have gotten information in a better way or not. My answer to that is, Mr. President, release the rest of the documents. Until he does that, I think it's a cop out to make that kind of a statement. Nobody can prove it. And I myself tend to doubt it, but we'll never know until we see the documents.

There's another activity related to this that bothers me very much. The president has removed the issue of the war on terror back to a criminal activity. He didn't want the war of terror to be talked about anymore, we're going to view it as a criminal activity and basically put it back in the hands of the police. And I think that's a very bad mistake as well. That approach failed several times before. I don't think there's any reason to expect it will change.

On the defense budget and cuts and so forth, by and large, I'm not going to complain much about what he's done there. We had to expect that, whether it was good, bad or indifferent. And some of the things he wants to cut I think makes sense. There are two areas, however, where I am bothered. One is that he intends to cut the personnel of the military, and we are already stretched. And it would seem to me that that's one of the least-wise things to do, particularly to go back again for a moment, to those around the world who are trying to judge Obama and how tough he's going to be, I guess is the best way to put it.

And the other is missile defense where he's cutting way back. Yet these activities on the missile defense side of things were jointly done by us and some of our allies. And I remember it wasn't too long ago when President Bush was in office. Our friends here to my left -- and they're all to the left maybe, but anyway -- my friends were talking about Bush not realizing what he was doing to our allies when he did the sorts of things that they thought were unwise in terms of treating the allies. Well, one of them, I would think, is to try to budget items that we and allies are working on and particularly without even talking to our allies first about whether that should be done or not.

I have two other things, and then I'll shut up. The first is the nuclear issue. And on that, I have nothing to complain about with regard to the president. But I only would say it is important that somebody begin to pay some serious attention to this. I have been screaming for I don't know how many years that we had to find a way to stop countries from building these nuclear weapons or else we would, one of these days, inherit the whirlwind. And I think we are close. To quote Henry Kissinger, he said, quote, "The next literally few years will be the last opportunity to achieve an enforceable restraint."

All I can say here is I hope that this president, unlike many Republican presidents in the past have not done, I would hope he would come to grips with this issue. It's a terribly difficult one. And I think personally that unless the United States is prepared to use force, it's almost too late now. But if the United States is not prepared to use force, this is an issue that's gotten beyond us. And it will not be long before we see nuclear weapons on the hands of far too many states.

Finally, Afghanistan. I must say, ladies and gentlemen, I may be the only one old enough, but this sounds so much like the beginnings of Vietnam that I am very, very worried about it. There is no question that the president is going to put more troops in. He's said that. He's also said this is a war we must win. Well, I have to tell you, what he means by winning is win, we're not going to do it with 60,000 American troops there. We're probably not going to do it with 250,000 American troops there if they're going to stay there for any length of time. And the fewer troops we have, the longer that war is going to take if, as I think, that is what we're walking into.

And it is now compounded by the fact that Pakistan is coming apart at the seams with some very good reporting and analysis from a man to my far left, whom I'm trying to butter up a little bit so he'll be nice to me today. (Laughter.) But the point is, Pakistan is in a condition now where if we do decide we're going to put more troops into Afghanistan, and I think the president has decided that, he's going to have to explain to me and I hope to the rest of the American people, what do you do about making sure that you have means of resupply to those troops?

And Pakistan happens to be the only way you can get those supplies in, almost the only way. The same is going to be true of reinforcements. How many troops does he want to put in?

What the president needs to do with the American people right now and was never done in the Vietnamese case is he needs to answer some questions, the most important of which the American people need to know, what are his objectives in Afghanistan? The second question is, how does Pakistan and its conditions now affect that question of what he does in Afghanistan? How many troops is he going to put in there? Is he going to put enough in there to begin with if we don't have to dribble more troops in later on? How does he expect to win that war? What's it going to take to do so? Can we sustain the amount of troops that he's going to put in over a period of time, even if we don't rapidly win that war? I could go on.

The questions, every single one of them, can be asked on the basis of what we didn't ask in the Vietnam case. And I will tell you now, in my judgment, unless something is done very quickly, this president, for reasons I cannot understand since he doesn't want to fight a war in Iraq but he's prepared apparently to fight somewhere else, I cannot understand why he is doing what he's doing now in the light of what we should have learned in Vietnam. And he's going about, the way he's done so far at least, in precisely the terms we did in Vietnam in the first place. And it scares the hell out of me, frankly, ladies and gentlemen.

And with that, I'll be quiet.

SANGER: Well, thank you, both, very much. You've both laid out a great set of questions and a very rich area for us to explore. So let me just get the ball rolling with a question or two to each of you.

Sandy, let me start with you. Secretary Eagleburger has compared this first 100 days to the problems that Kennedy ran into in the meeting in Vienna with Khrushchev in 1961.

BERGER: I thought it was Paris.

SANGER: You're right. My question to you is, if Iran becomes that test of strength, of how long he's willing to pursue engagement and what his plan b is if, in fact, engagement fails, what would you advise, if you were in your old job, about how long he should pursue engagement, what kind of sanctions he should seek if engagement fails, what mix of incentives and sanctions? And finally, since we're going to see Prime Minister Netanyahu next week, what he would say to the Israelis about how long they must restrain their own impulses here to go out and solve this militarily?

BERGER: Well, I think -- let me say, first of all, I think it is likely that the Iranians will accept negotiations with us. I think the best-case scenario is that we are able to find some agreement with respect to curbing their nuclear program. I don't think that's the most likely scenario. I think the most likely scenario is that they drag their feet while they continue to move forward with their program. And so therefore, I don't think this process can last indefinitely, and I don't think the Israelis will let us go on indefinitely before they feel existentially threatened and take matters into their own hands, to the extent they can.

I can't put a matter of days or months or weeks on it, but I think that if, in the next year, we have not made significant progress with the Iranians, I think it is time to shift plans to a much more coercive approach, hopefully our willingness to engage with the Iranians will strengthen our hand with the Europeans and the Russians and the Chinese to move for more corrective sanctions. But I don't think this Russia issue can go on forever.

SANGER: The president has said he would never tolerate an Iran with a nuclear weapon. Should he tolerate an Iran that has a nuclear weapons capability? In other words, they put all the elements together but don't take all the (lab ?) steps, which many think is the more likely scenario.

BERGER: You know, I think that's a possible outcome, but it would have to be very clear. There would have to be sufficient transparency that we were clear that we could track what the Iranians were doing. There's obviously a lot of different steps on that continuum with respect to where you draw the line. I'm not sure that, at the end of the day, accepting some kind of enrichment is better than military action.

SANGER: Secretary Eagleburger, in your discussion at the end there of Afghanistan and Pakistan -- (inaudible) -- should know whether you think, at this point as we watch Pakistan descend into a chaotic state whose end point none of us know, would you advise the president, if you were in your old job, that his first strategic concern has to be Pakistan or Afghanistan? And if it is Pakistan, how do you justify putting more and more troops into the country that does not have the biggest strategic interests and that does not have the 60 to 100 nuclear weapons? Can you imagine a scenario in which we might have to insert troops, even briefly, into Pakistan?

EAGLEBURGER: Yes, I can. I'm inclined to think the Pakistani situation is not quite as bad as it looks. I don't think the Taliban is about to overthrow the government. I don't think they are about to grab hold of these nuclear weapons. But that's not the issue. The way you've cast the question, I think I have to answer it by saying -- none of this applies right now anyway -- I think it is extremely dangerous to put more troops -- I have to be careful because I really want to see us do what should be done in Afghanistan. So I'm not saying that I'm opposed to it. I'm opposed to it under present circumstances, given what surrounds the problem. And I don't see how the president or his military advisers can say, put your troops into Afghanistan and we'll see whether Pakistan survives or not.

What I'm saying here is I do think there has to be a fair degree of confidence that Pakistan will be brought to some sort of stability prior to putting very many more troops into Afghanistan. Now, that isn't to say that, at the present moment, I think we have to put troops into Pakistan. But if in fact, unlike the way I think it's going to go, things continue to deteriorate in Pakistan, despite the fact that I think the Pak military is likely to do something before then, I would show you how benighted I am. I wouldn't mind a general running that country at all, if it were the right general.

BERGER: Can I add -- I think, just to that point, just as we cannot look at Afghanistan without looking at how the cross-border support for the Afghans in Pakistan supports that effort, so, too, we can't look at Pakistan without regard to Afghanistan. And if Afghanistan were to fall to the Taliban, Pakistan would not be far behind. And so you can't unscramble this egg.

The reason I think, Larry, it's different than Vietnam, because we did not have a direct national security interest in Vietnam.

EAGLEBURGER: We thought we did.

BERGER: We thought we did, but we didn't. And we have two, at least, it seems to me, in Afghanistan. One is that if the Taliban were to take over large portions of Afghanistan, it would become again a sanctuary for al Qaeda, which is the most direct lethal threat to the United States. And that is something, I think, we want to avoid. Second of all, if Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, Pakistan, I think, is under enormous pressure then from Pakistani Taliban. So I think you've got to look at these two countries together.

EAGLEBURGER: I don't argue the looking at the two of them together at all. It doesn't seem to me that, at least up until now, this administration has looked until they got shot at here in the last week or so. I don't think they've looked at the Pak question. I agree they have to be looked at together. I also agree that there's a difference in terms of making sure that the Taliban, et cetera, don't take over Afghanistan without arguing that you have to put x number of troops into Afghanistan to keep it stable for a while.

But I am saying that to make a decision on putting troops into Afghanistan without any explanation to the American people what it is he intends -- maybe he doesn't know, and I suspect that's the case. But until he can tell us what it is he intends in Afghanistan and Pakistan and how they relate -- and we don't relate them by putting the president of Pakistan and the president of Afghanistan on the stage with him when you've got two out of the three that probably are scared to death and the third one ought to be. It seems to me, yes, they have to be examined together. I don't argue that. But I don't trust what he's doing now with regard to Afghanistan.

And as I say, I don't see any evidence, until this last week, that he thought of Pakistan in terms of what needs to be done for both countries. And I will also tell you something else. Unless I have totally misunderstood this president on the basis of what he campaigned on -- which he's changing all the time anyway, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised -- but I do not understand. The whole impression I at least had of him was no more wars, we're going to get out of Iraq, no more wars, we're going to play a different game than that awful George Bush. And yet, here we are talking about some form of 60,000 to 80,000 or however-many-thousand troops into Afghanistan. And now we're beginning to talk about Pakistan.

But it seems to me that, to some degree, at least the press, but you're an exception, have gotten the wrong idea on the Pakistan thing. They run around scared to death about the Paks losing their nuclear weapons. I think that is far less likely than that they come apart to some degree and then maybe in the later stage the weapons become a problem.

But I say it one more time. I think before Pakistan goes too much into the tank, we will find some Pakistani general to take over, and that wouldn't bother me a bit.

SANGER: Mr. Eagleburger, let me just back up on one other of your statements earlier when you were discussing the torture memos and so forth. You made the statement that you didn't think a little waterboarding was something to worry about when it comes to the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohamed. The argument that President Obama made at his news conference a week ago was that by renouncing these techniques, despite what Vice President Cheney said a few weeks ago, we emerge stronger because we have shown the rest of the world not only that we stick with our values but that we take this issue away as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda and for the Taliban. I take it you fundamentally find that argument unconvincing.

EAGLEBURGER: Totally. But please, don't throw the former vice president at me. I think he's a jerk. (Laughter.) That's not the issue.

SANGER: Could we try to get some of your real feelings out here? (Laughs.)

EAGLEBURGER: But look, it seems to me that in fact what the president has done is precisely one of the things that bothers me so much. He said we have improved our image abroad, blah, blah, blah. I don't have any proof of that. He says it's worked its way. I can bet you on the -- unless everybody in Europe, for example, has really changed from when I used to work with them, I will bet you they're sitting in their private offices saying, you know, I'm not sure what the hell he's about but he looks awful weak to me. Can we really rely on him?

What I'm trying to get at here is that I think there is a question to be asked at least as legitimate as accepting his statements on the record. There's at least as (popular a question ?) which is, has it really worked the way he says? Or has it in fact rather, as I said at the very beginning of this thing, has it played into the hands of those who feel he is too weak? Or that he is weak and that's what we've seen demonstrated over the first 100 days?

And I think it is very difficult to make the claims he has made without thinking about the private statements that may be made about the same thing.

BERGER: The problem I have with that is that there's very little in these memos that was not in the public domain before the memos were released. And so there's not very much that anybody learned. The fact that we were doing waterboarding has been known since The New York Times --

EAGLEBURGER: Pelosi didn't seem to think so.

BERGER: Well, when did The Times write that story, 2005?

SANGER: Yeah.

BERGER: So the notion that somehow, you know, we have shown our hand to the bad guys --

EAGLEBURGER: I didn't say that. I didn't say that.

BERGER: I think it's been out there. And I think now, at least, we've cleared the air.

EAGLEBURGER: No. The thing I said and I still say is he's made his claims about the releasing of the documents and what they demonstrate and don't demonstrate. He has also said, in effect, we could have gotten this other information without all these vicious things like dripping water in somebody's mouth. And my point is I don't think there's any way to prove that. And the only way to prove it, one way or the other, and I hate it as a principle, but I don't see any other way to either call his bluff or demonstrate that he's right other than to release the rest of the documents. And so long as he is resting his argument on one half of the whole thing, I'm not going to believe him. When he wants to release all the documents, then we'll make our judgment.

SANGER: Very good. We are going to open it up to all of you. If you're interested in asking a question, please indicate that. Wait for the microphone. Please tell us your name, your affiliation. And we're going to go to the unusual council policy of actually asking people to ask a question, which is different than making a statement and ending it with, do you agree? (Laughter.)

So we'll start right then.

QUESTIONER: Sally Horn, consultant. I'd like to ask each of you one simple question. Given where you are in the sense of what you think of the last 100 days, outside of the issue of the memos, what would your advice be for the next 100 days?

SANGER: Sandy, do you want to start?

BERGER: Buckle your seatbelt. I mean, I think the next 100 days are going to be much harder than the first 100 days. We have still an international economic situation which is serious and which is going to continue to cause instability, I think, in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. We have a deteriorating situation with Pakistan. We have the question of, how manageable is the violence in Iraq? We have Mexico to our south, which is in great distress. So I think this is going to be a very, very difficult and challenging period coming up.

EAGLEBURGER: First of all, I don't think another 100 days is going to make much difference. The interesting thing about this first 100 days is that, at least in my view, it does demonstrate -- and I think Sandy's basically said the same thing -- it does demonstrate to a great degree where the president's mind is, what is it he's aiming to do. It's just that the two of us disagree on what that is. But I think the path, to a degree, has already been set. I don't think you're going to learn much more over the next 100 days.

However, to me, much as I think foreign policy issues are terribly important largely because I don't understand much about economics -- I'm scared to death about that even more than I am the foreign policy issues -- I really think that until we see whether this administration or any administration can begin to turn us away from the downward grade we've been going, I'm not going to be confident about anything else in this country. Because if it keeps on going as it has, I think our economic difficulties are going to override anything else we try to do.

And much of this administration has now transferred the m to b so it's no longer millions, it's now billions. The fact of the matter is, whether it's going to work or not or whether we're going to be in inflations that's going to kill us all, I don't know yet. I want to see what happens on the economic side and how well the administration is able to cope with that. And I think it's a far worse problem in the long run for the future of this country than anything we've talked about today.

SANGER: Mr. Gilmore, just wait a moment. There's a microphone, thank you.

QUESTIONER: Jim Gilmore, consultant. Thomas Rich has written a book called "The Gamble" that talks about the counterinsurgency policy that General Petraeus put in in Iraq. And that policy was that they were going to put lots of soldiers out there in the communities and on every street corner. And the message to the people, the leadership of the tribes was going to be, you will not be taken in the middle of the night by terrorists, we are here, call us, we're with you, and we're not leaving. And therefore, they would work with us and stop blowing us up. It seems to have worked. Now we're leaving. Now there's been a spike in violence in Iraq. Is this because of the Obama reversal of policy? And if Iraq now explodes, will it be because of the Obama reversal of policy?

BERGER: I take it that's directed at me.

SANGER: He just seemed to be looking at you when he asked the question. (Laughs.)

BERGER: Well, first of all, President Obama accepted the recommendation of General Petraeus with respect to what to do in Iraq. This is not something he took out whole cloth. He had talked in the campaign about a faster timetable. But then when he became president, Petraeus had done a very substantial review of Iraq policy and recommended an 18-month timetable for taking combat troops out and then leaving 50,000 troops for an indefinite period of time thereafter, at least until 2011. That's not terribly different that the time frame that President Bush was talking about when he left office, though without a specific or precise deadline. So I think this is consistent with what General Petraeus believed ought to be done with Iraq.

SANGER: Okay, in the back corner over there.

QUESTIONER: How are you doing? My name is Travis Atkins. I'm with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

EAGLEBURGER: Louder, please.

QUESTIONER: I'm sorry. I'm with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Two questions for Secretary Eagleburger. The first one is on the issue of torture. I don't think it's as much about whether men who would just as soon kill us as shake our hands deserve to be tortured. But I think the question becomes, is it outside of our values, as we say it is? And the second question is, is it even effective?

And my second question for you on Afghanistan. So many people have been comparing it to Vietnam. But when Ambassador Holbrooke was here, one of the points that he laid out was that one of the key differences is that there was no mortal threat to the mainland of the United States inside of Vietnam, and the same cannot be said of Afghanistan. So I wonder if you could comment on those.

EAGLEBURGER: Yeah, let me take the second one first. I don't know why the problems with Afghanistan -- I have to be careful how I say this. I come back to something that was said earlier. In regards to Vietnam, please remember that at the time we went in and at the time that Lyndon Johnson got us up to 500,000 troops in the country, the belief was that it was a major threat to the security of the United States, although it may have been several stages further before it would become an immediate threat. I think that was a totally wrong assessment. And I think we, all of us, Republicans and Democrats, made a terrible mistake.

Having said that, I don't think I'm going to be prepared to accept that because Richard Holbrooke, whom I've never agreed with -- (laughter) -- says that it's a real threat to the country now and it wasn't in the Vietnam case, Holbrooke was running around Vietnam telling everybody, including me, that it was a major threat to the United States. (Laughter.) So I think there is a point, but only up to a point, and that is I think it is probable that the threat to the United States is greater -- well in fact I would say I know it's greater -- if in fact Afghanistan and Pakistan should both collapse and go down the tube.

I don't think that's the case. And I said earlier, I am not arguing about the need to do something in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. What I'm saying is I haven't the vaguest idea what the president's objectives are in either country and certainly not in Afghanistan. When he says this is a war we must win, does he mean that literally? I don't know whether he means it literally. I do know damn well that if he's not prepared to put in sufficient troops to win it, and that's a lot more than he's talking about, and I don't think he has the guts to put in as many as are probably necessary if he's going to win the election three years from now, and I think that is a consideration on his mind in terms of what he's going to do about Afghanistan and Pakistan, he sure is not, I think, likely to want to be in a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan three years from now when he's running for reelection. And that gives me a real worry about whether he's prepared to do what's necessary in those two countries or not. So that's the first point.

What was the other question? I get so wound up here that -- what was the other one?

SANGER: Torture.

EAGLEBURGER: Oh, torture, torture. Look, there's no way for me to answer that question. You either believe that our values are so important, and I don't argue with those who so believe, that they are so important that nothing can be done that challenges those values. I accept that as a perfectly legitimate argument. I don't agree with it. And I don't agree with it in the sense that I think that those people who are in charge of this country also have an obligation to remember that they're in charge of the lives and good fortunes of their own citizens. And if in fact this Khalid Sheikh Mohamed who is the one that was the mastermind of bringing down the two buildings in New York, if we capture him and we have a fairly good understanding that he intends to do some more of those things, I want to find out about it. And we did, and they were stopped.

If we hadn't done that and we hadn't found out about it, how are you going to explain to the American people the next time one of those buildings comes down and 5,000 people are killed? So you face -- and to me, it is a choice that either side has a perfectly legitimate argument to make. All I'm saying to you is I don't agree with you in the end on the definition of our values. That's all.

BERGER: Can I comment on that? First of all, I actually agree with you, Larry --

EAGLEBURGER: Uh-oh, I'm wrong. (Laughter.)

BERGER: -- that he ought to release the other memos because we can have a clearer sense of whether this stuff worked. My impression from the reporting is that there's very little evidence that it did work or that other methods could not have been equally effective. And that, you know, Abu Zabada, for example, who was one of the first people to be waterboarded, apparently gave up most of what he gave up before these enhanced practices were ever imposed on him. So I think it's a fair question, and I think, you know, I think the trade-off is, do we want to continue to have this argument, or do we want to stop and move on, versus do we want to have a full picture of whether these things were effective? And I think it a fair point that those memos ought to be released.

EAGLEBURGER: He's standing on one leg unless he does that. Excuse me, I interrupted you.

BERGER: On values, I think it's not just a question of our values in and of themselves. It's also a question of what this does in terms of our standing in the world and the extent to which others embrace these practices against Americans when we're taken prisoner. You know, it's not an accident that John McCain has been a vigorous opponent of torture. He knows whereof he speaks. And it's very hard for us to oppose these practices against Americans abroad if we're practicing these. So I think that's part of the equation as well.

SANGER: Okay, against the very back wall, the gentleman with his hand up there. Yes.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Chong Lo (ph) from Radio Free Asia. I'd like to ask you -- my question is regarding the North Koreans. The Obama administration has focused on the Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. But now North Korea is making trouble right now in the six-party talks with the nuclear test announcement. I would like to ask you, what's your view of the Obama administration's North Korea policy? And then how do you advise this administration solve this trouble on the six-party talks and the future of North Korean policy. Thank you.

SANGER: Could I amend that for you to ask the question, have we seen North Korean policy yet?

BERGER: I don't think really we have, David. But I think what we're seeing in North Korea is classic North Korean behavior which is to create a crisis in order for them to have some negotiating leverage to give away to solve the crisis, to create a problem and then bargain away the solution as a benefit. I think the administration has been smart not to rise to that bait. Obviously, it is deeply troubling that North Korea has thrown out the inspectors, that it appears to be resuming its nuclear program. But I don't think that -- and you know, we've moved to the United Nations for intensifying the sanctions. But I think we have to be careful not to play into the North Korean's hands by letting them provoke a crisis which we then try immediately to compromise on.

SANGER: Mr. Eagleburger.

EAGLEBURGER: How do I answer? Well, first of all, I think this is a classic case in which there isn't a Republican or a Democrat who's been involved in this issue has had the vaguest idea what they were doing. I think both Republican and Democratic administrations have screwed this one up fairly well. Each time, they've suckered to what the North Koreans have told them. I don't think this administration, no matter what it does, can make any difference in that regard.

But this gets me back to a point I touched on very briefly on the nuclear issue. And I just don't know how the civilized world can deal with this issue and let it ride along as long as it has. Now, I understand the Chinese have one view, and they worry about North Korean refugees crossing borders and that the Russians had another view for a long period of time. I understand all of that.

But the Chinese, the Russians, the United States, the British, the French, anybody else who's had anything to do with this issue is going to regret to their dying day, and it may be sooner than we think, about the way in which the nuclear issue has been let out of the box, the way it's going to continue to grow. And I will tell you now, I will make you a bet, except I'm too old, I won't be around, but within the next 20 years and I would be within the next decade, somewhere, someplace in this world, somebody is going to use a nuclear weapon in anger. And if it's not 10 years, it may be 20, however long it is.

I'll quote Kissinger as saying, if we don't get this thing under control within the next short time, there will be no time left to do it. I think we should have done it years and years ago. And if it took force to do it, I wouldn't mind it. I don't mind if it takes force to do it in the Iranian case. But nobody's going to have guts enough to do it. And sooner or later, we are all going to regret the fact that we let this thing go on as long as we have and get totally out of control. And I'm sorry. I don't know what to do about it now.

SANGER: Just to press you on this. In that moment in 2003, as we were headed into Iraq when the North Koreans first threw out the inspectors -- as Sandy said, we've all been to this movie before -- when they threw out the inspectors and declared that they were going to move all of the nuclear fuel that had been locked up since the 1994 agreement, should President Bush, at that time, have halted the movement toward Iraq and dealt with North Korea?

EAGLEBURGER: I see what you're asking. You're going to catch me on this one, and I almost was caught, but anyway. Look, the answer to that, I'm not sure I know how to answer it because I guess what I feel very strongly about is that this nuclear issue is THE most important issue we face and have faced for decades. And I guess I'm saying if in fact George Bush had been prepared to do whatever was necessary with regard to North Korea, and that included getting out of Iraq, I'd pay the price.

SANGER: This was before we got in, remember?

EAGLEBURGER: Okay, yeah. When you put it, what -- 2000 -- what was it?

SANGER: It was January, February and March of 2003.

EAGLEBURGER: Three, yeah. No, well, my answer is anything at all, there is nothing at all, in my mind, can possibly supersede or in any way be as important as solving this nuclear issue which we have not solved and I don't think we will solve. And some of you people who aren't as old as I am are going to see some things occur here that I would rather never have anyone see.

SANGER: The gentleman right here.

QUESTIONER: Hi, sir. Jim Susnicki (ph) from (CEEF ?) here in Washington, D.C. Just a two-part question. Number one, when you strip away kind of the demonization of Iran or the demonization of Israel and look at the issue of nuclear weapons, I would submit, and I'd like your comment on this, that the fundamental reason Israel developed a nuclear program was to ensure its borders and its very existence. The fundamental motivation for Iran to try to develop one is to make an announcement that they have arrived as a developed country. So one is a status, we want a seat at the table, one is a very fundamental question of existence. So first of all, do you accept that as the fundamental motivations for both programs?

And second, if you do, is there anything that the U.S. could do to help satisfy both of those, to help satisfy Israel's fundamental desire for preservation and Iran's desire to be a full member of the first world, as it were?

SANGER: Before we answer that, we're just going to take sort of two questions here, and then we'll take two over here because we're running short on time.

The gentleman right back here.

QUESTIONER: Evan Williamson from Sullivan & Cromwell. (Inaudible) -- to rule about a statement. And as the secretary is a former legal adviser, I just want to say that I don't want tomorrow's headlines in The New York Times to read, Secretary Eagleburger favors torture. I think that whether waterboarding is torture is a hotly contested legal issue and implicit in the secretary's comments is that he agrees with many that waterboarding is not torture. What we have is a serious debate as to whether or not waterboarding should be used as an interrogation technique, not whether or not we favor use of torture.

SANGER: The gentleman back here, I think he had a question.

EAGLEBURGER: Can I just say I think you're right, but I also have reached the point in my life I don't care what the newspapers say anymore. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Good evening. C.D. Glin with Citizens Development Corps. We're an economic development NGO. My question is on the role of foreign assistance to international development in the Obama administration and as it relates to national security. We've seen in the first 100 days sort of three signs. And I don't know if these are pros or cons. But one sign in terms of foreign assistance and international development is that there is no USAID administrator named, there's no CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, there's no director of the Peace Corps who's been named. At the same time, there has been created a senior development director at NSC in the form of Gail Smith, so that's a positive sign. But also a memorandum and proclamation came out that the USAID administrator won't be a member of the National Security Council. So I wanted to get some feedback on the role of foreign assistance and international development in our national security in the Obama administration.

SANGER: Thank you. Who wants to take the nuclear question before, which was a fundamental issue for --

BERGER: You know, I think your description of motivations is appropriate. I think Iran wants a nuclear weapon to assert hegemony in the region. And I think a nuclear-powered Iran would be fundamentally destabilizing to the region and would provoke a nuclear arms race that Larry is talking about with perhaps 14 nations in the region that would have some interest in pursuing whether or not they should have nuclear programs. So I think this is fundamentally against America's interests.

SANGER: And anything to say on the foreign assistance issue?

BERGER: Well, I'm troubled by, you know, the slowness although, you know, there's a nominating process and a confirmation process is a difficult one. But I'd like to see an AID administrator and a director of the Peace Corps. And I think we will soon. I think the people that he has put in place, like Gail Smith who used to work for me, is terrific and, you know, reflects, obviously, his desire to have very strong people with that portfolio. And I think this is a priority for Secretary Clinton. So I think you've just go to give it a little time. I don't think this foreshadows a lack of focus on development assistance. I suspect this would emerge as a significant priority of Secretary Clinton and the president.

SANGER: Sandy, on the overall issue with appointments, where are they now compared to where you were in the first 100 days?

BERGER: I don't know what the numbers are, David. You know, they had a fast start. They got out of the box faster than we did.

EAGLEBURGER: They hadn't paid their income taxes yet. (Laughter.)

SANGER: We all paid our income tax.

BERGER: I think the vetting process has become almost draconian. And you know, obviously, we don't want to have people in these positions that are guilty of malfeasance. But when you have IRS audits going over people's tax returns for the last 10 years, I don't know anybody, except Larry, who could survive one of those audits. (Laughs.)

EAGLEBURGER: It's because I'm broke. (Laughter.)

BERGER: And so I think it's been a combination of self-imposed problem of the administration plus the Senate Finance Committee and others on the Hill who have taken this view. And I think that's caused this process to slow down in a very unfortunate way.

SANGER: Do you have something to --

EAGLEBURGER: Yeah, I wanted to just -- two points quickly, you know. On the aid issue, I just would like to remind people, because you won't find it in most television programs or newspapers, although I'm sure that's not true of The New York Times, that it was George Bush who put more money into aid in Africa than any president before him and probably since him, by the way. So George Bush, the number two George Bush, a terrible man, I understand that from everything I've read of late, but at least he didn't do that.

Now, on the nuclear and Israeli issue, there I have a -- first of all, I'm not sure what the -- I do agree with you. I know why the Israelis did it, I think. Whether the Iranians did it because Ahmadinejad has said that Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth and this was one way to do it, or whether it was much more a question of the strengthening of his own country's abilities, I will say one thing, if I may, that only partly relates to this and will lead to terrible horrification on the part of most here today.

My personal view of the United States and its support of Israel is, when will we learn that every time we put Senator Mitchell or anybody else out there to try to solve the question of Israel and its neighborhood it's a waste of time? It never works. And as far as I'm concerned, unless what you like is to send Senator Mitchell out of the country somewhere so he's not a problem -- (laughter) -- or whether you like paying his airfare or something, it isn't going to work this time anymore than it has any other time. And to me, we are wasting our time. And I know that's a horrible thing to say. But each time we do it, one way or another, we twist the Israeli's arms into giving up something in the response that's supposed to be that these wonderful neighbors will say something nice about them.

The fact of the matter is that it hasn't worked before. I would like to remind you that Gaza once was a part of Israel, and it wasn't shooting at the Israelis the way it has been ever since we talked them into giving it up. So I just wanted everybody to know -- lucky I'm not ever going to get back in government because as far as I'm concerned we tried hard with regard to the Israelis, it hasn't worked, and it's time we didn't give the Palestinians and their other compatriots the least sense that if they push us enough we'll get something else out of the Israelis, which is half the reason that they like to see us there.

SANGER: Okay, I promised one very fast lightning round here. Last two questions. Back there, ma'am. Right over here, stand up.

QUESTIONER: Yes, thank you. My name is -- (inaudible) -- and the European Broadcasting System. And at the last Summit of the Americas, President Obama announced he is going to travel to Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. And I would like to know -- my question is for both of you -- what will your recommendation for President Obama regarding politics of the region. And why it takes so long for a new assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, I mean for the designation? Thank you.

SANGER: Okay. And right here, this gentleman right on the aisle.

QUESTIONER: I'm Welby Leaman from the Treasury Department. I wanted to ask --

EAGLEBURGER: I can't hear you. What? Louder.

QUESTIONER: Welby Leaman from the Treasury Department. I wanted to ask what the role of democracy promotion should be in our foreign policy. Mr. Berger, you mentioned crusaderism on behalf of democracy by Bush and pragmatism, including, you know, extending talks to Iran and Venezuela and others by Obama. I'm wondering whether, are you drawing a distinction between the strict importance of our being a model of how democracy should comport itself but being somewhat lax about our incentivizing democracy abroad when you make those comments and then also laud Obama for dealing with the torture issue, closing Gitmo and so forth? Or are you drawing a distinction between maybe democracy promotion and sort of broader, more general rule-of-law promotion?

SANGER: Okay, Latin America first.

BERGER: First of all, there has been an assistant secretary named, and I think he's a very, very competent person. And I guess he's not gone through a process yet, but I think you'll be very satisfied with him. I'm glad that Obama is going to Brazil and Mexico and Colombia. I think that Latin America was neglected, I think, for too long. And these countries now are important, not only in a regional context but also as players in a global context, particularly Brazil. So I think, you know, I welcome him traveling to those countries.

SANGER: On democracy promotion was the other question.

BERGER: Yeah, you know, I think democracy certainly needs to be an important objective, promoting democracy in American foreign policy. I think what we had in the last administration was a bumper sticker rather than a policy. And so we wind up having elections in Gaza that produces Hamas without setting the stage for civil structures that can actually result in democracy producing better results.

I think what I was talking about is not suggesting that democracy is not still an important interest to the United States but that how we promote it, I think, is very important.

SANGER: Secretary Eagleburger, the last word.

EAGLEBURGER: That's lucky for me and not for you. No, but first of all on this point about assistant secretary, I guess, Sandy, I don't know if you'd disagree with me but, you know, I really do believe departments and bureaus could get along without an assistant secretary. (Laughter.) And they usually have in the past. You know, you've got a number of good people in the country offices. Sooner or later, you get an assistant secretary, sometimes he's a turkey, and sometimes he's a good guy. But you don't always know until you get them. So I don't really -- I'm trying to be serious. I don't think 100 days, given what I've gone through myself in terms of confirmations, I don't think that's a particularly unusual event.

On the question of democracy, here we go again. I believe this country has an obligation to do what they can to foster democracy and make it work when it isn't going to totally wreck and disrupt the country in which you're trying to do it. And there are some countries in which if you have a democracy, his point in terms of Gaza, it turns out you have an election once and that's it. On the other hand, what he argues for is if you're going to have a democracy in country x, we have to get in there first, intervene in their internal affairs and teach them how to be Democrats, not Republicans, Democrats. (Laughter.)

My point again is one of the things that worries me most about the democracy issue is not that it isn't a meritorious thing to pursue. But please try to put it in the context of the country involved. And in some countries, democracy, unless the institutions have been developed well enough to handle it, in some countries it's going to be an absolute disaster. And I would not apologize if we go in, look at a country and say, well, here's a country where we have to be very slow and very careful about putting together the institutions and democracies and not trying to tell them all the time what it is they ought to be doing, which we do too much of, Republicans or Democrats. We get into internal affairs of countries we ought to have no business in.

So all I'm trying to say here is on the democracy side, it is a reasonable thing to expect this country to foster, but we must be careful how and when we do it.

SANGER: Well, thank you very much. Thank both of you. Thank you, all, for your fabulous questions. We'll all reconvene here in 200 days when the answers to all of this will be incredibly clear. So I appreciate it.

(Applause.)

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