Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Former President, World Bank Group; Former Deputy Secretary of State; Author, America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy
Presidential Historian and Author
Robert Zoellick and the historian Michael Beschloss discuss Ambassador Zoellick’s new book America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, as well as his distinguished career in which he served at senior levels of the U.S. government as well as the president of the World Bank.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you all very much for joining us today and especially all of our friend, Bob Zoellick, whose biography I'm not going to go through, because you all know it. And you also know he's written this wonderful book just came out from Twelve called America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy. We want to talk mainly about the book, but I thought we would begin Bob, we were talking a few minutes ago, offline, a little bit how you got into this line of work. We are both from Illinois, you are from Naperville. It strikes me that not a lot of people from Naperville, Illinois have gone into the areas, the professions that you had in life. How did that all start?
ZOELLICK: Well, first, Michael, thanks very much for hosting this. It's wonderful to be with a true distinguished historian to talk about a history book. But as you mentioned, I was from the western suburbs, you're from the southern suburbs. Probably most of the people that found their way out to the east coast prefer the northern suburbs. But my, my father had served in World War Two and then was recalled for Korea. And we had a lot of military surplus equipment around the house. So that might have generated some of my, my interest in military history. But I always really loved history.
BESCHLOSS: You were born the last year of the Korean War, right?
ZOELLICK: I was born right about the time of the armistice, I often tell my friends that I had a role in this obviously, and it helped my father survive, which was nice. So I always enjoyed history, and I think it was a window to the world past and at that time, it'd be hard for people to conceive now but growing up and oh, no, at that time, I didn't have the same expectations for travel and, getting around the world, somewhat ironic in light of later events. And so history was a way of learning and seeing things about a totally different perspective than I would have at home. I think I also develop perhaps because of that time period, a sense of America having a special role in the world. And as I read history, I decided to think about policies and problem solving and asking myself, "well, what if I were in this person's position? So what would I do?" So in a way, history started to offer insights on how to do better as opposed to an acceptance of timeless obstacles. And perhaps that's kind of the seeds of the book that I wrote many years later. So my family was a modest middle class family. My brother was the first to go to university. I managed through scholarship and work to go to the east coast, just as you did. You went to Williams, I think you made the better choice, but nevertheless—
BESCHLOSS: I have no comment. Swarthmore is a great college.
ZOELLICK: —and I think starting in college, I actually started to expand my history. So I took African history, I took Latin American history, I took Russian and Eastern European. I had already read a tremendous amount about U.S. and European history. So again, it was a way that later proved quite useful because in many parts of the world, I at least knew enough to ask questions, and people enjoyed it when Americans knew a little bit about their past. And then from history—
BESCHLOSS: Did you think at all about becoming a historian at that point, or just think it'd be useful?
ZOELLICK: No, I was I saw myself as trying to contribute to the country. I wasn't quite sure how I didn't know whether it be in. I didn't know enough about civil service versus foreign service versus kind of political appointed one. But I then started what became sort of a rudimentary multi-disciplinary education. So I realized economics was important. So I also studied a lot of economics as well as history. And then I went on with law and public policy, and management. And then I later learned about finance, a little different from economics. So I tried to develop what I considered to be a bit of a toolbox. And then one approach that I took that I still advise some of younger colleagues today is I said, you know, when you when you look for a job, you probably think your boss is selecting you, which is probably true, but try to select your boss, try to think who you can learn from, and given my interest in policy and public affairs. I was fortunate when I was at law school, one of my law professors Phil Hyman became head of the Criminal Division in the Justice Department and I went down and work with him as an assistant. I met Pat Wald, who then became a judge on the DC court of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC circuit, and I clerked for her.
BESCHLOSS: Did you did you find that she was consistent with you politically? Was that ever an issue?
ZOELLICK: I was open-minded. I mean, you know, it was sort of I've never you know I've always focused on the practical side I mean while I have worked with the Republican Party I never found it difficult than working with people the other side in fact, my next boss was Joe Califano who I learned a tremendous amount from. Joe was a wonderful boss. And then people like the late Dick Darman or I learned they would also hope to learn a little bit about politics along the way. I wouldn't claim too much but so the late Bob Teeter and then, obviously, I started to work for Baker in 1985. And he was a tremendous boss, gave me tremendous opportunities.
BESCHLOSS: How did you first meet we're going to come back to Baker historically but personally how did you first meet Baker?
ZOELLICK: Through Darman. So Darman had gone over with Baker as a deputy secretary of the treasury in 1985. I was had moved from law to housing finance and Darmon brought me over to the Treasury Department, where I started working on domestic finance issues. But I quickly found myself working for Baker, in a position that at that time was known as executive secretary. But with great inflation, it's sort of today would be a form of a junior chief of staff. So all the paper went through me and the coordination of things. And, and I think, to kind of sum up the story, what I, this whole orientation oriented me towards practical problem solving and trying to get things done. And that was certainly the approach that Baker took, I'm not sure he ever knew where I was from, or was that was just useful or productive for him. And, and in a way that that kind of also leads you to the book because what the book is about goes beyond sort of intellectual frameworks and tries to explain that, in my experience, and in my reading, a lot of what people in those positions do are trying to solve the problems of their era.
BESCHLOSS: Yeah, well, you're anticipating, not surprisingly, my next question, which is, I think I remember we've known each other for I think, what, 30 years?
ZOELLICK: Yeah you don't have to admit —
BESCHLOSS: And you're probably not neither, neither of us is old enough. But if we were old enough, we've known each other probably about that long, when you were working with Jim Baker, when he was secretary of state, and my memory is maybe not quite that long ago. But for much of the time that we've known each other, I'd run into you. And you've been talking for at least decades about wanting to write this book. So where did that come from? As someone who was a great practitioner at a crucial time, the end of the Cold War, not everyone who was important in those years, wanted to write a book that not only was about that, but a more generalized book about the history of diplomacy.
ZOELLICK: Well, I think the idea was really triggered when I read Henry Kissinger's book Diplomacy and many people at this event probably also looked at it came out in the mid-90s—
BESCHLOSS: I would guess one or two.
ZOELLICK: And I enjoyed the way he used history to talk about foreign policy. But I had the sense that it reflected a European perspective. And so I always wanted to try to do something that took a similar approach but with the American experience, and trying to talk about the pluralism of American ideas and foreign policy. And so the approach that I decided on for this book was to use stories, some you're well aware of the try to appeal to a broader audience of people interested in biographies. And so I tried to focus on people in particular episodes, and what in particular, I try to focus on the practical craft of diplomacy. So while trying to be respectful for many of the historians whose work I drawn, I added my sort of assessments about not only the policy but also kind of how the conduct of diplomacy. And I think, also I took diplomatic history when I was in college, and after I always enjoyed it as a subject matter. But as you know, Michael, it's somewhat faded as a field in universities.
BESCHLOSS: It's almost not allowed in some places.
ZOELLICK: Well, there's still some good scholars on it, but it for understandable reasons people want to bring in different actors, different perspectives, but it led to a certain fragmentation of the field. And another true scholar like you, Fred Logevall up at Harvard, wrote a piece where he said, "you know why we stopped teaching political history?" So I wanted to recall some of the ideas of the diplomatic experience. And in particular, when I work with younger colleagues over the years, I somewhat torture them by asking them historical questions. And in so far as I, they had some history it really started with World War Two and sort of then went on and the first hundred and fifty years is I hope readers of the book will discover a quite fascinating and some great ideas and experiments—
BESCHLOSS: You're not expecting me to disagree.
ZOELLICK: And so in a way, I tried to see the book as a challenge about how one would apply history not trying to be mechanistic about it. But you could almost read each chapter on its own as a case study and try to think about, you know, if you were in this person's shoes, how would you deal with these problems, what you would have done, and I have nothing against the international relations theories that are most commonly taught these days. But I'll just say, as a practitioner who's been in lots of different jobs, they're not really too applicable to work that you do day by day when I'm working on German unification in '89 I wasn't thinking about offshore balancing theory, realism versus idealism, or other sorts of concepts. Of course, you have to have an intellectual framework, but a lot of it is the reality of practical problem solving and the pragmatism of it, which is a theme I grew up.
BESCHLOSS: And having studied a lot of history and diplomatic history, and again, we'll come back to this but did you know that when you came in in 1989 with Jim Baker, did you assume that it would turn out to be as historic a period as it turned out to be?
ZOELLICK: We knew we're on the edge of something very significant. And when I talk about the policy of that era, I often point out, it's very hard to predict specific events. But it's important to anticipate, and obviously, the Gorbachev phenomenon was in full force, it had effects on Europe. And that actually oriented our early policy in realizing that Germany was, in Clausewitzian terms. He was and in fact, different views of the end of the Cold War. If you hear some people like Thatcher, they feel the Cold War ended in 1988, given their constructive relationship with Gorbachev, when we felt that, as you wrote in your book, not until you really had ended the division of Europe in Germany would the Cold War end. And so that focus was quite important from the early months.
BESCHLOSS: Yeah, tremendous. I think maybe why don't we talk about I mean I, just because of limits of time, I chose three, but can we talk about three practitioners that you write about?
ZOELLICK: Whatever you'd like.
BESCHLOSS: I'll tell you the three and you can just take it away. Lincoln and Seward, Lyndon Johnson, and George Bush and Jim Baker. What lessons would you suggest to someone are the most important ones from those three cases?
ZOELLICK: Well, for Lincoln and Seward, again, probably many people have read extensively about the Civil War 1861, 1865, the battles, the generals, the social effects, slavery, but very few books are written on the foreign policy.
BESCHLOSS: Absolutely. It was the first thing that struck me as I was reading your section.
ZOELLICK: And, and the critical issue was how to avoid foreign intervention. And if we go back to the world of 1861, the Europeans expected secession to succeed. Recall the British had marched through most of the South of the United States in 1781 and still couldn't conquer the country, just because it was too big. And they thought the idea that the North could overwhelm the South, was just not practical. And frankly, the outgoing Buchanan administration had kind of suggested that this was a fait accompli. So the first challenge that Lincoln and Seward had was to raise the risk or to threaten those who might accept this out, but at the same time with restraint. So this is a classic challenge of brinksmanship.
And I know a story in 1861, a Union ship intercepted a British ship, the Trent, that had two Confederate commissioners, and it almost led to war. And indeed, Palmerston, the Prime Minister at the time, demanded their return. There was an outcry for war in London. Part of this was published I never really liked the United States thought it was an uppity group. And in a sense, the threats that they had seen from Seward, they thought that the North wanted to have a fight. And one interesting figure who I had known about his role was Prince Albert. So just as the British are going to send these communications to Washington, Prince Albert, only two weeks away from his death of typhoid sends a note basically suggesting why don't you tone it down? Why don't you allow them to save face? Make the same points, but do it in a sort of a less offensive way. Which is exactly what they do. And when Seward eventually gets the notes, he thanks Britain for taking this approach. But Lincoln, as a pragmatic person realizes that one more at a time is the best approach. Seward, as a very creative lawyer, finds an example from when Madison was secretary of state and says, "well, you know, we used to chastise the British for taking people off ships. We can't, you know, they're accepting our position now." And so the legalities were a little bit to the side.
But we get through that crisis, but then shortly thereafter, in 1862, the British textile industry is very dependent on cotton. Cotton has been cut off, very large scale unemployment. And so Britain debates, including actually Gladstone makes an important speech on this, which he later regrets, that suggests, well, should we recognize this out? Should we intervene? Should we mediate? And this was brought to my attention in the 90s by Sir Michael Howard, the wonderful British military historian, I had invited to speak at a forum in Aspen about humanitarian intervention. And he used this as a case of possible humanitarian intervention. We'd had the UN today maybe they would have thought the bloodletting in the Civil War needed to be ended. And so Sir Michael's point was, you know, sometimes you need to wait until one party wins, or the parties are exhausted in the process. On the British side, frankly, in a very hard-headed way they had to calculate well, if they intervene will the North stop? Or would the North, perhaps take Canada or would Britain just be drawn into the war? And so they pause, as decision-makers often do.
And then a little bit later and in September of 1862, we have the Emancipation Proclamation. And that's also interesting because we're now starting to develop an Anglo-American public opinion. Uncle Tom's Cabin, by the way, very significant in the in the British public opinion. But I think to the surprise of many readers, a lot of the Brits were horrified at the notion of the Emancipation Proclamation, because consider their context. In 1857, they had what they'd call the Indian Mutiny, and the idea that subject peoples would be encouraged to rebel doesn't necessarily bring so well in London. But, and this is the important part, Lincoln and Seward start to organize working men's committees in Manchester at public events and the anti-slavery movement takes hold among the working and middle class in Britain. And it changes public opinion a lot on the way. and then just to two other little cortices of this are sort of interesting.
Some students of history might know that Britain was the construction site for some of the Confederate raiders, particularly the Alabama and the Florida which decimated the U.S. sort of Merchant Marine. And Britain and the United States agreed to create an arbitration of this in 1871. I think it's one of the first international arbitrations, maybe the first, that actually brings in foreign panelists not from the principle two countries. The United States walks away with about $15 million, which was a good sum at that point. Seward, of course, wanted to trade the money for British Columbia because there was a movement in British Columbia to join the United States at this point. So, for many people in the United States are less knowledgeable about the history of Canada. Recall the Canadian Confederation was created in 1867 by the North American Act, and this in part is a response that London is worried that the successful Union, perhaps feeling a little aggressive toward Britain, might decide to march north and so they create the Canadian Confederation and the four eastern provinces reach out to British Columbia and say, "well, what do you want?" And they said, "well, we want a transcontinental railway and help take care of our debts. So that's how the Canada Canadian Confederation came out of this.
BESCHLOSS: Small request. LBJ, what would you tell someone who doesn't know what they should know about LBJ? I'm putting LBJ in the same sentence as diplomacy. Maybe it doesn't belong there. But whatever you can do to enlighten us.
ZOELLICK: Well, here I haven't had a chance to thank you personally, for your book gave me some wonderful, wonderful stories. It's what I used to start with this chapter. But to set the context recall, you know, for 150 years, Americans had avoided lines because of the Washington caution about no permanent alliances, Jefferson, no entangling alliances, and I argue that much of American diplomatic history for 150 years is trying to find other ways to cooperate internationally. Whether international law, arms control, or other the notion of the union or trade. But there's a big reversal in 1947, '49 isn't planned. I have a chapter that explains that. But then they're faced their fundamental question about after creating this alliance system, what are the true frontiers? How far do we extend? So, you know, in 1961, as I recall, we had over a million people overseas, some military or related people, there were about 275 major bases in 31 countries. And so my chapter on JFK is the story of does this alliance extend to Berlin? And the question of, of whether the dividing line of the Cold War will be in Berlin, the Elbe, the Rhine, the English Channel. Well, so Johnson faces the question of how far does this purity commitment extend in the case of Vietnam? And least my view, so in some ways, this is people talk about these terms like containment. But what does it mean in fact? You know, is it Berlin? Is it Vietnam? How far do you go? My belief is that in the first 11 months after Kennedy's assassination, Johnson manages Vietnam superbly, but he manages it as a domestic political issue.
BESCHLOSS: Right. Right.
ZOELLICK: And this is a caution for what's to come. And since, as you know, the history of this, I focus particularly on the decision to bring in American ground troops and really have the Americans take over the ward in sort of late '64, early '65. And there have been good histories on that. So what I tried to do in this chapter was apply more of my policymaker’s lens to say, okay, sort of what went wrong, and I focused on six factors. One was the power of recent history. Anybody in government knows how analogies are often used less to explain, but more as a form of political advocacy. And here their analogies were to Korea, to Berlin, interestingly, not to the French of course in Vietnam. A second key issue is credibility. And Kissinger has this wonderful line about, you know, character for states or credibility for nations is like character for individuals. And there's a logic to that because if you have a far-flung system around the world, there has to be a degree of self-regulation. Other countries have to have a sense of kind of what the leading powers commitment will be. But my caution from this chapter is when you hear credibility used as a justification and uphold your wallet and ask a lot of questions, because it can easily become an excuse.
BESCHLOSS: For sure.
ZOELLICK: And in the case of Vietnam, as you know, it became a very sad analogy to almost the idea of a good doctor, that it's better to sacrifice and to lose, than to walk away and you know, that's a lesson I hope we've learned differently. A third one is an area where you've done a lot of work, which is the president's experience in psychology. So keep in mind, LBJ is a former majority leader of the Senate. He's used to building coalitions, he's used to putting together legislative packages. So as your tapes book on this reveals, there's a certain feel of stage management to some of his actions. And you see the difference actually with JFK. JFK, partly based on his Bay of Pigs experience and something that Eisenhower realizes that he needs to, he needs to use his colleagues to offer him various ideas to debate in front of him while keeping his options and keeping control of that. And instead, you see LBJ starting to rationalize war as an incremental process, just as in a political process and—
BESCHLOSS: And splitting the difference.
ZOELLICK: Yeah, and then fourth, something you know, we Americans will deal with today, which is the faith in America's military power. And here, of course, there's a tragedy in that the military has to believe that they'll prevail. That you can't ask soldiers to go to war and not believe you're going to prevail, but there's sometimes the temptation to over-rely on military force. It's a point that Bob Gates made in his book, there's a risk of hubris. There's a risk of well, we'll try and test it. And I think one has to be much more disciplined in that. And then that's related to a fifth one, which is combining military power and diplomacy. Cause again, Kissinger makes the point that Americans have often looked at military force and diplomacy as distinct stages where of course they have to integrate them. And one of the amazing things about the Vietnam story is where is Dean Rusk, he's off the stage. Well, you have McNamara, and Bundy and all the other players. And if you think about other chapters in my book, Franklin uses the victory in Saratoga and Yorktown as part of his diplomacy. Jefferson uses the threat of military force to add to the ante for the Louisiana Purchase. Lincoln and Stuart obviously are using the threat of force, Teddy Roosevelt is very shrewd as a mediator of conflict and using force. To the creation of the Alliance system of 1947, '49, you know Marshall and Atchison and Truman and a man well, Clayton, I bring into this Vandenberg. They're trying to combine sort of economic power with also sort of their overall diplomacy. And it's also Eisenhower. And then the last element I focus on is the failure of advisors. And this is something that came out to me across the book I've reflected on more, which is presidential teams really matter—who's around the president. And, you know, again, from my own experience, there's a natural desire of people around presidents to ease the burden. But there's also the potential disease of being a sycophant, and to the person in charge. I can't tell you, Michael, the number of times I walked in with people right before the Oval Office, they said they were going to explain something to President and when they got in there, you know, they all wilted and I don't think they serve the president that way.
BESCHLOSS: Right. No, they very rarely don't. So it was particularly helpful in your time to have I mean, I can't remember the number of times—you heard it 100 times more than I—but that Jim Baker used to say about George Bush, the president, “I've known the man for thirty-five years.” He could tell him some things that someone whose situation was less secure, could not have said, right?
ZOELLICK: Yeah, you're starting to see this in the histories of that period. I don't think you can really understand Bush forty-one's presidency without understanding the relationship between Bush and Baker.
ZOELLICK: And it just to jump ahead on that. Bush, of course, was a gentleman. And of course, he was prudent, but recognize he was also fiercely competitive, and he wanted to win. And you can see that in his golf game and everything else. And Baker and Bush understood this and Baker was the person on point in that process, but coming back to the Kennedy or the LBJ experience, again, his aides were all Kennedy men. They're trying to prove their loyalty into the system, there's no chief of staff. And I think the chief of staff and NSC advisor are some of the only people who really around the president enough to understand his or her sort of moods. So I think Bundy's role was quite critical and Bundy tended to see himself as more and executer of decisions. And so at least my conclusion was that there's a terrible sad irony here, which is that LBJ in some ways, the most skilled of politicians, fails to recognize a basic political issue, which is the public won't continue to fight a war simply for credibility.
BESCHLOSS: Right? Although people like Richard Russell and others have told him exactly that. People who he normally would have listened to.
ZOELLICK: Well, and I don't go into it now. But it I draw on some of your work and others to say, would there have been an exit ramp, and I could construct one whether he would have allowed it or not, and it would have partly relied on people like Russell.
BESCHLOSS: And I would totally agree with you if he had gotten up on the floor of the Senate and said, I demand that the President withdraw troops from Vietnam. You know, we're not paying enough attention to Europe or something.
ZOELLICK: I even had another idea, which is quite good, which is that you remember we were going to revolving Vietnamese leaders at this point. And he said, get some of them to ask us to leave.
BESCHLOSS: Right which Kennedy said for years.
BESCHLOSS: Well, missed chance. Anyway, just to preserve time for our members to ask questions, Bush and Baker.
ZOELLICK: So I mentioned the key point. Bush in some ways is the model of an alliance and global leader, and that Bush-Baker relationship is critical to understand it. And again, we've touched on this a little bit. In early 1989, one has to recall the context. You had the INF, intermediate range missiles elimination in Europe, which only left the short-range missiles and NATO had committed to modernize those missiles. But as the German, one German minister said at the time, "the shorter the missiles that deader the Germans." So there wasn't a great enthusiasm about modernizing those missiles. And in fact, they wanted to negotiate them. And of course, Germany was the heart of Europe as it is today. And the question of Gorbachev's appeal was very, very strong. So, Bush comes up with the innovation that again, most historians have overlooked, which is he comes up with a very bold conventional forces negotiation approach. And the idea is that if you lower and equalize conventional forces in Europe, then the short-range nuclear forces become much less important, they recede. But also it's a vehicle to get Soviet troops to leave, it'd be harder for them to come back. It deals with some of Gorbachev's concerns about removing some of the economic burden. And so he comes up with this proposal in May. It's accepted by a NATO summit and I talk about my own some of personal experience with that. But it's important to see he was trying to build his base of Alliance political support. And I don't know if you've felt this, but throughout the Cold War, and this comes up with JFK, too. There's always a tension. Do you focus on Moscow? Do you start with your allies?
ZOELLICK: And so, what I think some of the scholars of this period who are, who are heavily involved with looking at the view for Moscow, ignore the fact that Bush's challenge was to secure the Alliance first, for whatever would come turned out German unification, but also Eastern Europe and all the events thereafter. So in a way, in a historical person, a perspective, he recognized that Europe had a German question as well as a Russian question. And since 1871, the world had had some challenge answering that German aggression. So while he was a strong Germany—
BESCHLOSS: Only three times.
ZOELLICK: German unification, right, well, you got 1871, maybe three if you’re French. So he was a strong supporter of unification within the successful structure of NATO, the EC, and others. Another point that people overlook, is given the events in Eastern Europe, he wanted the sort of then EC, later European Union, not to stop with Germany wanted to look towards Eastern Europe. So actually at the G7 economic summit in Paris, we kind of urged Brussels and the European Commission to take over a role leading with Eastern Europe, which in some ways tries to foster the later enlargement of the European Union. And from an American perspective, there were some critics at the time saying, well, why is America late, in Europe take the lead. In my view of diplomacy, if you can get what you want, and have somebody else share the load, that's a pretty good overall approach. The last thing I'll say about Bush and Baker is that, again, historians have tended to look at them simply through the prism of the end of the Cold War in Europe or the Gulf War. And I think this is a mistake because when I reflected on what they left in some ways they set the stage for both the Clinton and the Bush 43 administrations, not only in Europe and the former Soviet Union, but Middle East peace process after the Gulf War, the creation of NAFTA, which I focus on, the Uruguay round, the WTO, the creation of APEC, which the Clinton administration makes into a summit. The only global climate change treaty, which I was also involved with that never was ratified by the Senate, and actually is the framework for today's Paris. All the different set of accords came through their period. And of course, they presented the sharp break with China. So whatever you think of that agenda, this one term president really frames the topics for the next two.
BESCHLOSS: Yep, no, absolutely. Now, you and I have about four minutes. You've got five traditions that you write about, with great nuance and detail. Do you want to just give people an idea of what those are?
BESCHLOSS: What they are is five traditions that are unique about American diplomacy as opposed to diplomacy elsewhere.
ZOELLICK: Well, and again, the theme of the book really does try to focus on the multiple ideas and experience. So I didn't want to be heavy handed in this framework. But there's five points that came out to me. One, the importance of North America. And here, of course, it was true in the in the 19th and 18th century, I gave a lot of good examples of what was important in the 20th century, all the way up to NAFTA with a modernizing Mexico. But I also build on a point that Ronald Reagan made in 1979, he launched his campaign, which is unbelievable today. He's running for president and he says, you know, it's important for Mexico and Canada be stronger, not weaker, and it's time that we stop thinking of our nearest neighbors as foreigners. That's a little different. But the logic of course is that the stronger we have a continental base, it'll actually make us stronger in reaching across Europe, in Asia, and others and I think that remains true today. The second is the focus on trade, transnationalism, and technology. And here what I wanted to emphasize is that from the very start with John Adams and 1776, trade is much more than economic efficiency. It's part of our partnership with the world. And important from that era, it's opening the world of private actors, transnational players. And I also bring back a man named Vannevar Bush to talk about the technology dimension, because I think it'll be important for the future as well. Third, is the point I made about alliances, how we avoid them from 150 years, we've now relied on them for 70 years, where do they go in the future?
BESCHLOSS: The time has slightly changed.
ZOELLICK: A fourth one is the critical role of congressional and public support. Many foreign policy experts sort of just leave this out of the course. Kennan, for example, was totally inept at it. And I tried to draw throughout the chapters a sense of how you can't really be successful unless you get that support and highlights people like Vandenberg or Luber or Nunn or McCain or others. And we'll have to see what the next generation produces. And the fifth and last point is America's purpose. And here, I'm not saying America exceptionalism which frankly raises heckles among some of the world. What I'm trying to emphasize is that from the very start of the United States, the founders had the idea that the country had a special purpose. But the purpose evolves, and my wonderful little illustration of this is that for those of you that still carry wallets sometime take out the dollar bill, look at the back, you'll see the Great Seal of the United States. And you'll see this unfinished pyramid which suggests there's more work to go, and underneath it, it's "Novus Ordo Seclorum," "New Order of the Ages." So they were thinking in rather big terms, even as of 1776 or '79 when they started that. And then the point is from that point on, at first, it's preserving a republic, then it's preserving the union, then it's kind of a notion of balance of power. And Wilson, of course, doesn't say he's going to make the world into democracies. He wants the world safe for democracies. And so this goes on to leader of the free world in the Clinton period, sort of the notion of the indispensable nation. So what is it going to be today? That's a question we'll have to answer.
BESCHLOSS: Wonderful. And a perfect way of approaching the question is this wonderful book that you have been so kind to write for all of us? For both those of you who have read it already, and those who have not. We've now got, I think, about 25 minutes for questions and comments from our members. I think we have about 550 registered. So obviously, not everyone is going to get in here. But I think Carrie, do you want to have a word on how we do this?
STAFF: We will take our first question from Mary Sarotte.
Q: Hello, Bob, and congratulations on a wonderful book. I was interested to hear your comments about Bush and Baker, but I would be grateful if you could comment on the relationship between Baker and Scowcroft, who seem to have been an interesting position of being both friends and rivals. And of course, Bob Gates in his memoirs has said some interesting things about that relationship. So I would be grateful for your take on it. Thank you.
ZOELLICK: Well, thanks, Mary. And I imagine everybody on this call knows but Mary's another true historian of this period, has done some fantastic work and is now at Johns Hopkins SAIS with the wonderful Kissinger Center, created there to try to bring history alive for policymaking. I wouldn't really see them as rivals. And it's goes back, you know, I unduly have a bias because I worked with Baker, but you know, the Baker-Bush relationship goes back a very long way. I mean, and it goes through the travails of life. It goes through, you know, Bush's loss of his daughter, Baker's loss of his wife, their competitive tennis players. These guys are extremely close. And, and in some ways, as your work and others emphasize, doesn't mean they always agreed. In some ways, there is like an older and younger brother, sort of competition. But to be honest, if there's something that Baker ever really cared about, I don't think he was ever thwarted by Brent. Brent was a friend. Brent was somebody they knew from the Ford administration. Brent was somebody who had a certain curmudgeonly style. But I think and many of these studies have references to Brent, I think misperceived him.
They say that, you know, he ran sort of a neutral process without his views. Brett was very focused on his views. And you can see this in the book that he did with Bush. But he was open to others. And so he didn't try to shield the president. He tried to help the president in a way as I mentioned, about the team being around him. But I mean, to be more practical, let's take the world of 1989, which you've studied. Remember, Brent, Dick Cheney, Bob Gates, were frankly not favoring moving forward with Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. Whether it was Bush, whether it was Baker, however, they decided they wanted to see in Baker's terms, kind of gather what you could, put it in your basket while you can. He was sort of skeptical of all the academic theology, as he referred to it sort of, "is this a refreshing period? Is this a fundamental change?" He was dealing with the practical facts on the ground. And I think he understood Bush quite well and doing that. And remember one of the benefits again, from diplomacy of being on point, and this fit Bush's model. Bush was always interacting with people and with leaders, and he liked that information. I think Bob Gates talks about how when President Bush would start to call leaders around the world at first they didn't believe it was the president of the United States. It took a while to get used to it.
But he then valued the fact that when Baker was out on the front lines, Baker would bring back information about how you put coalitions together, how you'd have to help this guy, how we have to help push this person. And as you get to that chapter in my book, I opened the chapter with a story about this May '89 summit with NATO where I'm trying to assist Baker and I learn a lesson about how Baker was helping Bush make a decision where Thatcher may not necessarily agree with it. And so, I didn't see that, that sort of tension in the relationship. And I guess one of the messages here is that Mary, it's possible for people to disagree amicably. And ultimately the president makes the decision. I think, actually, where Scowcroft tends to be play a particularly active role is actually pushing the Defense Department on some of the arms control measures, and frankly, in the preparation for the first Gulf War. So as I tell this little story with Mike about the CFE proposal remember when President Bush wanted to reach forward on this, the Defense Department is quite recalcitrant. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, resists quite fiercely, and later, of course supports Clinton because in some ways he felt that Bush didn't take his advice. And it's actually this is Admiral Crow. And it's one of the sad things because it's actually one of the first times where you start to see, America's four-star leaders start to play politics in a serious way and something we've suffered since.
BESCHLOSS: Really interesting. Do we have another question? Thank you, Mary.
STAFF: We will take our next question from Andrew Gundlach.
Q: Oh, good afternoon. I have a question, Bob, if I may, on the let's call it balance of power between the State Department and Treasury. It was said to me recently, when I visited the Treasury with a group from the CFR, “the last time the State Department had real economic expertise is when Bob Zoellick work there.” And I, I've been in finance in my professional career, but my education was during the Cold War, the end of the Cold War, and the place to go was State. And it seems to me since Rubin, the place to go, is Treasury. And certainly under Trump, Treasury has been somewhat stable, State has been somewhat unstable. I'm just curious as to your historical view, on how and why State and Treasury go back and forth between their predominance with the president and how you see that balance of power, if you will, going forward into the world and the problems of the world, especially the trade problems in front of us. Thank you so much.
ZOELLICK: Sure. That's a great question. And let me just close one other point on Mary's question. I should mention and it relates a little bit to yours, which is the NSC staffs. So realize in our time period, Mary, of course in some ways, Baker's staff and the NSC staff were melded quite effectively. And Brent to his credit, while sometimes being reserved, let his staff come up with some aggressive ideas. I think related to this question, they had a greater challenge in their Treasury relationship. The real example of what you're talking about, is in the FDR-Truman period. So, recall that you know, Morgenthau is the Secretary of the Treasury and neighbor of FDR. And in this sense, when the Bretton Woods institutions are created in 1944, with Harry Dexter White treasuries driving those forward. Part of the '47-'49 story is the system that they imagined in 1944 assume that Britain would be healthier and able to play a role, the Soviet Union sort of wouldn't be in conflict, that Europe would not be as devastated. You know, as a former president of the World Bank, I can say they devised a system that was in a sense to maintain an order that had collapsed. They were trying to and so part of the story of '47-'49 was Truman is very reliant on, he's a good decision maker, but he's very reliant on the people that he has in the lead. So, he moves that that lead to Marshall. And Will Clayton, who I try to draw it is, I think, an underappreciated figure on the economic team. Paul Nitze is part of that team as well.
And so you really see the shift on the economic topics to the State Department during that period. And I think that's probably indicative for any president. It depends on the nature of their team. So I worked with Baker in the second Reagan term at the Treasury Department. And we obviously were the activist drivers, whether it was international debt issues, the exchange rate issues, the G7 coordination, Baker even takes over the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement negotiations. Now Baker had a bigger perspective that came from the White House. And I found that in most cases, the relationship with Schultz in the State Department, they were amenable to what we were doing. But Baker was also going to make sure that he was controlling his turf and Schultz had enough to do in his space, frankly. So and then so in later periods, I think, you know, it depends a lot. I remember this is sort of ironic, going over, at their request of a colleague to talk to Bob Rubin when he became Secretary of the Treasury. And I was emphasizing a lot of the international issues. And he said, "well, you know, don't you think that would be Warren Christopher's remit?" And I said, "well, I actually think it's going to end up on your desk," which would surely ended up doing.
So I think the challenge of course, is the Treasury Department has traditionally been less interconnected with the interagency process, and the State Department has to live through the interagency process with the NSC and the Defense Department. And this goes to a point I was making about the NSC. Of course, earlier administrations that had economic coordinating bodies. The Ford administration did, Nixon did, but the NEC is created under President Clinton. But there's always a question then should economic issues come to the president through the NAC, or through the NSC? And you might think, well, if you have an economic perspective you do through the NAC. But here's where it's important, understand the mechanics. All the work on presidential talking points, phone calls, all the coordination mechanisms are through the NSC. And if you allow the NSC to say, "oh, we don't deal with international economics, that's the NAC's," you're not going to integrate economics into the daily flow of a president's meetings and so on, so forth. On the other hand, if you leave it in the NSC, you won't get the economic background. So actually, I came up with an idea in 2001, I was over at USTR, but I made the recommendation to Condi and her team about having a dual-headed deputy, somebody that was both NSC-NAC. And that's continued to this day. I think it's a pretty good solution to the process. So, but I think from a historical perspective, as in many of these issues, there's sort of no one formula. But you need to be aware of the questions to ask about whether you're getting in a different perspective. And I guess today, I would say one of my slight disappointments is that traditionally a Treasury secretary, stands for certain economic principles about free markets and free trade. So as a trade representative, you would try to rely on the Trade and the Treasury team to talk about those issues. And while I understand the Secretary Mnuchin's got his challenges, but the statements coming out of the Treasury Department on those principles strike me as quite different than the best.
BESCHLOSS: Safe to say we're living in a different world. Have we got another question?
STAFF: We will take our next question from Christina Davis.
Q: Hello, I'm Christina Davis, professor of government at Harvard University. I would like to ask you to reflect on the Bush-Baker legacy of keeping China out of the trade regime. Because of course, they oversaw when China had applied to the GATT and then after the Tiananmen massacre, imposed economic sanctions that suspended any prospect for China to join the trade regime. We all know it took another decade and you played a leading role in 2001 to help conclude negotiations for China to join the World Trade Organization. When you think about the Bush-Baker team, judging human rights, economic interests, and geopolitics making their decision and your own decision many years later with a very different geopolitical situation and rules on the ground for China. Do you think you made the right decision? There are many who second guess now—I would not be among them. But what is your own legacy of having opened the door to China?
ZOELLICK: Well, first, Christine, there was a premise that you said at the beginning that I would differ with a bit. I mean, Bush forty-one, was adamant about sort of not losing some degree of contact and coordination with China after Tiananmen Square and took extreme political hits for it. And to give you a sense of kind of how this worked, and then in practice, I negotiated in '91 and '92 bringing Hong Kong, Taiwan might I add, and China into APEC as a way of starting that sort of integration process again. It's an interesting example again, for people who care about Taiwan how you can best to get things done. And Baker makes a trip to Beijing in late '91. In part, it was also I think, the aftermath of getting the Chinese at least to accept the Gulf War vote in the UN Security Council. And we started to push on some of those trade issues. So that administration was also committed to it. Now as for your basic issue, there's, I can give you both a trade and a geopolitical one. But let me give you the geopolitical one first, since it's a bigger audience.
You know, the history of international orders is, if you try to keep out powers out of the existing system, they tend to want to create their own system. I mean, so the lesson of 1815, bringing France into the system, the lesson after Versailles of sort of not really bringing Germany into the system. And so I personally think it's always made sense to try to integrate powers within a system where you can have shared and mutual interest. And as for the particulars, one of the unfortunate things, Christine, is there's a new conventional wisdom that's crept in that cooperation with China failed. And if you want a quicker reference, I wrote an article in the National Interest in the start of this year, March and April. And I give a long list of things, whether from proliferation, to Taiwan, to environmental issues, and certainly economic issues where cooperation with China was quite constructive. And if you think, for example, just to take the economic space, you know, China went from a global current account surplus of ten percent to zero, that's domestic demand for the rest of the world. They quit manipulating their exchange rate. During the global financial crisis, they had front of the biggest and most important stimulus packages. When I was at the World Bank, I had absolutely no difficulty working with them. And they supported me, they work with Paulson on a series of issues. And I'm not saying that all is great.
My middle message is that the work of diplomacy never ends. And so here's going back to the whole thesis of my book, which tries to focus on pragmatism and results. Sort of the Baker message. What are we trying to accomplish? You know, we can ask listeners to judge. So what is Trump accomplished over three and a half years? We've raised our tariffs, the bilateral trade deficit, which he focused on is actually about the same level. And we had actually China was the fastest growing export market for the United States for fifteen years, we were sort of losing that we're at a point of confrontation. So what have we really accomplished with China? And to bring it to the more tactical, say, take an issue like intellectual property rights. In reality is China's now created intellectual property rights courts that are finding for foreigners about eighty-five to ninety percent of the time, you'll see this as an issue that's declined in the comments of any American businesses there, but the penalties aren't high enough. So you should be focusing on the penalties. Or the forced technology transfer issue, which is another topic that was supposed to be prohibited by their ascension to the WTO. The reality is, it's hard to get the evidence on these cases. So if I were in office, I try to push to end the joint venture requirements, which are just a temptation for these issues. And of course, there have to be responses with the state owned enterprises and ways of dealing with state capitalism and other topics.
But my point is, you know, the hard practical work is you can accomplish things with China that are in our mutual interest. But frankly, if you decide that you want to decouple or you just want to throw verbal bombs, or you sort of you just want to create different sanctions, I guess I would ask somebody, "what is that going to accomplish for you?" And by the way, if one of the successes of the United States is working with partners and allies, are they going to set up a containment policy? And if we bring this back to the policies of today, you know, we got a pandemic, we're going to need for economic recovery. We've got environmental and climate issues. How are we going to deal with those if we try to push China outside the system? So it's a longer topic. But that at least gives you a flavor of my feeling. Oh, and by the way, one other point, I don't believe that this practical pragmatic approach I'm taking by any means needs to see sort of American values. So frankly, rather than sanction people in Hong Kong, so you can't talk to them, I would take the approach the British are taking, which is to say let people from Hong Kong come to the United States. It'll probably be good for us and it'll certainly show the difference between the two societies. So in my chapter on Ronald Reagan talks about how he uses freedom as an aspiration for the Russian people. We're now using human rights as a club to insult the Chinese and I don't think it's going to get us very far.
BESCHLOSS: Interesting. I think, Carrie, we've got time for two more questions. Is that okay?
STAFF: Sure. We'll take our next question from Rick Niu.
Q: Thank you, Bob. Always very insightful. I work with Hank Greenberg at CV Starr. So being a student of your work in different capacities for many years. Thank you very much for your service to our country in so many different passages. I wonder if you could comment through your many decades of service, your observation on what actually has worked in multilateralism and what actually has been the unfortunate, maybe shortcoming or pitfall of that system? How do you envision that should evolve going forward in face of some push towards union populism? Thank you.
ZOELLICK: So multilateralism covers a lot. It covers UN agencies, it covers alliances, it covers trade agreements. But I guess the starting point, is one that I make with my former colleague and friend Pascal Lamy who had been director general, the WTO, European trade commissioner, he and I actually had an event earlier today. And it's important to keep in mind that multilateral agencies reflect what their nation state members want them to do. And so they're not free agents in the system. And so one of the ironies for example, about the WHO is yes, the WHO is a relatively weak institution. That's because the member states don't want to grant the WHO authority to come and investigate everything that they do. And actually, in the case of WHO, Gro Brundtland, the former prime minister from Norway, as I recall, in the early 2000s, tried to strengthen the role of the WHO. And they got a lot of pushback from the member states.
So what I think one needs to understand is that multilateral institutions can provide institutional capacity, they can provide experience, they can provide mediating forums. Now and then is the case of the World Bank or IMF, they can have other financial or sort of knowledge capacities. They can bring things to the overall engagement. And the challenge, of course, is how in your diplomacy you manage to try to work with those institutions to further your overall objectives. So let's bring this back to the China question. You know, when I gave the speech about China's a responsible stakeholder in 2005, going back to Christine's question, I was partly recognizing China had already been integrated into the world system as in the WTO, World Bank, IMF, UN Security Council, ozone depletion treaties. And the question was no longer integration, but what responsibilities they would assume in the system. My view, China has taken two approaches. One is it's trying to push those institutions more towards its norms, and sort of its beliefs. And that doesn't really shock me as someone who has some sense of history. What is shocking to me is that the United States pulled back from a lot of that engagement.
And then we sort of engaged sporadically on some items, and frankly, we'll be the weaker if we can't sort of contend and we should be able to contend with many other partners particularly given sort of Chinese sort of bullying. But China has another model, and that's a model of the tributary state, which is the old Chinese tradition. That they will give benefits, if others treat respect in the current era certainly don't criticize the Communist Party. That's kind of the Belt and Road model. So, in a sense, what my book is about is a lot of kind of, look, you can't just use simple labels for these things, you have to sort of dig into what the challenge so I have a chapter on Charles Evans Hughes and the use of naval arms control related to regional security. And it's not just a question of arms control separated from policy, I believe, actually, there's some lessons there about dealing with North Korea and Iran. So the challenge of multilateralism is kind of how you can build capacities and institutions and networks to serve your overall interest, not only as a government, but also including non-governmental players, and that's part of the American tradition. So we have this wonderful irony where the United States pulls out of the WHO, but the second largest funder is the Gates Foundation. I think that's one of America's strengths. And again, coming back to Christine's sort of at least implicitly a question. You know, in dealing with the competition with China, we need to start at home. What we do at home, our own capacities, our own strengths, our own openness, that will be our ultimate strength. And that actually, it's why when I think we start to get to a policy where we're just sort of stopping students from coming to universities, and even worse turning on Asian Americans in the United States, I get troubled by the direction of the policy.
BESCHLOSS: Right, Carrie, can we do one more?
STAFF: We will take our last question from Eric Pelofsky.
Q: Thank you. Thank you both for doing this. Eric Pelofsky from Royal Dutch Shell. I wanted to try and take the history lessons that are in your book in sort of look at the present day. You served at the World Bank and at the State Department and dealt with a number of world health issues. There are obvious in that capacity and several others. I recently spoke with a European ambassador who does describing the pandemic response, and he commented that, that really that the world had turned inward, and it had reduced dramatically diplomacy, and resulted in much less contact with the U.S. I was quite surprised by this and struck by it because I could easily imagine a pandemic response increasing diplomacy rather than reducing diplomacy. And I guess I'd asked two questions out of that. One is what lessons from your own experience would you offer in terms of responding to the global pandemic? And two, there have been several comments recently about us rounding the final turn on the pandemic and I wondered whether you thought that was the case.
ZOELLICK: On the first one, I think the caution or warning that you took away is very apt one, because you're going to see this in all countries and think about it this way, as countries ploughed a lot of money into their economies, governments are going to want more local benefits, whether it's jobs or investment or sort of controls. And so we have a certain irony, which is steps that will try to support national resilience will actually could cut countries off from one another and undermine the global resilience in the system. And as another example I was talking about with a trade group, you're going to see an increasing set of precautionary policies. And in some ways these make sense. There'll be licensing and standards and so on and so forth, that they can easily be seized by protectionism. So I think, you know, you already saw fragmentation in areas like the internet, and you were already seen, in part because of the administration's trade policies. This is going to be a wave that's going to extend much more much further.
Now to come back to your particular point on the pandemic. I actually I've written a draft oped that a paper said that it's going to publish next week because I've been very concerned about the lack of attention to developing countries. If you think about the nature of a pandemic, you know, it's not going to go away unless we can deal with it in a global context. And unlike the financial crisis in 2008, where the developing world actually became an engine of growth, the developing countries are getting hammered both by the coronavirus and the economic effects of this. And it's whether it's their tourism or remittances, and frankly, some of the capital from the central banks flow it in, but some of it is now getting more hesitant and depending on what happens with other types of events, you could imagine that that would flow out, and this could become a much more dangerous environment. So my own view is and again, I wrote a piece for the Council on Foreign Relations this week, saying making some suggestions for a Biden foreign policy. I would say whatever you do on the vaccines at home, connected with an international strategy, not only rejoining the WHO and trying to fix some of the problems I've talked about, but look at what Bush forty-three did with an HIV-AIDS, malaria, and sort of tuberculosis program that probably did more for Africa than anything in American history.
The United States is capable of doing these things. And so actually, part of my argument in that piece was take a lot of the items on your domestic agenda, whether they be climate change, or pandemic or some of the economic things, think how you can leverage them internationally in the overall partnerships. And so I think, you know, as for your last question about sort of “are we through this?" I have felt from the start, that actually, the woman who's now the chief economist at the World Bank, Carmen Reinhart wrote a piece, I think Foreign Affairs, said, look, we got a rebound. That's not the same as a recovery. And I think that's a very important caution here. And I think that much of this will ultimately depend on confidence. Consumers, businesses, society, and I personally think you're going to have a hard time getting confidence to really return until you get sort of vaccines and treatments through the overall system. And so I think, unfortunately, how we've handled that in the United States is also limited our ability to learn, as one would expect, one has to do with different types of control treatments, you know, partial openings, not doing public spaces. So frankly, it's a sad commentary. The United States is not shining so brightly in the rest of the world on this topic. But one of the other messages is, look, America is a very resilient place and America can turn around and the private sector as well as the government is important piece of this. And so that's what we ought to look to going forward.
BESCHLOSS: Wonderful. I think we've stayed pretty much within time. Thank you so much, Bob. The book is America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy available wherever fine history books are sold. Everyone, thank you so much for joining us. The audio and the transcript of today's meeting will be posted on the Council website. Everyone, please stay safe. And once again Bob, congratulations on the great book and thank you again.
ZOELLICK: Thank you. Thanks for doing this Michael. Pleasure.