HBO History Makers Series: Samuel Berger, former National Security Adviser

HBO History Makers Series: Samuel Berger, former National Security Adviser

More on:

Defense and Security

United States

from HBO History Makers

GIDEON ROSE: Ladies and gentlemen, members of the council, it is my great pleasure to welcome you this evening to a session in the council's History Makers Series. We have here a great opportunity to revisit some fascinating times with one of the key players in American foreign policy in the 1990s and beyond.

Welcome to today's council meeting. It's part of the History Makers Series, which is made possible through the generosity of Home Box Office. For that we'd like just to make a special thanks to Jeffrey Bewkes at Time Warner and Richard Plepler at HBO.

Please remember to turn off all electronic devices. Imagine you're on a plane. Get out your toothpaste, shaving cream, turn off your BlackBerrys and so forth.

This meeting, unlike most council meetings, is on the record. We're going to have an opening conversation and then we'll throw it open to your questions from the floor.

I will say this now, that the focus of this event is on the Clinton administration's years and Sandy Berger's experiences and decisions and actions there. And so we're going to keep this—as interested as we all are in stuff that's going on now, this session is going to be about the Clinton administration years—leading up to and following. And so—

SAMUEL BERGER: It's a lot more interesting talking about the past than—

ROSE: Well, so those are the questions we're going to talk about in my conversation and we're going to talk about that in the Q&A as well. So I just figured I'd let that—get that on the record on.

Our speaker really needs no introduction. Sandy Berger is known to all of you as one of the most important players in American foreign policy in recent decades. He started out, as some but not all know, back in New York politics, even way back as an advisor to Lindsay and has had a glittering career in government, in the private sector in various different ways since then. He was deputy national security adviser from '93 to '96 and national security advisor from '97 through 2000.

Sandy is currently chairman of Stonebridge International Limited Liability Corporation and chairman of the International Advisory Board of DB Zwirn & Co. And we're very, very fortunate to have him here.

And with that, let me get right into some of our questions and discussions.

One of the most important series of events in the 1990s was the question of humanitarian intervention—the United States getting involved with various conflicts in what used to be called the developing world. As a decision maker, you had to grapple with Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti; later on there was Kosovo; there was Rwanda as an alternate case that wasn't intervened in. Can you talk a little bit about how you and the Clinton administration dealt with these kinds of issues?

BERGER: Well, thank you. It's very good to be here with all of you. Obviously, this is the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and none of us can be in New York and not think for a moment about the tragedy of 9/11. We'll probably—I'm sure we'll come back to some of the antecedents of that in this discussion. I simply wanted to note that at the outset.

Gideon, I think that one of the legacies of the Clinton administration will be the evolution of a not unblemished but still evolving international norm that establishes the proposition that countries have a duty to protect their citizens. And the international community has a duty and a responsibility to protect them when that breaks down.

Our record was not unblemished, but I think we set some new benchmarks. And let me sort of walk quickly through the trajectories from Haiti to Kosovo for starters, because I think it illustrates two interesting lessons. Number one, it's a lot easier to campaign than to govern. And number two, I think we learned from our mistakes. And if there's a negative pregnant in that sentence, I did not intend it. (Laughter.)

We staked out some very forward-leaning positions during the campaign in 1992 on Haiti, where the president said the Bush's—Bush I's return of the refugees from Haiti with the coups-led deposed democracy was immoral; we would stop that. We took a forward-leaning position on Bosnia. Bush I had sat for two years and not done anything about the carnage of Milosevic.

And those were heartfelt feelings, but suddenly you get elected. And it wasn't long before I became a transition director for national security, the CIA came to see me and they showed me some photographs. And the photographs were of people in Haiti tearing down the roofs of their houses to make crafts to do the boat exodus from Haiti to the United States, in which the CIA said a third of them, maybe 10 to 20,000 of them, would die. And so we had to change our position with respect to returning the boat people.

That, of course, led to the negotiation of the Governors Island Agreement, which was a negotiated agreement with the coups leaders to restore democracy, but that broke down with the kind of disastrous episode, Harlan County, when we sent that ship in with Seabees and the Haitians rejected it and we turned around and left, which was a big mistake.

That came almost at the precise time in October of 1993 as the disastrous events in Somalia where what was really an ill-conceived peacekeeping mission by the Bush administration turned into mission creep—we wound up in the hunt for Aidid, Black Hawk down, backlash, tremendous outcry to withdraw the forces. And I think the combination, actually, of Somalia and the Harlan County paralyzed us when it came to Rwanda. We can talk more about that.

And then on Bosnia, you know, the first year was a year of timid diplomacy. We sent Warren Christopher to Europe with a plea, not a plan. The Europeans said, stay away; this is our problem. But I think as a result of that kind of difficult first 18 months, we learned a couple of lessons.

Number one, in these situations, diplomacy has to be backed up with a credible threat of force. And number two, you don't threaten force if you're not prepared to us it. And so we went back to Haiti and the president decided we were going in. We were going to get rid of the coups leaders. We're going to restore democracy—27,000 troops ready to go into Haiti. Literally, as the engines were warming up at Fort Bragg, the coups leaders capitulated and turned over power.

In Bosnia, we all remember Gorazde, Srebrenica, Tuzla, Sarajevo. As the situation deteriorated, it galvanized the U.S. government, it galvanized the European government so that in September of 1995 we launched Operation Deliberate Force, bombing Milosevic to the negotiating table where Dick Holbrooke and Warren Christopher did a masterful job not only in establishing the terms of the end of military conflict, but also painstakingly negotiating what we might call the day after.

And then when we get finally to Kosovo, we were ready to act—as Milosevic turned that nationalistic fury against his own people, the Kosovars, and killed 10,000 and drove 800,000 from their homes, we were not going to stand by and watch that. And the president and Prime Minister Blair rallied NATO—a NATO consensus. We launched a 78-day bombing campaign, as you recall. And that married with the diplomacy to bring the Russians onside, so that they accepted our terms of surrender.

And when President Ahtisaari and Viktor Chernomyrdin went to Belgrade on June 1, 1999, and they said to Milosevic, Serbs out, Kosovars in, NATO-led force—Ahtisaari said that. And Milosevic turned to his friend the Russian, Chernomyrdin, and Chernomyrdin said, "Da"; that was the end. Milosevic understood that he could not break the NATO unity. He could not separate us from Russia , and he capitulated.

Now, so I think that although—you know, not without blemishes—I think the principle here of the responsibility to protect the international community I think evolved during the '90s. I worry a bit that now we're defining Iraq as a humanitarian intervention, we lose some moral authority with respect to that argument elsewhere in the world. But I do believe that is part of the Clinton legacy.

ROSE: Let me press you on that Kosovo analogy. I mean, you just said that was where you got it right and where you guys see that's where the model should be for the future, where you wished almost implicitly you'd been earlier.

There are those who would say that coming out of Kosovo, as some wags put it, the position on humanitarian intervention was somewhat like the administration's position on abortion: they wanted it to be safe, legal and rare. The difficulties attended on Kosovo in terms of alliance maintenance, in terms of the dicey nature of the outcome—which wasn't clear certainly during all those 78 days of bombing—and the difficulties of the war certainly make it a kind of experience one wouldn't want to repeat often, and yet the crises that call for such intervention occur quite frequently.

So how does one square that if you can't do it that often? Or do you think we should do something like that?

Gideon Rose and Samuel Berger speaking about Berger's years in the Clinton administration and the foreign policy challenges that he encountered.

BERGER: Let me address two points in your question. One is the cumbersome nature of NATO, and the other is implicitly the air campaign rather than whether we should have gone in on the ground. Were we looking for an antiseptic solution?

Number one, with respect to NATO: Let's remember, we built this wonderful institution called NATO over 50 years. It was like a wonderful fire engine in the fire house. And every year we would put a new bell and a new whistle and a new light and a new ladder, but we never took it out of the firehouse. We never used it until Kosovo.

So it was not really to be unexpected that when we actually rolled out a military action for NATO, it creaked. It was rusty. And it took us two, three weeks or four weeks to get to the point where we didn't have to consult Jacques Chirac in terms of what bombing targets we were going to bomb.

And the fact of the matter is, NATO stayed unified during those 78 days. Ultimately, what won in Kosovo—I think there are lessons here for the current situation—what won was the unity of the NATO alliance. Even Greece and Italy, where 95 percent of the population were pro-Serb, stayed with us. Milosevic finally concluded he could not break our unity. So NATO ultimately did work as a war-fighting machine.

Now why did we do this in the air and not on the ground? Partly because—mainly because we had a tremendous advantage from the air. I mean, for us to have gone in on the ground would have been a bloody mess. Milosevic—Serbia is filled with the relics of World War II and the tunnel system and mountains that are hard to cross. And so we had, you know, a hundred-to-one advantage from the air.

And quite honestly, you know, people say, why did the president rule out ground troops? I'll take responsibility for the sentence in the president's speech saying, "We do not intend to use ground forces," because I believe had we not taken that off the table we never would have got either the United States public or our allies to support us.

So number one, we won with air power. So that's a pretty good argument for the fact that it works. And number two, NATO—you can work through a coalition, through an alliance. Everything doesn't have to be a coalition for the willing. My argument would be that the alliance worked in Kosovo.

ROSE: In the former Yugoslavia, in Somalia, in Haiti, the Clinton administration inherited open sores that ultimately got resolved in one way or another, pretty much. In Iraq, it inherited an ongoing problem that it ended up passing off in, miraculously, not all that changed form from what, in some ways—what some might say given what's happened since—from what it received.

Can you walk us through how the administration dealt with Iraq and how sort of the policy ended up being sort of in some ways the same going out as going in?

BERGER: Well, I guess we are sort of the interregnum between the two Iraq wars—Bush I and Bush II. The policy that we pursued in Iraq would be what I would call "containment-plus." That was to keep Saddam in his box but not simply through sanctions, although sanctions were an important part of that regime, but also through the use of force.

We actually hit Iraq three times during the Clinton administration—once in retaliation for an assassination attempt against President Bush where we took out their intelligence headquarters. Some said that was a pinprick, but I suspect if someone took out Langley, we would not consider that a pinprick. A second time when he marched his troops towards the Kurdish areas in the Kirkuk, we mobilized our military in the region. And the third time, in Operation Desert Fox in '98, when he threw out the inspectors, and we bombed him for several days and we bombed all the sites that we knew to be weapons of mass destruction sites.

And by the way, I've just read a book which I recommend to every single one of you, Tom Ricks' book called, "Fiasco." It's a brilliant book about how we got into Iraq and what we're doing there. Tom says in book that Desert Fox in '98 really did some harm to Saddam Hussein, that we did hit weapons of mass destruction sites. We probably did contribute to the end of his program and we set that regime back. So it was containment-plus.

Now, you know, the fact is that Saddam, you know, Colin Powell early on in 2001 said that Saddam is in his box. Would the sanctions regime have been sustainable over a long period of time? No, I don't think so. I think the sanctions regime, the economics sanctions regime, was eroding as countries like France and Russia and others were increasingly providing material to Saddam Hussein, selling trade with him.

But I think, you know, I think President Bush could have declared a great victory in 2002 when he mobilized the international community to get inspectors into Iraq and got the inspectors into Iraq, which established there were no weapons of mass destruction, and could have stayed there as a kind of supervisory force to make sure that he didn't go back to his weapons of mass destruction.

So I think—I think containment-plus really worked.

I'll say one last thing: The neocons came to visit me in '98—Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Perle and Bill Kristol and others—and they said, we want you to create a free Iraq; we want you to basically provide a no-fly zone in southern Iraq, protected by American air power, fly back Chalabi and all the Iraqi exiles; give them guns and let them go and they'll get rid of Baghdad; they'll get rid of Saddam Hussein.

And I listened to that and I said: "I've seen this movie before. It's called the Bay of Pigs." And in fact, Tony Zinni, General Zinni has described it as the 'Bay of Goats.'" You know, I don't think that idea made any sense then and I don't think it made sense later.

ROSE: If someone had said to you in January '03 (sic/'93), "Here, you're entering office; your guys are going to get not just a full four years but a second term, and at the end of it you'll leave and Saddam will still be in power," would you have believed it?

BERGER: Yeah. I don't think that our—we embraced the notion of regime change, just as we embraced the notion of regime change against the Soviet Union for 50 years of the Cold War. That didn't mean we were going to unilaterally invade Moscow. It meant we were going to erode his power and we did that in every way that we could, including the sanctions, including covert programs that I can't discuss. We would have been happy to see Saddam go.

But the fact of the matter, what we've learned is that Saddam essentially was defanged—certainly continuing to be a threat, but one that I think we could have managed.

ROSE: Some issues got solved. Some issues stayed the same. Some issues rose and fell.

One of the most important engagements the Clinton administration had in foreign policy was with the Middle East peace process. Could you walk us through how you guys approached that and what you felt about what happened during those years?

BERGER: Gideon, I think I would divide our years with respect to the Middle East into three periods: number one, '93 to '95: Oslo, Rabin, the wonderful ceremony on the South Lawn, the hopefulness that existed.

I'll tell you a quick story. As we were getting ready to go out on the South Lawn, Rabin, who had fought this guy Arafat, the terrorist, for 20 years, was making peace. And he said to the president, "You don't make peace with your friends." And the president said, "You know, Yitzhak, you're going to have to shake his hand." And Rabin had not thought about that before and he looked like someone had just whacked him in the stomach with a pole. And he thought for second and in that gravely voice he said, "Okay, but no kissing." (Laughter.)

So we had the stage one, which was the statement of principles, the agreed framework, the Jordan-Israel agreement; very hopeful. And then suddenly, one fall night in 1995 Rabin was assassinated—a shattering event. I flew back from Cornell where I was at a meeting, and the president said, "You know, that young man knew exactly what he was doing." And I've thought about that comment often since, because Rabin's departure and then campaigns marred by suicide bombs in Jerusalem produced Netanyahu, who, while he embraced Oslo in principle, was not sympathetic to Oslo.

And so you had then three years from '95, '96 to '98 where the peace process limped along and we tried to keep it on the tracks with the Wye River negotiations and agreement. But it basically—the currency of Oslo, which was increased trust, was eroding.

And in the last period is the election of Ehud Barak in 1998 and the hopefulness returning. Barak ran on a campaign of comprehensive peace. He's going to settle all of the Middle East. And the problem is that Barak, while he was a visionary—is a visionary—was I think not a terribly good tactician. And he parked the Palestinian peace track on a kind of fool's errand to try to establish peace with Assad in Syria—thereby eroding trust even further—and did not live up to all of the provisions of the Wye agreement, because he believed there would be a comprehensive peace and all that ultimately would be accomplished.

Camp David was something that both sides wanted. The notion that the Palestinians didn't want Camp David is simply wrong. They wanted it later, closer to the end of Clinton's term to put more pressure on Clinton. Camp David was an emotional rollercoaster.

I would say two things. Number one, you know, sadly the Palestinians did not have Nelson Mandela—their Nelson Mandela when they needed him. Instead, they had a man who was prepared to be the leader of movement but not prepared to take on the responsibilities of being—of governing, and was afraid and unwilling to accept and extraordinary offer that Barak put on the table.

At the same time, I think Barak made a mistake by not sharing with us in advance of Camp David what he was going to do. I mean, the fact that he was going to divide Jerusalem was breathtaking! But we were not—we didn't know that. We didn't know what his bottom line was. I don't know whether he knew what his bottom line was before he got to Camp David; as a result of which, we could not prepare the Arab countries to be ready to give Arafat cover to accept this agreement.

You know, these wonderful scenes of Clinton on the phone with Crown Prince Abdullah, who's never seen a map of Jerusalem, trying to explain to him the Armenian section of the Old City and the line's going to go from here and there, and he was mystified. So we were not able to lay the groundwork with the Arab world, which would have resulted, maybe, in Arafat having the courage to cross the finish line.

Do I think peace was achievable? I do think it was achievable had Rabin lived, had the dynamic been different. It was not achieved, but I also believe that, by and large, the parameters that emerged from Camp David will be the contours of any final negotiation that may, at this point, be years away.

ROSE: Okay.

Continuing our tour around the world: North Korea—proliferation issue when you came in. Seemingly got a little better with the deal after a very dicey crisis in '94, and then later on looks like a proliferation problem yet again. Thoughts on how you guys dealt with North Korea.

BERGER: Sure.

Another problem we inherited: a full-blown nuclear program in North Korea. They'd already produced enough plutonium for two nuclear weapons when we came to office. In 1994, the North Koreans threatened to refuel their nuclear reactor, take out the spent fuel rods and reprocess them into plutonium, which is a complicated way of saying, "make more nuclear fuel."

Unlike what happened in 2002, we said, that's a red line. You're not going to do that. We're not going to tolerate that. We will go—if you do that, we will go to the United Nations. We will get sanctions. The North Koreans said, we will consider that an act of war. Well, we prepared for war. We reinforced the troops in South Korea. Bill Perry, secretary of Defense, had war plans on his desk. And when that became clear, the North Koreans blinked.

We went to the negotiating table. We spent 18 months—Bob Gallucci. Negotiating with the North Koreans is like scratching your fingers along a blackboard. It's sort of one step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, half step back. But we negotiated the agreed framework which froze and ultimately would have dismantled North Korea's plutonium program. And for eight years they produced no plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Now was it a perfect agreement? No. We began to get evidence in the late '90s that they may be interested in developing an enriched uranium program, and we were prepared to deal with that in the context of what you may remember was the Perry process.

The Congress mandated that we take a look at North Korean policy comprehensively. We asked Bill Perry to do that. He came up with a kind of fork-in-the-road approach for the North Koreans. You can either have more for more or you can have confrontation and crisis. And they seemed to be embracing the engagement side of that.

They put a very interesting missile initiative on the table to dismantle their missile program. There was an exchange of high-level visitors with Secretary Albright going to Pyongyang and Vice Marshal Jo coming to Washington, and the contours of a deal on missiles was beginning to take shape. We ultimately ran out of time before the end of the Clinton administration to finish that deal.

President Clinton to this day believes he should have gone to Pyongyang and closed that deal. I respectfully disagreed with him then and respectfully disagree with him today. I think that would have been a mistake late, in the last few months of Clinton's term. The agreement would have been dead on arrival back here. And we were assured by Secretary-designate Powell that they would continue the engagement policy with North Korea.

Well, of course they didn't. We had preemption. We had "axis of evil." We had the abrogation of the North Korea deal by the North Koreans. And what have we got? We now have not material for two nuclear weapons; we have nuclear material for 10 nuclear weapons, and a totally unencumbered program in which the North Koreans are churning away, making nuclear fuel. How many do they need—15?—before they sell them to al Qaeda? I mean, they sell their missiles to anybody who wants to buy them. What makes us think they're not going to sell their nuclear weapons to al Qaeda or any other terrorist group—Chechen, others?

And so I think this is—you know, today—and we're not supposed to be talking about today—but I will say I think this is one of the most dangerous places in the world. We've got a nuclear Wal-Mart in North Korea and we need to deal with it. (Laughter.)

ROSE: You mentioned that during the transition in '92-'93, you were talking about Haiti. When you presided over a transition to your successor, you were having other discussions about other topics. Can you walk us through how the Clinton administration became aware of and dealt with what it saw as the growing menace of radical Islamist terrorism?

BERGER: Obviously a particularly poignant question today and after that rather infamous ABC program last night.

We lost 500 people in the Reagan administration to terrorist attacks and nothing happened. People forget that. We lost 67 people during the Clinton administration. Sixty-seven too many, but it's an interesting benchmark in terms of looking back.

We became conscious of bin Laden in the mid-'60s—in the mid-'90s. We thought he was, at that point, more a financier of terrorism rather than operational head. You know a picture is easier—a puzzle is easier to put together if you've seen the picture and you know what ultimately things look like, but the picture of al Qaeda emerged more slowly.

But by the mid-1990s we were doubling, tripling, and in some cases quadrupling the budget of the FBI and the CIA. We were rolling up al Qaeda cells, probably 20 of them around the world. We captured roughly 50 al Qaeda operatives around the world. And we had a—we were very much on this case.

Then along comes the tragic bombings of our embassies in Africa in August of '98. And for the first time, the intelligence community said, "This is al Qaeda." We tend to think we knew that World Trade Center One was al Qaeda. We didn't. We didn't know other things that happened were al Qaeda.

In 1998, the intelligence community said, "This is al Qaeda," and we knew that we were in a war. And we tried desperately to get bin Laden. Just remember, we were not—we didn't have tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan as we have today and we still haven't gotten bin Laden. We didn't have the cooperation of Pakistan, which we have today.

In 1998, the intelligence community said, "This is al Qaeda," and we knew that we were in a war. And we tried desperately to get bin Laden. Just remember, we didn't have tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan as we have today, and we still haven't gotten bin Laden. We didn't have the cooperation of Pakistan, which we have today.

But we worked with groups on the ground who turned out to only have one opportunity, really, where intelligence was good enough for us to take a shot at him, and that was August of '98. We fired 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a camp where we believed he was. I assure you that those cruise missiles were not delivering subpoenas. And we missed him by about two hours, according to the after-action reports.

At no point after that did we have a good opportunity to go after him. But it was not for lack of trying. In fact, the president persistently said to our military, "Can't we do a boots-on-the-ground operation with respect to bin Laden in Afghanistan? Why can't we send a commando force into Afghanistan?" And the absolutely resolute view coming back from the military was, in the absence of good intelligence on where he was, it would be a suicide mission.

So, you know, I think this is—by the end of the Clinton administration, this was priority number one. And during the transition, I said to Condi Rice, "The number one issue you're going to have to deal with, the number one issue, is terrorism in general and al Qaeda specifically." She looked at me like I was crazy.

And President Clinton said to President Bush at the one meeting they had during the transition, "The number one issue you're going to have to deal with is terrorism and al Qaeda." And, you know, did they take their eye off the ball? I think, to some degree, they did; not to say that 9/11 could have been prevented, but this was a passionate priority of the Clinton administration.

I can only tell you how many nights I woke up in a sweat thinking about bin Laden and al Qaeda and what could happen to the country.

ROSE: This is the Council on Foreign Relations. There are august, serious discussions of foreign policy, the details of regional issues and so forth. There tends not to be that much discussion of a domestic context of foreign policy, and yet we know, in the real world, that that does play some kind of a role, even though no one ever talks about it.

The Clinton administration faced different periods. There was a period of a Democratic Congress, a period of a Republican Congress.

BERGER: Unfortunately, there was more of the latter than the former.

ROSE: And then there were other factors that came into play in the later years of the administration. Could you talk a little bit about the domestic context of foreign policymaking and how that affected—

BERGER: What a delicate way of raising Monica Lewinsky; factors later in the administration. Let me answer both parts of that. The loss of the Congress, of the House, in 1994 was, no question, a real setback to what we were trying to do internationally.

Not only did you have a change of parties; you had a change of mind-set. You had Dick Armey bragging about the fact that he didn't have a passport. In fact, most members of the House, when surveyed, said they didn't have a passport. Imagine that. That was actually thought to be a badge of honor.

So you had not only a Republican Congress; you had a particularly isolationist Congress. And that was like 20 people pulling on your suspenders. It made things more difficult. You know, we had to do Kosovo against a vote in the House not to support our action. We had to do Bosnia with tepid support of the Congress; the initiatives with Russia that we wanted as we were trying to help Russia integrate into the international community, very tough. North Korea, there was very little buy-in in the Congress about our engagement, our policy and about the agreed framework.

So it clearly was a restraint. But, you know, you do what you have to do. Clearly, for example, on the issue of trade, NAFTA, China WTO, GATT, all those became issues of hand-to-hand combat from Democrats and Republicans in the Congress. So it certainly made things more difficult.

With respect to impeachment and the matters surrounding that, the fact of the matter is we really created a wall between the president and his domestic people who were dealing with those issues and the national security people, a kind of wall created by the president and myself implicitly. We never had a conversation about it, but he understood that we had to have credibility with the American people and with the Congress if we took military action. And we did take military action on more than one occasion during this period.

So we were isolated from what was going on to the point where I would go home at night, usually 10:30, 11:00; I'd call my daughter, who worked for CNN, and said, "What happened today?" because we were basically walled off from it in the White House.

Dick Clarke, the counterterrorism czar, who's now become the famous counterterrorism czar, says in his book that when we were about to hit Afghanistan and the bin Laden camps, he said to the president—I remember this—"Mr. President, you're going to get flak for this in terms of people saying it's 'Wag the Dog.'" And the president said, "Dick, you tell me what the national security judgment is. Let me worry about my politics."

And I will tell you that that was the rule that President Clinton applied. The country couldn't compartmentalize it, but he compartmentalized.

ROSE: There are lots more questions I would like to ask and could ask, but unfortunately I have to turn it over to all of you. So at this point, in our remaining time, I'd like to throw it open for conversation with our members.

A few guidelines: Please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Please stand, state your name and affiliation, and please limit yourself to one question and keep it concise so we can get as many in as possible.

I know that globalization is an issue dear to Sandy's heart that we haven't talked about. Iran also would be an interesting question.

But over to you guys at this point. Yes, over here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Roland Paul, a lawyer. Certainly a superb and very informative presentation, and I wish I could ask a question on just about every one of those dimensions. But since we're constricted, I'll try one.

With regard to, during your administration or earlier, Iraq and Saddam Hussein, we know that Iraq security forces people met with Saddam in Sudan. We know they signed an agreement to—

ROSE: Iraq's—

QUESTIONER: Iraq's security—Saddam's security people met with Osama bin Laden, excuse me, in Sudan. These are in the committee reports, one or the other. They signed an agreement or a document saying, "Maybe we'll agree in the future." I believe we know that Zarqawi went to Iraq at some point, though it may have been during the Bush administration.

So my question to you is, were there any other contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq?

BERGER: I saw no evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. The 9/11 commission, which looked at this very, very carefully, found there was no linkage. There might have been contacts, as you say, but no real operational linkage between the two.

And the fact is, as you step back a second, Saddam Hussein was as much of a villain in the eyes of Osama bin Laden as the Americans. He was an infidel, a secular leader, not sympathetic to bin Laden's view of a kind of pan-Islamic region, caliphate restored to the region.

I really seriously doubt whether Saddam Hussein would have turned weapons of mass destruction over to a group, if he had them, that was so hostile to him.

ROSE: Next question. Yes, over here.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

ROSE: Hold on a second.

QUESTIONER: Oh, sorry. I happened to—Stephanie Newman, Columbia University. I happened to be rereading the profile in The New Yorker magazine on Prince Bandar. And when I got to the end, he claims that he came to you and offered to share the cost of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. I think he said that they would give $2 billion or $1 billion (if ?) the United States.

He argues that you didn't take up his offer. You, in response, said, "Well, it just didn't work." There seemed to be some sort of a gap there between what he was saying and what you were saying, and I wondered whether you could enlighten us on what actually happened there.

BERGER: I—

QUESTIONER: And then if you would speculate if you had gone ahead and if you had gotten rid of Saddam Hussein, what do you think today the Middle East would look like?

BERGER: Well, first of all, I don't recall Bandar saying he would split the cost of getting rid of Saddam Hussein with us. There's an awful lot in that article that Bandar says that's not true. And I could go on and on about that, but I will—

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

BERGER: Well, I mean, I don't think it was a serious proposal. Let me put it that way. You know, Bandar is Bandar. He says a lot of things.

 

 

The question of what we would have done about Saddam Hussein, would we have—I mean, I think the fact is that, as I said, sanctions probably would not—the sanction containment policy probably was not sustainable over the long period. But what the president initially did, which was to marshal the international community to put force behind diplomacy and to get the inspectors back, worked. The inspectors went back. They found no weapons of mass destruction. They could have stayed in Iraq as essentially verifiers of the fact that he did not rebuild his weapons of mass destruction. We could have been spared this disastrous enterprise called Iraq.

So I don't think the unilateral invasion of Iraq by the United States without a plan for what we would do on the second day is something that we would have undertaken.

ROSE: Yes, over here.

QUESTIONER: I'm Mort Zuckerman. I wonder if I could ask you, given how important intelligence was to the formulation of policy and the operations of policy, if you could give us a little bit of the color of your dialogue with the CIA, the shortages you found and how you, in a sense, addressed those issues in dealing with the CIA and what the impediments were to improving intelligence.

BERGER: Well, it's a very good question, Mort. I think the two or three problems that I had generally with the intelligence community, number one, they are—after the Church committee and the scandals of the '70s, they are congenitally cautious. And what does that mean? It means they warn you of everything. There's no stream.

I mean, every morning you come in and read the 23 disasters that may happen so that, if one of them happens—no one ever got fired for warning somebody of something that didn't happen, but you do get fired for not warning about something that does happen. So, number one, I found them to be risk-averse.

Number two, we didn't really—and we are now better—make the pivot from the Cold War, where the job was counting beans, counting warheads—where was the Soviet army?—to a much more difficult enterprise, which is understanding the mentality of countries and peoples and movements that shape the world; for example, Islamicism. And we have far too few experts in our intelligence community.

You know, the greatest—if you want to make five phone calls and get the five leading experts on any country today, you would not probably call people in the U.S. government. You'd call the academic world. You might call the Council on Foreign Relations. There's not a good integration of what I would call open-source intelligence, the knowledge of the academic and political world and secrets, which is the business that they're in.

Clearly, I think, finally, they were—in Iraq, I think the problem is somewhat the same as the problem of that show last night. When you do something that's a compilation—put a little fact here and a little fact there and a little fact there together—two half-truths don't make a whole truth.

And I think that—I was often impatient with the fact that they didn't tell me what they didn't know. And I would be constantly saying to my briefer or to George, "Tell us what you know, tell us what you don't know, so that we know what we have to work with." So I think those are some of the generic problems.

ROSE: Over here in the front.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mr. Berger, globalization—

ROSE: Identify yourself.

QUESTIONER: Sorry. Pranay Gupte. I'm a member of the Council. The whole concept of globalization pretty much came into its own while the president was in office in '90s and so on. How did you factor what was conceived or at least perceived primarily as an economic phenomenon into national security issues, including immigration, the whole question of porous borders, the emergence of countries like China and India, which eventually are expected to compete with the United States on the world stage?

In other words, the question really is, how does one tie in globalization to the issue of national security of this country? Thanks.

BERGER: Well, first of all, you can't be—it seems to me to be against globalization is like being against gravity, okay. It's not something that you can stop. It's a phenomenon that's going on on the economic sphere every day and the political sphere as we become more and more interdependent with countries around the world.

It seems to me you deal with it partly by institution-building, partly by recognizing that we no longer, by ourselves, can deal with the most serious problems that we face, whether that's terrorism, whether that's pandemic disease, whether that's AIDS, whether that's poverty around the globe that fosters resentment and hatred against the United States. These are global issues and they have to be dealt with through global institutions.

Now, we actually spent a fair amount of time on institution-building during the Clinton administration. Number one, we revived the Uruguay Round and got a GATT agreement and created WTO.

Number two, we took the Asia-Pacific Economic Council, APEC; we elevated it to a leaders' level meeting that meets every year.

Number three, we fought for the expansion of NATO in the post-Cold War world so that it expanded not just to the old World War II line but throughout Europe and became an integrating organization. We created something called the South American-Latin American Summit, where we brought leaders together around democracy-building, around human rights, around economic integration, around pro-trade.

So two things I would say. Number one, I think we need to build global institutions to deal with what are global problems. The U.N. has got simply—we've got to pay more attention to the U.N. and we've got to fix the U.N., not ignore it, not shove it aside, not rail against its weaknesses. But we need a strong U.N., and we ought to be very dedicated to making it a strong U.N.

And, second of all, it seems to me to keep a domestic constituency for particularly the economic dimension of globalization, you can't have globalization abroad and laissez-faire at home, because globalization abroad economically means the country grows, but there are winners and there are losers.

And if a government is not actively engaged in trying to soften the situation for the losers in globalization and to make sure that the benefits and burdens of globalization are spread fairly, then there will be no constituency for an expansive, engaged America. And that's what we're seeing in the immigration debate, for example.

ROSE: Institutional loyalties prompt me to say that there's an excellent article on the subject in Foreign Affairs by none other than Sandy Berger several years ago, so you should definitely look it up.

Ted Sorensen over here.

QUESTIONER: Sandy, thanks for a marvelous presentation and for your long service.

On the subject of global institutions and particularly international law and so forth, I think the Clinton administration gets high marks for initiating and signing a good many international agreements, which it then did not send or at least push on the Republican Senate. Do you regret the failure to exercise a little more presidential leadership in trying to put ICC and Kyoto and several other of those agreements through?

BERGER: Well, it's a fair question, Ted. I think that we did put the Chemical Weapons Convention to a vote in the Senate and we got it ratified. It took us two years to do that. I was personally directing the negotiations. It was painstaking. We had agreed to 38 conditions, none of which vitiated the agreement. And we finally got it through. And Trent Lott to this day says, "How did you ever put the wool over my eyes and get that Chemical Weapons Convention passed?"

We did not put Kyoto or the ICC before the Senate. We probably should have. The things I regret, as I look back, are the things that we didn't push hard enough, not the things that we did wrong. I don't think that this Congress would have passed Kyoto, or the Congress that we had, or this Congress, either one, and certainly would not have passed the ICC. But sometimes it's worth putting these things to a vote and letting people take a stand. And I think we probably should have pushed harder.

ROSE: Yes, over here.

QUESTIONER: Sherm Katz, Carnegie Endowment. Sandy, we haven't talked much about China or Russia. And this may take you a little beyond the parameters of Clinton administration only, but you certainly were very actively engaged bringing China into the WTO, with lots of hopes about that. President Clinton said—he changed the debate when he said, "This is not just about economics; it's also about national security." And with Russia, if memory serves, you were also quite active in drawing Russia into partnership agreements.

Going a little beyond what happened only in the Clinton administration, looking back now, how do you reflect on those policies in light of subsequent circumstances? And particularly in the case of China, what would you share with us about your experiences with Chinese leaders in terms of thinking about the future and China's intentions?

BERGER: I sense in there two questions, Sherm, that you've cleverly got rolled into one.

Let me speak briefly about Russia. We tend to forget, from the vantage point of 2006, that Russian democracy was very precarious through most of the early '90s, late Bush and early Clinton administration. It was assaulted first from the left, by the communists. It was then assaulted from the right by Zhirinovsky. And there was no guarantee that the Russian democratic experiment was going to work.

And we spent a great deal of time in the first half of Clinton I making sure that democracy stayed on track. And Clinton is sometimes criticized for being too close to Boris Yeltsin. But whatever Boris Yeltsin's other deficiencies were—and he had a number, including a love of the grape—he was a democrat. Whenever he got in trouble, he went back to the Russian people and he asked for a referendum and he got himself validated again. And so, you know, I think we did a good job of keeping Russian democracy on track.

Now, you know, is Russian democracy on track today? I think it's not as clear as it was. I think Vladimir Putin, who was the former national security adviser to Boris Yeltsin, and therefore I have a certain affinity—(laughter)—it's a precedent of national security advisers becoming president, which I think you all should consider more seriously. (Laughter.)

And I know Putin fairly well. I don't think he's a little "d" democrat in his heart. I don't think he's Stalin either. And I think that we have to keep the pressure on Russia to make sure that, as Russia evolves—a very broken place, a place that was really totally debilitated by the communist era—that basic principles of civil institutions are upheld.

Now, with respect to China, we sort of brooked the transition from Tiananmen to WTO. "Stape" Roy was very much part of that history. And I would say that I believe to this day that integrating China into the global economy is not only good economically, but it's good politically.

I believe it simply will be untenable over time for the Chinese officials to maintain political control—to maintain political acquiescence, lack of political reform, because people now have cell phones. They're middle class. They have the right to travel. And it's just impossible to ignite people's imagination where they work but not ignite their imagination about how they govern themselves. And so I would hope that we continue to press for the evolution of not necessarily democracy, western style, but certainly political reform in China.

ROSE: We'll take a couple of last questions and bundle them together, over here and over here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. E.J. Vyteswarn (ph) with The Economist.

Mr. Berger, you talked about the role of the doctrine of humanitarian intervention as it unfolded in the '90s. Could you talk a little bit about the role of Britain in that as an ally, in particular Tony Blair, who had his own particular version or vision for—continues to have, I suppose, for a few more months—of humanitarian—a muscular foreign policy, particularly at times when perhaps you didn't see eye to eye on a vision of the world; and maybe if you'll give us a particular insight into whether you saw anything in the man you knew while you were in office who was going to lead his country against domestic public opinion into an invasion in Iraq, whether you were able to see the seeds of that in the time you were in office?

BERGER: Yeah. Well, I am—we had a very close relationship with Tony Blair. Blair, in many ways, modeled his campaign for the prime ministership with the Clinton philosophy of essentially the third way in mind. And Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were the closest of friends.

It's been fascinating to me to see the transition of that relationship, which was genuine, to the relationship with Bush, which I also think is genuine. I think Blair is—our most important interaction with him was over the Northern Ireland peace agreement, where I think we broke—we laid the groundwork by giving Gerry Adams a visa to come to the United States before he had renounced force.

And we did that because we believed—we did that against the State Department, against the FBI and others—because we thought we would empower Gerry Adams to go back and move the IRA away from the use of force. And that strategy actually worked. And it was Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern who ultimately, with George Mitchell's excellent negotiation, achieved the Northern Ireland agreement.

So I think Tony Blair is a strong man, a bright man, a man of vision. Do I agree with him on Iraq? No. But do I think he's proceeding on the basis of genuine conviction? Yes, I do. And the fact of the matter is, we are in a struggle between two competing philosophies, one of tolerance and democracy and one of fundamentalism and authoritarianism.

I don't happen to think that the way we're pursuing it in Iraq is advancing that cause. I think it is impeding that cause. But I think Blair and even Bush, when they speak about that struggle that's going on, are right about the description. I just think they're wrong about the prescription.

ROSE: I'm actually going to have to limit it there because, unfortunately, as everyone knows, of all the hallowed Council traditions, even more than distinguished speakers, endless questions, the midnight drag routines, is ending meetings on time. And with that, I'd like to thank Sandy Berger for a wonderful visit. (Applause.)

 

© COPYRIGHT 2006, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE.

NW; 5 TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.

UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.

FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.

FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL JACK GRAEME AT 202-347-1400.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.