Experts discuss U.S. relations with India, China, and Pakistan and will discuss the challenges and opportunities for the United States in light of changing regional geopolitics.
This symposium is made possible through the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation.
BUMILLER: Welcome, everyone. Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody. My name’s Elisabeth Bumiller. I’m the Washington Bureau chief of The New York Times here. And welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations keynote panel discussion to conclude the symposium, “The New Geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan.” This is a very good panel. We’ve got three ambassadors up here.
To my immediate right is Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy, who’s a former U.S. ambassador to China. Long list of—you have his biography. I imagine many of you already know him. So here he is, the legend. (Laughter.) Next to him is somebody—
ROY: I’m not that old. (Laughter.)
BUMILLER: I know you also know Ambassador Wisner—Frank G. Wisner, former U.S. ambassador to India, many other things. And then finally, Ambassador Daniel Feldman, former U.S. special representative for the—for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was deeply involved as a senior official in setting up that office under Richard Holbrooke, and worked in that office in some very tense years, from 2009 to 2015.
So what I’d like to do today, this is on the record. I’m going to engage our ambassadors for half an hour myself. And then we’re going to open up to questions from the audience for the second half hour.
I’d like to start with Ambassador Feldman. Just talk—I’d like you to talk a little bit about your experiences with Pakistan during a very volatile period in U.S.-Pakistani relations, specifically after the 2011 raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, and how you helped manage the relationship with Pakistan after that. And personal recollections would be most welcome. And then just talk a bit about the nosedive the relationship took, how you helped to bring it back, and a bit of where we are now. I’ll ask the others to also recount their experiences in their specific countries. And then we’re going to have everyone pull together what this means for the region and the geopolitics at the end.
So, Dan, take it away.
FELDMAN: Well, thanks. And very good to be here. On that question in particular I should call Marc Grossman back up to the stage, since he was the special representative at the time, and on the ground working on many of these issues. And I was just supporting him from Washington. But I think certainly that period in 2011 was one of enormous shocks to the relationship. I served in the special representative office and then as special representative for the final year, but over the six and a half years, from the very beginning of the administration in 2009, until last fall. And I divide my time into kind of three discrete periods. And with the asterisks that we’re, you know, potentially on the cusp of a fourth, but I hope that we’re not.
The first one was in that period, 2009 to 2010, when we were really reassessing our relationship with Pakistan, and sought to elevate it to these new heights. We elevated our strategic dialogue to the ministerial level. We had several visits by Secretary Clinton to Pakistan, and visits here by Pakistani senior officials. We passed Kerry-Lugar-Berman and the promise of $7 ½ billion in civilian assistance over the course of five years and beyond. We were reengaging in Afghanistan with the troop and civilian surge. And therefore, Pakistan was critical for that piece as well.
And so it had such high expectations that it almost certainly wasn’t sustainable, and then it wasn’t. So in 2011, obviously, we saw these series of shocks. Abbottabad was actually just one of them. It started with Ray Davis at the beginning of 2011. Followed by Abbottabad—
BUMILLER: Remind the audience. I mean, most of you know, but just remind the audience.
FELDMAN: Ray Davis, the U.S. contractor based at our consulate who was involved in an incident in killing several Pakistanis, and then it turned into a significant issue. I actually in the course of that—it was right when Marc was starting his tenure as special representative. And I think the day he started I was on a plane with Senator Kerry as we went there to try to see what was possible, and meeting with Pakistani civilian and military leadership. He was ultimately released.
We were starting to just get back on track and in May we had the Abbottabad raid, which—I know Marc was on the ground in Pakistan soon after that, and then Secretary Clinton went with Admiral Mullen. By the end of May, after some conversations, she went again. And in October, with—what was it—I think it was General Petraeus and General Dempsey to have as coordinated a civilian-military intelligence discussion with senior leadership as possible.
Again, we were kind of just working through that, and then we had the Salala incident just before Thanksgiving in 2011, a cross-border incident where U.S. jets inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani military members. And it really sent the relationship into the deep freeze, to the point where they closed the ground lines of communication supplying our troops in Afghanistan.
And we really worked very, very assiduously, under Marc’s leadership, over the course of the first part of 2012 to finally put the relationship onto firmer footing. And we achieved that in the summer of 2012, interestingly, in a State Department diplomatic channel between our deputy secretary at the time, Tom Nides, and the finance minister, Shaikh, in Pakistan, but which was the best conduit for conversations.
And since 2012, we’ve really been executing a much more realistic, much more clear-eyed, more focused effort at engagement, which really revolves around building on our core areas of joint interest on counterterrorism, on reconciliation, on nuclear nonproliferation, on economic sustainability and energy. And so we scaled back the strategic dialogue, but kept it quite focused. And this was really the mechanism which kept our relationship alive during the kind of annus horribilis. And over the last three and a half to four years, it’s really borne fruit.
And I think that we have to all be mindful that despite the continuing challenges—and there are no doubt that there are very, very significant challenges still to the relationship and particularly around counterterrorism issues with—and proxy groups, whether it’s Haqqani, or LeT, or others. But there have been real significant developments in Pakistan over the course of the last three and a half to four years. The first democratic transition of a civilian government, a gradual strengthening of civilian leadership and that calibration between the civilian and military leadership.
Certainly increased strides in security, whether that’s in Karachi or the North Waziristan operation. The engagement of Pakistan in much more regional efforts, including the quite significant outreach to Afghanistan, the effort to try to bring the Taliban to the table, the quadrilateral engagement with China and others. Much better economic sustainability than we’d seen in decades, in terms of adherence to the IMF program, grappling with their own extremist issues, whether as a result of the Peshawar school massacre, executing Qadri, the person who murdered Governor Taseer.
But moving forward incrementally. And I worry that in the last few months, and especially as some of these flash points have come to light with the F-16 sale, with coalition support funds, certainly the limitations of Afghan patience and tolerance for what Pakistan can do, and on what time table, as evidence by President Ghani’s comments after the most recent, you know, horrific attack in Kabul a few weeks ago, that we’re going to forget the lessons we learned in 2011 and ’12, and the importance of continued engagement.
I want to make sure that we are able to exercise every bit of leverage that we can. And there’s been a lot of discussion in this earlier this morning about what the limits of U.S. power are, and how we utilize it. But I do want to make sure that we are able to have at our—that we’re able to access every bit of that, whether that’s security assistance, or civilian assistance, or diplomatic engagement, or intel cooperation, or incentivizing regional structures, because at the end of the day I firmly believe that it’s in our national security interest for us to continue to have this realistic but very engaged relationship with Pakistan.
It’s important because, for the first time in six and a half years, we don’t have a time-based condition on our troops in Afghanistan. So it’s having 9,800 troops there currently. Which we’ll have to see, come the next administration, how long that’s continued. But certainly whether it’s just the logistics of continuing to help supply them or, much more importantly in my mind, the engagement of Pakistan in any sort of long-term political resolution, that would have to come about for Afghanistan’s stability and the reconciliation process.
We’ll want to engage Pakistan, whether it’s nuclear proliferation, whether it’s continued extremism from the second-most populous Muslim nation in the world. For all these reasons, we have to continue on the path that we started down three and a half years ago. And it won’t be easy. And it won’t be short term. But it’s important and in our interests.
BUMILLER: Thank you. Frank, do you want to talk a bit about your experience as the ambassador in Delhi from ’94 to ’97. And that was just the beginnings of India’s, you know, economic growth, just the stirrings of it. And you were also helping to manage relationship between India and Pakistan. I imagine China was not as big a concern then, but it was growing.
WISNER: It was.
BUMILLER: OK. So tell us about that, your life at Roosevelt House.
WISNER: Elisabeth, thank you.
Perhaps rather than sort of go into excessive detail about events that took place 22 years ago, maybe I could take a step back and draw about three broad conclusions about where we and the Indians have been over these 22 years, starting where I was in the mid part of the 1990s.
WISNER: And I stood then, and I took off to go to India, in fact, attended a lunch before I was even publicly an ambassador with President Clinton at the time, and P.V. Narasimha Rao. The only subject of strategic significance we discussed was the dispute over almond trade. Now, why that? Because in effect, our relationship was really frozen over the issue of proliferation. Was India going to test or not test? And an array of disincentives in the relationship had grown up. And we and the Indians really did not have a serious strategic vision of one another.
If that was the starting point, gosh, what 22 years can do. The main conclusion I draw, number one, is that we now deeply believe that a strong India is good for the United States. And that we have invested over the course of two administrations—this one and the Bush administration, just beginning at the very end of the Clinton period—in measures to strengthen India economically, politically, and in defense terms. And those have accelerated, particularly after we got the nuclear problem out of the way, in 2005 with the decision to settle a civil nuclear agreement with India.
Now, the interesting counterpart, of course, has been that India herself has decided, while maintaining her own stubbornly defended sense of independence, that the United States is, in India’s mind today, a critical strategic partner of India’s.
BUMILLER: Which did not exist back in the days—
WISNER: It certainly didn’t exist when I started. And if you want to just take a look at it and think about it, in just a couple of weeks, June 7th and 8th, Prime Minister Modi will be coming here and will be addressing a joint session of Congress. Vajpayee did the same. Inconceivable in previous years in this relationship, such has been the transformation.
But having said that, being point number one, point number two is be very careful as you look forward to think about this relationship. For India will be not a full-scale great power anytime in the future. By 2050, if my memory is correct, India will control about 7 percent of the world GDP. China will be controlling 20. We and the Europeans about 17 percent. Result is that India will be a lesser figure, albeit an extremely important one. And India will be humbled furthermore by a relatively weak economy that proves very difficult to change and has major shortfalls in infrastructure, and health, and education, tax systems.
But the second great weakness of the Indian establishment is the weakness of Indian state institutions. India has a brilliant diplomatic service. You could put it on the head of a pin. It has a tiny intelligence service compared to the requirements of a major regional or even global power. India’s military is just now reforming itself. India has a way to go to grow into—to have the armor of a significant power and player.
The third feature that humbles India is ironically the other side of the equation that we like about India. It’s a democracy, but it makes it very difficult to get decisions made. You have hotly contested politics in Delhi, and then you have a diffusion of power throughout the states. So India doesn’t move quickly to make decisions. She heads in a more glacial place. And I think that we have to get used to. But none of these points should take away from our mind that India is a hugely important player for us, especially in the Asia-Pacific area in maintaining the balance of power.
And so, Elisabeth, let me end with a third point very quickly, is now to think forward. What should we be trying to accomplish as Modi comes now and as a new administration follows on? And I think it’s really important that we stay focused on India reality and potential, recognizing the limitations. But the way to do it is to stay focused on what we’re doing right now, which is promoting economic change and reform, promoting the building of economic ties between our sector, private sector, and the Indian economy, and moving robustly, as we have in defense cooperation, both in supply of defense articles, mil-mil cooperation, intelligence sharing, these transformative features that have made the relationship very important.
The second point that I think is just critical is not only continuing what we’re doing, but deepening it, deepening it political. Thinking with the Indians about how we deal with major questions like China, how we deal with major regional questions in their near neighborhood—Iran and the Middle East—and how we are prepared—what contingencies the United States is prepared to act on, and how India would pay in those contingencies to begin to structure a more sophisticated approach to India as a regional-cum-global partner of the United States.
And finally, in that regard, to steal a line from Alyssa this morning, and that is we should play for India’s introduction to the global high table. We were right to put forward—or back the candidacy of India for the Security Council. I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon, but it’s the right direction. But APEC is a very smart move of the United States. Not that we can rule the roost of 40 countries, but we certainly can help India get there.
And India can help herself, to answer Evan’s reservations this morning, by looking at what APEC does, the conventions, APEC’s reach. Many of them match reforms India’s already undertaken, and show that she’d be interested in playing in those fields as she becomes a candidate for membership in APEC, and then in a broader trade and political dimension that would flow from it. So a bit of the past and a bit of the future.
BUMILLER: Thanks. And now, Ambassador Roy, who overlapped a bit when you were ambassador to China. The same as when Frank was ambassador to India, you were there, ambassador from ’91 to ’95. I want you to—because we’re—I want you to sum up a bit. I mean, just before we open up for questions. I want you to talk about China and your role there, but I also want you to answer the bigger, larger question—because this is about the geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan—is I think there was an earlier comment today that the U.S. no longer has any ability to shape outcomes in South Asia, Central Asia.
Even though we have spent 15 years in Afghanistan, billions of dollars, we still have 9,800 troops in Afghanistan indefinitely at this point, Americans are in combat still in Afghanistan as we learned from the Kunduz bombing earlier last year, but we have not invested economically the way China has. So I’d like you to take that on and talk about China, but also answer that larger question of whether we can affect outcomes there, and if we should be investing more economically, competing with China. What do you think?
ROY: Let me begin with a little bit of history, just to illustrate why I have found this program today so fascinating. In anticipation of this opportunity today, in 1945, after seven years in wartime China, the U.S. Army Air Corps, which operated the only airline at the time between China and India, flew my family and me to Calcutta, where I spent a week investigating the situation on the ground there. We then took a train across India to Bombay, where we spent a month. The war in the Pacific was still continuing, but we were able to get a ship back to New York.
Jump from there to 1962, when I was serving in our embassy in China, which was located in Taipei, Taiwan, of course. And I’d just gotten then when the war between China and India broke out. And it’s no secret that the sympathies of the Americas were with the democratic Indians in their struggle against the godless communists. And ’62 was not the high point of cross-strait relations between Taiwan and China at the time. And I discovered, to my interest, that the sympathies of the government in Taiwan were entirely with Beijing. They thought that Beijing was acting in defense of China’s interests. So free China was on communist China’s side in the—in the ’62 war. The United States was not on that side. It gave me a useful insight into the fact that nationalism, in many ways, is more important than ideology in determining in how you locate your thing.
Since then, while I was ambassador in Beijing in 1992, I spent 10 days in Xinjiang and visited Ili and Kashgar, which are the opening points to Kyrgyzstan and to Tajikistan. And of course, Central Asia had just become independent. They’d just opened the rail link through Ili into Kyrgyzstan. But it was after centuries of essentially a closed situation because the Russian Empire in Central Asia was established under Catherine the Great, largely. And at roughly the same time the Qing dynasty, in China, in its early days, established Chinese control over Xinjiang again. It had control there 1,500 years earlier. But during the Ming dynasty they were weak in that area. And it was in that period when they established Xinjiang as part of China again.
I mention this because the whole purpose of this session is to talk about the changing geopolitics of this region. And I throw in Central Asia. And I was struck by the discussion this morning. Russia was barely mentioned. And I think it’s an egregious error that we are making to leave. On East Asia I can spend, you know, a week-long conference and Russia is barely touched on. And here we are, talking about South Asia, and failing to mention that Russia has very strong interests in the areas abutting on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India to the north. India, Pakistan are very conscious of this. We, Americas, somehow seem to drop this out.
Now, this is relevant because we have three things that have really happened that are affecting this dynamic in a big way. Number one is the rise of China and India. Thirty years ago they were big countries, but they were not, shall we say, great powers. Now they have emerged these great powers, and largely through economic development, rather than their military strength. The second is the opening up of Central Asia with the collapse of the Soviet Empire in Central Asia, which has created a no-man’s land for strategic competition among countries that are interested in the region. And that includes Russia, it includes China, it includes India. And Pakistan, of course, is deeply concerned about what happens in that part of the world.
So enormous changes are taking effect. This is a transformational period, because for the first time in recent history one great power—China—has the economic resources to see the potential for extending its influence into Central Asia and South Asia and the Middle East through the development of communications, transportation, trade. China is India’s number-one trading partner. China is the number-one trading partner of the Central Asian countries. China has this historic relationship with Pakistan.
And our role in the region is a military role. Back in the old days, we had an economic arm to play. Now, essentially, we have a military hand to play, and we either play it well or we play it badly.
But what’s driving the transformational changes in this region is economics. There is clearly a very important strategic element to China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, because China is—has an ambition to become a global naval power. It’s already a global maritime power through its civil maritime fleet. But it’s the economic element of China’s move into the region that is the transformational element.
We’ve talked about Silk Road initiatives and had no economic resources to back it up. China has major economic resources to back it up. So, from the U.S. standpoint, our problem is, essentially because of budgetary problems in the United States, we’re only funding our military to be able to play a robust international role. And if it turns out that the military component of our national strength is inadequate to produce the political outcomes that we would like to see, and we’re competing with countries such as China who have major economic resources to put behind it—even India’s investments in this area, I think, dwarf what we are prepared to do at this present time.
BUMILLER: Well, so here’s my question, before I open it up. What should—what should the United States do in this case? What is the role of the United States? Should the United States resist this in some way, and try to spend billions of dollars in the region? Or should the United States deal with what seems to be reality and work in some way with—try to work with China in the region and accept that it’s a new power in the region?
ROY: I’ll offer a quick view on this, because I think my colleagues here will have—
ROY: First of all, essentially, we have two choices. We’re going to continue a more limited military role in the area, so it’s not that we’re not a player. But in terms of the economic drive, the infrastructure development that is a very important transformational element, we have a choice of either remaining on the outside, playing a carping role, and perhaps objecting to or trying to obstruct the efforts by the other major players to carve out their own role in the process; or we can get involved in it as a junior partner. We can’t play the role of a major partner because we don’t have the economic resources to deal with it. But if we don’t stay involved, we will not be able to track what is going on effectively.
The problem is, if we try to resist it, we’re going to show our weakening position in the world. I think that’s the lesson we ought to learn from AIIB. What happened is we saw that our closest European allies were unprepared to take guidance from the United States on whether or not they should associate themselves with the bank. We are going to show ourselves as a declining power if we try to oppose forces that are stronger than our resistance can possibly be.
So my judgment is we need to pay attention to this world because the geopolitical transformations taking place in the heart of the Eurasian continent have global implications—involve China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Japan, they’re all part of this game. And we need to be deeply involved in this, and at the moment we only have the military component to our strategy. And I think that’s a real limitation on what we can do.
BUMILLER: So are the other panelists in violent agreement or disagreement? (Laughs.)
WISNER: I can’t resist wrestling with Strobe because—excuse me, Stape—(laughter)—because I really genuinely see the matters through a different perspective.
To me, the role of the United States, as I see it, in South Asia but more broadly throughout East Asia, as a critical component in the maintenance of a balance of power—that our relationship with Japan and with Korea is critical in their eyes to maintain their sense of defense with regard to China. And so it is with Vietnam, the Philippines. And the extension: the same is true with India.
India sees the United States and its relationship with us as part of its ability to secure itself in the long term and manage its own relations with a rising Chinese power. In addition, American political presence plays a vital role inside of Southeast Asia and South Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Afghans look to the United States to be a balancer in their relationship with Pakistan. The Paks have long bid for our hand in trying to equalize matters with India. So this political structure that we have been—we have as a nation is critical to our influence in the world and to the way the Asian nations, including India, are prepared to look at us.
So I think we have a lot more going for us than, Stape, you would—the weight of your remarks would indicate. Moreover, and coming back to a question I put to the panel this morning, I think we have economic capability. No, we will not compete with China as providing an alternate supply chain or source of capital in the crudest sense of development banks. But TPP is our—is our brainchild, our creation. The ability to provide Asia alternatives in Asia’s trading world, economic growth, manufacturing capabilities, is very much tied to our interests. And I think the offer of TPP, and why nations as diverse as Japan and Latin Americans are all embracing it, precisely is to have that economic alternative. And China is today herself struggling how she will relate to it. It’s a very powerful political and economic tool.
So, for these two reasons, plus the military—and I recognize its vital importance, but I literally, Stape, give it third rank in my hierarchy of important tools available to the United States. Very important that we maintain our forward deployments, our military-to-military ties, our defense trade ties. All of these undergird our security system. But keep an eye on the politics and the economics. They’re very powerful.
BUMILLER: Last word, quick word.
FELDMAN: Yeah, I would—I would just say, I don’t—I certainly don’t see the U.S. and China relationship as a—as a competitive one at this point in South Asia, or that it shouldn’t be, and one that is actually very complementary. I think that we have very aligned interests at this point in the stability in the region. And it’s incumbent upon us to continue to help drive the strategic relationship and some of the initiatives, and to the degree we are engaged, we continue to be engaged militarily but also economically.
I guess I don’t see—I’ve never seen the One Belt, One Road as something where we would be a JV partner in because I think it fulfills many of the ambitions that we initially laid out when we talked about the New Silk Road, first when Secretary Clinton raised it in summer 2011 in Chennai, and then the New Silk Road summit that we had—or ministerial at UNGA that year. Yes, we’re not—there was an earlier question about Kerry-Lugar-Berman, and there were certainly significant constraints on what we were able to achieve there, but it’s quite remarkable that China’s commitment—whether it’s 46 billion (dollars), or at the end of the day 23 billion (dollars), or even less than that—is completely aligned with what we prioritized for our assistance: energy, infrastructure, and in fact, doing things that we are incapable of doing abroad, whether due to constraints on funding coal projects or nuclear projects or oil and gas.
So we all have this common interest in a more stable and economically sustainable Pakistan, a Pakistan that’s not isolated, a South Asia that’s not, I think, riven between U.S.-aligned and China-aligned interests. And these are opportunities to continue to foster and facilitate that. I hope that we can continue to develop these tools in our own tool chest, whether on civilian assistance or doing more on trade rather than getting stuck on—in the same discussions of FTAs or BITs or anything else, and figure out other ways to incentivize behavior and contribute. But this is an area that Pakistan itself has said that they want to pivot to, to much more trade rather than aid.
And I guess just lastly before we open it up for questions, I think that the regional engagement here, this is a significant moment of opportunity still, given the changes over the last few years—historic democratic transitions of power in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, the Modi election in India, the continued engagement of China in the region. We’ll see what happens with Iran. This should be a moment when we can capitalize on formulating and strengthening regional alliances.
The economic piece, I think, is the most natural lowest-hanging fruit, and we’ve seen that over the last few years in CASA-1000 and TAPI. But there’s much, much more to do, both in terms of soft and hard linkages. And I think we play a critical role in helping to continue that trend.
BUMILLER: Great, thank you.
OK, questions? Right here in the front row, front table.
Q: Hi, thanks. My name is Alan Kronstadt. I’m with the Congressional Research Service.
And I wanted to maybe press on Pakistan a little with Ambassador Feldman. Giving a different narrative to the story of the last few years, you had offered maybe a more realistic engagement since 2012 had borne fruit. And one of those fruits was kind of the democratic transition, the—you know, the election and a—and a peaceful transition of power.
Now, there is an argument that that was less a function of U.S. engagement and maybe advice, and more a function of Pak mil’s own assessment of its role in the society and what role it wanted to play in domestic governments—governance. Likewise, the military operations in the FATA region, perhaps less a function of U.S. interest and engagement and more a function of the Pak mil’s response to the Karachi airport attack or the 2014 Peshawar school attack, and that when it comes to areas that the U.S. has really been keenly interested—action against the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed; also, strengthening rather than just abiding the existence of a democratic government—Pakistan has fallen short. Maybe also nuclear proliferation and planning issues.
And so, setting aside any question of the next U.S. administration’s policy toward Pakistan, there have been some signs on Capitol Hill of a—of a growing skepticism, maybe emerging wariness. We’ve seen a reduction of overall aid amounts, coalition support funds, also non-waivable conditions on coalition support funds for the first time in the post-9/11 era, and most recently, you know, some senior members of Congress insisting that Pakistan not be subsidized in a purchase of F-16s. And further than that, there’s analysts who are—who are counseling for a more rigorous, maybe sterner approach to Pakistan policy, maybe even could be called punitive in some ways, as an alternative, who would reflect upon the last four years as not in general gaining the outcomes or realizing the outcomes that the U.S. government has sought.
So I’m just curious if you could respond to that, please.
FELDMAN: Sure. I mean, first of all, I mean, just to clarify, I by no means mean to overstate what the U.S. engagement led to. It was not the precipitating factor for a democratic transition. It was probably not the one for a North Waziristan operation. Obviously, these issues are being driven by domestic politics, by domestic security issues, by domestic interests, as they would be in virtually any country around the world. I think China’s engagement on counterterrorism issues is driven far more by their concerns on ETIM than by other nations seeking to engage them in some of these things.
But I do think that we can look for areas of alignment where the natural Pakistani trajectory aligns with our own interests. And we have that on counterterrorism. We have that on strengthening civilian institutions.
And by all means, I mean, I think said it every time I testified to Congress, every time I spoke publicly and privately: there is far more that we expect of the Pakistanis in addressing proxy groups, in dealing with safe havens. This was said frequently and specifically and strongly and repeatedly by all my predecessors, by Secretary Clinton, by Secretary Kerry, and we have to continue to push for that. But I don’t think that isolating or being more punitive at this point is the way to change a strategic calculus. And, in fact, I’m not sure that we can change a strategic calculus.
So I understand the reasons, and I don’t even necessarily disagree with more conditionality, more transparency, more reporting. But I don’t think—but I think it has to be calibrated, and we have to make sure that we’re looking at it over the long term in terms of what’s going to best serve our interests for the coming years.
BUMILLER: Would you like—
WISNER: Elisabeth, yeah, would you let me add a short word?
BUMILLER: Of course, of course.
WISNER: Just over a decade ago, if my memory serves me well—actually, slightly more than a decade ago—this institution, the Council on Foreign Relations, with the notable management of Alyssa Ayres, participation of Marshall Bouton in the back of the room, came out with a terrific study of United States relations with South Asia. And as we looked at the question of Pakistan from the very beginning of our relationship with Pakistan in the 1950s right through the mid-2004/5 period, the single most dangerous element in that relationship was the roller coaster that we put the relationship on: our willingness to engage, back off, re-engage, impose conditions, change, back and forth, up and down. And loss of influence was just one of the consequences.
And if there was one conclusion of something that was written a decade-plus ago is, get of the roller coaster. Recognize that you deal with the conditions of other nations and what you want them to do over the long run by patient application of dialogue, and you don’t get it by imposing lots of short-term conditions and cutoff threats.
FELDMAN: The roller-coaster analogy is very apt. And I sometimes say, not so much that I’ve experienced the arc of the relationship, but the sine and cosine of the relationship over the—over the last few years. And all I’m saying is that we have to just try to stabilize it more. It has to be—it’s in our own interest to continue a much more linear and pragmatic approach rather than let ourselves be subject to these whims, whether it’s an F-16 sale with sovereign funds or not, or whether—whatever the most recent issue may be.
BUMILLER: Let’s see, go to the back of the room to another member. Here in the red tie, yes.
Q: Hi. My name is Austat (ph). I’m on the Pakistan desk—(comes on mic)—hello. I’m on the Pakistan—I’m in SRAP at the moment, working in the—in the political component of the Pakistan desk.
And I have a very simple question: What will change Pakistan’s calculus?
FELDMAN: Shouldn’t I be looking to you for that answer? (Laughter, laughs.)
Q: I’m searching for wisdom. (Laughter.)
FELDMAN: (Laughs.) I think we have to—I mean, there’s plenty of Pakistan experts here, including the woman to your right and many others.
I think that—I think, again, in the interest of being realistic and clear-eyed, we have to recognize what we can and cannot do. And, you know, there was a lot of talk earlier in the administration about what will change the strategic calculus. And I think that, at the end of the day, it’s very, very little. It’s working with them to—if there are issues, as perhaps the Peshawar incident was, if there are others that can demonstrate that they have a vested interest in dealing with these issues in their own society for the stability of their own country, to do what is right by the Pakistani entrepreneurs, to try to grow a civil society, that they have to take certain steps—which we can help them on, but we can’t do for them—that that is ultimately the realization that we all have to help encourage.
BUMILLER: Yes, here on the left in the salmon-colored sweater.
Q: Thanks very much. I’m Garrett Mitchell. I write The Mitchell Report.
And on the day when Donald Trump has become I think officially the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, I want to pose a question that I—if it sounds facetious, it is not intended to be. But I was thinking about having a conversation like this in a room that isn’t filled with people who associate with the Council on Foreign Relations, but filled with people who are leaning in the Trump direction, however one wants to characterize them—isolationist, nativist, or something less pejorative. I was wondering how we might frame some of the thoughts that you’ve been expressing, but without vocabulary that isn’t going to fly with apparently a lot of voters. They don’t know about strategic alliances or strategic partnerships. They’re not—they don’t know what a TTIP is, they know what a Q-tip is. How do we—how do we—I’m not suggesting that we—that we all learn how to talk like Donald Trump, but how do we—how do we make these points to an audience of people who need to hear something different, but who also need to understand the validity of what you’re talking about?
BUMILLER: That’s a very good question. Who wants to take a bite at that?
WISNER: Stape? (Laughter.) I’m happy to.
ROY: As I understand Donald Trump’s position, it’s that our allies are having a free ride, and that they should either pay the freight or we’ll get off the bus. I think if he were to be elected president, he would discover that you can’t deal with the world outside of our borders on that basis. In other words, diplomacy is the business of influencing people, and offering people take-it-or-leave-it propositions generally is not a good generic way of influencing them.
But I’m going to draw on some earlier comments here, because I have generally—I generally agree with what Frank Wisner and Dan said, but I’d package it differently. I think the problem that whoever becomes the U.S. president is going to discover is that having the largest economy in the world is irrelevant in public policy terms. In public policy terms, what is the criterion of the strength of your economy is the ability of the political system to extract the economic resources necessary to play a great power role. We went into World War II totally unprepared, not because our economy was so weak it couldn’t be prepared, but because our political system would not permit us to become prepared. At the moment, our political system is funding the military component of our international presence and is grossly underfunding all of the other aspects of our comprehensive power in a world where we are cooperating with and competing with rising powers such as China and India.
I also think that we have to make some important distinctions in looking at the world. In East Asia, our balancing role is vital, and India is a bit player in this respect. In South Asia, I would offer you it’s not the United States who can play a balancing role, because India wants to play the balancing role. And what we have discovered in our relationship with India is it’s so determined to be the balancer that it won’t get into the U.S. pocket. That’s why it doesn’t buy U.S. aircraft. It buys them from other people, even though we thought that our new relationship was going to guarantee us some military sales. It doesn’t work out that way.
Pakistan does not consider us a reliable ally because of this roller coaster that we have had repeatedly there. China is the factor that’s important to Pakistan because it is reliable, it’s there, it gives it military support—up to limits. Let’s not forget that when we’ve had Pakistan-India rows, China doesn’t throw its national interest in vainly to try to alter that balance. But the fact of the matter is that China is seen by Pakistan as a reliable ally and the United States is seen as one—as a fair-weather friend. Simply the history of the last 10 years—why did we develop the Northern Transportation Network? It was because Pakistan wouldn’t permit us to move goods through Pakistan to Afghanistan.
BUMILLER: But what do you say a to a roomful of Trump supporters right now to explain what you just said? What is the simple explanation for why the United States has to engage in the world? What do you tell—I’m not going to say it, actually—but what do you—(laughter)—
WISNER: Got it.
FELDMAN: What’s the bumper sticker?
WISNER: Well, let me—
ROY: Very briefly—
BUMILLER: OK, anybody. And yeah—
WISNER: I’ll follow.
ROY: Since the beginning of our Republic, the economic factor has been the basis of our national strength. At the moment, China has a stronger trade relationship with all of our friends and allies in East Asia. China has more trade—is the largest trading partner of India, more so than we are. In other words, in dealing with the world, the United States is going to be a loser if we are not able to play a role other than the military factor, which is our trump card at the moment, if you will, is that military factor.
BUMILLER: But we’re losing jobs here because of that. What do you say to that?
WISNER: Well, it’s—I think—
ROY: I say we lose jobs when job move from Massachusetts to North Carolina. The fact that we’re moving it over—the reason why East Asia has been a success story is because the jobs move where they are economically most properly placed. It’s not the question of losing jobs. It’s that our jobs—the jobs that we have lost are not jobs that belong in the United States, but we haven’t substituted the jobs that belong in the United States where we have the competitive advantage. And that’s the transformation that we have to make in our own economy and we need to have the government policies that will facilitate that.
BUMILLER: Did you have a—
WISNER: I like that, yeah. I would particularly state the last thing you said. And it goes, I believe to the question you put to us. I think whoever wins this election—Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or whoever wins it—(laughter)—we’re going to be faced with the—
BUMILLER: Paul Ryan.
WISNER: We’ve had enough surprises this far. (Laughter.) Whoever wins it, we’re faced with an American public that is deeply skeptical of use of expressions like national interest and trade agreements. And we have a job of rebuilding a consensus behind policy again. We have a country that has not recovered fully from our recession and a country that has overextended—believes its overextended itself in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So how do address the question of—I think you’re absolutely right. Set aside words like national interest and go to the heart of the matter. What’s going to produce American power, so that we have influence in the world where we and our wishes in the world will be listened to by other nations?
And that’s a mixture of the strength of our military, the skill of our diplomacy, the quality of our intelligence. And it’s there through our alliance system, and being able to multiply our message through the mouths of close associates and allies around the world, and be feared when necessary, but have the power to deliver, point one. Point two is economics. It’s all good and well to say trade makes jobs. But unless we can prove to Americans that when we displace that job in Pottstown, Pennsylvania and move it to China or to Malaysia, and replace it with a higher-paying job and help the worker who is losing in Pennsylvania find his way forward, we’ve really—we’ve really, really not addressed a major societal problem.
And I think when I look at the prospect of selling TPP, for example, leave the word out of it, trade agreements of any sort, I think the two great selling points we’re going to have to focus on is, number one, trade adjustment. How do you create inside the structure of your agreements the ability to train your people and upgrade their skills, and make that real, and help people move from point A in the economy to point B. Second, I think it’s going to be very important to deal with the environmental question. And that is, how we use trade agreements to improve the life we live, the quality of the air we breathe, the environment and the climate that we are a part of. If I were to sit down and re-explain TPP today, and look at a Trump voter in the face, I would be able to say: I’ll deliver better on those two questions than anyone who talks simply about tearing up an agreement.
FELDMAN: Yeah, I’ll just say very, very quickly. I think it’s a great question and I concur with everything that’s been said. And I think that it’s something that the campaign—the Clinton campaign will be struggling with for the next six months. Putting aside the question that I’m not actually sure what any of Donald Trump’s policies would be on this, but I would say that boiling it down to a bare minimum that the U.S. cannot be great if we do it in isolation. That at the end of the day, it’s not just about national security interests, but better defining and communicating what that means to these voters. And I would say we cannot be as safe as possible and we cannot be as prosperous as possible without our engagement with the rest of the global community.
And certainly—and then demonstrate examples by which that’s true. I think in my case, in Afghanistan, it could not be more evident that we would not have been able to accomplish what we’ve accomplished thus far, and recognizing that it’s still extremely fragile, but without NATO, without the international community. And as we set up our—the contact group that Marc talked about with the other special representatives from 50 other countries engaged, we made sure that it was—there was about a third from Muslim-majority countries, so it wasn’t just a clash of civilizations, that the regional component continues to be important.
And that can’t be driven by us. We can help to facilitate and nurture it, but we have to continue to encourage that. And we don’t have a voice at that table, which is in our own interest if we’re not engaged. But I do think it has to be boiled down to that minimal—to that degree of a talking point.
BUMILLER: Well, thank you to all three of you. Thank you to the members. And that concludes the panel. (Applause.)