Burns, Brzezinski and Hagel to Speak at “US-Saudi Relations in a World Without Equilibrium” Conference


Three big additions to our upcoming US-Saudi National Policy Forum — Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and former National Security Advisor and almost regular on Morning Joe, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Former Senator Chuck Hagel, who is now Distinguished Professor in the Practice of National Governance, Georgetown University and Chairman of the Atlantic Council of the United States, has agreed to help open the US-Saudi conference that my team at the New America Foundation has been working hard to organize in recent weeks.
Senator Hagel, nearly three years back, gave a speech at the Brookings Institution that was chaired by outgoing Brookings foreign policy programs chief and probable next US Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual. In that speech, Hagel argued that America could not afford to pursue false choices.
I still find that speech relevant today and this clip in particular:

America’s approach to the Middle East must be consistent and sustained, and must understand the history, interests and perspectives of our regional friends and allies.
The United States will remain committed to defending Israel. Our relationship with Israel is a special and historic one. But, it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice. Achieving a lasting resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is as much in Israel’s interest as any other country in the world.
Unending war will continually drain Israel of its human capital, resources, and energy as it fights for its survival. The United States and Israel must understand that it is not in their long-term interests to allow themselves to become isolated in the Middle East and the world. Neither can allow themselves to drift into an “us against the world” global optic or zero-sum game. That would marginalize America’s global leadership, trust and influence, further isolate Israel, and prove to be disastrous for both countries as well as the region.
It is in Israel’s interest, as much as ours, that the United States be seen by all states in the Middle East as fair. This is the currency of trust.

Joining Senator Hagel as well as previously confirmed speakers General Brent Scowcroft, former Saudi Ambassador to the US and long-time head of Saudi Intelligence HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal, and Saudi Minister of Finance Ibrahim Al-Assaf will be former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter and CSIS Trustee and Counselor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

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Brzezinski somewhat recently had this exchange with Joe Scarborough and his daughter Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. It’s a spectacular clip in which Brzezinski spells out TABA: “T. . .A. . .B. . .A. Look it up Joe. You might learn something.”
Zbigniew Brzezinski and Chuck Hagel will both help open the conference at the Georgetown Four Seasons Hotel — and Brzezinski no doubt will give a tour de force review of American and Saudi national security challenges in the region.
As one interesting side bit, I learned that yesterday at 12:33 GMT, a 27 minute long interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski ran on TV Tehran. Brzezinski agreed to do the interview if not one word in his commentary was changed — and the clip he did was exactly 27 minutes, and that is what ran on Iranian television.
In the clip, Brzezinski outlined some of the things that Iran could do — as well as the US — if “serious” about changing the course of their rivalrous and non-existent relationship. According to one source, the interviewer kept asking Brzezinski about the difference between words and “deeds” and what “deeds” did America need to demonstrate. Brzezinski knocked the nudge back somewhat by suggesting that neither side should get distracted by a meaningless escalation in what counted as a “deed” — after all, what deeds could Iran put on the table.
While Kim Jong Il recently had a couple of Christian rock bands over for the celebration of his father’s birthday — as Rachel Maddow and I discussed the other day — Zbigniew Brzezinski “un-cut” on Iranian television is perhaps more newsworthy and potentially consequential.
william burns twn.jpgAt lunch at the conference on Monday, the 27th of April, Under Secretary of State William J. Burns will offer his own thoughts on international economic and security challenges facing Saudi Arabia, the United States, and their relationship.
Burns, who is a well-respected strategist, previously served as US Ambassador to Russia — and is rumored during the first part of the Bush administration to have been working hard along with then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and then UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw (whose son has just finished a very productive stint in the international economics shop of the John Podesta-led Center for American Progress) to get Syria out of the international dog house on to a Libya-like track. Interestingly, the provocative then Under Secretary of State for International Security and Arms Control John Bolton may have been the saboteur who then undid that progress.
In my view, Under Secretary William Burns is one of the most capable potential architects of an entirely new global arrangement between the United States and other key stakeholder powers. My sense is that Burns shares a similar world view about what is possible geostrategically with White House national security council foreign policy advisor to President Obama Denis McDonough. James Steinberg at State and Tom Donilon who serves as Deputy Director of the National Security Council are also, in my book, very competent pragmatic realists. But Burns has a vision of national security possibilities between the great powers and also with regard to setting a new equilibrium in the Middle East that the Obama team is hopefully studying up on.
This conference will STREAM LIVE on The Washington Note from 8:45 am until 4:00 pm on Monday, 27 April.
The conference is by invitation only, but if TWN readers are interested in attending, you can send me a note at steve@thewashigtonnote.com. No promises. It will be very full house.
— Steve Clemons


12 comments on “Burns, Brzezinski and Hagel to Speak at “US-Saudi Relations in a World Without Equilibrium” Conference

  1. Dr-Hijazi says:

    US must understand that the role of expired royal family in SA is ended,the need now is to look for anoher player in the middle east that can keep the US interests,SA royal family is atroub;e maker for americans and for the wourld,teh conference,i hope should include all the political directions from arabia saudia,rather than the expired royal family,the country is not fo saudi family and Wahabi terro ideas,president Obama and ameicans have to change the nature of the US -SA relation ship,to the direction the can donate benfit to the americans .America is avictim of the blind saudi games,jihadism ,wahabism ,Alqaida,talban ,terrorism ,all are made in the saudi factories and disributed to the wourld by the saudi royal family


  2. JamesL says:

    Astonishing: Captcha worked the very first time, a success not seen since 2007.


  3. JamesL says:

    OT, except for the concepts of equilibrium, Israel, Saudi Arabia,the new global arrangement, pragmatism, deeds and deeds, the future in general, and few others I missed:
    AP via Yahoo News: NATO ships, helicopters hunt down 7 pirates
    “NAIROBI, Kenya – NATO warships and helicopters pursued Somali pirates for seven hours after they attacked a Norwegian tanker, NATO spokesmen said Sunday, and the high-speed chase only ended when warning shots were fired at the pirates’ skiff.”
    Any story of pirates is open and shut, black and white. But a story is a wholly inadequate representation of a societal condition. This story absolutely begs analysis, or at least the application of other perspectives. A quick list:
    Most obvious is that it took two warships and helicopters seven hours to deal with just the attack portion (not the incarceration or judicial process) of this occurrence. This amounts to the efforts of perhaps a thousand men and women, and probably many more if all military support services are included. The military has its own hot set of up-to-the-minute acronyms describing the latest tactics regarding sea and land piracy. But beyond the thicket of acronyms what is going on is simply attrition. There are a lot more speedboats and poor people than warships. Speedboats are easy on fuel and simple to keep running, an the number of poor people is increasing.
    In manufacturing terms we have spent seven thousand man-hours, and dedicated several hundred million dollars worth of equipment to capture seven poor people and assert a successful military operation has taken place.
    In nuclear terms we have invested a chunk of money to begin design of the someday future construction of a nuclear power plant to supply a few families with lights, refrigerators, and tv’s.
    In agricultural terms, the pirates are like a few bad apples in a warehouse containing 300 bags of apples, in which the cooling system is failing. Sending warships after pirates is like sending a team of specialists into the warehouse dress up each apple in its own tiny protective biological warfare suit.
    In political terms, the pirates are Robin Hood, and the international community is King John.
    In economic terms, while the pirates are brazenly stealing big valuable things right in plain sight, banks and monetary speculators—those imbued with terminal greed–are brazenly continuing to manipulate the spigots of money pools for personal gain behind a barricade of laws they helped write, and demanding compensations for which Greek philosophers would be hard pressed to find adequate descriptors.
    In terms of a normal, small US school system, we have assigned, for a little over one quarter of a single day, a division of troops to locate, incarcerate, or kill a few students carrying drugs into the school.
    The analogies roll on and on. What is clear is that the military represents one possible response that is extremely limited in its usefulness and extravagant in its consumption. Military effectiveness in no way equates to a solution to this problem, and in fact accelerates the problem by diverting boatloads of dollars away from long term solutions.
    One solution that should be tried is to take one tenth of the resources consumed in this one military chase—call it a tithe– and grant it absolutely free to the hometown of the pirates in the form of a turnkey manufacturing plant outfitted with a classroom, a free cafeteria, a rudimentary health clinic, and basic machine tools specialized to produce benign, small scale energy producing devices such as windmills and equipment for small scale, intensive agricultural production. ‘Teach a man to fish’ applies here more than ‘No better friend, no worse enemy’.


  4. DonS says:

    OT, but generally related to internatonal engagement: In light of Obama’s apparent final decision not to have the US participate in Durban II, I find Hagel’s words interesting: “The United States and Israel must understand that it is not in their long-term interests to allow themselves to become isolated in the Middle East and the world.” Another vote for the zero sum approach by Obama?


  5. Casual Spectator says:

    Did I hear Brzezinski say “There is no doubt Hamas
    provoked this conflict”?
    Steve, you may want to temper your praise and
    support for this guy somewhat.
    In my book there is no doubt that Israel provoked
    this conflict by decades of brutal oppression and
    You know that, most of the enlightened world knows
    that – how come Zib doesn’t know that?


  6. Mr.Murder says:

    Captcha ate my homework and a lengthy post.
    On hearing the Burns name I thought you meant Nicholas Burns. He’s got great experience detailing work with the Palestenians, with Russia, with NATO.
    Get him into the conversation as well. He can help fast track the I/P two state items, and probably smooth certain EU/Russian items concering Turkey and the Caspains as well.
    As for the topic, the demand for Iran market entry is huge at this time. Primarily so for the post peak oil concerns, regional stability hopes, and greater interactive wealth creation.
    This includes the Saudi rivals. Their overt control of the oil market for decades dating back to Lend Lease, and the Saudis’ own demands of empowering Shi’ite leadership abroad gradually contraposes those same elements at home.
    Enough of that minority exists in Arabia to dent its own economy should it ever decide upon a greater share of the wealth. That economy was cultured by our own aforementioned policy, with the help our domestic petroleum interests Arabian wealth became a market pillar. So Arabia’s concern is our wallet’s interests as well, or at least the wallet of Tom “Suck on It” Friedman.
    Iran had its door open to China. Thanks to GWB’s own need to underwrite craven tax cuts to unsustainable levels, he espoused rhetoric of isolation to greater Persia. China is there to benefit such one sided talk, yet the Sauds and Western money need get there too. After years of helping raise the wall there to lock them out of the market sectors Arabia profits most from, it must engage Persia and remind them to open the spigot more.
    On the other side of Arabia certain Chinese arms find their way to Sudan, whose own interests rival much of the monied in the region. This is a form of triangulation and we gain to beneift the political result despite the upward pressure on market forces such items helped create.
    Arabia needs the post peak market to stay healthy enough its own dollars stay strong, this means moving Iran into market sectors once denied. Western entry to Iran could free their obligations with China, this would turn into the ground we could renew containment policy upon.
    The post peak economy needs Iran’s help to drive forward. Iran’s inclusion comes with political ramifications to those same monied interests. that can be made into a growth engine for interaction and trade as well. So, its outcome as a participant is far less a threat, than trying to stay ostracized from needs the world faces under the current (in)operative model.
    Brzez’s speech is a landmark, and to sum all of it up, he said “It is what it is.”


  7. Steve Clemons says:

    WigWag — It will be an interesting and useful conference.
    Appreciate your note — and as you know, I respect your general
    differences on some of this. But I really wanted this conference to
    happen – and am eager to roll this out in Washington foreign policy
    circles in a way not normally done. It won’t be perfect — and may
    not satisfy you fully — but I think you’ll find some parts of it
    constructive. All best, steve


  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “I have only one complaint: I should wish that the first comment under this post (“Video of Israeli troops killing unarmed Palestinian protester in the West Bank”) was made by WigWag, and that the criticism of Saudi Arabia was delivered by Outraged American”
    “That would be refreshing, and make the debates at TWN more unpredictable”
    ROFLMAO!!! Next thing we know you’re gonna want to see me and Carroll soliciting for donations to AIPAC.


  9. Arun says:

    Dr Farrukh Saleem in The Intl News, Pakistan, lamenting the fate of Swat:
    “Which one of the 192 member-states of the UN would Swat be like? Which one of the 57 OIC countries would Swat be like? Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan?
    Would the ‘Switzerland of Pakistan’ now be like Saudi Arabia? Saudi Arabia’s per capita book readership is one of the lowest on the face of the planet. Saudi Arabia is yet to produce a Nobel prize winner (Israel has produced eight). Saudi Arabia has no more than 5,000 scientists (200 per million) while the US has 1.5 million (4,000 per million). Saudi Arabia hasn’t invented anything of consequence for the human civilisation in its 77 years of existence. Saudi Arabia officially practises a comprehensive gender-based apartheid system whereby 14 million Saudi women have different legal rights than Saudi men, an “unequal access to property and jobs, and restrictions on freedom of movement… (Saudi women were not allowed to vote in the municipal elections of 2005).” Would the ‘Switzerland of Pakistan’ now be like the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ (as Afghanistan was from 1996 to 2001)? No political parties, no politics, no elections — and absolutely dictatorial. No TV, no chess, no kites. For women — restricted employment, no education, no sports, no nail-polish. For everyone else — no videos, no music, no dancing, no clapping during sports events — and a beard “extending farther than a fist clamped at the base of the chin.” No paintings, no photographs, no stuffed animals — and no dolls.”
    — Why do we call Saudis allies?


  10. Paul Norheim says:

    WigWag knows very well that Steve is one of the hosts of the
    US-Saudi conference – and in this role he cannot say what
    WigWag says in the comment above, nor pose the questions
    WigWag suggested in a comment in a former thread related to
    the conference.
    This does not mean that I disagree with what WigWag says here
    – basically I think his criticism is both timely and correct.
    Because of the West`s dependence on Saudi energy sources, we
    hear plenty about the conditions among people under Taliban
    rule in Afghanistan, and much less about the conditions in
    Saudi Arabia. Once this dependency is over, papers like NYT,
    WP, LAT (if they still exist), as well as all the major TV channels
    will deliver nonstop criticism of the conditions under Saudi rule.
    I also think that WigWag goes beyond the ordinary moralism
    when he links a hidden Saudi sympathy for the Israeli attack on
    Gaza to the tense Saudi-Iranian relationship. In this, he does
    what Chuck Hagel recommends in the quote from Steve`s post:
    he makes an effort to “understand the history, interests and
    perspectives of our regional friends and allies.”
    I have only one complaint: I should wish that the first comment
    under this post (“Video of Israeli troops killing unarmed
    Palestinian protester in the West Bank”) was made by WigWag,
    and that the criticism of Saudi Arabia was delivered by Outraged
    That would be refreshing, and make the debates at TWN more
    Even more candid.


  11. WigWag says:

    Steve Clemons is a smart guy so I am sure that any conference that he organizes will be valuable, informative and make a contribution to Saudi-American understanding. But in a previous post, Steve assured us that the conference will encourage a “candid” exchange of views. The panel of participants he is assembling makes this highly doubtful.
    The Oxford English Dictionary defines candid as:
    “Free from bias; fair, impartial; frank, open, straight-forward, sincere in what one says.”
    If Steve’s posts on the meeting are emblematic of what will actually occur there, the sessions are likely to be anything but “candid.”
    In this post for instance, Steve quotes at length a statement made by then Senator Hagel about U.S. policy in the Middle East and the necessity for both Israel and the United States to be more realistic and open-minded.
    Fair enough.
    But it’s funny that when posting about a meeting on Saudi-American relations, Steve focuses so heavily on Israel and American-Israeli relations. One would think that because Israeli and Saudi Arabia share the same position on putative Iranian nuclear weapons that Steve would have something to say about the Saudi’s views about Iran, but so far his posts say nary a word about this. I hope it isn’t impolitic to point out that he still hasn’t told us whether he thinks the Saudis are more concerned about Israeli nuclear weapons or Iranian nuclear weapons.
    Because (at the very least) the Saudis encouraged Israel to attack Gaza one would think the confluence of Saudi and Israeli views about Hamas would bear mentioning, but Steve conveniently ignores it. Perhaps he doesn’t remember that while Israeli troops were still invading Gaza and Israeli planes were running numerous bombing sorties, the Saudis stymied the Arab League from condemning the Israeli assault and in fact boycotted an Arab League meeting empanelled to discuss the crisis.
    In addition to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, two of the most prominent conflicts afflicting the Middle East and the rest of the world are the cold war between Sunnis and Shiites and the relations between fundamentalist Muslims and their more secular co-religionists. Saudi Arabia is implicated in both of these intra-Islamic disputes and there is every reason to believe that Saudi Arabia is far more concerned about the outcome of these disputes than they are about the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But if his posts are any indication, Steve must not think these conflicts are even worth mentioning. Nor has Steve bothered to mention Saudi treatment of its minority Shiite population that actually forms the majority of people living in Saudi Arabia’s oil rich regions. His posts (and I presume the meeting) also ignore the role Saudi Arabia intends to play in Iraq once the Americans leave, the Shiites become dominant and civil war breaks out between members of the Sunni Awakenings movement and Shiite Iraqis with an allegiance to Iran.
    The irony is that while critics of Israel revel in pointing out what they view as the undue influence of AIPAC and the potential downsides of America’s “special relationship” with Israel, they happily ignore the undue influence that Saudi Arabia has had on American foreign policy and even domestic politics. And these critics are happy to promote a “special relationship” between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
    Do the organizers of this conference and the Americans who will participate in it even care that there is substantial evidence that members of Prince Turki Al-Faisal’s immediate family took bribes worth hundreds of millions of dollars from British Aerospace in return for Saudi defense contracts? Shouldn’t a meeting where “candid discussions” take place address this issue? Which other country that executes people for the crime of homosexuality and that views marital rape as a husband’s right gets invited to participate in important conferences organized by prestigious think-tanks or get feted by former United States Senators or former National Security Advisors? Steve’s complaints about the influence of AIPAC ring hollow in light of his uncritical support for Saudi Arabia.
    At least Steve has no personal interest in promoting the viewpoint of the Saudis. Of course the same thing can’t be said for some of the other meeting participants. It still seems appropriate to me that Brent Scowcroft divulge whether he, like so many friends and family members of George H.W. Bush, has been personally enriched by his relationship with the Saudis. Of course those who have enjoyed Saudi beneficence always say that it’s not about the money. As the old adage goes, when people say it’s not about the money, it’s always about the money.
    I hope to watch the live stream of the conference. I will be looking forward to the Saudi diplomats and other government officials explaining why they surreptitiously supported (actually it was barely surreptitious) the Israeli attack on Gaza. I will also look forward to their explanation about how they can claim to support a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah when just a few months ago they were encouraging the Israelis to destroy Hamas.
    If the Saudis are candid, as Steve Clemons says they will be, they will admit that they want Hamas and Hezbollah destroyed because those organizations are allied with Iran and that they have an abiding dislike if not hatred for Iran.
    If Prince Turki Al-Faisal really wants to be candid, he will admit that he and his colleagues in the Saudi Royal Family were thrilled when the Israelis elected Benjamin Netanyahu. Why? Because they just can’t wait for the Israelis to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations.
    Of course if the Israelis do attack Iran, count on the Saudis to express shock and outrage.
    It’s just their version of being candid.


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