A short while ago, reporters asked President Bush for a reaction to comments made at the foreign policy luncheon I organized yesterday in the Senate with former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski. We have been flooded by calls for the transcript ever since — and will be posting them shortly on this site.
Until then, here is a Washington Post article that was just published on the web (and out in tomorrow’s paper) by William Branigan on President Bush’s reaction to Brent Scowcroft’s cautionary comments that an “incipient civil war” may be ignited after the January 30th elections.
In addition, here is a different article in the Washington Post that ran in today’s newspaper by Dana Priest and Robin Wright that mentions the event and comments made.
Also, Ronald Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times had this piece on the event covering both Scowcroft’s and Brzezinski’s comments. Here is a follow-up article just posted on the LA times website by Brownstein on George Bush’s reaction.
Chris Nelson, who publishes the ‘uber-insider’ (as Josh Marshall calls it) Nelson Report, reported this in his 6 January issue about the event and discussion:
The Nelson Report, 6 January 2006 (excerpts)
1. A fascinating yet (given the need) horrifying initiative was launched today by the New America Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund: “The New Solarium Project On US Foreign Policy”; the task, “Charting a US Foreign Policy Road Map For 2005 And Beyond”.
Organizer Steve Clemons hosted two former National Security Advisors, Brent Scowcroft, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and a passle of earnest journalists, in a spirited discussion of the questions noted in the Summary…and their implications.
— it would be misleading to go for the easy headlines from either Scowcroft or Brzezinski. The arguments were calm, thoughtful, almost sorrowful in presentation. Not even under the temptation of leading questions did either man indulge in ad hominum remarks about President Bush or his Administration…although Scowcroft did permit himself a tellingly vigorous “no comment”, when asked about his dismissal from the Foreign Intelligence Review Board.
2. We used “horrifying”, above, because both the questions and answers revealed a level of despair about the current situation of the US, not just in Iraq, but around the world, that we have not personally seen since the darkest days of the Vietnam War, and the domestic divisions which still haunt US politics today.
— both of these old pros…dare we call them wise old men…clearly are looking at the same sets of problems; both clearly feel the potential for disaster; and both clearly fear that neither the country, nor the Bush Administration, has the stomach to pay the price for rectifying the mistakes of the past 4 years. More to the point, on Iraq specifically, they don’t really think it’s possible, due to the mistakes already made.
3. These men have spent their lives as policy advisors, so of course they see how it might be done, and therefore what should be done, to try and restore the situation. And failing that in Iraq, they can see how to set in motion a new set of positive relationships which can work to avoid future disasters.
— but, to repeat, it does not sound like either, but particularly Brzezinski, has much confidence that Bush and his top people have the moral or intellectual capacity to accurately diagnose the problems, much less to implement viable approaches.
4. On Iraq, the clearest headline from Scowcroft was his observation that the coming election, even if it takes place, “won’t be a promising transformation, and it has great potential for deepening the conflict; we may be seeing incipient civil war at this time.” And even if ultimate success is possible, it will be a 10 year process. Quite frankly, Scowcroft said, the current situation is so dire that the real question for today is the fundamental one of “whether we get out now”…by implication, before too much damage is done world wide.
— “Zbig’s” headline, arrived via a detailed discussion of the cascade, the reasons for it, and his forthright prediction that nothing less than 500,000 troops, $200-billion a year, a new Draft, and “war taxation” would be required to “prevail’ in the long run. But, he noted, “Not even [a dictatorship like] the Soviet Union was prepared to [go to such extremes] in Afghanistan. There comes a point in the life of a nation when such sacrifices are not justified…and only time will tell if [the United States] is facing a moment of wisdom, or cultural decay.”
5. “Cultural decay”…my god, consider the implications of that remark! In any event, on the vital question of whether Bush is aware of dissent, much less policy alternatives, Zbig allowed himself a mild sarcasm at the expense of Colin Powell, noting Powell’s penchant for low-key comments in front of the President, but more detailed, after-the-fact criticisms of policy failures when talking to journalists.
— Bush does hear criticism and alternatives, and does come under pressure…from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Brzezinski argued. Scowcroft amused himself with the joke that it’s “only journalists” who think they can accurately describe what goes on behind the gates around the White House. And, he allowed, “no matter how high the fences, it’s not impervious to [alternative] information. Participants have good access to [the necessary] information. It’s how they process that information that is the question.”
6. Scowcroft carefully avoided a specific endorsement or rejection of Zbig’s “500,000 troops”, preferring to focus on the need for Europe to “stop taking satisfaction from US discomfiture.” But to get the Euros on board, “Bush needs to tell them [at the summit] next month that the US needs help and to ask them to consider the implications to their interests if the US pulls out now — civil war in the Middle East!” Scowcroft’s point…the President has to reach out, but the Europeans have to be willing to act.
— another major Brzezinski theme is that Europe and Japan are essential actors which must partner with the US. The future of the world will depend on close cooperation to bring India and China in as responsible, peaceful players. But this won’t happen if the US continues its arrogant and counterproductive habit of demanding cooperation but refusing participation in basic decisions. “We’ve got to share both the burdens and the decisions…and we can, IF we can convince them we are united on core values [the “torture” outrage presenting a huge current obstacle] and shared objectives”.
7. Specifically, Brzezinski warned that the current “global war on terrorism…is not a strategy” because it “lumps together” all Islamic interests around the world, especially in Asia. While it is true that the root cause of much current terrorism is the civil war within Islam over modernization, the US strategy risks forcing together the very disparate Islams of Asia vs the Middle East.
— nothing less than a “Grand Alliance” between the US, Japan and Europe can have a hope of resolving the three interlocking crises in the Middle East…Israel/Palestine, Iran, and Iraq. Each must be simultaneously addressed, although they will not advance in concert. Adding to the risk of no coordination…since “the US is now the ‘occupier’ of Iraq, in a region of historic tension and conflict, we look like the enemy of all Islam.”
8. A final interesting point, debated briefly, also relates to our “Gossip” item tonight, the resignation of John Bolton…and that Rice’s recently retired NSC non-proliferation guy, Bob Joseph, will become Undersecretary of State for that critical function. The NY Times Dave Sanger asked Scowcroft how he thought Bush would be able to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, given all of the EU/Middle East/Iran complications under discussion.
— Scowcroft allowed himself a chuckle in reminding the audience that “I was right” in an Op-Ed more than a year ago on making a “red line” clear to North Korea [no selling of nuclear material or technology]…but that circumstances are different now, so “I don’t think a red line is the right thing for North Korea now.”
9. Scowcroft went on to strongly endorse the 6 Party Process, but to warn that the Bush Administration still does not seem to have made a fundamental policy choice — does the US really want to make a trade with the DPRK to remove the nukes [thus implying the continuation of the Kim Jong-il regime]…and, given US hostility, has Kim Jong-il decided to “cling to the nukes” regardless.
— Scowcroft repeated a warning this Report has made for the past two years…that IF there is a breakdown in the 6 Party process, it is critical for US/China relations, and for Asia, that the US is not held to blame. “If there’s a breakdown, China must stay on our side!” On Iran, Scowcroft sees a very different dynamic, given the pro-active role of the Europeans. The US must actively support the Euros, and not just say it won’t object to others giving Iran inducements.
I have my own thoughts about this important discussion which I will post after I satisfy the demands for transcripts coming from all the networks, wire services, and print media.
But for other TWN readers, the transcripts will be finished today and posted on the site hopefully before the close of business today.
— Steve Clemons