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International Strategy

June 18, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: And joining us to offer their assessments of the President’s European trip, two former White House advisers: Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Carter, and Richard Allen held the same job under President Reagan. Zbigniew Brzezinski, did President Bush go too far in saying that he trusts Vladimir Putin, that he can look into his soul and tell he was a trustworthy man?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, it might have been slightly premature. It was a little patronizing, actually. But there may have been a tactic in this, and tactically it may have been smart, because what the President did was to outline a strategic vision of a future Europe and of NATO to which Russia has to adjust. And Mr. Putin came a day later to meet with the President. And treating him well was strategically laying down a marker, was probably pretty smart. You must remember that the President’s father, Bush, Sr., did pretty much the same thing with Gorbachev, and took him to the cleaners. I think the President is going to stick to his guns strategically. Hence I don’t mind him being somewhat generous with Putin.

GWEN IFILL: How about that, Mr. Allen, was there too much friendliness or just about right?

RICHARD V. ALLEN: I think it was just about right. If I dropped the stick-to-your- guns metaphor and talk about stick-to-your principles, I think the President laid out, as Zbigniew Brzezinski just pointed out, a new architecture for Europe into which Russia must fit in some way. He also reaffirmed and reassured the Russians greatly that there is a place for them at the table. The meeting evoked a remark from Putin that he would take it as his personal responsibility to create the conditions in Russia in which foreign investment would be welcome and therefore, one presumes, protected. That would be a major step forward, just to create those conditions. And while there might have been a bit of hyperbole in the atmospherics, who would fault it because it does, after all, set the basis for a warm and friendly friendship, which would not be lacking on our part, and I hope wouldn’t be lacking on the Russians’ part either.

GWEN IFILL: Dr. Brzezinski, Condoleezza Rice just said that the President was signaling he should be taken at face value and given the benefit of the doubt. What do they base that on?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, presumably on the candid character of the conversation that they had, the frank exchange, perhaps some disagreements. But bear this in mind: This was their first meeting. Both had an interest in the meeting seemingly going well. After all, just think what would be happening right now to the President’s trip and its assessment if that meeting had been a big flop. Everybody would be saying the trip ended very badly. On the other hand, Putin is governing a country in a deep crisis with 300 million Muslims to the South whom Russia has alienated by its policies in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and almost a billion and a half Chinese to the East with an economy many times larger than Russia already; under those circumstances, Putin has no choice but to go to the West. And what I think is important about this trip is the fact that the President outlined a concept of a NATO and of a Europe to which American policy is now dedicated, and one tangible consequence of that speech in Warsaw is that next year, when NATO is enlarged, it will increase at a minimum of three states, including one Baltic; maybe as many as five, probably, including all three Baltics; possibly as many as seven. And Putin will have to adjust to that. So there was no point in being antagonistic or in withholding a gesture of friendship and some pats on the back. Many Europeans noticed that, because I’ve been told by some Europeans that Bush kind of patted Putin on the back, almost like saying “you’re a good boy.”

RICHARD V. ALLEN: An extremely important point made here and I want to reemphasize it– the Baltics. If I had my way, I would have recommended to any President who would have listened, I would have taken the Baltics first, before Czech Republic and Hungary, because of the tremendous symbolism of the Baltics. I think that’s really important. The other thing to note here is the President received a much warmer welcome from Mr. Putin than he did from the Swedish prime minister, who was heard to remark that the European Union was the last bastion against the world domination by the United States, which was not exactly a friendly remark. I noticed that among the President’s telephone calls today, as Dr. Rice pointed out, there wasn’t one to the Swedish prime minister.

GWEN IFILL: The relationship with Sweden is not as crucial as that with the President of Russia.

RICHARD V. ALLEN: He is the President of the EU but it was a slightly offensive remark, I thought. In every respect, the trip, especially in that which concerns Russia and all of these issues concern Russia, was successful. Ballistic missile defense: He laid down the basis for it, which, of course, implies a change on the ABM Treaty. On global warming, I don’t think he satisfied the allies, but gave a strong and decisive position and on NATO expansion. Those three issues are, I think, the crux of the trip.

GWEN IFILL: When Condoleezza Rice says, as she just told Jim Lehrer, that she is now convinced, she thinks things can be worked out. What does she base that on, do you think?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Worked out on what?

GWEN IFILL: Missile defense.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think that may be a little bit premature. I think we’re at the stage that may best be described as a conceptual discussion. Is this a good idea, to have a different relationship between offensive systems and defensive systems, 30 years after the ABM Treaty, and here I think the administration is on solid grounds. But beyond that, I personally tend to be a little bit of a skeptical agnostic. We are still to demonstrate credibly that a missile defense system will really work in a discriminating fashion. And secondly, we are still to prove that missile defense is needed more than other defensive arrangements. In other words, I’m not convinced yet, and neither are some others, that the real threat to the United States in the years to come is going to come from a missile attack from hostile states. I can envisage a lot of scenarios which would be more threatening to us and more difficult to cope with than a missile attack.

GWEN IFILL: Well, what was going on on this trip? Were there winks and nudges going on with the White House and Chirac on what they would actually accept with missile defense?

RICHARD V. ALLEN: I don’t know. We weren’t on the trip. At least I wasn’t; perhaps Zbig was. Trying to get anything out of President Chirac that would seem to support U.S. foreign policy is somewhat remarkable in its own regard. I can remember that even Mitterrand seemed to be more friendly as a socialist President of France than has been Jacques Chirac in recent years. I don’t understand that. It’s interesting also to make a comparison. 20 years ago, when Ronald Reagan went on his first visit, it was widely thought that he should not have gone to a North-South summit, yet he did. His European allies included at that time Margaret Thatcher and another social democrat in Germany, Helmut Schmidt. Generally speaking, President Bush went into Europe in less favorable circumstances, with fewer political allies than did Ronald Reagan 20 years ago. And both men were underestimated.

GWEN IFILL: How about the expectations question? Is there any possibility that this would not have been a successful meeting with Putin or successful trip, considering what we saw going in and the editorial pages of European newspapers?

RICHARD V. ALLEN: I thought the editorial pages of the European newspapers eventually came around. The excerpts I’ve read from the editorial pages, even among newspapers that violently oppose, or think they violently oppose, Bush policies and are somewhat denigrating seem to be basically fair. They saw that the President was serious, collected, and intent upon moving his agenda forward.

GWEN IFILL: Did that have to do with expectations being met and exceeded?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: There is no doubt that the press, particularly European press, denigrated the President before the meetings. There is no doubt of that. So I suppose that played a role. But I think it is much more important to note that a number of people present at the meetings, and I’ve talked to a number of them, some Americans, some non-Americans– particularly non-Americans were interesting– said to me that they were impressed by the fact that Bush mastered his brief, knew what he was talking about, was brief, to the point, reasonably well informed, and no less so than Clinton, in meetings with whom they had sat in on before, the Europeans particularly. They said to me that they thought Bush was more to the point and more direct. Clinton was much more loquacious and articulate, but they thought Bush really handled himself well. He made some slips, we all know about that, but who doesn’t? I think the important point is that he was very clear in the central strategic concept and the timelines that it involves. And let me draw your attention to something important. Just yesterday the European Union stated officially that they hoped to enlarge by the year 2004, and that includes all of the countries that want to be in NATO, which means we now have a target date. Next year, 2002, admissions; 2004, completion of the process.

GWEN IFILL: Condoleezza Rice, you heard her say a few minutes ago that the President was basically a nice man who was sticking to his guns, and that was going to be well received in Europe and obviously in the meeting with Vladimir Putin. I guess the question is, did he do what he needed to do on this trip?

RICHARD V. ALLEN: Yes, I think he did, and of course in exceeding the expectations, in doing what he needed to do, I think he laid down an important marker. It shows that he is well informed, which many of us never had any doubt about it; doesn’t mind being underestimated; knows how to assemble a good team. I would say that this is the strongest national security team of my lifetime, and I’ve lived through the presidencies which began with the National Security Council in the Truman years and forward, and with all due respect to my very distinguished predecessor, with whom I have more agreement than I ever have disagreement, I would say this team is the best and the strongest, and it shows that the President knows how to use that team, which is also part of the presidency. That’s why they hire people like that, or why they hire Zbigniew Brzezinski as President Carter did.

GWEN IFILL: So even though no concessions were made that we know about on this trip, this trip was a success, in your opinion?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think this trip has put down historic markers of strategic significance, and now the task is to meet that standard. I think we’re committed. I think we’ll meet them.

GWEN IFILL: Thank you both very much.