TOPICS > Politics

The U.S. and the Middle East

August 8, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Is America ready, or equipped, for this kind of commitment? To explore that, we’re joined by: Samuel Berger, national security adviser during the second Clinton term; Richard Haass, incoming president of the Council on Foreign Relations– he served on the NSC in the first Bush administration and at the State Department in the current one; and Philip Zelikow, a history professor and director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, an NSC staffer in the first Bush administration, he co-authored a book on German unification with Condoleezza Rice. Welcome to you all, gentlemen.

Sandy Berger, what do you make of this basic premise, this idea that the U.S. has to make now a generational commitment to transform the Middle East the way it did for Europe after the Second World War?

SAMUEL BERGER: I think it’s an appropriately ambitious and conservative vision both at the same time. It’s ambitious in the sense that it recognizes that the stagnant status quo in the greater Middle East is not only corrosive for the people living there but ultimately dangerous for us.

But it’s also conservative in the sense that it says this is a long-term enterprise. This is going to take sustained engagement. This is not something we are going to accomplish by the mighty swift sword. And in that sense, it’s quite different than the views of some others in the administration.

MARGARET WARNER: How did you see it?

RICHARD HAASS: I thought it was exactly on target. We’ve got to do this. One of the lessons of 9/11 I would suggest, is that if you have societies where young men in particular feel alienated politically, have no opportunity economically, these are the sort of people who are going to be tempted by radicalism. We need to promote democracy in this part of the world because it’s the right thing but again it’s also an example of self-interest. I simply say, though, picking up on something Sandy said, we are right to be conservative here in situations such as this, we are wise to obey the Hippocratic Oath. First do no harm. These are difficult questions; it’s very ambitious. We have got to do it right. We can make a bad situation worse if we are not careful.

MARGARET WARNER: Phil Zelikow, were you startled to hear her say generational commitment? I mean, here people on the Hill we in the press are pushing the administration to say, are we talking about one year or two-years or how much we are going to spend in the next six months and she is talking about a generational commitment.

PHILIP ZELIKOW: It is very reminiscent of the situation after World War World II — in 1945 and ’46 — most of the American people and most of the U.S. Congress thought, now we go home. We have a little bit of cleaning up to do, but we are going to leave. And what happens in ’47 and ’48 and into the early ’50s is an awakening to the fact that actually not only are we going to need to stay, we are going to need to recommit first money and then long-term presence of troops in the case of Europe for an indefinite venture.

And right after the war was over, for years, most Americans didn’t see that. And then they had to figure out how that would work and why they should do it. And this is, in a way, a much faster summons. I mean, here we are, we’re there. We are in the Middle East, just as we already found ourselves in Europe in 1945. And then the question is, all right, now, what are you going to do? Are you going to leave? Are you going to go forward? What’s the next step look like? And the administration is rapidly trying to articulate really a whole comprehensive new agenda for years and years to come.

MARGARET WARNER: Okay, Sandy Berger, let’s look now at the analogy, though, between the Middle East and post-war Europe. I mean, how apt is that analogy in terms of how receptive it is to American reshaping or transformation?

SAMUEL BERGER: I think it’s apt in the sense of a time frame. But I think there are some fundamental differences we have to take into account. Number one, at the end of the War World II, we faced a destroyed and decimated Europe that even in defeat was grateful for our support. There is a wide chasm between the United States and most of the people of the Arab world today who are going to be very suspicious that this is seen as an American crusade for democracy.

Second of all, we have to see whether or not we have what Fouad Ajami has called a sense of righteous mission in America today as we did for rebuilding Europe. We had lost a great deal of blood and treasure in Europe. This has been a relatively, relatively, costless war. And I think that’s where the real decisive difference here is going to be patient and persistent presidential leadership. Here the president has to be not only commander in chief; he has to be educator in chief to bring the American people along to understand the fundamental basis for this kind of a sustained commitment.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see the same thing, some significant differences, Richard Haass, between both the two regions and also where the two countries, that is where the United States is politically?

RICHARD HAASS: Alas I do. As difficult as it was to rebuild Europe –this is orders of magnitude potentially more difficult. In part, we are not going to have the luxury of staying; in places in Europe, American troops weren’t shot at. They were welcomed. We are not going to have a situation where we can stay for five or ten years and be welcome.


RICHARD HAASS: Militarily. So we’re not going to be able to have the same context. More important, if one looks at where European societies were in 1945 and where Arab societies are in 2003, there are some fundamental differences. And at the risk of being politically incorrect, let me simply suggest that European societies were far more developed. They had far more of the prerequisites of democracy in terms of media, in terms of quote civil society, independent institutions free of the government, in terms of constitutions, of governmental systems in which political authority was distributed. None of these things, not one of them, exists in today’s Middle East. So the raw materials of democracy building simply aren’t there. As a result, I’m not saying it is impossible, I’m not saying don’t do it, but I am saying far, far, far more difficult.

MARGARET WARNER: Very different raw material, Phil Zelikow, to work with?

PHILIP ZELIKOW: Very different, look the analogy really only works at the level of trying to give people the visceral sense of the scope of the task involved, and that this is going to be very hard reminding them that, in fact, the solutions in Europe took years to develop and were very hard. But as far as all the specifics are concerned, the analogy doesn’t work. In fact in some ways the scope is even broader than she described in the speech because I don’t think the agenda is for the Middle East. The agenda — and its politically inconvenient to use this term, is for the Muslim world.

It is not just for the Middle East. It extends to Pakistan; it extends to Indonesia and Malaysia. But on the plus side, since we are all being very downbeat about this, let’s just notice that in late 1940s, we were competing against a major ideology that had taken power in much of Eurasia, was about to seize power in all of China and had enormous appeal in large parts of the world. Here we are in a struggle of ideas against the foe who says their goal is to recreate a caliphate through blood and fire. If that’s the battle of ideas, I think that we are in a good position to win that.

MARGARET WARNER: But, Sandy Berger, did the fact of the Cold War, the fact of the Soviet threat right outside Western Europe, in some ways make our job easier, too?

SAMUEL BERGER: Certainly the act of rebuilding Europe, the Marshall Plan was not only magnanimous, it was both sold and seen as rebuilding Europe against a new threat, a Soviet threat. But we have a threat today, a terrorism threat, which is very palpable to the American people. National security has become personal security for most Americans. And it is certainly true that that has to be fought on offense, going after those who seek to destroy us; on defense with homeland security far more than we’ve done; and in the battle of ideas. And I think it is in that third battle that we have the most challenging undertaking.

Let me just say one thing. There are winds of change that are blowing, perhaps not torrents of change in the region, in places like Qatar and Jordan and Morocco and Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates; there is beginning to be some voices of modernity and some efforts to reconcile tradition and the future, reconcile the past and the future. And I think we have to align ourselves with that internal dynamic rather than trying to impose our own dynamic on the region.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. And that’s exactly what Condi Rice said, that we have to support those in the region who may even be afraid to talk like this. But how do you do that in practical terms?

RICHARD HAASS: You do it first of all using all the tools of American foreign policy, not principally the military ones. This is where old-fashioned things like economic aid come in handy, exchange programs where we send people over, judges, journalists who tell people how we do it, how independent institutions and free individuals work in society. We invite people here. We show them how things work here. American foundations have to get involved, American universities, trade unions. What we need to do is encourage counterpart organizations to take hold and gain traction in these other societies.

MARGARET WARNER: But what do you do about the fact that the hostility to that may come, does come in many of these countries, the hostility to that kind of openness or freedom or civil society from regimes and governments that, in fact, we still consider our allies? I mean, how do you handle that?

RICHARD HAASS: One thing you have to start doing is put this issue on the agenda; every administration, quite honestly, Democratic and Republican for years and years, has not emphasized this issue.

MARGARET WARNER: Human rights, civil rights.

RICHARD HAASS: It’s much more fundamental than human rights. It’s civil rights, it’s political change; it’s economic reform. What happens is when the President of the United States meets with some Arab leader, inevitably you talk about the Israel-Palestine problem and in the past you talked about Saddam. Now you talk about Iran, you talk about oil and energy.

We have got to make this a priority. Privately we’ve got to start talking so when we see President Mubarak of Egypt or we see the crowned prince in Saudi Arabia, we have to start talking because it’s not just their futures at stake, but in this global world, our future is at stake, too. We have to start talking about it privately. We have to start talking about it publicly. We really have to make this issue common and acceptable for the first time.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that, Phil Zelikow, that we are talking about more than money in a big way?

PHILIP ZELIKOW: We are talking about more than money, but also what we are talking about is not teaching them how to imitate America, bringing our professors over there or bringing their professors over here.

What we have to help them do is to discover their pathway. And here I think it’s important to notice there is a difference between freedom and democracy. Democracy is a form of political choice. It’s very, very important. But what these societies need first is they just need basic respect for human dignity; for tolerance, for freedom from arbitrary violence, for some rule of law. Let them work through the kind of political processes that guarantee freedom that make sense in their societies. That’s where local leaders are going to be able to get a footing that they can stand on.

MARGARET WARNER: Final thought. Do you think the American public is ready for this commitment?

SAMUEL BERGER: I think it’s going to take a good deal of presidential leadership, but I would say one quick thing, Margaret. This is a very distinct vision from that of some others in the administration, and outside the administration who believe this change comes from much more radical regime change. Iraq is essentially an American aircraft carrier now in the Middle East from which we promote regime change from Iran to Syria. This is very much a long-term undertaking that Dr. Rice is talking about.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you all three.