TOPICS > Politics

Growing Foreign Policy Concerns Add Challenges for Obama

November 11, 2008 at 6:40 PM EDT
Loading the player...
President-elect Barack Obama will soon take on the challenges of two wars and a complex international arena. Two former national security advisers present the ideal foreign policy agenda from their new book.

RAY SUAREZ: Two former national security advisers have drafted their own agenda for the new president. It’s in a book titled “America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Carter. Brent Scowcroft filled that same position for both President Ford and the first President Bush.

Gentlemen, welcome. Let’s start where, well, the campaign began, really, with Iraq, and how to extricate the United States from that. The Obama campaign made assurances to the people of the United States that he would begin the process of getting us out, but how?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, Former National Security Adviser to President Carter: Well, he has stated that he will try to remove brigades, four brigades, of course, in the months immediately after the inaugural, over 16-months period. That’s a commitment he made. And I assume he’ll try to fulfill it.

But I do recognize that, in addition to that commitment, once he becomes president, in my judgment, he will have to talk to the Iraqis about a date certain for withdrawal, see whether they have any strong views on this subject, but not just the Iraqis in the government, but also outside that government.

And he will have to talk to the neighbors of Iraq regarding the consequences for them of a U.S. withdrawal.

All of that, I think, will create, perhaps, a greater degree of confidence regarding the consequences of the U.S. disengagement.

Withdrawing troops from Iraq

Brent Scowcroft
Former National Security Adviser
[C]an we reduce some forces? Absolutely. The Iraqi military is getting much more capable, and especially the combat kind of troops we can begin to withdraw, but we ought to sort of test the water as we go along.

RAY SUAREZ: When you hear your colleague talk about dates certain, about removal of certain numbers of troops along a timeline, are you worried about that, General?

BRENT SCOWCROFT, Former Adviser to President George H.W. Bush: Yes, it makes me somewhat nervous, because I don't think we should treat this situation based on the calendar.

I think we ought to look at the situation we're trying to create. And to me, that situation is, when we leave, we want to leave an Iraq which is an influence for stability in the region, not for chaos and conflict. And you can't do that necessarily by the calendar.

Now, can we reduce some forces? Absolutely. The Iraqi military is getting much more capable, and especially the combat kind of troops we can begin to withdraw, but we ought to sort of test the water as we go along.

I agree with Zbigniew. We ought to be talking with Iraq's neighbors, the political parties in Iraq, but everybody is playing political games, too, in Iraq.

Part of the Iraqis want to leave right now; part of them don't want us to leave at all. So, you know, it depends on your situation. And the same is true with Iraq's neighbors.

I was recently in Turkey. And the Turks are very nervous about us moving out any time soon.

So I think we ought to have our eyes set on not staying there a day longer than we need to, but I think moving out a day early would also be dangerous.

RAY SUAREZ: Intimately connected but perhaps on a separate track at the same time is what moves the United States makes next in Afghanistan. Are they related? How are they related, the speed of a withdrawal from Iraq and the reinforcement of the American forces in Afghanistan?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, the two were related during the campaign because both candidates said we should transfer forces that we bring out of Iraq into Afghanistan.

I don't think they're very much related other than that. In fact, I think it's unfortunate that we look at Afghanistan the same way we look at Iraq.

Afghanistan's a very different kind of a state. It has a different history. It's in a different state of development. And it seems to me that thinking we have a military problem in Afghanistan just like we do in Iraq I think is a mistake.

We need to be looking at the different political groups in Iraq. There are al-Qaida there. There are Taliban. There are also drug-runners. There are all kinds of people there.

And Iraq has always been -- or, I mean, Afghanistan has always been kind of a loose coalition of different tribal and regional areas presided over by a very almost ephemeral government.

The role of Pakistan

Brent Scowcroft
Former National Security Adviser
I think Pakistan is a very sensitive situation. And Pakistan is fundamentally the most important country to us.

RAY SUAREZ: How do you advise the president-elect to proceed in that part of the world?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: What I would say if I were advising him is that, in Afghanistan, we have to make a very deliberate effort not to over-militarize our engagement and to see if we can accomplish some regionally based accommodations with the various Taliban forces, provided they pledge themselves to evict, expel or eliminate any al-Qaida presence within their region.

If they do so, then I think we could contemplate military disengagement from these regions. In other words, put more emphasis on the political process.

That is also necessary because there is a real risk that, if our military effort simply escalates and we put primary emphasis on a military engagement, one, our allies may not be with us all the way; two, there's a real danger that it will escalate into the Pakistani parts of Pashtun-inhabited territories and thus will contribute to the destabilization of Pakistan, in addition to what's going on in Afghanistan.

Now, insofar as Iraq is concerned, I just want to remind you one point when we talk about date certains. The Iraqi parliament has voted asking us to leave. The Iraqi government is talking about 2011 as a departure date. The Bush administration is talking about a departure date, 2011.

So the issue is not the danger of a date set certain. The issue is, can you make a reasonable estimate as to the likely consequence of a disengagement at a particular moment?

And then you just have to watch it very carefully, prepare the ground by dealing with the neighbors and with the Iraqis.

So the two situations are quite different. I think we'll be out of Iraq, anyway, two or three or less years from now. But in Afghanistan, we'll have a continuing process and one which we have to deal with much more subtly and politically.

RAY SUAREZ: And, quickly, the relationship with Pakistan, which President-elect Obama at several junctures in the campaign moved front and center in his view of how America should be opposing terrorism around the globe?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I think Pakistan is a very sensitive situation. And Pakistan is fundamentally the most important country to us.

It's a very large country. It's a country with nuclear weapons. It's in a very central situation. We're asking the Pakistanis to do a lot for us with a weak government.

Pakistan's army, since 1947 in its inception, has been focused on a military conflict with India on its eastern border. We're asking them to forget that, turn to face their opposite border, and engage in guerrilla warfare for which their forces are not trained and against their own people.

That's a very complicated operation at a very difficult time. It's going to put enormous stress on Pakistan.

And right now we're asking Pakistan to help Afghanistan. We may, before all this is over, be worried about how Afghanistan can help Pakistan.

Negotiating with Iran

Zbigniew Brezinski
Former National Security Adviser
We have to engage in serious negotiations to see if there are some areas of agreement and coincidental interest with Iran.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, right in between these two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, where American troops have been fighting, is big, important, influential Iran with which America has had no diplomatic relations in 30 years. And President-elect Obama has talked a lot about how to approach Iran, as well.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Yes, he has. And I think he has the right approach, basically, namely, Iran is a serious country. It is potentially a factor of stability in the region, though right now it is the contrary of that.

We have to engage in serious negotiations to see if there are some areas of agreement and coincidental interest with Iran. And it seems to me these negotiations have to focus largely on two issues, one, regional stability, where we have much at stake, but so does Iran, being in the region, and, secondly, the question of the Iranian nuclear program.

And here we have some guidance from the painful experience of the Bush administration in dealing with North Korea. We were at first reluctant to negotiate with North Korea, but we finally, with other countries pressing us, joined in the process.

And we have made some progress, even though the North Koreans from the very beginning were saying, "We want nuclear weapons. We're seeking nuclear weapons." At one point, they even said, "We have nuclear weapons."

The Iranians are claiming something quite different. They're saying, "We're seeking to have a nuclear program for our energy needs, but we're not seeking weapons."

And they may be lying, but it does give us an opening, namely, to negotiate with them on the basis of no preconditions, but with emphasis on them having to prove to us that their assertion is correct, namely that they're not seeking to have nuclear weapons.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me go quickly here. Can the United States, as President Bush and now President-elect Obama has said, tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I think that's a premature question, because I don't think we are at that point yet. My sense -- even if Iran does not at the present time seek nuclear weapons, if they are allowed to enrich uranium, that makes a nuclear weapon only months away.

And that starts a wave of proliferation, both in the region, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and elsewhere in the world where you could have 20 or 30 countries close to nuclear weapons. That's not a better world. So we need to try to prevent that.

But to decide what we're going to do if they get one, it seems to me, is premature. And what we ought to focus on is how we can dissuade them from going in that direction.

And I don't think we've exhausted the possibilities -- I agree with Zbig -- careful negotiations, careful diplomacy, careful discussions with the other countries involved, with our European allies, with the Chinese, and with the Russians to present a united front.

Nobody wants Iran to have nuclear weapons. We need to devise a plan which maximizes the possibility that they won't go down that route.

RAY SUAREZ: General Scowcroft, Dr. Brzezinski, gentlemen, good to see you both.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Good to be with you.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Thank you, Ray.