MOYERS: There is a disturbing revelation in the current issue of the Nelson Report, an influential foreign policy newsletter. It says there's a growing mixture of anger, despair, disgust and fear in the foreign policy community in Washington as the attack on Iraq moves closer. And the North Korea crisis festers with no coherent U.S. policy.
Our next guest has struggled with this on a personal level, and just last week resigned from the U.S. foreign service because in conscience he said he cannot support our country's present foreign policy.
Brady Kiesling has been a member of the foreign service for 20 years, serving in Armenia, Morocco and Israel and most recently as political counselor at the American Embassy in Greece. He left, he said, with a heavy heart. Welcome to NOW.
MOYERS: Why the heavy heart?
KIESLING: A heavy heart because when you leave something you've done for 20 years, a job that you love and think is very important not only to yourself and your family but to the United States and the world, and you suddenly realize, my God, I am being asked to do things that will hurt my country not help my country, and I felt that this was a terrible situation to be in.
MOYERS: We're in a tough time right now, Jessica Tuchman Matthews said a few minutes ago, rising anti Americanism all over the world. I mean, you're at home in four languages: Armenian, French, Greek, English. You're a Phi Beta Kappa, you're a National Merit Scholar. I mean, public servants like you don't come along all that often, and one could argue that your talents and devotion are more important right now than ever.
KIESLING: I'd say that the foreign service is an extremely talented body that can get by without me. I think it was more important for me to make this gesture because frankly a lot of people were looking for some words that they could use to express the anguish that they felt that we were on the wrong course.
People could look around and see that the world did not understand what we were doing and people were beginning to be afraid of us. And I think a lot of Americans were looking for some way to express that, and I think I helped them do it.
MOYERS: But did you think before you took this step that Saddam Hussein might find this kind of voice coming from the American foreign service encouraging to his cause?
KIESLING: I didn't really worry about that; what I did worry about was the idea that it might damage American foreign policy interest elsewhere. But what I came to the conclusion was, is that our interests had been so badly damaged anyway, that people were looking for more rational voices from the United States.
In fact, the first headline I saw in Greece was an editorial saying, "Thank God there are good Americans." And I'm not going to say that I'm a good American, in that sense, but I do want to say that it is crucial that Americans not be perceived as a monolithic bunch of sort of barbarians out there to reshape the world in some unsavory image.
MOYERS: What actually triggered your decision, Brady?
KIESLING: It was a combination of things. A lot of it was personal. I just felt that I was no longer able to do my job.
My job is to represent American policy, and I was going out there, you know, fighting the good fight with the Greek foreign ministry, with Greek politicians, with Greek journalists, explaining our position, realized I did not believe our position, I was getting so caught up in the sense that I was doing something wrong that it made it very hard to do my job properly. I'm a professional; if I'm not doing my job properly I should do something else.
MOYERS: Were you being asked to perform some duty that was dishonest, something that went against your principles, something that you knew out and out was just plain wrong?
KIESLING: I was asked to make arguments, for example, on the tactical issue...and in fact, this is a very legitimate argument. We have said over and over again the only way we can prevent a war is if we persuade Saddam Hussein that we will go to war unless he disarms. That's a perfectly valid argument, we made it.
That argument however, is only valid if there is in fact a genuine possibility that we will not go to war if he complies. And what I realized as I watched the rhetoric coming out of Washington, as I watched our own message, was that we were going to go to war regardless. This was not a tactical issue.
We had I think misled the US Congress into writing a blank check for the administration, we had misled I think our allies. And I did not feel comfortable with that. Once I realized the war was going to happen regardless of what Saddam did.
MOYERS: Is this the only thing in foreign policy that you found offensive to try to articulate to your peers in the Greek government?
KIESLING: I really was profoundly embarrassed by our stance on the international criminal court.
MOYERS: What about that?
KIESLING: The international criminal court was an institution that the world including the United States decided needed to exist to deal with the terrible war crimes that have been committed in the world, the ones that no institutions existed to deal with.
You know, Rwanda, the events in Bosnia, convinced everybody that we needed this international tribunal that had its own legitimacy.
MOYERS: They just recently sentenced the former president of Serbia to several years in prison for her crimes against the Muslims, and Milosovic is now on trial there. So that's what you're talking about.
KIESLING: Exact well, but that's a special purpose tribunal...
KIESLING: ...this was an attempt to universalize it. And then all of a sudden the United States lost its nerve, somehow we decided, oh, my God, everybody hates us, they'll use this tribunal to embarrass us, they'll...you know, they'll arrest American soldiers and...
MOYERS: Henry Kissinger.
KIESLING: Yes, Henry Kissinger.
And we then not only pulled out of it but tied ourselves in knots, went to all of our allies sort of threatening them, you must exempt us from this international organization. I found it profoundly distasteful because it suggested that we had given up on an international system that we had essentially created, we had made it an instrument of peace and stability and protecting American interests.
And all of a sudden, because of a few conservatives raising this, you know, essentially this complete illusion, we had backed away from our own values.
MOYERS: Have you seen this a trend? You take this issue of the international criminal court and you put it to the President's determination to proceed in Iraq even if he doesn't have UN backing, and you see a pattern there?
If we had not gone to a whole series of diplomatic blunders such as the ICC, the Kyoto Protocols...
MOYERS: The ICC, the International Criminal Court.
KIESLING: ...if we had had a foreign policy that reflected the sensitivities of our partners we could have persuaded them to go to war with us in Iraq.
What happened is they had lost their faith that our interests and their interests coincided, and when we tried to persuade them to do something when we could not come up with logical persuasive arguments and reasonable intelligence information, we lost them.
MOYERS: In your letter of resignation, you write that, quote, "the policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but with American interests." What are those policies you think are not consistent with our values?
KIESLING: One very basic one is women's health issues, where out of an allergy to anything that might have anything to do with abortion we've crippled all kinds of women's health policies around the world.
We cut off our assistance to programs, we've embarrassed ourselves around the world because the world looks at the desperate need for healthcare for women and then sees a small group of people in Washington posturing to a certain group in the United States. And for that reason, sacrificing the interests of women around the world.
MOYERS: And so you take this issue and you take the international criminal court, and you take the desire, the willingness to go to war almost alone in Iraq, and you conclude what?
KIESLING: I conclude that from these and a number of other issues trade issues, you name it that the current administration has no faith in the international system that in fact President Bush's father had helped to reinforce at the time of the Gulf War, that instead of having an international system where we voluntarily give up a tiny amount of our freedom of action in order to have legitimacy internationally, in order to have a framework of alliances, instead we'd rather cut ourselves loose, do things purely based on our own perceived self interest.
And even when that self interest really damages the interests of our allies and even when it offends the sensibilities not only of a lot of the American people but of the vast majority of the world population.
MOYERS: But you know, you went in the foreign service in 1983, I know something about the foreign service, many friends in there, you take an oath of office to support the service's values but to support the President of the United States.
MOYERS: You went in office, you went into foreign service under Ronald Reagan, you served under the first Bush. You served eight years under Clinton and now two years under the second Bush. I mean, what has changed? You served 12 or more years under conservative presidents.
KIESLING: It's not a matter of conservative presidents. George Bush the elder did an excellent job in the Gulf War in using the international mechanisms that existed, orchestrating a campaign, a just war with the full consent of allies.
In fact, our allies paid for 80 percent of the cost of that war. We came out of that war with the validation of the whole international community, we came out of that war stronger and more legitimate than we had been before. And it was a triumph of diplomacy based on understanding the values of the people around us and respecting them.
MOYERS: And something's changed?
KIESLING: It seems to me that something has. Just within the past couple of years I see a real change in attitude, a feeling that we can be as arrogant as we want to be, that somehow our allies will go along with us because they must, as opposed to they will go along with us because it's in the interests of themselves and our...because we have a shared interest that drives us.
MOYERS: You once received, 1994 I think it was, an award from the American Foreign Service Association for what was called constructive dissent because you and several other foreign service officers wrote a letter to the Secretary of State Warren Christopher advocating that the United States intervene to stop the Serbian genocide against people in that part of the world. You wanted us to go in to stop ethnic cleansing.
KIESLING: Yes, I am not a pacifist by any means. There are times when violence or at least the credible threat of violence is necessary to prevent people wrapped in the throes of some nationalist obsession from doing something criminal.
Alas, we intervened later in Bosnia than we should have. A lot of innocent people died as a result. But the dissent of my colleagues and myself, and I was just a small part of that, had an impact on changing American policy.
I wish there had been some feeling on my part that I could have helped change policy from within, but I really did not see it.
MOYERS: You wanted us to intervene in Serbia.
MOYERS: You were honored by your own peers for that...
MOYERS: ...outspokenness. Why don't you want us to intervene in Iraq?
KIESLING: Because we cannot attain any good for either Iraq or the United States by military force, unfortunately.
MOYERS: But you know, every substantial human rights organization has documented the atrocities of Saddam Hussein against the Kurds, against the Kuwaitis, against his own people, against people in his country like you who dissent from his policies.
KIESLING: Oh, yes. He is a criminal and he is a vile dictator. But the question is not, is he a vile dictator who deserves to be ousted, the question is, can the United States oust him at a reasonable cost to our own interests and at a reasonable cost to the interests of the region?
And the answer unfortunately to that is no, because we do not have the legitimacy in the Middle East to achieve that goal.
MOYERS: But I want to be sure that audience understands the distinction between supporting intervention in Serbia a few years ago and winning an award for speaking up, and not going into Iraq. Where do you draw the line on the legitimate use of force?
KIESLING: Force is legitimate when the benefit outweighs the cost, and that's a very hard thing to analyze, I know. But what are our goals in Iraq? The first goal is to disarm Saddam; the second goal is to get rid of Saddam; the third goal is to create democracy in Iraq; and then the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh goals are a subject of considerable debate among the international community.
What will it cost us to do that? It will cost us a number of billions of dollars. It will cost us a certain number of lives. But more importantly, because we do not have any legitimacy within the Arab world, because of a lot of history, because of other things, even the Iraqi people despite everything that Saddam has done to them, they will not welcome us as liberators.
The people of the surrounding states will see this not as a generous bold move to establish democracy but rather as a new attempt at American aggression and colonialism. And this may be unfair, and this is certainly unfair. We do not intend to be colonialists. But it doesn't matter. We will not receive the support of the Arab world.
Moreover, we will trigger from an Arab population that is already feeling powerless, humiliated, frustrated, we will trigger a new wave of terrorism against the United States. If we could say that Saddam were responsible for September 11th, then fine, I would say, go in. But it is clear that he's not connected with September 11th.
If we could say that he is on the verge of getting nuclear weapons, I would say very reluctantly maybe it's better to take him, at least there would be a legitimate argument. But it is clear that the weapons he has are not of a nature to directly threaten the United States.
It is also clear that when we go in and take his regime apart, whatever we establish will be temporary and will almost certainly fail because we will not have the resources to maintain it in the future.
MOYERS: One talk show host reportedly said that John Brady Kiesling leaving his post now was like a soldier going AWOL on the eve of battle. What do you think about that?
KIESLING: I think I'm more like the canary dropping dead in the mine shaft as a warning to others.
MOYERS: You were trained in ancient history and archaeology. It must have been hard to leave Greece where you were surrounded by so many historic sites.
KIESLING: Greece is a wonderful country, and I urge everyone to visit. As my final farewell to the embassy I invited sort of all of my colleagues, and about 30 people showed up, to travel with me to ancient Ramnus, a beautiful hilltop overlooking the Aegean on which there sits a ruined temple of the Goddess Nemesis.
Nemesis is the goddess who punishes people for transgressing the divine limits. And this temple was set up largely to commemorate the victory over the Persians who had by definition transgressed the divine limits in their attempt to conquer the Greeks.
And we all got there and as my sort of farewell to my colleagues, I raised a glass of wine and sort of prayed, you know, poured a glass of libation to Nemesis and said, "now, God save the United States. God save us from our own hubris, from our own arrogance, from our sense that we can do things alone and not reckon the costs to our friends and our allies."
MOYERS: You know, I can sense as I'm sure my audience can sense that this is very painful for you. You don't strike me as a theatrical man who would do something just for the sake of dramatics. I mean, is there something going on that you can't quite say? Is something really eating away at you?
KIESLING: I would say that keeping silent for 20 years is part of diplomacy. I mean, that's what we do, we keep our lips zipped, we advance the policy. Obviously over time a lot of stress accumulates. But that's manageable.
But what I saw is that somehow the United States has been straying away from the ideals, from the sort of...the values. The United States is the greatest country in the world. I mean, it's an amazing place.
And here we're making ourselves smaller and nastier, more suspicious, more fearful. And this is so unnecessary. We should be a beacon for the world. And I saw my job as an American diplomat to help America be a beacon to the world. And when we're not being a beacon to the world, you know, what we are being is just not something I want to take part in.
MOYERS: Brady Kiesling, thank you very much for joining us on NOW.
KIESLING: Thank you very much, Bill. I really enjoyed this.