A Report on a conference at the Denver Performing Arts Center entitled "A Symposium on Enhancing the U.S. role in the World"
by RW Spisak Jr.
"The next president inherits the worst opening situation of any President since Lincoln...." - former Ambasador Richard Holbrooke
Hosted by Tom Brokaw, featuring former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Chairman Jessica Matthews, National Endowment for Democracy Chairman Vin Weber, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
Richard Holbrooke set the stage for the next president this way, "The next president inherits the worst opening day position in American history and international affairs. Of course Lincoln inherited the worst situation of anyone, because the country was about to go to civil war. Truman had a tough situation but we were winning those wars. No president has inherited two wars, and there's the confrontation with Iran, there's the new challenge from Russia, which will change the global strategic landscape, in ways we still don't understand or are trying to sort out. Even as we watch people try to deal with the current crisis."
"The history of presidents in their first year in office, has not been entirely comforting in this regard. Kennedy stumbled in his first year, the Bay of Pigs and with Khrushchev in Vienna, Ronald Reagan had a very rough first year, Jimmy Carter had a rough first year and had to change some campaign positions, Bill Clinton had a difficult first year, before he got himself straightened out, his first year included Somalia and just by extending it a few months he had Rwanda, and a very uncertain start up in Bosnia. George Bush had a bad first year, and a bad second year, and so on, and so on..."
Tom Brokaw asked about Afghanistan, where NATO has moved in, but primarily into compounds. "It's not as robust a presence there, as the United States would like to have it, and yet Afghanistan and what happens in Afghanistan is not of concern just to the United States but to Western Europe as well?"
Richard Holbrooke responded this way, "Your questioner has raised two critical interrelated strands of foreign policy. First of all, the world wants American leadership, and there you can get no better proof than in Germany, where American approval is 30% but when Barack Obama went to Berlin, he got two hundred thousand people in the streets, and could have done the same thing in London, if he wanted to. What I hear is that we're not Anti-American we're Anti-Bush!"
Holbrooke, continues, "Here is the mantra, America cannot GO IT ALONE! That was a historic mistake of the current administration. America must lead broad coalitions, but the key word here is LEAD! We cannot renounce our leadership role. We are currently facing a new and extraordinarily dangerous challenge from the Russians invasion of Georgia, No one knows the long term consequences of it, but Moscow has broken the post cold war rules and invaded a neighboring state".
He continued, "whether you think the Georgians provoked it or not or the Russians provoked it, is a worthy debate for some other forum, but what is unambiguous, is that the Russians went the length and breadth of the country destroying the infrastructure, destroying the ports, and as we speak today they are still occupying the country and yesterday threw an even greater challenge to the west by recognizing the two breakaway enclaves. The US is not going to go to war over Apcasia, South Ossetia and Georgia anymore than we went to war over Berlin in the height of the cold war, but to respond, we need, the support of our allies."
"I agree" he said "with the underlying premise of your question, that the Europeans don't do enough, on the other hand this administration doesn't know how to foster an international coalition."
Tom Brokaw offered another personal observation. He recently toured the remote outposts in Afghanistan and Pakistan with an old friend in Special Forces. "These men are extraordinary, top notch fighters heavily armed, incomparable in the field and every night they go out on missions to seek out and destroy the Taliban and Al Queda. Then in the morning when they come back in from the field, they are expected to go into the villages and work with the villagers and win hearts and minds. This is insane, it does not work. My friend describes it this way, the Afghans wear reversible turbans."
Tom Brokaw wondered if the American people and the American dream are perceived as tarnished across the globe right now. Madeleine Albright, offered her observation that most people across the globe are sophisticated enough to understand that not all of the American people agree with current American policies. And there is still a great admiration for the American "Can-Do" spirit, the optimism that Americans have.
Polls show that there has been a fall off, between 2000 and 2004, and she said she is constantly told when she lectures overseas that her optimism is so remarkable. They tell her again and again, that they could not have made the kind of remarks that she had.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Chairman Jessica Matthews said, "we have to face facts. President Obama has to climb out of a deep hole just to get started restoring America's leadership. You can not invade a country into democracy. Democracy cannot be IMPOSED by force of arms! We have been given a false choice, do we want DEMOCRACY or STABILITY? The world is subtler than that and you can't build democracy overseas when it's in deficit at home."
Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, suggested that both candidates have come to the conclusion that Guantanamo must be closed. He even suggested that John McCain has always opposed torture.*
Take Russia for example, what is the sequencing in cultivating democracy, economic reform, civil society improvements and human rights, do we enhance human rights more by focusing on the Russia/Energy concerns or the Russia/Iran issues? Many countries have differing views of the endgame in the democracy continuum. Do we focus more on Internal versus External behavior? China via the window of trade, and economic development, or China and Tibet and the problems of internal human rights and indigenous peoples.
Tom Brokaw, offered us the fact that he has over the course of years developed many friendships with leading figures in China during his many travels there. He was in Beijing for the Olympics and a dinner just last week, one of China's leading intellectuals offered him this perspective. He said "We think America, has too much time on it's hands."
Richard Holbrooke spoke of his work with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Chinese again and again say Tibet is an internal matter, and they denounce the Dalai Lama saying they reject his calls for independence for Tibet. The Dalai Lama has for years accepted that Tibet is part of China, saying they do not demand independence, only regional autonomy within the nation of China and religious freedom and freedom to protect their culture. The Chinese have conducted massive relocation of Han Chinese into Tibet and have conducted massive destruction of religious and cultural centers.
Chairperson Matthews "We have to understand that not every country sees the same end point. Elections themselves are not a panacea, alone they they do not provide democracy."
Richard Holbrooke explains "We say, KOSOVO should be an independent country, Russia says the same rules should apply to South Ossetia." National Endowment for Democracy Chairman Vin Weber, said what he doesn't like to hear is that "THEY ARE NOT READY FOR DEMOCRACY THERE, YET!"
Chairperson Matthews reminded the conference, "we cannot impose democracy on a nation but we can make available the tools. Even if you are talking about civil liberties, terrorism, and human rights conditions. US domestic policy, right now, leave us in a position, in a hole, where we are unable to lead, even if a new president on January 21st, says I want to make, climate change, or energy policy my top priority.. We are not yet ready to change our ways on energy. We have not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which makes it impossible to lead, on Nuclear Proliferation. We have an abysmal record on TORTURE, and Civil Liberties from the last few years." The Audience applauds here in profound agreement.
"All of this has to be rectified, before we can lead in a positive way. My point actually come back to the question of NGOs working with the administration is that, everyone is going to have to recognize that President Obama is going to have to climb out of the hole, back up to ground level, before he can exercise international leadership."
* John McCain was against torture before he was in favor of the BUSH-LEAGUE NON-TORTURE Torture policy.
End Part 1