Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Good evening and welcome to today's meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California. I am Richard Aaron Mead, the member of the club's international relations forum and your chair for today. We also welcome our listeners on the radio, and we invite our audience to visit us online at commonwealthclub.org. And now what is my pleasure to introduce our distinguished speaker. Stefan Halper, Stefan he pointed out to me it's not Stefan, I did it anyway. Stefan Halper is a senior fellow at Cambridge University's center of international studies. He directs the Donner Atlantic Studies Program and he lectures on latter day 20th-century U.S. foreign policy, Anglo American relations and contemporary international security issue. He served in the white house and state department during the Nixon-Ford and Reagan Administrations, advising on US China relations, non proliferation and nuclear issues among others. A leader in Bush Seniors and Reagan-Bush 1980 Presidential campaigns, until 2002, he was a senior advisor to the republican national committee. His '07 book which sells outside the door "The silence of the rational center: why US foreign policy is failing". Addresses the process by which US foreign policy is made and why it has been ineffective in recent years. From 1986 to 2000, Mr. Halper wrote a nationally syndicated column focusing on foreign policy and national security matters, also hosting national programs for radio and TV. No stranger to the bay area as a Stanford graduate, he holds doctorates from both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The commonwealth club of California warmly welcomes Stefan Halper. Well, it's delighting and really quite an honor for me to be here today and I want to thank Richard for arranging the invitation and for arranging my visit. Thank you all for coming out tonight. Richard and I had a chance to meet I think some months ago at a an event here for the world affairs council when I was talking about my book. And we fell into conversation and this is the this is the result. I first have the pleasure of being in the commonwealth club of California some 27 years ago I was policy director at the time for an aspiring former Ambassador and Congressmen who was running for president. And we have been on the road trying to battling really for the republican presidential nomination for months and as the contest drew to a close, though we had little chance of winning in California, the campaign opened offices in San Francisco and George H. W. Bush gave voice to his hopes for America here at the commonwealth club. It was a stand up crowd and we were all on the same song sheet. It was a great success worth nothing else approved that after all those months that Bush could actually give a stem-winder of the speech which he did. What's arresting is that in retrospect the older Bush described the world in which America's forthright promise it's assertion of principle representative government, its reputation for fairness and decency and its credibility were real and tangible and intact. On the neither side of that bipolar world was a sclerotic failing experiment where a quadrate pretended to work and bosses pretended to pay them a nuclear arm Sparta able to bring the apocalypse abroad and crushed the spirit of man at home of the Soviet Union and though army getting threatened in those days it was a simpler world all the same at least looking back at this point it seems so. The generation later, George Bush's son George W Bush has authored a moment in which the limits of American power are increasingly plain even though our military and economic strength exceeds anything the world has ever seen. Our story no longer inspires the way it used to and the benefit of the doubt is no longer ours. We have learnt the hard way that it is not whose army wins, it's who story wins. We are an optimistic hard working and innovative people and naturally Americans want to know what went wrong so we can put it right. My remarks are offered today as thoughts for the oval office, the next oval office occupant whoever that may be and hopes that they may hope to clarify the situation in which we now find ourselves and I have divided my comments in to three parts. First is a comment on what we have lost namely the art of diplomacy or effective state craft marshals all the relevant tools of state power to achieve the desire the desired result. The second thing I will turn to we will talk about the nation's dangerous attachment to large framing concepts which you might call big ideas. These notions like freedom on the march have framed contemporary events they often emphasize. American exceptionalism while grinding out new ones and suppressing the debate in the public square. The result can be and has been poor policy. This syndrome, seem to the run up in the Iraq war. It's extirpated by our 24/7 media and the silence of the irrational centre more on that later. Third, I will comment on selected challenges ahead, our myopia with Iraq has imposed a huge opportunity cost. We are in many ways miss-positioned to deal with to deal affectively with other challenges that may arise and have no consensus on how best to address China's rising power. So let me begin by talking a bit about the importance of state craft. For a half a century the US used its military and economic might to contain and out maneuver the Soviet Union. Through the 70's and 80's a sustained diplomacy enabled Washington to take advantage of changing geo political events and to negotiate settlements and aid transitions in the central America and Afghanistan, south east Asia and southern Africa while at the same time laying the foundation for European security in the post cold war period. Real realistic diplomacy helped the US defeat Saddam Hussein in the first gulf gulf war and realistic diplomacy launched the Madrid phase of the Middle East peace process and also facilitated the reunification of Germany. America's vision and its diplomatic skill brought the break up of the Soviet Union and the emergence of over a dozen successful states without one shot being fired. It's an immense achievement. Following some hesitation about what was thought primarily a European affair; a US led correlation reasserted leadership in the former Yugoslavia in 1995 and contained the violence there. Though compelled act by politics and what I mean by that is CNN's detailed coverage of an unfolding humanitarian disaster. Washington demonstrated again the power of effective state craft and realistic strategy. These accomplishments stand in short contrast however to US foreign policy sense. The decline of US diplomacy began with the Clinton administration and reached its nattier during George W Bush's first term. Unclear results in Yugoslavia in the mid '90s meant that the US has generally avoided sustained diplomatic campaigns or mediation sense. In other words, Washington has lost the art of state craft, so what exactly is this thing called statecraft? Dennis Ross, whom - whom many of you will have heard of a former Middle East envoy has just written a very interesting book on the subject and he says, "Statecraft is the art of developing an effective geopolitical strategy and executing it through the intelligent use of appropriate power". Like a General on the battlefield, a foreign policy strategist has to analyze the prevailing political and diplomatic conditions and underlying balance of forces and then exert overwhelming influence in order to shape events at critical points. Creative diplomacy translates this strategic energy into action. Over the past decade, state craft has been less in evidence at any time since world war two. The Bush administration, particularly in its first term responded to 9/11 with a foreign policy driven by ideology and brought two wars of choice. When they went by the way to the UN for a second resolution that would be the exception that proves the rule and I am happy to talk more about that because that is the example of attempting to you statecraft but it is an exception. Consequently, the Middle East will remain unstable for years. And our regional allies find themselves increasingly vulnerable. The US has experienced growing isolation in global councils and substantial doubts about spending priorities and values have arisen at home. Apart of today's foreign policy crisis is a profound misunderstanding of the relationship between strategy, power and diplomacy. We have to again master the art of statecraft that uses power intelligently so that it supports our diplomacy and sustains an agreed strategy. On 9/11 US officials asserted that everything had changed. The US again fought the tangible adversary and was able to focus the nation on war with radical Islam and in us versus them context. In which US military power would be decisive. In this paradigm, politics and emotions combined to frame the challenge. The assumption in the "everything has changed" theory was that this was a unique phenomenon; this was unique to 9/11. It was not, this is not the first time that the nation shied shifted away from an effective realistic fact driven foreign policy. Let me just take you back to those remarkable years after world war two, when the Marshall plan, NATO, voice of America told our story when Harriman and Dallas, George Kennan, Dean Acheson made many right decisions. Even the soviet military strength at times exceeded our own, something the public didn't know but they knew. It was a time when American foreign policy was capable of great achievements. It was a time when George F. Kennan's long telegram from Moscow in 1946 asserted that US needed a policy that lay somewhere between World War Three and capitulation to the soviets. Communism was an insidious threat, but it could be managed by maintaining a vigorous defense and reaching out to peoples around the world including eventually the soviets themselves. Kennan's strategy of "Patient, but firm and vigilant containment", told us that living with and trying to reduce risks is often better than trying to eliminate it. Even though some viewed containment as capitulation strategists including Eisenhower prevailed saying in 1953 "the colossal job of occupying the territories of the defeated enemy would be far beyond the resources of the US at the end of such a war". Yeah yeah it was neither Kennan nor Acheson that American turned to as communist advances in Europe and Asia challenged the post war order and charges of west by and large at home shredded the country's political fabric. A rational post war policy was set aside as Truman and Eisenhower struggled to dominate the public discourse on national security, emotion and fear combined to power Joe' McCarthy's big idea that America was being undermined by subversion and incompetence monolithic communism. The red scare convulse the nation from Hollywood to Main Street. Americans believe that everything had changed so that we were under resolved at home and abroad from a muscular besieging access. Emotion and fear suppressed the policy debate, charges of treason came easily, politicians and intellectuals and journalists shared a strange silence as Washington failed to see the major differences. The true animosity between China and the Soviets and adopted policies that drove them together instead of exploiting their tensions which is what we should have done, writing in 1961 George F Kennan offered an insight to the policy debate and the early 50's. That was was an inside which for shadowed the post 9/11 era. He pointed out what we lost, why we lost it and what the results were and he said "there is nothing more egocentrical than an embattled democracy. Under such circumstances he argued a democracy will attach to its cause an absolute value that distorts its vision of all else. Important questions go on asked, unchecked assumptions hearten into common knowledge and the mission assumes a final apocalyptic quality" Kennan was describing a recurring syndrome, next president take note it is a point reached at least three times in the past half century, in the 50's with McCarthy's red scare, the 60's with Vietnam and the 'domino theory' and more recently the Iraq war and freedom on the March US policy has been framed by big ideas. In each crisis, ideology and passion replaced passion recent analysis - sorry replaced recent analysis in the policy discourse, critical miss-judgments meant for the opportunities were lost and at the end of McCarthy's movement and of the Vietnam war and most likely with Iraq, America's global position well have been compromised, not advanced. As McCarthy's red scare sees the public mind, a cartoonist named Walt Kelly who many will remembered as the creator of Pogo penned a line that is still with us. He said and I quote "on this very ground, with small flag waving and tiny blats of tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy and not only may he be ours he may be us. That soon became "we have met the enemy and he is us" --. True then may be truer now. What can the next president take from this? Simply that when the country is challenged or believes itself to be in crisis, the president must either frame the on coming debate or be framed by it and defined by it large framing concepts reflecting the values of American exceptionalism will flood the discourse and the President will either resist as Truman and Eisenhower resisted McCarthy and his message for support, as Johnson did the "Domino theory" and as Bush did with freedom on the march in Iraq. Clearly it's more difficult to frame the debate, as Truman and Eisenhower did but still very much more worthwhile, you may ask why are these framing concepts so powerful in America and this is the second point I wanted to make today and that is the one detailed in my recent book called "the silence of the rational center which is out there. So let me just say a word about our history and why it is that we are so susceptible to this this dynamic, our history renders us more susceptible than most other nations to the power of what we might call big ideas, these are large concepts that captured the public discourse and framed the debate very often to our determine. America's infatuation with big ideas extends well back into the 18th century, it actually goes back further than that but let me just say that a word about it, about America's embrace with the big idea, America is unique among nations we are undefined geographically remember folks looked out and saw this huge continent without with out much out there, with out neighbors, native Americans were were not followed the most terms at that time. So we were undefined geographically, there - we were undefined ethnically and we were without a dominant religion unlike lets say a place like France or Germany where you have Catholics you have same neighbors on all sides all we have same neighbors he spoke one language and so on. So America really began as the idea of a nation, big ideas have played a defining role in American history, concepts like manifest destiny, imperialism of righteousness which came into popular discussion at the end of the 19th century, the word end of wars so was a phrase used in Woodrow Wilson's time and Madeleine Albright talked about the indispensable nation in the 1990's and we have freedom on the march today, these reflect our sense of providential mission and have provided direction and identity to Americans at times of crisis and change. Yet what big ideas frame policy, they also accelerate patriotic passions, they make people afraid of being labeled on American and they effectively limit debate. When this happens America loses on of its most unique resources namely the ability to have a full debate in the public square beyond our easy embrace of big ideas and their framing concepts, a second element impacting the foreign policy exchange today is the media, the media format where these issues are discussed. I readily accept that the 24\7 media has to expand market share in order to survive in maximized profits, but the charge here is that crisis narratives, crisis narratives unfolding catastrophes they really sell, they satisfied an insecure public's desire to know the latest news, also crisis coverage expands market share think FOX and it's hard for media outlets to move away from this format. The talk show format also mitigates against substance. Talk shows, round table discussions like the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes option feature high profile guests where celebrity is emphasized and substance and expertise is left unexplored I had great fun in this book by giving a detailed transcript of Kissinger and a variety of others on Hannity & Colmes and O'Reilly it's really interesting to see how they are unable to express their views but their names are brought to sell the program. In the case of the Iraq war for example the administration's narrative was left largely unchallenged on the larger shows Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity Vanity and so on, between mid 2002 and 2004 late 2004. But in the electronic media sound bytes actually substitute for substance. Area experts, academics, professionals with experience on the ground make less compelling listening and the result is they are marginalized, they are silenced, but they are experts and they are rational experts. Viewers know a little more at the end of the show about the challenge at hand and they knew at the beginning. If you combine information and entertainment, what you get is infotainment and that's what these shows produce. What is disturbing is that, as big ideas like freedom on the March war and terrorism, the neocon drain the swamp are those phrases framed foreign policy and the media format limited substance of examination of the issues. There was a little or no pushback from the institutions so the Americans rely upon for guidance when policy is being determined. You heard a very little from the press, the thing tanks, the congress, ac1demia they were silent. Who do I mean? The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings, American Enterprise Institute, Heritage a variety of political leaders and so on, it's a long list. So let me just comment on one part of it the think tanks, because we assume that the think tanks are independent research institutions and that they take a an objective look at these issues and tell us what they think. But as the nation moved towards war in Iraq, those who were skeptical of the merits of the administration's case could not get a hearing in places like the Council on Foreign Relations for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace or Brookings or AEI. This was a true institutional failure. But if you look at the schedule of events, speakers, conferences, seminars and if you look for example at foreign affairs magazine published by the Council on Foreign Relations, you will not see between mid 2002 and late 2004 articles or events which challenge the administrations rational for war. So rather than lead opinion well I also want to say one other thing, that all of this was made worst by the fact that has opinions sworn against the war, these institutions began to reflect skepticism about the administration, so that rather than lead opinion and provide the platform for debate, they actually followed opinion, surrendering their unique statuses, institutions of enquiry and by the way recipients of tax payer's money. The debate in the public square thus was muted. You had talk shows where experts couldn't quite get their arguments out. You had the New York Times they have actually apologized for having pushed all these critical stories back into the letter pages. The Washington Post gave an apology; they never really quite apologized. Brookings, AEI, the rest of them, it's all a matter of record. You can see that the debate was stifled. So the debate in the public square was muted. The administration's rationale was left unchallenged that the golden hour when changes could have been made. This concept the golden hour is a combat surgeon's term. Well, those of you have been in the military you will know that medics will talk about a golden hour. It's that period when you can probably still save the soldier if you act immediately and you have a chance go pass that hour and chances to climb. That's the way it was for policy, we might have actually had an impact but that wasn't, it didn't happen. In another disappointing dimension, public intellectuals like Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis and soon you will know who they are Samuel Huntington, Harvard brought the Clash of Civilizations. Bernard Lewis, an eminent of Middle East specialist Princeton. These guys heightened their public profiles with analysis that exacerbated on coming dilemmas rather than illuminating productive ways forward. Thus a great national resource the think tanks effectively remove themselves from the debate scrolling around them fear and passion trumped, rational criticism and policies suffered. Let me say a word on power projection now the next president will wish to bear in mind that challenges like McCarthy and the Red Scare, Vietnam and Nominal Theory and 9\11 in Iraq arise quickly and they contain a powerful narrative proving capable of profoundly altering the nations political discussion at the center of these challenges lies an estimate of the nations security and how and to whom and to what end force is appropriate and next president should understand that once the passion were accomplished by American exceptionalism have declined have to find sorry the public debate there is little political shelter to be found and there are few of any natural allies within the political process not the congress or the think tanks or the press, all of them comprise the rational center. All these folks fear being labeled unpatriotic. It is worth noting that in both Vietnam and Iraq crisis it turns out that differences on the use of force were negligible among democratic and republican allies, fewer than half of the democratic senators voted against the use of force in either Vietnam or Iraq. So there is a an inclination to move to the use of force of quickly and its not something that you can distinguish by political party or ideology in in Washington, the beginning with beginning with Vietnam the Asymmetric conflicts in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated not that the size of reach of American power but its limits in achieving all political objectives. Does this mean that we are no longer the Worlds predominant military power? No, it does not, we can dominate any set battle space on the planet. We can no two bricks on this planet that the military cannot dislodge anywhere, more over our values and our market democracy or the envy of many around the world, what it does suggest is that we must do a better job of protecting power and extending resources only when US interest of directly or stake and when there has been a full national debate and when there is a national consensus to proceed and most importantly we have to project the kind of power that suits the conditions on the ground and will allow us to reach our objectives It is clear today that the nations are on the way to regaining its balance and direction when you look at the congress and the editorial comment and the think tanks and poles just as we did after McCarthy in Vietnam War. As before the reality of a failed policy cleared now to over 60 percent of the public is a harsh teacher. We are emerging from a conventional wisdom if you will that was offered by near conservatives like Charles at the end of cold war who saw a uni-polar world in which the United States were so powerful that they could decide what if that was right and others could have no choice but to follow they call this the new unilateralism and it influence the Bush administration even before 9\11. Even before 9\11 produce the new Bush doctrine of preventive war and coercive democratization. Yet the new unilateralism is based on a profound misunderstanding of the nature of power and world politics power is the ability to get the outcome when once, whether the possession of resources would produce such outcomes depends on the context. For example, powerful mechanized army is formidable in the desert but not in the city, as the US discovered and made that issue in the past that it was assumed that military power dominated most issues but in today's world the context of power differs greatly on military economic and transnational issues. These includes some other greatest challenges we face, among them climatic change, pandemics, transnational terrorism. On the letter issue terrorism Harvard's Jonai calls for a policy embracing smart power that combines the use of soft power and the attraction of hard power. You combine them in a in an appropriate mix. For example, American and British intelligence agencies reported that are use of hard power without sufficient attention to soft power as increased rather than reduce the number of Islamic terrorists over the past five years. The soft power of attraction will not win over a hard core terrorist s but it is essential in winning the hearts and minds of main stream Muslims without who support success will be impossible in the long term, and here values play a role unlikely that American foreign policy will returned to the narrow of realism and drop all emphasis on democracy and rights, or the Iraq war is thoroughly discredited the idea of coercive democratization advanced by the Bush as first term, both republicans and democrats have a strong standard values in their orientations in foreign policy. The problem for whoever is elected in 2008 will be to find appropriate realistic means to advance to advance these values through careful state craft. Later it has to be adjusted, so that it contributes to and doesn't attract from the outcome. Americans need to find a way to a suit their narrative of democracy, freedom and rights, in a manner that respects diversity and works within a multi lateral context. So allow me to conclude with just one point. I have talked to you about the importance of state craft and diplomacy the power of framing concepts an America is acceptability to big ideas and the conditions and arrangements surrounding power projection, so looking ahead so do you all remember that great new power projection. So looking ahead so you all remember that great New York Yankee's catcher Yogi Berra, he said don't make the wrong mistake. I think he was talking about China. US-China relations since 1949 have been challenging uneven often disquietly in both the 50's and 60's the relationship was captured by the big idea of monolithic communism. Today the US and China share a marriage of liabilities to delegate balance built on mutual interest and ambiguity. Chinese have a phrase called "Same bed different dreams". Chinese economy will be the world's largest by mid century. Its military capacity is began to challenge the US and the Pacific and in space. To retain its primacy US policy has to be informed by rational decisions and not passion and must find support in the four range of multi lateral institutions the UN, the World Bank, the IMF to WTO. Big ideas like freedom on the march were mistaken in Iraq and the Middle East but would bring disaster, should they frame policy the confronted China's they still focused a realistic foreign policy. We may rest assure that when and not if there are policy differences with China, we will face an asset test, either the rational centre informed by the relevant expertise will actively frame with debate at the golden hour in which policy has being decided or we will again and to our discredits surrendered to that poisonous mix of big ideas, crisis driven narratives and 24/7 talk media offering infotainment in place of the substance of discussion the nation deserves, or returned to a carefully crafted integrated state craft, but works with the international grant and no against it. We will be more urgent in 2008 than ever, and I will conclude with that and I thank you very much.