TIME: 13:00 – 14:00, Wednesday 8th June 2016
VENUE: Committee Room 21, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
SPEAKER: Professor Michael Mandelbaum
HOST: David Amess and Jack Lopresti
David Amess: Well I’m David Amess, a member of Parliament for Southend West. As far as I’m concerned Barack Obama had a bloody cheek sticking his nose into our referendum queue. So, you got two British member of Parliament here and we both seem to [inaudible]. And the other bit of poison I’ll share with you, is I’ve got two daughters living in America. I find it utterly depressing that the best option the United States can come up with in terms of the president is a choice between that horrendous creature, Hilary Clinton, and Donald Trump. I didn’t like Meryl Streep’s interpretation of Donald Trump. That is me sharing views with you.
I am delighted though that Michael Mandelbaum is going to talk about the past, present and future of American foreign policy. Because ladies and gentlemen once we get the EU referendum out of the way on the 23rd of June, don’t think for a moment things will be settled in. The next big event happening in Parliament is the publication of the Chilcot report. And I was one of those colleagues who would have gone to the chamber intending to vote against us getting involved in the war with Iraq, but then our then leader Duncan Smith, who was a privy counselor, had had a private meeting with Tony Blair and which he shared with us the fact that there were these weapons of mass destruction, which would be targeted towards this county and reach us in 45 minutes. So I just throw into the pond the fact that once the referendum is over, I and some parliamentary colleagues who are MPs at the time are going to re-jig the parliamentary process, which I checked with the clerks is still applicable to impeach Tony Blair. If once the Chilcot report unlike what we tried to do with Clinton and got nowhere, I am quite optimistic that we will be a little bit more successful if the Chilcot report proves that he was less than honest with the House of Commons. Because I for one changed the way that I was going to vote because of what he said.
Anyway, Professor Michael Mandelbaum is the Christian… this doesn’t read right…
Michael Mandelbaum: The Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, which is in Washington.
David Amess: He also taught at Harvard and Columbia universities, at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. And served as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He regularly contributes to publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. And served for 23 years as a associate director at the Aspen Institute Congressional Project on American Relations with the Former Communist World. He serves on the board of adviser on the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington based organization sponsoring research and public discussion on American policy towards the Middle East. Professor Mandelbaum is the author or co-author of 15 books. Most recently, Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era, and has also edited 12 books, and he tells me, and I think he is truthful man, we have never met before, but he is an independent. So ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Professor Michael Mandelbaum [clapping].
Michael Mandelbaum: Well thank you very much, I thank the Henry Jackson Society for the invitation. And I thank all of you for coming here. One part of my biography, which I guess is not on that list, is that my great advantage in life and in my career is that I was partially educated in this country. And so that gave me a great advantage over everyone else. I should say hat the first part of what I’m going to say is based on my new book, Mission Failure, which does have a long chapter on the Iraq War. In which I give my view of the answer to the mysterious question: why did they do it in the first place. And I should say that Oxford, which is my publisher, promised to have in the book stores by the end of last month, and didn’t and so as an act of contrition they sent me fliers, which are on the side board there, which enable anyone who happens to be interested to get a 30% discount on this valuable document.
Well, my subject is, I will come to talk about the future of American foreign policy, but I’m going to start with the past because as a playwright, once active on this island once put it, the past is prologue, and the immediate past in this case is the Post-Cold War era. Which ran by my reckoning from 1993-2014. That is the subject of Mission Failure. That period, or at least my view of it is expressed in the book can be be described by five points. The first point is that this was a unusual, perhaps even an unique period in the history of American foreign policy and perhaps even in the history of all great powers’ foreign policy. Because it was a period when United States faced no serious threat from another great power. The problem of terrorism, not withstanding, this was an usually peaceful period, it meant that the normal business of international relations, which has been with us at least from the 5th century B.C. according to Thucydides’s account of the Peloponnesian War, that is power politics, jostling, rivalry and sometimes war between and among the great powers. Political scientists now call it security competition. That disappeared, or at least as it happened turned out to be in abeyance and that meant that the United States had an unusually wide range of choice in devising and carrying out its foreign policy. Second point what it chose to concentrate on is what is sometimes misleadingly called “Nation Building.” I say misleading because the United States really embarked on two, related but distinct enterprises, one was nation building, trying to create a sense of national community among disparate peoples. But the other is properly called “State Building.” And that involves trying to establish the institutions of modern western governance where they do not exist.
So the United States embarked on missions of transformation, that was the heart of its foreign policy. And as a third point this was common to the foreign policies of the three presidents who held office during this post-Cold War era: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. It is a common feature of American policies in this period toward China, Russia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and the wider Arab world. And all of those are covered in Mission Failure. Forth point- every one of these missions failed. And they all failed for basically the same reason, which is that it is not within the power of the United States or indeed of any other outside power to create by itself, from without, institutions of modern governance or a sense of national community. These have to arise from the people of the society themselves. And in no case did this occur. Fifth- that period came to an end in 2014, with the return of power politics, the return of security competition and I will say more about that in a moment. The bridge between the post-Cold War era and the so-far unnamed era, thank you. That we find ourselves in now, is the Obama administration. So let me say something about it, thank you very much.
It will have, under the eyes of eternity, I think, although it is a bit early to know, the three major features: first, Barack Obama has been what the historian Stephen Sestanovich calls in his book Maximalist, I guess it is, a retrenchment president. He was elected with a mandate to get the United States out of Iraq and Afghanistan and he is largely done that. All American troops have long since left Iraq, only to be reinserted in small numbers to fight the Islamic State. And in Afghanistan most of the troops have been withdrawn there remains a small contingent that’s due to stay until next year, in which point the new president will decide what to do about them. Now these two decisions have become controversial because of the unhappy consequences that have followed, in both countries. In Afghanistan the Taliban have returned, in Iraq the rise of the Islamic State has created problems for all of Iraq’s neighbors, for the Iraqi government and possibly even for us in the west. The wisdom , or lack of it, of these decisions will be debated as long as anybody is interested in American foreign policy. But my view is that unbalanced, despite the negative consequences that follow these were the right decision. And I base my judgement on two things: first, in order to have forestalled the undesirable consequences of the American withdrawal, I believe the United States would have had to maintain a large contingent of troops in both places. Not 10,000 but closer to 100,000 and that, it was clear, and it was clear to George W. Bush even after the serge that the American public would not tolerate. So no president, I believe, would have been able to carry out such a policy. Second, and here I am giving you my view of course, the blood and treasure that the United States invested in these two countries, not withstanding, they really are not particularly important for American national interest. Afghanistan, of course, became the target of American intervention because the attacks of September 11, 2001 were launched from there. Al Qaeda, the source of them, was chased out, its conceivable that Al Qaeda might return if the Taliban managed to re-seize power. But that’s not a particular problem because Al Qaeda and its ill are everywhere now. They’re all over Africa, they are in different parts of the Middle East, so eradicating Al Qaeda from Afghanistan will not solve the problem of terrorism. And as for Iraq, although it is an important country in the Middle East, and it does have oil, from the point of view of the United States, it doesn’t matter if there is one Iraq or two, or three, or none.
So that is his first major achievement, I use the term achievement neutrally here of course, because many will regard it as a great failure. Second he came to office with a number of personal ideas, which i guess could be labeled as progressive, which he tried to put into practice. And that predictably failed. He announced that he sought the abolition of all nuclear weapons everywhere, nothing came of that. He made a speech in Cairo designed to burnish the American interest in what he called the Islamic world. Unclear whether any such thing exists, but in any event, America’s image in Muslim majority countries is not noticeably better for his presidency. He reached out the hand of friendship to regimes that have been hostile in the previous administration, to North Korea, to Russia, to Iran, and to Cuba. North Korea and Russia have not changed their policies, their attitudes, or their rhetoric. He did manage to secure a nuclear arms deal with Iran, which if its works, which is a big if, will forestall the Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons for several years, and he did visit Cuba. So far there seems to be no change in the internal politics, or external policies of these two countries. Perhaps they will change over time, but so far he doesn’t seem to have much to show from these kinds of initiatives.
The third important point about the Obama administration and its foreign policy, again in my judgement is that Obama presided, really rather unknowingly, over the transition from the post-Cold War era to the era in which we now live. And this is a different era, we are not living in the post-Cold War era anymore, because the defining condition of that era, the absence of security competition, no longer applies. We have seen the return of power politics. Of threats to American, and I would say, western interests. They returned to East Asia because of China’s assertive maritime strategy. Power politics return in Eurasia because of the Russian assault on Ukraine, and they have returned in the Middle East because of Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. And through its rather successful efforts to spread its influence through proxies in a number of countries in the region. Now, a continuation of the main lines of American foreign policies since 1945 would lead, in view of these developments, to a re-adoption with substantial modifications of the Cold War policy of deterrence. It would involve deterring China in East Asia, Russia in eastern Eurasia and Iran in the Middle East. Course, this is not Cold War, the threat are regional, not global. China’s not a global power, and there is no ideology with universal claims like Marxism-Leninism against which the West has to battle China and Russia are acting on nationalist grounds, the Islamic Republic of Iran does profess a certain kind of Islamic ideology but that’s really aimed only at other Muslims. None the less the logic of the American role in the world since 1945, would lead to some kind of renewed deterrence policy in each of these three regions. So the major question over hanging American foreign policy, in my view, is will the United States adopt such a policy? And the presidential campaign at least as it has transpired thus far, suggests that there are obstacles more formidable than ever before to continuity in American foreign policy.
The American foreign policy after 1945 could be described as American leadership, if you liked it, American hegemony or American imperialism, if you didn’t like it, or American internationalism, a very vague but suitably neutral term, also applies. In essence the United States served as the main stay, or a main stay, of both the global security order, and the international economic order. It’s principle instruments, not the only instrument, but its principle instruments for doing so were in the case of security the American system of alliances, and in the case of the global economy, an open trade policy. In this presidential campaign thus far both have come under attack, and from both parties. Donald Trump has denounced America’s alliances, especially NATO although Mr. Trump seems to regard all of life as a real-estate negotiation. And so the assumption is that when he’s president he will renegotiate these alliances to the satisfaction of the United States, or at least to the satisfaction of Donald Trump. But even President Obama in a rather indiscreet interview with a friendly journalist, Jeffery Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly, criticized America’s allies as being free-riders. Now presidents since 1952 have in fact felt that way, especially about NATO, but they have never said it publicly. Obama for whatever reason felt free to do so, and thereby put it in the public arena. As for trade, all of the major candidates of the three candidates who made it to the finish line oppose trade. Trump denounced all trade agreements. Again presumably because he didn’t negotiate them. He calls all trade negotiators going back to the 1950s “stupid,” and so presumably when he is president China will immediately abandon all the practices that Americans don’t like, and get with the program. But the democratic side has also had a very protectionist tinge. The runner-up, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who got upwards of 40% of the democratic votes, has been opposed to free-trade agreements through his entire career. And Hilary Clinton who with her husband has long been staunch champion of open trade changed her position moved in a protectionist direction and abandoned her previous support for the pending free trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership.
Excuse me. If people standing, there are a few chairs here if you would like to come and sit down. Course its easier to leave early when you standing. But I assure I will not feel offended if you leave early. And anyway I don’t know you so what can I do? [laughter]
So there has been cross-party opposition to trade. Now opposition to the main lines of American foreign policy since 1945 during a presidential election is not without precedent. In 1972 the democratic nominee Senator George McGovern of South Dakota made as his campaign slogan, “Come Home America.” A response to the Vietnam War. And in 1952 one of the two leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, ran as, what used wrongly to be termed, an isolationist. But he certainly was a retrenchmentist. He did not agree with the rather expansive foreign policy that Harry Truman had created in the wake of World War II. And in particular he did not think the United States should be a member of NATO. Well McGovern was thoroughly trounced in one of the great land slides in American presidential history by the staunchly internationalist Richard Nixon. And Taft was defeated for the nomination my General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who went on to serve two terms as president, who followed Truman’s policies and who therefore gave this internationalist outlook a bi-partisan cast. Why is this time different? Well it seems to me that there are at least three reasons for thinking that this time it might, not sure it will, but might be different. First for the first time, both features of American foreign policy are under attack. Both America’s security policies and its international economic policies. Second, for the first time opposition is coming from both parties, not just from one of them. And third, with the very partial exception of a speech that Mrs. Clinton gave next week, largely devoted to denouncing Donald Trump, no one has defended these policies. Nobody is standing and is saying that the policies that the United States has followed since 1945 have been good for the United States and good for the world and they ought to be continued.
Now, what is the conclusion one should draw from this? I don’t think we should conclude that America is in retreat. That’s not necessarily the case. There is a long way to go. The serious discussion of foreign policy in as so far if there is any in a presidential election takes place when there are only two candidates. In the general election phase of the election which begins in the Fall. And third, American foreign policy is always reactive. The watch word for American foreign policy could be the answer that the former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan gave when he was asked what had most affected his primership. As many of you may remember, he said, “events dear boy, events.” Well events happen, and presidents change course dramatically. Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 with the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.” The next the United States was in the middle of World War I. And George W. Bush ran on the basis of promising a humbler foreign policy that would have nothing to do with nation building. Then came the attacks of September 11, 2001. And Bush became perhaps the greatest would-be nation builder in American history, so nothing is certain. But what we can say, I think, is that the obstacles to a continuation of the familiar American role in the world now seem more formidable than at any time in the past.
Thank you. [Clapping]
David Amess: Well I will only speak for myself Michael, but I found your address absolutely fascinating. So who would like to be the first to ask the question?
Question One (Jim Ormiston): You mentioned that you think that the United States does not have the capacity to build, you know, state institutions that are required by society to function from without. Does that explain why Germany, South Korea, Italy and Japan have had a role in genocide since 1945?
Michael Mandelbaum: I’m glad you raised Germany and Japan because the nation builders always raised it. I have quite a comprehensive discussion of the differences between Germany and Japan on the one hand and the interventions that the United States undertook on the other. So that’s a incentive for you to get the book. But I will briefly summarize my argument. Germany and Japan were different because they were nationally homogeneous, they had a sense of nationhood, which the other places did not. They had had some experience with democracy. They certainly had modern functioning governments They had very effective government institutions, and very effective market economies. That’s how they were able to become so powerful. None of the post-Cold War countries where the United States attempted nation and state building had anything like that. They didn’t have the experience, they didn’t have the raw materials, and remember that the United States was able to stay, was able to keep a military presence in Germany and Japan and in South Korea to the present time. More than, almost 70 years. Which served in the early years as a check on any undemocratic impulses that might have arisen. But was able to do that because the American military forces were seen as protecting these countries, from their adversaries, rather than as an occupying power. Had they been seen strictly as an occupying power they surely would not have been able to remain that long.
So that’s my answer.
Question Two (Jack Lopresti): On the same vein if you like. Was, I served in Afghanistan in 2008-9, and the perception among the local people then, was that we were going to be there, the Brits, NATO, were going to be there for another 10-20 years potentially. So, I believe it was right to go into Iraq and Afghanistan. So was the failure, not because of any lack of military capacity, or expertise. Was what you call “failure” because the politicians didn’t sell to the public the necessity that we had to stay for the long haul. As far as I could see, Obama wanted to get out as quickly as possible. Is that where the failure lies, rather than, you know logistically or militarily?
Michael Mandelbaum: Good question. As I say in the book. In all the military interventions, the military operations succeeded. The military did what it was asked to do. Did it with efficiency and dispatch. What it was asked to do was gain control militarily of the country. And turf out the regime that was causing problems. And in fact the United States managed to do that in Haiti without actually invading, although they were making military preparations. So the military did its job in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the military was then given primary responsibility, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, for nation building, Rumsfeld didn’t believe in nation building but wanted the pentagon to dominate the reconstruction efforts. I do not understand why. In Afghanistan, the administration was convinced that it wasn’t going to do nation building, and it really didn’t do all that much. It was mainly interested in counter terrorism. So the military gets high marks because the military did what the military should do and is capable of doing.
I differ from what I take is the implication of your question, although you may not that may not be your position, in the following way. It’s true that a longer and really more intrusive occupation is necessary even to have a chance to allow these institutions to take root indigenously. And as was often noted at the time, the British were in India for 100 years, half if you count full British control after the mutiny. But even then I may say, this is a different subject, India has been a democracy not simply because Britain gave the institutions but because the Indian elite especially Nehru were committed democrats. Although that, of course, was due to their British education. But my point here is that that kind of occupation was not politically feasible in the United States in either case. It’s true that the Bush Administration did not explain to the American public that this was going to be a long term proposition. But that’s for two reasons. First, because they didn’t think it was going to be a long term proposition at first. They had plans to withdraw almost all the troops from Iraq in the Fall 2003. And I know this because, I don’t know if you ever came across Jim Roach, who was Secretary of the Army and then Secretary of the Air Force, and he was the guy who had to fly to Baghdad and tell the commanders that they weren’t coming home in September of 2003. So the administration did not believe that it was going to be a protracted stay and if they had and if they had told the American public that they wouldn’t have gotten the vote to go in. Maybe to Afghanistan but not to Iraq.
Question Three (Jack Lopresti): Better off to the gentleman over there who is going to ask a question after me. The better example of the British in India what about what the Brits have done in Sierra Leone and the Balkans, the preemption, the re-building, stability and on the way to democracy. And then you’re next.
Michael Mandelbaum: The Balkans I count as a failure, for reason I explain in my book. The Dayton accord simply ratify a partition that could have been arranged without the war. Would have been more difficult because what made it easier was, unfortunately, was ethnic cleansing. And Bosnia became less ethnically intermixed. But the goals that the Untied States professed and that they claim, Holbrooke above all, were achieved by the Dayton Accords, were not even remotely achieved. These were three separate statehood, they don’t function very well, they certainly don’t cooperate. They have high unemployment, they are riddled with corruption. And that’s true of Kosovo as well. And in the Balkans, the American intervention in Kosovo, however worthy we may think it in moral terms, did violate international law. And it put the wind up, the Russians and the Chinese. Who for various reasons very much opposed violating this basic international law. So in my view, these operations cannot, by the way I define it, cannot be described as successes. The military aspect was ultimately successful in both places after very sloppy campaigns. But by my standards they do not count as successes.
Jack Lopresti: I’m going to give someone else a chance.
Question Four: I read recently a book called The Next Decade or The Next Hundred Years, I can’t remember who it was by but it was an American [inaudible]. And he predicted very interestingly that Europe would begin to, shall we say, disentangle, and… Europe would begin to start disentangling and from the American point of view, Iran with its market of 70 million and Turkey with a similar population could become gradually and increasingly very important economic, trade and strategic, shall we say, developing stories. And I would just like to hear your take on that because you see, also I noticed today that Israel is not getting its full amount of aid it thinks it needs. And probably they have their experts as well to know what they need. And the result is also that they are now beginning to feel the need to have strategic understandings with Mr. Putin in Russia. So it seems to be that we are on the cusp of a lot of changes which have been planned probably over the last 10 years.
Michael Mandelbaum: Well I wouldn’t count Israel’s dealings with Putin as the sea change in anything. There are two reasons. There are a million Israelis of Russian descent and for whatever reason they rather like Putin and so if you are a politician in Israel you can’t afford to be too anti-Putin. And second, the Russians have entered the Middle East militarily with their bombing campaigns in Syria and the Israelis are active there and have high strategic concerns there and so they met with the Russians to work out an agreement so they didn’t bump into each other. They have a de-confliction, as it is called, protocol. As for Iran and Turkey, well first whatever happens with Europe, after a Brexit or even without a Brexit, Europe faces formidable challenges my impression is that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with Europe with the EU all over Europe. It’s not just confined to Britain. I have spent some time thinking about the Euro problem, and my conclusion is same as most economists that have looked at this. That is the Euro is not ultimately viable without a banking union, a fiscal union, and that implies a political union. Britain is never going to enter a political union and I doubt that other countries would either and so I think Europe does have some difficult days ahead, but whatever happens in Europe, Europe will always be important to the United States, even if there is no EU, Europe will matter and of course presumably there will still be a NATO, which was the first pan-European organization, much more important now, in recent years, has been the EU. But you go back to pre-19 whatever it was `57 or `58 before the Treaty of Rome, Europe is still the most important part of the world for the United States.
As for Iran and Turkey, well, Iran remains an adversary. And Iran basic principle foreign policy is anti-Americanism, so its very hard to have cordial relations with such a regime. Turkey is, of course, formally a member of NATO, and therefore an ally. But Mr. Erdogan is taking it in a direction that is just as alarming in Washington as it is capitals of Europe. Furthermore neither of these countries is now well managed economically. So far from being perspective high flyers, as things stand now, without substantial reforms that the current regimes are not about to make, they’re going to have to work very hard not to fall back.
Jack Lopresti: The gentleman with the glasses.
Question Five: Thank you. I really very much agree with your overall diagnosis that the US and incidentally the UK are giving up on the idea of ambitious, costly, transformative adventures. But two questions from that. First of all, could they have ever actually succeeded? You rightly say the troops did their duty, but were there ever going to be enough troops to get the [inaudible] you need. And if they had been there for further decades, for further determination, do you think that could ever have worked? The second, the more important question looking ahead, if there aren’t going to be transformative adventures, then what will happen instead? Drones and special forces, but will there be enough? Or nothing at all?
Michael Mandelbaum: Very good question. My view of these missions is that within the parameters of what was politically possible, none of them could have succeeded. Say, what if America had stayed in Afghanistan for 100 years? Well, you know, fine, what if somebody invented a way for humans to fly individually without airplanes? And that’s my judgement, no one knows and certainly there are people who say if only this or if only that, it would have all gone better and I take up in Mission Failure, those arguments about the initial moves by Mr. Bremer who was the overlord of Iraq, which have been severely criticized. And indeed did cause harm, and critics say if only he hadn’t done those things it would have been all right. I don’t think it would have been all right even if he had done those things.and I say, what. So the question is well, what would you do then? And the answer is, I think, so far, you do one of two things with these increasingly disorderly places, whose disorder may spill over to us. You try to quarantine them if you can. And then you use drones and special forces. And the question is, will that be enough, the one you raised, and I don’t know the answer. The very first thing that was written about this book was by Tom Friedman from the New York Times the foreign affairs columnist who is a friend and co-author. And he gave it a nice notice, but he said, in effect, I’m paraphrasing, he said, “Mandelbaum has demonstrated that the United States cannot do nation building.” But what if we have to? I don’t know the answer. My answer is that requires another book, and I am not qualified to write it.
Question Five: For a long time, the US and the West effectively subcontracted order into countries to develop, to the individual countries. And these were not very nice people, but you could rely on these people to support the west. You know someone one said, “he may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch.”
Michael Mandelbaum: Yes, that was Kennedy on Trujillo, the dictator of the Dominican Republic.
Question Five, continued: And there were people good at it. We are never going to interfere in Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia isn’t a beacon of freedom and democracy. And, but these countries like Iraq and Syria were relatively seemed to be relatively stable countries. Do you think it would have been… do you think the mess in the Middle East now would have occurred if we had, if we had left Saddam Hussein, a very nasty bit of work, but at least he kept order in his own patch.
Michael Mandelbaum: Well that’s a very interesting question. And it’s a little politically incorrect to ask it about Saddam Hussein in the States. But some people have posed that question and it is a fair one. The policy of supporting dictators who were on the side of the west, or at least against communism during the Cold War, has been given a name by students of that period: “friendly tyrants.” And there is a book, a very interesting collection of essays done in the 1980s, called The Friendly Tyrant Dilemma, talking about the various cases, and I believe I contributed to that book, that’s why I have such a high opinion on it. And it’s true that the alternative to friendly tyrants, well in the Cold War, the alternative to friendly tyrants in Iran and Nicaragua, turned out to be unfriendly tyrants. But the alternative to these not friendly, but at least effective tyrants has been chaos. The question has been to what contribution did the invasion of Iraq make to that. Well it certainly opened Pandora’s box in Iraq. On the other hand, the Arab Spring, which has lead to the chaos of Syria, the uprising and suppression, Muslim Brotherhood regime for almost a year in Egypt, the disintegration of Yemen, the chaos in Libya. That is really independent of anything the west did. When it was going well, when there were high hopes for Libya, the people who supported the Iraq war said, “you see. We set an example, tyrants are being overthrown.” Well, it hasn’t ended will in Libya so they don’t say that anymore, but I think this has to do mainly with internal dynamics of the Arab world, with the youth bulge, with very bad governance, not just oppressive, but economically disastrous, sectarian and in some cases in the case of Syria, the uprising came in places where there were droughts and people had to leave the land and couldn’t find work. And some people attribute that to climate change, and so I think this was a bomb waiting to go off although there is no doubt unseeding Saddam Hussein had that effect in Iraq.
Jack Lopresti No. Because we’ve only got about seven or eight minutes to go let’s take three questions together.
Question Six: You prefaced your remarks [inaudible] in you discussion you mentioned the likes of Bremer, Rumsfeld and Holbrooke and we were talking before we started about the importance of advisers to presidents, I wonder if you could perhaps tap into your knowledge of the Washington community to speculate a little bit into the future, other than Jack Sullivan who is a shoe-in for a senior position in a potential Hilary Clinton presidency, who is advising the Clinton and Trump administration…candidacy, and who do you think might come if either of them were elected next month.
Jack Lopresti: Can we take three?
Michael Mandelbaum: Well I will do it briefly.
Jack Lopresti: Really?
Michael Mandelbaum: Yes.
Jack Lopresti: Ok, go on then.
Michael Mandelbaum: I actually was once capable.
Jack Lopresti: I wasn’t being rude, I was just pulling your leg.
Michael Mandelbaum: With Hilary, I don’t know, but whoever it is will be familiar to you. With Trump, no one knows. Trump doesn’t have any advisers, he doesn’t know anything. When asked about this he said, he is his own adviser he is very smart, he knows a lot about the world. So his circle of advisers, should he be elected, and the positions that he might take on a whole range of issues are completely unknown.
Question Seven: Whilst agreeing with most of what you said, one little thing, you don’t feel that if America had followed on with what it had done in 1945 with the creation of West Germany by training, firstly they did the Marshall Plan obviously, secondly the training of some 12,000 people who were taken from Germany to America and trained in administration of democracy and then brought back in the creation of West Germany. Could that not have worked in other parts of the world?
Michael Mandelbaum: It was tried on a small scale in Russia. And it had good results for the individuals but the scale wasn’t large enough and Russia is so different from Germany. And so different in fact from Japan that I think it wouldn’t have worked. My view is, as I say in the book, Russia’s alienation from the West was unnecessary and began with the ill-advised expansion of NATO, but nothing we could have done would have made Russia a democracy.
Question Eight: Now I promise to buy your book, I’m interested in the last chapter. Some say we are in a state of ambiguous warfare, with people in Ukraine, with uniforms without insignia and daily cyber attacks. Do you think Putin might take advantage of a new administration to push territorially?
Michael Mandelbaum: Well my view of Putin is that his regime rests on two pillars: prosperity and nationalism. The falling price of oil has disintegrated the first one so he has to rely exclusively on nationalism. And that is the main reason, not the only reason, for Crimea for the Donbass for Syria, but it wares off. So where do you turn next? So I think he is rather dangerous and I would worry about the Baltic countries.
Question Nine: I read your book on Ideas that Conquer the World and was wondering what your thoughts are on why that conquest has been rolled back. The ideas were free markets and democracy and so-forth.
Michael Mandelbaum: Ah, well that’s a very good question which I of course have thought about. I need to write a new edition. I don’t, first, those ideas made remarkable progress. Russia and China are free market economies. They’re not entirely free and Russia’s of course thoroughly corrupt, but they do have markets. They don’t have democracy. But I was making, I will fall back on Frank Fukuyama’s point which is: no alternative world-wide system has come into place. There is no alternative to market democracy. And the Chinese and the Russian regimes are not democracies, but they don’t make universal claims. In fact, they make exceptionalist claims. And, so I think, those three ideas conquered a very great part of the world, but certainly not all of it, in all respects. And that is the source of our remaining problem.
Question Ten: The Vietnam War was settled when America defeated the Vietcong. In the Middle East, we’ve got America and/or Europe fighting NATO fighting a hundred different factions in Syria alone. They can’t defeat everybody unless they actually defeat them. And then you’ll have all the collateral damage, a billion causalities. They didn’t even defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, they killed a few people and they let the Taliban come back again. And they’ve done the say thing in Iraq. They don’t defeat the enemy now because too much public opinion is against them. That’s the difference. In the wars in the past you defeated the army completely and that was it. You can’t compare India, the same thing, a little army, you defeat. They didn’t get rid of the Taliban. It set the scene for not defeating the enemy just killing a few people and getting a partial surrender.
Michael Mandelbaum: Well, to respond briefly, Syria is a hopeless mess, that has no good outcome that I can see. The reason that the Taliban come back is that Pakistan sponsors and protects them. Without the Pakistani sanctuary they would have been finished. In Syria, the problem is, well, the goal, whether it should be the chief goal, is another question. But the goal is to defeat and destroy ISIS, the Islamic State. And that is feasible if American and British ground forces were deployed. They’d get rid of them in 48 hours. But they are not going to be deployed so you have to rely on the locals with bombing from the United States and other countries. And the locals for various reasons are not up to it. And even if and when they succeed, and they’ve made some progress, I guess, I don’t know Fallujah has been re-taken, but presumably at some point, will be. But once that happens, who is going to govern these areas? They’re not going to be governed from Baghdad because the Sunnis in these ISIS areas are not going to accept Shia rule. There isn’t any solution there.
Question Eleven: Thank you for your talk. The picture you’ve presented is a relatively linear one, perhaps it was because of the lack of the time, I’m sure in reading the book there is more, a less linear picture in US foreign policies since 1945, but of course, within the Republican Party there have been two traditions. The more realist sort of Brent Scowcroft tradition and the more neo-con position. And so one could say that beyond this coming out of this post-Cold War as you put it, it’s not so much new ground, as perhaps a return to an old position. Perhaps along the lines of George Bush the First or Scowcroft. In light of the shifting sands of the Republican Party at the moment, with different positions being contested, whether people will support Trump or not and so forth. Which strand of US foreign policy within the Republican Party that the more realistic perspective or the more neo-con perspective do you think, whether or not Trump actually gets elected will come to dominate the Republican Party in the next presidential term.
Michael Mandelbaum: Well, I think in general, that the new circumstances of the post-Cold War era plus the unhappy experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan will impose a more realist approach. We will see an American foreign policy even from Hilary Clinton, maybe especially from Hilary Clinton, more like the first Bush administration, and less like the second. As for Trump, if he loses he will be forgotten. If he wins God knows what will happen. But it is interesting that the neo-conservative wing of the party, which tends to be more interested in foreign policy, than most other parts of the party, has been the most emphatic and denouncing him and saying they will never vote for him and saying that they would never serve in the Trump administration.
Jack Lopresti: Right, thank you all very much indeed for coming, thanks for your support. Brilliant questions, made for a very interesting meeting. Michael thank you very much for a brilliant presentation. I didn’t agree with all of it, but I will be buying your book. Thank you very much for coming, fascinating.