TIME: 10:30 – 11:30, 21st February 2017
VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society, 26th Floor, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP
SPEAKER: Robert Kagan
Author and Senior Fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy, Brookings Institute
Tom Wilson: Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Henry Jackson Society, my name is Tom Wilson and I am a research fellow here, and it’s my very great pleasure to introduce you all to Robert Kagan, who’s a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and contributing columnist at the Washington Post, he is also the author of the NY Times’s best seller ‘The World America Made’. Robert Kagan is going to speak to us for about 20 minutes and then will be happy to take questions. Thank you.
Robert Kagan: Thank you, and thank you for coming here today to hear whatever the news is. I’m leaving a lot of time for questions, because, what we mostly have is questions. We’re all trying to figure out what it means, a new administration in the United States, what Donald Trump thinks, believes, wants to do, how he views the world. He’s obviously, at the very least you could say, an unconventional politician, certainly we’ve never had another president like him in the United States. So we’re all trying to figure it out, and I will do the best I can to answer as many questions as I can, but I am letting you know that I have many questions myself.
I guess the place to start is, may be with what America’s foreign policy has been, broadly speaking, and then ask whether there’s likely to be any difference in a Trump administration. And you know, I think I see, you can only generalise about foreign policy, things are different all the time and that’s come along and leads to different reactions. But since the Second World War, the United States has generally attempted to view its interests rather broadly. The United States are selfish, many people are selfish, like anybody else, they’re foolish like anybody else, they make mistakes like everybody makes, and make even more mistakes than other people make.
But since World War II, and really as result of World War II, and a result of the rise of the Soviet Union and international communism, Americans took a rather unusual view of what they’re interests are, as opposed to the 1920’s and 30’s where America behaved like a fairly normal, extremely powerful but nevertheless a very normal nation which took a very narrow view of their interests, they felt protected behind two oceans, they were interested in trade, making money but America really thought that nothing that went on beyond those two oceans are not very much a concern to them. They watched Europe collapse into conflict, they watched the rise fascism, they watched the rise of Hitler, the invasion of France and even then, thought ‘this is very interesting, but this isn’t our problem’ and in fact the more far way they can keep away from it, the better. Similarly, with the rise of Japan and Japan’s attack, I mean the rise of Japan in Asia and Japan’s attacks in China were beginning in the 30’s.
So, as a result of World War II, I think, you know, certainly the leading lights of American foreign policy and eventually circulating down into American society was the view that we actually can’t afford simply to hide behind these two oceans, that what happened in Europe turns out to matter to us, to the point of being involved in not one but two World Wars in Europe. That what happened in Asia mattered, that the scale of the global economy mattered, that the state of sort of global political trends mattered and that therefore the United States would adopt the quite unusual role of establishing , to maintain together his close democratic allies, some kind of international order that favoured free market, capitalism that favoured by large, as much as possible democracy and that avoided this sort of security breakdowns in both Europe and Asia that led to devastating World Wars which meant that, using the political science terms, instead of the United States being an off-shore balancer, which sort of watched from a distance and then dove in was actually was some sort of on shore balancer, kept forces in Europe, kept forces in Asia to deter the rise of any conflict. And therefore in a way took on responsibility for the protection and support of allies even though Americans direct interests were not necessarily implicated. You could easily say that, you know, there was no great threat to the United States of what the Soviet Union might do in Europe or what anybody might do in Asia now that they took a broader view of those interests were and it really is important to maintain this general order. A lot who’d say, give a take and with the obvious variations of Presidents, that have been the foreign policy of the United States of the better part of the last seven decades. But it’s also true that since the end of the Cold War, an increasing number of Americans came to either doubt, or when that was really necessary worth it to them or I would say an increasing number of American either never knew or forgot why the United States had gotten into that position in the first place and there was increasing sense that we were carrying too much of a burden.
Besides it took on greater meaning when the United States’ foreign wars that were unsuccessful, but there was an interesting distinction as worth recalling, that even though Vietnam War was in many aspects ten times worse in terms of casualties and costs, but also in terms of dividing the nation. Five years after the end of Vietnam war from the United states point of view, they elected Reagan and they were up to an arms build-up again and back to engagement et cetera. Whereas the effect of the Iraq war has been quite different. I think what the Iraq war did was accelerate America’s sense that they’re too involved out there and I think to some extent Obama might have reflected that and sought to retrench America’s involvement in the world, he certainly didn’t turn against the American World order but I think he hoped that America would do a whole deal less, without him having to support it.
I think Donald Trump now would like to divest from that world order all together. I think he, and again this isn’t just him, he does reflect a certain sentiment in the United States, insist on taking a much more narrow definition of American interest, much more balance-sheet oriented. He does not think that the American world order is actually in America’s interest. From his point of view, the world America made is one in which America has been taken to the cleaner, has been taken advantage of and why are we protecting all these rich allies when they really should be protecting themselves and I think we already got good value for it, et cetera. The way a businessman would look at the world.
So I think that we’re likely to see, and I think what we have already seen, is that much more cold in calculating view of a much narrower and limited understanding of what American interest are and that all of America relationships around the world, including the ones with its allies are going be scrutinised much more carefully for kind of battle line balance sheet of whether this pays for the United States or not. Which, in my view, has also all kinds of vast implication for the international system, because if you think about things historically, world orders don’t just exist, you know, forever.
All the world orders that existed before, like the Greek world order, the European world order in the 18th and 19th century, they were all supported by the powerful countries of the days and the slightly proclivities and preferences of those great powers. So on the fact that, the democratic powers have been, sort of the most powerful since the end of the Second World War means that we have a very widespread extension of democracy around the world. Democracy is bound to human history, and it has been dominant during this period and this sort of prosperity, based ultimately on the capitalist system that we’ve enjoyed has also been unique. But this world order is not, sometimes I think we feel that this isn’t just progress and that people, Americans feel this, and Europeans feel this, human beings just must be getting better, you know, we’re just improving. There is a sort of thesis, Frank Fukuyama’s famous essay with “the end of history” you learn, we’ve been working this out over centuries and we’ve got it figured out and it’s the end of the discussion and I think it’s undervalued, underappreciated how much world order is as I say, undergirded by power , and by who has the power, and so I think what we found hard to understand is how fleeting world orders can be, and how easily disrupted and how easily destroyed, really, when world orders pass, they don’t go silently into this good night, they don’t go out with a whimper, they go out with a bang, they go out violently and the kind of optimism that we felt and even complacency about our order is exactly the kind of optimism and complacency that you could have seen in 1910 when the great British author Norman Angels sold 25 million copies of a book called ‘The Great Illusion’ was arguing they could not possibly be a war again between the great powers.
And that was hardly alone in feeling that way, of course well 4 years later. I think next time somebody publishes a book like that, I think it’s you know time to start re-arming heavily. It’s, you know, that’s how quickly things are overturned and so if you believe that the west’s role has been critical in upholding this order as I do, honestly, together with its allies but very, very importantly, because of the unique role of the United States, that if the United States ceases to view the world in that way, if the United States returns to a prospective that is more like it had in the 1920’s, then the order is not likely to be sustained. And it is likely to be replace either by chaos and disorder or by an order in which others are dominant and the proclivities and preferences of others are also dominant.
My concern is that we are more likely to move into a period of chaos and conflict, rather than to some new world order. That’s my concern and that is why I think may be at stake here which put’s all kinds of unfortunate burdens on Europe and on the UK. Because if the United States is in fact, at least , for the moment out of that sort of phase, and into a more selfish phase then the other pillars of the liberal world order, they have to step up and do a better job. Now the things about United States, is that historically, since it acquired real global power at the end of the 19th is that American involvement in the world oscillates, it’s is like a sign wave, periods of high interventionism, followed by periods of dillusionment and retrenchement, returning back behind the oceans, so you had you know the periods of acquisition of territories, what people called imperialism, the Spanish-American war that sort of culminating in American involvement into world war I and the whole league of Nations. And then you have Americans saying ‘ No, no’ No we don’t want that and pulling back into themselves for another 20 years until world events pulled them back out again and you can see similar kind of oscillations during the cold war, periods of high interventionism like the the early cold war and Korea, followed by periods of less intervention in the Eiisenhower period back up into Vietnam and then back down under Carter and then back up under Regan et cetera. I don’t think whatever you’re seeing is permanent because I think what’s permanent in American foreign policy, is the oscillation but for the period now, we are in those troughs of a sign wave.
It began really in 2008, I would say a combination of Iraq and the financial crisis, I now therefore almost 10 years long by historical standards but again the trough was 20 years long and very deep and so the question is, how long and how deep. I think it is going to be long enough and deep enough that it may indeed cause a fracture in the system which again returns me to the need of Europe to sort of hold the fort as much as possible while America moves out of this phase, hopefully sooner rather than later. This has all kinds of implications for the relationship…it happens coincidentally that the UK and Europe are now going through this complicated divorce. I can only say speaking as an American, it’s not for me to tell you how to feel about the EU, I’m sure I would have many problems with the EU if I lived here but that’s not the question I’m asking. I would say however, that if America were just tootling along in its normal way, you can have as ugly and nasty and long a divorce as you want, I would say given that America is going to be out to lunch to a certain extent, I would just hope that the divorce is a little bit more amicable and a little smoother so that Europe maintains some kind of coherence and I would say finally if the United States had learned painfully over the course of the 20th century that what happens in Europe does matter to the united states, I would say that it’s doubly true for the UK, that it’s unfortunately not possible for the UK to just drift off and hope that the [inaudible 13.30-31] across the channel and the continent is isolated, but what, but what happens on the European continent constantly comes back to affect the UK. I would just say, try to keep that in mind as we move forward. So those are just some introductory thoughts as I say I know you have a million questions about every conceivable detail of our insane moment and I look forward to taking your questions, thanks very much.
Tom Wilson: We thank you for those very thought provoking remarks. If we would have a show of hands for questions, and just two house rules, one is if you can say who you are and also any relevant affiliation you may have. Yes the lady here.
Question 1: Thank you very much, that was very interesting. You probably addressed it to a certain extent but I cannot really understand what is Donald Trump’s motivation in sort of nudging all these populist candidates? Why is he so in favour of, it looks like the breaking apart of Europe and the coming into power of these populist leaders. What’s the benefit to him?
Robert Kagan: Obviously I don’t know what’s actually in his mind but I think it’s possible to…well I would say that about anybody…definitely say that about him! But I, I can come up with some thoughts about why that might be. The first is that he thinks that he has led a revolution in the United States, a kind of populist revolt against the elites who, you know, never thought he could win and thought he was a clown and discounted him at every step and “hahahaha” you know but, even more genuinely, he claims to be speaking for the common man, the person who’s been left behind in our globalised society and has been the victim of this American approach to the world you know which has not been to Americans advantage. And feeling that way he took great solace, again not me judging the other about this but he took great solace in the Brexit vote because to him that also looked like the same kind of populist revolt against the elites who bet against them, expect them, who didn’t take them seriously etcetera.
And so when he looks at the UK he doesn’t see Theresa May, he sees this populist revolt, he sees Farage, he sees UKIP, that’s what he sees as the kind of reflection of what he’s done. You know he wouldn’t be the first president to look around the world and feel vindicated by the success of like-minded candidates around the world. So Ronald Regan’s global palls were very much like him, Margarethe Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, Mitterrand in the context of France was you know more on the free market conservative side even though he was a socialist, Nakasone in Japan. You know Bill Clinton had Tony Blair and Schroder and a third way so it’s not unusual for an American president, who feels like he’s won a right wing populist nationalist victory, to want to see populist nationalist victories replicated as a kind of vindication of you know, of what he’s accomplished.
Now that’s one element of it, the other, if you think of about his…what seems to be his leading counsellor on these issues is this guy named Steve Bannon who actually has a more fully formed construct and world view than Trump does and he’s expressed this in various settings. And as he would put it, he’s out to overthrow what he would refer to as an international financial elite of crony capitalists which is epitomized in the European Union on the one hand and he’s also the other great struggle…the other great struggle is the struggle against Islam. And so to him those parties are both, they are both anti-immigrant as….and the greatest disaster was Merkel letting in you know, refugees into Germany and so you know all those parties that are sort of nationalist and anti-immigrant and against the elite, it’s all part of the overall revolution. An interesting thing is that of course Russia is an objective ally in this because Russia is also supporting those groups in Europe, Russia’s also supporting le Pen, and Russia they also see as an ally in the fight against Islam. But with Bannon you get a lot more coherent world view that would be my answer.
Question 2: I’m personally very glad that he became the president and I wish him well with his government, but the funny story is about him I have met him in Moscow many years ago. He was trying to buy this tall building, which Stalin built, 6 of them, and he didn’t. And last year I’m in Vienna and the Russian ambassador invites me for coffee and they have these chocolates in different paper. And there was a paper with this high building from Moscow I could have eaten, and then comes Trump…elected. So you see the joke about…
Question 3: When George W Bush assumed power in 2000, he seemed to be party to the kind of draw down of American power and September 11th woke him up. Now although the rethoric of Trump has been very much of the kind of isolationist mode that you outlined, non the less, even since his inauguration he’s continued to build up American troops in Baltic states which was initated under his predecessor who also, you know had proclivities toward isolationism and I’m interested in what your thoughts are on this because there have been expressions of concern that we might be building up to some kind of open conflict between NATO and Russia. And the conference in Munich, Pence actually reaffirmed America’s commitment notwithstanding the need for it to make a greater contribution, so could you comment on that?
RK: Yes I can comment by saying those are all good points and I you know I don’t know exactly what to make of them because that’s where we are right now. We’re gathering data points and trying to understand which ways things are going in. it doesn’t surprise me that he didn’t come in during his first three weeks, reverse a military deployment that was well advanced. That would be an incredible….not the least to which would be incredibly expensive, so it would be you know….he wouldn’t want to spend the money on it.
But what our ultimate posture may be I think remains to be seen. I don’t think he’s given that a great deal of thought yet. I think that if you want to know what Trump actually thinks he has said…and I don’t think we should assume that he’s changed his mind…., my guess is, and again this is just a guess, even though he thinks NATO is obsolete and he thinks, you know that we really shouldn’t be engaged in this kind of commitment, he’s not prepared to pull the United States out of NATO. So if you’re not prepared to pull the United States out of NATO, why should you be prepared to pay the price of driving everybody crazy? So I think he told Pence that he could go tell NATO that “Nonononono, we’re sticking with NATO”. He’s not addressing that problem now, and then he can couple that with the demand that he can fulfil his campaign promise by demanding that NATO members live up to their financial commitments, so I think it’s mostly a holding pattern.
But if you want to know what he really thinks you should listen to what he really says and has been saying for quite some time and that raises the complicated problem of “does Pence really speak for Trump, does Mattis really speak for Trump?”. I think you have to assume that Trump speaks for Trump and nobody else does. So you know, we’ll see…as I say, he’s not removing the United States from NATO – that’s such a dramatic step. But does he care about NATO? Probably not very much. By the way if I had to say, this whole two percent thing is just a bunch of baloney. Europe isn’t going to be any more capable of carrying its load of defence at 2% than it is now. Germany will cook the books and figure out a way to say “Oh yeah we are spending 2% on defence”. I mean they are not going to like build new army. And even raising up to these levels doesn’t going to change the fundamental equation, so it will be interesting to see what Trump thinks when that becomes obvious.
Question 4: thank you very much, Ewan Grant, I work on detection of dirty money, that fairly often means dirty money from the Soviet states and I did have to have a smile on your comment about [inaudible …27.13] of the books because given the level of contact his career [inaudible…27.18-29]. My question is where do you see within Washington in the congress and elsewhere outside the administration, taking the support and opportunities for continuing American engagement? I was at a conference in Canada in October where I noticed a Vietnamese delegate, fired a very effective poison dart against the Chinese by invoking the name John McCain and several people there probably thought they were referring to the senator but the lady was referring to a lot more than just the senator. Thank you
RK: I’m sorry, so what was the question?
So this is the question everybody’s asking I mean, you look around and you see someone like Mattis who’s got something I would call a very conventional view of American foreign policy. I think Tillerson probably has very few views on foreign policy, but probably conventional and I know that…I know H.R McMaster quite well and you know he again would fit well within the tradition that I’m talking about. So the question everybody has is will these people actually have any influence? And obviously we wouldn’t know, I mean things unfold, administrations you know…develop their patterns. At the moment, however, there are various signs that the most influential person vis a vis foreign policy for Trump remains Bannon. The way the national Security Council (NSC) has been structured is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Not to get into sort of this bureaucratic nonsense but no paper is flowing from the NSC to the president’s desk, that’s highly unusual. There have been no meetings of the foreign policy team.
When Prime Minister Abe was in the United States for a historically unpresented length of time, golfing with the President, hanging out at Mar-a-Lago and whatnot, the secretary of state never saw him, which is sort of unusual to say the least. And so there is this question whether you have two tiers of government; one were you have cabinet officials who all seem like very reasonable chaps doing whatever they’re doing, and then you have the president and his people making foreign policy, and we don’t know how this is all going to shake out. But so far, everything that’s happened suggests that Bannon is retaining power and so as I say this is sort of like Kremlinology in what “we read in tea leaves” and see who’s picture is airbrushed out but at the moment that’s what it looks like for now.
Question 5: Yes I was going to ask you if you would speculate a little bit on the Russia-Trump connection and whether that’s gaining any kind of force in terms of impeachment, in term of investigation.
RK: Well you Sir, when you started talking about dirty money I thought we were going to talk about Trump because the latest thing that the news people are on, the latest story that they are chasing down is that Trump’s real connection with the Russians has to do with 2008 when his real estate empire was collapsing as most highly leveraged real estate empires were in 2008 and he received according to these investigations, which have yet to be published, he received vast quantities of cash, literally cash payments, in the millions of dollars for properties that he owned and the money was from Russian oligarchs.
And it was a twofer in the sense that they were laundering their money and he was receiving cash payments which he doesn’t have to report and didn’t go through any banking system. And this would explain why among other things, why he doesn’t want to release his tax returns. Because he was in very dire trouble in 2008 and was pulled out of it allegedly by these purchases which raise to the millions of millions. So that’s the current, you know, thinking. But then you get to the next question: so what? Let’s say that these revelation come out, let’s say that everyone believe them. Does that lead to impeachment? I think, again we’re in new era, and the rules don’t apply, you know, so I don’t know anymore.
But if rules were the same, I would say no, it doesn’t lead to impeachment. Because as long as the Republicans control the Congress, they’re not going to impeach their own President, he is never going to be impeached by his own party. It has always been the opposition party. So, if the Republicans maintain control over the House, they’re not going to begin impeachment proceedings. If the Democrats take control of the House in 2018, which is a long shot but not unconceivable, I’m sure the first word out of Nancy Pelosi’s mouth will be impeachment. But, you know, if you know the American system, impeachment does not mean removal, it means you’re going to trial. The House can initiate impeachment proceedings, but to remove a President, the Senate has to vote to remove him. No one have ever came that far: Nixon resigned before there was a Senate vote.
Anyone who thinks that Donald Trump will resign because he is being impeached, doesn’t know Donald Trump. And the Senate, is definitely going to be controlled by Republicans. The Republicans are going to pick up seats in 2018, something about the mathematics of the situation. So I consider it to be, beyond a long shot. That no matter what he does, that he can’t be impeached.
Question 5: Hi, I’m John, Director of Asia Studies here, I just wondered if you could comment on Peter Navarro’s influence and maybe some comments on how the trips around Asia went. It looks like business as usual from the prospective of people like me, certainly because there is this perception that Asian allies are being more than Europeans, in terms of (34.43). Do you call that honesty?
Bob Kagan: So this is another one of these hazy areas where we are still trying to see how things will work out. I mean, Navarro’s reputation, I’m sure you know, he’s got a very, very protectionist approach to trade issues. Now, what that leaves us to obviously depend on what factors, whether he is allowed to pursue that kind of agreement but then once you get into a bargaining situation with the Chinese or anybody else, you may be able to protect us as you like but you have to deal. So I think it’s unclear exactly how that story will unfold.
I also agree that while I think that it’s pretty clear how Trump feels about Europe, his feelings about Asia are more complicated. Because on the one hand, he also sees Japan as a trade enemy, he remembers the dangerous Japan of the 1980’s which had Americans, you know, losing sleep and he sees his trades from the Japanese side. On the other hand, he also hates China, so you can’t hate them both, well you can but it’s not a very coherent strategy. So I think that he has, for the moment, showed to mostly take the Japanese’s side of things. And Harvey, by the way, handled this as brilliantly as it could possibly be handled. Because not only, did he call, I think he actually went to the UR, called down Trump and said, I’m downstairs.
But it isn’t that, and I think it’s a mistake to believe that you can become a chum of Donald Trump. Donald Trump doesn’t have chums; I mean he literally does not have friends. But what you can do is what Harvey did next, which is on this visit, he brought him hundreds of thousands of jobs. He basically came bringing jobs. And then the Chinese immediately turned around and for 17 years Donald Trump has been trying to get the Trump brand accepted in China and for 17 years the Chinese have been saying no. So right after the Harvey visit they said yes. So a friend of mine described this as the Asians are bringing fruits to the volcano and basically hoping that they can appease the volcano if they bring enough fruits. And this is a very Asian practice, they’re very used to this.
Europeans have a much harder time understanding that is what you’re supposed to be doing. So, you know, I would say come with jobs, that’s the way to go. All which means that we are in a very unsettled phase right now, and of course there was the all ‘He was against One China and I think Xi Jinping said ‘I’m never going to meet with you’ as long as you don’t reaffirm what One China. I think they don’t know yet what they are thinking about all of this. I think they tend to look at things mostly through the trade prospective, mostly through the ‘what you got for us prospective’ in which Harvey has already (37.59) up. My guess is the Chinese will find a way to cut a deal. It may be a phony deal or may be just enough for Trump to go home and say I negotiated a better, tougher deal with the Chinese since the truth doesn’t matter anymore anyway and his constituent don’t care what actually happens as long as he says it happened. Then that might be enough. Even though you would think that we might be heading toward trade war, which I’m guessing will find a solution which turns out to be mostly just nothing. But it will sound good to somebody.
Question 6: My name is Susan Sternfall, I’m a visiting fellow at Kings College London from Washington Institute and you mentioned the elites, and I was wondering if you could talk about what their intentions are with prospects to countering Trump and his policies.
BK: You know, mostly the elites do what elites always do when they are being accused of being elites: they cower and they don’t know what to do. And I’m not talking about the foreign policies, I know the real leaders. The real leaders are thinking how to work things out with Donald. The money people are also bringing fruits to the volcano. But the sort of foreign policy establishment which came so clearly against Trump. The democrats, they are in full blown opposition. The issue is for republican who were in opposition before, and I think they’re breaking down the line of human categories. There is a very small minority on the barricades saying we got to stop this guy. A much larger group is rather much more down to ground, keeping quiet and the rest of them or hoping that may be they can get a job working for Donald Trump. I can’t tell you how many people who signed the ‘Never Trump letter’ are now working for the guy. So, I think at the moment, it’s pretty much divided and weak and really has no answers. And is basically sitting around, cheering or crying depending on the event of the day. So he names (40.54), security advisors so everybody is like ‘Oh yeah, that’s it, it’s going to be okay’. And then he named Flynn and everybody said ‘Oh that’s a disaster’. So that’s kind of where they are right now.
Q7: What has happened with Flynn?
BK: What has happened with him? You mean why he is gone? Well I would say his number one problem is that he got caught lying to the Vice President.
Q8: If you don’t mind my intervening, it has now come to a point, with respect to the Americans presents, you haven’t quite faced yet which is whether the civil service are wanting to destabilise. Because if the President lies, I don’t mind. What I object to is the disloyalty because the policy rests with him. And therefore I’m interested in him being right, I’m interested in him being (42.19). What I would like to hear from you as a European, is whether the State department will be able to changing the policy after decades of democratic rules.
BK: Let me take this one question at the time. My first point as to why be Flynn fired and the answer is whatever you think about the leak or not, the VP felt that Flynn had lied to him. So as a purely technical, almost mathematical answer to why was Flynn fired, is it was because the VP, not the NY times, not the liberals, not the state government bureaucrats but Mike Pence believed that Flynn had lied to him. That’s why he was fired.
Is the civil service rebelling against Trump, that’s the next question? I know the State Department extremely well, my wife is a Foreign Service officer who discard everything I say, she’s retired now, but she was for many years. And she is an interesting case study actually. She worked for Dick Chenney as his National Security advisors, she worked for Stroll Tallbot when he was Deputy secretary of State when he worked for Clinton administration, she was Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson, she worked for Ronald Reagan, and she was the NATO ambassador for the Bush administration. All of which is a way of saying it is wrong to say that the State Department are a bunch of Democratic people, they have worked for Republicans and Democrats and I would say quite faithfully. And their main desire is to continue working for whomever.
So the point I think somewhere staying on even though they had not been asked to stay on and then were ushered out because they were not wanted. I can assure you the State Department is a very docile organisation actually. Another question however is the CIA, the CIA is not a docile organisation, it is a though, vicious, infighter in the American political system who routinely use leaks to get people in the administration for republican and democrats who are crossing them in some way. And Trump crossed them in a big way when they came and said ‘Russia, Russia, and Russia…’ and he said I don’t want to hear about it I don’t know what you’re talking about and they are getting their revenge, there’s no question about it. I don’t deny that for a bit, it’s just that the only thing I would say is that it’s normal behaviour on their parts. So don’t take it personally.
Q9: My name is Sarah Rose, member of HJS, can you explain why Trump is being so heavily criticised for things that other people, are also doing. Obama for instance, taking steps against immigration, the attitude to Iran that is taking that many other people have been taking. And why did Obama hand out so many, and also Iran has been a big problem in the world, and you are more or less dismissing this, and why did Obama hand out so many green cards to people connected with regime or Iran? What are the consequences of that? Bringing Kohmeni into America?
Q10: Michael Erero, also HJS. Following 8 years of ever increasing toxicity of Obama’s relations with certain areas in the Middle East which we haven’t ventured yet, what do you want, how do you feel about developing these, specifically regarding Israel?
RK: First, let me just say to all of you that if I had not been asked to get up here and talk about the Obama administration I would have a lot to say about the flaws of the Obama’s administration, don’t get me wrong that I think Obama was wonderful and Trump, I was a severe critic of his, and I am a republican.
I was a very severe critics of Obama, but I was asked to talk about Trump so, as far as Trump being blamed for things Obama wasn’t blamed of, I don’t think Trump is being held by a double standard at all. If you watched Fox news throughout the Obama administration or read the conservative press, they criticised him every day until he walked out of the White House, for everything that he ever did. So there’s no one sided element of the criticism here, presidents get criticised and people who disagree with Trump… Although honestly, I don’t know what Trump’s policy towards Iran is. I’m surprised that anyone thinks that they do, because I don’t think he’s formulated a policy toward Iran yet. He has gone out of the deal, which many republican candidates said one day one famously they would tear up Obama’s deal. Trump has not done that, in fact, Trump has taken no action towards Iran yet and I don’t even think he’s being criticised for its policies toward Iran.
As far as immigration, I don’t think anyone though that Trump did not had the right to manage immigration in whatever way he might see fit, but I think most Americans end up agreeing that something had to be done. I think he made a technical mistake, I mean I’m not in favour of his policy but saying that aside, he made a technical mistake when he said ‘Muslim ban’ because there was a lot of past precedent in 1965 for saying you can’t have a religious test in immigration policy. If he had not said ‘Muslim ban’, the course would not have been able or even interested in intervening, so that was just a screw up from their part. And he tried to take it back, saying it was not a Muslim ban but the course was left in that difficult positon. The President has enormous authority over immigration policy, if he wants to. So I think this was just a screw up, and when a President screw up, the press criticises them. May be that doesn’t happen here, maybe when the government screw up here there is no criticism but that’s what happens in the United States.
TW: And there was also the question on Israel as well.
RK: I think there is no question that any next president… By the way, if Hillary Clinton had been elected she would have shifted American policy towards Israel because she was very pro-Israel. So I think any president was going to have a better relationship with Israel than Obama. And Trump certainly has a better relationship Netanhyahu and Israel than Obama. I don’t know when they say they are going to push Kouchner to do a piece on (51.17) I don’t know what they mean by that. It only seems to me that if there is any peace process possible right now, and there certainly is no peace process possible that does not force Israel to make certain concession that Israel does not want to make. So that’s the only part of this that’s complicated. I think Trump’s sympathy towards Israel are much greater than Obama, that’s to say the least. But I don’t know that Trump has a fully formed policy toward the region, and that include Iran and Israel and everything else. He is still in the process of deciding what it is all about. And one indication of that is his response to the settlement policy or should I say his true response to it. Because his first response was ‘They should do whatever they want’ and then his second response was ‘actually, you know,..’. So I think we are still in formation here.
Q11: (52.10) How do you see (52.25)
RK: I’m mostly concerned by Europe’s coherence. And I mean this is democracy. Europe can go long ways as far I’m concerned, and it can organise itself in any way at once. But the EU was not an economic policy, and it was not an opportunity to create a super power bureaucracy. The heart of the EU, the essence of the EU, is original motivations was to avoid slipping back to the Europe of the first half of the twentieth century, the Europe of competitive nationalism, the Europe of the German problem, etc… So what I would like to avoid, is returning to that path, I don’t want to return to German problem, to endless sequence of Wars between France and Germany, and so whatever means it requires is what I am talking about. I’m relatively optimistic, but that somewhat depends of these elections. I mean, if Le Pen wins in France, she is about national sovereignty and going back to French nationalism. And that will be a real blow. If Macron wins, I think you could actually see a return to a kind of a Franco-German cooperation in Europe which would help.
Q12: (54.30) underlying population and in the last 20 years we’ve been seeing a lot of countries that were communist in childhood and with the great threat and now they have all turned into good little capitalists countries even if they don’t completely have fair elections yet. I think the problem in the Middle East is being… with the level of good guys to lead and we should not be too surprised if what we’re left with is a replacement of the Arab dictators that we are now trying to get rid of. If you look at what happened in Afghanistan, the British and the Americans supported (55.23) the underlying population unprepared to stand for themselves. (55.35) we’re just throwing money away.
RK: Well, maybe you recognise that but I had not given this any thought whatsoever actually. And you raise some very deep questions in terms of the nature of political change. On the one hand I think you are right, I think the cultures are very stubborn and that it takes a lot of change in culture. On the other hand you haven’t been change, and I mean you’ve seen the cultural changes a lot in a way. So I find myself unable to say that this is always mission impossible or that we can always do it. That would be simple if you could just have a choice, but unfortunately their history is much more complicated and that includes in Europe. And it remains to be seen that these countries in Europe, that have really never known a long period of democracy can actually sustain democracy.
That’s true obviously in central and Eastern Europe, I mean Italian as a democracy is fairly, even Italy as a concept is fairly new, okay, so you can be fatalistic, and sometimes I have a fatalistic mood and say ‘Things will always just go back to the way they were ultimately’ and I think there is a certain truth to that, and I think that the only way the things don’t go back to the way they were is if people are constantly pressing and pressing. It’s a little like having a garden, and thinking that once you’ve weeded it, you’re done. But of course, if anybody ever had a garden knows that you have to weed it all the time, otherwise weeds do take over. And I think that is a lot of where this liberal war has been, it’s been constantly pushing the jungle back. But with the understanding that the jungle is always there. So, if you take a culture like Japan, Japan which for a thousand years was completely isolated and really was not fighting against (57.53) and then went through this sort of crazy revolution at the end of the 19th century but then went fearing off into nationalist imperialism. If you had looked at that country and said, you know, we just need to get these people in line and turn them into a sort of a regular democracy. You might have said that’s just absurd. And how was it done? What actually was done by an almost permanent occupation and military occupations that just went one and one and one?
And even now, I would say, if we pulled away from Japan and just let it off and drift back to itself, you might not like the results. So to me, that’s what this is about, it’s a constant struggle. If the United States, and I’m not saying this would necessarily worked, it the United States had sent 300 thousands troops to stay in Afghanistan for 10 or 20 years, it would probably be in better shape right now. And then you could argue, ‘and then when they leave?’ would everything go back to the way it was? So I think it’s a more complicated question than that.
Q13: I’m interested specifically in the Middle East, the people of the Middle East, in freedom, justice. So you stand here and say that when the people show that they want democracy the democracy will come, and I know for a fact…
(RK: I did not say that.)
You said that democracy…You said something similar to that. That the people need to show that they want to change, but the people of Iraq, the people of Syria, the people of Iran have been showing for 30 years that they want change, and to me, you said at the very beginning that democracy was the current model, that democracy was the model that turned into chaos. But it seems to me that democracy is this current era is the (1.00.27) of the democratic nations do not wish to see the people who are really wanting democracy in their countries in the Middle East. And I would like to say that Trump has made some fairly drastic, or determined, and firms moves toward the Iranian regime which I think is causing a lot of problems in the Middle East at this moment, by increasing sanctions, by, it not removing the nuclear deal actually just making sure that it will not be properly enforced. And some of this trouble, maybe can the leash (01.01.05)
Q14: Don’t you think that whatever Trump may want to do in terms of engagement versus isolation, that, that is doomed. Because, whether he likes it or not, just as you said in your talk, that Britain was necessarily involved in the affairs of Europe. So, perhaps, America is necessarily involved in the affairs of the world and after all it is, to an awful a lot of people, the great Satan. It has enemies, and unless it turns its back, it is going to face those enemies whether he likes it or not.
Q15: I just like your opinion about the fact that Trump is just firing people and not allowing people to take positions just because they said something bad. It is kind of a concern, (01.02.15) people like that, they said something bad two years ago.
RK: How about I take those in reverse order. It’s not unusual for a President not to want to hire people who said that they were unfit to be President, which is kind of what people said. What’s unusual is to let them go through the all process of having the secretary of state take them, bring the secretary of state with his picks to the White House, publicise the meeting and then say ‘Hey, you said something bad about me during the campaign, you can’t be picked’ I mean the only problem with that is it completely humiliated Tillerson. That he does not want a guy who said ‘You are unfit to be president’ as one of his top official is not that shocking. So I don’t think, I mean you know what I mean, and so, his problem is, and other have identified it, as the entire foreign policy establishment said he was unfit to be President so he can’t fill his job with any of the traditional people who would normally be filling these jobs. So if he were the kind of magnanimous person, and it’s perfectly true that the end of political campaigns, especially within a party, you know, people who’ve said that Hillary Clinton should not have done this and people who said ‘ well they still ended up working for Obama and Hillary Clinton et cetera’. So you can get over that, he’s refusing to get over that and that’s his misfortune. Usually the foreign policy community is split so that they can one half of them and the other ones are off in purgatorial. Unfortunately to him, the whole foreign policy community is off in purgatorial.
And of course you are right that America can’t withdraw from the world, it can’t for a hundred reasons. The fact that people hated… How fare back would people have to pull to be in anybody’s face? It’s too powerful not to be an annoyance to some. But in addition to which, you know, no more than hundred years ago, 25 to 30 percent of the American GDP was in global trade. You can’t just pull out, I mean, pulling out is not an option. So the question really is, and as I say, I don’t think he is an isolationist, he’s a unilateralist in the true sense. I mean everything is a transactional relationship. The real question is that if he thinks we can sort of not care what happens in Europe, what happens between Japan and China, then we will go through this sequence of the 30s again. Because Americans also thought they did not have to care and they were only forced to care when somebody bombed Pearl Harbour and then they were like wait we do have to care. So, the problem with that whole thing is, yes, he may have to learn a lesson, but at what cost? What do we pay? How big of a price do we pay for re-learning that lesson?
On your point, again, if I may, I am actually a strong believer that people do aspire to democracy but I don’t think you could argue that there are not also elements in them in that culture that may push against it. And so our job it seems to me, if we are doing our job is the strengthening of those who want democracy and we want to support them as much as we can. I am not…I actually believe that people get the government that they deserve. Because there is no such thing as ‘the people’. There are differences of use and I think we squandered a terrible, we terribly squandered an opportunity to support the Arab spring. And you were right, that we not only didn’t support it, but in a way we were (01.06.03) and why? Because, we took such a monolithic view of Islam that the notion that if what happens when the people of Egypt freely, fairly and democratically elect a group that believes that Islam has to be a vital part of the culture.
What do we do then? We what we ended up doing was, the minute the military came along, and speaking for a lot of other Egyptians, said we don’t want that, annulled the democratic procedure, overthrew the democratically elected government. Our attitude was ‘that’s fine’. So where do you come out on this? If the democratically elected people in this part of the world want Islam as a mass part of their government, because that’s what they wanted, democratically, what do you do? Now if it’s me, I say we have to let that happen and then you have to hold them to democratic principles, even though there are contradictions between Islamism and democracy, but there were contradictions between Catholicism and democracy. If had been sitting fifty years ago, it was an article faith that catholic countries could achieve democracy because they were the (01.07.28) of the Pope, they answered to the Pope and they could not…so we did want to elect a democrat a catholic as a President of the United States because (01.07.38). Okay, when we found out that was not necessarily true and where do we want to go with Islam is that we should be able to blend Islam and democracy in the same way that we have blended Christianity and democracy. And let’s not forget Christianity was a source of authorianism under protestants, under Catholics and yet it eventually evolved. And that’s where we should be headed. We’re too afraid of Islam to let it have a chance, that’s my view.
Tom Wilson: Well thank you very much for that very interesting talk. We’ve covered so much territory there. It just leaves it to me to say how grateful we are for you speaking to us this morning.