tv Book Discussion on National Insecurity CSPAN January 17, 2015 8:00am-9:11am EST
chris hill recounts his diplomatic career. gail sheehy remembers her journalism career. alan west discusses the political landscape. for a complete television schedule, go to booktv.org. booktv, 48 hours of nonfiction books and authors. television for serious readers. >> booktv continues now. david rothkopf discusses the triumph and failures of american leadership in the world following 9/11. it's about an hour ten. [inaudible conversations] >> i'm going to hold your book like this. [laughter] >> good evening, ladies and gentlemen. it is a real pleasure to welcome
you here tonight. it's a pleasure for several reasons. i'm david rothkopf and i'm a visiting scholar here at the carnegie endowment. and for me, it's a pleasure because i'm here with friends but also because it symbolizes finally finishing this book. [laughter] i was not really sure it was done until we came to the day where we were getting it, you know out, selling it so that's a step forward. but it is special a special pleasure because to kick it off we've got a discussion with three public servants who are among the most distinguished in their field, people who i have enormous respect for personally and after having studied them both in terms of what they've accomplished, but also in terms of the content of their character. they're great guys and i think they will offer to you wonderful
perspectives. on the far left is general brent scowcroft who has served as national security adviser twice, both in the ford administration and in the administration of george h.w. bush. beside him is disig never brew zinn sky who was national security adviser in the administration of jimmy carter and beside him is josh bolten who serve inside a number of capacities including most recently at the white house chief of staff for george w. bush. but all of them are more than that. all of them have been people who have thought the issues we're here to discuss today for -- throughout their lives. before they were in these jobs, after they were in these jobs. and they set themselves apart by people who think about the issues of the world and the issues of running the united
states government as a matter of professional objectives, of professional purpose. they have world views. and they are developed on a callly basis. daily basis. and so what we're going to do today is we're going to talk for probably 40 minutes or so in a kind of a question-and-answer format. i've been instructed to tell those of you who are live tweeting this event -- i'm tempted to say please don't, but, you know, it's unavoidable in these circumstances to use the hashtag nationalinsecurity. and that at the conclusion of the 40 minutes we'll have about 20 minutes for questions and answers, perhaps a little bit longer if there are more from you. and then we will head downstairs where there's actually a reception if anybody would like
a book signed. i think i can arrange that with the author. [laughter] and we will, you know, have a good time and celebrate a little bit. now, it feels awkward for me to take a few minutes and do the talking when i'm on a stage with people like this. but they have geffen their consent -- given their consent to allow me to speak for just a few minutes about the book. i am not going to go into great depth. i just want to say i wrote a book several books ago, four books ago called "running the world: the inside story of the national security council and the architects of american power," which was a history of the nsc from its inception in 1947 through to the first term of the bush administration. and it was done in the voices of the people who served in the jobs and it was finish -- i'm
grateful to report -- fairly successful book, and the publisher came back and said why don't we do a follow up? it doesn't have to be exactly a sequel, it's not directly following the structure of the book, but let's look at the period from the second term of the bush administration through to now because there are such strong contrasts between the way the bush administration has approached the world and the obama administration has approached the world and the evolution of the role of the white house and the role of the national security council has changed so much during that period and has been so central to so many issues that it would that it would be worthwhile to take a look at it in a book. and i embraced the idea for several reasons. one was i liked writing the last book because i i get to go out and talk to all of these people. in the course of this book i spoke to 150 people including folks like these including 40 from outside the united states,
about half and half from each administration. and that for me is the greatest joy of this. because i want to say something and it's really sort of the core of my framing remarks here which is contrary to the conventional wisdom of washington, okay? it's contrary to conventional wisdom that's offered up in the media, of the people i've spoken to and of the people i've met in washington since i came here 21 years ago, those who devote themselves to public service in the national security arena and the foreign policy arena, in the military arena are good people. regardless of whether they are republicans or democrats. the partisanship that has rendered washington dysfunctional and frozen on a variety of issues is a huge distraction when it comes to many of these issues.
and while i'm not saying that there are no people who serve in these areas who are partisan, i'm saying it's important to us as citizens and as observers to strip that away, to recognize that all of these people, talented people, people with lots of options in life come here to serve the government in the best way they know how. and they make mistakes, and they get trapped in group think, and they get pushed by the politics of it. but if we strip away the politics and we strip away these filters we look at we're going to have a better chance of understanding how to make this system work at the best possible way. the other point that i want to make is that this period that we are in is a period that is different from any other period in recent history. the subtitle of the book is "american leadership in an age
of fear." and what i mean by that is that i think that as history looks back, we are going to say that the decade or decade and a half following 9/11 -- and a number of other innocents that were dominant in -- innocents that were dominant in the period including the financial crisis other kinds of brushes with terror and other bad actors in the world -- that this period was a period in which we were back on our heels, that americans felt l vulnerable in a way that they had perhaps not felt vulnerable in many, many years, perhaps since the darkest years of the cold war, perhaps for some since world war ii. part of this was a visceral reaction. a visceral reaction to a 9/11. the fact that everybody in the united states saw these events take place live in front of their eyes. that had never happened before a period like this. in world war ii there was, you know, pearl harbor but people
saw it in grainy images in a movie theater a couple weeks later or they read about it in a paper, and the response to it was the way you respond to things that you read, intellectual, through the mind first. when you looked at 9/11 and you saw people falling from those towers and you saw the destruction, it was viscerales service through -- visceral, it was through the guts first. and america reacted for a decade through its gut. and the consequence of that was wild swings, at least in my estimation. beoverreacted in the first instance, and the signature event of that overreaction was a war in iraq. and then following 2008 and following the general sense among the american public that we had gone wrong to some degree, we elected somebody who said he was going to take the opposite path, and he did. instead of overreacting to a lot of events i think we
overreacting to the -- overreacted to the overreaction. we underreacted. and certain issues were allowed to grow and fester, and the signature event of that period may also in a tragic irony be a war in iraq. and so these things book end this period, and they also suggest -- as we swing from one extreme to the other and we see the system in some dysfunction -- that this might be a period that historians look back on as a golden age in american foreign policy. [laughter] you know? i think that your general reaction demonstrates that that's likely to be the fact. and this is, you know, this is not surprising, you know? every time somebody gets elected president of the united states we think this is going to be george washington or thomas jefferson or abraham lincoln. and most of the time it's rutherford b. hayes. [laughter]
you know, most of the time we get a president who is somewhere in the muddle, who is a mixed bag, good at some things bad at other things. but the beauty of the system, the reason the national security council system was developed in 1947 was that the people around franklin roosevelt said we can't go on with this guy managing the way that he managed during the second world war. he was playing one hand against the other, he wasn't communicating. if we were to face another war with soviets we couldn't do that. we need a system that gets the best opinions, gets the best intelligence processes it, filters it to the president in the form of choices and then is able to implement that. and uses the whole of the united states government in a constructive way. now, i think as we look back to the period of the past 10, 15 years, we find moments when it wasn't doing that, where small groups were making decisions via
group think, where they were taking intelligence and misinterpreting it, or they were overreacting, and they led us in the wrong direction where small groups perhaps today are isolating the president even from parts of his own cabinet, from the full resources of the united states government and causing problems in that respect. there were also however, moments in this period where the system worked pretty well. and i think for some reasons we have blinders on to it. i, for full disclosure purposes, served in the clinton administration, you know a democratic administration. that's where i come from in all of this. i try to be to objective. but in the past 15 years, the time that the united states national security establishment worked the best, were the last couple years of the bush administration, when george w. bush recognized that things weren't going well, and he said we've got to change the team, we've got to change the strategy, we've got to change
our focus. and what came out of all of that was not only the surge not only the light footprint technique that the obama administration embraced not only a new military team that came into the thing, but other things. pepfar in africa, doubling down on the millennium challenge, the india nuclear deal better relations with emerging markets a repair in relations with the allies. and then in the second big crisis of the bush administration, the financial crisis, there was a remarkable response which even at the time was controversial but if we look back and look at how the u.s. responded stressor us how the -- versus how the europeans responded, we acted quickly, we acted decisively, we nipped it in the bud and george bush and barack obama actually did part of a remarkable partnership in handing off in the midst of this
crisis and managing it in a way that wouldn't have been possible if the team in the bush administration and the team in the obama administration had not been willing to do that. so those are the kind of things we're looking at. obviously, there are other things that are in the area. you have the book by leon panetta, bob gates, hillary clinton's book, there's a lot of books about how this administration has worked, and we can talk about those things too. and i hope we have a good, open discussion. but i wanted to give you a bit of a sense of the overview of what "national insecurity" is about. the goal of the book is to look forward. the goal of the book is to say what can we take away from that. and i think among the things we can take away are that the system, when it works right produces not perfect results but the best possible results. that it takes imperfect people, and it makes them better. it elevates them through a sense of institutionalized collaboration that doesn't
happen unless you respect the system, respect the process and use the process. we also talk in the book -- and i should say, by the way, tara and where's adam? oh there's adam directly in front of me, adam cohen, who are my researchers did such a huge amount of to work in this book, that they can deserve a lot of credit. when i say "we," i mean all three of us. the mistakes are all mine but good stuff. they did an enormous amount. we also look at gaps going forward, you know? science and technology, capability in the u.s. government. we have gaps in the area of certain kinds of regionallal exper cease tease -- expertise and dealing with other issues. it's not simply a look, you know, through the pretty t call lens that, you know, other people have done. it's trying to be an objective look at what works and what doesn't and how we can learn from that so as we go forward, 2016 and beyond, we can do a
better job. the best way to illustrate why a book that speaks in the mouths of the people is the best way to approach this thing is to hear from some of the people that i spoke to. and that's the objective here. you know let me start with you, brent. you know, as you look back on the past 10 or 15 years, what sets this period apart in your mind in terms of the function of this apparatus in the national security? >> >> well, thank you. thank you for that introduction. especially saying i'm on the far left. [laughter] i like that. of course, from your perspective i'm on the far right, so -- [laughter] i think it's useful to go back when we're talking about different nscs to go back to the beginning in 1947 and what
was, what did they think they were fixing in 1947. it wasn't just that the president was going off in all directions. but there was no function of government that brought together national security. the basic elements of national security -- state department, defense department intelligence -- were in the government. but they were all separate and there was nobody who brought them all together. so the original law was decan signed to -- was designed to bring together these so that the president could look at national security, not at defense over here, state over here, intelligence here or with nobody to help him. and that's how it started out.
now, in the beginning it didn't work or very well because presidents either didn't like it or in the case of eisenhower he turned it partly into a military staff system. but that's what really, to me, that's what basically the nsc is supposed to do. it serves the president by bringing together all of the different perspectives that together make up national security so that he doesn't have to do it himself without his help. on top of that though, we have to remember that each president we have is different, a different kind of personality. they like to get their information in different ways.
just, for example the first i served richard nixon, didn't like meetings. he would rather have all of the papers and all the views, then he'd go back to his room or his private office and study them and make a decision. his successor was just the opposite. he was not an expert in foreign policy but he liked to hear the issues examined and explicated by his staff talking to each other. so he loved meetings. it was the way he ingested information. and you can go on and on. each president does it a different way. and he'll do it the way he wants to do it even though that's not
the most effective way. and what the system has to do is to be able to adjust sufficiently so that he gets what he needs which is a coordinated, consolidated input to look at. and it's different for every president, and what were some of the issues no and the change in the -- now and the change in the nature of the international system that's been tougher. >> zbig let me ask you a similar question using brent's comments as sort of preparatory and to hay the groundwork at how we look at the nsc. as you look back at the last 10 or 15 years, do you see, you know, a system that's growing to meet these threats or do you see one that's kind of spasming
back and forth and searching for a right way to function but perhaps not finding it that often? >> i think a great deal depends, first of all, in addition to obviously the capacity of the president, his leadership qualities and so forth, a great deal depends on the historical context. there's a great deal of difference when it comes to policy making when your principal rivals are let's say limited to only one power by polarity or if there are no principal rivals because you're dominant. and the united states has gone through these phases at different stages. so that makes a lot of difference. beyond that, it makes a great deal of difference whether the issues that you confront in the context of these two terribly
important words, national security are issues that involve complexity difficulty of defining it, difficulty of deciding what the real choices are or whether you are so invulnerable that you can decide can on your own what needs to be done and you can impose your will on the outside world. i think the fact of the matter is that the united states has gone through these phases. and while there were different styles of presidential leadership, by and large the historical context defined pretty much the pattern of behavior. and in recent years we have transited very dramatically from bipolarity to a american hegemonny which lasted roughly 15 years at moat to the decline of that hegemonny to the rise of complexity and complexity of a new type in which we confront
not only the residues of historical past but the rise of new phenomenon on the world scene, something i attach a lot of importance to in my own analysis of what is happening is what i call the phenomenon of global political awakening. we had few tastes since world war ii of which we only one won, and four of which we at best achieved a stalemate and perhaps less than that. in the past it was very easy to fight against weaker opponents because they were politically underdeveloped. that's how colonialism became imperialism and so successful. today when we fight abroad, we increasingly confront populations that are politically awakened and in different degree of intensity are prepared to dee fend themselves and to oppose us. and that makes the cost for us so difficult. who would have thoughting in
1945 -- who would have thought in 1945 or in 1990, for example, that dealing with a backward country in which rebellion and violation predominates it would take a decade for the united states to achieve its minimal objectives and perhaps not even achieve them? so that, i think affects the style of leadership. beyond that, i think complexity forces us to deal simultaneously with many more issues, and that has a bureaucratic effect. kennedy, kennedy's national security adviser had a staff probably just a little larger than the number of deputies to the national security adviser in the present administration. [laughter] brent and i, kissinger, i don't know about your staff but we
had staffs in terms of roughly 40 or 50 take a few senior officers who were responsible for different issues in parts of the world. today the staff, the nsc staff writ large is well over 300 people. that creates a bureaucracy which the national security adviser finds difficult to run directly. i used to make sure that my 40 people would be in touch with me every day either personally or in writing so when i would go home while in the limo, i would read the daily report which i required every one of them would write indicating what they did, who they audiocassetted to -- who they talked to raising issues with me that they think are of importance and perhaps of presidential suggest enough cannes, and i would write marginal notes on it so that next morning they would have that and then i would deposit the whole book in the secretary's office without my notes so that competing officers
who sometimes compete over territory and access would know what the others were saying, but they would be informed. this is impossible today. absolutely impossible. responses tend to be much more ad hoc, much more sudden, and we're confronted much more with problems that we understand less than we did at comparable stages measured by decades backwards. look at the rise of islamic fanaticism. to what extent do we contribute to its rise? where does it portend? is it likely to expand? are we going to be bogged down more and more? those are some of the problems that we face. one final point. a great deal depends on presidential character. you mentioned president nixon studying his brief. i had some occasional briefings that i had to give to president reagan because one of the chiefs of staff thought that i was a competent briefer and simplistic, and it would be easier to deal with reagan. i had the sense that he didn't
read very much at all, but he had good instinct. i think that makes a lot of difference. president obama, i have the sense, is extremely well informed. but i also have the feeling that when he meets with his top level advisers he tends to lay out his vision in some detail and at some length. and that already automatically predetermines the flow of the subsequent discussion with his subordinates. so all of these factors i think, contribute to a process which today is probably sluggish in responses unless the response is required by the necessities of survival which tends to be dispossessorred, which tends to be uncertain and which avoids clear cut decisions promptly taken which, in fact is what is
very often very much needed. >> great, thank you. i do want to give you a sense of where we're going to go here, i'm going to ask josh now a question or two, and i'll go back to each of these guys for one follow-up question so it'll take us about ten minutes. and then i'll go to you. think of brief questions so we can get enough of them in. josh, as you listen to zbig talk about the character of presidents, one of the issues is their evolution. and i think one of the things that struck me when i was doing this book is that the first term of the bush administration was marked by a shock to the system, a reaction to the shock some incompatibility among members of the team, you know, some episodes of group think around some ideas. but, you know i spoke to condi she talked a little bit about
that the first two or three years they were just reacting. that, you know that there was no real time to sort of develop a strategy of this kind of thing. and certainly there were tensions within, within it. so by the time you took over as chief of staff, there was a sense that things were many trouble. were in trouble. and then in the first couple of years of the second term i sense there was an internal debate even within the president in which he finally came around and said i needed to make some changes. and i just want -- this issue of character so important i just concern can you talk a little bit about how that evolution took place in your mind? >> i can, but first i want to say congratulations on a, on a really, another thoughtful and very readable book, at least the first third is. >> you sound surprised. [laughter] >> available on am.
[laughter] for the bargain price of -- >> oh uh -- >> adam? >> doctor -- 30. >> better on amazon. [laughter] >> it's a very good study and it gets precisely to a lot of the points that both brent and zbig brought out so effectively. and the one you just raised about the president's character which both of you referred to as critical, and the president's personal style. i think evolution is the right word when applied to president george w. bush's style. he came in with a lot of advantages, a governor so not familiar really with the national security issues and apparatus the way many candidates or new presidents come to the office. but he also came into office having been a student of his
dad's administration which had some of the most able and most effective national security decision making apparatus in our modern history. of so he had an opportunity to work that. -- to watch that. so he did not come into office as a naive. but his administration was struck with really the greatest national security shock in our lifetimes, certainly in the postwar era. and as condi said had to respond on the fly. we were not prepared to deal with an attack on the homeland. we were in an era that as zbig just described as sort of as it was the end of history in the period president bush came in. and he came into office intending to be the education president, not intending to be
national security president. he, you know, he was figuring and hoping that that whole area would be relatively calm as it had been in the administration that you served in. and 9/11 changed all that. the world had been changing for some time x the problems had been -- and the problems had been festering. but they exploded with 9/11 and it was a cascading series of explosions that occurred over the course of the bush administration. so when you say evolution that's the right word because the first couple of years were characterized by having to make a very rapid response without an apparatus in place that was well equipped to to deal with those issues, to try to build the apparatus on the fly rebuild our military strength and refocus it on the challenges of
the day which even the smartest people had not fully anticipated. and then learn how to deal with that as time goes on. now, one of the interesting things in your book -- at least the first half of it -- is that you focus on the processes and the structures to manage what zbig correctly described as an increasingly and sometimes mind-numbingly complex set of interwoven problems. ask all of that is all of that is true, but at the core of it to address these kinds of situations you need a leader that is able to rise above the blur of informationing ask problems -- information and problems that are showing up on his desk, who has clear
principles upon which he's making decisions is able to communicate those to the people to whom he has delegated responsibility. and then when he sees things going wrong, to change direction. and that's that's the period in which i served. i became chief of staff in -- well, i served throughout the bush administration, but the first two years as deputy chief of staff for policy, the next three as budget director the most despised figure in -- [laughter] in all of washington except when it comes time to dole out the money to the cabinet. and then only the last three as the chief of staff. so i came in at the beginning as chief of staff in the beginning of 2006, and i saw a president who was struggling with a very difficult situation in iraq and one that he was able to eventually to elevate himself out of the blur of the noise and the happy talk and say, no, this
is not going well i need to redirect as much as i love the people in uniform who have been beating their heads against this brick wall now for several years with flagging success, we need to change direction even if there are many if not most of the people in the military and the administration who disagree. so that's the president i saw operate. and i think going back to the issue of structure i think the structure that we had in place and remains in place is well suited for that. that it is a -- we have a white house-centric national security structure which, brent, i think even you will agree is right, that the president needs all of those inputs. he needs, he needs -- and he needs all of his actors coordinated and needs a focal point for his own top-level decision making. and so i think the national
security council structure was well equipped to make the pivots that the president wanted to make when it was time to change course in iraq even when the defense department might not want to, the state department might not want to, and the intelligence community says not a good idea. >> well, let me ask all three of you then the same question before we open it up to questions. and if we can keep the answers fairly brief here we'll have more time for the questions, but it's a tough question. and that is let's just look at the current period. let's look at the last year or two. in the course of that period there have been a number of things that have taken place that have been very challenging for everybody in the national security apparatus whether it was uprusing in egypt -- uprising in egypt and deciding what side to be on in that, whether it was the problems in syria where we, the president last august looked like-going to make a move, he then decided he wasn't going to make a move
later on, of course, this year he realized he had to, the nsa scandal that took place in all of this and how we dealt with our allies during that scandal, the move of putin into crimea and into ukraine and whether we responded to that quickly enough. and i think there's been a lot of criticism and that you hear it in the current campaign, i think you hear it, by the way, from both parties. the criticisms are that it's too white house-centric, it's a white house-centric process but it's not using the rest of the cabinet well, that it's reactive, that it's risk averse and so forth. we've all heard it. one of the things that is demonstrated in the history of the bush period was that changes are possible. this happens all the time in the system. as you said, the system is designed to be able to change. if you were going to be prescribing for president obama for the next couple of years, what kind of changes that need
to be made in order to handle better the challenges we face, what would you prescribe? i'll start with brent, then zbig, then josh. >> well, i think the one thing that is fundamentally different is the world is changing. and that calls for a different response. i first served when the cold war was ending. the cold war was a great discipline for us because the strategy was given. it was containment. now, how the tactics we argued about, but it was containment. now cold war's over and what is the strategy? it's not clear. and another thing has happened and that is the world is changing. and we call it globalization. but look at the information part of it.
parts of the world's population that never in history were involved in any kind of government or votes or anything are now engaged. everybody knows basically what's happening. and they react to it. take egypt, for example. you know, it's very -- it used to be very hard to get people the turn out -- or to turn out in tahrir square. it was dangerous business. now all you need is a cell phone. there will be a demonstration at 10:00 thunderstorm morning -- tomorrow morning, and you get a million people. it's a different sort of a world. and i think what happened on 9/11 is that there was a quick interpretation that this new world was bringing an attack on the united states and that what we had in 9/11 was only the
first attack. and there were going to be floods of attacks, and we had to do a lot of things to prepare for them. now, it didn't happen. now, did it not happen because we were prepared for it and dealt with it, or was that not the nature of the attack anyway? those are the kinds of things which affect the way the system reacts and also whether or not it's the right way or not. i guess what i would say is the first thing you need to do fundamentally is reduce somewhat the size because a when you've got 350 people you've got a management issue. the nsc should not be managing. it's a thought processing system. and you can't have 350 people sitting down making the powell.
so -- the policy. so the first thing you have to do is triage. what do you need to have in this small group and what can you push back to the system to solve? that is what the national security needs, national security adviser needs to do. what has to go through the nsc and how and what does not have to. be nice if everything did, of course. but the president's only one man. and that's what i would do. >> okay. zbig, same question. of. >> well, i agree with much of what brent said. seems to me we're now in a historical phase in which we're inevitably in a reactive mode because the world has become very dispersed very dynamic, and threats emanate from many sources. so in a sense we are always forced to play catch-up in a way
with events. that's one point. but the second point i'd like to make contrary to that one is that nonetheless, we need something that we very much lack in our decision making process, and that is some organized effort at strategic planning. this thing which strikes me always the most is that we have in the defense department as a resultalties which -- instrumentalities which engage in planning but, of course they're focused on warfare. what kind of war, how when and under what circumstances. we have in the state department policy planning which, of course emphasizes diplomacy as the technique, peacemaking as the eventual outcome. we have some degree of planning in the cia in the sense that it tries to anticipate the shape of the world some years ahead and feeds that into the policy making process. but curiously enough, we don't
have in the white house the center of the government where the decisions finally have to be made, any organized really central planning, strategic planning organ. and i have for a number of years been trying to advocate the creation of something like that. at one stake when i was in -- stage when i was in that position, i did have samuel huntington spend two years and sort of engage in strategic planning trying to anticipate how the world might change and how we may then have to react or respond or whatever. i think something like that is needed, and that might force at least some of the discourse on the white house level into a discourse that is more strategic in its own essence in part because it feeds strategic planning into even a response to a challenge. but beyond that perhaps it leads to anticipation of certain events and, therefore to action
by us that is preemptive. right now we're mostly playing catch up in different parts of the world, and others are setting the pace for us in part because others have narrower foresight. they're not world powers, they're semi-world powers, regional powers. and i think some comprehensive instrument close to the president subordinated to the national security adviser and, of course, cooperative with the other planning agencies of the government would make sense. and my final point, i would try to draw into that on an informal basis through simply kind of social connection evening discussions perhaps led by the president with congressional leaders. because it seems to me strategic planning and policy making cannot be divorced from congress given the nature of our political system. and i think that would enhance the probability that foreign policy can be bipartisan.
because if we don't have bipartisanship in foreign policy, foreign policy is vulnerable if one party is not totally preeminent. and our system will often than not produce something near balance with a few traitors here or there being able to alter the political balance in any case and paralyze the system. >> i just, you know in my moderator's, objective moderator's role i do want to point out one thing here. one of the central points that zbig was making there was that the government is better off when it has somebody in the middle of it somebody like samuel huntington who is the founding editor of foreign policy magazine. [laughter] >> a success already. >> yes, exactly. when you listen to the editor of foreign policy magazine things go better. [laughter] i'm sure you wouldn't dispute that. >> oh, no. >> no, okay. >> i would take the opportunity to hold up the book again. [laughter]
these are excellent points here. i like brent's notion of making the national security staff smaller. but perhaps even more important than that to achieve zbig's objective of strategic planning even if there's no such entity right now that does that is you need a national security adviser who sets that as a priority not the management of the thousand problems that are going on every day. and in a way brent's idea of making the nsc smaller would help which is shed the stuff that isn't absolutely critical to the presidency and to the country. and, you know just trust the defense department and the state department. they'll mess up, but they probably won't do a whole lot better with the white house's
10% intervention and let them handle those things. deal with the important stuff at the white house. these two guys did that. the national security advisers with whom i worked did that very effectively, two brilliant advisers in condy rice and steve hadley. now for the obama administration, i mean i tremble to give add views because having within -- advice because having been there i know how difficult the situation is, and people on the outside are always giving advice that's usually at best useless. [laughter] but i'll hazard a couple of things. one is that -- and this comes out well in your book, david -- is that i think this administration has defined itself far too much on being not the previous administration. now, i happen to think being the
previous administration is not a bad thing to be. but regardless of how you feel about that each presidency each administration needs its own focus, its own strategic priorities, and it can't be with a strategic priority to be not like the other guy. and i think that's led us into a lot of difficulties and problems. the other is turn down the politics a bit. every administration is very political including the one in which i served. it's actually one of the charms of our system. it works pretty well. but it's not supposed to bleed into the national security realm, and it typically does not. and i don't think it's bled badly into the obama administration's national security realm. but i'll give you one one example of a contrast where i think obama administration
suffers by comparison, and that is that president bush would never allow the folks who were his political advisers even to come to national security council meetings, much less speak up at them. he would have a conversation with his political people that's always important, but he would decide first what was in the national security interest of the united states and then talk to the political people and say can we get support for this? how do we do this? decide first what's right and what's in the national security interests. people on both sides of the aisle. this national security community of which i'm only an adjunct member is actually very nonpartisan, folks. folks are really trying hard to support each other. and i think the white house sends the wrong signal when it gives the impression -- sometimes even the misimpression -- that important national security decisions are being made with a heavy
political calculus. >> okay. a good place to open this up to conversation. there are people with microphones someplace in the room, so if you could just bring one over to this gentleman here whose hand is up. i would ask you to identify yourself and ask a question. and if you, if you give a speech, then i'll move to the next person. yes. >> my name is steven shore. i think everyone agrees that strategy is cool but isn't strategy ultimately at odds with shifting winds of public opinion? >> i go first on that? >> please. >> because it's a follow on from my previous answer. no. [laughter] >> folks, that's the prototype. will have will have -- [laughter] quick question, quick answer. back to this gentleman here, and
then we'll come up to you. >> ike nelson with georgetown university. i had a chance to work in the clubton administration on -- clinton administration on technology issues, so i spent a lot of time with both the nec and the nsc. i was very glad in your book to see you mention the need to work on influencing national security. i'd like to ask if anybody on the panel has specific suggestions on how technology economic and security issues can be brought together more because we don't see that very well, and is any other country doing that better than we do? >> well let me say one thing and then turn it to you folks. you know, i talked to a lot of people on the science and tech side, and they can be very loyal people in the administration, but they are very frustrated by the fact that they were not consulted -- i spoke to one person at an undersecretary level, critical job, who saw the cyber strategy the day it was released from the white house. so better coordination is one
thing. but i think that at a more important level we have a government of lawyers, okay? we have a goth of people who -- a lovett government of people who don't necessarily get trained and understand these issues. chinese government has a government full of engineers other governments have governments full of engineers. i'm not saying that we need to switch over and we need to have the white house full of geeks. but what i do think we need is that people who recognize the centrality to almost everything that we're going to do, of changing information paradigms, of changing, you know impacts of biotech and biosciences to the way societies work and how long people live and what costs what and frankly i think we need more capability at the center on these things. there is an office of science and technology policy. it is often a speech writing shop. and it can't be a speech writing
shop. you need a president's science adviser who is an active adviser in this process. but perhaps, brent, do you have a -- >> well, i think these are some of the questions that need to be dealt with. we frankly don't know how to do it, because they've difficult problems. you know i actually set up in my last stint a small group called long range planning. it didn't work. it really didn't work and i didn't have time to figure out how to make it more useful. but that's one of the problems, how do you deal with these things? take the cyber issue which affects a whole country. how do you deal with it? you know, there are various ways to do it. every way has advantage every way has disadvantages. and figuring it out, you're either lucky or unlucky.
and nobody's figured out the magic way to run a country. a democracy. and that's part of what we're dealing with. we try this it doesn't work too well, we try this, it's too much of this. that's what we have to do, and is we've been doing it ever since 1947 in the nsc system. >> so we need to continue to evolve here. let's get a question right here. okay. first -- >> hell elope. my maim is samira daniels. i am, was really intrigued with your raising the, raising samuel huntington's name because it's -- i've been reviewing samuel huntington's work just more recently and i think that what you raise is, points to what i see. i attend a lot of forums, and what i see lacking is this kind
of conceptual and critical kind of discussions that would go on in the '60s '70s and '80s. and perhaps it can be characterized -- >> the question? >> yeah. intellectual renaissance. and i'm wondering why you don't, why there isn't a samuel huntington? i mean, you're the closest thing to it, you know? what has changed? why don't we have -- >> she was pointing at zbig not you. >> yeah. that's why i'm moving away. [laughter] >> so that's my question. i mean, what do we need to do to do that? >> in a way strategizing or policy making is a kind of intermediate point between real expertise particularly of the kind of novel problems that are arising to which brent referred to, cyber and science and so forth, and public ignorance. it's the intermediate point.
because our public is uniquely uninformed about the world. it has no understanding of world history and how history changes people as people discover their own history and redefine it it has no understanding of events that transpired in the world that affected peoples that harbor prejudices and resentments and then translate them into political reality. have no understanding of geography. that's a stunning fact. we don't teach geography practically in our schools. and the other extreme of our society are experts, people who are innovative, creative, thoughtful and deep but who communicate in a fashion that is self-contained. and what is in between is the political process that tries to find some sort of middle road and translate surgeon necessities into something -- certain necessities into something that would be both appealing and compelling to the
masses, thereby sometimes dramatizing and oversimplifying the phenomena. and that is the role in a sense of the president and the staff around him. but to perform that role, you have to be sensitive simultaneously to the new frontier of knowledge and of the complexities and of one's own limits of understanding them. and on the other hand, the latent prejudices and the residual prejudices of society that feels for the first time in its history to be frightened by the possibility of outside attack in a vawr -- variety of ways in our own society that is increasingly susceptible to panics. just think of ebola and just think if it became attractive to someone abroad to deliver this predator in our society. it's not, it's not impossible to do that. so we have a situation in which in a sense policy decisions and strategizing is part of a complex process of compromises
and adjustments in which there is no good, clear cut solution. and the problem is how do we then in that context decide how power is allocated within that narrow middle group? for example, is every president truly interested in foreign affairs? does every president come to power really knowing the world? be on the other hand is there a risk that if one -- is there a risk that the president will become so absorbed in foreign affairs that he badly neglects domestic issues? how does he strike the compromise within himself? what i'm trying to say is that it's very easy for me to be sitting here and talking about strategizing without taking into account how complex and difficult a process that is and how difficult it is to translate that idea into something ongoing that then results in the state department and defense department but also the domestic agencies working in some
concerted fashion. not to mention congress which, essentially, thrives on negativism and intervention. not to mention the fact that it's also increasingly susceptible to corrupt practices acts; namely, fundraising. this is a pet -- [inaudible] of mine, but i was looking at the last elections and i made the mistake of making a donation early this july to somebody and ever since then my e-mail has been swamped by hundreds and hundreds -- [laughter] of increasingly threatening demands that i do more. [laughter] or pitiful appeals. [laughter] by name. by the highest dignitaries of our country. so we're dealing here with a very difficult and complex process. it's very easy to verbalize it in terms of a solution. but, in fact, it's an endless quest which will never produce something that's ideal. ..
you look at speech think tanks and the lot of things that are produced incremental because people are afraid of straying outside the line and having that come of silicon formation hearing but there is also kind of peewee football quality to the debate in washington. one of the things the staff did was they looked at the top ten
think tanks in washington which have responsibility for doing this for ten years. what we see is a few areas of the world and you know what they are getting the vast majority of this discussion. a number of other areas of the world very important, not getting any of the discussion, and the area that has the fewest number by far buy orders of magnitude, with discussions and around it, for science and technology. and i have been affiliated with carnegie-mellon for the better part of 17 or 18 years. wonderful place and a lot of good work going on in carnegie and bookings next door and so forth. we are not covering the waterfront intellectual the. we are not being bold enough
intellectually and creativity is being dampened within the system because of the pernicious nature, the political debate within washington and that is also dangerous and contributes to this as well. are you going to leave right now? please join me in thanking david rothkopf. [applause] >> one last question from the back and we will wrap it up. go ahead, quick question quick answer. >> this is a question based raw -- >> could you hold the microphone closer? just hold it right up to your mouth. >> this is based on something --
should discussion that is very prevalent in this town which is decline in american power, we moved into an era of uncertainty. conflicts between superpower nations are more complex and the role of non state actors is increasingly complex so the big question floating around town that i would like to pose to the panel is where does united states leadership go in this new period of history. >> the question is where is u.s. leadership going? is u.s. leadership irreversibly shrinking? how do we lead going forward in this multipolar environment?
>> there is no right answer. we talk about strategizing that strategy is a means to reach the end, we don't know what the end is. is the united states neglecting its world responsibilities, what are they and why they and what is the cost, we are living in a world that is transforming, a fairly unique world relatively speaking, of the cold war, subject to new technologies which are changing everything. the internet for example was started as a way for scientists to communicate with each other. absolutely open, wanted it to be open. one of the dangers is it is
open, people i using it for nefarious ends. this is not -- we are not discussing a problem that can be solved. you are not reacting to one set of golf with the planning process with the world changes. we need to keep trying but we need first of all to avoid disaster. and that is becoming an increasingly difficult problem because the world is increasingly a world we have not seen before and we have to initiate our responses. that takes a condition which doesn't exist in this country
which is a unified system the problems are big enough to look at them together, the legislative branch, don't look anything together right now. that is the nature of the problem. >> i endorse especially the first part of what branch said it which is where presidential leadership is coming in. the world's is in deep increasingly complicated and difficult to manage substantially more so today than it was five years ago when i left my service at the white house. i have a great deal of sympathy and empathy from people trying to manage it now but that doesn't mean we need less presidential or american leadership and if i can expand on the answer to this gentleman's question which i hope you did not find this
courteous. presidential leadership in these circumstances is crucial. you need to cultivate the people in congress you need to cultivate them so they're supporting when you lead them not so that you can diffuse the responsibility for making decisions in the national security area. president obama failed that test on the way he has handled and specifically handle this serious situation and i think that is something the president urgently needs to reverse in the last two years of his term which is exercise strong presidential american leadership both domestically and in the world. he may be less popular if you do it but ultimately will be much more successful. >> the final point on this is weekend talk about national security processes, talk about
policies, talk about the politics of it all but at the end of the day it comes down to the people, who is in the job and the most important job and the most important person our system is the president. the structure of how it works is largely up to the prerogative of the president. how is it is used, who is empowered, who is in or out of the world, who is involved in the message what the process is going to be, whether the process is respected. that is all icons a quince of the president. five of six presidents of come to office with no foreign policy experience. we don't value management experience in washington. the common misconception in washington is if you can articulate an idea you can get something done. that is just not true. the united states government is
the largest, most complex organization on the planet earth. if you don't have people capable of managing, who understand the core idea is and powering the people who work for you as opposed to gaining power from the more telling them what to do or using them to advance your goal you are going to waste that system so you need a president who knows where to go. you need a president who knows how to manage, you need a president who knows how to work with his people and other beaters and the president who is going to be open to other ideas and to the idea of evolution and that he may actually be wrong from time to time or in a more enlightened future is that she may actually be wrong at some point. we have had a great discussion here but this discussion can continue downstairs. they laid out a