Last Thursday, the same day that the 9/11 Commission published its long-awaited report on events leading up to and following the 2001 terror attacks, John Kerry promised to fix American intelligence as part of his strategy to make America safer at home and more respected in the world. Former State Department spokesman James P. Rubin, now a senior foreign policy adviser to the Kerry-Edwards campaign, sat down in Detroit with Richard Wolffe to explain what would be different about U.S. foreign policy in a Kerry administration. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Expectations are high that American foreign policy would change under a President Kerry, but it sounds like the goals-fighting terror, making America safer-are not that different. Is it a question of style or a question of execution?
James P. Rubin: The difference, and this is the big and crucial difference, is that I think John Kerry, by virtue of his experience and his character and his wisdom, will be just as tough as George Bush in defeating Al Qaeda and Islamic extremist terrorists. But he will be a lot smarter in how he solicits the support of other countries to achieve that objective and goes directly at the problem. So, if elected, John Kerry will be sitting down with the leaders of our major friends and allies in the world and demanding action. But he will do that in a way that expresses understanding for other people's points of view, that involves listening and leading rather than alienating, and that involves old-fashioned persuasion and an appreciation for other cultures and other values. And the bullying of the Bush administration will come to an end.
In the Clinton years there was a lot of pressure on Pakistan in particular to get to Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. What makes you think that persuasion and understanding cultures will work now in a way that it didn't before?
Well 9/11 did change things significantly. Countries like Pakistan that were reluctant to break relations with the Taliban and by extension crack down on Al Qaeda realized after the attacks of 9/11 that they were going to risk their future in the civilized world if they didn't change course. So the world was united for the first time in history arguably; major powers-India, Pakistan, Europe, Asia, Russia, China, Japan-were united to defeat the Taliban and overthrow that government and put in place a government that wouldn't support Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It was a great moment in the months and weeks after 9/11, and that has been lost. And John Kerry will try to recapture that solidarity and support that was lost.
One of the things the 9/11 commission has thrown up is the question of Iran. US-Iranian policy has been in the deep freeze for 25 years. How is that going to change with John Kerry?
I know John Kerry regards an Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism armed with nuclear weapons as unacceptable. When it comes to that primary issue he has a multiple part strategy that is much more realistic than the Bush administration's. One is to rejoin and work through the international legal framework on arms control that will give greater force to the major powers if they have to deal with violators of that framework. Secondly, he has laid out, I think in the most comprehensive way in modern memory a candidate has ever done, a program to secure nuclear materials around the world--particularly in the former Soviet Union, but also in the places where research reactors have existed that could be susceptible to proliferation--to try to prevent Iran from ever getting this material surreptitiously. Thirdly, he has proposed that rather than letting the British, the French and the Germans do this themselves, that we together call the bluff of the Iranian government, which claims that its only need is energy. And say to them: 'Fine, we will provide you the fuel that you need if Russia fails to provide it.' Participating in that diplomatic initiative makes it more likely to succeed than where you have this sort of U.S. half backing for the European initiative. On Iraq, a lot of European diplomats say they want a foreign policy that is different, but Iraq is so toxic politically they aren't prepared to send more troops. John Kerry has talked about changing the dynamic, but what if the dynamic doesn't really want to change?
I don't dispute those kind of comments. I've heard them as well. But the issue is that we will have a far better chance of getting the support of the rest of the world for success in Iraq-to prevent a failed state, a state where terrorism can roam free again in Iraq the way it roamed free in Afghanistan - if we have a president who is in a better position to persuade other countries of their own interest in this, a president who proposes specific policy tools to entice and enlist and encourage other countries to participate. So, for example, giving them a greater stake in reconstruction, being their partner in regional diplomatic initiatives to get countries around Iraq to prevent cross-border incursions and support for the insurgency, by making other major powers a partner in those efforts, by having an international high commissioner who can work with the Iraqi interim government and have a role in coordinating reconstruction assistance. All of those things give European and other powers a stake in success. That's how you involve other countries--by giving them a role in decision making, not just coming to them saying: 'We've already decided this, this is the way it's going to be, will you help?' So those are devices to entice and encourage and enlist support.
But the biggest difference will be that right now, it's sad but true, cooperating with the United States imposes political costs on governments in the west and around the world. It wasn't so long ago when a government in a moderate Muslim country or in a western power considered it a political plus at home to be seen as cooperating with the United States. Now there's a political cost. That cost will change because Kerry will be sending a message of unity and determination against these dangers in Iraq and elsewhere that will change the political calculus of those leaders, and without the toxicity of the debate on Iraq during the Bush administration it will be easier. Is it a sure thing? Nothing is a sure thing, but we'll have a far better chance.
Outside of terror and war, are you going to see a return to some of the principles and concerns we saw about trade, globalization, the soft parts of foreign policy?
Globalization is a phenomenon not a policy and one of the failings of the Bush administration is to not understand the extent to which sub-national actors and non-governmental phenomenon pose both risks and opportunities for the United States and the world. So for too long prior to 9/11, terrorism, international crime, drugs, disease, environment were seen as soft issues rather than the realities the world faces. I think in a Kerry administration you will see a president who is sophisticated enough and smart enough to deal not just with classic nation state interaction in foreign affairs, but the amalgam of activities that have come to be known as globalization, whether it's communication or travel or the computer revolution. Yes, you will hear more about the realities rather than the old thinking that all things foreign policy are about governments and great powers.