THE LAST WORD

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry claims he'll fix American intelligence and make America safer at home and more respected abroad. James P. Rubin, senior foreign-policy adviser to the campaign, sat down in Detroit with NEWSWEEK's Richard Wolffe to explain what would be different under 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 and making America safer--are not that different. Is it a question of style or execution?

RUBIN: The difference, and this is the big and crucial difference, is that 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. If elected, John Kerry will be sitting down with the leaders of our major friends and allies 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 values. The bullying of the Bush administration will come to an end.

What makes you think that persuasion and understanding cultures will work now in a way that it didn't before?

Well, 9/11 changed things. Countries like Pakistan that were reluctant to break relations with the Taliban and by extension crack down on Al Qaeda realized after the attacks that they were going to risk their future in the civilized world. So the world's major powers--India, Pakistan, Europe, Asia, Russia, China, Japan--were united, arguably for the first time, to defeat the Taliban and put in place a government that wouldn't support Al Qaeda. It was a great moment, and it has been lost. John Kerry will try to recapture that solidarity.

One of the findings of the 9/11 Commission concerns Iran and its alleged support for Al Qaeda. U.S.-Iranian policy has been in the deep freeze for 25 years. How is that going to change with Kerry?

John Kerry regards an Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism armed with nuclear weapons as unacceptable. 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. Secondly, he has laid out, I think in the most comprehensive way in modern memory, 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. The point is 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 we say to them: "Fine, we will provide you the fuel that you need if Russia fails to provide it." Participating in such a diplomatic initiative makes it more likely to succeed.

A lot of European diplomats say Iraq is so toxic politically that they aren't prepared to send more troops. Kerry has talked about changing the dynamic, but what if the dynamic doesn't really want to change?

We will have a far better chance of getting that support in Iraq--to prevent a failed state, a state where terrorism can roam free the way it did in Afghanistan--if we have a president who proposes specific policies to enlist and encourage other countries to participate. 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, making other major powers a partner in those efforts, 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. You can't just go to them saying: "We've already decided this; this is the way it's going to be."

Sad but true, it wasn't so long ago when governments of moderate Muslim countries or Europe considered it a political plus to be seen cooperating with the United States. Now there's a political cost. But without the toxicity of the debate on Iraq during the Bush administration, and with Kerry sending a message of unity, 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 the softer principles and concerns of foreign policy--trade, globalization?

Globalization is a phenomenon, not a policy. One of the failings of the Bush administration is to not understand the extent to which subnational, nongovernmental actors pose both risk and opportunities for the United States and the world. So for too long prior to 9/11, terrorism, international crime, drugs, disease and the environment were seen as soft issues rather than realities. In Kerry you will see a president sophisticated and smart enough to deal not just with classic nation-state interactions, but the amalgam of activities that have come to be known as globalization, whether it's communication or travel or the computer revolution.

Join the Discussion