Trump Backtracks on Cyber Unit With Russia: His Proposal Was Flawed, But His Thinking Is on Target

US President Donald Trump (above). Trump has engaged in negotiations for decades. In his face to face bilateral meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, Trump was allowed the chance to adjust to circumstances, become more fluid in his thinking, more creative in his approach. His proposal for a joint cyber security unit, while scoffed at, and albeit, not viable under US law, appeared to be a product of his willingness to consider the full range of options. Moreover, as a confidence building measure, it may have had a positive impact on Putin.

According to a July 10, 2017 New York Times article entitled, “Trump Backtracks on Cyber Unit With Russia After Harsh Criticism”, US President Donald Trump, on July 10, 2017, backtracked on his push for a cyber security unit with Russia, tweeting that he did not think it could happen, hours after his proposal was harshly criticized by Republicans who said Moscow could not be trusted. The New York Times article explained the idea was a political non-starter. It was immediately scorned by several of Trump’s fellow Republicans, who questioned why the US would work with Russia after Moscow’s reported meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election. The episode over the proposal unfolded on July 9, 2017 after his bilateral meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany during the G-20 Economic Summit. Trump emphasised that he raised allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election with Putin. Reuters reported on July 9, 2017 that Trump stated: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion…..” As an immediate response to Putin’s denials on the matter, Trump then proposed forming a cyber security unit. According to Reuters on July 9, 2017, Trump wrote in the actual tweet about the cyber security unit: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”

When Trump broached the the issue of the Russia’s hacking of the 2016 Presidential Election and his discussion with Putin apparently became a bit scratchy. Putin’s denial of the facts presented most likely signalled to Trump that he would be engaged in a argument without end on the hacking. Trump had to either move away from the issue or move laterally on it in some way.  Surely, Trump did not want to abandon the matter. The proposal for a joint cyber security unit apparently stemmed from an intense discussion between Trump and Putin on how to remit Russian cyber warfare programs directed at the US and perhaps similar US programs aimed at Russia. It may have been the product of brainstorming by the two leaders. Trump’s proposal was never supposed to serve as a form retribution against Russia for its intrusions into the US democratic process. Surely, it was not created to be a final solution to the threat of hacking US election. Immediately after the bilateral meeting in Germany, it was revealed that forming such a joint cyber security unit with Russia was prohibited under US law. Yet, although creating an actual cyber security unit was out of bounds, the concept of bringing US and Russian cyber experts together in some way to talk about some cyber matters was not. Trump’s likely aim with the proposal was to create a situation in which US and Russian officials were talking about hacking. Ostensibly, those conversations would create goodwill, perhaps stimulate a more open discussion about the issue, and promote more fulsome, honest talks about the issue among senior officials. In that way, the proposal certainly would have served as an effective confidence building measure.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines an apologist as a person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial. That is not the intent here. The OED defines an analyst as someone who conducts analyses. Foreign policy analysts scrutinize facts and data and interpret them, often in different ways. Given what is publicly known about Trump’s proposal for a joint US-Russian cyber security unit, the analysis here explains that although flawed, it is the sort of unconventional product that can result from intense negotiations aimed at coping with a seemingly intractable issue. The troublesome issue in this case is Russia’s intrusions into the 2016 US Presidential Election with all of its considerable security and political implications. It is also explained here that Trump’s proposal reveals a bit about his negotiating style. Trump clearly becomes target-oriented in his talks, and will make smaller agreements to build his interlocutor’s trust in him. From congruences Trump discerns in his interlocutor’s thinking and his own, he will try to craft a mutually satisfying agreement that, of course, ensures he will get what he wants. At this stage, Trump is still trying to get answers from Russia about the election issue and mollify the anxieties of various constituencies in the US over the negotiations, while hard at work trying to improve relations with Russia. Using his skills and experience, he seems to be swimming in the right direction. Audacibus annue coeptis. (Look with favor upon a bold beginning.)

Over the past decade, Russia has mounted more than a dozen significant cyber attacks against foreign countries, sometimes to help or harm a specific political candidate, sometimes to sow chaos, but always to project Russian power. From June 2015 to November 2016, Russian hackers penetrated Democratic Party computers in the US, and gained access to the personal emails of Democratic Party officials. Russian officials deny engaging in such operations.  Russian officials almost never open up their covert intelligence efforts.

Russian Cyber Attacks during the 2016 US Presidential Election

As it was discussed in the July 6, 2017 greatcharlie post entitled “Trump to Meet with Putin at G-20 Gathering: Trump Seeks an Authentic Relationship with Russia”, over the past decade, Russia has mounted more than a dozen significant cyber attacks against foreign countries, sometimes to help or harm a specific political candidate, sometimes to sow chaos, but always to project Russian power. The Russian strategy is typically to pair cyber attacks with online propaganda. That approach has been refined and expanded by Russian intelligence. From June 2015 to November 2016, Russian hackers penetrated Democratic Party computers in the US, and gained access to the personal emails of Democratic officials, which in turn were distributed to the global media by WikiLeaks. Both the CIA and the FBI report the intrusions were intended to undermine the US election. Cyber gives Russia a usable strategic capability. If benefits from its use appear great enough, Moscow may want to risk additional attacks. Russian officials will normally vehemently deny launching cyber attacks. Russian officials almost never open up their covert intelligence operations. Putin has never publicly discussed them.

The report of the January 16, 2017 US Office of the Director of National Intelligence entitled, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Election” presents the best publicized assessment by the US Intelligence Community of the Russian cyber attack during the 2016 US Presidential Election. The Russian operation to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election demonstrated a marked escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of  Moscow’s longstanding desire and effort to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order. US Intelligence Community assesses that Putin, himself, ordered the influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s objectives were: to undermine public faith in the US democratic process; to denigrate former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, to harm her electability and potential presidency.  The US Intelligence Community further assessed that Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for then President-elect Trump. In following, it also assessed Putin and the Russian Government aspired to aid President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. The approach the Russia took to operation reportedly evolved over the course of the campaign given its understanding of the US electoral prospects of the two main candidates. The Intelligence Community concluded that once it appeared to Moscow that Clinton would likely win the election, the Russian operation began to focus more on undermining her future presidency. It was uncovered by Intelligence Community that the influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blended covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”

The Intelligence Community has declared that much as its Soviet predecessor, Russia has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on US presidential elections, using Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin. Russia’s intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US were Presidential Election, including targets associated with both major US political parties, were conducted by Russian intelligence services. The Intelligence Community assessed with high confidence that the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data collected in cyber operations publicly, in exclusives to media outlets, and transmitted material to WikiLeaks. Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards. US Department of Homeland Security assessments in the report explain that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying. The Russia’s state-run propaganda machine Russia Today contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.  The US Intelligence Community concluded that Moscow will apply lessons learned from its “Putin-ordered campaign” directed at the 2016 US Presidential Election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.

Testifying before the US Senate Intelligence Committee on June21, 2017, Jeanette Manfra, the US Department of Homeland Security’s acting deputy Undersecretary of Cyber Security revealed that 21 US state election systems were targeted as part of Russia’s wide-ranging operation to influence the 2016 elections. She explained that a small number state election systems were also breached but there was no evidence any votes were manipulated. Manfra noted that the elections are resilient to hacking in part because they are decentralized and largely operated on the state and local level. Nevertheless, the hacking of state and local election databases in 2016 was more extensive than previously reported. According to Time, there was at least one successful attempt to alter voter information. Reportedly in Illinois, more than 90% of the nearly 90,000 records stolen by Russian state actors contained driver’s’ license numbers, and a quarter contained the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers.

According to the US Intelligence Community, 21 US state election systems were targeted as part of Russia’s wide-ranging operation to influence the 2016 elections. A small number state election systems were also breached but there was no evidence any votes were manipulated. However, there was at least one successful attempt to alter voter information.  In Illinois, more than 90% of the nearly 90,000 records stolen by Russian state actors contained driver’s license numbers, and a quarter contained the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers.

Reaching Agreements: Easier Said than Done

Before the Trump-Putin bilateral meeting, what had been observed in diplomatic exchanges between the US and Russia is a type of modus vivendi, a way of living, working together, between leaders and chief diplomats. After Putin granted US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a meeting in Moscow after his talks with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Trump granted Lavrov a meeting in Washington during a visit to meeting with Tillerson. It also indicated a willingness to establish a balance in negotiations or quid pro quo on issues when possible. US State Department and Russian Foreign Ministry officials are also working together to resolve nagging issues that could serve to harm efforts to foster good relations. Such seemingly small steps helped to build confidence in both Washington and Moscow that the prospect for change was real, and it lead to the arrangement of a meeting between presidents. Those small steps also supported an open line of communication between chief diplomats which is all importance as US and Russian military forces work in close proximity in Syria, fighting continues in Ukraine, and aerial and naval intrusions remain constant in skies and waters in NATO, Canadian and US territory. If all went well, there will certainly be more to follow.

All of that being stated, the successful formulation and execution of such small steps is a daunting in public. When Putin initially took power on January 1, 2000, the West expected him to give it nothing less than his unequivocal cooperation in a manner similar to his predecessor, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin. Western capitals also expected Putin to be a bit wobbly taking on so much responsibility at a relatively early age. Yet, Putin knew his shoulders could bear the burden. He had no desire to be just a man of the moment in Russia. Much as Yeltsin, Putin, too, showed patience toward the West for a while, but he did not procrastinate. He took on the mission of breathing fresh breath into a country that was dying. He pushed ahead with plans “to save” Russia from disintegration and frustrate what he sensed were Western efforts to weaken it. Indeed, Putin did not believe congenial relations with the West were authentic given the many years of geopolitical struggle. Putin believed then, and believes now, that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He believes Western governments are driven to create disorder in Russia and make it dependent of Western technologies. Still, Putin has shown that would prefer to outthink his rivals in the West rather than fight them. That notion has influenced his responses in contentious situations. After the period of a term away from the presidency during which he served as his country’s prime minister, Putin was reelected for a third term on March 4, 2012. He clased repeatedly with US President Barack Obama and seemed to act more aggressively. The Russian military move that stood out was the annexation of the Crimea.

The US and EU took Putin to task for that bold military operation. Harsh sanctions were levied and Russia was cast out of the Group of 8 industrialized democracies. Putin has held on to the territory and has continued to do so in the face of even tougher sanctions against Russian interests. He levied his own sanctions against US and EU products and even began heavily supporting separatist movements in Eastern Ukraine. In a March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin vented his anger at the US and EU, enumerating some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Ulterius ne tende odiis. (Go no further down the road of hatred.)

Given the many years of geopolitical struggle, Putin was unconvinced congenial relations between Russia and the West could exist authentically. He believed the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. After Putin was reelected for a third term, he clashed repeatedly with US President Barack Obama. Putin became more aggressive; took more military action. After traveling a bumpy road with the Obama administration, Moscow hoped Trump’s approach to Russia in any direction would reflect the desire not just for new deals, but a new US-Russia relationship.

Trump’s Negotiating Style: It’s Similar to the “Harvard Way”

Parva scintilla saepe magnam flamam excitat. (The sparkle often initiates a large flame.) Given Trump’s gift for agile maneuver against opposite parties in negotiations and his ability to mask his approach, if he chooses to do so, his decisions cannot be forecasted with exactitude. Trump, a self-admitted master of the art of the deal.  His negotiating “tactics, techniques, procedures and methods” Trump appears to have used that were likely developed a tad via his graduate business education at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania along with heavy dose of experience gained after nearly five decades of business negotiations. His concepts appear similar to those promoted by Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation. Such concepts ostensibly guided him in his first “business meeting” with Putin. They include the following: promoting creativity by breaking problems into smaller components; by doing so, you can build a multi-issue business negotiation out of what might appear to be a single-issue deal; using multiple issues to make valuable tradeoffs and facilitate a good-faith negotiation; collecting important information by asking lots of questions and listening carefully to the answers; impressing the other side with your flexibility by putting forth several different proposals at the same time; contemplate unconventional deal-structuring arrangements to bridge the gap between what the seller wants and what the buyer can afford; exploring a contingent contract to help overcome differences in beliefs about future events and outcomes; creating even more value in business negotiations by adding conditions to your deal such as “I’ll do X if you do Y”; and, engaging in “mind games” like brainstorming to facilitate creative problem solving and unexpected solutions.

Trump surely had high hopes before and during his meeting with Putin. He likely would argue then, and would argue now, that bold action, when appropriate, would be the very thing to turn situations around. Ideally, if big agreements were reached, they could help modify Russian behavior, and get relations moving forward. Yet, Trump is also pragmatic and recognizes that plans must fit circumstances and circumstances cannot be created or imagined to fit plans. Trump understood that there would likely need to be initial, relatively small steps perhaps to unlock the diplomatic process on big issues. He would also seek to gauge actions and reactions of his interlocutor, Putin. If he discerned a positive way forward, his sense of possibility would broaden and he would open his mind up to more options. When Trump broached the issue of Russian cyber attacks and eventually presented his proposal, his goal was not to mollify Putin, but rather provide an opportunity for all sides to “clear the air” on the issue of Russia’s hacking of 2016 US Presidential Election but he was unable to receive anything other than denials. Trump is not happy about Russia’s interference with the 2016 Presidential Election both as a patriotic citizen and as a candidate in that election. He may not completely agree that Russia’s action greatly impacted his election victory, but he recognizes that the aesthetics of the intrusion over time could diminish his accomplishment in some minds, particularly among his supporters. Trump understood Putin would likely deny Russia had any connection to the election intrusion, but he undoubtedly believed it was worth a try to have him confirm what most in the US believe.

As Trump and Putin did not have a relationship established prior to the meeting, they did not possess the requisite degree of trust that would allow them to relax and explore the territory outside their formal negotiating positions. They could not talk about their assumptions, strategies, and even fears. They had to work in the abstract from reports of others’ observations and analyses about their respective interlocutors.

The ability of Trump in his negotiations with Putin, to restrain the expression of emotion, in this case anger, perhaps even rage, and not to publish to the world by changes of countenance those thoughts and feelings, was critical if relations were to move forward. To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to recreate oneself endlessly. Admitting errors, missteps, is a sign of maturity and wisdom. One evolves as a result of recognizing ones mistakes. The mature one has moved from the passive voice to the active voice–that is when one stops saying, “It got lost” and begins saying, “I lost it.” The bilateral meeting between Trump and Putin was a promising moment in relations between the US and Russia. In an advanced, mature way of thinking, a presidential way of thinking in 2017, Trump sought some temporary step on the issue of Russia’s intrusion into the 2016 US Presidential Election by taking into consideration the relative strengths of the positions and capabilities of all sides. Trump understands the peace that can be achieved must be the focus. The focus must not be how much each side can destroy the other through cyber warfare but rather how to end cyber as a mutual threat. One cannot solve a problem with the same thinking one used when one created the problem. Mens sibi conscia recti. (A mind conscious of its own rectitude.)

The Flawed Cyber Proposal: A Telling Product of the Negotiation Process

Six building blocks for diplomatic negotiations were superbly outlined by the renowned US statesman, former US Secretary of State James Baker over a decade ago. Baker explained that the building blocks worked well when properly applied through solid preparation and hard work. The building blocks included: 1) Understanding an opponent’s position; 2) Gaining trust through personal relationships; 3) Reciprocal confidence building; 4) Taking a pragmatic approach that does not sacrifice principles; 5) Being aware of timing; and 6) Maintaining a deep respect for the politics of the situation.

As Trump and Putin did not have a relationship established prior to the meeting, they did not possess the requisite degree of trust that would allow them to relax and explore the territory outside their formal negotiating positions. They could not talk about their assumptions, strategies, and even fears. They had to work in the abstract from reports that presented observations and analyses of others about their respective interlocutors. With specific regard to reciprocal confidence building, both leaders demonstrated that they could negotiate. Baker suggested that at the earliest stage, one could arrange a series small negotiations on issues that could be resolved quickly, reasonably, and amicably to assist in developing a dialogue. Baker explained that finding even a minor, common point of agreement, for example on the shape of the negotiating table, can serve to set the tone of the relationship. It also helps develop a dialogue, which is one of the most important aspects of negotiations.

Former US Secretary of State James Baker (above). Six excellent building blocks for diplomatic negotiations were outlined by former US Secretary of State James Baker over a decade ago. Baker explained that they worked well when properly applied through solid preparation and hard work. Included among them were: 1) Understanding an opponent’s position; 2) Gaining trust through personal relationships; 3) Reciprocal confidence building; 4) Taking a pragmatic approach that does not sacrifice principles; 5) Being aware of timing; and 6) Maintaining a deep respect for the politics of the situation.

Confidence Building Measures: In Brief

Perhaps the best definition for confidence building measures was provided by Simon Mason and Siegfried Matthias, in their seminal article, “Confidence Building Measures (CBMS) in Peace Processes” published in Managing Peace Processes: Process Related Questions. A Handbook for AU Practitioners, Volume 1 (African Union and the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, 2013). They define confidence building measures as series of actions that are negotiated, agreed, and implemented by parties in a dispute in order to build confidence without specifically focusing on the root causes of the dispute.

Confidence building measures are designed to build confidence. Confidence is a psychological state, whereby actors make themselves vulnerable and ready to take risks based on the expectation of goodwill and positive behavior from a counterpart. Confidence building measures can prevent a dispute or larger problem from escalating even if the negotiating process is to be started in the short term. Preventing escalation has value in itself and may also allow the negotiation process to begin again later on. Mason and Matthias intriguingly note that confidence building measures can prevent parties from escalating even when there is a denial of any problems or tensions that could escalate. Successful negotiations require risk taking by the parties. That is why a minimum degree of confidence is needed for negotiations to even start. For negotiating parties, confidence building measures are attractive because they are seen as a low-cost and low-risk activities, since they can be implemented with limited resources and calculated risks. The negotiating parties, themselves, must craft confidence building measures to fit their specific case. If not, what is agreed to will not be owned by the parties, and will not serve to build trust. Confidence building measures must also be reciprocal in nature. One party should not feel that it is going out on a limb without the other also doing so. To assist in ensuring confidence is sustained and agreements are appropriately implemented, confidence building measures concerning communication should be put in place.

In an incremental approach to confidence building measures, a series of agreements are used to slowly tackle the more difficult core issues later on. Under this approach, confidence building measures become stepping stones or a pathway to greater agreements. Indeed, agreements on confidence building measures early on generally build trust and interest in negotiating more complex agreements at a later stage. In this sense, confidence building measures create opportunities for parties to collaborate on something that is not strategically important to them and, in so doing, build the trust needed to subsequently discuss important strategic issues. Confidence building measures pull parties away from the obstacle they are blocked on. Once confidence exists, it is then easier to address the obstacles. Mason and Matthias use the metaphor of steps of a ladder also highlights the incremental nature of building trust which takes time and an accumulation of small steps. That is referred to by some as the confidence building process.

Mason and Matthias caution parties negotiating confidence building measures that wider constituencies may view a negotiation process with suspicion before, during, and after negotiations, and may not be willing to accept deals made. individuals from those constituencies typically will not be present at the negation and understand how agreements were arrived at. Plans for responding to the wider constituencies’ concerns must be considered. A mutual understanding that one party made need to break away from a confidence building measure must exist. An agreement could be negotiated that allows the parties an amount of time in which they could communicate to one another about the need to break away from a confidence building measure. Working together on such a matter in itself could build confidence, create some degree of trust.

US military personnel in Cyber Command (above). There is no doubt with regard to the legal barriers to Trump’s proposal for a joint US-Russian cyber security unit. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the US Department of Defense, which is the parent organization of the US National Security Agency and the US Cyber Command, from using any funds for bilateral military cooperation with Russia. However, the mere fact that Trump offered to work jointly with Russia to sort out a cyber matter, and thought of creating an organization for that, seems to have had a positive impact on Putin.

Even though Trump’s proposal for a joint US-Russian cyber security unit was flawed, the dialogue among US and Russian cyber experts that might have resulted from it could have helped to develop a mutual understanding about the harmful effects of cyber activities and potential consequences, to include proportional asymmetric responses. Experts from the US side in any hypothetical liaison team would have likely been very experienced, highly qualified US personnel from the US National Security Agency and Cyber Command, and perhaps the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, the primary US agency most major cyber negotiations. They might have caused Russia to halt its cyber operations against the US by helping to establish a modus vivendi, or way both countries could live together while possessing this significant strategic capability. One could speculate even further that talks may have even resulted in the very near-term suspension of any cyber attacks underway, or a reduction in the intensity or tempo of such attacks that have been sourced to Russia and perhaps some that have not as yet been identified as such. Trump’s proposal, encouraging talks, although flawed legally, ideally could have inspired both countries to move forward toward a greater agreement.

A Bad Reaction

As it was explained earlier, wider constituencies represented by negotiating parties may view the process with suspicion. In that vein, political allies and adversaries alike in the US rejected Trump’s proposal for a joint cyber security unit. There was an immediate rebuff from several Republicans, who questioned why the US would work at all with Russia after Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. US Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, stated on the US Sunday morning news program “Meet the Press”: “It’s not the dumbest idea I have ever heard but it’s pretty close.” On Twitter, US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, immediately criticized Trump’s cyber proposal. Rubio wrote: “While reality and pragmatism requires that we engage Vladimir Putin, he will never be ally or reliable constructive partner.” He further stated: “Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with [Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-] Assad on a “Chemical Weapons Unit.” US Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, recognized Trump’s desire to move forward with Russia. However , McCain further explained on the US Sunday morning talk show “Face the Nation”: “There has to be a price to pay.” McCain went on to state: “Vladimir Putin … got away with literally trying to change the outcome … of our election.” He also added: “There has been no penalty.” US Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN’s Sunday morning program, “State of the Union”, that Russia could not be a credible partner in a cyber security unit. Schiff stated: “If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow,” Schiff added. A former US Secretary of Defense in the administration of US President Barack Obama, Ashton Carter, told CNN: “This is like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary.”

There is no doubt with regard to the legal barriers to Trump’s proposal for a joint US-Russian cyber security unit. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the US Department of Defense, which is the parent organization of the US National Security Agency and the US Cyber Command, from using any funds for bilateral military cooperation with Russia. The purpose of the law is avoid providing Moscow with insight into US cyber capabilities. In the US, it has been long-believed that Moscow is averse to revealing any of its cyber capabilities.

Multiple proposals will be presented in the process of improving US-Russian relations. Trump’s cyber proposal was one of many tabled by him during his bilateral meeting with Putin. As Trump tweeted, success was achieved in other areas. For example, Trump and Putin agreed over a ceasefire for southwest Syria that was set to begin on midday, July 9, 2017. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it showed the US and Russia were able to work together in Syria and that they would continue to do so.

Dumping the Cyber Security Unit Proposal

It was only hours after Trump’s proposal for the joint US-Russian cyber security unit was harshly criticized by Republicans who said Moscow could not be trusted that he backtracked on it. He tweeted: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t.”

Even without being implemented, the fact that Trump offered to work jointly with Russia to sort out a cyber matter, and thought of creating an organization to do so, may have had a positive impact on Putin’s thinking. Putin can choose cautious cooperation or subterfuge, which many in foreign policy circles would call his penchant. In his dealings with Trump, it seems to some degree Putin has chosen cooperation. Indeed, it must be noted that Putin discussed Trump’s proposal and was apparently open to some type of interaction between cyber experts of both countries. Recall also that Trump initially tweeted that Putin entertained the proposal. As Putin has the final say on all foreign policy matters in Russia, he established that Russia at the moment has an interest in reaching an understanding on cyber. Trump’s July 7, 2017 cyber proposal is dead. However, as the process of building relations between the US and Russia, there is a real chance that a new, better crafted proposal on cyber, within bounds legally, may surface, perhaps even from Moscow. Only time will tell.

Multiple proposals will be presented in the process of improving US-Russian relations. Trump’s cyber proposal was one of many tabled by him during his bilateral meeting with Putin. As Trump tweeted, success was achieved in other areas  For example, Trump and Putin agreed over a ceasefire for southwest Syria that started on midday, July 9, 2017. Tillerson said it showed the US and Russia were able to work together in Syria and that they would continue to do so. Tillerson announced some key understandings brokered in the meeting amounted to success. He explained: “We had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas and the violence, once we defeat ISIS.” Tillerson also said the US and Russia would “work together towards a political process that will secure the future of the Syrian people.”

The Way Forward

In William Shakespeare’s play, The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth, while King Henry away from the throne, the Duke of York, urged by Warwick, sat on it. Just then, Henry arrives with followers. Henry tells York to step away, but York announces an alleged claim to the crown against the King’s hereditary possession. Henry convinces York to wait to be crowned after he dies. Henry’s nobles are astonished that he disinherited his own son. Queen Margaret arrives and is struck by the news. York, at home, is convinced by Richard’s sons Edward and Richard, and his follower Montague to take the throne right away. A war for succession ensues. After several horrific battles, the opposing sides massed for a final engagement. In Act V, Scene iv of the play, Margaret leading Henry’s supporters gives a final stirring speech, summoning courage and the fighting spirit. On the plains near Teaksbury she states: “Great lords, wise men ne’er sit and wail their loss, but cheerly seek how to redress their harms. What though the mast be now blown overboard, the cable broke, the holding-anchor lost and half our sailors swallow’d in the flood? Yet lives our pilot still. Is’t meet that he should leave the helm and like a fearful lad with tearful eyes add water to the sea and give more strength to that which hath too much, whiles, in his moan, the ship splits on the rock, which industry and courage might have saved? Ah, what a shame! Ah, what a fault were this!” As Trump engages in efforts to improve relations with Putin and Russia, his opponents and a few fellow Republicans seem to feel the US is staring into a dangerous, dark abyss. They place little faith in Trump, and no trust or hope in Putin. Conversely, Trump, in thinking about the potential for improving relations, likely conjures panoramic views of endless vistas. While Trump’s critics would associate the disturbing sound of a dissonant flute with Trump’s effort to rebuild relations with Russia, Trump seeks to create a harmony between the US and Russia that even Johann Sebastian Bach would find sublime. The entire matter seems to enthral him. He remains optimistic and is pushing ahead in the face of considerable obstacles, the majority of which are actually unrelated to his efforts with Putin.

Trump has engaged in negotiations for decades. In his face to face bilateral meeting with Putin, Trump was allowed the chance to adjust to circumstances, become more fluid in his thinking, and more creative in his approach. Trump’s sense of possibilities was broadened. His proposal for a joint cyber security unit, while scoffed at, and, albeit, not viable under US law, undoubtedly resulted from his willingness to consider the full range of options. As a confidence building measure, it may very well have had a positive impact on Putin’s thinking without even being implemented.  Reports about the actual Trump-Putin meeting indicate both leaders had a good sense of one another’s positions but they also sought find out more about one another’s approaches. By doing so, both provided themselves with a better chance of reaching a successful conclusion. Both were attentive to how the other perceived issues, no matter alien that view may have been to their own. They noticed patterns of behavior, some perhaps influenced by history and culture, and recognized political constraints the other faced. Both Trump and Putin tried to crawl into one another’s shoes. As time moves on, that effort may very well assist the two leaders in building a relations that will facilitate the building of ties between the US and Russia. Durate, et vosmet rebus servate secundis. (Endure, and keep yourselves for days of happiness.)

Russia Is Top US National Security Threat Says General Dunford; That Should Make It the Top Priority for US Diplomacy

Pictured are Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (2nd right), Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu (left), Black Sea Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Aleksander Vitko (2nd left), and the Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov.  Putin, rejects any criticism over Russia’s actions in Ukraine or anything else. He says Russia was targeted by the West with sanctions and he had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.

According to a July 9, 2015 Reuters article entitled, “Russia Is Top US National Security Threat: Gen. Dunford,” US Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford says Russia is at the top of the list of security concerns for the US. Dunford was speaking at his US Senate confirmation hearing to become the next US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Reuters quoted Dunford as saying, “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it is nothing short of alarming.” Relations between Russia and the West have taken a sharp turn downward since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Political leaders among the NATO Allies are uncertain of what Putin is trying to achieve with his actions in Ukraine, his moves in the Baltic States, positioning of Russian rocket forces near Poland, or his considerable military build-up. The Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (the military commander of NATO), US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told a US Congressional Committee in April 2015, “We cannot fully grasp Putin’s intent.” Breedlove further stated, “What we can do is learn from his actions, and what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.” NATO conducted several exercises to show Putin its intent to respond to aggression.

Sanctions from the US and Europeans have put relations between Russia and the West, built largely on economic cooperation, at considerable risk and pose a serious economic threat to Russia despite any heroic claims otherwise by Putin. Repetitive threats of further sanctions from the US and EU could prompt Putin to consider means to shift the power equation. He may eventually feel his back is against the wall and do more than put his forces on parade or use his forces covertly despite his denials of doing so. The escalating war of words between US and Russian officials is also problematic. Words of anger, mockery, hate, and aggression, do damage that can be difficult to repair. The world has witnessed the vicissitudes faced by the Obama administration in foreign policy. The administration often fails to acknowledge how dire problems really are. It tends to settle upon bromides, with a seductive kind of superficiality, to very challenging situations, which later prove to be shallow entrapments. Some resolution must be found to current problems in relations with Russia. In order to respond diplomatically to Putin, the genuine motivation for his actions must be uncovered. Formal diplomatic talks could be established between the US and EU with Russia not in an attempt to mollify him, but provide opportunities for all sides to “clear the air” on those issues and others and work together to mutually satisfy interests. Negotiations can be based on the relative strengths of the positions and capabilities of all sides. The peace that can be achieved must be the focus not how much each side can destroy through warfare. In the US and in the EU, all other elements of foreign and defense policy must serve to effectively support that diplomacy. Good use must be made of time available before situations change. The door to opportunity might remain open for a brief period. O si sic omnia! (Oh would that all had been done or said thus!)

Whenever Putin now hears NATO threaten to use force against Russia, albeit defensively, he responds with an enigmatic face. Even though NATO took steps such as maneuvers or force redeployments were taken in response to Crimea or ostensibly a perceived Russian threat to Eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland, Putin likely expected NATO Allies to continue making steep military cuts and fail to meet their military commitments.

Putin’s Response to the West

Putin and his advisers have heard explanations from the US and EU that sanctions were a means to halt its annexation of Crimea, its activities in Ukraine, a response to the downing of Malaysian Airline Flight MH117, and as a means to push all parties to the negotiating table. Putin, however, rejects any criticism of Russia’s actions over Ukraine or anything else. He explains that the deterioration of relations with the West was “not our choice.” He has proffered. “It was not we who introduced restrictions on trade and economic activities. Rather we were the target and we had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.”

Having been a P5+1 partner with China as well as the main Western powers that levied sanctions against it, the US, United Kingdom, France, and Germany during the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Putin and his advisers have undoubtedly learned how to more effectively handle the West on issues as Ukraine. Observing the decision making of Western powers up close on Iran, Putin can likely better predict Western responses in certain situations. Beyond what Russia gleaned from the Iran talks, Putin has looked deeply at the US and Europe, discerning many flaws, weaknesses in the transatlantic defense. He has watched it decay due to Western political leaders’ lack the will to maintain it. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO members became weary of investing financial resources in a deterrent force that faced no threat. Putin tested NATO, acting unabashedly in the face of the alliance by moving against countries that are part of Russia’s “near abroad.” In 2008, Putin forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova was placed under similar pressure. That same year, Putin invaded Georgia. Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. Whenever NATO threatens to use force against Russia now, albeit defensively, Putin responds with an enigmatic face. Even though maneuvers and force redeployments were made and sanctions were imposed in response to Russian moves as in Crimea or a perceived threat to Eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland, Putin expected Allies to continue making steep military cuts and fail to meet their NATO military commitments.

Tanquam ex ungue leonem! (From the claw we may judge a lion.) Since 2011, uniformed military manpower has declined in every Western nation, but Russian military manpower has increased by 25 percent to 850,000 between 2011 and mid-2014. Russia supposedly has about 2.5 million active reservists out of a total population of 143 million. It ranks second, behind the US, on the list of countries with conventional warfighting capabilities. Expenditures on defense, and the related category of national security and law enforcement, accounts for 34 percent of Russia’s budget which is more than twice in comparison with 2010. The US only spent 18 percent, or $615 billion of its budget in 2014 on defense and international security. Explaining his concept for achieving this growth, Putin told senior military commanders and defense industry executives at a meeting in Sochi on May 12, 2015, “We can and must do for the defense industry what we did for Sochi.” Putin was referring to the $50 billion spent in to host the 2014 Winter Olympics there. He went on to state, “All questions relating to adequate resource allocation have been resolved.” Putin has a penchant to display power. Most recently it has been lurid. With its conventional forces rejuvenated, Russia is on the march again, seizing territory in albeit a piecemeal fashion. Putin has likely assessed war with Russia is the last thing US and EU political leaders want. He has seemingly gauged his moves sensing just how far he can go with them. He may believe he can later legitimize acquisitions via talks with the West.

Putin emerged from the Communist system of the Soviet Union. Not to be impolitic, but those emerging from that system often hold a view, infiltrated by pessimism, that the world is filled with dangers and potential enemies. To Putin, only naiveté could cause one to believe relations with the West would always be congenial given the previous years of geopolitical struggle. Aspects surrounding his career in the Soviet Union’s KGB certainly reinforced that perspective.

Confabulating on Putin

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin has been the authentic face of the Russian government. Putin restored order in his country after the internal chaos of the 1990s, reestablishing the power of the state. Putin emerged from the Communist system of the Soviet Union. Not to be impolitic, but those emerging from that system often hold a view, infiltrated by pessimism, that the world is filled with dangers and potential enemies.  To Putin,  only naiveté could cause one to believe relations with the West would always be congenial given the previous years of geopolitical struggle. Given its approach to Putin, there is every indication that many in the West believed positive relations with Russia would endure despite pushing Western demands its leaders. Putin style of management was undoubtedly shaped by his initial career as an officer from 1975 to 1991 in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. However, his style was not shaped in terms of his use of KGB tradecraft. It was shaped as a result of his continued close association with a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career, particularly a few who served in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with him. They are called siloviki (power men). Finding siloviki, particularly retirees of the KGB, and the present day security service, Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, in high places in Russia is not unusual. At the pinnacle are men among them who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg. These men come from a community of families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was raised in the Chekisty (Chekist) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended. That left an imprint on him. Putin got his start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a post he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists.  Putin rose to deputy-mayor, but his work in St. Petersburg was halted after six years when his boss lost his bid for reelection. Yet, in two years, he rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months later, he was Russian Federation President.

Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As heard in Putin’s public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Putin says that he is determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he perceives as enemies that might weaken it. He also wants to bring the independent states of the former Soviet Union back under Moscow’s political, economic, and military (security) influence. Putin does not hesitate to let the leaders of those states know his intentions either. Although Putin managed to restore order from turmoil in Russia, many would note that he accomplished this with little regard for human and political rights. There is a significant opposition movement to Putin in Russia, lead by individuals such as the slain statesman and politician, Boris Nemtsov. Yet, Putin’s words have also resonated with many Russians. Convinced Russia is in a struggle with the US, the Economist states 81 percent of Russians see the US as a threat. The EU is also viewed as such.

When Putin began his third term as Russian Federation President, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were the neophyte, not a seasoned leader. Old ills that were part of US-Russian relations resurfaced and news ones arose. A series of deliberate public rebuffs to Putin sullied ties further. Putin’s anger metastasized. Soon enough, regular intrusions by Russian military aircraft in NATO airspace and Russian warships in NATO waters began.

The Downturn in Relations Began Well Before Ukraine

Dimitry Medvedev was Russian Federation President when Obama came to office. Obama seemed to measure all possibilities on relations with Russia on his interactions with him. So comfortable was Obama with Medvedev that he went as far as to declare a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries existed. Senior Russia analysts in the US government could have confirmed that Putin, who at the time was serving as Russia’s Prime Minister, was the real power in Moscow. Yet, that truth was given little consideration. Instead, Putin was treated by Obama as the “odd man out”. Little was done to build a relationship with him. When Putin began his third term as Russia’s president on May 7, 2012, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were a neophyte and not a seasoned national leader. Old ills that were part of US-Russian relations resurfaced, and new ones arose, to include: Putin’s decision to allow US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010, and the allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks; and the US admonishment of Russia on human rights issues. Putin was still fuming over Operation Unified Protector, during which in 2011, multinational forces including the US, were placed under NATO command and imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. Putin felt NATO-led forces went beyond UN Security Council Resolution 1973’s mandate by helping local forces overthrow Gaddafi. Gaddafi had been a friend of the Soviet Union and Russia. The world recognized how poor the relationship between Obama and Putin was after observing their body language during a June 17, 2013 meeting in Northern Ireland. A spate of public rebuffs to Putin sullied ties further.

Positive signals from Obama’s discussions on nuclear arms reductions with Medvedev likely gave administration officials the idea that Putin would also consider proposals on it. Putin firmly expressed disinterest, but administration officials smugly insisted that Putin agree to reductions in both nations’ nuclear arsenals. Putin then out rightly rejected their proposals. Obama administration officials were unprepared to receive Putin’s final rejection of the proposals and reacted poorly. Putin’s decision was viewed within the Obama administration as ending the president’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.”   With the apparent goal of retaliating against Putin over his decision on its nuclear proposals, on August 7, 2013, the White House cancelled a September summit meeting in Moscow for Obama and Putin. It was a trite, and amateurish response. Administration’s officials explained their decision to cancel behind lightweight rhetoric regarding the effective use of the president’s time. An August 8, 2013 New York Times article quoted US Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes as stating, “We weren’t going to have a summit for the sake of appearance, and there wasn’t an agenda that was ripe.” Commenting on his rejection of the proposal, Putin was likened to l’enfant terrible. An unidentified source told for the same August 8th article stated, “We just didn’t get traction with the Russians. They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us.” That source went on to state, “this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment.” Putin and his advisers were further convinced that the US and EU did not respect Russia as a power, even militarily. Aching to be taking seriously in the US public, among other reasons, Putin soon after wrote a September 11, 2013, op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “A Plea for Caution”. He challenged popular views on foreign policy and national-identity held in the US.

There were other public affronts. The next year, during preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, there was a constant drum beat of doubt expressed by US security experts on the capability of the Russian security services to protect Sochi from terrorism. US officials were highly critical of security measures taken by the Russians for the Games and the level of cooperation officials from Russian security service officials showed toward counterparts from US security organizations. There were endless dalliances into clairvoyance evinced by predictions of terrorist attacks. It smacked more of fear mongering than anything else. Obama administration and other US officials knew the Winter Olympics would have been a proud occasion for Putin and the Russian people. Sochi provided Putin the chance to present his resurgent Russia in the best light possible. The Russian people would have the opportunity to tap into the power of Russia’s renewed greatness. Putin displayed great patience in the face of mordant criticisms leveled against the Games’ organization and even personal rebuffs to him. Putin achieved his objective, and Sochi was safe and secure. However, what occurred was not forgotten. Empta dolore experientia docet! (Experience teaches when bought with pain!)

By 2014, Putin’s anger toward the US as well as the Europeans metastasized. In his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin enumerated some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Soon, there were regular incursions of Russian bombers and fighters in NATO airspace and Russian warships in NATO waters.

No Immediate Military Solution

At the NATO Defense Ministers Meetings on June 24, 2015, participants decided on air, maritime, and special forces components of an enhanced 40,000 strong NATO Response Force (NRF). Ministers took measures to speed up political and military decision-making, including authority for NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe to prepare troops for action as soon as a political decision is made. Ministers approved a new concept of advance planning. They also finalized details on the six small headquarters being set up in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “They will each consist of around 40 people, and will play a key role in planning, exercises, and assisting potential reinforcement.” Ministers additionally decided to establish a new Joint Logistics Headquarters, to facilitate the rapid movement of forces when necessary.  Directly on Russia, Stoltenberg stated, “We are carefully assessing the implications of what Russia is doing, including its nuclear activities.” He added that NATO is working on how to deal with hybrid threats, including through close cooperation with the European Union. To avoid misperceptions of NATO’s actions, Stoltenberg explained, “We do not seek confrontation, and we do not want a new arms race.” He stressed, “we want to keep our countries safe… this is our job.”

However, despite promises, Allies must have the requisite political will to give meaning to those words and any plans. The reality is that US outlays on security are three times that of the other 27 partners combined, even though the US gross domestic product (GDP) is smaller than their total GDP. The disparity in burden threatens NATO’s integrity, cohesion and capability—and ultimately, both European and transatlantic security. Since Washington has decided to cut 40,000 troops from the US Army’s ranks by 2017, the US will not be able to cover any gaps in NATO’s strength without earmarking a sizeable portion of its forces primarily for that task. Although the NRF is now 40,000 strong, the political will of NATO Allies to use it to block or engage Russian forces must exist. While a Baltic state or Ukraine may face the eminent threat of a Russian attack, the NRF may only be poised for “sitzkrieg”, taking no aggressive action and making no effort to even deter potential Russian action. If instead of a hybrid attack, Putin ordered a Russian force, overwhelming in size and power to the NRF, to attack a target, it might be futile for the NRF to try to halt it, even with the maximum amount of pre-positioned weapon systems and ordinance available. The NRF might try to survive against the Russian leviathan until more NATO forces arrived to reinforce it and ideally expel Russia from the country under attack. However, Russia would not make reaching the NRF easy. A Normandy style landing to reinforce the NRF would hardly be possible. NATO air power might be able to stave off the Russian force, but air, land, and sea elements could mass from bases in Russia and use powerful conventional weapons to destroy forces engaged and reinforcements.

The path to the repair of US-Russian relations perhaps can be created by Kerry and Lavrov. Both men have the confidence of their respective presidents. Both have a strong interest in improving ties. Indications are that they have an ongoing dialogue on a variety of issues and have formed a good relationship. The US and the EU must continue work to directly with Russia, not shun it, to forge better ties and tackle hard issues.

The Way Forward

This is not greatcharlie’s first descant on Putin. Unlike other handschuhschneeballwerfer who have scrutinized Putin from a safe distance, the intent here is not to abuse. The goal has been to objectively examine thinking behind Putin’s actions to construct ways to engage with him. If what Putin says is true, and his continued aggressive moves have been spurred by Western responses, there may be room for the resolution of this dispute. Negotiating with Putin certainly would not be an indication of timidity, fear, or duplicity. Indeed, when speaking to Putin, the US and EU must demand respect for their positions and the rights of sovereign states. However, the views and rights of Russia must also be equally acknowledged and respected. Equity and some degree of equanimity among all sides to any talks must be promoted. There must be the will to act fairly and justly toward each other, to include an immediate cessation of hostile acts. That would mean halting Russian intrusions into NATO airspace, flyovers and buzzing by military jets, interceptions at sea and other harassing actions in NATO waters. Further deployments of NATO land forces must be paused. Negotiating requires setting aside anger over what has transpired, but does not obviate the need to discern one another’s actions to avoid deceit or trickery.

Some European leaders have made contact with Putin and tried to resolve some issues with him, but they have had little success. There have been intermittent congenial contacts between Obama and Putin. For example, on July 4, 2015, Putin called Obama to mark Independence Day and express his confidence in US-Russia relations. On June 25, 2015, Putin called Obama reportedly to discuss the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, but Obama also voiced concern over Russia’s support for separatists operating in eastern Ukraine. On February 10, 2015, Obama called Putin to urge him to accept a diplomatic peace plan for Ukraine presented by France and Germany in Belarus. Nevertheless, a more substantial contact between the US and Russia occurred on May 12, 2015 when US Secretary of State John Kerry held four hours of talks with Putin in addition to four hours talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.  In what Kerry characterized as a “frank meeting” with Putin, the Russian president gave detailed explanations of Russia’s positions. Their talks covered Iran, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The eight hours of talks were a welcome development. It was Kerry’s first visit to Russia since the Ukraine crisis began in early 2014. Kerry stated on Twitter, “it was important to keep the lines of communication open between the US and Russia as we address important global issues such as Syria and Iran.” Lavrov said the talks helped Russia and the US improve mutual understanding.  Perhaps a path to repairing relations can be created by Kerry and Lavrov. There is no intrinsic guarantee diplomacy will work. However, both men have the confidence of their respective presidents. Both have a strong interest in improving US-Russia relations, and Russia’s overall relationship with the West. Indications are that they have an ongoing dialogue on a variety of issues and have also formed a good relationship. The US and the EU must continue work to directly with Russia, not shun it, to forge better ties and tackle hard issues.

Kerry Says Iran, World Powers Closer than Ever to Historic Nuclear Deal: Putin Has Learned Much from This Process

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (center) with Russian Federation Defense Minister and General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left) and the commander of the Western Military District Colonel General Anatoly Sidorov (right). Through Russia’s participation in the Iran Talks, Putin learned much about decision making among the Western powers from the inside and likely feels better able to deal with them diplomatically and militarily.

According to an April 27, 2015 Reuters article entitled, “Kerry Says Iran, World Powers Closer than ever to Historic Nuclear Deal,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told the 191 parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at conference at the UN that the P5+1 was very near to a deal with Iran that would end a 12-year-old stand-off.   Kerry was quoted as saying on April 27th, “We are, in fact, closer than ever to the good, comprehensive deal that we have been seeking, and if we can get there, the entire world will be safer.” He stated further, “If finalized and implemented, [an agreement] will close off all of Iran’s possible pathways to the nuclear material required for a nuclear weapon and give the international community the confidence that it needs to know that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed exclusively peaceful.” Yet, despite progress made, Kerry emphasized “the hard work is far from over and some key issues remain unresolved.”

Such sober comments underlining the considerable amount of negotiating still required to reach a final nuclear deal have come as a reality check for many following the April 2, 2015 announcements by parties to the talks, with flourish, that parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program were agreed upon. The appearance of reaching a nuclear deal was as potent as actually reaching a final concordance for some. This was particularly true in Iran where ordinary citizens celebrated in the streets after the framework nuclear deal was reached. Public reaction within P5+1 nations was imperceptible. However, there was a significant reaction among foreign and defense policy analysts and others interested in the talks. Their comments were kind of lush, a bit soupy. Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association declared, “The parameters agreed upon by the United States, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany with the Islamic Republic of Iran promises to lead to one of the most consequential and far reaching nuclear nonproliferation achievements in recent decades.” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies affirmed, “[T]he proposed parameters and framework in the Proposed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has the potential to meet every test in creating a valid agreement over time . . . It can block both an Iranian nuclear threat and a nuclear arms race in the region, and it is a powerful beginning to creating a full agreement, and creating the prospect for broader stability in other areas.” Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund proclaimed, “The agreement does three things. It blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. It imposes tough inspections to catch Iran should it try to break out, sneak out or creep out of the deal. And it keeps our coalition united to enforce the deal. Under this deal, Iran has agreed to rip out two-thirds of its centrifuges and cut its stockpile of uranium gas by 97 percent. It will not be able to make any uranium or plutonium for a bomb. Many of the restrictions in the agreement continue for 25 years and some . . . last forever.”

Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) Every step toward a final deal has brought US President Barack Obama closer to the legacy-defining foreign policy achievement he has sought. Obama’s desire to establish his legacy during his second term office has been a subject regularly discussed among White House officials and US political pundits. Yet, it is uncertain whether a final agreement can be reached and whether it would hold. The notion of how the P5+1, particularly the US, would likely respond to a violation of the treaty by Iran has gone through a transformation process during the negotiations. It was once understood that the US would inevitably decide to stop Iran from moving closer to developing a nuclear warhead by force of arms. Senior Obama administration foreign and defense policy officials made it clear that military intervention was “on the table.” Threats of regime change and of imposing a US form of democracy on Iran by the administration of US President George W. Bush were still ringing in Iranian leaders’ ears when the Iran Talks began. The idea of being attacked by the US became engrained in the psyche of Iran’s leadership, offsetting any idea Obama lacked the will to take military action following the Syria gas attacks debacle. Tehran’s views have changed since then.

Fas est et ab hoste doceri. (It is right to learn even from an enemy.) The P5+1 has served to present a united front to cope with the common danger of a nuclear armed Iran. However, the coalition has not been truly united. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has actually exploited the comity between Russia and its P5+1 partners to protect Russian interests. (The other P5+1 partners may very likely be aware of this.) Putin did not want the P5+1 to take military action against Iran, Russia’s strongest Middle East partner. During the Iran Talks, Russia and Iran made unilateral deals on matters from agriculture to weapon systems. The talks have helped Moscow better understand how Western powers approach issues as Iran’s nuclear program, making Russia better able to handle the West on issues as Ukraine. Russia, as Iran, is coping with Western economic sanctions. Putin has heard many threats to use force against Russia, albeit defensively, through NATO. However, Putin responds to such threats with an enigmatic face. Putin has Russia on the march, seizing territory in a piecemeal fashion, but he undoubtedly has a sense of how far he can go. Observing the decision making of Western powers up close on Iran, Putin likely believes military action against a capable opponent is the last thing Western political leaders want. (It is the last thing he wants, too!) To that extent, he also likely believes that after he has acquired enough, he will be able to legitimize Russia’s acquisitions through talks.

Initial Russian Concerns about Possible US Military Strikes in Iran

As a Member of the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council, Russia’s role as a party to the nuclear negotiation was essential, but it was also rather extraordinary given its ties to Iran. Russia had a very positive, congenial relationship with Iran unlike Western states in the P5+1. Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan stated “Iran and Russia are able to confront the expansionist intervention and greed of the US through cooperation, synergy and actuating strategic potential capacities.” When the Iran Talks began, Russia was actually working closely with Iran in support of its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who Western members of the P5+1 opposed. However, despite Iran’s close business and economic ties or ongoing military cooperation with Russia, albeit limited, could not guarantee the US would refrain from moving against its strongest partner in the Middle East. For that reason, Putin likely had genuine concern that Iran would become a target of massive US military action if the Iran Talks did not succeed when they began. Putin had not forgotten that close cooperation between Russia and authorities in Tripoli and Damascus did not deter the Obama administration from promoting and supporting insurrection against them. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1973, multinational forces under NATO command went beyond imposing a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to Gaddafi as part of Operation Unified Protector. Gaddafi’s regime fell and he was killed. In Syria, the Obama administration responded in support of the Syria Opposition Movement which bloomed during the so-called Arab Spring. The removal of Assad and his regime was the Obama administration’s goal.

Moreover, before the Iran Talks began and during the negotiations, Obama and officials in his administration were unambiguous about plans to act militarily against Iran over its nuclear program. According to a March 14, 2013 article in the Times of Israel, Obama explained that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in just over a year and diplomatic efforts have just less than that to halt Iran’s drive to the bomb. The Times of Israel determined Obama was intimating that if diplomatic efforts failed this year or early next year, the US would be forced to carry out military action against Iran. Obama also reportedly explained that he had been “crystal clear” that a nuclear-armed Iran was a “red-line,” and that the US was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon with which it could threaten Israel or trigger a regional arms race. In a September 15, 2013 article in the Guardian, Obama sought to shore up the potency of US deterrence against Iran warning that he was still prepared to take military action against the Iranian nuclear program, which he described as “much closer to our core interests” than Syria’s chemical weapons. A February 26, 2014, Reuters article reported Kerry told a group of reporters that the US has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before attempting to force Tehran to give up its nuclear activities with military action. Kerry also left no doubt that the US would seriously consider a strike on Iran if the diplomatic talks broke down. The Reuters article further explained that when Obama stated all options are on the table with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, he was using diplomatic code for the possibility of military action.

During the talks, urgency was placed on having Iran allow rigorous monitoring measures to remain in place to ensure any movement toward a nuclear weapon would be detected and the West could intervene. If Iran could be kept from moving close to a nuclear weapon, Western leaders could avoid facing the decision to respond militarily to its existence.

Western Allies Prefer Sanctions Over US-Led Military Action

As the nuclear negotiations progressed, it became more apparent to Putin and Russian foreign and defense policy officials that despite their insecurities about US intentions, the threat of military action was a fiction. Russia’s European counterparts in the P5+1 coalition began expressing doubts about the willingness of the US to use military force against Iran. The French were perhaps the first to publicly appraise Obama as unwilling to use military action to respond to Iran’s nuclear program. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tried to outline what he thought were the reasons for Obama’s tack in a 2013 speech. He stated: “The United States seems no longer to wish to become absorbed by crises that do not align with its new vision of its national interest.” He suggested this explained “the non-response by strikes to the use of chemical weapons by the Damascus regime, whatever the red lines set a year earlier.” Fabius stated further that a redirection of US interests may be a manifestation of the “heavy trauma of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan” and what he perceived as the current “rather isolationist tendency” in American public opinion. Fabius lamented that without US engagement, the world would find “major crises left to themselves,” and “a strategic void could be created in the Middle East,” with widespread perception of “Western indecision” in a world less multipolar than “zero-polar.” According to a May 2, 2014 Reuters article German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program must be given a chance, but she also said “If Iran does not meet its obligations, or does not meet them adequately, we remain ready to take back the current limited suspension of sanctions.” Merkel’s statement diverged considerably from those of Obama and Kerry who indicated a US readiness to act militarily if negotiations failed. The reluctance of Germany to support US military action sent a message to Russia that there was no unity in the West on it. Sanctions remain the greatest threat European leaders alone can pose to Iran if the talks failed. Only the US can effectively act with force against a nuclear capable Iran, but Obama would never want to go it alone against Iran.

In sessions leading to April 2, 2015, urgency was placed on having Iran agree to keep rigorous monitoring measures to remain in place not just throughout the long duration of the agreement but even after the core limits of the agreement expire. That would ensure any movement toward nuclear weapons will be detected and providing the opportunity to intervene decisively to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. There was an apparent belief that if Iran was kept from moving secretly toward a nuclear bomb, Western leaders could avoid facing the decision to respond to its existence. As long as Obama was uncertain military action would achieve all objectives based on his concepts, Putin could imagine Obama refusing to go to war.

Israeli F-16 jets flying in formation. US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told Israel’s diplomatic reporters that a military operation against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. She explained “the best option is a diplomatic negotiated solution.” For Putin, Sherman’s words ended all guessing on US intentions with Iran.

Military Action Is Sidelined

Ultra vires! (Beyond ones powers!) Guessing over US intentions ended when Putin and his foreign and defense policy officials heard US officials confirm that in which Moscow could not be certain. On April 13, 2015, Haaretz reported US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told Israeli reporters that a military operation against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. She stated, “A military strike by Israel or the US would only set back the nuclear program by two years.” She said further, “You can’t bomb their nuclear know-how, and they will rebuild everything. The alternatives are there but the best option is a diplomatic negotiated solution.” She noted, “There is no difference [between the US and Israel] on the concern about the Iranian nuclear program but on the way to deal with it.” Despite fears expressed in 2013 that Iran would soon have a nuclear weapons, Sherman explained that the US and Israeli intelligence communities agree Iran is not close to producing one and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has made no decision to produce one. Sherman said, “They don’t have enough fissile material and don’t have delivery system or weapon per se.” She proffered, “It would take them a considerable period of time to get all that.”

Even the tone in the US Congress softened. Congress drafted a bill that would require that the administration send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it is completed. Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner stated “Congress absolutely should have the opportunity to review this deal.” He explained further, “We shouldn’t just count on the administration, which appears to want a deal at any cost.” The focus of most observers was the fact that the bill would halt the lifting of sanctions pending a thirty day Congressional review, and culminates in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of sanctions imposed by Congress in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Actually, if Congress rejects the final agreement, Obama could still veto its legislation. It would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto, meaning Obama could lose upward of a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail. However, what was most important about the bill for Putin was that Congress accepted more sanctions as means to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, not war.

Putin operates within a practically all-male, nationalist, power-oriented environment in the Kremlin. He sees Obama is confident in the better side of human nature, and likely views that as a weakness. Putin undoubtedly wants to find ways to exploit the benign, less aggressive side of Obama to the greatest degree possible before the end of his second term.

Reality Check Concerning Putin

Unlike the diverse group of cabinet-level officials and policy makers and analysts that advise Obama, Putin operates within a practically all-male, nationalist, power-oriented environment in the Kremlin. In thinking about Obama, Putin undoubtedly recognizes his US counterpart wants to be an honest broker. He sees Obama is confident in the better side of human nature, and operates under the notion that issues in foreign affairs can be resolved at the negotiating table. Given that, Putin and his advisers undoubtedly view Obama in a way akin to renowned United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s “boneless wonder.” Putin very likely hopes to exploit the benign, less aggressive side of Obama to the greatest degree possible before the end of his second term. Putin and Obama are very different men. After the Soviet Union’s collapse and internal chaos of the 1990s, Putin restored order in Russia by reestablishing the power of the state some might say with little regard for human and political rights. Putin’s style of management was shaped by his initial career as an officer in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. Putin has been assisted by a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career. These men are referred to as siloviki (power men). At the pinnacle were those who came from a community of families in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg whose “roots” go back to first political police of the Communist Party known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He went to schools and a university Chekisty (Chekist) community progeny typically attended.

Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent on Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As Putin has noted in public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. In a March 18, 2014 speech, Putin enumerated some actions taken by the West that have fostered his contempt. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice from Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally.

Paradoxically, the aggressive behavior Putin attributes to the US has been displayed by him time and again. In 2008, Putin forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova was placed under similar pressure. That same year, Putin invaded Georgia. Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. In November 2014, Putin signed a Russia-Abkhazia Treaty of Alliance and Integration which meant in practice Moscow is responsible for the customs, defense, and security of the separatist republic. In March 2015, Putin signed the Russian-South Ossetian Treaty of Alliance and Integration which has similar terms. Georgia has no chance of regaining its territories. In November 2013, using economic influence and political power, he drove then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to abort a deal Ukraine had with the EU that would have pulled it toward the West. When the Ukrainian Parliament removed Yanukovych, Putin grabbed Crimea. Such moves legitimize NATO’s worries.

Putin’s uncongenial attitude toward the West was very apparent while the Iran Talks were still underway. Incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers (as the one shown above) in US and European airspace prompted the scrambling of fighter jets. Russia also sold its S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran.

Lessons Learned Through the Iran Talks Putin May Be Applying

This uncongenial attitude Putin has harbored toward the West was apparent during the Iran Talks. Perhaps he was testing his P5+1 partners. In August 2014, Russia signed a deal with Iran that undermined Western-led sanctions against the two countries. The memorandum of understanding between the two governments envisaged wider economic cooperation to include closer ties in the oil and gas sector, construction and rebuilding of generating capacity, development of a power supply network infrastructure, machinery, consumer goods, and agriculture. It laid the foundation for a multi-billion dollar deal between Moscow and Tehran, the so-called oil-for-goods contract. In addition to that contract, there was the sale of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile to Iran. The S-300 would neutralize any possibility that Israel could take unilateral action against Iran. That would remain the case until the Israeli Air Force receives F-35 fighters from the US. Only the US Air Force’s small fleet of B-2 stealth bombers would have a chance of hitting Iranian targets properly now. If the US and Europe repeatedly threaten and levy sanctions, Putin and his advisers may take audacious steps. Sensing his back is up against the wall, and unable to project strength otherwise, Putin might seek to deter further Western action by making extraordinary threats to use Russian military power. The Russian Ambassador to Denmark threatened that the Danes would become a target of Russian nuclear weapons if they participated in any missile defense program. Danish jets scrambled 58 times in 2014 to head off Russian aircraft. Russian strategic nuclear bombers also conducted numerous incursions into northwestern US air defense identification zones. Incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers and intelligence-gathering jets in US and European airspace have prompted the scrambling of fighter jets. Russian military aircraft have been flying without transponders over Europe close to civilian aircraft. Putin warned Russia was developing new strategic nuclear weapons that would catch the West by surprise. Russia has moved Iskandar ballistic missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave between Lithuania and Poland and long-range, nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea.

An April 18, 2015 Reuters article stated Putin recently softened his anti-US rhetoric only a week after accusing the US of trying to dominate world affairs and saying what it wanted was “not allies, but vassals.” Putin reportedly said on April 18th, “We have disagreements on several issues on the international agenda. But at the same time there is something that unites us, that forces us to work together.” He then stated, “I mean general efforts directed at making the world economy more democratic, measured, and bilateral, so that the world order is more democratic. We have a common agenda.” Similarly, the BBC reported that on March 6, 2014, after seizing Crimea, Putin told Obama by telephone that US-Russian “relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems.” Regarding Crimea, Putin said Russia could not “ignore calls for help and acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law.” Given Obama’s record on the use of force, and what Russia observed during the Iran Talks, Putin may have calculated he has pushed hard enough, and he now can reap a negotiated resolution from Obama. Perhaps Putin assessed that as with Iran, talks might provide him with the chance to achieve many objectives.

The Way Forward

Fene libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. (Men readily believe what they want to believe.) The decay of Europe’s defense came as a result of a lack of commitment of the European countries, and to an extent the US, to the stewardship of NATO, militarily. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO members became weary of investing financial resources in a deterrent force that did not face an apparent threat. There was no change in thinking despite Putin’s aggressive stance and actions against countries that are part of Russia’s “near abroad.” To surmount the impact of what the Western capitals were seeing, they ignored what they saw, made massive military cuts, and failed to meet their military commitments to NATO.

Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis! (Not for you, not for me, but for us!) Meetings between NATO allies can no longer simply amount to rhetorical conversations about collective security in Europe, pledges to do more, and proposals to rearrange the meager military resources currently available to face the vast, mobile, hard-hitting Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Decisions must be made now on what will done in the face of a confrontation with Russia over future aggressive moves against Ukraine or any other sovereign state in Europe. Too many ambiguous political speeches and statements on US military power have already been made to create doubt over whether the US might respond at all. There must be clear discussions on a mutually acceptable political rationale for military action, despite its difficulties and horrors, must be established between the US and the Europe. US and European leaders must confirm now what they will commit and exactly how they will act together militarily. In a manner loud enough for Putin to hear, Obama, in particular, must continually confirm at the UN, in NATO, and in its members’ respective capitals that Europe can count on US support if a military confrontation becomes imminent.

US and Allies Extend Iran Nuclear Talks by 7 Months: A Deal May Be Reached with Trust, But Not with Certainty

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari (right) stands close to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left), at a ceremony. For hard-liners as Jafari, the failure to reach a deal by November 24th proved the West only wants Iran to surrender its nuclear program. Fears of US military action are gone. Hard-liners have gained even more of Khamenei’s attention on foreign policy.

According to a November 25, 2014 New York Times article entitled “U.S. and Allies Extend Iran Nuclear Talks by 7 Months”, the US and partners in the P5+1 (the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council—the US, United Kingdom, France Russia, and China—plus Germany), to declare an extension for talks with Iran on its nuclear program until June 30, 2015. The extension came after a yearlong effort to reach a sustainable agreement with Iran to dismantle large parts of its nuclear infrastructure. There was no indication of why negotiators felt they could overcome political obstacles blocking a deal. Until very recently, negotiators from all sides insisted that the November 24, 2014 deadline for a deal was hard and fast.

The November 25th New York Times article explained the already extended high-level diplomacy over the Iranian nuclear program was arguably US President Barack Obama’s top foreign policy priority. The results on November 24th had to be a disappointment for him. Negotiators did not even agree on the framework for a comprehensive deal. In expressing hope that a deal could still be reached, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that a series of “new ideas surfaced” in the last several days of talks. He further stated “we would be fools to walk away,” because a temporary agreement curbing Iran’s program would remain in place while negotiations continued. Indeed, it has been reported that Iran has actually kept its end of the deal under the November 24, 2013 interim agreement, named the Joint Plan of Action, by reducing its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, not enriching uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges in addition to other things. In extending the interim agreement, Iran has ensured itself sanctions relief, bringing it $700 million a month in money formerly frozen abroad. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared on Iranian national television with a message of both reassurance and resistance. He told Iranians that a deal would end sanctions, but also said “the centrifuges are spinning and will never stop.” The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has rejected US demands for the deep reductions in Iran’s enrichment capability. His view may not change before a March 1, 2015 deadline for reaching a political agreement, the first phase in the seven-month extension.

For the hard-liners in Iran, the failure to reach an agreement proved the US and its allies were not negotiating honestly and simply wanted to take away Iran’s nuclear program. Iranian moderates however, seem to realize an authentic agreement that includes the removal of sanctions and an acceptable modification of Iran’s nuclear activities can be reached. Yet, they likely also worry that the failure to reach an agreement coupled with the lackluster US reaction over events in Iraq and Syria has strengthened hard-liners’ resolve, and worse, strengthened their position and influence with Khamenei. Threats made by the Obama administration to take military action if negotiations fail now ring hollow. Western negotiators remain concerned over how Iran will proceed with or without a deal. A deal would need to be made with the prayer that Tehran will not announce one day that it has a weapon.

Zarif Wants An Agreement to Resolve the Nuclear Issue in Tehran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, was upbeat before reporters at a press conference on November 25, 2014 in Vienna saying with a broad smile that he was optimistic that in the next few months a solution would be found. He was quoted as saying “We don’t need seven months.” Zarif directed his words at the US Congress saying Iran would not be ending all of its nuclear activities. He explained “If you are looking for a zero sum game in nuclear negotiations, you are doomed to failure.” He also revealed that the step by step removal of sanctions was a stumbling block in the talks. Zarif apparently argued to the end in the talks that the sanctions must be lifted permanently and almost immediately. For both Rouhani and Obama, the next seven months may be difficult to manage. Opponents of concessions of any kind have been gaining strength in both countries. It seems time has quickly passed since the summer of 2013 when considerable enthusiasm was created in Washington and other Western capitals over the potential of negotiations with Iran. Rouhani made an eloquent case for opening a dialogue with the US before and after his inauguration.  Skepticism expressed in the US came mainly from Kerry.  He made it clear that the warming a relations between the US and Iran did not mean that the US would back off its demands on Iran’s nuclear program.  Kerry was also unequivocal about his willingness to shut down any talks if he discerned an effort to stall, misdirect, or deceive through the process. However, as the process got underway, there was a perceptible shift in the US position.  US negotiators seemed to fall over themselves just to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.  Talk of military action against Iran’s nuclear program has become a distant memory.  Obama administration officials pleaded with Congress not to levy new sanctions against Iran because sanctions would not convince the Iranians to accede to US wishes.  Simply put, the White House wanted to reach a deal, and US officials did not really hide that fact. Zarif apparently recognized the change in US attitude.  He told the Iranian media, “There are indicators that John Kerry is inclined [to advance the nuclear matter in Iran’s interests].”

By that point, Zarif saw the real possibility of reaching an agreement with the P5+1 that Tehran could live with. He argued with hard-line elements in Tehran, including the leadership of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and hard-line political and religious leaders, that a deal would be beneficial to Iran. The hard-liners did not desire to engage in negotiations, particularly with the West and remained reluctant, but, in obedience to Khamenei, they did not oppose his efforts. Zarif assures that Iran neither needs nor simply wants a nuclear weapons capability. That is to the best of his knowledge. Zarif believes Iran’s size and strength and level of technological development makes it unnecessary to augment its power with nuclear weapons. Zarif believes the goal of Iran’s nuclear program was to produce fuel for its nuclear reactor. That argument has remained at the root of his efforts during the entire negotiation process.  In a US television interview in July 17, 2014, he explained that nuclear weapons would likely reduce Iran’s security and influence in its region.  He said “It doesn’t help anybody.”  He went on to state “The fact that everybody in the international community believes that mutual assured destruction, that is the way the United States, Russia and others, get, seek, peace and security, through having the possibility of destroying each other 100 times over, is simply mad.” Zarif argued: “Have they [nuclear weapons] made Pakistan safe? Have they made Israel safe? Have they made Russia safe? All these countries are susceptible. Now you have proof that nuclear weapons or no amount of military power makes you safe. So we need to live in a different paradigm. And that’s what we are calling for.” To prove Western claims about Iran’s nuclear program untrue, Zarif has proposed confidence-building measures and responded to proposals from the P5+1. However, firm limits to what he could commit to were set by Khamenei. As the November 24th deadline approached, Tehran apparently pulled the reign on Zarif tighter. Zarif undoubtedly recognized that other events in the region were having an impact on Khamenei’s thoughts on the negotiations. Threats of US military action had already dissipated. However, once the Obama administration displayed great reluctance to act militarily in Iraq in the face of monstrous actions by Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), fears were mitigated within all quarters in Tehran that the US would act militarily against Iran.  Obama’s October 2014 letter to Khamenei may have further substantiated that view. With less worry that failed negotiations would lead to war, leaders in Tehran, particularly Khamenei and the hard-liners, saw no need to deal away any more of Iran’s nuclear program.

Hard-liners Strengthen Their Position with Khamenei

From the prism of hard-line elements in Tehran, the negotiation process has been a contest of wills. IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari stated: “All must help the negotiations team of our country and the foreign policy apparatus in order to create consensus and public unity at the current time in order to help them demand the fundamental rights of the nation of Iran in the nuclear field and stand against Arrogant [US] blackmail and greed during negotiations and meetings.” Yet, as the eagerness of the Obama administration to reach a deal became even apparent to them, the hard-liners watched, anticipating that the US would acquiesce to Iran’s demands. Previously, Iran contended with the administration of US President George W. Bush who threatened regime change and, hinted at a possible ground attack from Iraq. However, the Obama administration seemed less threatening and somewhat pliant to hard-liners. That perception was apparent iin the reaction of Jafari to the negotiations latest outcome. He explained “The Americans’ surrender to the authority of Iran is apparent by their behavior in the region and in the [nuclear] negotiations, and the issues of the enemy in combat with Iran were fully felt. Of course, their excesses in some cases are due to their fierce temper.” Jafari still expressed no genuine interest in reaching a deal with the P5+1. He stated, “The main elements of our power are in the hands of God and country. We should not seek our dignity and authority from the foreigners.”  He waxed on Iran’s potential to become a global power, and the need for a strategy to promote its interests and the Revolution worldwide. Jafari proffered, “Our problem is that we don’t have a broader outlook; the Supreme has also stressed this issue . . . If we don’t have a comprehensive and broader outlook, we will go wrong in all fields and decision-making, even the negotiations and nuclear issues.”

IRGC senior commanders have always looked with a bad eye at the size, power, and capabilities of the US military, and have wanted to surpass it in the Middle East and beyond. The IRGC and Iranian Armed Forces regularly declare their willingness to defend Iranian territory to the end and display Iran’s military capabilities. Jafari stated: “[The US and Israel] know well that they have been unable to take any military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and if they make any foolish move of this sort, there are many options on the table for Iran and deadly responses will be received.” Senior Military Adviser to the Supreme Leader, General (Sarlashkar) Yahya Rahim Safavi, stated, “With God’s grace, Iran’s army has transformed into a strong, experienced, and capable army twenty-five years after the [Iran-Iraq] war’s end, and is now considered a powerful army in Western Asia.” On Syria, the US has not interfered with Iran’s military forces on the ground and efforts to shape events there. Despite declaring red-lines on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and publicly accusing the Assad regime of using chemical weapons, the Obama administration expressed fears over placing “boots on the ground” and eventually declined to act.  That led IRGC commanders in particular to publicly deride the US as being indecisive and predict it would be pliant to Iran’s demands. IRGC Quds Force Commander, General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani said of the US, “There was a day when the US used three options: political, economic, military.  Today they lie and say ‘we have forced Iran to negotiate with sanctions’ or the Islamic system is weaker.’  Really, today, the US has the most debt of any country in the world.  The US has also failed everywhere they have interfered militarily.  From a political perspective, they are not accepted anywhere in the world.  In a situation in which the US is considered the world’s greatest power, they are ruined in every dimension.”

In one of his early public statements on the Iraq, Khamenei said, “The Dominant System [US], using the remnants of Saddam’s regime as the primary pawns and the prejudiced takfiri elements as the infantry, is seeking to disrupt Iraq’s peace and stability and threaten its territorial integrity.” Hard-liners apparently had to convince Khamenei that the Obama administration did not have the situation under control and was not moving with an assured step. Much as Zarif seemingly recognized, hard-line military and security officials apparently concluded uniformly that the US has no intention of attacking Iran if the nuclear talks fail. The hard-liners appear to have convinced Khamenei that Obama’s reluctance to fight ISIS showed he would be even more reluctant to face the IRGC, Iranian Armed Forces, and other security elements globally if the US attacked Iran’s nuclear program.  The hard-liners also likely inferred from Obama’s reluctance he would not want to concurrently fight Iran and ISIS. Khamenei was able to see Iran was in, what Jafari would characterize as, a stronger position versus the US, even on the nuclear issue.

Jafari has always looked with a bad eye at the US military. He believes the US is in decline and wants Iran to acquire a broader outlook regarding its role in world affairs.

A maturing public relations apparatus in Khamenei’s office shaped official quotes from the Supreme Leader in response to the talks’ result. On Thursday November 27, 2014, Khamenei made it clear that he backed the extension of nuclear negotiations with the P5+1, and praised the negotiating team for its efforts. Khamenei expressed on his website, “For the same reasons I wasn’t against negotiations, I’m also not against the extension.” He characterized Iran’s negotiators as “hard-working and serious . . . [They] justly and honestly stood against words of force and bullying of the other side, and unlike the other side, they did not change their words every day.” In another message on his Twitter account, Khamenei stated “We accept fair and reasonable agreements. Where there’s bullying and excessive demands, all of Iran, people and officials, will not accept.”

However, in a more genuine manifestation of his feelings on the negotiations, Khamenei, in a November 25, 2014 meeting with Muslim clerics in Tehran, dismissed the diplomatic and economic pressure that world powers had brought to bear on his country over its nuclear ambitions. Khamenei said that the West had failed to bring Iran “to its knees.” On his website, he further stated that “In the nuclear issue, America and colonial European countries got together and did their best to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees, but they could not do so—and they will not be able to do so.” Several Twitter posts from an account used by Khamenei’s office, accused the West of meddling in the Middle East and using Sunni militant groups to thwart the Arab Spring uprisings with intra-Muslim infighting, “in line with arrogant [US] goals.” Some of Khamenei’s November 27th statements actually lapsed into the same aggressive tone. Khamenei said the US would be the biggest loser if the extended talks failed. He remarked “Know that whether or not we reach a nuclear agreement, Israel becomes more insecure day by day.” He then proclaimed, “Our people are willing to maintain their authority and values, and will bear the economic pressure.” Khamenei has stated repeatedly that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon. However, his statement likely came with caveats. If Khamenei, as the steward of Iran’s national security, felt a weapon was necessary for Iran’s security, he would build it and expect the Iranian people to faithfully overcome any Western efforts in response.

The Danger That Lurks: Real or Imagined?

Before the nuclear talks began, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) obtained information suggesting Iranian leaders are not completely opposed to developing a nuclear weapon. In an internal 2009 IAEA document, most of which was published by Institute for Science and International Security, is a section titled “Statements made by Iranian officials.”  It states: “The Agency [IAEA] was informed that in April 1984 the then President of Iran, H.E. Ayatollah Khamenei declared, during a meeting of top-echelon political and security officials at the Presidential Palace in Tehran, that the spiritual leader Imam Khomeini had decided to reactivate the nuclear programme. According to Ayatollah Khamenei this was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies, especially the United States and Israel, and to prepare it for the emergence of Imam Mehdi. Ayatollah Khamenei further declared during the meeting, that a nuclear arsenal would serve Iran as a deterrent in the hands of God’s soldiers.” The November 2011 IAEA Safeguards Report described the emergence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program that peaked in 2002 and 2003, and then was abruptly halted. The IAEA report also presented information from UN Member States indicating aspects of this program continued or restarted after 2003 and may be on-going.

The concern among US and European negotiators is that hard-liners in Tehran are using the on-going nuclear talks to misdirect them, enabling elements of the Iranian government to pursue the covert weaponization of the nuclear program.  Continued progress with the nuclear program has been a feature of Iran’s negotiations with the West since such talks began with the Bush administration. Iran may have the capability to engage in a dual-track approach to resolve problems over the nuclear issue with the West within the parameters of Khamenei’s concept of heroic flexibility.  Rouhani and Zarif would take a path toward diplomacy to acquire concessions from the P5+1while the IRGC, the Ministry of Defense, and other government elements secretly develop the ability to create a nuclear weapon. According to a May 27, 2014 Wall Street Journal article, Western intelligence agencies discovered Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear device dated back to the late 1980s, at a Defense Ministry-linked physics research center in Tehran.  According to the IAEA, Iran consolidated its weaponization researchers in the 1990s under an initiative called “AMAD Plan,” headed by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear engineer and senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).  The mission of AMAD Plan was to procure dual-use technologies, developing nuclear detonators and conducting high-explosive experiments associated with compressing fissile material, according to Western intelligence agencies.  AMAD Plan’s most intense period of activity was in 2002-2003, according to the IAEA, when Rouhani was Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.  The May 27th article asserted Fakhrizadeh has continued to oversee these disparate and highly compartmentalized activities under the auspices of Iran’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known by its Persian acronym, SPND. Nulla tenaci, invia est via! (For the tenacious, no road is impossible!)

The Way Forward

While stumbling blocks are addressed, new approaches to ameliorate US concerns are being explored such as ways to provide the US with at least a year to discover if Iran was racing for a weapon, a standard that the US has set. Such steps could involve a combination of Iranian commitments to ship some of its nuclear stockpile to Russia, efforts to disconnect some of the country’s centrifuges in ways that would take considerable time to reverse, and limits on output that could be verified by international inspectors.   However, efforts in that direction may not amount to much in the current political environment, particularly in Iran and the US. When it was announced that no deal was reached and negotiations would be extended, lawmakers inthe Iranian Parliament erupted in chants “Death to America” after a lawmaker commenting on the deadline extension spoke of “the U.S.’s sabotaging efforts and its unreliability.” The lawmaker, Mohammad-Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard, who is the deputy speaker of the Parliament, said Iran had learned from the nuclear negotiations that it had a strong hand to play. “Today, we can speak to the U.S. and its allies with the tone of power,” he said in remarks quoted by the Fars News Agency. “A lesson can be taken from the recent nuclear talks that, for various reasons, the U.S. is not reliable.” The Republican controlled Congress really has no interest in restoring or improving relations with Iran while it has a nuclear program. Congressional Republicans have threatened to impose new sanctions on Iran regardless of whether such action interfered with the nuclear talks. Obama will no longer be able to rely on Democratic leaders in the Senate to bottle up legislation that would require new sanctions. Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the New York Times, “I don’t think Congress is going to sit still.” He further stated, “There is a fear the administration is being played for time, and there will be a desire to express that in some form of a sanctions bill.” Disapproval over the renewed sanctions relief that had brought Iran $700 million a month in money formerly frozen abroad may very well compel Congress to levy new sanctions. If the nuclear negotiations failed, any outrage expressed after such an occurrence would simply amount to lip service.  The use of military force would be unlikely given current circumstances in the Middle East and Obama’s disposition on it. There would be sanctions, but it is likely Tehran has already calculated what the consequences of such measures would be and how it could best mitigate their effects. Khamenei has assured that, if the extended talks fail, “the sky won’t fall to the ground.”

Evidence that the Iranian nuclear program has been militarized does not exist. Yet, despite what Zarif has argued, Khamenei and hard-line Iranian leaders may believe a nuclear weapon would make Iran more secure. At a minimum, they might seek the option to weaponize. Proceeding in that way would be very dangerous for Iran in the long-term. Iranian leaders know that when dealing with the US, ultimately, issues do not center on whoever occupies the Oval Office at any given time. Term-limits set by the US Constitution prevent Obama for serving a third term. As greatcharlie.com has cautioned more than once, striking a balance between demands for relief from economic sanctions and the gradual cessation of the nuclear program may not be at issue for the next US president. To the extent the US is a staunch ally of Israel and to a similar extent, Saudi Arabia, the next US president might decide to ameliorate the US approach, requiring new concessions from Iran, to include an immediate halt of its nuclear activities. A new demand might be made for Iran to surrender its nuclear program or face military action.  If the current global perception that US leaders lack the will and power to act militarily still prevails in 2016, the next administration may not be able to compel outcomes on many issues with diplomacy or threats to use force. Favorable outcomes may result only from robust use of US military force.

An above average understanding of human nature and faith will be required to formulate a final decision on a deal under current circumstances. Clearly, some reasonable doubt exists, at least among Western partners in the P5+1, over whether the terms of a deal would be observed. With circumstances in the world seeming off-balance, George William Rutler, pastor of Saint Michael’s Church in New York City and author of Cloud of Witnesses, recently reminded greatcharlie.com of a live radio message by King George VI on New Year’s 1939, offering reassurance to his people. It would have an important effect on the listening public as they moved closer to war. King George VI acknowledged that there was uncertainty over what the new year would bring. He explained, “If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”   He went on to quote a poem from Minnie Haskins of the London School of Economics entitled “The Gate of the Year” (The Dessert 1908). It seems apropos to present that quote here at the end of 2014, given the situation the leaders of the P5+1 nations will face in 2015 over the nuclear negotiations.

“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year:

‘Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!’

And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way’.”

Obama Signs Bill That Bars Iran’s UN Envoy: Hopefully, the Rejection of Abutalebi Hasn’t Jeopardized the Nuclear Talks

The bill that US President Barack Obama signed into law on April 18th blocks any individual from entering the US, including a Member State’s appointee to the UN, who has been found to have been engaged in espionage or terrorist activity against the US and its allies or if that person may pose a threat to national security.

According to an April 18, 2014 New York Times report entitled, “Obama Signs Bill That Bars Iran’s Envoy,” US President Barack Obama signed into law the bill that prevents the granting of a US visa for Iranian diplomat Hamid Abutalebi.  The bill, itself, was unanimously passed by US House of Representatives and approved by the US Senate on April 10th.  The vote in Congress was supposed to send what sponsors called a blunt rejoinder to the Iranian government for having selected a nominee who played a role, however minor, in the 1979 American hostage crisis in Tehran.  Iranian officials have said Abutalebi’s appointment was decided months ago, but it is still believed by US experts that hardliners in Iran urged Abutalebi’s appointment as Iran’s UN permanent representative to create controversy, snuff out reconciliation efforts, and halt the nuclear talks.  Compassion and sympathy should be felt toward the former embassy staff members who suffered during the hostage crisis.  Yet, while Iran might decide upon a candidate based on domestic political considerations, it is not useful for the US officials to reject an Iranian candidate based on domestic political considerations.  Given all that has been articulated so well by the Obama administration the possibilities that could come from newly established diplomatic engagement between the US and Iran, his decision to block the visa does not appear rise up to that same positive spirit.  Obama’s support for the Congressional legislation, that banned Abutalebi and dredged up the many visceral issues associated with the hostage crisis, makes the administration’s statements in support of building better ties seem more as mere lip service to the process rather than a genuine effort. 

What remains to be seen is whether a strong enough communion exists among US and Iranian officials that would allow them to overcome such stumbling blocks as a disputed appointment to the UN.  Unless Iran can use legal means and negotiations with the US to reverse the decision on Abutalebi, the ship has likely sailed on the issue of his appointment.  Before Obama signed the Congressional bill, an April 10th New York Times article informed that some US specialists on Iran said optimistically that despite the sharp language, they did not forsee the dispute over Abutalebi sabotaging the broader efforts at achieving a nuclear agreement.  Cynics, waging a “legislative war” against Iran, are unable to see the value of the improved relations and idealist are unable to discern the capability of provocative statements and acts to effectively derail the nuclear negotiation process. Yet, perhaps this might be a case when cynics and idealists alike in the US are unable to fully discern the situation before them.  In the end, to avoid war and to ensure greater confidence that what is happening both in Iran and the US is known, both cynics and idealists must oddly come together, along with pragmatists, to help establish a sustainable agreement satisfactory to all.  Such steps taken now will facilitate efforts to maintain the agreement by its future stewards.

The Concerns Over Abutalebi

This episode regarding Abutalebi is not the case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing.  In Iran, the selection of Abutalebi to replace the current permanent representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN, Mohammad Khazee, hardly could have been made without input from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  It was undoubtedly tacitly supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and hardline political and religious leaders.  However, when the selection of Abutalebi was made in Tehran, even if months ago, it had to be recognized then, as it is quite apparent now, that his selection would cause a strong response within official Washington, given his connection to the infamous capture of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. In the US, the decision to withhold a visa from Abutalebi gained impetus in the US Congress after legal representatives of the 52 embassy staff members of the captured US embassy in Tehran reported that he was among the revolutionaries, some of whom engaged in acts of mental and physical abuse against many of them during the 444-day hostage crisis.  Misgivings about Abutalebi rapidly built among Members of Congress and were manifested in a bill to prohibit him from entering the US.  Given the significant progress made in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program both in Geneva as well as back channel talks between US and Iranian officials, it was incumbent upon Obama to fully weigh blocking one Iranian diplomat, albeit with a problematic history, against paving a smooth course toward an historic agreement with Iran before placing his signature on it.

Abutalebi is a veteran diplomat who began working in the Iranian Foreign Ministry in the early 1980s.  He has held key European postings in the past.  He served as Iran’s ambassador to Italy, Belgium, and Australia. Abutalebi is said to be connected to circles close to Rouhani as well as former President Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani.  In September 2013, Abutalebi was appointed as deputy director of Rouhani’s political affairs office.  He also headed the Central Asian branch at the research center of the Expediency Council lead by Rafsanjani.  Abutalebi is said to be close to former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist.

Abutalebi stated that while he was a part of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, the student group that occupied the US embassy in November 1979, he was not among the core group of student activists and was not inside the embassy during the crisis.  Nothing stated or reported indicates Abutalebi’s actions 35 years ago were of an egregious nature.  In fact, Abutalebi claims he was Ahvaz during the occupation of the US embassy.  It was only when he came back to Tehran that he was asked to help with some translation and he accepted to do it.  Abutalebi was quoted on the Iranian Khabaronline website as stating “I did the translation during news conference when female and also African-American employees of the embassy were released.”

Yet, Abutalebi’s explanation of his involvement in the embassy seizure was never relevant to US officials.  A spokesman and attorney from the legal team representing former hostages who have made compensation claims, Alan Madison, admitted that very little concrete information was available about Abutalebi’s role in the hostage-taking. Madison stated, “After 34 years, it’s difficult to say this was a central character or this was a tangential character. But he was there, and it’s our understanding that having been a participant, he still has some political credibility with some of those folks in Iran.”  Madison also presented a statement from former hostage, Barry Rosen that explained, “It’s a disgrace if the USG (U.S. government) accepts Abutalebi’s Visa as Iranian Ambassador to the U.N.”

The Abutalebi Case Shows US-Iran Relationship Requires Far More Work

Relations between the US and Iran remain far from perfect, however they are at a new stage as a result of the nuclear negotiations.  The talks have provided a unique opportunity for US officials and their Iranian counterparts, through close contact, to acquire a better understanding of each other.  Much of what has been learned since surely contradicts Iranian leaders’ prior assessments of capabilities and possibilities regarding the US.  For the US and Iran, the improved understanding of mutual positions was further strengthened by back channel talks, some conducted by officials from the US National Security Council. Indeed, progress has been made of the nuclear issue and sanctions.  Key Iranian leaders at this point may be able to see, even with the most powerful revolutionary slogans in mind, the real possibilities of a final agreement. US Secretary of State John Kerry, the senior US authority on diplomacy, admits that Iran has kept its end of a deal reached on November 24, 2013.  On February 24, 2014, Kerry stated Iran had reduced its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, not enriching uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges in addition to other things.  Kerry explained that “They [the Iranians] are in the middle of doing all the things that they are required to do.”

However, cynics ignore such truths.  The truth, itself, is seemingly viewed as treason for those against the change in relations between the US and Iran.  Despite progress, enough US and Iranian leaders have not moved forward at all in their thinking and they seem determined to have a negative impact on the negotiation process.  As the IRGC General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari has stated, “Anti-Westernism is the principle characteristic of the Islamic Republic.”  On the Geneva talks, Khamenei from the beginning made statements such as: “We had announced previously that on certain issues, if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with the Satan [US] to deter its evil.” In the US, it remains dogma among policy analysts and think tank scholars to view Iran as determined to pursue nuclear weapons through its nuclear program.  The idea that nuclear talks may be the path for new, positive relations between the US and Iran, probably will not gain acceptance among cynics until a final agreement is achieved.  Even then, some will cling to doubts.

Given emnity that surfaced in both Tehran and Washington over the matter of Abutalebi’s selection as Iran’s permanent representative to the UN, it is clear that hardliners in Tehran or Members of Congress persist in viewing policy goals and approaches giving primacy to information developed in the abstract long before the negotiations began.  A new understanding of each other’s ideas on issues and intentions should have been developed given the months of talks between the US and Iran.  If a more positive understanding of respective concepts and intentions is not reached soon, the failure of the direct talks will practically be ensured.  Moreover, with a limited understanding of a counterpart’s thinking, cynics significantly lessen the possibilty of achieving their own policy goals.

The Way Forward

Despite what idealist may hope, how Obama handled this matter will determine what type of confidence he builds among leaders in Tehran.  Having stood with what Iranian officials see as the banality of Congress’ rejection of Abutalebi over his nearly indiscernible role in the US embassy seizure, Tehran may use the signing of the bill to gauge whether Obama would challenge Congress on other issues concerning US-Iran relations, to include the nuclear talks.  Although Obama cannot prevent Congress from passing sanctions or force Congress to remove them, he could greatly curtail or remove sanctions over the nuclear program under a final deal by waiving them until he leaves office if he chooses.  The Iranians probably recognized that was the most they could expect.  Now, even that outcome has been put into question.

At the UN, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, other senior officials, and even UN Member States most friendly with the US, would unlikely require or expect Iran to repeatedly present candidate after candidate until one would finally be found acceptable to the US.  Some of those friendly states have already accepted Abutalebi as an ambassador in their capitals.  The bill that Obama signed into law blocks any individual from entering the US who has been found to have been engaged in espionage or terrorist activity against the US and its allies or if that person may pose a threat to national security.  From the information that has been presented about Abutalebi so far, it does not seem that by his mere presence in New York City as Iran’s UN permanent representative, he poses any threat to the US.  Interestingly, Abutalebi’s actions during the embassy takeover were undoubtedly far less egregious than that of some diplomats past and present from states whose forces have engaged in combat against the US military since World War II, including China (The Korean War 1950-1953), Vietnam (The Vietnam War 1964-1973), Cuba (Grenada, Operation Urgent Fury  1983), Serbia (Operation Allied Force, 1999), Montenegro (Operation Allied Force, 1999), or Iraq (The Gulf War 1991 and The Iraq War, 2003-2011).  Except in the case of Cuba, the US has normalized relations with those states.  There is plenty of literature available that explains known or detected members of the intelligence services in the UN Missions, embassies, or consulates of states such as Russia, China, or the North Korea are, more often than not, granted visas and not expelled from the US as persona non grata.  Perhaps it should be considered by Congress that if Abutalebi is kept from assuming his post as Iran’s UN permanent representative, perhaps out of spite and due to extraordinary pressure from hardliners, Tehran might just send a new appointee, a very capable government official outside of the Foreign Ministry, who may have a less obvious profile but later may be discovered to have committed acts against the US and interests.

Rather than just deciding on whether to accept or reject the Congressional bill on Abutalebi, Obama could have used the situation as an opportunity to demonstrate what good things can come from thoughtful, direct presidential involvement in foreign policy efforts.  His personal involvement in US policy on Iran should always result in the injection of fresh thinking to the process to keep things moving forward.  The same should be expected of Rouhani.

The nuclear negotiations have meaning for present and future US-Iran relations.  Will and intellectual power is required to recognize the benefit of constructing a satisfactory and sustainable agreement.  True, a healthy dose of cynicism must exist in the process despite the best intentions.  However, the cynics must not be allowed to win the day.  For them, relations between the US and Iran appears to boil down into a competition over who has the upper hand in the relationship outside of the military sphere. Idealists would likely agree that a deal can be reached without the assistance of Iranian hardline political and religious leaders and the US Congress, yet it cannot be successfully concluded without their help.  Perhaps a focus could be placed on encouraging cynics on both sides.  As a result, they just might be helped to see, in a new way, the possibility of an agreement, and appreciate its value would be akin to that of a pearl of great price.

Update on greatcharlie.com’s Review of Duty: A Means to See Gates’ Perspectives on Government Service in a New Way

During his years of service, Ambassador Donald P. Gregg (pictured above) exemplified the type of capable, effective, and experienced US government official that Robert Gates, in Duty, lamented about rarely finding in the Obama administration.

In response to greatcharlie.com’s March 31, 2014 post “Book Review: Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014),” many readers of our blog have inquired about the review’s discussion of the prism through which Gates appraised the attitudes and behavior of government servants in the administration of US President Barack Obama. Young staffers and many senior officials had not seen what Gates had seen, had not heard what Gates had heard, and had not felt what Gates had felt as events occurred. They had no interest in learning from him. In Duty, Gates measures his observations of standards and practices in the US government while he was Secretary of Defense against what he had known during his previous years in government. In greatcharlie.com’s review, it was suggested that Gates was influenced by impressive colleagues in the Central Intelligence Agency and officials at the higher rungs of the US national security establishment with whom he worked during his career. They were individuals whose ingenuity, courage, sacrifice, and patriotism help build the foundation of US national security upon which policy and decisions are made. Among those names mentioned in greatcharlie.com’s review was veteran CIA officer Donald P. Gregg.

Gregg’s impressive career at CIA was part of a total of 43 years of exemplary government service. As a result of his crucial work in the administration of US President Ronald Reagan, some have referred to Gregg as “the father of modern counterterrorism.” Gregg completed his government service as the US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea. Similar to Gates, he continued to serve his country’s interests outside of government. Gregg transformed The Korea Society while serving as its president and chairman of The Korea Society. He presently serves as chairman of the Pacific Century Institute. The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) prepared a transcript of its recording of an interview conducted with Gregg on March 3, 2014, as part of its Foreign Affairs Oral History Project. Located at the National Foreign Service Training Center, ADST is an independent, non-profit organization that advances the understanding of diplomacy and supports the training of foreign affairs personnel through a variety of programs and activities. ADST’s oral histories are not nostalgia. They highlight the realities of diplomacy to include thought provoking, sometimes absurd, and often horrifying stories from which valuable lessons can be drawn.

Gregg’s oral history sheds light on his career as he passed through urgent and important events of the Cold War and a brief time afterward. It enables one to observe how ideas and players moved events forward from the inside. Insight is provided on actions and critical events. Gregg can easily be seen as a wise man, not only by his words, but in how he presented ideas and concepts and sought to develop consensus on issues. ADST has graciously authorized the presentation of Gregg’s oral history on greatcharlie.com for our readers to review. Hopefully, greatcharlie.com’s readers will appreciate and recognize the great value of Gregg’s oral history, and it will permit them to better understand Duty and see Gates’ perspectives in a new way.

Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training

Foreign Affairs Oral History Project

AMBASSADOR DONALD P. GREGG

Interviewed by: Charles Stuart Kennedy

Initial interview date: March 3, 2004

Copyright 2008 ADST

INTERVIEW

[Note: This interview was not edited by Ambassador Gregg.]

Q: Today is March 3, 2004. This is an interview with Donald P. Gregg. This is being done on behalf of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, and for the Luce Foundation. I am Charles Stuart Kennedy. So to begin with, I wonder Don, could you tell me when and where you were born and a little about where did you grow up.

GREGG: I was born in New York on December 5, 1927, and raised in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. My father was in YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). He was national secretary for boy’s work. I had TB (tuberculosis) as a kid, so I didn’t really go to school until I was about 12. I went into the army

Q: How did you go to school?

GREGG: I was taught to read at home. In those days that is about all you needed to have done. I went in the army at age 17 in 1945 right out of high school, and later went to Williams College.

Q: In the army where did you serve?

GREGG: I was trained as a crypt-analyst and didn’t get overseas. I had enlisted for 18 months and they didn’t have enough time to send me overseas. So I entered Williams in the fall of ’47, majored in philosophy, graduated in 1951. I had been signed up by CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) at that time.

[Portion of interview missing because the recording is too low to be able to transcribe]

GREGG: I got in because NSA you know the army having spent a lot of money training me as a crypt-analyst, and the interview was [inaudible] that I was not at all interested, [inaudible] the CIA. I said, “What is CIA?” He said, “Oh they jump out of airplanes and save the world.” I said, “Sign me up.”

Q: [inaudible]

GREGG: Paramilitary, yes. Well that meant planning clandestine operations, [inaudible] on the island of Saipan [inaudible] other people who were paratroopers down the line, all that kind of stuff. 

Q: Did you go with Bob Dylan and all that stuff?

GREGG: No I was a very close friend of Jack Downey’s. He was shot down in front of me some 20 years before.

Q: Well now, sort of moving ahead because this is going to sort of concentrate on your career. You first went to Korea when?

GREGG: I first set foot in Korea in 1968. I had been in Japan for nine years. I spoke Japanese fluently. I had become very interested in Korea through, as I saw through the Japanese prism. I had become very interested, and some of my CIA friends had been stationed there. I took a trip there in 1968, spent three or four days there, took a train down to Pusan and came back via [inaudible] to Japan, was tremendously impressed by the vitality of the people. It was the only job I ever requested in my CIA career was the assignment to Korea. I was assigned there in 1973.

Q: Well you mentioned the Japanese prism. My understanding is the Japanese basically looked down upon the Koreans.

GREGG: Very much so.

Q: I mean had that, what had sparked your interest. I mean were you trying to see the world through a different perspective?

GREGG: Yes. I mean I thought of the Japanese blaming the Koreans for everything from crime to pollution to traffic problems, and yet one could see that progress was being made in Korea, I was struck by the fact that the Koreans were so supportive of us in Vietnam. They had two full divisions there for several years, over 300,000 people. So I just wanted to see a neighboring country about which I had heard a great deal from friends who were stationed there.

Q: Did you, were you able to pick up any sort of the culture of Korea at the time, I mean the first visit?/ Did you sort of change your view?

GREGG: I was just really impressed by the directness of the people, by the beauty of the country, by the strong sense of history. I have always had an interest in pottery and the ceramics are gorgeous. I bought a few pieces of ceramics. It was just a very interesting experience. I still have a letter I wrote to my mother on the way back saying that this was a country that I really wanted to see more of.

Q: Well you had also served in Vietnam. Did you have any contact with the Koreans at that time?

GREGG: No. I was in charge of the ten provinces around Saigon from ’70 to ’72. They were in I Corps. I occasionally saw a Korean officer, but I did not have any contact with

Q: What sort of feedback were you getting from your colleagues about the Koreans?

GREGG: How tough they were, and how the pacification was really very effective I think they were in a couple of provinces. They were very tough, very ruthless. 

Q: Well then you got assigned to Korea in 1973 and were there for two years. What were you doing there?

GREGG: I was chief of station for CIA.

Q: What can you talk about what you were doing at that time?

GREGG: Well the major issue was North Korea. I had been to North Korea twice now. I told them and I tell others that I think North Korea is the longest running failure in the history of American espionage, because we have not been very successful in recruiting them. My job was to try to cooperate with the South Koreans in learning more about North Korea. It also was a very touchy time for U.S.-South Korean relations because by 1973 we had withdrawn from Vietnam or had been evicted. Park Chung Hee, the dictator, military leader was losing faith in us as a strong ally. He was acquiring weapons systems without telling us. He started a nuclear program which we discovered and stopped. It was a very interesting and difficult time for the relationship. My counterpart was a man named Lee Hu Rak who was the director of Korean CIA. He had gone to North Korea in 1972 and had met Kim Il Sung. In my first meeting with Lee Hu Rak, I took an instant dislike to him. But I asked him how did you feel when you sat down opposite your lifelong enemy. He said, “Oh, very strong. One man rule. Quite a guy.” Full of admiration. I think that he came back and said to Park Chung Hee, if we are going to talk to those people, we really are going to have to tighten up. So there was a good deal of tightening up. Park Chung Hee had narrowly beaten Kim Dae Jung in an election in 1971 or ’72. There were charges that the votes were rigged, and Kim Dae Jung at that point when I first went to Seoul, he had been in the United States speaking very critically of Park Chung Hee. He had went to Japan and continued his diatribes against his what was going on in Korea. So about two months after I was there, Kim Dae Jung was kidnapped from his hotel room in Tokyo, and this immediately became known. The ambassador to Korea at that time was Phil Habib, a man for whom I have just tremendous admiration. He called me into his office and said, “I know how things work here.” They are not going to kill Kim Dae Jung for 24 hours, until I have weighed in, and if you can tell me where he is and who has him, I think we can keep hm alive.” So fortunately we were able to do that, and Kim Dae Jung was tied hand and foot in a small boat. He had been locked up and told that he was going to be thrown into the sea. An airplane flew over the boat in which he was, and I guess some kind of message was sent, and he was released or untied.

Q: What was your role in this? Did you go to your counterpart and say “don’t do it?”

GREGG: No I didn’t. We were able to tell the ambassador that I can’t go into details about that, but it was KCIA that had kidnapped Kim Dae Jung.

Q: Well then what did he do?

GREGG: What did he do? Habib made a representation to the Korean government saying it is your own agency that has done this, and you damn well better keep him alive or it is going to be a tremendous spot on your escutcheon and it will do huge damage to our relations.

 Q: When you arrived there, what was your impression as station chief of dealing with the KCIA. During part of the time when you were doing this, I was in Athens as consul general there. I had you know, very much the distinctive question that we were very nl ce  uch,  ery close to the Greek junta and their intelligence organization. In fact too close. I mean, could you describe the relationship?

GREGG: Well it was a very difficult relationship because we had KCIA federally penetrated. Which was one of my major jobs because it was an organization basically out of control. I found very quickly that they talked about North Korea as a threat but their real effort was in stemming any kind of dissent within South Korea. That led to one of the major events in my CIA career, because after it became known that KCIA had kidnapped Kim Dae Jung, riots broke out on a number of campuses including Seoul University, which is the leading university in Korea. And the KCIA arrested an American-trained Korean professor named Che, accused him of stirring up these riots on the campus, and either tortured him to death, or tortured him to a point where he jumped out of a window to avoid further torture. We also knew that. We knew exactly what had happened. So I reported that back to my headquarters. I was received and noted, and I then sent a message back saying that I wanted to protest this because I felt that it was absolutely unacceptable. was told that I had a message from a man named Ted Shackley who was my boss. “Stop trying to save the Koreans from themselves. That is not your job. Your job is to report what is going on.” So I disobeyed orders, and I told CIA this. They know it, so this is not a secret from the agency. My other contact was the head of the presidential protective force, which would be the equivalent of our secret service. He is a man for whom I have quite a lot of respect. He was sort of a Korean samurai type. He did not like Lee Hu Rak. I knew that. So I went to him, and I said, “I am speaking personally. I have no authorization to do this. I am just speaking on my own, but I want to tell you how badly I feel about what was done to Professor Che by the Korean CIA. I came here on the assumption that I would be working with the Korean CIA against our common enemy North Korea, and here I find that they are much more intent on keeping dissent under control in South Korea.” I said, “I am very unhappy working with an organization that does that sort of thing.” That is about all I said. He took notes and thanked me. A week later, Lee Hu Rak was fired. He went into hiding, and was found in the Caribbean and was brought back and I think was put into jail. He is now a potter. The replacement that they put in was a man named Chin Shik Su, a former justice minister. He had me over and he said, “Mr. Gregg, I want you to know that I am going to be as much against those who break the law on behalf of this government as I am going to be against those who break the law against this government.” One of his first acts was a proscription against torture. Now I think that is one of the best things I did as a CIA officer. I am very glad I did it and it I think was a major step in the relationship, certainly between our intelligence services and eventually between our countries.

Q: That was probably, Ted Shackley was well know for his time in Vietnam. In fact he was a major figure there. Was he back in Washington?

GREGG: Yes, he was chief of the Far East division at that time. I have had trouble with Sackley in Vietnam.

Q: In his book, Ambassador Lilley talks about working with Shackley in Laos. What was yr impression of Shackley? Where was he coming from?

GREGG: Well he was a very effective hard line intelligence officer. I think he fully xpected to be director until he ran afoul of a guy named Wilson who was more ruthless than he was.

Q: But was this almost sort of the ambiance of the CIA-KCIA relationship at the time. You just observed that you didn’t get too involved in what they were doing.

GREGG: Well our job was to make sure that they didn’t do anything crazy that could start a war with North Korea. I discovered and we eventually put a stop to the nuclear program. They got submarines when they weren’t supposed to get them.

Q: Were we concerned that Park Chung Hee might lunge to the North?

GREGG: Yes. This was you know, five years after the Blue House raid.

Q: You might explain what the Blue House raid was?

GREGG: Well this incident was where a group of North Koreans dressed in South Korean uniforms infiltrated into Seoul, got close to the presidential mansion, Blue House, and all but one were killed. They tried to assassinate Park Chung Hee, and killed an awful lot of South Koreans before they went down. The North Koreans seized the Pueblo that same year. It is now known that the South Koreans trained a retaliatory force which at the last moment was stopped from going into North Korea to assassinate Kim Il Sung. So it was a very tense tough kind of relationship. There were incidents along the DMZ and our ability to defend the peninsula if we had been attacked was very questionable. General Hollingsworth was there as commander of the joint ROK-U.S. I Corps. He and I had been together in Vietnam at the time of the attack in Easter of 1972. He was a tough profane combat general. He and I were very close. I had been his intelligence advisor at a very tough time in Vietnam and had given him a lot of information which he had used, so he and I liked each other immensely. I remember standing with him on the bank, of I guess, the Imjin River. We looked up north and he had a lot of Korean generals with him. He said, “We are going to kill every son of a bitch to the north end of the FEBA. Not one of those bastards is going to set foot in South Korea.” That is what they loved to hear. Then he would get with my by himself and he would say, “Well I wish that were true. We are outgunned, outmuscled. I don’t think we have a chance of defending Seoul.” So it was a very tense time.

Well I think the general feeling in the long run was the might of the West’s air power and all that would prevail, but it was not going to be an easy task.

GREGG: Absolutely not. People forget that when the line was drawn and Korea was divided, the Korean peninsula is quite like the Italian peninsula. You have served there. The North has got mineral wealth and industry and the South was poor and agricultural.  When the dividing line was made, the assumption was that North Korea would always be the stronger half. There has been a complete reversal of that 

Q: At the time you were there, this is the ’73 to ’75 period. How, economically, how was the balance between North and South Korea?

GREGG: I don’t think we really knew. The South Koreans were beginning to make ships. They were beginning to make their first car which looked as though it was going to be a disaster. North Korea was very powerful militarily. They were getting aid from both the Soviet Union and China. Kim Il Sung was a master at not getting drawn in to either orbit totally and was able to play one off against the other. So the term economic basket case was originated in South Korea.

Q: Applying to South Korea.

GREGG: Yes. So I think the feeling in the early 70’s was that the North was still the more powerful half of the peninsula.

Q: Well were we getting any reading at all on the mindset of the North Koreans?

GREGG: No, It was opaque. The North Koreans were almost unapproachable. Few were recruited in dismal places in Africa but it was impossible to communicate with them once they went home. No, it was a very poor insight that we had.

Q: Was there the feeling,I mean Kim Il Sungwe are talking about 50 years now since the truce. There has always been the feeling that Kim Il Sung might suddenly attack. What was sort of the attack alert while you were there?

GREGG: We discovered the first tunnel that was being dug under the DMZ. I don’t know how many were dug. It was a monstrous task. These were, you know, going to be invasion channels. I remember on the golf course I used to play, every fairway has poles that would be stuck up at night to keep gliders from landing. There was a curfew in Seoul.

Q: Yes. It was great if you had teenage kids, which I did.

GREGG: Yes. So there was a constant tension, a feeling that the North might come south.

Q: And there was an air raid alert once a month. Tanks in the street and all that.

GREGG: Yes, that’s right 

Q: Well, what about the Korean military? Were you looking at the Korean military or was that somebody else’s job?

GREGG: Well the military attaché that was his primary job. There was, and it was interesting that in both the case of Park Chung Hee and later on Chung Du Won, these were generals who had not been close to the United States. These were very nationalistic generals whom we did no know very much about. There were cavalries of generals that had very strong allegiances. There was always the question of a coup occurring which did occur after Park Chung Hee was assassinated. But my primary focus was on the Korean CIA and on North Korea.

Q: Where did the Korean CIA get its people? Was there a recruiting

GREGG: Yes, they had a recruiting system. Some of them, there was horrendous corruption on the part of some of the senior people. They had a couple of good people that I got to know, and they produced a man who later became ambassador to the United States, had come up through the ranks. So they attracted some good people. It was a mixture just as our CIA was but with more bad than good.

Q: Well were we looking at the opposition parties and all this, I mean from the CIA viewpoint, or was this left to the political side of the Embassy?

GREGG: Park Chung Hee stayed in office a long time. He was scared by the election that he almost lost to Kim Dae Jung. The election system was fixed so that he was assured of election as many times as he wanted to be president. One of the unforgettable times I had with him was in November of 1974. His wife had been assassinated earlier that year by a North Korean who tried to kill the president. The President ducked behind a bullet proof podium. He was making a speech, and the assassin killed his wife. But Gerald Ford had come through on his way to Vladivostok, and they had a very good meeting. Kissinger was with him.

So Park invited the ambassador, who was Dick Snyder at that point, and I guess it was General Stilwell who was head of the U.S. Forces Korea and me to play golf. I said a few things to Park Chung Hee. I had told my counterpart in the presidential protective force that I think one of the problems with President Park is he doesn’t have a minister of bad news. He is very anxious. He just gets people to tell him what they think he wants to hear. So Park said something to me in Japanese, “I hear you think I need a minister of bad news.” I said, “Yes, I think every strong leader does.” Then at the dinner after the golf, it was astonishing because the minister of defense was there, and the general was there. They all sat like school boys with Pak at the head of the table. There was a long silence. I thought my Lord, what a waste. So I said to the president, I said, “Do you ever equate yourself with Kamal Ataturk of Turkey?” The reason I asked that is that was a man who had all power and he systematically created an opposition party and really dragged Turkey toward democracy, and is their greatest living hero still to this day. So Park sort of looked at me in sort of a rattlesnake might look at a rabbit, and said, “Well I don’t know too much about Kamal Pasha, but I want to do for Korea what he did for Turkey, that is keep it militarily secure and make it economically powerful.” Then he went on and said, “I am not going to stay in power forever. Some people have said that I have already stayed too long, and perhaps if I hadn’t run for president last time, perhaps my wife would still be alive.” So we all took that as indicating that he wasn’t going to run for the presidency again, but he did. He just had worn out his welcome, and it was a subsequent head of the KCIA who assassinated him, an astonishing turn of events.

Q: When you think about all the efforts there, were there forces in this ’73 to ’75 time, were there forces stirring in Korea that looked like they were sponsored by the North Koreans at all?

GREGG: There was talk of that. We felt that there were agents from the North that had one in, that it had been infiltrated. We never felt that they were able to reach out, or if one were caught by local people, the unknown feeling was how much influence they had on campuses because there were riots on campuses. Because the anti-American asnd the feeling was quite strong in some student groups, it was sort of blamed on the North. Even when I was ambassador in ’89 to ’93. So they certainly were trying to influence things in the South, but we never were able to really expose, not at least while I was there, a major successful effort to that end.

Q: Did you get involved even indirectly in the efforts of the KCIA to operate in the United States on Koreans living in the United States?

GREGG: No, we would be absolutely against that. Absolutely not.

Q: I mean I was just wondering whether the during this particular time you were station chief you were telling the KCIA to cut it out or something. Were things of that nature  happening?

GREGG: The only think I remember about that is when Kim Dae Jung had been in the United States and speaking critically of Park Chung Hee, he had been harassed by goons who we felt had been stirred up by the KCIA. I think the agency back there through its liaison told them to knock that off.

Q: How did you find you fitted within the embassy?

GREGG: Oh, I had a very excellent relationship. I was a pretty strong tennis player at that point, and I used to play tennis with, Habib and I got along wonderfully, and Dick Snyder and I got along wonderfully. I played tennis and golf with him. I was, you know, I was declared. Everybody in town knew that I was station chief. But I went out of my way, there had been a time when the station chief in Korea was more powerful than the ambassador, and I made absolutely clear that that was not the way I operated. I told the ambassador everything I was doing. I had a really excellent relationship with everybody.

Q: What was your impression,how did Phil Habib operate?

GREGG: Well, he had a sense of humor. He had a tremendous sense of leadership. He called me and he said, “You know there is only one rule that I have for you, and that is you will not see a man  named Tongsun Park.” This was a man who had been given a tremendous amount of money who was trying to buy his way into favor here in the United States, and he had found some willing takers on the part of some Congressmen and so forth. Phil Habib just hated him. (Editor’s Note: Tongsun Park was at the center of a corruption scandal investigation begun in 1977 by the House Standards Committee of the 95th Congress which implicated congressmen in taking money or gifts from agents of the South Korean government.)

Q: Did he get involved with Suzie? I think there was a young lady Suzie something or other?

GREGG: No I didn’t. Actually Pak was very, I had a funny invitation to meet somebody very important, and I wasn’t told who it was. I went with my antenna up, and it was Tongsun Park. I just said, “Look this doesn’t work. The ambassador has said I am not to see you and that is it.” I walked out, and I told Phil. He cussed him out and said, “That son of a bitch.” I thought he was terrific. He was living in the old style Korean h set there, and it was about to fall down. He insisted that the embassy residence be built Korean style. It was, and it is an absolutely magnificent residence. Have you seen it?

Q: Oh yes, I have gone there many times. It wasn’t much fun to live in for some of the ambassadors because everything is sort of out in the open.

GREGG: We loved it, and I thought it was just terrific. I remember waking up or going to bed after one of the many receptions that we had where everybody was raving about it. I said, “Let’s name this house Habib House for Phil.” So I sent a cable into the department. I knew the chief administration. He is a retired navy captain. I said, “Sweep all of the inevitable bureaucratic concerns out of your way, and let’s name this Habib, House.” Silence. No response. Three or four months later Phil died, and I sent another message in. I said, “For crying out loud, let’s do it so it can be announced at his funeral.” Silence. So I sent a third message in saying “What the hell is wrong with you people there.” They said it takes an act of Congress to formally name a building. So I just put a plaque up on the front door saying “This is Habib House” and I put a plaque up on the gate, and it is now Habib House. I had had huge admiration for him. He had been in Vietnam. He was just deal honest, and a great leader. Everybody that knew him just admired him immensely.

Q: How did you relate to the political section?

GREGG: I had some very good friends. I am having lunch with a man who was political counselor, Paul Cleveland, today. He and I became lifelong friends.

Q: Give Paul my regards.

GREGG: Okay, I will. There was really no tension at all. There were some of the FSOs saying: oh you guys, you have much more in the way of expense accounts than we do, the inevitable kind of stuff. I would say look, the way we gather information is the most inefficient, expensive way there is. We are just trying to get what is not being given to us through diplomacy, and in those days, there is a tremendous amount. It was fascinating to me to go back as ambassador in ’89. I knew the chief of station very well. In three and a half years there, he did his job very well. I don’t think he told me one thing that was of any particular surprise or value, because the relationship had matured. The military and we were much closer. We were working more harmoniously with the Korean CIA. We still are not very good at getting people into the North, but they had stopped trying to acquire illegal weapons systems. The nuclear program had been ended, and the relationship had matured. It was a much closer alliance than before. There was a real need for CIA to do its thing when I was there, like stopping the nuclear program and saving Kim Dae Jung’s life. I mean those were two big deals.

Q: Did you observe the relationship between Habib and was it General Hollingsworth?

GREGG: Well it was Stilwell. He was the guy in Seoul. Hollingsworth was up north. I think Hollingsworth and Habib would have gotten along just fine. They were both rough cut diamonds in the rough. Stilwell had a very prickly relationship with Habib, because I  think there was still remnants of the rivalry between the army, the UN command and the

Q: How did you find Snyder?

GREGG: Fine, excellent. I liked him, and I had a very good relationship with him and am still very close friends to his widow.

Q: He was sort of the prime architect of the reversion of Okinawa as a real Japanese hand. How did you find, did you see anything between Stilwell and Snyder?

GREGG: Yes, some of the same under trappings.

Q: It wasn’t the greatest.

GREGG: No, it was not. I think there was some real sort of mutual hostility. Stilwell, for example, when I reported some things on the Korean army, he would argue with me and say well that is not true. Because he wanted me to think that he knew everything that was being done, and that nothing was being done that he didn’t approve of, and that was not the case.

Q: Did you get any feeling for the Korean military?

GREGG: Yes, I used to play golf with the generals. I liked them. The guys I got to know, I liked because they made them selves accessible to me. They were westernized; they spoke English. I never learned Korean. I could speak Japanese to them, the older ones But no I made some,Pak Sey Jik, the guy who made the Olympics, he and I became very close friends. There was a Tuesday Morning golf club. The Korean generals and the American general and me, yes, I got along with them very well.

Q: Golf was a very important aspect of diplomacy, and frankly a lot of the Far East.

GREGG: Yes, very much so.

Q: It is an interesting

GREGG: Two of my favorite Korean stories come from the golf course. One, I had a beautiful young caddy who caddied for me every Tuesday morning, rain, sleet or snow. I remember one sleeting morning we were out playing golf and my eyes were watering and my nose was running, and my glasses were just in fog, and she stood there looking as she had just stepped out of a band box. I said to her, “Miss Kim, why is my nose running and yours isn’t?” She said, “Because your nose is so big and mine is so small.” Then the second one was when I was ambassador, and we were playing. This was a beautiful spring morning. We teed off at the crack of dawn, and there was still a moon very visible in the sky. I turned to this caddy who was 50 years old and plain as a mud fence and I said, “Oh, that moon makes me feel very romantic.” She said, “Okay with me but what will your wife say?” So anyway, but no, I got to know a lot of the military people. General Kung who later became prime minister, was one of my close friends.  Were we concerned at the time that the military might try playing games with a naval maneuver? You know what I mean, the naval aspect was always rather dangerous. I mean the North Koreans would come down. I don’t know if they had any during this first period, if they had any submarine incursions.

GREGG: Yes, there was the Pydo island an extension of the MLL out there, a very complicated piece of water. That was one of the more amusing things because we learned that the Korean navy had acquired a midget submarine from I think it was Germany. They weren’t supposed to have any submarines. I went to the admiral who was in charge of our naval forces. His name was Henry Morgan, wonderful name for an admiral. I said, “Well, let’s figure out a way to get the South Koreans to tell you that they have this submarine.” I said, “I’ll let you know when they are going to exercise it, and you can launch several American aircraft, and then you are obligated to tell the South Koreans that you have spotted an unidentified submarine, and since the South Koreans don’t have any submarines, it must be a North Korean submarine, and you are about to attack it.” So that is what we did.

Q: I was just wondering, being part of the diplomatic community, did you get involved, how were your relations with the consular people for visas, because this is what I was in charge of when I was there some time later?

GREGG: I didn’t really get involved in that. When I was ambassador, I prided myself on issuing visas in Pusan, and we got rid of the lines around the embassy. Then an inspection came just after I left and brought it all to a halt. Ed Wilkinson was my

Q: Yes.

GREGG: But there had been a man, very suspect, Andy Antippas, who left a very bad reputation behind.

Q: Well the whole situation is very dicey. I used to worry quite a bit about the corruption aspect. Well let’s move on, quickly, what did you do between ’75 and ’89?

GREGG: I went back to CIA and was put in charge of, I was sort of the thrusting point for the Pike investigation of the agency that Senator Church was leading a Senate

Q: Another of our Williams classmates, Bill Miller was much involved with that.

GREGG: I got to know Bill. That was a very difficult job because Pike had really charged his people with bringing the agency to heel. I learned three things that I hadn’t known before. We had tried to kill Castro. We had reached out to the Mafia to try to get them to kill Castro, and that we had done some drug testing on some unwitting people. I thought those were all extremely unfortunate. I was shocked by it, but on the whole, what cameout was all right. Colby had already pulled together what he called the family jewels. He asked everybody to report anything that they knew that the agency had done which they felt was bad. Church and Pike soon learned that these papers existed and so they were turned over. This caused an irreparable split between Colby and Dick Helms. Helms felt that if those were given over, that this would increase congressional oversight to the point where we would really be out of the covert action business. Colby felt that if he didn’t turn them over, the agency essentially would be shut down. I think they both were right. But it just was a watershed.

Then my career fell on difficult days because Jimmy Carter brought Admiral Stansfield Turner in as director, an Amherst man which was part of his problem. A Christian Scientist and a moralist, and a believer that scientific SIGINT and satellites could do the intelligence job antiseptically and that it was people like me who had always gotten the agency in trouble. So I was put up for several of the top jobs in the operations directory and got none of them. My career really went sidewise. I was about to become national intelligence officer for Asia, a job which I would have liked, when I was suddenly offered a chance to go to the National Security Council staff at the White House, because a man named Sam Hoskinson had gotten fed up with Jimmy Carter and quit. They needed an Asian specialist there, and somebody put my name into the hopper. I went and interviewed with Brzezinski and was given the job. So I worked at the White House for the last 18 months of the Carter administration, and was one of I think only two people who made the transition from Carter to Reagan. The only reason I survived was that I was from CIA. The Reaganauts came into the White House sort of like the Visigoths at the sack of Rome. The Carter people had fled writing graffiti on their desk blotters. It was a very unpleasant turnover. I was in charge of Asian policy and intelligence at the NSC. I got to know George Herbert Walker Bush there. I had met him when he was a congressman, but I had never seen him as director. He asked me to become his National Security Advisor.

Q: Well while we are on this, on the Far Eastern policy, was there a different thrust to the, from the latter part of the Carter era to the early part of the Reagan era? I mean knowing Latin America there was sort of an earth change, but after the dust had settled, is there much of a difference in policy for other regions?

GREGG: Well, during the Carter Administration I think that probably the American ambassador who had the most difficult tour of anyone I could think of is Bill Weinstein who has written a book about this, because Jimmy Carter wanted to pull all our troops out of South Korea. This was regarded as a mistake by other neighboring countries.

Q: All of us. I mean I was in the embassy at the time, and you know, we were horrified.

GREGG: So that came to a halt with Reagan. The first foreign visitor or chief of state that Reagan had was Chun Doo-hwan. The price of that visit was Kim Dae Jung’s life. He had been sentenced to death for, what is the word I am groping for? Sedition, treason. I had gone out with Secretary of defense Brown to talk with Chun Doo-hwan about Kim Dae Jung. Brown said, “I don’t think Chun Doo-hwan is going to bring Kim Dae Jung up.” I said, “Oh I think he will, Mr. Secretary.” It was the first thing that Chun brought up when we went to see him. I have a hell of a problem with Kim Dae Jung,” he said. “Every single general in my army wants him dead. Most of the Korean people want him dead. I know that you don’t want me to kill him. I know that if I do kill him, I am going to have a problem with you, so it is a real problem for me.” The only thing that we told him that made any sort of impression on him was that we knew the North Koreans were preparing a tremendous propaganda exploitation of this. I told him that. Richard Allen who was Reagan’s first National Security Advisor picked up the ball. Chun wanted desperately to be legitimized by a visit to the White House. So the trade off was if he saw Reagan, Kim Dae Jung would be, his life would be spared. That was the trade off. We did everything we could to downplay the visit. We had a lunch rather than a dinner. We used all these diplomatic niceties, but Reagan was such a courteous person, you know there was a picture with his arm around Chun, and Chun got what he wanted.

Q: Well then, when you worked for Bush, what were you doing with Bush?

GREGG: I was his national security advisor. I started every day with him, reading the President’s daily brief. I arranged who got to see him from what countries. I went to 65 countries with him in the 6 ½ years I worked for him, and wrote hundreds of papers giving him my suggestions on how our policy ought to be implemented, international.

Q: What was your reading of him in the international world?

GREGG: Superb. Absolutely superb. I have huge respect and admiration for him. I saw him deal with everybody from Margaret Thatcher to Deng Xiaoping to Mitterrand to Gorbachev. He was superb. His son is a completely different breed of cat. I voted for him, and I am extremely uncomfortable with that vote.

Q: I have to say that I see a great deal of the retired foreign service community in doing what I do, and George W. Bush, you know, I really don’t find any support for him within  this community, which is normally split. We are going through a very difficult patch I

GREGG: I think it is going to be a riveting campaign.

Q: I do too.

GREGG: So anyway, after 6 ½ years with Bush, I got splattered by the Iran-Contra affair. People thought here is a CIA guy in the White House. It is too complicated to go into. I rode it out. I am the only person who was involved in that to seek a job that required Senate confirmation. That was a very tough go, but I got through. I have, Bush to this day, he said, “Thank you. You took the heat for all of us.” That was somewhat of a vindication.

Q: You were appointed by George Herbert Walker Bush

GREGG: To be ambassador.

Q: To be ambassador. How did that come about? Did he ask?

GREGG: Yes. He asked me. He said, you know because of the Iran-Contra business veryone was saying you ought to take Brent Scowcroft to be your security advisor. I said, yes. He is a role model that everybody has. I understood that completely. Bush had defended me during the Iran-Contra thing very well. So people knew that I had been to Korea. They knew I was an Asian specialist, so it was I think a very natural thing to do.

Q: How did the preparations and the Senate hearing go?

GREGG: There was a long delay, and Senator Cranston had a man on his staff who devoted I think six months of his life to defeating my nomination. I have my hearings taped. I am very proud of them. It started out with Cranston dumping on me for 45  minutes. It was sort of like lying at the foot of Niagara Falls looking upward. You know, I was there by myself. I didn’t have a lawyer. I didn’t have anybody. I was all by myself, and just began to climb up the rope slowly hand over hand, just dealing with  the qestions and accusations and so forth. I finally got through in September.

 Q: Was the questioning, was it just Cranston or was this you had to make political points?

GREGG: Yes, I think so, and to try to embarrass Bush. You know, it was very partisan. My children were all there. The man who leapt to my defense was Senator Helms, a man for whom I have a great many doubts. But it was a very interesting experience.

Q: During that experience you are always on the tightrope aren’t you that you don’t screw up your relations with the country you are going to, saying something that might help the Senate but it is not going to help you

GREGG: There was no questioning about Korea. The questioning was all about my fitness to be ambassador because the feeling was I had deceived people because of the Iran Contra business.

Q: Well then you arrived in Korea September ’89, and you were there until February of ’93, basically the length of the Bush administration. What were the issues you felt you had to deal with when you went out there?

GREGG: Well the first issue I dealt with was the fact that we had nuclear weapons in South Korea. We had a nuclear inspection; an annual team came out to make sure that they were stored safely because something awful had happened in Spain or something.hey had to report to me when they had finished. Everything was fine, but I said, “Why did this process start.” They told me what had happened in Spain and how difficult that was. I realized, South Korea was already embarked on what they called nordpolitik (Northern Policy). It was based on Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. The government of South Korea was establishing relations with all of North Korea’s friends and allies. They were moving toward an attempt to reach out to North Korea.

Q: By this time China and South Korea had relations.

GREGG: No, they were established in September of 1992. So we also were beginning to have suspicions about what was going on at Yongbyon, the North Korean’s nuclear interest. So, I thought, my god, if we had nuclear weapons in the South, that is going to become an immediate issue. We will never take them out under pressure. It will become  an issue for students in the South. It will become a sticking point with the North.  went to USFK (U.S. Forces Korea) and asked, “Why are these here?” “Well they have  always been here.” I said, “Are they of any utility to you?” They said, “No.” So I went to President Roh Tae Woo’s national security advisor, a man to whom I was very close, and I said, “I think we ought to get them out of here.” So it took some doing because it was part of the security blanket, but I was able to send in October of 1990, a message with the full support of the Blue House and USFK, I recommend we remove our nuclear weapons from South Korea. I had one brief message back from Dick Solomon who was assistant secretary at State. He said, “You will never know how helpful your message was.” About a year later President Bush announced that we were pulling nuclear weapons back from all over the world. In Korea we went through a little dance because we had the “neither confirm nor deny” policy about whether we had nuclear weapons. But we worked out something where President Roh would say there are no nuclear weapons on Korean soil and the White House said we have no reason to object to that statement by President Roh. That is one of the best things I did.

Q: Had these nuclear weapons been something to which the South Korean government kind of hugged to their chest?

GREGG: Sure. But it was just part of the security blanket. But the relationship was closer. The sophistication of the relationship was greater. I made the point, look if you need nuclear weapons, they can be had in spades. But having these obsolescent things sitting in Osan was just an irritant.

Q: Well at that time I think I remember General Chapman back when I was there in ’76-’79, that every time they did war games, they found that the North got into Seoul and all  this, and they at the last day of the games they would call in massive air power to stop it. Had the balance changed by the time you were there?

GREGG: It was still iffy. That was the first thing that I asked when I got there. When I

left it was very tenuous. The reading at that point was, if we had good weather, we can get air power deployed quickly enough and in large enough numbers to probably keep them out of Seoul. But if we have bad weather it still was doubtful whether we could hold Seoul. The problem of getting the people of Seoul across the Han River was just incredible. So it was still a very touchy defense scenario.

Q: Well how about on the economic side. Much had been made of Park Chung Hee’s legacy that he had set up a strong economic base there including doing things for the farmers which hardly anybody else had ever done in any other country, that is give them a living recompense for staying and growing rice and other things.

GREGG: Well, that became a major problem because the price of Korean rice was sky

high, just because of the subsidies, and yet there was a tremendous emotional sentimental attachment on the part of the Korean people to their grandma on the farm. Carla Hills who was the Special Trade Representative came out and was pushing for us to let more beef in and rice in and so forth. One of them said, “Well why are you doing this? If the prices are lowered, and the markets are opened up, it is going to be the Australians that are going to sell us the beef, not you, and somebody else will sell the rice.” Carla said, “We know that. We are not arguing for unilateral advantage. We are talking about freer trade.” It was shortly after her visit that six students vaulted over the wall of the residence and got into the residence and tried to set fire to it. My wife and I were in our bedroom. They tried the door once but did not try to break in. It took some time for the Korean cops to get themselves organized to rout them out. I didn’t feel under any particular threat. I have had people come after me with real malice aforethought, and that was not the case here. These kids I think, were surprised at how easy it was to get into the house. So they were eventually routed out. They did about $35,000 worth of damage to the furnishings.

Q: What were they after?

GREGG: Protesting the opening up of the beef quotas. You know, they were making a demonstration. Who knows what they were after. It was actually a very good way to start a tour as ambassador because we behaved rather well. My wife in particular was very gracious. We were on television. We thanked the Korean police who actually had done a lousy job, but we praised them. The Koreans were deeply embarrassed, but we had behaved well, and actually it was a very good way to start a tour. But it showed me just how sensitive these economic issues were, particularly when farmers were concerned.

Q: Well, what was your role in the trade issue?

GREGG: I was probably the most active of any ambassador that had been there in terms of trying to sell American products. I had a very favorable article in the Wall Street Journal written when I left saying that nobody had ever done that in Korea. I enjoyed it. I worked very closely with the Foreign Commercial Service. Another high point of my tour was a fight between Lockheed and the French on anti-submarine warfare planes. This was fascinating because Lockheed offered the P-3 aircraft, the Neptune, and the French were trying to sell the Atlantique. So Lockheed was in some trouble, and they came to me and said, “We really need to keep this going. What can you do?” I did not use CIA on this because I don’t like economic espionage, so I went to the defense attaché and said, “We don’t know what price the French are willing to sell their aircraft for. Can you find that out?” So he found that out. I went back to Lockheed with that. They lowered their price. But the sale was still going to the French. I had gotten to know the minister of defense quite well. I played golf with him, so I asked to see him. I said, “Mr. Minister, you know how interested we are in this sale of Lockheed aircraft.

There has been a price adjustment and the Lockheed price is now lower than the French price. But I don’t think you know that because I don’t think your office has been made aware of that.” Dick Christiansen was in the room with me. He is now DCM in Tokyo, absolutely fluent in Korean. He passed a note to me saying the interpreter is not interpreting what I was saying. So I again repeated this. I looked at Dick, and he shook his head. I then thanked the minister for the meeting and said I would like to see you once more before you make your final decision. That was interpreted and he said, “Yes, please.” I requested to see him and said, “I would like to use my interpreter at this meeting if you don’t mind.” He said, “Fine.” So we went and I said exactly the same thing. This time it went through. He went right through the ceiling, called a halt, called a review, and the bid went to Lockheed. I was paraded down the assembly line in Marietta, Georgia, one time when I was in that area where they were still very pleased. The French were furious. They never spoke to me again.

Q: I mean you know, to get to the interpreter, I mean other things. It looks like a lot of people were in on the deal.

GREGG: Well I don’t think the interpreter was. It was just what I was saying was so embarrassing. That was Dick’s interpretation. He didn’t think the interpreter had been bought off. But certainly some people down below had been bought off.

Q: It does show some of the problems with interpreters. You are not getting yourThe president while you were there was

GREGG: Roh Tae Woo?

Q: How did you find him?

GREGG: I liked him. He loved to play tennis. I arranged for him to play tennis with President Bush. We, unlike the Japanese who always have it Japan against the United States, we teamed the two president’s up as partners, and the opponents including me could make career enhancing decisions as to who won the match. I liked him very much. We helped him. We introduced him to Gorbachev in San Francisco on 1990. We helped get the Chinese to drop their opposition to both North and South Korea joining the UN. He and I were real buddies. He would ask me to come and play tennis at Blue House quite frequently, and also golf. These tennis and golf things, business could be conducted there.

GREGG: Oh absolutely.

Q: What was sort of the internal situation in Korea at that time?

GREGG: Well the real political watershed I think, had taken place during Jim Lilley’s time where there had been an agreement to have the president elected by a direct vote of the people instead of the rigged system that had been put in place by Park Chung Hee. So Roh Tae Woo had been elected because he had run against both Kim Dae Jung, and Kim Yung San, and there had been a three way split, and he I think got something like 40% of the vote, but he was still in. So he was still regarded as a military figure but he was much less authoritarian than Chun Doo-hwan had been or Park Chung Hee, and conducted I thought, a very sophisticated diplomacy. During my time, when I came I think Hungary was the only eastern bloc country to be represented. When I left, everybody was represented in Seoul.

Q: How did the Chinese recognition go? I mean was this difficult for the Korean side or the Chinese side?

GREGG: It was from the Chinese side because the North Koreans felt that as a  tremendous betrayal. The Chinese ambassador came to see me immediately after he arrived, and we had a fascinating talk. He had spent 15 years at Pyongyang, so he knew the North Koreans very well. He had been with Kim Il Sung when Kim played his last visit to China in 1991, and Ceausescu of Romania had already been killed after having tried to bring…

Q: This was the ’89 uprising.

GREGG: Right. Ceausescu had been one of the few people that Kim Il Sung had  maintained a bit of an interesting relationship. The Chinese ambassador said that Kim IlSung was very worried about what had happened to Ceausescu, and had said to the Chinese, “I realize that I have to make some changes in North Korea, what is your advice, because he mentioned the situation in Romania.” The Chinese said, “Well do what we do. Keep political control at the center but set up some special economic zones at the periphery where you can have special rules and use them to attract foreign investment. So Kim Il Sung began to move in that direction. He set up a special economic zone way up north in Rajin-Sonbong. It was doomed to failure because it was essentially a dusty parking lot surrounded by barbed wire by a polluted river. It was inaccessible. Nobody wanted to go there. But that is where he really started to try to move to new directions.

Q: When the Chinese came in, did they, were they pretty cautious? Did they feel that this was hostile territory? How were they received?

GREGG: Oh they were received very well, because the Russians or the Soviets had already recognized the South. By that time it was very clear that the South had outstripped the North economically. I think the Chinese saw real opportunity to begin mutually beneficial trade relations with the South Koreans, which they have done.

Q: Had there been trade relations with China before hand.

GREGG: There had been some, yes.

Q: Going sort of through Hong Kong.

GREGG: Well, they had a boat from Qingdao to Inchon that had started when I left, a ferry boat. Yes, there was some trade.

Q: Did the Chinese community play any role, I mean there was a small Chinese

GREGG: No. Taiwan had been there for years, and they had to leave. What community there was was more or less in the Taiwan camp I guess, but it is not a significant factor.

Q: Did you get involved with the two Kims?

GREGG: Kim Dae Jung, and Kim Yung San? Yes, I did. Kim Dae Jung was very much aware of the fact that twice I had been involved in keeping him alive, so he was very friendly to me. Kim Yung San, I always found very unimpressive. Not very intelligent. But he would ask to see me, and we would have long dull dinners. But he was elected president just before I left. Dae Jung and I saw a fair amount of each other. I felt one of the things I wanted to do was to go down to Kwangju where there was tremendous anti U.S. feeling because of the supposition on the part of the people of Kwangju that we had supported the horrible suppression of things there. Kim Dae Jung helped me set that up.

Q: How did that go?

GREGG: It went tremendously well. It was very controversial. Kim Dae Jung said, “If you are going to go, go in the winter during Christmas vacation when the university isn’t open, and so I planned to do that January of 1990, and the day before I was supposed to go, Kim Dae Jung called me up and said, “Don’t go, it is too dangerous. There is a kidnap threat.” The national police was aware of this, so I called a country team meeting, and said, “You know there is this. I have the feeling that I really ought to go. What do you think?” The country team was split right down the middle. So I decided I would go. I left a memo in my safe saying if something happens to me, it is purely my fault. So off I went, and I arrived, and the press along with a huge bodyguard of police. The press was saying have you come to apologize for Kwangju? I said, “No, we have nothing to apologize for. I have come because we have a cultural center there that is being firebombed, and I want to find out why there is such resentment of us.” So I spent two full days talking to everybody. I had been to Hungary once, and it was long after the uprising of 1956, but there was sort of a feeling of betrayal on the part of the people of Kwangju. On the morning of the third day the press came again and said, “Have you come to apologize about Kwangju?” I said, “Yes, I found we do have something to apologize for, and that is we have kept silent for too long.” That made an impact, and so the people who had been firebombing our…been organizing the opposition agreed to see me. I had been trying to se them and they refused. So I canceled my return flight, and I had about 3 ½ hours with about six of these guys. It was absolutely fascinating. At first they wanted to meet in secret, and then they decided they wanted to have television. So we met in front of the television and newspaper people.

The first question was who gave the order to shoot in the streets of Kwangju? I said, “I have no idea. It was a Korean decision and a Korean order, and it is only Koreans who know.” He said, “That’s a lie, because we know you have satellites that can look down from the sky and you can read a newspaper from the sky and were watching, and you know who gave the order.” I said, “Well we do have those satellites, but they don’t take you inside a man’s head. We don’t know who gave the order.” Then they said, “Do you take us as a nation of field rats because the general in charge said there is a certain lemming like quality in Korea.” This had not gone over well. I said, “Absolutely not. I have huge admiration for the Korean people. That is why I have come back in this capacity.” Then they said, “Well, we thought you were going to save us.” I said, “What made you think that?” Well you sent an aircraft carrier to Pusan.” “That was a signal to the North Koreans not to get involved.” They said, “We know you supported Chung Doo-hwan because he was the first man to visit President Reagan. We know you supported what he did here because you were so close to him.” I said, “Did you know the price of his visit was Kim Dae Jung’s life?” That had been said in Washington; it had been said in Seoul, but it had never been said in Kwangju. It caused a sensation. So after about three hours, they said, “Well we don’t have any more questions. We thank you for coming. Some of your answers have not been good, but some have been helpful, and we thank you for coming.”

The interpreter I had, who was a superb young woman, whispered to me, she had just done a magnificent job and really removed the language barrier. She said they are terribly afraid they are all going to be arrested after this because the police are after them. I said, “Thanks for telling me.” So I went out, it was raining, and the cops were surrounding the place as they had and tear gas had been needed to flush some people out at times. So I put my arms around two of these guys and I went up to the very tough policeman who had been my chief bodyguard and said, “You are not to touch these people. You are to let them go.” He sort of could hardly believe. I said, “I mean it. I don’t want you to touch these people.” So he barked an order and the cordon gap opened up, and as they passed through each one was either kicked or pushed out into the darkness. One of them turned and waved as he went. The fire bombings of our cultural center stopped. We moved to a new place and were able to stay until budgetaryI went four times to Kwangju. I went with the German ambassador, and we talked about the German implications for eventual North-South reunification. I went down with the first Russian ambassador, and we talked about the Russian view of the Korean Peninsula. I consider those visits to be among the most interesting visits of my life. In fact it made me feel quite at home when I went to North Korea because I felt the same kind of resentment in the North that I had felt in Kwangju. I saw it evaporate as the North Koreans found I was taking them seriously and trying to answer their questions in good spirit.

Q: Did you see the rise of anti Americanism? Had we just in a way, some of these things have outrun their time or something.

GREGG: I was never in 3 ½ years ever able to make a publicized appearance on a college campus. I was invited frequently to make appearances. I would always accept. The word would get out that I was coming, and the campus activists would say “Don’t let Gregg come or we will burn the campus down.” So the invitation would be canceled. I got an honorary degree from the Jesuit University there, Sogan, and they gave it to me at night on Christmas vacation. So there was still a lot of that. There were riots around the embassy frequently. So it was still there. It subsided I think, later on, after I had gone. Particularly after first Kim Yung San and then Kim Dae Jung, these were the opposition leaders. The politics were getting freed up. The military was out of politics, so that had removed one source of tension. But the Koreans had tremendous historical memory, and they remembered the Taft-Katsura Agreement, which not one American in a million is aware of. I just learned that the 1919 demonstration against the Japanese had been inspired by Wilson’s 14 points. The Koreans felt the United States would come to their aid. There was a demonstration of Korean unhappiness with the Japanese occupation. We didn’t do that. Then there was the division of the country in 1950 that was resented, and the fact that Truman would not fight to go up to the Yalu and reunite the whole country. So there are all of those underlying resentments which never were really fully cleared up.

Q: Well were you involved at that time particularly because of the fall of East Germany and all that, in looking at the problem of a collapse in the North and the soft landing and the hard landing and all that. Could you talk a bit about what the thinking was at that time?

GREGG: It really didn’t start until I had left. Willy Brandt made his only visit to Korea while I was there in October of ’89. I was a great admirer of Willy Brandt, and I saw a good deal of him on his visit. He went up to the DMZ, and I had dinner with him when hecame back from the DMZ. He said, “That is the most appalling thing I have ever seen. It is a time warp. I am sure that when that DMZ is penetrated, you will find that the psychological dislocations behind it are going to be much more difficult to deal with than what we will cope with when the Berlin wall comes down.” He said, “We hate the Berlin wall. We draw graffiti on it and so forth, but there are gates through it, and people pass back and forth and radio works and television works and so forth, but the DMZ is a time warp.” The Koreans said, “Well when do you think the Berlin wall will come down.” Brandt said, “Not in my lifetime.”

Q: This was in ’89.

GREGG: Within 60 days it was down. So I think that there was a feeling that unification as going to take place. It was really after I left that they began to try to quantify what hat would cost. The feeling was the cost to South Korea would just be more than they could handle. As I say, one of the few things that North and South Korea agree on is that they want whatever process occurs to be a gradual one. I think that is still true.

Q: This is tape two side one, with Don Gregg. Don, what about within Korea the, I can’t remember the name for it, but the big industrial

GREGG: Chaebol.

Q: Chaebol. How did you view them at the time, and what were our concerns and their influence?

GREGG: Well, they had been tremendously successful. Park Chung Hee had appointed some very talented men. General Park Dae Jung said, I want you to build a world class steel plant. I will give you land; I will give you loans; I will give you all the help you need. So as a result, Korea is either the first or second largest producer of steel to this day. Chung Se Yung of Hyundai got started, a magnificent man, building ships, building cars, now into microchips. They were given free reign, preferential loans. Laws were passed if they needed to be passed, or pass the regulations just to allow them to grow very quickly. So, you had figures on the landscape, Chung Se Yung of Hyundai, Kim Dae Jung of Daewoo were the two. B.C. Lee of Samsung. These were men who were more or less laws unto themselves. The thought of their collapsing was almost unthinkable at that point. We felt that we wanted a better deal in terms of access for agriculture, that kind of thing, but it was later on, particularly in terms of automobile production that some of them just went off the rails. Daewoo is now essentially defunct. Even Samsung had an ill conceived venture into the automobile business. The banks were weak. Everybody was concerned with market share, not profitability. There has been I think, triggered by the 1997 economic turndown, there has been a real turnaround in the Korean market toward more transparency, and a more profit driven system. I think they are doing very well.

Q: Was there a corruption factor in all of this?

GREGG: Yes, there was. There were always rumors for payoffs for some of the big military purchases. It was very hard to pin down. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the American business community used to complain about it because they always talked about a tilted playing field. Everybody else pays off, but we are not allowed to and so forth. I would just say, “Look, one of the things the United States stands for is not doing that, and just keep at it.” That is one of the reasons that I became as active as I was in going to trade fairs and pushing American products. I felt that for Korea really to get over the top as an economic entity of continuing viability, they have to move away form the Chaebol oriented, corruption ridden closed kind of economic society where if you didn’t pay off, you weren’t going to get anywhere.

Q: Well how about Congress? When I was there, I took Tongsun Park’s visa oath and I think Robert Giuliani, a Giuliani anyway came and was taking a deposition from him. This is back in ’76 I think or something. You know we had congressmen who, they would arrive and not even talk to the embassy, come and get measured for suits, and young ladies would appear to serve as handmaidens or something. Was that still going on?

GREGG: It wasn’t as bad as it was in the 70’s. I think that Lester Wolf was one of the guys that appeared all of the time back then. There were a number of them. But it was less, much less when I was there as ambassador.

Q: Did you find, was there much congressional interest in what you were doing there?

GREGG: Not that I remember. Jim Baker was Secretary of State, and he had four or five issues that he paid a great deal of attention to, and one of them was not Korea. So I had the ability to take a lot of initiative, as I did. I never really remember having to take congressional concerns into much consideration. Maybe I have forgotten, but it wasn’t a big

Q: Well reverberations from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the whole thing, did they filter down much to South Korea, or were they insulated from this?

GREGG: They were pretty much insulated. I mean it was seen as because we had moved so quickly to get Roh Tae Woo in touch with Gorbachev, and they sent a very able man as ambassador quickly after the collapse. I think the South Koreans just saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and their recognition by China as indications of their growing success and their growing stature.

Q: How about Tiananmen Square, this is in ’89. I mean this reverberated certainly in the United States.

GREGG: Well you know, no. The Koreans are tough, and they have been looking down the muzzles of North Korean artillery for 50 years, and it really takes a lot to shake them.

Q: Were you, speaking of the North Korean threat, how did you feel about the North Korean threat when you came back? I mean was the thought of a lunge south, I mean did it make sense in the North Korean context at this time?

GREGG: No it really didn’t. Our ability to defend Seoul had improved, as I say it depended on good weather. But the military balance was much more favorable. It was recognized that the North Korean air force wasn’t exercising much. Their equipment was getting old, that they didn’t have the economic power to maintain a massive invasion. Then as now, it was easy to inflict tremendous damage on Seoul via their artillery was the main threat. I think my feeling was that it, they were not irrational. This wasn’t a really very likely event. Now it became very much more dangerous after I left in 1994.

Q: What about, I think it was called South Pos?. We had a very large American community, military community right in the heart of Seoul on the wrong side of the Han River. Was that, were we concerned about that?

GREGG: We were concerned about it in terms of our relations with South Korea. It was as though we still had a British base in New York City’s Central Park. Jim Lilley had really embarrassed the military about their golf course right in the middle of Seoul. I played the last round on that golf course, and we shut it down. They built us another course south of the city, not nearly as convenient, but at least we turned the golf course over, and it is now used as a park. We talked at that time, they wanted access to the base at Yongsan. We said, yes, we are willing to move, but you have to pay for it. The cost at that time of moving us down to Osan or Suwan or whatever was 4-6 billion dollars. The Koreans didn’t want to cough up that much money. So that has been an issue for some time.

Q: Were E&E, I mean emergency evacuation plans always

GREGG: No, that was really not. My successor Jim Laney, was about to declare that the evacuation of all non-essential personnel, which is sort of the last thing you do before you expect a war to start. That was headed off by Jimmy Carter’s visit, but not during my time we didn’t talk about that.

Q: With the arrival of the Chinese and then the Soviet and then Russian embassies, were you able to get a little better picture of North Korea?

GREGG: Yes we were. Also during my time, the South Koreans had the prime minister level exchanges with the North Koreans, and they signed in early ’92, an agreement that still isn’t a very good blueprint for the way relations between North and South Korea have been developed. The national security advisor to President Roh Tae Woo said to me when I was about to leave, “If we could have kept everybody in the United States and South Korea and North Korea in place for one more year, I think we could have solved the North-South issue.

Q: Well Kim Il Sung, was he alive when you left?

GREGG: Yes.

Q: Was he a failing force?

GREGG: No. It was recognized. I mean I have told you what the Chinese ambassadortold me about his mind set. Billy Graham had gone to North Korea on two occasions, and Kim Il Sung had said, “You know, I really want to make friends with the United States.” That didn’t seem to have much impact. But the power shortages in the North were becoming very noticeable because there is no longer concessional aid form the Soviet Union, and the weakness of the economy was noticeable. The trains in the north ran very slowly because the electric power was so weak. There was a general recognition that the North’s economy was imploding. That it was already reports of food shortages; that the feeling was the North really needed to change the way it was doing, changing its economic approach. But that was headed off by the reinstitution of Team Spirit, a sort of a reinforcing of exercise that the North Koreans hated. It brought thousands of U.S. troops in from abroad, and it was sort of a symbolic demonstration of our willingness to come to the aid of South Korea if there was a North Korean invasion. The North Korean alert level was always way up when we did that. I canceled it for one year, and that paved the way for a lot more talks. But it was reinstated without my knowledge.

Q: Well you say it was re-started without your knowledge, while you were still ambassador

GREGG: Yes, the decision was made in the fall of 1992.

Q: Was this sort of you know, business as usual in the Pentagon, or was this

GREGG: I think it was business as usual in the Pentagon. It was also some hard line South Korean generals who sort of saw Team Spirit as sort of a reassertion of the security blanket. They were very suspicious of talks with the North.

Q: Well you left there when?

GREGG: In the end of February ’93.

Q: When you left, how were things at that time?

GREGG: Kim Yung Son had just been sworn in. He was talking about Seigewa, globalization. That was his big thing. He was talking about more economic development. I thought things were good. I think I probably had as easy a time as any ambassador in the post war period.

Q: Had the computer Internet revolution sort of hit Korea? I think it would be a natural  for it later on.

GREGG: No it hadn’t.

Q: Well you got involved in Korea again afterwards didn’t you?

GREGG: Yes. I still am. I had talked to the Koreans about the fact that they never had an organization in the United States really dedicated to all facets of the U.S.-Korean relationship. They had tried to do it through Tongsun Pak, which had failed. This had caused them really to draw back. They established something called the Korea Foundation which is going around endowing chairs and various universities. I said, “You need to have somebody in the United States, somebody with some stature who really develops an organization devoted to the Korean-American relationship.” At that point I thought that George Herbert Walker Bush was going to be re-elected. I had some hopes of going to be ambassador to Japan. He lost, and that brought my government career to a halt. So I was offered the job as chairman of the Korean Society, and having said what I said to the South Koreans, I could hardly turn it down. So it turned out to be a very stimulating difficult job.

Q: What is difficult about it?

GREGG: The non-profit world is much more competitive and cut throat than I thought it would be. I have been sued by an African-American employee whom I dismissed for nonperformance. He is in California. I have dealt with corruption, embezzlement. Managing a Korean organization is in a way like herding cats. But when I took the organization over, it had a net worth of less than $200,000. We now have an endowment of $8.5 million. We have enlarged our office space three or four times. We have a very active program involving business development, involving cultural exchanges, involving political discussions. I continue to enjoy it.

Q: What about the, you have been involved in some business with North Korea haven’t you?

GREGG: Yes.

Q: What would you like to say about those?

GREGG: Well, Kim Dae Jung had a completely different attitude toward North Korea than Kim Yung San. I invited, I helped pay for the visit of two North Koreans to New York in ’95 or ’96, something like that. Kim Yung San people never forgave me for that. I was encouraging subversion in their view which is ridiculous. But Kim Dae Jung said to me, “Please try to plant the flag of the Korea Society in North Korea.” So I began to pursue the North Koreans in New York. They have a mission there at the UN. I invited the ambassador out to my home with some of his staff. Introduced them to American businessmen who had an interest in perhaps investing in North Korea. We were approached by Syracuse University who had an IT training program with the former Soviet Union.

Q: IT?

GREGG: Information technology. They said, “Do you think the North Koreans would be interested?” I said, “Yes, I think they would.” So we funded an exchange program between Syracuse University and Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang, which is going very well. The Clinton administration was very open to me. They invited me down to try to assess the Jimmy Carter visit, because they didn’t really know what to make of it.

 Q The Jimmy Carter visit being what?

GREGG: Well he went to see Kim Il Sung in 1994 at a point where we were about to pull out of our [inaudible]. People we were getting ready to re-enforce. The North Koreans said, “We will turn Seoul into a sea of fire.” They pulled out of the non- proliferation treaty. I think next to the Cuban missile crisis, this was the second most dangerous moment in the post cold war era. Jim Laney who had been the former president of Emory University, and very close to Jimmy Carter, knew that Carter had a standing invitation to go to North Korea. Laney got hold of Carter and said, “I think you ought to go.” Carter said, “Well I am not sure how the White House would feel about it.” Warren Christopher was dead set against it, Secretary of State, feeling that that usurped his rule. But Gore was for it, and so Carter was given permission to go. He went to see Kim Il Sung. Kim Il Sung said to him what he said to Billy Graham. I want to be friends with the United States. If you are concerned about my nuclear program, I will turn it down as long as you build some replacement power generating things and give me oil in the interim for the power that I lose for shutting down my nuclear reactor. That was the genesis of the 1994 agreement. They called me to the White House when Carter was still on his trip and said, “What do you make of it?” Bill Clinton was there. I said, “All I can say is Carter had a man there with him,” Dick Christiansen again, who had helped me on the trade negotiations, “who is absolutely fluent in Korean. So there is absolutely no doubt about what was said by both sides, so that you will have a clear record of what was said if you want to look at it.” It isn’t like Gerry Ford going to Poland with a poor quality interpreter and not knowing what was said.

 Q: “I lust after Poland,” or something like that.

GREGG: Something like that. So that worked. That led to the agreed framework established in 1994 where we with funding from South Korea and Japan were going to build two light water reactors in North Korea. That then, the relationship with the North wasn’t going very well. I was part of a Council On Foreign Relations task force that recommended a senior person be put in charge of the relationship with North Korea.

Again we had to wrestle the State Department to the ground. The assistant secretary felt he was doing a perfectly fine job. He wasn’t doing a good job at all. The former secretary of defense Bill Perry was appointed. He went to North Korea, and the issue was not only nuclear, but missiles. They had fired a multi stage rocket in 1998 that really rattled the Japanese cage. It was much more sophisticated than we thought they were capable of. So he went to the North and worked very closely in putting out a report saying what the North Koreans could expect from us if they stopped firing missiles and shut down their nuclear program or maintain their nuclear program. So the demarche from Perry was considered by the North Koreans, finally accepted. They sent their Field Marshall Jo, Myung Yok, to Washington in October of 2000. He went to the White House in uniform, invited Bill Clinton to go to North Korea. He was given a dinner by Al Gore. The State Department sent Madeleine Albright to North Korea to check out the feasibility of a visit. In December of 2000, after the election, I was approached by the woman in charge of North Korean affairs for the State Department saying, “Do you think Bill Clinton should go to North Korea.” That was Wendy Sherman. It was one on one. I said, “Well do you have a missile deal?” She said, “No, we cannot get the answer to two or three key questions.” I said, “What are they?” She told me. I said, “Well I think what is happening is Kim Jong Il has the answers to these questions. If Clinton goes, he will get those answers, and he will be given a present for having gone.” So she said, “Do you think we should go on that basis?” I said, “That is way above my pay grade. That is a decision only the President should make.”I think with the controversy about Florida and time ran out. But the North Koreans knew that he had come very close.

Madeleine Albright, I have spoken with her at the University of Michigan. She is very entertaining on the subject. She said, “You know Kim Jong Il and I are about the same height. We both wear high heels and we both put mousse in our hair. But he is very intelligent. I had eleven hours of discussion with him, and we left a very good hand of cards on the table which the Bush administration has failed to pick up.” So when Kim Dae Jung came to the United States pushing for an early meeting with Bush. It didn’t go at all well because Bush said, “I don’t trust Kim Jong Il. We are going to have a policy review before we do anything.” He had referred to him as a pygmy, also we should have gotten out. So the policy review was held, and it revalidated the Kim Dae Jung sunshine policy, but it changed the agenda. Kim Dae Jung had structured his sunshine policy around the things that were the easiest to do first, leaving the hardest things for last.

Q: Sort of confidence building.

GREGG: That’s right, and the Bush people moved the tough things right up to the front, which is troop disposition along the DMZ and so forth. So they laid out the basis on which they would resume contacting the North, and the North didn’t respond, and then came 9-11. So then the North Koreans approached me in the fall of 2001 saying we are getting nowhere with the Bush administration. Why don’t you come to North Korea and talk to us. I said, “I can’t really anoint myself to do that. Why don’t we figure out something better than that.” So we agree to four former ambassadors were going to go, Under the leadership of Bob Scalapino, an renowned orientalist from (University of California) Cal Berkeley who had been to North Korea before. It was going to be Jim  Laney, Bill Gleysteen

Q: Jim Lilley?

GREGG: No I don’t think it was going to be Jim Lilley.

Q: Dixie Walker?

GREGG: No. Yes, Dixie Walker. So then we were planning to go in February of 2002, and then came Bush’s State of the Union speech in which he made North Korea part of the axis of evil. That trip went down the drain. So I went to a conference in the UK on the future of Japan. This was at a place, not Ditchley, but a similar conference center run in part by the British Commonwealth office. Very good conferences. There were a number of Europeans there. I was appalled at their attitude toward 9-11. Not the Brits, but the French, the Dutch, the Swedes, the Swiss, and their attitude was well now you know what we have been dealing with in terms of Bader Meinhof and the Red Brigade. You know, what is the big deal. Don’t over react. What is so special about you. For them to lack any understanding of the impact of 9-11 on the United States, I thought my gosh, if these people don’t understand where we are, there is no way in the world the North Koreans can know. So I felt motivated to write Kim Jong Il a letter saying that your weapons, missiles and nuclear matters have become of huge concern to us because we have been attacked by people who would love to get their hands on the kinds of things you possess, and use them against us. That is why we are so concerned, and we really need to talk about this. It was about a three-page letter. I took it to one of the, a man named Lee Good who was the ambassador, the number two ambassador to the UN. He said to me, “How dare you write a letter like this to my chairman. Who do you think you are. Very Korean reaction.” I said, “I am writing this letter to him because I think I understand how his mind works, and he needs to know this.” He said, “How do you know how his mind works?” I said, “Well I have talked to George Toloroya who sat with him for several days on a train when he went to see Putin and had a long talk with him. I talked with Chinese who were with him when he visited a Buick plant in Beijing or in Shanghai. This is the kind of thing we have to do in North Korea. I have talked to Kim Dae Jung at great length about his visit with him, and I have talked to Madeleine Albright about her visit. They all add up to a very intelligent man who is trying to lead North Korea in some new directions.” He said, “That is a good answer. I will send your letter.”

So two weeks later I was invited to go. I had not asked permission. I had kept Rich Armitage informed, He is deputy secretary of state, an old friend. He sent me a perfect little note saying Don, thanks for your note. Keep me informed as you desire, blah, blah, Rich. Perfect. The State Department said, “Would you like to have a Korean speaking Foreign Service officer go along with you.” I said, “I’d be delighted.” So they sent a young woman who spoke fluent Korean, and so in we went. In April of 2002 I had about 10 hours of discussion with Kim Le Gwan who was the leader of the North Korean delegation to the recently completed Beijing talks, and a very hard line general named Ree Chan Dok. My meeting with him is very reminiscent of my meetings in Kwangju.. It started out with the same bristling animosity, and ended up two hours later with saying exactly what they had said, “You have come a long way, and I appreciate your coming.” We would up understanding each other. He started out with me saying, “Why are you here? You speak first.” I said, “Well, General, I am here because I think you need to know what our frame of mind is. Yesterday I was taken up your Juche Tower,” which is a tower about the height of the Washington Monument. “It is very impressive. How would you feel if you were looking out your window and saw one of your own aircraft fly into that monument reducing it to a pile of rubble and killing everybody on the plane. We say that twice in New York and once in Washington. How would you feel?” I just looked at him. He said, “I think you have lost sight of the fact that the real fighting spirit is in the heart of every soldier.” I said, “I know that. The last thing we ever want is another war with you in Korea.” He said, “It would be a disaster for you.” I said, “Well look what we are accomplishing in Afghanistan without a single heavy artillery piece or heavy tank.” He didn’t like that. But we went on from there and you know, talked very frankly. As I say at the end of two hours we had developed a good deal of respect for each other.

I came back from that trip and wrote something that I sent to the White House recommending that somebody like Bill Perry be sent to North Korea. Well it was interesting. They said, Kim De Wan said, “Why is your George W. Bush so different from his father?” I said, “Well he is a Texan, and his father is a New Englander.” “Why is W so different from Clinton?” I said, “Well you know in a democracy that happens. You have continuity of leadership, so you don’t have to deal with that. Whereas sometimes there is a real turn. I watched one at close range from Carter to Reagan. Clinton to Bush is the same kind of thing.” “So why don’t you understand us better?” I said, “Well, I think because you are the longest running failure in the history of American espionage.” I said, “We couldn’t recruit you people. We could recruit Soviets; we could recruit Chinese.” He sort of swelled with pride. Then this was funny. He said, “Are you wearing your Ops Center hat when you are saying that?” I said, “What?” He said, “You heard me. Are you wearing your Ops Center hat?” I said, “Are you referring to a very bad book by Tom Clancy?’ He said, “Yes, of course.” This is what my wife calls an airport only paperback written by Clancy and another guy named Steve Pieczenik called Op-Center. The leading character is called Gregory Dowell. He is former chief of station in Seoul and later ambassador. So it is clearly based on me. So I said, “Well I haven’t read the book. My wife has. Would you like her reaction?” “Yes.” I said, “Well, she doesn’t mind that I die an honorable death at the end of the book, but she hates the fact that I had a Korean mistress.” That broke him all up. But I tell you that because it shows the sophistication of these people and the depth of their knowledge about us.

So anyway I suggested that there was great mystification as to why one president was so different from another. They realized they had almost had Jimmy Carter as a guest and now they were dealing with a man who referred to them as part of the axis of evil among other things. I said that you could recapture everything that Clinton had by sending somebody with a letter to the North Koreans. They are very anxious for a better relationship. You know, absolutely no response, no acknowledgment to that or anything else I sent to the White House on the subject.

Q: Well do you sense that on this subject that there is a guiding hand? I mean you have national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, you have Colin Powell in the State Department, both of whom seem to be sophisticated and have been around the block and understand. Is it that this is political or visceral? What is happening do you think?

GREGG: Well I think what is happening is that the philosophy of the Bush administration was shaped by a group of people who called themselves, before the election, they called themselves the Vulcans. That is named for the big statue of the god of fire that is on a ridge above Birmingham where Condi Rice grew up. The Vulcans consisted of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Scooter Libby, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice. They were intellectual descendants, particularly Wolfowitz, of the Wohlstetter at the University of Chicago, who felt that we should have been much more preemptive against the Japanese before Pearl Harbor. It is also influenced by another professor, whose name escapes me, who felt that Athens should have been more pre-emptive against Sparta. So this is the doctrine that they sold to Bush, that to maintain our role as the world’s only superpower, we need to be unilateral if need be. We need to go into pre-emptive action, and we need to engage in regime change. I think those are the touchstones and 9-11 seemed to validate it.

There is the President has said you are either with us or against us, and he sees North Korea as evil. Wolfowitz recently, in referring to Saddam Hussein, he said, “Saddam Hussein was in the same category as Hitler, Stalin, and Kim Jong Il. Sooner or later those people are not just content to bring evil down upon their own people. It spills over their borders and they have to be dealt with.” Now the president has distanced himself from that kind of rhetoric. He says he is committed to a diplomatic solution. I heard Secretary Powell give a wonderful speech yesterday after flying down here. He was talking about democracy in Asia and the development of democracy in Asia. He was highly enthused about that. I am very thankful that he has stayed as Secretary of State. I think he gives us some credibility and some substance that would otherwise be lacking. I think he has a very hard row to hoe, but I think he has been given more leeway on Korea. Wolfowitz said in my presence last October, “The State Department is now in the lead on Korea.” That had not been the case in the past. But you still have people like John Bolton who is undersecretary for proliferation who is out there. He is as unpopular in South Korea as he is in North Korea, talking about coercion and sanctions.

Q: The North Koreans have said they won’t talk to him again.

GREGG: Right. I don’t think they have ever talked to him. They denounced him in no uncertain terms.

Q: Right now we are going through a period where the North Koreans are sort of challenging us by going ahead with nuclear developments. Is this, how do we read this? What are they doing? What are they after?

GREGG: They are after a changed policy on our part. They are truly concerned about our military intentions toward them. I went to a Track II, six-party meeting in Qingdao last September, hosted by the Chinese. Some of them had been to the previous official six-party talks in Beijing just less then two weeks before. The same ground was covered. The leading Chinese figure there was a woman named Fouying, a very accomplished diplomat. She said, “We all agree, including North Korea, that we want to have a nuclear free Korean Peninsula. We all agree, including North Korea, that where we want to end up is a verifiably nuclear free Korean Peninsula where North Korea’s security and economic concerns are adequately dealt with. The problem is we don’t know how to get from position A to position B, and that is still the problem because the Bush administration says we will not submit to blackmail. We will not reward that behavior, and the new mantra is CVID, completely verifiably, irreversible dismantlement of all nuclear programs.” They want Korea to do what Qaddafi had done. I saw Kelly briefly yesterday, and Colin Powell had said that some progress had been made in Beijing, but it is going to be a long slow process because we and the North Koreans are staring at each other across a chasm of mistrust. In the meantime the U.S.- South Korean relationship is in the worst shape I think it has perhaps ever been. Because the alliance which has been geared to joint opposition to North Korea as the implacable foe, in the wake of the summit of 2000, no longer works because the South Koreans now see the North Korean, these are the younger people at least, as perhaps a long lost brother who has acquired some bad habits and needs rehabilitation and tender loving care rather than punishment. The older Koreans are still very suspicious of North Korea, but the younger Koreans are very accepting of the North. They think the North would never use nuclear weapons against them. They see the United States, many of them see the United States as a greater threat to their ongoing security than North Korea. The relationship is in very difficult shape.

Q: Well you know the great concern is that the North Koreans being hard pressed for money, that there could be leakage of nuclear weapons to a terrorist. That would put the

GREGG: Absolutely. That is a red line, and I have written the North Koreans. I am in touch with them, and I wrote them when there was a statement hinting that that might happen. When I went there the first time, I said that it is just imperative that you completely distance yourselves from any form of terrorism. They said, “We have already signed two UN measures against terrorism.” So I agreed that could happen and that is our concern. I don’t think they had any intention of doing that. The sort of nuclear bazaar that has been run out of Pakistan has been of deep concern on that score.

Q: The North Koreans were at one point you know, selling drugs. Their embassies were selling drugs to maintain themselves. I mean how dire would you say their straits are?

GREGG: Well I think it is somewhat, I have talked at length to people who have been up there delivering food and medicine and so forth. They have allowed market gardens to be cultivated for the profit of the owners. That has improved the food situation to some extent. They had a somewhat better rice crop than last year, but they have cut down all their trees. They have lousy fertilizer, primitive agricultural technique. They are very  vulnerable to fluctuation s of temperature and rainfall, and so they have a food, they have had a food shortage, and there has been starvation. It is still bad, but it is somewhat better than it was. There is still a great power shortage. But even in my two trips to Pyongyang in April and November of 2002, I saw improvement in Pyongyang in those six months in terms of food stalls in the streets, more cars, so forth. Now Pyongyang is much better than the worst provinces up along the Chinese border are still in very bad shape.

Q: The Japanese factor recently, has that been

GREGG: Well, I was at another conference in Japan just before Koizumi went to Pyongyang, and we had at this conference, some Chinese who were very knowledgeable of the North Koreans having spent years in Pyongyang. The major concerns on the part of the Japanese were those abductees. The Chinese said, “Oh, they will never admit this.” Well Kim Jong Il did admit it. He apparently thought that that would somehow put the issue behind them.

Q: These were Japanese citizens

GREGG: These were Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by the North Koreans so that they could use them as models top train agents to act like Japanese. Maybe 30 were kidnapped. They allowed some to return to Japan. The Japanese have not returned them. The issue has bubbled up. It has backfired, and the North Koreans are furious at the Japanese and make the point that the Japanese never speak of the tens of thousands of young Korean women they kidnapped and forced to be comfort women for the imperial army. So the, you know the thinking is at some point the Japanese will pay reparations to North Korea. Sort of that money that would be in the billions would help kick start the economy. North Korea, I felt quite comfortable there because I was dealing with Koreans, and I understand the Koreans. It is a terrible regime. It is a repressive regime. It is a brutal regime. The question is how do you get them to stop being repressive and brutal. My suggested solution is to let them develop economically, improve the living standard of their own people, give Kim Jong Il a real chance to survive. I suggested that his role model ought to be Fidel Castro who has presided over a decrepit society but still maintains some degree of respect at home. How he does it I don’t know. The South Koreans hope he will be a Deng Xiaoping, a real reformer. I am not sure he is capable of that.

Q: Is somebody talking to Kim Jong Il? I mean you were mentioning Park Chung Hee, you know, who brought him bad news? Do you feel that there is contact with him?

GREGG: Well, yes. Putin refers to him as a completely modern person. They apparently get along quite well. He has got some good give and take relations with the Chinese. He has met a number of South Koreans including Kim de Jong. Everybody I have talked to who has talked to him directly says he is a highly intelligent man. For example, he reads the daily press out of Korea on the web site every day. He goes to the web site of the Blue House.

Q: That is the White House of South Korea.

GREGG: Yes. He complimented the minister of unification under Kim De Jung saying, “You know, I really am very interested in your write up of Park Chung Hee, because I want to do some of the same things for North Korea that Park Chung Hee did for South Korea in terms of jump starting the economy. So I think he has a recalcitrant military that he has trouble dealing with. I think he has a small coterie of people around him who are fairly enlightened.

Q: Okay, Don, I think this is a good place to stop.

GREGG: Okay.

End of interview

 

Book Review: Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)

Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (above) wrote Duty not to tritely vent anger and disappointment over his recent experience in the US government, but to engage in a sincere effort to improve the government’s handling of defense and foreign policy issues. 

In a March 25, 2014 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled, “Putin’s Challenge to the West,” former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote: “Mr. Putin aspires to restore Russia’s global power and influence and to bring the now independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Moscow’s orbit. While he has no apparent desire to recreate the Soviet Union (which would include responsibility for a number of economic basket cases.), he is determined to create a Russian sphere of influence—political, economic, and security—and dominance. There is no grand plan or strategy to do this, just opportunistic and ruthless aspiration. And patience.”  Gates, an American statesman, a former cabinet member of two administrations, patriotic and dedicated to his country, now out of government, sought to contribute to the US policy debate on Russia by writing this assessment of Putin’s moves in Ukraine.  Much as he was compelled to use his experience as a national security official, and expertise on the former Soviet republics to write his editorial, Gates was inspired to write his latest book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

Some reviewers have referred to Duty as a tell-all, arguing Gates was motivated write it by the urge to settle scores.  They point to the fact that it would seem impossible for any future president to hire Gates for a cabinet post.  However, Gates intentions were not so banal, and at 70, he certainly is not concerned with gaining a post in any future administration.  Just as when he decided to leave civilian life to take the position of Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration in 2006, Gates saw the possibility of sharing today the benefits of his experience, lessons he learned, and mentoring from those who selflessly protected the US for decades under far more demanding, dangerous circumstances.  As the US heads into dark territory with Russia and perhaps Iran and North Korea, his comments in Duty will prove significant to those who need to know what to do. Never wanting to see his country or president fail, writing Duty, with great passion and candor, was a way for Gates to ignite positive change and improvement.  Undeniably, he has managed to reach administration officials and Members of Congress, many of whom were unwilling to listen to his advice while he was serving in government.  In using this method to reach official Washington, calling attention to what he saw as the error in its ways, Gates put much at risk. Yet, in that way, Duty is truly an articulation of Gates’ generosity.

Some reviewers have found it enough to say Gates rose from the ranks at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), joining in 1967 via the US Air Force, but that is not enough to help readers understand the prism through which he views service in government.  The CIA of the Cold War years was different in many ways for the Agency today.  As he moved through numerous major events in his early career, Gates worked effectively as yeast within wheat flour, quietly, perhaps initially undetected.  Yet, over time, he was seen as having a positive impact through his work, eventually recognized as being part of the process of moving things forward.  He was never the sort to be negative or appear disgruntled.  During his career, Gates likely came in contact with CIA officers such as, Donald Gregg, Robert Ames, Gary Schroen, Jack Devine, Dewey Clarridge, Claire George, James Lilley, William Buckley, James Delaney, William Colby, Richard Helms, and Vernon Walters, with whom dozens of stories of ingenuity, courage, sacrifice, and patriotism are coupled.  Contacts with such associates and a multitude of others helped Gates develop a greater understanding of the world and other ways of thinking, on top of all he was learning directly through his duties as an analyst on the Agency’s Directorate of Intelligence.

As Gates reached the senior ranks of the organization, especially the job of Deputy Director of CIA, his work at headquarters was supplemented by travels worldwide, to establish or ensure understandings and agreements the Agency had with foreign personalities, some with whom most professionals and the average person would never wish to come in contact.  By that time, Gates was also made very familiar with the more esoteric, advanced, and somewhat frightening aspects of the US intelligence community’s activities.  Outside of CIA, he worked closely with Brent Scowcroft, as well as with Colin Powell and James Baker, legends in the world of US foreign and defense policy.  He was Deputy National Security Advisor during the fall of the Soviet Union.  Eventually he would become the Director of CIA. Gates’ counsel was highly valued among senior foreign and defense policy officials and presidents.

Before Gates came back to Washington to serve as Secretary of Defense, he served as President of Texas A&M University and a member of several corporate boards. He moved away from the worries of national security, leaving the job to the capable hands of others.  While developing the minds of young men and women was the concept and intent behind his service at Texas A&M, he also had a chance to reflect on his life and career.  That time of calmness and peacefulness allowed him to sharpen his discernment and see what is really inside himself.  It was likely in that period, that Gates recognized the importance of being candid and forth-right with associates.  Being polite is a virtue; silence is golden. However, remaining silent when change or action is necessary is wrong.  When the flock has strayed, remaining silent is failure.  Having developed a reputation for nearly a century for being discreet, Gates, with Duty, seemingly put the concept of being forthright in full effect in order to repair matters.  He is honest about his associates, appropriately self-critical of his own judgments, and candid in reflecting on issues that might have been handled better.

With much attention being given to Gates criticisms, the fact that Duty is an interesting history of his work as secretary is nearly lost. Gates feels that he met the job’s challenges to include: managing the activities of the armed forces globally; developing the department’s budget, overseeing the research, acquisition, and procurement process for new systems; directing the Defense Department’s relations with allies and partners overseas, managing relations with other departments such as State, Energy, Homeland Security; directing the relationship of his department with the White House and the Congress; and, managing the relationship between the military services and the president.  When Gates arrived at the Defense Department, its bureaucracy was comfortable and resisted pressure to shift to a wartime footing, dragging its feet on urgent military needs as well as neglecting to adequately care for wounded warriors.  Gates explains how he assured $16 billion was in a supplemental budget to get thousands of much needed MRAP troop-carriers built and sent quickly to Iraq and Afghanistan, against objections from the service chiefs.  He produced a budget in the first year of the administration of US President Barack Obama that cut or curtailed 33 weapons programs, including the F-22 stealth fighter.  He changed the Army’s promotion board and thus allowed some of the most creative colonels, whose careers had been thwarted, to advance to the rank of general.  When he discovered the horrors at Walter Reed Army Hospital, he fired the Secretary of the Army and fixed the situation immediately.  He also fired the Air Force Chief of Staff for slowing down production and delivery of reconnaissance drones, which in Iraq helped the troops spot roadside bombs and track down the insurgents who planted them.  In agreement with just about all other reviewers, Gates’ descriptions of how he managed to successfully lead and effectively direct the Defense Department with a combination of cooption and coercion, tempered by decades of government service at the senior level, makes Duty a book that should be read by every future US Defense Secretary, as well as political and business leaders, and defense and foreign policy makers in any country.

Yet, the history of his tenure as Defense Secretary served as background to all of his appraisals of behavioral and attitudinal changes among officials and officers in the government since he left in 1993.  Gates clearly saw it as emblematic of a degraded quality of service to the US.  That apparently startled him the more than anyting else.  At the lower levels, Gates found the behavior of young members of the National Security Council staff unsettling.  The National Security Council (NSC) staff was dominated by young congressional and campaign staffers who had little or no experience in foreign policy.  Gates explains the young staffers would engage in meddling to include making calls to four-star generals.  Having served in similar positions under four previous presidents Gates says such actions would have constituted “a firing offense” in previous administrations.  There was apparently no model for the young staffers to follow that remotely resembled what Gates had known in the past.  Rank and title had lost its meaning.  Perhaps the assumption was made by younger staffers that all were equally finding their way as students in school.  They were likely never told and never consiered  that most older, senior professionals possessed a depth of knowledge tha coiuld have been useful to them.  Interestingly, during the Cold War, the KGB and GRU likely would have avoided any attempt to contact such young staffers as described by Gates, judging them as too erratic, possessing a far greater sense of importance than deserved, and displaying questionable judgment.

While former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was praised by Gates, characterizing her as cooperative and capable, many other senior officials at the White House also drew criticism from him.  Gates appraised Tom Donilon, the second National Security Advisor in the Obama administration as suspicious and distrustful of the uniformed military leadership to the point of stating in a meeting that it was “insubordinate” and “in revolt” against the White House.  At one point in an Oval Office meeting, Donilon was so argumentative about military operations that Gates contemplated walking out of the room in anger.  “It took every bit of my self-discipline to stay seated on the sofa.”  Gates referred to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as “hell on wheels” and “a whirling dervish with ­attention-deficit disorder.”

Gates’ criticism of US Vice President Joe Biden has received considerable note in the media.  He depicts Biden as being loud and garrulous and a comical “motor mouth,” obsessed with politics over substance.  At the same time, he says Biden is “simply impossible not to like.”  Gates explains how Biden presumes to know more about counterterrorism than an experienced Special Operations general.  However, Gates only assessed that as an aspect of Biden’s “relentless attack” on “the integrity of the senior military leadership.”  Gates noted that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”  What he faults Biden most about is poisoning Obama’s relationship with his generals.  Gates stated, “I thought Biden was subjecting Obama to Chinese water torture, everyday saying, ‘the military can’t be trusted.’ ”

Regarding the presidents he served as a Defense Secretary at war, Gates explains President George W. Bush and his aides squandered the initial military victories in both wars by mistakes and short-sighted policies.  He expressed dislike for Bush’s “freedom agenda” as “too simplistic” and his objectives in Afghanistan as “embarrassingly ambitious (and historically naïve).”  He believes that the invasion of Iraq and the revelations about renditions, Abu Ghraib prison, and Guantánamo “fueled further anti-American feeling.”  Yet, Gates admits admiring Bush as “a man of character, a man of convictions, and a man of action.”   Readers may find an incongruity in these statements, Gates understands that presidents also have feelings, make errors, but have the right to be treated respectfully.  Errors on the other hand do not have rights and errors made by authorities should be given attention. Gates successfully managed to assist Bush by accelerating the isolation of Vice President Dick Cheney with a number of political maneuvers.  He clearly saw Cheney’s advice as questionable.  Before he left office, Gates reveals that Cheney advocated bombing both Syria and Iran. Gates explained that he almost singlehandedly kept Bush following through on that suggestion regarding Iran.

Gates served Obama well, encouraging and supporting him.  Gates clearly understood there were enormous gaps in Obama’s background, knowledge, and understanding with regard to national security.  Coming into the administration, Gates let the president know that he would be with him and would stand by him.  He asked Obama to trust him, and promised not to fail him.  Gates hoped there would be a process by which he could impart the best of what he knew for the president to absorb.  Indeed, the president spoke in confidence with Gates, often seeking out his counsel.  For Obama the policy making process on Afghanistan was agonizing and left him wary of his generals.  Concerned over being disrespected by them, Obama asked Gates, “Do they think because I’m young that I don’t see what they’re doing?”  However, Obama eventually became non-receptive to certain reasoning. Gates indicates that was perhaps due to competing messages from Biden and others.  Such competing voices, even worse, were further confusing the situation.  Some officials misunderstood what Gates had learned long before that the weight only falls on the president’s shoulders.  Clarity of thought is especially critical on tough issues.

Gates explains a break occurred with Obama in April 2011, just he was departing the administration.  Obama had previously agreed that Gates would restructure the defense budget but that its size would not be altered. In the face of midterm elections and fiscal pressures across the board, White House Chief of Staff, William Daley, informed Gates that he would need to cut the budget by another $400 billion over the next 10 years. Gates explained “I was furious.”   He writes. “I pointed my finger at Daley and said, ‘This White House’s word means nothing!’ ”  True, the president’s job is to set national priorities, and political changes unavoidably alter those settings; it’s the Defense Secretary’s job to devise the best strategy given his limited resources.  Yet, Gates, well aware of that, perhaps is not recounting the whole story of the agreement.  Perhaps it included a quid-pro-quo that was reneged upon.  Gates disappointment also could have been due to what he recognized as a pattern of mistrust and suspicion plaguing the White House’s relations with the Defense Department since 2009.  Gates already had a deep distrust of Obama’s staff, feeling betrayed on major promises made about the defense budget and about the process of allowing gay soldiers to serve openly in the military.  On top of that, Gates explained being in the White House Situation Room and thinking that “the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his.  For him, it’s all about getting out.”

If there was a point in the book where Gates could be said to have been aggressive and questionably constructive, it is in his discussion of the US Congress.  Gates sensed a superficiality about Congressional efforts, in which Members were not thinking deeply in the long term interests of US.  He witnessed a senselessness among those seemingly addicted to the insignificant.  He calls Members of the Senate “hypocritical and obtuse” and is angered by the “kangaroo-court environment” in committee hearings.  Gates states that the House of Representatives has “more than its fair share of crackpots” and “raving lunatics.”  He points to “rude, insulting, belittling, bullying, and all too often highly personal attacks” by Members.

Perhaps the real window into Gates soul was his thinking about the troops.  Gates really cares.  He was essentially traumatized by his role in sending US soldiers overseas to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He admits to crying over letters of condolence that he signed, later mulling over in bed the lives of those killed or wounded.  His emotions are genuine.  At one point Gates writes “I did not enjoy being secretary of defense.”  At another, he recalls telling a friend in an email, “People have no idea how much I detest this job.”  He reveals in Duty’s conclusion that he has requested to be buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of many of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 19th century Hanoverian military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz stated, “Strength of character does not only consist of having strong feelings, but maintaining one’s balance in spite of them.”  Duty is not part of an effort by Gates to angrily vent disappointment over the government, but a sincere effort to improve US national security.  Too many have looked at the work from the wrong perspective. Gates understands that US strength was created through patriotism, dedication, hard work, and real sacrifice.  He has asked that those serving in the government now perform in that manner.  For that reason, Gates saves his criticism especially for those professionals and officials who set the example and standard for the young staffers.  With a sense of respect and collegiality toward his president and his associates, Gates was quiet while in government, but silence does not obviate intellectual inquiry or activity of the spirit and of the soul.  Now, Gates has voiced his thoughts.  Hopefully Gates will continue to speak out as loud as he can.  Without question, greatcharlie.com highly recommends Duty to all of its readers.  In time, it will be viewed as one of the greatest Washington insider memoirs ever.

By the way, Gates did more than assess the situation with Russia over Ukraine in his March 25th Wall Street Journal editorial.  He also offered a way forward worth considering. He explained: “The only way to counter Mr. Putin’s aspirations on Russia’s periphery is for the West also to play a strategic long game. That means to take actions that unambiguously demonstrate to Russians that his worldview and goals—and his means of achieving them—over time will dramatically weaken and isolate Russia.” If negotiations betwee the US ad Russia over Ukraine fail, we shall see if his advice is taken, and see how it goes!