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Elliott Abrams: How Should the Next President Address U.S. Foreign Policy Challenges?

Elliott Abrams: How Should the Next President Address U.S. Foreign Policy Challenges?



hi I'm Bill Kristol welcome to conversations I'm very pleased to be joined today once again for a second time by Elliott Abrams had a distinguished career in government at both the State Department and the White House and written important books when you weren't in government but I thought we could talk today about the next administration the challenges they face in foreign policy which are uniquely qualified to discuss and maybe first about how they're going to put themselves together to conduct a foreign policy you've been through this I think you you came into the Reagan administration in 1981 right at the beginning yes and then the Bush administration very close to the beginning and in 2000 yeah so you've really seen this transition and this year whether Hillary Clinton wins or Donald Trump wins will have a pretty thorough goer transition right you know this ought to be a better transition in one way after 2000 we changed the law so that the transition is supposed to begin when you're nominated not when you're elected so you get that extra month anyway of September October two months right ten weeks close to so you have more time I'm not involved in the transitions this year so I'm not sure what's going on the critical thing is probably personnel it's the drawing up of lists of candidates for you know it's thousands of positions and particularly if you're in the Trump transition I would think this is a difficult task actually you're new you've never done this before some of the people working for you have never really done this before because frankly because so many Republican veterans have checked out you know having a signed letter saying we're not going to support Trump and therefore obviously they're not involved so what let's say either one wins and calls you in as a veteran this is not really political advice or even starting to provide sort of how do we have a competent team functioning on January 20th where we take over what do you tell President Clinton or President Trump what's your sort of for the next two and a half months how do they get it can they get a competent team together even that fast could you have a new administration on Jeff I mean well let me off it's yeah how Wonder staff will they be on January 21st they will be understaffed the top positions are filled you know the senator as a matter of courtesy confirmed citrix state sector defense White House staff of courts does not need confirmation so if you have found your people they can start coming in the problem is that so you're elected okay it takes a while for people to make decisions you have to kind of trickle down here that is people want to hire their own number two number three number four the secretary you can't hire assistant secretaries of state until you have a secretary of state your first choice may say no your second choice may say no for people who have to get confirmed you know April is considered a speedy confirmation it starts after January 20th so you really don't have everybody in place throughout the bureaucracy I really until it's summer even the White House staff does not get fully filled up I would say for a few months my advice to the to the president-elect yeah I imagine Secretary Clinton knows this but would be to worry a lot about the White House staff I'm curious about this as you served in both the State Department and the White House yes I was thinking if they call it a circuit what should i do really first I mean you gotta have a secretary state a secular defense obviously but the old line where stand appends on where you sit is right meaning your cabinet members are your key assistants and they are your natural enemies and the minute they sit down and their departments they will take on a different coloration it's not that they're disloyal it's not they're hostile but you know some of them want to have careers after you're gone they're the younger ones or they want to go and make money after you're gone they have a building to manage which means they're concerned about the morale in their building they want people in their building and in the relevant groups outside the building whether it's business or foreign governments or whatever it is it's very different I mean think of condi rice National Security Adviser than Secretary of State when your national security adviser you're in the White House the first thing you do in the morning you have you go to the staff meeting all the other people who work directly for the president when your service take you're in a different building you see the president sometimes you travel a lot your constituents are in a way other foreign ministers and the staff meeting you have in the morning is of your assistant secretaries of state yes and you're looking down to your building not yep wearing first and foremost about the president right I mean one piece of advice I would give them about the White House staff is don't allow holdovers I mean I know everybody continuity but you want people who are loyal to you just to you so I worry about holdovers and I'd worry about people coming out of the bureaucracy to at least at the senior level safer the NSC we're talking about the number 1 & 2 & 3 people but but also the senior directors that's who have divisions departments of the NSC like Asia Latin America Middle East narcotics don't take people out of the bureaucracy don't take people who were seconded from state DoD CIA take loyalists who believe in you who believe in what you're saying because there's a gigantic bureaucracy out there and they're cleaver Donald Trump they didn't vote for you so how do you control that bureaucracy how do you get them to do what you want how do you even know what they're doing White House staff is critical I would also say when it comes to the assistant secretaries there are different theories here I mean condi rises theory was you take the best people from the Foreign Service George Shultz his theory when he was sector State for Reagan was you don't take career Foreign Service officers you take political appointees who are Republicans who are going to be loyal to the president I think that's a better model and that's the model that I would advise for both of them take take political appointees who you think will be loyal to you and your views I know it sounds like a bad rap on the bureaucracy but I think it makes the government work better yeah it's a word more about why I mean I think for outsiders it's not really have businesses I have one CEO Cleese and his one or two favorites and all that under said but I'd say normal people listen to this might think she shouldn't you know competence and qualifications count more than a loyalty that seems like an awfully inside kind of you know personalizing way of thinking of it but why is loyalty so important in these jobs especially at the White House staff and what are they what is it guard against what does it accomplish it's good to think there are normal people listening yeah yeah well watching this is I'm sick I came to wash a little left you and I can identify that I was at first bewildered by by this little bit right it's kind of a slightly rebelled I remember I worked for Bill Bennett and you know this guy's good he was with us and he builds previous job at neh I think we'll be good tomorrow maybe there are better people out in the country you know this is education where know more about education policy shouldn't we get them and it took me a while to rouse this wasn't just my boss you know a cabinet secretary being clannish or just liking people who liked him that he had a there was a rash there's a reason why you want law Ellis but I think it's worth explaining I think there were two things critical here you need to get the job done so you need people who can actually do it and can work effectively in a bureaucracy we're talking about a bureaucracy or a huge vast bureaucracy you can be highly intelligent you can be for example maybe a fantastically brilliant academic but unable to function in government so that's one thing you need to do you need to get people who who can now some people come out of the Academy Henry Kissinger who can instantly master the bureaucracy but some people can't some people from business can't George Shultz when he became secretary state hired of dear friend who is a really successful businessman as under secretary State for management and he quit after three weeks and said to Schultz government is hopeless nothing happens here I'm out so that's first getting people who can function in the government setting but the loyalty question is critical because the Pres it's team is actually quite small if you think of roughly ten thousand people at the State Department what a million in the Defense Department many many in the tens of thousands in CIA and then there's the domestic departments your White House staff is a few hundred people I mean okay the NSC I think under Bush was too roughly two hundred it's now more than doubled and that's too big but you have let's say a thousand people but the bureaucracy is is millions of people the president issues an instruction or guidance it goes over to HUD it goes over to HHS goes over to DoD it can be ignored it can be given lip service what's the follow-up how do you know if maybe they're trying and failing maybe they're trying in good faith but it isn't working how do you know well they'll tell you but they'll tell you what do they want you to hear how do you dig down a level deeper I think that in every administration there's an organization chart I mean you can look it up online it's in textbooks the secretary the assistants are clear the deputy that exists and it's important but I think every administration has a kind of nervous system of loyalists that are in each department that you know you can reach out to sometimes you know people know each other from the campaign other times they get to know each other where you know they really want to do what the president wants to do and that that the government can't function unless that nervous system is also working it doesn't to me just to kind of wrap up this section I mean it's an asymmetric situation I was Hillary Hood knows she's been in the White House she's been in the State Department she probably knows who she wants at this point and and probably thinks she does all these time to make the system work and Trump really would be the most outside Irish person to come in in modern times maybe ever and maybe Reagan is though the closest comparison did never worked in Washington he had presumably especially hadn't done foreign policies Governor of California and was an outsider in his own party just some degree not in their Trumpy way and you were there at the regular I think you were part of the transition team yeah and then became assistant secretary of state yes let you got confirmed pretty quickly right so yes so what I mean particularly for Trump I guess it's sort of you can say loyalist but how many foreign policy was the obvious know you know there's no right and there's a tiny team I suppose helping run the campaign but it's an interesting question if phone calls you and what he how does he you need a few people and they may not exist but whom you trust who know Washington now Reagan for example I remember after we won I was on the transition team but but I wanted a job who did I talk to who you were on the State Department transition I was actually a I D transition team with at fuller the longtime president of and then president of the Heritage Foundation I went to talk to Bill Casey who had been campaign manager and Bill Timmons famous Washington lobbyist of that period who had been one of the campaign's top people Reagan was using them after the campaign was over to help with a variety of political and personnel tasks and that was smart because they had been around in Washington Timmons permanently Casey obviously in and out but they knew how these things worked and he will need Trump would need to find people like that maybe Gingrich is one for him you do find people whom you trust it can take a year though and so if you think of the first year of the Reagan administration he hires Alexander Haig but a year and half later Hank is out and really after the first I don't know six or nine months White House State Department relations were terrible so that can happen and you have to be able and willing to correct mistakes I guess the way Trump does on TV you fire but I think he he's gonna have a problem because I'm not sure that most of the people we think of as his loyalists have ever had this experience of putting an administration together or even work administration really know how to how to do it yeah I suppose King Gretch I we Christie and Giuliani at least at the state local level have put together governments and so if it's Washington is a little different so but he'll find people I suppose it is yeah if he wins ever suddenly decided health and and they should probably still be present hesitates right yeah I'm not sure that's right I mean that is I think a lot of people won't or have already in a sense from Trump's point of view cast themselves out and it is probably true that he ought to say let's let bygones be bygones and we'll forget about all those letters that said I'm the worst person on earth most politicians don't work that way and Trump doesn't seem to have a right to be erring on the side of forgiving and worth yeah that'll be interesting well that's the second that's very interesting so let's assume they get this administration together at the beginning isn't it together but let's assume then the next president calls you and they've got the secretaries of state and defense and the next great advisor and the key deputies they're appointed and now he or she wants a private discussion of like what about the okay so what is the situation in the world what do i what do i need to know what should i focus on what what that isn't in the headlines really is important what can i sort of ignore that everyone else is telling me I have to what do you say on January 19th either you've got two separate issues here though obviously they come together one of them is the set of problems we need to face you know North Korea Syria where do you need to make decision that's a critical thing that has to be done during the transition is there anything you need to make a decision on on January 20th or in January or in February what are the things that can that are going to come and hit you so there are there are the issues but the separate set of things that I would say is look after eight years of Obama the American position in the world is not good neither our enemies nor our allies feel that we are rising power and our allies do not feel they can rely on us they don't know where the United States is now if you are facing Iran Saudis Emiratis Jordanians Israelis if you were facing Russia poles Czechs Estonians we were facing China Australians Japanese South Koreans Taiwan you don't really know so you need to do something real or symbolic that begins to reassure them that the period of drift under Obama is over a part of this may be working with Congress on the military budget I think that would be quite reassuring although you know in one day it doesn't change anything it shows a trend I think it's worthwhile looking for more dramatic ways to show that America is back now Reagan did it oddly you know with firing the air traffic controllers which had nothing to do with foreign policy but it was a demonstration of willpower there are things one could do the true that would top my list on foreign policy would be the Persian Gulf in Syria I think we need to have a different reaction under a new president the next time a naval a ship is swarmed by a bunch of Iranian gunboats that pull up within a few hundred yards in a very dangerous fashion and I think that if we sank one of those gunboats it would be a shot heard around the world I think in Tehran of course but in Beijing and in Moscow and in all the Allied capitals people would say whoa they're back and it no it does not lead to World War 3 and in Syria I think and this is something that the president have to get to in the first month the our Syria policy in my opinion has been to do nothing that makes Iran angry and so we have no Syria policy and we send Kerry or he goes on his own to Geneva and and it makes us look weak and foolish do you want to do anything about Syria do you want are you prepared you're the new president prepared to see Assad can use chemical weapons on your watch are you prepared to see these bunker busters hitting more hospitals and killing more civilians on your watch and looking as reckless as Obama over this and if not what are the options military options if any that you have and then so I think there's that overall picture of reassurance of allies deterrence of enemies opponents and you think that's a when would have that conversation with Hillary Clinton who was president of Iowa secular state and it's from the same party almost samachar in a similar way maybe you'd frame it a little differently but you think it's actually as important advice for her as it is for Trump I mean that she needs to think of herself as a fresh start not us somehow bound to continue and does she do you think it's nothing that would be it's hard if you're from the same party right to make that quick return or maybe not I don't know uh you know it depends what's really what you're thinking but and maybe this is the wish being father to the thought for me but look Syria Petraeus Panetta and Clinton in 2012 actually urged Obama to take a harder line you know when she was a Senator she was on the Armed Services Committee she has some knowledge I would assume of the declining American military power people can suppose for example that for the sake of continuity she decides to keep on ash Carter as Secretary of Defense for one year not impossible I mean Obama did he kept on body gangs I think the advice she would be getting from DoD from him civilian appointee but from uniform military is hey things are bad and there are options and here they are and Obama rejected all of them but you know Bush the last time this happened if it is going to be Clinton was of course George HW Bush following Ronald Reagan well he didn't you know it did it didn't go day night night day but but he certainly changed the policy he certainly changed the whole look of American foreign policy I think in an unfortunate way admittin in some cases but the fact that it's the same party in a way I think if you're Hillary Clinton you you very much want to Frenchie ate yourself from Obama because you're you you do not want to be seen as seen as Obama's third term and you think it's a analytical matter I mean they decide in some respects what all the criticisms you've made a high beta for Volvo over the years I mean really would be important for the next president act pretty quickly in terms of the allies and enemies because the dynamic I guess if he if he or she didn't would be if you're sitting in Japan or Saudi or anywhere Thorin it Iran you sort of think okay I guess it's more of the same we the Obama wasn't very strong and and this next person from wells like Trump with the rhetoric notwithstanding though in a way Trump's rhetoric is on both sides of this an isolationist Hillary Clinton the fact that she was Obama Secretary of State notwithstanding it's sort of more the same so your main advice that sounds like would be in a way it you can't look like more the same that really as a policy matter you do not want foreign capitals to think Obama was four more years of in the same direction I think that critical and I think that that if it doesn't happen then let's say after a period of months of the summer perhaps you will have people changing their policies to reflect what they expect to be four more years of what I would call weakness or drift and you know if you're the Saudis and you're looking at Iraq or Yemen or if you're in East Asia worrying about what we do a whole back China or worrying about Putin you're gonna change your policy what makes you a bit hopeful about this is the new president is going to sit down over a relatively brief period I would think with the leaders of some of these countries and you know if you visit these countries this is what they think they're well you were in Asia recently and the question at least you're an expert yeah I mean July and September I you were in Japan which we have in years right and I talk to people as they come through Washington and what's remarkable is that if you talk to people from you know Australia Japan South Korea Singapore Poland the Czech Republic Israel Saudi right I mean you hear the same line basically which I mean they don't say this but where are you guys what's happening they're very worried about whether in fact this is isolationism is the United States saying a version actually of Trump's statements about NATO we're carrying too big a burden and we're not going to do it anymore so you're on your own they're very much worried about this and they see a decay of the American – Western position over the last few years rising China rising Russia rising Iran he's going to he or she is going to hear that politely put and I think that pushes obviously in the right direction I suppose for our allies having the Republican candidate in particular see you in the more I sort of be the more salacious is must be a little bit jarring this I think they've always thought you know Democrats maybe you reacted against Bush and whatever Obama but the Republican Party is actually pretty strong and then the Republican candidate is criticizing NATO and more anti the Iraq war than Hillary Clinton and so forth I mean that most have the bullet no do you not get this game I'm just curious does this get raised a lot would you be with foreign ambassadors for it gets raised and and the lack of understanding of Trump gets raised a lot I mean if you think of the last not only presidents but defeated candidates for president right pretty you know people they knew John Kerry John McCain you know Al Gore I mean these were familiar figures to most foreigners Reagan and exception so the questions are you know there's a question or two about Clinton and do you think someone solely sector state or will be so and so with Trump it's that kind of you don't know him do you know anybody we talked to who might be Secretary of this or that they're just lost and these are very hard questions to answer because he has not put forward you know a 30-page position paper and he doesn't have a long track record of you know of going to these various meetings that people go to in Aspen or in Sedona or in all these places and going to the security conferences in Europe and giving long speeches on these questions so they're nervous and on the trade issue in particular I was we're speaking just about the same week of the first presidential debate and where Donald Trump was attacking what had been bipartisan positions really I think everything about this both presidential candidates of both parties to my knowledge have always supported NAFTA I think Gordon yeah the gore basta of course yep and then Kerry and so the Republicans did and for that at other trade agreements and the TPP the Asian agreement has had I believe Obama certainly supports that introduced negotiated it and Bush certainly supported it when he was president and I believe McCain and Romney supported when they were challengers so it must be a little unnerving for them to suddenly see both candidates well one candidate just attacking Taft is the worst thing that ever happened and Hillary Clinton being fairly quiet about this what was a pretty big accomplishment of her husband's administration and then on the Asian agreement at the trans-pacific partnership both of them saying no I wonder how much that's got them under I mean how much damage has to be undone just from that it's a good question I think they're hopeful that Hillary is lying right I mean they're hopeful that his campaign rhetoric and it'll be fixed if she's president but I would say that they in my conversations people don't they're less concerned with the trade treaties narrowly defined as G we really wanted provision five and more concern about what it means about American politics is the United States in some deep way are the American people in a way that's going to be reflected in Congress as well changing our minds about the role we have played since World War two are we really saying we're tired of it and we're not going to do that anymore and take care of yourselves that I think is that much deeper worried than that is to say the trade agreements are are seen as the product of this deep or potentially product of this deeper question they have so it sounds like actually the advice to the new president would be pretty deep or thoroughgoing in a sense you don't just have to reissue you know deal with this particular problem here or change this I don't know whatever policy you know tweak it there on israel-palestine or a million things North Korea but you really need to send a major message really around the world yeah and I suppose at home too right this is the way yeah message the American people you know and in an in a way it's harder the best comparisons probably Reagan and it's harder than it was for Reagan because you know star that was the message of Reagan's campaign right I mean Reagan said it a thousand times therefore it was to be assumed that okay now he's won and he will do this but neither candidate just on the 1988 Barisan and Jimmy Carter you and I weren't big fans of his administration but and I'm not even a retrospect but he did pivot in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Iran hostage crisis increased defense spending said he there was a new moment and so I probably was even I'm sure they a lot of people a lot of Christmas he made of Carter and the damage that was done under his watch but you could also say the Democratic Party was coming back from sort of yes at least he was and presumably as president he could have brought the party with him the message of Reagan's victory right cisely even bigger this is a turn yeah neither candidate this year well that's a very important so you're saying that yes what you're saying really is what the world needs to hear is that we're – we're gonna have a major turn back to American leadership and we're having a campaign which neither candidate is saying that right right they're saying no no no I'm I get it we don't want to spend all this money and we don't wanna be on the hook and we don't want to send 100,000 troops anywhere so it would require saying or doing some things early on inaugural address is important first meetings with members of Congress and doing something that would suggest I mean even if you you know if your inaugural address says look sequestration has been terrible and there is a bipartisan agreement now that the defense budget needs to start rising we need to rebuild law that's a big deal it's just words but it's a very I think very it would be significant to say that in the inaugural address and really significant not to say it yeah and if the orko addresses a lot of stuff about how people are hurting at home and we have to really spend you know that's got to be our focus and very little about the world I suppose nation-building at home or as George McGovern said come home America I think be devastating so that's very interesting so that's really a big picture challenge to the new president which whether it's Trump or Clinton yep for a pretty big pivot in American foreign policy it is and important that it happened pretty quickly or you I think so you can't go six so I'm thinking right every think of six months so we'll get back to you in the summer that's not right and you you don't have to I mean you can say this and then say you know now this affects all of our key allies all over the world with whom we're gonna be consulting as a matter of fact my new Secretary of State X sets out on Monday and will visit the following ten capitals and the secretary defence will visit these others so you can in a sense delay doing any and consulting will sound great also so you don't have to make all these decisions on January twentieth and you know January twentieth you have a lot of parades it'll make any decisions but I think you have to show something very quickly or people will against our hedging additional bets so let's assume this new president is open to your advice to generally protect you a strength power of leadership so ok now let's get a little more granular a little more talk about regions of the world particular problems challenges crises I mean I've got to probably begin somewhere I you know you never know what's gonna happen but what would you suggest you've had responsibilities in government all over the world and some of your secretary ships were not regional they were for you know she would rights or whatever for the international organization right for the whole what what what comes to mind I mean given the unpredictability analysis it sounds like Syria from what you said earlier yeah that Iran it sound like Syria Iran let's say Middle East one thing North Korea would be another on the Middle East look Iran is constantly challenging us in the Persian Gulf not in directly not through proxies not us capturing sailors in January last surrounding American ships all over the and and more this past summer the pace actually grew I think you want to do something about that and you want to begin by telling them through some Channel Oman Russia it's over guys don't do it don't do it and then of course if you say that you have to be ready to act Syria is an incredibly difficult problem now it didn't have to be in my opinion in Hillary Clinton's opinion you're right she advised a different policy in 2012 I think we need first to increase our aid to the non jihadi Syrian opposition if we don't first of all they'll come closer to defeat but what will they do I mean some of them will join al-qaeda linked or is linked groups the new president if we haven't taken Mosel the new presidents in be faced with the decision of what to do about Mosul which is going to produce by US government emits something like 700 thousand refugees where are they going to go are they may be fed what happens to the fighters in Mosul do they go reinforce Raqqa and if Mosul has been taken I'm going to deal with the aftermath of that are Shia troops killing Sunni civilians if we haven't taken Raqqa then that's a big decision you're gonna face how do we do that who does and we say we who on the ground if it's the Kurds you're gonna have a problem with Turkey if it's Shia militia you're gonna from Iran you're gonna have the Shia's so any problems so that that that's a a major problem I would say two things the first additional aid for the nan jihadi rebels and they exist and unlike I mean that President Obama famously called a bunch of worthless pharmacists they're not and they're still fighting and it's been four years and they're still fighting secondly I think we need to confront the new President and easily confront Assad's continuing use of chemical weapons chlorine that's the poison gas that was outlawed in World War one and the barrel bombs on hospitals what was done in Aleppo in September just savage what do you want to do about that you want anything about that you want to tell him to stop it we have the ability to say stop it and to make him stop it by taking out his air force bold yes but again it's not World War three and it doesn't require troops on the ground do that that's that's Air Force or cruise missiles so so it sounds as if yes destroys Iran Iraq Nexus for all that the next president but I think so don't take about those countries it's a mass it's difficult we intervened it was difficult we got out right cause problems very hard to signal American strength while doing nothing there while the slaughter continues in Syria went wrong continues to look dominant especially after the Iran deal was such a signature of Obama yeah and especially after our kind of pathetic performance with the Russians we're right Kerry negotiates deals the Russians to break them you have a ceasefire you don't have a ceasefire we look like beggars actually that's got to change and the question really is does the president recognize I think Obama and Kerry don't that diplomacy is not chatter it's a way of using national power just as economic cloud is a military cloud is and they've got to go together and if it's clear that the president never wants to do anything in Syria you can send Kerry a thousand times in Geneva he'll never get anything serious right because why would the Russians give an inch so you've got to face that and that's early I mean that's January February North Korea is not your first day in office but your be there for four years presumably and they are maybe on your watch they're going to have the capability of hitting in the continental United States with a nuclear weapon is that acceptable to you if it isn't acceptable to you what are you going to do about it again these are hard problems where they wouldn't you know they wouldn't exist now you're gonna need to face the question of whether there's something you can do to get the Chinese to take it more seriously you know we've had basically the same policy under really Bush Clinton Bush Obama and of course it's failed and they get closer and closer to a weapon and delivery system that can hit us are you through a way of making the Chinese take it more seriously and here's an example I give what if we persuade the Chinese you know sooner or later of the Japanese and the South Koreans are going to really start thinking about nuclear weapons we don't want that you don't want that so what are you what are you prepared to do about it if they take it seriously I think they would act differently maybe not we're thinking through but North Korea major problem can you get presidents interesting where you put it the it'll happen on your watch or your for years I guess I guess presents when they newly sworn-in do have something like that perspective for any general in your experience so that they think that way other way I mean they they they don't just do day-to-day week-to-week Rizzoli there's a minute there before they get swamped by the office where they you can sort of raise an issue and say if you don't change course now you're looking at a horrible situation and yeah I actually think presidents are better at this than their staffs or you know there was a James Callaghan who was a Prime Minister of England at one point had been minister of this Minister that and somebody once said to him I guess me Prime Minister is much harder and he said no no no when you're a minister you have a department thousands and tens of thousands people work for you the work flow overwhelms you every day when you're Prime Minister you don't actually have to do anything you get to choose there's some truth to that for the president too in a way it's overwhelming but on the other hand you know your schedules your own staff people I think tend to be swallowed by the incoming what used to be paper it's now emails and worried about what's gonna happen at 3:00 p.m. presidents I think generally are better at stepping back and saying hey I'm president that that's Lincoln and that's Washington on the wall where do I fit and what are people gonna say about me a hundred years from now so I think you've got I think that really goes with the job and as you know if you think back to our president's last I don't know 30 40 50 years they all felt that so you can appeal to that and it's useful if the staff is not just sort of saying we need to squeeze in this guy at 3:30 but is occasionally saying where are we where are we in the world where are you what what how does it all look how is it all going sense of perspective I the president in a sense and you know some extent it can be also can be the president's family or the president's spouse can sometimes help with this it's interesting and President Bush the one you who music of the different presidents the one you personally the u.s. spent the most time with he had some capacity I think he tried had a very good diversity for this and he thought about it a lot okay partly because his father had been president so he had thought about this in terms of his own father but he thought about this a lot I think it's religious faith matters here too because it gives you a sense of perspective on yourself as a person and on the job you're doing so I think Bush it you don't want it you know you don't wanna be paralyzed by it you don't want to start saying I can't do that my legacy would be you know but but I think it's useful to step back in a way that most of people working for you are not going to be able to do and to think about not to think about how many campaign promises can I keep and which ones we have to break but rather to think you definitely have four years I mean God willing you have four years where do you want to be in four years yeah which are the problems you think you can solve or significantly ameliorate and obviously we're not talking about the domestic questions I should add one thing here which is you're gonna have to deal with Congress on a lot of this and Obama's way of handling all of this was to I think deal contemptuously with Congress and to use executive orders whenever he could in a way that I believe overreached and was in was often unconstitutional in fact he lost more cases than I know in the Supreme Court than anybody before him had ever gone that's something that you president Trump or you President Clinton have got to try to do immediately repair relations with Congress and get the leadership in on foreign policy questions particularly if you're going to do something like try to improve the defense situation and if you were trying to do more anywhere you're gonna need support in Congress so that's something you you need to change the tone fairly fast cuz I think by this summer by the summer of 2009 I think Republicans on the hill and even Democrats on the hill had already come to the conclusion they were gonna have trouble with the new administration so that's not something you can do in year two that's something you do at the outset and you deal with Congress a lot testified informally formally privately briefed them generally speaking compared to you know the 30 years you've been for 35 years in Washington decent congressmen and Senators decent leadership on foreign policy and defense you feel like they're you know what terms of functioning of American government – this is a Congress a good president could work with I mean I asked you haven't we thought about this question until I asked it to you and I guess my instinct is it's not so bad but a little curious yeah it's it's it's probably not as good as it was I mean in me the golden days the olden times right you the leadership was stronger in those days and you could do a deal the Armed Services committees were great empires yeah I think it was actually I think the congressional leadership was in a certain way more I don't want to say patriotic that's the wrong word more responsible back in those days and in a certain sense understood okay this is good for the country my job is to deliver it for the president that's I think basically gone partly because everybody's an entrepreneur now parties are much weaker you gotta get yourself reelected so you got to look out for yourself a lot more that said if you go down the list of names of course may change hands but you know these are sober people and I think a president can reach out and say look we we have problems we got to deal with these problems whether it's Trump or Clinton I need your help that was not the Obama way right Obama really I think broadcast a sense of Congress is an inferior branch and I'm really much smarter than you and you need to get out of my way and if you don't I'll do what I want anyway right from the start you know there are lots of stories from Democrats and Republicans about this you've got to get away from that and I think people will react of course it helps if you helps if you had a landslide and one of the reasons people did that with Reagan was that the country had just said we want him if it's Republicans on the Senate for the first time in 25 yeah yeah so we'll see what I mean it looks now as we're talking that the Republicans will keep probably keep both houses which means that particularly for Clinton it'll be important to reach out to these people most of whom she knows because she was a senator I mean it's what eight years ago with the Secretary of State yeah yeah so she she ought to be able to to do this very important it is important actually I think if people don't quite appreciate how important it is and the the other thing of course is that it's harder for them to ask all these senators and congressmen to be responsible take tough votes in my opinion when both she and especially Trump have been so irresponsible pain though you know I I can't get over quite the I think in the old days maybe this is maybe again nostalgia and of course there was troubled hearts and they were yeah you know governed Democrats and all this but the the you know if you had a pending trade agreement with major allies that the current president Democrat and the current Speaker of the House Republican and the majority leader the Senate Republican all four so it's sort of bipartisan leadership of you you might have your Pollock you know I might as we think some parts right you would be making it a staple of your Trump does of your attacks on the current administration and then having the Secretary of State from that administration flip flip view and sort of go along with the attacks I mean and then also be kind of quiet while Trump attacks and aft I mean you've worked all your sister's name for Latin America what do they think down there in Mexico I mean you know you do sort of and it's not like Hillary was really out there saying this was a very good thing one of the things I'm proudest about from her husband's administration that again was a good case study where Gingrich shepherded through the new Republican or provided cover I guess in the lame duck session for the what was going to be a Republican House and so forth don't win the Senate I mean I think yeah I agree with that I think part of the explanation for it is putting aside the personal views of the two candidates something seems to have happened this year that that was not predicted in with respect to Trump and Sanders you had in both parties out stream of Americans saying I'm really sick and tired of this I think it stinks it's not working it's not working for me this whole system is fixed of course some of that is because the two candidates were saying it but but Sanders got a much bigger reaction than Clinton expected and Trump won the nomination and so I think both of them are sort of and many members of Congress are looking around wondering how large and powerful is this beast and is it gonna end up devouring me so people are less responsible in that sense I wanted to add one of the makes it harder for the president it does make it harder again we'll see what the election results are but I the average American does not go around saying you know the problem is NAFTA that's why I lost my job the problem is this TPP think leadership counts a lot and what you may be suffering economically you're not an economist you are not sure who to blame people will tell you or make suggestions so I think a new president has a real opportunity to kind of if he or she wants to lead away from that and back to a kind of more what sober and responsible view of the world if that's the desire of the president I think there's another thing president has to do I mean to put it stop apologizing I think you probably get that with either of them but I'm really struck that to me the theme of eight years of Cuba policy and Iran policy has been to make up for past crimes by the United States so when we negotiate with Iran we know we don't even ago she ate with Cuba I mean we just hand them gifts to try to compensate them for crimes committed by the United States in the past I think you kind of see this in Obama's last UN General Assembly speech which with September 2016 which is a wonderful speech in a way if you love President Obama and it it can summarizes his view of the world which is one in which we need to move away from American power and leadership toward globalization of everything and you see that in the Iran policy and you see it in the in the Cuba policy we really have to reverse that and again speeches now the speeches can do that the tone one takes can fairly quickly suggest the president the new president doesn't believe that and no more giveaways we're gonna and the way to do that and it cou be' and Ron obviously be much tougher I mean be much tougher a lot of promises were made by the Obama administration with respect to the Iran deal that have not come true or seem actually to have been untrue and devious when they were made well do we pick up on that or do we make believe it didn't happen do we pick up on the fact that we were supposed to be helping in Cuba and the human rights situation is much worse now or do we not want to hear about that Hillary Clinton didn't you know she endorsed the Cuba thing it's not her deal so even she I think is is free to move away from that kind of singular Obama view of America's place in the world and what strikes me listening to this and thinking about what you're saying though is we have sort of a double challenge in Obama's eight years people like us think at least and I think objectively one has to say is not producing stronger America it's produced America that's feared last some of your respects at last the world that's in more chaos may be Obama can do anything about it or just life for whatever in the 21st century but it is I think objectively the case and then we have a campaign where this is I think an important point you made unlike with Reagan an 80-year where the Republican candidate is run on war withdrawal for the world to some degree and war condemnation of bipartisan trade deals well the wars we fought which were entered into a bipartisan basis I had to add Afghanistan and Iraq and the Democratic candidate might agree privately with a fair amount of what you're saying but was Obama Secretary of State so it's sort of a funny situation with is there's not a natural it will take work to produce the policies and the support for the policies that you're calling things the natural development work and people you know and nothing that Hillary comes in here if she is president-elect is gonna come as a shock to her I think not just cuz she was Secretary stayed but you know she moves in these circles and her staff consists largely people who were with her state and it's different for Trump his the information flows can be very different I know he's getting briefings twice a week or something but that's nothing that's you know what 30 minutes 60 minutes to do now it is constant and you're surrounded by people who are telling you things and they may be telling you things you don't want to hear the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff your defense secretary your National Security Advisor deputy national security advisor be coming in all the time and telling you things and they may contradict things you've said during the campaign probably well they may contradict things you believe so you have you know you can fire them the president can give signals I think I hope this isn't true disillusioning for people watching but take the CIA CIA it's pretty savvy about what the president wants to hear and not here and you know they don't cut off the information flow but you can emphasize things or de-emphasize them and you can try to cater to the president's particular interest reviews and you don't want to fight with him every morning when you're briefing him that will affect the information flow it takes a fairly brave official permanent a civil servant or appointee to say repeatedly you need to read this knowing that the president is not gonna like it and not one one going to want to hear it and your job is ultimately at risk not that morning but you know particularly a new president like Trump is probably gonna be more willing than Clinton to get rid of people so I do worry about that I must say that that here's somebody dealing with a completely new world and there is the risk that the people he brings in with them will cater too much to what he wants to hear do you think in general that the institutions of government in foreign policymaking national security are functioning pretty well I mean or could be made to function pretty well I mean obviously I think we both agree there should be increases the defense spending in to has capability but it's a basic matter if with the right leadership and the right policies does the US government or your view work well yes people all say oh yeah everybody's become sort of commonplace to say it's all broke and everything's broke and you can can't accomplish anything you were in government no I don't believe it I mean here's an example of why I don't believe it unlike Europe we have not suffered these Isis terrorist attacks it's real being it's not gonna bottle on here why is that because it works I mean there are many reasons but it's partly because the CIA and the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are competent at doing this yes they're gonna keep on trying to hit us and maybe sooner or later they will but we've developed an ability to do this these agencies function and my experience you know when you change from Carter to Reagan wow that was really a significant change and the bureaucracy if you take the State Department probably everybody voted for Carter or I don't know yeah so but I found that people were pretty loyal if you treated them right gave them leadership told them look here's what the president wants to do and by the way here's the loyalty counts I mean Hague fought the president I remember with George Shultz that people would sometimes say the president's wrong about this we have to do this we have to do that and Shultz would listen and he would say you know you may be right all you need to do is get yourself elected president yeah but Ronald Reagan got himself elected president we're gonna do it his way you need you need a Cabinet Office who can make those bureaucracies function because people in them are often quite competent so I don't I don't think the government's broken I think that that it will respond to strong leadership on the part of a president I want to ask about the world and how broken the world isn't weather will respond to our strong American leadership or the flip side of the question I'm reassured by what you say about the institution's but I can't resist just as a parenthesis so what was that why I don't think we discussed this the other time we went a little more through your career what was it like being an Assistant Secretary of State work for Secretary of State who was really the almost open war right with the White House and surely you of course communicated with people in the White at what you did routinely in your job anyway right you the Secretary of State for this you meet with your counterpart at the National Security Council it's you people anyway in the white house how what was that like I'm it was a how tricky was it always it was a not no it's very tricky it's very tough it's very tough I remember I was very young then yeah I would go in and see your youngest secretary right yeah yeah I was 32 when I was appointed and I would go in and talk to Haig and say you were Secretary of State at that point for international organizations the first year UN and he and we didn't know each other before I I met him when he offered me the job so yeah I secretary Hague and I go into his office and he would do a tirade about the president and the White House staff and you know I was pretty young but I was smart enough to think to myself what are you doing you shouldn't be saying this to me right you don't know me that well I could be reporting back everything what are you doing so it was pretty clear that that was doomed and you're caught and you cuz you're he's your boss you're loyal to him but on the other hand you're a presidential appointee formally speaking really loyal to him and there are moments when you I had some of these more important point times people don't understand that at that level of assistant secretary and up right you are appointed by the president you're confirmed by the Senate and of course the Secretary of State is your boss or if you're right the Education Department of Education is your possible you're not really you're not a staffer for the Secretary of State you're presidentially appointed formally you are and the thing that's hanging in your walls is signed by the president United States right so you can get caught in the middle of this and there are there are were moments where I remember thinking what do I do here who do I tell about this mmm I really get you can really get crushed in the middle of that and this happened throughout the Reagan administration you know we remember it as perfect some of us but on the foreign policy here I mean Shultz I think was a very great Secretary of State but in the White House there was a constant turnover of national security advisors and their staff no one served for more than a year and a half two years yeah so it wasn't perfect and the relations with the State Department were constantly up and down and that is you know that's going to critical for whoever's president and presumably Clinton knows this but it's not at all clear that Trump knows it and the world and we discussed briefly that nineteen eighty Reagan was able to turn it around pretty quickly by showing strength I think and first with you the Iranians were preemptively worried enough about him to release hostages and yeah and then of course the kinds of other things happened anak big defense build-up I think that's set to signal and then the air traffic controllers how deep is the whole word I mean you know we talked earlier the way we made it seem that well president the right things for the first month or three prime minister holiday and all of our friends will be assured and how meny and all of our opponents Putin or kind of what's a new us I mean how how bad is the situation though I mean how much you know I I'm I may be overly optimistic but it seems to me that there are things we can do in a number of these places and a lot of this is the impression of who's rising and who's falling and I think that can be changed pretty quickly so that people begin to wonder all or one who's gonna happen here because you know the Americans are really coming back so its direction it's not just I really think it is and perhaps this is too optimistic but it seems to me that you can begin to get people to re calculate and again they're also looking ahead one two three four years we should add one thing here we are making believe that nothing unexpected is gonna happen so that was my final question let's talk about that some so that's what advice and the president say what else should I be thinking about and I take it one thing you might say to him we've had this conversation like Swan yeah or even quite Black Swan but just DiMucci unexpected things yeah foreign leaders die of people lose elections yep yeah well one of the things that you should do you as the president-elect is to well you should do it in the transition you should you know you should assign people to give you a list of things you should have your National Security Advisor what do I need to focus on what's coming in the first you know three months six months but then you need a separate conversation on precisely this of course some things are totally unexpected like an assassination but who's old and sick and does it matter if so-and-so dies if so-and-so dies what are the kinds of events well okay terrorist act domestically what would happen if there were an Isis attack it's plausible it's happened in Europe it can happen here 911 911 what are you ready and one of the things that makes this harder is okay we can make the list let's say Isis god forbid we have a kind of bacha Khan attack 150 people killed or 9/11 we have thousands killed so you have a minute you have a menu of options and you need to consider them with your advisors but these are new advisors you know you might be lucky and I mean nothing will happen for a year but if it's February so then you get advice from your new Secretary of Defense and you're I think you're sitting there thinking I don't really know this guy that well it's been about building for a month how good is his advice who are you and you know you also use the new Secretary of State I don't know so it's a problem because there's no track record for you to rely on the people who surround you but you certainly need I think during the transition to have some sense of yeah there are unexpected events but they're not what if Putin sends a little green man to Estonia just accept yeah possible test a new president take advantage of disorganisation and sort of wish to not begin your administration by getting in some tough confrontation with food and of course pirate rum booze though likes Putin all right though I mean that all I my answer to having you mr. president if you preside over the destruction in essence the destruction of NATO that's will be your historic contribution and you'll never recover from it for you but but there's an example Putin green man Estonia China southeast trying to see or making a few moves about Taiwan tightening the noose and Taiwan they seem to be unhappy with the current president of Taiwan so there are there are a bunch of these that are Iran I think they're not dumb enough to do this but Iran in the Persian Gulf capturing some American sailors or something like that major terrorist event overseas blowing up an American Embassy that sort of thing there's a list of thing there are not 200 of these you know they're there a dozen or so and somebody would be sitting around thinking through options so this is not a complete blank slate in some of these you don't need to respond instantly with Iran you probably do with the terrorist attack I mean look 9/11 happened and it was a while I mean it wasn't a year but it was a while before Bush responded in Afghanistan although he made the decision to respond in Afghanistan pretty quickly once we knew he was al Qaeda make your decision and then you know give the military or CIA a few months but you really need to be ready because if you're caught flat-footed let's say in February how does your administration recover from that it might not yeah I mean I was in the White House when Saddam invaded Kuwait and that was two and a half years into a Bush administration that was very I guess is one half years I'm sorry I can't get my math right there was a very experienced foreign policy administration he'd been vice president before Jim Baker I mean you couldn't have had more experience around let's go cross janie yeah for the degree of surprise and shock and he had been signaling trouble it's a diamond but and yeah if you got that in the first month or two of your administration of that could really be something else and they're a bunch of dictator yourself you know there's not just Putin right there are the dictators what do you do if his both attacks Israel has a major war there what do you do if an American plane gets shot down over or Syria or rock the bush early on I think was March or something like that and the Chinese shoot down an American American jet and again it's a brand-new team now he had an experience that's where Trump is so different I mean Hillary Clinton is more like you know Bush 41 which 41 taking over and what I'm good or bad but nonetheless experiential have people with experience she's been through crises many times yeah yeah a new president with a new team with my washing experience that really will be then needn't be bad it just would be no whatever like I mean it would be it means for Trump it means the selection of personnel is doubly important and it means the transition the post-election transition you've got ten weeks I guess I think critically important to raise the level you know I kept painting anymore raise the level of foreign and defense knowledge I spend a lot of time with well me I was gonna say with the CIA director secretary fence he may not trust these people right okay so find people you do trust I mean if it's Trump I'd say you need to spend a little more time with George Shultz and Henry Kissinger I would hope he would spend some time with George W Bush who would be his Republican predecessor because because it can be very useful and you know he said I I don't want to be you know insulting him but I mean we're telling the truth here which is that he is less prepared for this job on paper then anyone has ever been we've had people before who had not been in in government office but they tended to be generals Eisenhower grantees all who had a bit of federal office like a ring governor's harder but they've been governors and people who hadn't been in executive office Obama John Kennedy away but with David senators so yes someone some aspect or other these people at least nominally were prepared for I suppose bomb you could argue with the least sort of and that is not and that is not a happy comparison and Iran happened in what the Green Revolution was five months ago June 2000 mishandled it badly yeah whether that was just an ideological for an election or just some degree if just being but I do have the impression some was was kind of you know not what to deal with a crisis therefore pretending it wasn't a crisis and he had his own thoughts he was gonna be you know well I think this is critical actually part of his ideology and preparation but there's another part of too Obama is I think fairly apparent from things that were written about him believes he can do everything better than anybody else and he's you know these famous quotes I might I'm a better campaign manager than my campaign manager I'm a better speech writer than my and his view basically was I'm the smartest person in this room does matter what the room is I am the smartest person here why should I listen to you if you were so smart why alchemy our earth president right this is very different from the view that the president's I worked for Reagan and George W Bush had their view was you know I need to surround myself with basically the smartest people I can find and I need to listen to them they have important things to tell me and it was not false modesty here it's it's really a way of looking at solving problems every president needs help Bush was a very confident man but he didn't think he knew everything the world I hope that's true of Trump should he win the election that he recognizes you know the dynamics between you and your divisors should be an open conversation period I guess the challenge for Secretary Clinton is more at least from your point of view as I take it I would agree with it that to kind of think of it as a fresh start she doesn't have to do things in 2017 because not doing them because doing them might call into question something she went along with in 2010 when she was secretary said it gets a bit of a risk for and for anyone like that you you you want to defend your previous positions and not cast that on them but it'll be bad to hamstring yourself in that way I think she would have a problem that the last if you will third term President George HW Bush didn't have when Reagan left office he was a very old and his health was beginning to decline and after he left office you know it declined in the couple of years a lot and he was not seen for remember he did that farewell address to the American people boy this is not going to be the situational axis for Hillary the final thing about that young predecessor if she comes in who who's not even leaving Washington which is unheard of everybody leaves Washington so he's gonna be here is gonna be around he may try to discipline himself I would certainly hope so to keep his mouth shut but you know if you're in Washington that means that when you go to dinner and it's a completely off the record conversation only thirty people here and repeat it to the press he would have to exercise exceptional self discipline and if what's coming out of the Clinton White House I mean this happened with George HW Bush toward the Reagan one if what's coming out is oh thank god they're gone and you know we're a lot smarter we're gonna do a lot better and they made so many mistakes my god it's people she's Obama's human and he's gonna react to that Reagan didn't he was gone he's gonna react to that his people are gonna react to that and they're not the same people so I do think if I reclaimed him there is a new problem that I think previous presidents haven't had your predecessors young healthy vigorous in Washington likely to want to defend his record and believe strongly and I think what he did and that this was very important for the country to get out of this old fashioned you know interventionism and etc and he's I think he believes even in Syria which is was such a humanitarian and a moral political disaster that it was better than the alternative and to the degree that someone like Clinton would come in and have to rethink you would think Syria policy he will take it as a bit of a it will see a reversal I mean it would be reversal in anybody it's not like it would be a big mystery right now I mean you it creates problems for the White House and for the President Clinton but there's a deeper maybe it's a deeper question to which is or that to happen it's a very interesting division in the Democratic Party there's the Clinton wing and what you might call maybe this would turn out to be the Obama Sanders wing on foreign policy how deep does that go who's where on the hill what are you hearing from the grassroots and what does that mean I think there's some people who tell you should be a one-term president from the point of view of age maybe maybe not but you would begin to have a fight over the future of the Democratic Party people talk about this fight more in terms of the Republican Party yeah which is fair enough but but you'd see it I think and it might it we think about Sanders and Clinton it might be Obama and Clinton and with Trump II would either stick to his campaign planters or go back on some of them and to a more press well as you'd say traditional Republican foreign policy either way there'll be people fighting on that to their will and and you know again Trump mmm would enter at 70 is he a two-term president I think what many people would assume not and if not okay again you know then we have a new generation there's a lot of Republican senators some of them ran for president others would step up we're in their forties yeah that's it's not a new generation it's two generations down and what do they think about foreign policy what are they how did they position themselves visa vie a trump presidency of course it depends partly on how successfully isn't how popular he is but you know the positioning for 2020 begins the day after the election right so really when you think about it it's a yeah a new president would face a very difficult world but difficult to ask getting his or her organization is it her administration organized difficulties were then his or her political party I think and explaining to the country even to what you're doing because not as if the country will have been prepared by this campaign so pretty daunting it is pretty daunting on the other hand most people want this to work and your citizens want this to work and I remember George Bush saying this was during Iraq war but um you know the difference between him and the Chinese leader who Jintao at that time was he said I'm a 300 million people praying for me he doesn't have any so I think presidents can feel that kind of support and reassurance and the truth is that the day after the election politicians may be trying to figure out 2020 but I think most Americans will say okay I voted for this person I didn't vote for this person but let's pray it works it's a good note to end on and I hope the next president seeks your seeks your advice and takes your advice after this I don't know but once this is done it's inevitable easy yeah Elliott Abrams thanks very much for joining me today and thank you for joining us on conversations

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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