Dissenting Diplomats,by Laura Flanders, Working Assets Radio April 4, 2003
This interview originally aired March 13. To listen to the audio version online, go to:www.workingforchange.com
I'm Laura Flanders and this is Working Assets Radio. Two top United States Diplomats have resigned from their posts, saying they cannot support the Bush Administration's plans for war. In his resignation letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, John Brady Kiesling, a former U.S. diplomat based in Athens, Greece, said the Bush Administration was involved in, and I quote, "a systematic distortion of intelligence and a systematic manipulation of public opinion not seen since the days of Vietnam."
Kiesling dedicated 20 years of his life to diplomacy and civil debate. He sent his resignation letter to Secretary Powell on February 27. Friday, March 7, was his last day in the Foreign Service.
Another veteran Diplomat, John Brown, joined Kiesling just three days ago. Brown was a senior member of the Foreign Service who also served in the State Department for more than 20 years. He was stationed primarily in Eastern Europe and most recently in Moscow.
In Brown's letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, he said he agreed with John Brady Kiesling. Brown wrote, "The president's disregard for views in other nations borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy is giving birth to an anti-American century."
John Brown will join the conversation in the second half of today's program. Joining us now from upstate New York is John Brady Kiesling. Welcome, very much so, to Working Assets Radio, sir.
JBK: Thank you very much, it's good to be here.
LF: Tell us first off, you're going down in history as the first U.S. diplomat to resign in protest over the Bush Administration's Iraq policy. Are you getting used to the feeling? How does it feel?
JBK: Well, there was a certain amount of just relief, when I did it. There had been such a burden growing on my shoulders as I felt we were sort of walking into a swamp. I was going out and fighting the good fight every day with arguments I didn't believe, speaking to people who did not believe them, convinced myself that we were about to do something that would really damage our interests, talking to people who believed that it would really damage our interests. It was a terrible feeling. And when I resigned, I felt much better. I'm now coming to grips however with the reality of that resignation and I'm starting to be more than a little nervous.
LF: Can you elaborate?
JBK: Well, at a certain point, I have a child to support, I've got obligations in the world. It's wonderful to be a hero to those people who are looking for a hero on this issue, but – um – I have to figure out where to go from here.
LF: The [U.S.] Embassy in Athens, Greece has been forced to respond, of course, your resignation having gotten attention worldwide. They're telling the press that you resigned for personal reasons.
JBK: Well, I mean, any resignation is a personal decision and the reasons were personal. My conscious, my sense of my duty to my country, came into conflict with what I was required to do professionally. I must admit, my ability to do my job had seriously diminished in the last month, especially as it became absolutely clear, that the rhetoric we were using – that the only way to prevent war was to sound ready for war – was in fact specious; that we were determined to go to war under any circumstances. When I realized that, my ability to promote the policy just sort of diminished dramatically.
LF: Can you tell us some more about what your job entailed?
JBK: As a political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, my job was to run a political section of several people. Our first goal was to understand how Greece worked so that we could more effectively promote U.S. policies in Greece. My job was to advise the ambassador on strategy, to report to the state department on what was going on in Athens, to say, this is what the Greeks need, this is how we can do what we need to do with the Greeks based on their political concerns.
LF: Now, when you say you began to believe your job was impossible to do, how did the Administration's line affect your work?
JBK: The thing that stunned me was that, we had a policy that you could argue whether it was good or bad. I'm certainly convinced that in invading Iraq, the costs outweigh the benefits. But, it was a policy you could at least argue about. The Administration, pretty systematically, made clear that there were no ... that dissenting views were not going to be heard. That, if the Europeans didn't like it, it was because the Europeans were wimps. And they were going to essentially undercut the whole logic of the alliance that we had built up over 50 years. An alliance that gave us the legitimacy to act sort of in the name of the world.
LF: Now you make an interesting point in your letter to Colin Powell about that alliance and, in fact, you make a point about September 11th. You say, "the tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way against the threat of terrorism." Now, it's the standard line in this country that, of course, September 11th made us weaker and vulnerable.
JBK: Well, that line is total nonsense. The idea that you could frighten the American people into doing something stupid, I mean, it's good politics, but it's highly immoral in my view. September 11 proved what we should have known all along, that we have a serious problem with the perception of the United States in a large part of the world. We had serious problems in the ability of our law enforcement and intelligence services and border forces to control what was happening in our country. Some of that failure of control was the price that any free society has to pay, but some of it was bureaucratic and other stupidity that was fixable.
We did a lot to fix the flaws. We did a lot to build or rebuild the kind of relationships with foreign intelligence and law enforcement officials that were required to protect the United States. And we've had some amazing successes. I give full credit to the CIA and the FBI for the Al Qaeda people who've been caught in recent months. It's been a difficult effort, but because, precisely, we worked with the states in the region, we succeeded. And I'm very much afraid that our current policy is going to destroy the ability of the states in the region to cooperate with us in the way we need to.
LF: Now, the other powerful point you make in your letter is that you believe the Administration is spreading, to use your words, "disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq."
JBK: Yeah, that is true. President Bush bears an enormous personal responsibility for stringing together a number of half – true statements to make it sound as if, somehow by invading Iraq, we will protect ourselves against terror. There's no real connection between the two. In fact, you could argue that there's an inverse connection. To fight terrorism, we need strong states in the Middle East. I wish we had strong democratic states in the Middle East, and we should work to achieve strong democratic states in the Middle East. But in the meantime, we should work with what's attainable, which is a number of states that share our view that terrorism is a threat to them as well as to us, therefore it is in their interest to cooperate with us.
LF: When you come to making the assertions that you are making, Mr. Kiesling, for example, that there is no evidence to relate Iraq to the problems of terrorism, do you have access to information that we, the public in this country, do not have access to?
JBK: Um, no. One of the interesting things, for a very long time, as we were preparing our campaign, trying to get ready for war with Iraq, I told my Greek counterparts, that when the time came, we would provide the evidence we had to make our case. I told them, look, it's understandable: We have to protect our sources and methods. We can only tell you general things now, but trust us, we've got a very good intelligence service. We're on top of this, and we'll provide you what you need to know.
Over time however, the information we did provide – both publicly and privately – the stuff I saw was not very impressive. There may be other stuff that's too sensitive for me to see, I grant that. But, I firmly believe that, at this stage in the game, with war so imminent, with such a crisis in the Security Council and elsewhere, if we had had evidence that would have been convincing to anyone, we would have shared it. We haven't shared it. There's no logical reason to assume that Saddam supported Al Qaeda. He and Al Qaeda have diametrically different aims. In fact, corrupt secular rulers like Saddam are the first target, or the first or the second target of Al Qaeda. They want to establish an Islamic regime across the Middle East and people like Saddam are an obstacle to them, not an ally.
LF: Do you, just to push this one step further, do you have any reason to believe that the State Department in Washington might not have been giving you all the information that they might give to ambassadors or diplomats elsewhere because Greece, in their view, is solidly anti-American, at least at the public opinion level?
JBK: Yeah, there's definitely information that I wouldn't see. There's information that only the British, the U.S. and maybe the Australians and the Canadians would share. And, from that standpoint, I stand by my statement, that, at this stage in the process, if we had information – even if, when I was in Athens, I wouldn't have seen it – by now, the time has come when we have to either put up or shut up, and we have not been able to put up.
LF: What's the feeling like in Greece at this point? Or when you left?
JBK: The Greeks are very, very unhappy. They don't understand the motives for our going to war. They believe that the war will lead to massive destabilization of the Middle East. They think there will be terrorist attacks against Europeans as well as Americans. They think that we will not be able to follow through on our promises to rebuild Iraq in a nice democratic image. Most of them assume that we have some really selfish, nasty motives, oil and the like.
I could tell them with a very clear conscious that it's not about oil, it's not about business contracts. It is about America's feeling of security. But, I couldn't go beyond that to explain how invading Iraq will make us more secure.
LF: John Brady Kiesling is, for the first time, making himself available for listener calls and we have lots of people waiting to ask you a question, John, so glad to have you with us. Alex in Austin, Texas is on the line. Welcome to the program, Alex.
Alex: Hello, good morning. I have a question for Mr. Kiesling. I absolutely support his position, and just curious, as a diplomat, he took his stand in the way that he was able to, but what advice would he have for either, those in the military who oppose this war, or just people in general who are opposed to the current administration's stance on wars, as to what to do in the coming months?
LF: John Kiesling.
JBK: I wish I had better advice to give. I think that the Administration is determined to go to war, regardless of the views of the American population. I would say that it is vital that Americans speak out, to their Congressmen, and get their friends to speak out – bombard Congress with messages. I don't think there's time to avert the war, but I think it's crucial that, at least, we draw the correct lessons from what is likely to be a serious debacle for American interests. We tend to learn only from our mistakes. We don't learn from other peoples' mistakes. We don't learn from mistakes in the past, but let's at least learn from this one. I think there are things we can do to reduce the damage down the road. And, of course, the worst of it is, the way to redeem ourselves for the future, is to, once we go to war and make a mess in Iraq, we will need to stay the course and rebuild Iraq with money that I don't think we have, with perseverance that I don't think we've shown in the past. And this is going to be a major issue for the American people and the American Congress over time – how big a commitment we have undertaken in the Middle East, and are we going to live up to that commitment?
LF: Let's hear from Harry in San Francisco. Hi, Harry.
Harry: Hi, good morning. I wanted to ask your guest, he says that he wishes there was democracy in the Middle East, if it is not true that these countries are NOT democracies because of U.S. policy and because it is U.S. policy to keep them divided. And, is it not a fact that the United States supported the Ba'athist Party which brought Saddam Hussein in power, and during the 1980's funneled some 80 billion dollars with help of U.S. corporations such as Bechtel and Honeywell into the country to help Saddam Hussein. What does he think of this?
LF: True or false question. John Kiesling.
JBK: Well, I don't believe that we've intentionally done anything to reduce democracy in the region. I think what's happened is we've made our own accommodations with the regimes in place to benefit American strategic interests, to benefit American corporations. There was a long period of time when we saw Saddam as a strategic counterweight to Iran. Because of that, we supported him more than anything in his own character or policies should have justified. But I don't believe it is American policy, even of this administration, to undercut democracy. I think we'd love to see democracy, we simply have no idea how to achieve it. We say we have a way to achieve it in Iraq. We don't.
LF: But, while this questions been raised, Mr. Kiesling, if the Administration, or rather, if U.S. policy had to choose between stability and real democracy or freedom around the world, which do you think they would pick?
JBK: What I'd say is, we don't have the choice there. Because, at least when it comes to the Middle East, we do not have enough legitimacy in the Arab world to be able to achieve anything good through moral suasion ... or even through military force. The Arab world is convinced that we have taken one side in the Middle East peace process, that we are systematically attacking their interests. It may not be true. I mean, the perception is not an accurate one. We've been biased, but not completely one – sided. But still, it doesn't matter. The perception is such that nothing we do in the Middle East will be acceptable to the broad mass of the Arab people.
LF: Let's take another call. Frank in San Rafael. Frank, welcome to the program.
Frank: Thank you. I'd like to ask Mr. Kiesling – It seems to me that in our conduct of foreign affairs, the Foreign Service, foot soldiers like yourself, are being forced into a new set of tactics, a more sort of aggressive, bullying kind of posture. I follow Turkish affairs rather closely, and I have the impression that instead of attempting to earn good will, American diplomats in contact with the politicians in Ankara are sort of pounding on the table and demanding immediate and favorable action on things like the motion to permit American troops, in large numbers, to be based in eastern Turkey. And I wondered if you could comment on this and if my contention is to any extent correct, what effect is this having on the Foreign Service? Thanks very much, I'll hang up now.
LF: Thanks, Frank.
JBK: Excellent question. Certainly for me, this pounding on the table business was totally distasteful. These are allies that we need to persuade, not to bully. A country like Turkey, you cannot achieve something useful by pounding on the table. Turkey feels this very strong attachment to the United States for a lot of historical reasons and we feel a strong historical attachment to Turkey. And one of the things that makes my heart bleed is the fact that Turkey's problems as a democracy, over Iraq, are causing a major difficulty in the U.S. – Turkish relationship. Another thing I might want to mention is that we were very close to a solution in the Cyprus conflict. It seemed that we were on the verge of that, and because, largely, of our insistence of going ahead on Iraq, the Turkish government has been unable to move as strongly on Cyprus as it wanted to, and I think we've missed an historic opportunity there.
LF: We'll be joined in a moment by John Brown, the next diplomat to resign. He said he wanted to join Mr. Kiesling in his protest. When we are joined by John Brown, we won't be able to take your calls, so, if you have questions for the two of them call in now, you can leave them with our senior producer and we will raise them with our guests in the second half hour of the program.
John Kiesling, one question I have for you has to do with what your perspective is at this point on the role of U.S. force in the world. You have an interesting history in that, during the Balkan crisis, you were one who was frustrated over the failure of the then Clinton administration to act. Now you are quitting over too aggressive behavior by the Administration. Where do you see the middle line, what kind of questions do you ask yourself before you take one side or the other?
JBK: For me, the key question is legitimacy. When the United States does something that the world perceives as legitimate, then it works and American interests benefit from it. When we do something that the world perceives as illegitimate, it harms our interests and weakens our ability to protect our interests in the world.
One of the things that separates Bosnia from this is, we were living with Bosnia, an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, potential genocide, massive massacres, really terrible crimes ... Human suffering generates a kind of legitimacy. And when we intervened in Bosnia, though there was some argument from some of our partners, most of the world recognized that this was necessary. I was a small part in a group of Foreign Service officers who believed that we could not stand by and allow these massacres to happen. I'm proud that our efforts, working within the system that time, helped change the policy. If I had had a sense that our policy could be changes through that kind of methods, I might have looked for another step than resignation, but in this case, I simply did not see it.
LF: Let's take another call, Murray in San Francisco. Hi, Murray. Welcome to the program ... Murray, are you there?
Murray: Yes, I'm here. Thank you for taking my call, Laura. I wanted to ask your guest ... he mentioned a while ago that he didn't think that he didn't think that Bush and his administration were going to war over oil. But I'd like to ask him to sort of elaborate on it, because I can't imagine an administration spending billions of Americans' hard earned money and then also sacrificing thousands of Americans to go to war if it's not over economical reasons. Could he elaborate on it, please?
LF: Yeah, good question, I mean, you do write in your letter, that you believe there is ideology and self-servingness at stake. What's the ideology, and if it's not oil, what's it serving?
JBK: That's a hard one to answer. I don't pretend to understand the Administration. It's clear to me that President Bush ... his main motivation is September 11, and the feeling that he must do something to make the American people feel more secure. That as a goal is laudable. Unfortunately, he does not have in his arsenal a course to take that will achieve that, at least not through military force. I see Secretary Rumsfeld and others as essentially providing some large grand gesture that they can achieve that will make the American people feel better at least temporarily ... and address that psychological need.
LF: But it is very hard for us, reading the papers and seeing as we did yesterday that the Halliburton Corporation, that the oil services industry, biggest in the world, that the VP headed up just before coming to office, is going to be one of the few contractors offered to bid on rebuilding Iraq ... it's hard for us not to think there is financial stuff at stake.
LBK: Certainly, any policy in Washington is carried out by a consortium of interests, and economic interests are part of it. However, my personal experience from 20 years in the Foreign Service is that, the oil companies, the military industrial complex are voices, but they're not the dominant voice. The dominant voices are bureaucratic and political voices. I think a lot of this is Secretary Rumsfeld's desire to essentially take charge of a terrorism policy at a time when, realistically, the military is not the appropriate instrument for most of our terrorism policy.
LF: All right, let's take one more call, Stephanie in Palo Alto, and then we'll bring on John Brown. Stephanie, welcome to the program.
Stephanie: Yes, thanks very much. Well, I want to thank you for your very courageous act, and also, your letter is a terrific thing to read. In the letter you cite the old slogan of the Roman Legion or perhaps the entire Roman Empire as a whole, that I guess in English you might say translates to "They can hate us so long as they fear us." And I wonder, is it possible – you challenged the administration – do we want to go down that road and become a somewhat similar power in the world? I wonder if you'd say some more about whether you think perhaps that at least some in the Administration really are willing to adopt that as our stance.
JBK: I'm afraid there are some people. This was the Roman emperor, Caligula, and it's the kind of slogan that you hear in all empires, especially from people who believe that their own military bureaucracy is the correct response to a problem. You could look at this historically. The Russians in Chechnya persuaded themselves for a century and a half that the only cure for the Chechens was more effective violence. And it didn't work for 150 years, but they kept saying it because it served the interests of the Russian imperial military and then later for Mr. Putin's military. I see that at work to some degree here.
The idea that we can be indifferent to the needs and values of our allies strikes me as terrifying. We have this amazing ability to get things done in the world. The whole international system was something we set up after WWII. It served our interests, and it served our interests because we were smart enough to limit our ambitions, a little bit, to defer to the sensitivities of our friends so that they had the feeling that we were all basically in it together. We now have an administration that says we accept no limits on our behavior and the rest of the world will just have to suck it up.
LF: Thanks very much for the call Stephanie, good question. Let's join now John Brown, or rather invite John Brown to join us. He joined the Foreign Service in 1981. He served in London, Prague, Krakow, Kiev, Belgrade and most recently Moscow. Under a State Department program, he was, until very recently, an associate at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. He resigned just 3 days ago citing John Brady Kiesling in his resignation letter. John Brown, welcome to the program.
JB: Thank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to join your discussion and to be able to reach your listeners.
LF: I understand that this is the first time you're getting a chance to talk with Mr. Kiesling. You honored him in your letter to Secretary of State Powell.
JB: I unfortunately haven't met John ... or ... Brady or John, which is it Mr. Kiesling?
JBK: Brady is best.
LF: Ah, now you tell us. [laughs]
JB: Brady, let me just, first of all, maybe on a slightly humorous note, congratulate you for your knowledge of Latin. Because, I got kicked out of my freshman Latin class when I refused to take a quiz on Caesar's Gallic Wars, and Mr. Stuckey said, "Out you go, John Brown."
LF: Did he say it in Latin?
JB: No, no. He knew I wouldn't understand if he'd said it in Latin.
LF: [laughing] So tell me, John Brown, what drove your decision? What pushed you to the point that Mr. Kiesling's described?
JB: Well, let me just say, one of the important circumstances was Brady's letter, which I read with great admiration. I thought it was an eloquent expression of important issues. So that certainly was an element in my decision.
There were two other factors – important factors. The first one is that I simply think that the president has failed to present a convincing case to Americans and to the rest of the world that massive force should be used against Iraq at this time. And secondly, I simply felt that I had to speak out about this, about this failure of the president to present a convincing case. I had to speak out and share my views with my fellow citizens, because as a Foreign Service officer, what I admire most about America is our freedom of expression or our freedom of speech and I said, my god, this is the time to use it.
LF: Now, you said in your letter – and we have links to both of your letters on our website at workingassetsradio.com – that the president's disregard for the views in other nations borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy is giving birth to an anti-American century. I want you to address that... You also talk about the president's failure to take international public opinion against the war into serious consideration. I'd like to ask both of you, how seriously should a president take public opinion? And are demonstrations, the biggest the world has ever seen, having an effect at the diplomatic level? I'm also curious what you're hearing from your colleagues since your resignations.
JB: Well, Laura, I may be a bit biased because I did practice public diplomacy for over 20 years in my role in press and cultural matters at our embassies abroad. But I think, in a world that grows smaller and smaller, and with international communications becoming so important, we simply cannot isolate ourselves from what others think of us throughout the world. Increasingly, public diplomacy has an impact on policy, on the making of policy. We can't isolate the formation of our policy from how the world will react to them. I think we should take ... and KNOW ... take public opinion abroad into consideration and try and study it and understand it as much as possible.
LF: With respect to the protest, is it being heard? What's the evidence that it's being heard at the level of the Administration or diplomatically?
JBK: My experience of Athens is as follows. The demonstrations in Athens were the largest and most energetic in recent memory. They brought in, in addition to the standard leftist organizations, a lot of ordinary people who had never marched in a demonstration before. That had some effect on my thinking – more importantly it had significant impact on the government of Greece.
Remember, that when we ask our allies to support us, we are asking them to take political risks on our behalf. Normally, an ally does it. Greece has, several times in its history, loyally followed the United States or NATO even though they disagreed. And they've been able to get away with it without too much damage to the government in place. This time, I think if the Greek government, or any other European government, is to follow along with us loyally, the voters will punish them.
I don't know if President Bush feels any particular affinity for the prime minister and the foreign minister of Greece – they're pretty good people. I'll be pretty sorry if they should suffer because they are attempting to do the right thing – to balance their obligations as an ally with their obligations to their own citizens.
LF: Sounds as if you have doubts about any coalition we might be able to pull together – the U.S. Administration, that is – at the United Nations, for example.
JBK: It's ... the coalition has already failed in practice. The reason for a coalition is not so much military. The reason for a coalition is to show to the Arab world, in particular, especially to the people of Iraq, that this is something that the world supports. It's a necessary, legitimate, justifiable action. The fact that we have not convinced our allies means that we are not going to convince anybody in the region.
LF: All right, let's take some calls from listeners. Question #1: What do you two make of reports regarding long-term plans for Iraq and the Middle East, for example, the Project for a New American Century. PNAC, I'm sure you're aware, talking about unmitigated use of U.S. power abroad, particularly in the Middle East – a plan that was put forward years before September 11. First you, Brady Kiesling.
JBK: I'm kind of frightened by the missionary zeal that's going into this. The original American missionaries to the Middle East in the 19th century recognized that they would not be able to convert anyone from Islam to Christianity. So they settled for simply giving people a good education. And that was very useful. It played an enormous role in the economic and political development of the Middle East. Now we seem to think that we can go in and convert people, not necessarily to Christianity, but to a whole different Western ideology. It has not worked, it will not work. The idea that we first take care of Iraq, and then we will civilize Iran, and then we will civilize Syria and then we will civilize everybody else – it's insane. But, there are people who genuinely seem to believe it, and all I can think of is, they are hopeful for the Apocalypse.
LF: John Brown, another question coming in. Do you foresee the possibility that with your resignation, the Bush Administration will simply appoint in your place ideologues, as opposed to experienced Foreign Service diplomatic personnel?
JB: Well, Laura, no one is indispensable and John Brown is certainly not indispensable [chuckling]. I think that the Foreign Service has many good people in it, and I'm sure that the small role I've played can be filled by somebody better than I. I'm among the career Foreign Service. Let me just say that, again, as I've said, I felt that I had to make a ... at this point ... political statement about the situation. So I don't worry about my departure. I don't think the State Department is going to suffer. I just hope that my resignation will underscore the fact that I have extremely strong reservations about our policy, and to get back to the earlier question that Brady answered, a policy that really is based on arrogance, on the notion that we can recreate the world, recreate regions, first by using force. And I think force should be used at the very, very last moment ... if ever ... not to use force ... avoid using it as much as possible. So my concern at this point is really the believing that we, in a sense, are the masters of the universe. I think that's terribly dangerous and that's not of the American spirit.
LF: One more question – well, this one's from me – John what are you hearing from your colleagues? Do you think that you are going to be starting a trend, you and Brady?
JB: Well, I've been extremely encouraged by the responses I've gotten. I'm a kind of Internet freak and I've used the email extensively since Monday. And, unfortunately, I haven't kept an exact record of how many messages I've gotten. I can't keep them all, and I had to delete some of them, but I would say that I've had about 180, 190 messages and only 4 of them have been negative. Most of them have been encouraging both of my decision and of Brady's decision. So, it's been good to hear from people and I really appreciate the support.
LF: And Brady, we've seen a senior Australian intelligence analyst quit on Tuesday, Andrew Wilkie, protesting what he called Australia's rush to war. A ministerial aide in Tony Blair's Labour Party resigned. Last weekend, Clare Short, the International Development Secretary in Blair's cabinet said she would quit the cabinet if Britain attacked without a new resolution and UN support. What do you think?
JBK: Well, I think that this is a sign that all is not lost, by any means. My fundamental conviction is that the United States HAS NOT lost its values, has not lost its common sense. It's simply had them sidetracked a little bit, mostly because of September 11th, but also because of a certain kind of political polarization. We will be back in the international scene as a force for good, but meanwhile, people of goodwill just have to support each other as best they can. People have to take a principled stand. One of the most important things about American and British and Australian democracy is that, symbolic gestures, such as mine and John's and these others', are recognized, and I think that it's doing some good.
LF: Now, we are in a very dangerous moment. A moment that many feel is on the verge of a unilateral war. We're certainly already in a situation where hundreds and thousands of U.S. men and women are already stationed in the Persian Gulf region. You told Time Magazine this week, John Brady Kiesling, that once the bombs and cruise missiles start falling over Baghdad – and they've been falling over other parts of Iraq, of course for many years – then you said, the talking ends. You can't criticize an administration when war is happening.
JBK: Um ... I personally am going to shut down my speaking. I think that there's, at least on this particular subject ... My goal is to help stop a war if the war can be stopped. I'm not at all optimistic that it can be, but we do what we can to keep our conscience clean. The next step in this is what happens next. President Bush has promised that in exchange for the war, he's going to get serious about the Middle East. There's going to be a new effort in the Middle East peace process. I would like to see the United States of America play an honest, even-handed role in the Middle East.
LF: What kind of a role do you think it's played so far?
JBK: Well ... I'm afraid that, rather than ... I believe that American interests and Israel's interests are closely parallel. That is, Israel's interest properly understood. I think that most Israelis recognize fully that the only solution in the Middle East is a strong Palestinian state with a strong administration, living next-door and at peace with Israel. That has to be achieved. That can only be achieved if the United States moves away from the idea that the interests of the government of Israel at any given moment is the same thing as the interests of the people of Israel.
I do not believe that calling Sharon a man of peace is really the signal we need to send of our intentions to behave justly with the Arab population of the Middle East.
LF: John Brown, do you want to come in on this?
JB: Well, I think Brady has talked about the issue in a very interesting way. I don't have much to add. The only thing I would underscore is, apropos of these plans for war, one of the things that led to my decision was a quotation by the chief of staff of the Bush White House, Mr. Andrew Card, that appeared last year in the New York Times. When he was asked a question about plans for war on Iraq, he answered in the following fashion: "Why didn't we announce the war earlier in the summer? Well, from a marketing point of view, you never launch a product in August."
So, one of the reason for my opposition to the current policy is this notion that war is a product. War is not a product. War is a horrible thing.
LF: If you were to launch your own diplomatic initiative right now, and you, let's say, were president of the U.S.A, what would you be doing at this moment? John Brown and then Brady Kiesling.
JB: Oh, that's too big a question for me. My only sense is that, you know, when you have priorities – and it's set priorities [that] are terribly important in government – and my sense is that the priority is to eradicate terrorism and I simply don't see how this war is leading to that.
LF: Brady Kiesling?
JBK: I would take a leaf from something Jean Chretien of Canada said. I think that our push for war has had one very good effect. As a fall back, as a desperate attempt to prevent a war, the rest of the international community is now solidly behind disarming Iraq. I think we can certainly achieve that, it's a modest but useful improvement in the situation. I think we can insist that Iraq be an ally in the war against terrorism. I think that we can essentially find a set of reasonable criteria for Iraqi behavior, which Saddam has no choice now but to endorse. We should then declare victory and move on to trying to address the underlying reasons why the Arabs believe we are their enemy.
LF: The two of you, you might say, have a hiatus now on the work front. Are you available for public speaking? John Brady Kiesling?
JB: Well, you know, as a public affairs officer, I've given all kinds of talks throughout my career. One that I liked very much to give when I was in Russia, 1998 to 2001, was on the whole idea of reinventing oneself in America. I think I'm going to find myself in the position of actually dealing with some of the issues that I talked about in that course.
LF: [laughing] And Brady?
JBK: Reinventing myself is definitely on the agenda ...
LF: If community groups wanted you to come and speak, could you?
JBK: Let me put it this way: I'm delighted to talk to anyone, however, I think the audience, the most important audience in the United States, is not these wonderful community groups, say in Northern California, who I believe really share my values and position pretty strongly. The audience is a much larger one, it's very hard to grapple with. This is the vast majority of the American people who want to have confidence in their elected president, want to believe that there's a policy that will make them safer, need to be told that there IS a policy that will make them safer, but it's not the one that we're following now. And I don't know how one reaches out to this part of the population. I would like to encourage them just to realize they're not in as much danger as they think. They've been frightened by all this talk of duct tape and terrorism, but America is still the safest country in the world and American people are basically safe. And we should use our safety and our prosperity and our strength to do good, and we can do good.
JB: I agree with Brady on this, very much. Moreover, I think something exists that the polls don't indicate. I think there's an undercurrent among Americans, an undercurrent of concern about why are we doing this, what are the consequences, and what is it going to cost us? And I think addressing these issues at this point with our fellow citizens is very important.
LF: That's John Brown, he has been joining us with Brady Kiesling. The two, so far, are the first two U.S. diplomats to resign over war in Iraq. I thank you both, and all who called into today's program, for participating.
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