Monitor Breakfast: Brent Scowcroft
Excerpts from a recent Monitor Breakfast discussion with Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to former presidents Ford and Bush.
WASHINGTON — Retired Air Force General Brent Scowcroft was national security advisor to former presidents Ford and Bush. President George W. Bush recently named him chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Here are excepts from his conversation with reporters:
"This is probably as complicated a war as the United States has ever been in because every step we take in one direction is potentially going to antagonize somebody else somewhere. If you assume, as I do, that we cannot be successful unilaterally, there is no way; we have to have the willing support, not just the acquiescence, of the world community, but more narrowly the community in the Middle East and central Asia if we are to succeed. If they are neutral to hostile, we don't have a chance of rooting out terrorism. We have got to have their support."
"I don't have any more information than any of you, on this. My guess is that it is a copy cat action rather than a foreign operation. But I don't know that. It is just a hunch. It is not the kind of thing delivered in the kind of way I would anticipate that the bin Laden group would want to do. They are very prone to real splashy things with mass casualties."
"We would have to look at the evidence, not from our perspective but what is likely to convince the folks in the region that it is acceptable for us to act. And that is a level of evidence that we are not likely to find. What we need to do before we go after Iraq is to ensure what we do with respect to Iraq will not destroy the support of the states in the region. If we destroy that, our whole campaign is over. So that has to be the measure. And my guess is that that is a pretty high bar.
"But as we proceed and if we can walk this gradually and build a sense of self-confidence, then we will have more freedom of action as we go along."
"His instincts are a lot like his father. He lacks, in foreign policy especially, the catholic experience of his father who came into the presidency having done everything....At the UN he got to know every ambassador from every country in the world. So he had an instinctive feel for how different people in different cultures approach problems. That was an enormous benefit.
"'43' did not have that. And I think you could tell he was much more comfortable discussing domestic affairs where his experience as governor gave him a sense of confidence in the issues he was dealing with. At the outset of the administration in foreign policy there was hesitancy - there was not a clear line. You had a China, Russia, and North Korea. they were the big bad guys. And a general sense that if Clinton did it, it was probably wrong and we would do something different. There was not a strategic goal.
"What I see now is a president who has seized on this crisis and decided that this is his mission. And this is what he is all about and I think he has transformed himself.
"He is more like his father now than he was before. He is probably less introspective. They both have impatient personalities. He is probably more so. He is extremely focused. I think his instincts are very good."
"I am right now part of a group that is reviewing the intelligence community structure and mission. There are certain problems in the community that relate specifically to Sept. 11. Let me say at the outset I do not know -- I have not reviewed what happened Sept 11. I have not commented on that specifically.
"In general we have a long-standing problem between foreign intelligence and what can loosely be called domestic intelligence - it is foreign intelligence but inside the United States. There is a very sharp line at our border on that, making handoff a complicated process. The other thing we have is a cultural problem between intelligence and law enforcement. And they are philosophically two different kinds of missions. Law enforcement generally focuses on an event which starts things off and then you peer back gathering evidence. Intelligence is very different - it is looking at threads and trying to predict how they might come together and anticipate and prevent action.
"Those are different mindsets. And we have a lot of confusion between foreign and domestic and law enforcement and intelligence. I am not sure we will ever solve it but we should do better than we have. There is better cooperation than there has been before.
"I have mixed feelings - I believe there needs to be a review of what happened. Whether there needs to be a public hanging in the circumstances in which we are operating right now -- I am not sure that is the right thing to do. I don't know there is any kind of you would reasonably call culpability other than the difficulties I have said of operating in this kind of environment."