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Interview with Brent Scowcroft, National security advisor in the George H.W. Bush Administration

Interview with Brent Scowcroft, National security advisor in the George H.W. Bush Administration
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Brent Scowcroft was in the White House when the Berlin Wall came down. At the time he was National Security Advisor under the George H. W. Bush administration. He occupied the same post during Gerald Ford’s presidency and served as Military Assistant to President Richard Nixon. He spoke to Euronews about the day the Wall fell.

Euronews: How did you get the news that the Wall was coming down? Brent Scowcroft: “They were mixed reports, they were very confused. Was it coming down, or it wasn’t? There were rumours. Did it include Berlin or didn’t it? And in the middle of the confusion a press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, came in and said to the president: “You’ re gonna have to talk to the press about this.” And I said: “We dont know what is going on, how can we talk to the press?” “One of the reporters said: “Mr. President, you don’t seem very elated. I would think you would want to be dancing on the Wall!” And he said: “I’m not a euphoric kind of guy.” What he was trying to express was firstly, the uncertainty of what was happening, but secondly not to appear elated. Because we were worried at that time about the reaction of President Gorbachev. Would this put him in serious jeopardy from the hardliners in the Kremlin, who might feel he was giving away the Soviet Union?” Euronews: In what way did the USA contribute to the Fall of the Wall? Scowcroft: “I think we all contributed to the fall of the Wall by standing firm with regard to the Soviet Union. When President Bush came into office, there were alot of people who said: “Well, the Cold war is already over.” And there’s no doubt that Gorbachev’s rhetoric was very different, very promising and very encouraging. “But the Cold War really, was the division of Europe, and that hadn’t changed at all; there were Soviet troops throughout Europe. So we set our goal: to try to get Soviet troops out of Europe. And to an extent we succeeded in doing that and getting them out of East Germany.” Euronews: In what way has the world changed after 1989? Scowcroft: “There is no longer the threat of a nuclear conflict over our heads. That way, it has changed dramatically. And another way is that there’s no longer basically a single problem in the world: the world was divided into two blocks. Instead, our problems are much smaller in scope, but they are everywhere. It’s a very different world.” Euronews: After the Fall of the Wall, the US was the only remaining superpower. Twenty years after, the US is struggling in Iraq and Afghanistan. Are these quagmires a real threat to US leadership? Scowcroft: “Globalisation has eroded the power of the nation state. More and more of the problems of the world can only be dealt with by cooperation among states. I don’t think that US leadership is as some in the US assumed in recent years, that is: “we just go and people follow us.” That won’t work anymore.” Euronews: You were against the second Iraq war. In your opinion, what would be the right strategy now in Afghanistan? Scowcroft: “Afghanistan is a very difficult problem. If we were not in Afghanistan right now, certainly, I think we would not go there. But we are there and because we are there, we have created circumstances which mean that we simply can’t say “it’s not working, turn around and leave.” Because it’s a very volatile region. I believe that we have developed the right strategy now, which I think, is a counter insurgency strategy rather than a counterterrorism strategy.” Euronews: What is the main difference between counter terrorism and counter-insurgency? Scowcroft: “Let me give you an example: if your strategy is counter terrorism and you see a Taliban leader somewhere, you’ll attack him. If you kill some civilians in that attack, that’s a tragedy but that’s collateral damage. If your strategy is counter insurgency and you see the same bad guy, you don’t attack him because killing the civilians does more damage to your cause than getting the bad guy. That’s the difference.” Euronews: What were the main mistakes made by the White House after the fall of the Berlin Wall in foreign policy? Scowcroft: “One of the major mistakes was in the euphoria of the Wall coming down and the Cold war ending. We forgot that this for the Russian people was a national humiliation. “That had to be a psychological trauma. And during that time we forgot about that, didnt’ pay enough attention to it. So we did things which tended to increase the sense of humiliation and I think President Putin is a good expression of that. I’ve heard him saying: “When we were flat on our backs you walked all over us, you pushed NATO borders up against Russia, you denounced the ABM Treaty (Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.) Now, we’re strong again and we will not put up with it.” I think that all this psychological attitude is making it much more difficult to cooperate with Russia, in ways where cooperaton is important to us: on Iran, on terrorism, on a lot of things. So I think that’s one of the bigger mistakes we made. “The second one was that we had power that was unbelievable in world history really, at least since the time of the Roman Empire, but we tended to think we could do anything with that power and we didnt need help. I think that was another mistake we made.” Euronews: Is there any new wall that is going to fall now? Scowcroft: “I can’t think of anything off-hand that is quite so symbolic of the Cold War as the Berlin Wall was. It was a physical symbol of a stark division between two views of how the world had to be organised.” Euronews: There are still walls in the world. I’m thinking about the Israeli wall. Scowcroft: “Sometimes you can argue that walls help prevent war because they keep people who hate each other apart. But, by and large, walls prevent communication and communication is the way to solve problems, you don’t solve problems with walls.”