TCS Daily

I Dream of Jeane: An Interview with Fmr. U.N. Ambassador Kirkpatrick

By Jeane Kirkpatrick - November 15, 2001 12:00 AM

Editor's Note: TCS host James K. Glassman sat down with former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick to discuss the ongoing war in Central Asia. Kirkpatrick spoke candidly in a wide ranging interview that touched on Afghanistan after the Taliban, Russia, missile defense, Saudi Arabia, international coalition politics, Iran, and freedom and democracy around the globe.

Jim Glassman: Ambassador Kirkpatrick, you have said that terrorism is something not so much that can be defeated as contained. Is the Bush administration raising expectations too high in this war on terrorism?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: No. And let me just clarify what I believe about this, that if it can't be contained then it must be defeated. In a very real sense I think we've been containing it with Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda groups acting only within some boundaries, some times and some places. And he seems to have broken out, as it were, with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Jim Glassman: One of the things that has surprised many is the support of Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin. You were there and you played a major role in the withering away of the Soviet state. Do you think that Russia can be a reliable partner in this?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: Yes, I do. First of all, Russia isn't the Soviet state. The Soviet state was a political manifestation of a group that was powerfully expansionist, among other things. And it was that expansionism more than anything that brought it continually into conflict with its neighbors and others, including us. I don't really see contemporary Russia as a profoundly and erratically expansionist state. It's a contracting state. It has, again, repeatedly permitted the, and acknowledged if you will, the independence of portions of the former Soviet state. And I just don't think that it's an expansionist totalitarian state, as the Soviet state was.

Jim Glassman: Do the Russians also feel the same? Are the Russians as vulnerable to terrorism as we are?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: Well, they're certainly vulnerable. And they have had some harsh experiences with terrorism in the last decade, of course, with the bombing of an apartment building in downtown Moscow a few years ago. And of course many attacks associated with the Chechnya Independence Movement, which has turned on unarmed civilians. There's also been a lot of gangsterism in Russia and that gangsterism is closely associated to terrorism. So I think they've had enough experience to know that it's a very undesirable behavior.

Jim Glassman: One sticking point with the Russians remains the issue of missile defense. Do you think that, two questions, do you think the Russians will go along with the President's vision on missile defense? And if the Russians do not, should the Administration simply abrogate the ABM Treaty?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: Let me answer the last part first. I have believed for a number of years and have said repeatedly in the last decade, that we should announce our intention and in fact to withdraw from the treaty. The treaty has long outlived its usefulness and serves no positive purpose for us.

I think that if they don't go along, and they're not willing to cooperate in our withdrawing from the treaty than we should simply withdraw from the treaty, period. We cannot continue to give them the veto on our capacity to defend ourselves.

Jim Glassman: So what about the first question, what are the chances that they will go along?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: I think the chances are reasonably good. And a matter of fact, I don't see why not. The Russians, first of all, they know they can't stop us if we decide to do it. That creates a nice environment to discuss it. They also don't have much to lose because they've got missiles and we've got missiles. I simply think it's realistic for them to face the fact that we're likely to do this and it won't cost them anything really anyway and they won't lose anything by it.

Jim Glassman: Many people are saying that the U.S. or the United Nations will have to create an alternative regime to replace the Taliban in Afghanistan when the Taliban are overthrown. As a former U.N. Ambassador, do you think that either course has much hope for success, either the U.S. or the U.N.? And what would be the specific role of the U.N.?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: Well, the U.N. hasn't done that so far. They have not created successful regimes. This was of course the biggest stumbling block to the removal of Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War. The question is who would govern Iraq in that case.

The first people who will make a pitch to govern Afghanistan will be Afghans, and they'll be the Afghan opposition. And it may be that other Afghans will strenuously oppose the Northern Alliance from becoming the governance of Afghanistan. Some portion of them already are the government of Afghanistan in the sense that they are recognized as such by the U.N.

The King of Afghanistan has been meeting in Rome with a number of his former counselors and it's a rather large group of former rulers of Afghanistan. They were participants in the former government of Afghanistan. I think that they would like to organize another government for Afghanistan, and if enough of them would desire to do that, I think the United States would probably prefer such a government. The United States would almost surely prefer to see a broad based Afghan government to a single group.

Jim Glassman: But for someone whose had as much to do with the U.N. as you have, are you optimistic about the notion that the U.N. could somehow either govern Afghanistan, could set up some sort of government to run Afghanistan?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: No I don't think they could. I think the most likely workable successor regime would, and most desirable from the American point of view, would be a more broadly based and hopefully democratic Afghan regime. You know the Afghan government that existed before the Soviets began to intervene actually was a reasonably good government. It was broad-based, it was civilized, it had a lot of participation in the society and a lot of the domains of the society, including by women. And it was a very sort of enlightened government, certainly as compared to this reactionary Taliban.

But let me say for the record that I do not believe the U.N. could govern Afghanistan. I believe that the U.N. could participate maybe with the Afghans and perhaps the U.S. or somebody in organizing an interim regime, but I don't think they could govern Afghanistan.

Jim Glassman: And not only could not govern, but you don't think that responsibility for finding, for setting up a government for Afghanistan should be turned over to the U.N.?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: Well I don't think it's theirs, you know. I doubt if the Afghans would be willing to give it to them.

Jim Glassman: The Administration has been treating Saudi Arabia, I think it's safe to say, with kid gloves, praising cooperation whenever possible, but not pressing for the use of air bases. What if anything can be done in the Muslim world to change the attitudes of at least the government of countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt that feel so pressured by radical Islam?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: I think they're in very bad shape. They're caught between forces in their own country that desire some kind of modernization and some kind of broader participation in government.

Jim Glassman: But do you think that our apparent approach, which is to be very concerned about forcing them into position where they have to make the kind of choice that the President seemed to pose for everyone else is a good policy? In other words, don't push them too far.

Jeane Kirkpatrick: I don't think we need to stir up any animosity any places it doesn't already exist. I would not like to push the Saudis today into a situation which the government falls, for example, where some revised government -- narrowly based, maybe military-based -- takes charge. I don't think that's particularly in our interest. Obviously, I always would like to see every government be democratic.

I have no question that the only good side of government is a democratic government, and I think that's true for everybody. But I don't think that it is appropriate for us to try to impose democratic government on the Saudis in the middle of this war. In the situation where we are, I believe, that the better part of valor for us is to accept Saudi support where we can get it.

Jim Glassman: Another tricky area for foreign policy involves Pakistan and India.

Jeane Kirkpatrick: Right.

Jim Glassman: Why don't you elaborate on how difficult it is and what we should be doing.

Jeane Kirkpatrick: Pakistan and India have engaged their real conflicts with each other -- deeply felt conflict with one another -- since before their independence with the U.K. Their borders and the very composition of both countries were greatly influenced by that competition. For example, the creation of Bangladesh, the creation of Kashmir, the possession of Kashmir, these are long lasting conflicts between India and Pakistan and there has been conflict that's simmered just below the level of real war between them, most of the time during the period of their independence.

Jim Glassman: For almost 60 years.

Jeane Kirkpatrick: Right.

Jim Glassman: And so the difficult problem that the U.S. faces now is needing Pakistan as an ally, a critical ally in this war, but at the same time not offending India which has been moving in our direction. Is there something that we should be doing, that this country should be doing differently from what we're apparently doing now to not exacerbate tensions, considering the situation with which we've been presented in Afghanistan?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: I rather doubt it, Jim, I don't know. We need Pakistan as an ally now and we need reasonable peace in the region. And so we have to try to work for a Pakistan that is not about to fall apart due to internal struggles in its military.

Jim Glassman: Let me ask a question about one other country in the region where, remarkably, there appears to be at least the rumblings of a democratic revolution taking place, and that is Iran. How significant do you think the recent events are in Iran and what impact did they have on this war against terror?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: I don't know, I literally know what I read in the newspapers. I believe, however, that any expression of dissent and expression of political dissonance in Iran is just very significant. Because they have lived since they overthrew the Shah, for 22 years, they've lived for that entire period, and under a pretty tight dictatorship. And there's been very little dissent tolerated. No dissent in the first ten years after the revolution and there have been heavy penalties for dissonance since. So because there's been an effort establishing a totalitarian government and there has been heavy penalty for dissonance and dissent, I think that the tolerance today of dissent and of different points of view is very significant as it would be in any situation where a country had been under a really tight dictatorship until then.

Jim Glassman: And the other issue, which I think that Michael Ledeen raises is that what's happening in Iran is a defeat of the kind of radical Islam that Osama Bin Laden and his followers are espousing.

Jeane Kirkpatrick: I think that it's always significant when a dictatorship permits more freedom. Certainly, this is a significant move particularly because it hasn't been so long since they had somewhat more freedom in Iran.

Jim Glassman: And when a dictatorship permits more freedom as in, say, the Soviet Union, that frequently is something at the beginning of the end.

Jeane Kirkpatrick: Oh, sure, absolutely, absolutely, that's what makes it very significant in fact without any question. Very frequently, dictatorships don't have very great longevity, often. When they collapse, they collapse, they don't have successor arrangements. They don't have natural successors like monarchies do or democracies do.

Jim Glassman: Right, because I guess if the successor gets appointed before, then that becomes a danger to the ruler.

Jeane Kirkpatrick: Exactly, exactly. So it's always significant by an opposition development in a dictatorship.

Jim Glassman: How do you assess the way this war and the foreign policy issues that we've talked about has been waged really in the last two months by the Bush Administration?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: I think they've done okay. I really think they've done alright. First of all they've done a rather good job patching together this coalition, which I think is on balance, useful. I don't think we should pay too high a price for it but I don't think we have been paying too high a price, either. I think all things considered, it's desirable and useful and I think that the government, U.S. government, has cast its nets broadly and put together quite an inclusive coalition, which serves them well.

Jim Glassman: But when you say "okay" and "alright," is that kind of like a B minus? In other words, what does the Administration have to do to get an A from you, or is that an A anyway?

Jeane Kirkpatrick: I'm not sure they could get an A, that's the point. What is it trying to do, with most of the countries? It is simply trying to insulate them from involvement in a war in that immediate area, for example. Or to insulate the institution -- let's say the Pakistani military -- from being sucked into, again, an internal war.

So I'm not sure there's an A available on this. I think that if they can prevent other countries from becoming involved in the actual fighting, or to prevent other countries from becoming obstacles for the achievement of their goals in the fighting, then they're achieving their goals. And I think they're doing that reasonably well for now.

Jim Glassman: They're adding countries on our side.

Jeane Kirkpatrick: That's right, that's exactly right. It may get more difficult as the number of countries who require being taken into account grows. But I think we have to wait and see about that.

Jim Glassman: Right, well thank you.

Jeane Kirkpatrick: You're welcome.


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