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Virtual Brown Bag with Stephen Kinzer: Full Transcript
The situation in the Middle East is really getting worse and worse. The anger and the frustration that is boiling in that part of the world creates long term threats to the West that we really need to address. And, of course, in Iran, the centrifuges are continuing to spin, confrontation is rising. So, it's not really an option for the United States to throw up its hands and say, "those crises have always been there, they'll always be there, and we can't really do anything about it." Or to continue to rely on tiny measures like sending an envoy to try to shuttle back and forth between Israel and the Palestinians. Those kinds of efforts have not succeeded in the past. Actually, negotiation has become the enemy of peace when you come to the Israel-Palestine thing. It's used as a way to prolong the conflict indefinitely.
So I start from the principle that our foreign policy toward the Middle East is stuck, it's not working. During the Cold War, we had a certain policy. The world has changed tremendously. The security environment in the Middle East has changed tremendously. And the security threats to the United States as well as the new security opportunities that the Middle East presents us with have also changed dramatically. But our policy hasn't changed. So I'm trying to break American foreign policy, particularly our policy towards the Middle East, out of its rut. There's a tremendous tendency in the foreign policy establishment to stick to established ideas and stick with old paradigms. Any new idea is treated as the germ of some frightful plague that needs to be stamped out before it spreads and infects the whole policy apparatus. So we're caught in this very narrow spectrum of acceptable opinions and anyone who is outside of that spectrum is stigmatized as a sort of whacko who needs to be kept outside of the room whenever serious matters are discussed. Reminds me of that great line from Dorothy Parker when she was asked what she thought about Katherine Hepburn and she said, "Katherine Hepburn runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." That's about the width of what is acceptable in our foreign policy. And I'm trying to widen that.
Now, what has been our policy in the Middle East over these last decades? Essentially, it's been shaped according at least to the perceived interests of Saudi Arabia and Israel. In Washington, the assumption has generally been, "what Saudi Arabia wants, Saudi Arabia gets; what Israel wants, Israel gets." Now, it was traditionally assumed that during the Cold War that our relationship with Saudi Arabia was based on oil and our relationship with Israel was based on history and shared values. That was partly true.
But actually, there is another aspect to this, and I have a whole section in my book about it, and that is that, during the Cold War, Israel and Saudi Arabia were doing favors for us that no other country could or would do. These were a lot of favors that were not public at the time. Saudi Arabia and Israel were always willing to help the United States in its clandestine, secret, covert Cold War operations. Our NATO allies were not willing to do that. They were willing to support the United States in public and in ways that were legal, but sometimes the United States needed support that wasn't legal. And Saudi Arabia and Israel were always there to help us.
For example, when President Reagan wanted to arm the military dictatorship in Guatemala during the 1980's, he was no able to do that because the Congress had banned aid to Guatemala. But he still wanted to send them guns. So he got the Israelis to arm the Guatemalan army. When the United States was not able to aid South Africa militarily, Reagan also arranged for Israel to provide that aid, and then get quid pro quos another way.
Saudi Arabia did the same thing. Saudi Arabia contributed millions of dollars to support the Contras in Nicaragua when the United States wanted to support them was not allows to do so legally. Saudi Arabia bankrolled the Mujahadeen war in Afghanistan.
So, Israel and Saudi Arabia were providing us with a lot of favors that we didn't know about at the time. And I think that did account for part of the closeness in that relationship.
So, that era is over. Now, we're looking towards the 21st century. We want to try to reconfigure American foreign policy, and we want to be able to do it in a way that's long term. One of the great shortcomings of American foreign policy making is that we are so short-term oriented. We like to do things that will get fixed in a day or a week. We want to get everything done quickly, and we don't often stop to think about the long term effects of what we do. We also tend to be emotional in our making of foreign policy and we do things that make us feel good and redeem our emotions at the moment. But sometimes, years or even decades later, we look back and think that feel-good faded away pretty quickly and actually, what we did has wound up undermining our own national security.
So, as we look at the Middle East, we're looking for big, new ideas and long lasting, long range ideas. And what could those be? So, in my book, I talk about the two countries in the Middle East that have had a long tradition of building democracy. Two Muslim nations that have had a constitution for a hundred years, and whose people have really come to assimilate the democratic idea. Those are Turkey and Iran. In terms of their understanding of democracy, the Turkish people and the Iranian people are far ahead of most of the other people in the Muslim Middle East.
I really believe that democracy can take hold anywhere, but with a couple of caveats. First of all, it takes time. Democracy is not just an election. Democracy is a whole way of dealing with life's problems. You cannot make this kind of psychological change overnight. It takes years, decades, or even generations. And Turkey and Iran are the only two Muslim countries in the Middle East that have been working on this project for generations.
In addition, democracy cannot emerge in a country after it has been brought to that country by a foreign army at the point of a gun. No one accepts ideologies that are imposed that way. That didn't happen in Turkey and Iran. Turks and Iranians decided a hundred years ago themselves that they wanted the kind of government that would reflect the popular will. And they have been working for a hundred years, not without setbacks, towards this goal.
So Turkish society and Iranian society are probably the most democratic in the Muslim Middle East. Of course the regime in Iran is something different. But having just returned from Iran a couple of weeks ago, I can report that the effervescence of democratic society in Iran is amazing and the pro-American sentiment there is quite astonishing. It's one of the few places probably in the whole world you can stand on a street corner and start telling people that you're American, you'll draw a very excited crowd of people that will tell you how much they love America. It's a little bit of a disconnect when you think, "wait a minute, I'm in Iran, how did this happen?"
So, what might be the outlines of this policy? First of all, in the last couple of weeks, we've seen some bursts of news that have come out about these two countries. The first one came when Turkey and Brazil negotiated that deal with Iran, which I think they hoped would be a way out of the escalating nuclear confrontation. I was actually in Turkey a couple of weeks ago on the day when it was announced that the Prime Minister of Turkey and his Brazilian comrade had succeeded in striking a deal with Iran about the removal of a certain amount of uranium to Turkey and a set of other policies to try to ease the nuclear crisis. And everybody in Turkey was thrilled. People thought, finally, this confrontation in a neighboring country has been defused, and we're not going to have another situation like Iraq where we had a country on our border that was in complete upheaval and misery and war for years. So the Iran crisis looks like it is now going to ratchet down. Well it only took a few hours until people in Washington started waking up and reading the news that Turkey and Brazil had brokered this deal with Iran and, to the great surprise of many people in Turkey, the Americans said, "we don't want to have anything to do with this deal. This is a terrible idea." And Brazil and Turkey really got snookered. The American attitude was, essentially, that the leaders of those two countries were like stupid, naive schoolboys who got fooled by those ever crafty Iranians.
So I think that this was quite surprising not only to many Turks, but also to Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey who, I think, really believe that he was doing the U.S. a favor, and believe that he was acting on behalf of the U.S. Now, both he and Lula claim to have had contacts from Washington, including letters. Whether that reflects a division within the Administration or the passage of time or some other misunderstanding, we still don't know. But the fact is that Turkey's effort to ratchet down this crisis did not work. And I do think that did start to cause some friction with the United States.
Here's what lies behind it. It's not just the problem that Turkey was negotiating with Iran. And it's not even the fact that Turkey allows a ship carrying a Turkish flag to confront the Israeli blockage of Gaza, which also set off another round of clucking about whether Turkey was really changing its orientation. I think that there's a larger conceptual disconnect between the United States and Turkey that's causing this friction, and that is that Turkey is essentially saying to the United States, "listen. We live in this part of the world. We don't want to be left holding the bag for the chaos that often ensues when you intervene violently here. We are actually on your side. But your tactics here in the Middle East are not working." What the Turks are saying is, to America, "you need to ratchet down the rhetoric and ratchet down the confrontation, and try to reach out to countries with conciliation and negotiation and diplomacy. You have good partners in this region. We can help you, we can advise you. But it's not in your interest to continue following the policies that you are following now." Well, the American response is, "we are not ready for that. We're not ready to take advice from some other country about how to deal with the Middle East. We know how to deal with the Middle East. We have a policy. And, for example, our policy is, 'no negotiations with Iran. Only confront them with sanctions.' And we don't want anyone going to Tehran to negotiate."
Essentially, Turkey is trying to push the curve to the future of history, and I think Turkey represents what will be a trend in the 21st century, and that is the rise of the middle powers. We're entering a century when South Africa and Brazil and Turkey and Russia will be playing a much more important role in world affairs. I don't think that America is quite ready to accept that. We're still trying to hold on to the back end of history when we ruled. So the Turks are telling us, "you can't impose your will anymore, so work with us and together we can make a lot of positive progress." And the Americans are saying, "no, we don't accept that. We can still impose our will. Watch us." That's the big disconnect.
Now, when it comes to Iran, We're still locked in this situation where we are essentially demanding that Iran negotiate with us and meet our demands on the nuclear issue. Now, Iran is definitely violating its treaty obligations, and its development of a nuclear program is very disturbing, particularly since they are testing ballistic missiles at the same time. But to me, this doesn't mean that we should never talk to Iran. On the contrary, the more dangerous a situation you have, the more urgent negotiation becomes. You don't need to negotiate with your friends, you already agree with them. So the fact that you have an unpleasant regime in Iran should not, in my view, be a reason not to negotiate with it. In fact, the opposite is true.
Now, given the brutality with which the Iranian regime repressed those protests that erupted after last year's election, is this the right moment for the U.S. to begin negotiations with Iran? Probably not. But there's never going to be a right moment.
One thing that I did discover on my recent trip to Iran is, what happened to the Green Movement? I asked this to a lot of people. Everyone was protesting after the election, and now we don't hear anything about those protests anymore. What happened? And many many people gave me more or less the same answer, and that was, "we tried that, but it didn't work. They beat us and they threw us in jail. If we try to do it again, they'll beat us again and put us in jail again, and we don't want that. So, we're not pushing anymore. The change isn't going to come soon. We're still going to get the change we want, but it's not going to come anytime soon." For a country that has 25 centuries of history, I guess that's a very logical perspective to have, but it violates the American idea that problems should have quick solutions. And Iranians don't necessarily think that way.
Would there, then, be a possibility for bringing the Iranians to the negotiating table? I think there might be. I don't think it's true that we've really tried the negotiating option. We have never said to the Iranians, "let's have unconditional, broad, direct negotiations. We're going to tell you everything we don't like about what you do and how we would like you to change your behavior, but in exchange we would also like to hear from you what you don't like about us and what about our behavior you would like us to change. And then we'll negotiate on all of these issues." Within that context, if there could be some sort of global accord, then I think you might have some hope of reaching some accord that would allow us to escape this escalating nuclear crisis.
Now, if the democratic movement in Iran were to say to the U.S. and the West, "isolate our leaders. Don't talk to them." Then, I think, we would have to listen to them and we would have to reconsider our approach. But they're not saying that. The opposition movement in Iran is, right now, in a very difficult position, it doesn't have any good options. The best of all the bad options would be for the United States or someone to lure the regime out of its isolation and its anger and its paranoia, and that's why I think that negotiating with that regime would be something that the democratic movement would support and would be positive about.
So, in the long run, how should the US think about configuring its relations in that part of the world? I think that we do need partners. I think that, in the future, we're not going to be able to approach the middle east just on our own. We're going to need to pick some countries that we're going to listen to and we're going to work with. I think that, when countries are looking for such partners, you look for countries that have two qualifications. First of all, you want countries that share your own long term strategic goals. But that isn't enough. That's only enough for a government to government relationship and those are always unhealthy is they don't involve the people. You also want to look for partners that are countries whose societies share the values of your own society. If we look around the Middle East, and we look for Muslim countries that have societies like ours that are open and democratic and relatively tolerant and understand the ideas of diversity and respect for others, Iran and Turkey are the only two that fit the bill. The Iranian society is amazingly vibrant, unfortunately repressed by a theocratic regime. Turkey is, of course, far ahead in terms of its democratic development institutionally, but not necessarily in the public eye. I really think that, in the future, depending on how things unfold, Iran could even vault over Turkey and become the most democratic Muslim country in the world. That could happen.
So, Turkey and Iran are the two countries that not only have societies like ours but they share our long term goals. Now what might some of those goals be? How could it be said that, for example, that the US and Iran have similar long term strategic goals? I think that they do, and this transcends regime.
First of all, Iran has a huge ability to influence Iraq. Many of those Iraqi leaders were living in Iran for many years during the Saddam dictatorship. And by overthrowing Saddam, we essentially turned over that whole country to Iran. So Iran now has a great ability to stabilize Iraq and could even be our ticket out of Iraq. Our big fear with withdrawing from Iraq is that the place will explode again in terrible violence. But Iran can help prevent that from happening.
Iran has a great ability to calm Afghanistan. A lot of Afghanistan used to be part of Iran. Iran is very deeply connected there. Iran wants a clear, safe flow of energy from the Middle East to the West, which is what we also want. Iran is the bitter enemy of bitter Sunni movements like al Qaeda and the Taliban. So over the long run, we do have important strategic commonalities with Iran.
In addition, the Turkey idea, which is, 'we're you're ally. We're in NATO. We're pro-Western. We're pro-American. But we're just telling you: moderate your approach to this part of the region.' This is an approach we should accept. We should start changing our attitude and listening a little more. If we're going to listen a little more, the Turks would be the first one for us to listen to in that part of the world, and they might help us crack the wall and break into Iran.
So, I don't share the general view that the Middle East crisis is totally hopeless. There is not great amounts of hope. Nonetheless, the chance for change is there is we only seize it, if we are willing to break away from the fetters of the past and out of the paradigms of the old age and try to think big and think new. As the great Persian poet Rumi put it, 'why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?'
So, I guess that's enough from me for right now. Some of you have already started sending in some questions, please continue to do so, and let's get to those now with Chelsea's help.
Chelsea: Great, thank you, Stephen. Please, I know we don't have a lot of questions in the chat yet, but please feel free to submit your questions. I want to thank everyone for joining us here today. If you have enjoyed listening to Stephen talk, please do give a donation to make sure that we can continue talks like this. You'll see the donate button on your screen there. We've had a little technical problem so I'm getting the questions over my cell phone and I don't think we have had any questions so far, so please do submit those.
I know that you addressed this a little bit, this issue, but maybe you can address it in a bit more detail. whether or not you see Turkey's negotiation of the fuel swap deal as something positive?
Kinzer: I think that both the fuel swap deal and America's criticisms of it were valid. So, they had a breakthrough. They got Iran to agree to do something that Iran had not previously agreed to do. Now, the American response was, 'that's not enough.' And it's true, it wasn't enough. But, if we were in a more positive mindset, we would have said, 'well, we got something. Let's build on this. This is very positive. Ok, this is not everything we need, but it's a great step forward. So let's welcome it and let's see if we can use it as the basis for future negotiations.' Nobody expected America to say, 'ok, we sign off on the deal.' But let's at least not reject it out of hand. I think the reason we rejected it is, we've already made a decision. We've decided, we need to confront Iran. We spent all these weeks building up the sanctions resolution and suddenly, our so-called friend Turkey is trying to give Iran another way out, as we saw it, and we got irritated at that. So I thought that was a very positive step and the fact that the American administration rejected it so quickly and so fully really does suggest to me that the United States is only on the confrontation path, which I find very off because these sanctions are not going to work and there's nobody who believe they're going to work, even the people in the US government are admitting that they're not going to work.
So I'm asking myself, what's the endgame? What's the point of doing all this? Are we just trying to get Iranians mad at us, which I think we are probably succeeding at doing, without any positive result? If we really think that sanctions are going to bring the Iranian regime to its knees and to say, 'we surrender, just stop doing it and tell us what to do and we'll do it.' Ok, that would be a good reason to impose sanctions. But nobody believes that's going to happen. So instead of -- and here's a way that I actually see Iran and Israel in a somewhat comparable position -- instead of isolating these countries and denouncing them and pushing them into corners and making them feel alone and friendless, the opposite policy is the right one. Try to lure them out of their isolation.
You know, Turkey -- I'm sorry, Iran -- and Israel are the two countries in that part of the world that are disliked by a number of their neighbors, and Israel and Iran are also disliked by many countries in the world. There's a lot of anti-Iran emotion coursing around the world, and there is a lot of anti-Israel emotion coursing around the world. And a lot of people would like to punish Israel and/or Iran. But that's emotion at work. Actually, when we leave emotion outside the room, and think cooly about what's good for us, we realize that, what's really good for us in the MIddle East, and what's really good for Israel in the Middle East above all, is a calm neighborhood. That's going to be Israel's long term security. Israel will not be able to defend itself forever only by military means. If it's got a huge, hostile neighborhood, which will get even angrier in the years ahead with the demographic changes, Israel's survival is really endangered, and Israel's acting in ways that, I think, endanger it.
So, the best single thing we can achieve in the Middle East for ourselves and our allies is a stable neighborhood. And the way to achieve that is, I think, to act more like the Turks would like us to act, to recognize that we can't impose our will anymore and to see if we can't reach some of our goals by more conciliatory means.
Chelsea: Great, thank you. The next questions: Turkey is pushing the US on Gaza. Is this positive?
Kinzer: I must say, I think that the organization in Turkey that sponsored that Gaza trip has succeeded beyond what must have been its wildest dreams. The real purpose of that mission was to try to focus world attention on what was happening in Gaza. And boy did that succeed. It was, of course, a tragic outcome in the loss of life that occurred on that vessel. Nonetheless, you now have Egypt opening up its passageway into Gaza, Jordan is now starting to send supplies into Gaza, being bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, the United States is suggesting that it might be time to change the conditions of the Gaza occupation, and even Israel has begun to say that, 'yes, it's true, we need to look at this again.' So I think, objectively, already, that challenge to the blockade of Gaza has had remarkable effects and, in a way, though I didn't like the confrontational aspect into which that flotilla deteriorated, I could see that, if I were living in Gaza, I would think that was a good thing because now people in the world are thinking about us.
Chelsea: Great, thank you. What does Turkey's 'No' vote in the Security Council mean for the ability of the US to get stronger sanctions against Iran?
Kinzer: I don't think the Turkish 'No' vote really affects it because the United States is still able to push the sanctions resolution through the Security Council even without Turkey. What I do think is interesting, however, is that other countries on the Security Council that are powerful, particularly China, are determined to weaken these sanctions, and already weakened this sanctions resolution so tremendously that only a little bit of what the United States wanted in there is in there. For example, there is no restriction on the work of foreign energy companies and Chinese companies in particular, inside Iran. The United States wanted permission for any ship, to board any Iranian ship around the world that they thought might be carrying illicit cargo. That's not in there anymore. A lot of things got knocked out because of China's insistence. So I think what we wound up with in this resolution is that the Chinese were saying, and maybe the Russians to a certain degree also, 'this is not a good idea to push these heavy sanctions on Iran.' And America was saying, 'we gotta have sanctions because that's the whole thrust of our policy.' So what they did was some sort of compromise. They passed a sanctions resolution, but there's hardly anything of substance in it, so most people were happy.
Chelsea: Here's another question: what is Hilary's role? What should Hilary do next?
Kinzer: Hilary is really in an odd position, I think. She's probably the most famous woman in the world, she's treated like a rock star wherever she goes, but yet, she has very little influence, as far as I can tell, over the shaping of American foreign policy, particularly in sensitive areas like the Middle East. An odd aspect of American foreign policy towards the Middle East is that I still can't figure out who's running it. I don't know who, for example, is making our policy toward Iran. We don't know. Everything is so confused when it comes to American foreign policy toward this region. It certainly isn't Hilary. In a way, I admire her, because she's accepted what is actually quite a limited role and she just does what Obama tells her and when Obama tells her, essentially, 'you shouldn't be getting involved in this,' she doesn't get involved in it. So, she's been a pretty good soldier. And nonetheless, I think her Cold War instincts are coming to the fore. She was the one that was sent out to denounce this Turkish/Brazil deal with Iran. I still feel that she is an example of someone who developed a way of thinking about foreign affairs a long time ago during the Cold War and never really broke out of that paradigm. She's still in that prison even though the door's wide open.
Chelsea: So, if you were in Obama's shoes, what would be the first thing you would do?
Kinzer: I have a little bit of sympathy for Obama on this. It is true that he hasn't really made any difference in American foreign policy toward the Middle East, particularly toward Iran up to now. In fact, the policy is now quite similar to what it was back at the end of the Bush administration. But let's face it. Obama has had one or two other things to do and I don't think that he himself personally has spent a lot of time thinking about geopolitical and strategic issues because he's never had a job before where he's needed to do that. And there's still time left on the Obama ticket, so let's wait and see what happens.
So what would I do first? What I would like to do is what I think National Security advisors are supposed to do and that is call into the room people with a whole variety of different views. One of the problems in the run-up to the Iraq war was that the only people allowed in the room to talk to the President were people who already agreed with the President. They'd already been screened. And I think that was what he wanted. But I would like to see Obama say, 'bring me in half a dozen people who want to talk about what could be our ideas for dealing with Iran in the Middle East, and make sure they don't agree with anybody--with each other. Because I want to hear a variety of views. That would certainly be something new.
Chelsea: Alright. Richard CK asks: what about a US guarantee of non-intervention in Iran in return for their abandoning quest for a nuclear weapon?
Kinzer: I think this would be exactly what we would like to look for in what I like to call this grand bargain. And what I like about this kind of a deal is that it doesn't just force Iran to give up its highest card in its diplomatic hand without getting anything back. Diplomatic negotiations are only successful if everyone leaves the table feeling like they got something. And that's what we need to do with Iran. One of the things that we can give Iran that Iran really wants is legitimacy and security. That's a good quid pro quo. I don't think that this nuclear process with spiral inevitably. I really think that it's amazing that, everyday, more centrifuges are spinning and we're just waiting to see if something will happen or they will bomb somebody. We're not taking an active role. And I'd like to see us draw the Iranians into a negotiating posture by telling them, 'now we're not insisting that you negotiate on only the one issue we care about; we're also willing to negotiate on issues you care about.'
Chelsea: Great, thanks. Another question is: who is on the leading edge of history here? The US, Israel, on Saudi Arabia on the one hand, or Brazil, Turkey, Iran and, let's say, China, on the other?
Kinzer: It's certainly true that, although the United States is certainly not a declining power in the absolute, it is certainly declining in power relatively speaking because other countries have risen. I do think that the United States has tremendous ability to maintain its position in the world. Our economy, despite everything, is still very strong. Our innovation technology is still very strong. Our military is very powerful. Nonetheless, our future power depends on our ability to change with the times. This is actually the key to Turkey's success in the world as a country. Turkey started out as a dictatorship, then when dictatorships were no longer acceptable in the world, it became a democracy. Then when closed economies were no longer acceptable in the world, it opened its economy. Then when human rights violations were not acceptable anymore in the world, it stopped its torturing people in prisons. The United States has to be able to do that too. In a sense, what it means to preserve 80 or 90 percent of our power, we have to give up 10 to 20 percent. But America is still not ready to accept that. I think that America is still thinking, 'no, we're going to keep 100 percent.' And there I think you run into the danger that you might have a crash and lose a whole lot more.
Chelsea: So, Liz Leaf would like to know how she can sign up if you lead another trip? Where can she find information?
Kinzer: The travel agency in California for which I led that tour was Distant Horizons, so feel free to call them. You might know the story of what happened to me when I showed up in the airport in Tehran to lead that tour. All the Americans are taken aside when they come into Tehran and they go through the passports separately. And we waited a while and after about half an hour a guy came out and said, 'I'm sorry for the delay but there's a problem with one of the passports.' I immediately, of course, knew it was me. And sure enough, the immigration chief called me into his office and said, 'you are a journalist but you are trying to get into our country on a tourist visa. Why?' So I thought I had really outsmarted them, because I was a journalist, and I was going in on a tourist visa and they would never figure this out. Maybe it's not as easy to outsmart the Iranians as some of us think.
Chelsea: Liz Leaf also asks: she's read your books. Fabulous. What other books on Turkey and Iran might you suggest?
Kinzer: I like books about Turkey written by my friend John Freely, who writes more about the history of Turkey. I also like the books by Orhan Pamuk. If you want the most political one, he wrote that book 'Snow'. But I think his last book, which was a love story, 'The Museum of Innocence', which also takes place in Istanbul, is also a fascinating slice of Turkish life.
As for Iran, there's a whole list of wonderful Iran books. Let me just single out one or two. There is a great book by Hamid Dabashi called, 'A People, Interrupted.' A couple of my other favorite books are -- a couple of my favorite authors writing about Iran are Vali Nasr, Ali Ansari, and there's a new modern history of Iran by Fakhreddin Asimi, 'The Quest for Democracy in Iran', which will give you the entire history of the country. And if you'd signed up for my course this fall at BU, Boston University, you'd be assigned that book.
Chelsea: Great. Dave Campbell -- moving back to the issues, Dave Campbell: we are still riddled with neo-cons in the US foreign policy ranks, are we not? How are we doing at moving our policymakers to the left or more progressive, less Reagan-esque?
Kinzer: The other day I had a radio debate with the Neo-Con figure Kenneth Adelman who was head of the Arms Control Agency under Bush and I think Ambassador to the United Nations. When asked about what he thought about my book, he said, 'it was beautifully written. The history was so interesting. I learned a lot. But I thought the thesis was very, very strange.' I think it's true that this kind of thinking dominates the American foreign policy establishment. It was actually remarkable to me to see how quickly Obama was either taken in or voluntarily agreed to jump in to this consensus. It was sobering for me. It showed how powerful this magnetic draw is in Washington, to bring you right into the center, and to bring you into this consensus. So, I like to think that there are people out there who have different approaches to this. But cleansing the foreign policy establishment of new thinking is going to be something very difficult. And I guess the only suggestion I could make it that, since this is going to be a very long process, a generational process of changing opinions, one thing that you could do is join and continue to work with Just Foreign Policy.
Chelsea: Great, thanks. Please do. You see that Join button on the webcast page there. One last question. Please comment on your famous 'My Dinner with Ahmadinejad'.
Kinzer: It's true. Last October, when President Ahmadinejad came to New York, I got invited to the dinner. It was a remarkable evening. It was in some hotel here in New York, and of course there were a lot of Iranian demonstrators outside, protesting. We were made to wait outside and finally -- they were saying that security was making a sweep, a last sweep of the room, I thought they were making sure all the bugs were in place -- in any case, we were about 50 people. So it wasn't just me and Mahmoud. It was very interesting. He came in and was very soft spoken. First thing he said was, 'everybody should have a chance to ask a question. And I want to start with this person on my right.' And what he did was he went all the way around the room and he got each of the 50 people there to ask a question. And that took an hour and a half just to get the questions answered. And then Ahmadinejad started answering them one at a time. And he was not only answering them, but he had written out the name of each person, but since he doesn't speak English he had to sort of transliterate them and try to re-pronounce everybody's name, which he made an effort to do. Although he didn't do very well with 'Stephanopoulos'. Anyway, when it came time for me to ask my question, I was thinking, 'I want to ask something unusual, something original.' I'd say the large majority of the questions had to do with two subjects: one was the nuclear issue, and the other had to do with the Green movement and the protests after the election. Those were the logical questions to ask. And, in one way or another, everybody was asking about that. I wanted to ask something a little bit different. And so, just based on my own private interests, I came up with this question, and I said, "Mr President, many of us in the United States have heard of the name Mohammed Mossadegh, who was the Prime Minister of Iran who was overthrown by the CIA in 1953. So could you please tell us what you think about Prime Minister Mossadegh and his overthrow?' I fancy to myself that this might have been the first time ever that Ahmadinejad has been asked to talk about Mossadegh in public. I have no way of knowing if that's true or not, but until someone tells me it's not, I'm going to continue to believe it. And so he had a very short but what I think was a quite clever answer. He said, 'Dr. Mossadegh was a popular Prime Minister who, unfortunately, was overthrown. But we don't want to devote too much time and effort to thinking about and recalling that episode, because if we did, we would never want to talk to the United States.' So that was a little bit of interesting geopolitics And maybe some people in Washington could take a cue for that and look back on some of our own sins and not only worry about other people's.
Chelsea: Great. Well on that, do you want to tell everyone about the remaining tour stops on your tour?
Kinzer: So here I am in New York right now. I'm on my way to Washington where I'll spend a few days in the heart of the beast, and from there I'm flying off the Chicago where I've got a few speeches scheduled, and then I'm off to the West Coast where I'll be speaking in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I'm on the road for the next ten or twelve days. I was just figuring out with my publicist here at the publishing house just a minute ago that I might be one of the very few authors who's going to be on Fox News on Sunday and Democracy Now! on Monday. It's an odd combination but I like to preach beyond the choir. I'm always trying to shape my vocabulary in ways that will open up people's minds and not just persuade people who are already persuaded. I think that I'm going to have a chance to do that over the coming days, and anyone who wants to come and cheer me on, even if you are already persuaded, I will be more than happy to see you at one of these events. Thanks.
Chelsea: Where can they find out about the events?
Kinzer: Just look on your little laptop and type in www.stephenkinzer.com and you'll find a little box there that some little gremlin has managed to produce all of the stops on my tour, and there are ways for you to contact me there. All of my articles and other embarrassing material is on there, photographs and so forth. So in your copious spare time, take a look at that and please try to make this book, 'RESET', a part of your effort to re-conceive the world. I think that's what we're all trying to do. We're trying to re-imagine the world, to re-imagine America's role in the world, and in particular, to find ways that we can deal with these terrible looming crises in the Middle East and not come down simply on the side of one group or one country, but rather try to reach some sort of a broader security architecture that, in the long run, is not good just for the people there, but is also good for us.
Chelsea: Thank you so much, &c.