WASHINGTON POST CO-PUBLISHER ON CHANGES
IN U.S. FOREIGN POLICY

15.09.06


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev)

Question: Mr. Hoagland, how would you describe the state of mind in U.S. politics today, when the limits to American power, its ability to shape the world, notably the Middle East, have become clear? Now that the American dream of being the only superpower and owning the world is gone, it is high time America withdrew to previously prepared positions in its foreign policy and drew new red lines. And you, Jim Hoagland, co-publisher and deputy editor-in-chief of The Washington Post, as well as its head of international news, play an active part in shaping these new positions. How would you assess the changes in U.S. political thinking?

Answer: I'm not sure I'd agree that there was an American dream of owning the world. There's perhaps an American dream of teaching the world. And that can be as annoying as owning the world in some way.

Q.: Even worse.

A.: Even worse. You should not take the responsibility of ownership. But I think you are accurate saying that there've been some lessons learned. Or at least some very serious questions asked about the nature of American leadership today. It is certainly not as unqualified as all that President Bush laid out, and perhaps as he continues to believe. We are talking here about the American public, not necessarily the American leadership. I don't know if President Bush has been particularly chastened by the experiences of the last couple of years. There's a course-correction in diplomacy, in a way in which America expresses, or the Bush administration expresses, its view on the world. But I don't think the President's ideas, ambitions, goals fundamentally changed. Maybe that's good, maybe that's bad, I'm not passing judgment on that. But it's important to remember that he still has two and a half years to go, and many things in his own mind he wants to accomplish. To come to your
question: Iraq has been a tragic learning experience to Americans. At the beginning of the war I was telling a French friend of mine when we were debating the wisdom of going into Iraq that Americans would certainly make mistakes. I used the example of the beginning of World War II where Americans made tremendous mistakes and then found ways to learn from their mistakes, to correct their mistakes. And to eventually win that war along with allies, including the enormous country you should know – the Soviet Union. I can't say I can point to very much today to support my thesis of that time that we would learn quickly from our mistakes. I think we are learning from our mistakes that had been made in that war and more particularly the occupation…

Q.: Back to my question, I was saying that if it’s true that something is changing in America's position in the world, if there is a feeling that you have to learn your lesson, then some people will of course get together and start discussing political changes, just as we did recently at the meetings of the Valdai club in Moscow. I am not talking about the public, although ordinary people also tend to sense what is going on.

A.: I started talking about Iraq because that's the leading issue, it is the issue that is producing the change in tone and the change in feeling that you referred to. And the public opinion polls clearly show that the public has serious doubts about Iraq, about the Bush administration's capacity to direct policy in Iraq. But I don't think that leads to a significant change in feeling about the nature of our system, and the nature of the country.

Q.: Not the country, but its role in the world. After all, the world has not made much of an effort to change your country. Everything has been the other way round.

A.: American attitudes tend to zoom between super-involvement and "Fortress America", wanting to be left alone. One of the meanings of September 11th, 2001 for Americans was that it's very hard, if not impossible, to be left alone. There's certainly a greater yearning today by Americans to be left alone and leave the rest of the world alone, to the extent that's possible. But it's not very possible. I think most Americans would add “unfortunately” not very possible. So there is not the kind of hubris, if you will, that many Americans seemed to feel and express going into Iraq.

Q.: I do not think that it is going to be "Fortress America," but if you start retreating from the Middle East, then to what border? Where will the new red lines be in this oil and gas-producing region?

A.: It's the key question. I can give you my personal view. I think there's a trend to shift from fallback to containment. Generally speaking about Islamic Jihad terrorism, about Iran's nuclear program, and perhaps the Middle East at large – it's not something that we are going to be able to change before George W. Bush leaves office, or perhaps for many years after that. We cannot zoom to the other extreme, isolationism. Because they won't leave you alone.

Q.: Perhaps, you have already noticed that I am trying to switch our conversation to the Caspian area and to Iran as part of that area. That is how we perceive it.

A.: We don’t see it as a part of the Caspian area. I'm not saying it's not a part of the Caspian area, but politically it's part of the Middle East. Geographically it's much more Caspian than Middle Eastern. I used to cover the Middle East for The Washington Post. One of the first things I did was I went to Iran and I decided – that was in the early 70s – that this place is so different and so complex that I don't really cover it.

Q.: What were your specific goals for increasing your activity in the Caspian area after the defeat in the Middle East and the failure of your Central Asian policy? Is it because Caspian oil is a backup for you in case you lose the Middle East or part of it?

A.: Marginally. It depends on who you mean by "we". I think most Americans, including a good percentage of the aware – the policy elite – would have very little idea of what you're talking about. They don't focus on the Caspian as an alternative to the Middle East. Probably there are some policy-makers in the administration who do – but it's not a widespread attitude, it's not something that Americans are thinking, “We are being pushed out of the Middle East, therefore we have to have an alternative in the Caspian.” The thinking very much was at the time of going into Iraq – by the policymakers – that the whole political order in the Middle East, including in the countries that supply us with oil, is untenable. We have to have some alternative. But it was to be Iraq! That did not work out. That may be the same people – but a small group of people – who think now of the Caspian. But, let’s be honest, you go back to the Clinton administration – what was one of its biggest drive
s? To get pipelines, oil supplies, away from the Russian control.

Q.: This is what you are doing now.

A.: Yes, but Clinton started it. That's a constant in recent American policy, a wise constant, a wise policy. But it's Russia-related, to hinder the re-absorption of former Soviet Union states by Russia. That is a more important element in American policy than is the feeling that the Caspian represents the significant alternative to Middle Eastern oil.

Q.: The fact that the policy toward hindering re-integration of the CIS does not always succeed, isn't it behind the increasing tensions between Moscow and Washington? After all, you in your current situation should have a better understanding of our interests and listen to us more attentively, especially after we were proved right about Iraq. Instead, waves of American irritation toward Russia come one after another. Why won’t you admit that we can be right sometimes?

A.: You are talking about Iraq?

Q.: And also Iran. We named ahead all the problems you would encounter in Iraq, and we were proved right. I remember it, since I edited those materials myself. And we warned you about Central Asia as well, and were also right.

A.: I do think that there is a moderation of policy underway in Washington. It reflects what you said. It will not be voiced that way, but the reality is – a year ago at the Valdai conference there were great expectations in Washington. That the Orange Revolution, that wave of democracy it represents, is on the march, and today you don't hear that. Today you hear more, "We are to find ways to work with the new political situation in Ukraine and work with Yanukovych. You don't hear "Russia is next". Which means there is more willingness and awareness of a need to work with Russia where you can, compared to a year ago. There are occasional moments of what I think is felt here as Russia-bashing. Vice President Cheney's speech… you can't point to much more than that.

Q.: Well, there are articles in serious publications. If they mention Russia, it is usually something negative. As I have already said, there is an annoyance that some dreams are failing to come true. Someone wanted us to be just another ally, an obedient one, as in, "if you are not with us, you are against us." But we have turned into a country that wants to voice its opinion and insist on it, to share experience. It is a friend, but not quite the one the United States expected.

A.: I'm sure there are people who feel that way and people who write that way. But I don't think that represents the basis for policy today.

Q.: And, finally, how much time will it take to go over to this new policy, from talk to clear formulas? Will there be a clear change in policies if Democrats come to power?

A.: I think if the Democrats win the White House, it's perfectly normal to expect them to emphasize change in foreign policy, and one of the most important elements in that will be new efforts on Russia. Now, exactly what form will it take – be it support for democratic movements in Russia, or working more closely with the Kremlin on problems – it depends on who the democratic president would be, or his or her advisors would be. I can't predict that now, but I think Russia will take new importance in the first year of the new administration. –0-