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Welcome back to the foxhole on your host James Rosen and today for the first time but perhaps not for the last time the foxhole is to be found.
Inside the beautiful confines of the Harry S Truman building at the Department of State I love this backdrop.
We called a hall of flags but really it's known here in this building at the Department of State as the mezzanine level.
And I've been covering all day.
The stunning news out of North Korea overnight and that the hermit kingdom has conducted its third nuclear test.
In the last six years.
The North Korean regime claims that this time around it used to miniaturized device that can't immediately be confirmed.
However the yield of the explosive yield appears to have been twice as large as the last nuclear test.
Conducted by North Korea in 2009.
Our guest today is not from -- an expert on far east Asian affairs but rather the Middle East.
He is a former deputy national security advisor under president George W.
And the author of a brand new book called tested by design and it is his memoir of mideast peacemaking.
Under the bush Cheney administration and we are glad to welcome into the foxhole.
Elliott Abrams -- can you hear me all right.
I hear you fine thanks days.
Yeah Eliot I can tell now why you were you were made to serve in high political or or official office because.
We changed the timing location of the showing you at least fifteen times in -- found the right place.
Here thank you for your.
Thanks for your perseverance you tell us why you wrote this book it's called tested by design and what is the title mean to tell us why you -- Well I think -- The holy land Israel is a test for.
-- any President Obama bush Clinton anybody else and I wanted to talk about how George Bush tried to meet that test.
It's really the story of eight years of administration policy.
And it's -- second story as well which is how the government run.
What actually goes on in those meetings in in a palace in the Middle East or in the Oval Office -- in the situation room what happens how people talk what do you say to each other.
So it's it's a government story and it's a Middle East story -- the same time and I wanted to tell.
What actually happened.
You know that reminds me of a funny exchange I had once.
If Fox News interview I conducted with the late William F Buckley junior.
I asked -- this was in October of 2000 what would a responsible historians say about the Clinton presidency.
And Buckley pause for moment and then he said.
Well it seems to me irresponsible historian would first tell what actually happened.
So you've done that with your memoir.
Who wouldn't let me ask you this first of all.
Before we get to the Middle East in depth which -- gonna cover over the course of this foxhole.
I do want to ask you about North Korea you -- the deputy national security advisor.
-- I'm guessing that you had to deal with the -- with that issue was well just your basic thoughts on what we're seeing out of North Korea now.
Well this is -- culmination of the terrible policy toward North Korea under at least three President Obama.
Bush and Clinton that is we kept letting him get away with -- on and off you know we kept shipping fuel loyal to them they kept making promises and pledges.
And then breaking.
So then we stop the oil for a year and then we give it back we never managed to pressure or.
-- -- China into doing anything about North Korea.
So really it just gets worse and worse and worse until now you have this third test.
And as you said we don't quite know yet the details of -- and whether -- really advance a lot.
But if you -- to test of American policy that's failed failed failed North Korea.
Okay -- to return to the tinderbox that is the subject of your book tested by design in the mideast.
What did you learn about the mideast and -- about American efforts to broker peace there as a consequence of having served in the National Security Council.
-- -- number of lessons is actually chapter entitled lessons learned one of the things I learned.
Is that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is not the major issue the central issue in the Middle East.
That should be pretty obvious today as we look at what's happening in Syria.
-- in Egypt and Tunisia or Libya you know or the -- Iranian nuclear program the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Is important there's no question about that but it is not.
The issue about which the whole Middle East revolved so that's one thing.
Another thing I think we learned is that if you obsess about this settlement -- can get you where.
There were negotiations under Clinton and bush.
While Israel was building settlements.
It was because the Obama administration brought that to be absolute center of everything.
That the Palestinians and stopped negotiating so.
I think that was.
We -- that that was a mistake.
And I and I don't know a president could get out of it now whether he's gonna.
Be able to.
I think one other thing we learned is that the American role is really important but it cannot replace the role of the Israelis and Palestinians.
It's their lives that are at stake and they're the ones that ultimately have to make peace we can't make peace for the.
Yeah I remember George W.
Bush as president saying that we can't want peace more than the parties themselves I was struck -- by a comment that.
Secretary Kerry made in his confirmation hearing last month.
In which he said roughly so much of what we're trying to accomplish in the Middle East.
-- runs through Israel and Palestine as he put it -- that suggested to me.
As we await news of where his first travels will be that secretary Kerry may be returning to an older model.
USC championship in the mideast that predates the Arab Spring.
I have that here as well.
Then I just I don't understand -- I mean it's a mistake ten years ago but how can you make that mistake in 2013.
Watching the Arab Spring.
I sure hope that the -- -- to do that it won't advance American interest and it's gonna take up an awful lot of his time time that he ought to be dedicating to.
Other subjects I would say.
Now when you wrote tested by design and where you relying on notes and diaries -- notebooks that you kept during the time.
Most of my notes are in the bush library and I went down through Dallas to visit them I did several dozen interviews which were critical.
And you see them quoted today in the book.
Israelis Americans Palestinians.
And I also talk to a lot of government officials in the region.
And it's partly based on my memory the memory of other people.
So you you'll notice -- for example when I talk about President Bush said this or that.
There -- no quotation marks in the book because these are not you know transcripts of what he said.
This is the best effort to reconstruct what happened in in these meetings.
You know things move it's such a warp speed now it wasn't until fourteen years.
After Richard Nixon resigned the presidency that -- trained historian undertook the first full historical treatment of Watergate.
We have densely foot noted books about the Iraq War lots of them -- -- of them even before George W.
Bush left office.
And we saw many of the principles publish their memoirs even before you publish -- And I wonder if as you scoured the memoirs of President Bush or Vice President Cheney or Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice you found that their recollections were differing from yours and any key respects.
They differ in some cases the one of the reasons I wrote the book by the way what does that.
Bush Cheney rice.
In their memoirs of course wrote about the whole world they didn't write about the Israeli Palestinian conflict in great detail I thought that story should be told.
But there are times when people's memories different -- give you an example.
I disagreed with the the memory that President Bush had.
One aspect of the Israeli bombing of the Syrian nuclear reactor he says in his memoirs that prime minister Olmert of Israel said George I'd like you bombed -- reactor.
That's not my memory my memory is that Olmert said you know we've got to decide who we -- do this and when President Bush said well the United States is not.
We've we want to do this diplomatically then Olmert said well if you're not we will.
So that you know until all the records -- declassified and -- we won't know who's.
Whose memory was correct.
Don't know what.
I -- read to.
Allowed for our viewers and listeners some of the passengers from your book that deal with some of your former colleagues.
High ranking officials in the bush 43 presidency.
Because -- -- in your take on these people interest thing.
Are we begin with Colin Powell when he described as odd men out this is quoting from tested by design in the first term.
Colin Powell had been the odd man out in the administration.
After 9/11 he and the president did not see the world in the same way and I thought Powell had never aligned his views to those of the president.
He had signed on the secretary of state to a new president -- -- foreign policy experience Powell would be tutor representative analyst policymakers.
After 9/11 George Bush took over foreign policy.
Along with -- Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Powell became marginalized and state was often seen as out of tune.
With what the president wanted -- quote.
How is it possible really to observe the marginalization.
Of a key figure like Colin Powell what form does that actually take as -- observing.
Was a good question.
Well you see for example in 2003.
President Bush goes to.
Sharm el Sheikh Egypt it was -- for peace summit meetings.
And you -- the key official by his side is Condoleezza Rice and when he talks about who he's asking.
To do something -- we society things through he says Secretary Rice will be my personal representative -- you have to think well.
Secretary that at that but it's not secretaries nationals and is the advisor doctor rice Seattle will be by representative and you think Walt.
Not secretary hell I thought those two summits in 2003 were really.
Symbolic of the role that Condi Rice -- -- if you're in the government.
That you see who's organizing this stuff that you see people who talked to the Saudi ambassador of the Israeli ambassador.
Doctor rice -- secretary Powell so that you begin to see who's you know who's taking over that.
-- -- -- in the second bush term.
As a reporter covering the State Department in the administration I heard a lot of grumbling from conservative foreign policy analysts.
About the direction that the administration was taking particularly on North Korea.
But your book suggests that there was a bit of drift with -- respect to Arab Israeli.
Policy as well and I want to read now.
A little miniature portrait you included in your book tested by design.
Of Condoleezza Rice.
I have certainly seen the president expressed disagreement with Condoleezza Rice contradict her words and -- in her actions but she was still his closest advisor on foreign affairs.
Far more influential -- national security advisor Steve Hadley.
Who in any event did not like to take her on but I -- Hadley took this policy of avoiding conflict too far.
I thought the president should have heard more about the mideast policy changes now being discussed and let's continue this.
Kevin in the control and let's roll the next graphic as well about.
President Bush himself the president had never said anything about a major policy change or a shift in his relationship with Israel.
It every meeting -- have with the Israelis after the second Lebanon war of 2006.
Was strained and difficult.
I would discuss the problem with the vice president or with the White House chief of staff Josh Bolten.
Whether Cheney and Josh raised these matters with the president was something I never knew.
So first there's a lot there you actually saw President Bush -- and Condoleezza Rice or contradict -- tell us about those kinds of occasions.
But sure you know it wasn't it wasn't very common because they -- when you're dealing with solid reason.
Very close personal friend that she was -- the president and his chief foreign policy advisor.
Most of this could happen face to face I wouldn't be there often nobody else would either but I can remember.
-- -- Remember a phone call the president had with the chancellor Merkel and Merkel said of Germany -- Merkel said you know I'm glad we're gonna do going forward with this or that and and the president.
Expressed surprise visually on his face I was in the Oval Office during that call and after the Cole was really quite.
Angry because he knew about this and he hadn't approved.
And thought the State Department was going forward within despite the fact that he had not yet given his decision so happened it didn't happen at least.
One did not see it happen very often.
And I think by the way you've got two issues -- North Korea and the Middle East.
We're really the State Department went forward with his policy in a way that.
I at least thought was not right -- the president knew that I mean I was candid with the president about my disagreements over parts of the middle east policy.
And we once had a discussion of North Korea policy and he knew that there were aspects of -- I just plain didn't agree with it's a credit to him I think that he was willing to listen to the to the criticisms or complaint to the disagreements.
And -- far from getting angry about it listened carefully to.
The thrust of your passages that policy was being made.
By Secretary Rice -- the Department of State -- on mideast issues.
And not really being presented fully to the president for his consideration or decision making is that is that I've -- to understand that correctly.
No I think on the middle I think that's true to some extent and Korea I think in the Middle East for the most part the president really left the State Department alleged Secretary Rice.
Really run -- it and there were only why the few was he well he disinterested was he disinterested in the no no the president was very I would say president was was really following it pretty closely.
There is a story and the president pretty much says hitting his memoirs.
That when Secretary Rice became sectors of the state.
She said to him North Korea and the Middle East for -- of the -- she -- most interest did and that she was gonna pay most attention to -- so I think his.
I guess his view was you know.
This is of great matter to integrate better -- she wants to go -- and I will let her.
Going to end and he did I tell a story the very end of the really very bad ending of the after that last Gaza war cast -- 2008 -- -- 2009.
Secretary Rice presented.
A UN Security Council resolution and the president would not allow her to cast a yes vote for -- Because there was a disagreement there over what was in that resolution.
One of the conclusions of your book is as I understand it is that.
Still today after all the money the United States has thrown at this issue and all the good efforts of Tony Blair in the quartet and all the other all the the principles.
The Palestinians simply.
Do not constitute a viable partner for peace for the Israelis and that's the core of the problem in my right about your take on things.
Yes I think that's right I mean I think -- think a lot of people say you know or an inch away from piece of get the sense one more day of negotiating they'd be -- I don't think that's right I think there is still very large gaps and I don't think.
The President Abbas the Palestinian leader.
Is really in a position to agree to anything he got a very generous offer from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Which he did not accept.
And now with all the pressure from Hamas in his effort to get a government of national security with the -- I don't see how he's going to agree to -- compromises that are going to be necessary for peace agreement.
OK stay where you are -- we're gonna continue this discussion on the other side of a break we'll be right back in the fox hole.
In the Department of State stay with us.
Welcome back to the foxhole and still your host James Rosen and I'm still seated in what we call -- really called the hall of flags here at the Department of State really the mezzanine level.
At the C street entrance.
Our guest is Elliott Abrams the author of the new memoir about his efforts efforts to help broker mideast peace under the Bush Administration tested by -- Elliott you're a former assistant secretary of state correct.
That's right there was there for early years of the Reagan administration.
It didn't know there is a a kind of a stereo type about foggy bottom which is what the State Department is known us on the part of Washington where it's located anyway.
That people here are.
Who are innately suspicious of any projection of American power.
And to see it as their professional duty wherever possible to undermine.
The president and his efforts particularly if that president as a Republican.
How true are those stereotypes.
Without completely true there are completely false but.
It is you know look it's a kind of professional the formation.
If you're diplomat you believe in diplomacy.
And people with -- department I think -- believe in diplomacy but they also believe this is not a shock.
So they tend to see presidents in the political appointees of presidents.
As amateurs sometimes dangerous temperatures you know look the view I think in the building you're in today is.
We're the experts we devote our lives and our careers would this be studied this endlessly we live in these countries and then the president takes some.
Political guy and sends them over to run things at home.
These people are dangerous so I think there is an element of truth to this and it is worse when the president is a Republican.
The State Department kind of reminds -- the New York Mets the way I've given institution no matter how many generations past.
How many new people brought into the scene and whatever new management philosophy is is is adopted.
The same problems can somehow over fifty or sixty years' time persist in the case of the Mets.
Good pitching and we kidding but we'll come back to that.
Elliott so much is happening in the mideast right now we we we are chatting on the day when the president is soon to deliver his State of the Union Address.
First let's get to that and let me ask you what you see the president talking about in terms of foreign policy of tonight's address.
Just by way of prediction and then you can offer your comments about that what you think it's sufficient enough.
What you're talking about the Mets have liked to quote a famous Yankee Yogi Berra didn't Yogi Berra says dangerous to make predictions especially about the future.
So if especially when they can be.
Proved wrong within hours.
I'm you know I read the same newspapers we all do and they seem to suggest the president's gonna focus on domestic policy in the economy.
He'll have to say something about Afghanistan and the true.
Pull out there and how he sees the future there he's gonna say something now -- North Korea right and the nuclear -- and organ or respond to it.
I assume he'll say something about the Middle East because he'll say you know I'm going there.
Next month in March.
And he'll say something very brief I would expect about Israeli Palestinian affairs and -- The Arab Spring you got a -- about a run.
I don't -- you see a lot of any of these but and in fact I don't know that he rule want to say very much about them.
-- wonderful say something about the sequester and its effect on the American military.
-- we've had recent testimony by all of our military leaders saying that.
Sequester is is going to be dreadful.
And harmful for the united states military not least in the in the Persian gulf where we know now the second carrier task force is not.
Going to go -- they don't have the money.
This is a question.
Self evidently naked -- meant to try and put you on the spot -- What is the best that could be said for this president's conduct of mideast policy.
Over the first four years of his -- -- that.
Defend the president.
He managed to continue.
To ratchet up.
Sanctions on Iran.
And the economic and commercial sanctions on Iran are tougher now.
Than they have ever -- the administration office says this of course it's true.
And so there -- I guess that's the best thing that I could say I'm pretty critical of the middle east policy.
On the Arab Spring and Syria.
Even on Iran and of course Israeli Palestinian affairs.
Let's talk about Iran and its nuclear program.
I was covering Hillary Clinton as secretary of state when she traveled to to Thailand in 2009.
And on a kind of long and sort of far ranging talk show.
Conducted by her her.
Her host there in -- Thailand.
She was asked about Iran and its nuclear ambitions and I'm paraphrasing this was this summer of 2009.
But Secretary Clinton at times talked about extending -- defense umbrella over our gulf allies.
In the event that Iran were to acquire -- nuclear weapon.
And it struck me a lot of the reporters who -- covering her.
That it did in essence may have been telegraphing what the strategy of the Obama administration was about how to live -- nuclear armed Iran.
Do you believe this president do you take him at his word when he says he will do everything it takes to prevent Iran from acquiring -- nuclear weapons capability.
Or do you believe that he is in effect.
Resigned to a nuclear armed Iran.
You know friends I have in the Obama administration tell me take the president seriously.
He does not want to have -- -- get a nuclear weapon and in the end.
You will stop them using military means he -- you I don't know you know personal way of of judging that I do think it's bizarre frankly if the president.
He's thinking that way that he would choose Chuck Hagel.
As his secretary of defense that would that is not.
Because it sends a signal that we don't want to consider.
And military action and I think one of the things that's hurt the negotiations with -- Iran.
Is that kind of -- more by the Secretary Clinton that gives the Iranians the impression there is no real risk.
Of -- military confrontation the risk of the military confrontation he's useful in pushing them.
I would have thought.
But let me play doubles -- -- and -- what we should find so much greater.
A threat about a nuclear armed Iran than what we already cope with in terms of a nuclear armed Pakistan for example.
But if you run which is seeking hegemony in the whole Middle -- region gets nuclear weapons you're going to have a lot more proliferation.
That's the first problem the second problem is.
Iran is the world's greatest state sponsor of terrorism now without -- nuclear weapon.
What has to assume that if there fueling stronger that if -- fueling more that they can defend themselves that they needn't worry about it attack.
They'll do even more of that mean they just.
Let him have it -- seeing what happened in Bulgaria which is by his -- Iran's ally and perhaps -- runs -- play in doing that an attack on an Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
Still as I talk to gulf Arabs which I do when I travel there.
They have an immense concern.
The -- Iran getting nuclear weapons and it isn't because it -- -- gonna drop a nuke on them just across the gulf.
It's because they think it will embolden Iran to do more subversion.
And more terrorism in the whole Middle Eastern region.
Regional bullying if you will until how how close do you do you think that the -- government in Egypt is to collapse.
Is that is that an alarmist question.
I think it says it yes that -- blessing but it's a reasonable one to.
There are grave grave internal problems there remember he got elected 5148.
In the June 2012 election no let's -- Almost half the people of Egypt said we don't want him.
What he hasn't governed that way he has -- really.
Mostly for the Muslim Brotherhood and the economy gets worse and worse and worse if you if you look at the figures.
For example Egypt's reserves.
Down by the two -- if you look at the value of its currency.
Down 8% in January.
Other select getting foreign investment they're still not getting the tourism back as a big -- alone that that's that's put been put on the back burner as well correct.
Exactly four point eight billion dollars make -- seem to close it.
The -- and the reason for it is that the political situation.
In Egypt is so tumultuous that they can't do the things they need to do to get that I haven't flown so I think your question is a reasonable one.
If this continues in the same direction if he gets worse and worse.
It is I think it's fair to ask whether that government is going to serve out his term.
We just have about a minute left Eliot.
I -- returned your book tested by Zion.
Is this a book just for students of mideast history or and or the presidency or or is it something that the broader audiences.
We'll find it enjoyable to take up.
I think a much broader audience will because it's also about the US government how it works and -- the people who were telling stories about -- that book I'm telling stories about.
-- sure Ronan Hosni Mubarak and the king of Jordan and the king of Saudi Arabia and Powell and rice and Cheney and bush.
It's really a story.
Of those eight years with lots of -- so I think people have any interest in public affairs would find it to really captivate also.
I think I think you're right our guest today in the foxhole has been Elliott Abrams the former deputy national security advisor under president George W.
Bush and author of the new memoir.
Tested by design it's a fascinating book.
I think you're gonna enjoy -- if your interest in recent history and how we got to where we are today Elliott Abrams thanks for visiting the fox hole.
We'll see in two weeks I'm James Rosen.
Visiting you from the Department of State thanks for joining us here in the -- -- will be back to Tuesdays from today joint.
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