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tv   History Bookshelf Jeffrey Engel When the World Seemed New  CSPAN  September 8, 2021 10:35pm-12:01am EDT

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others. unconditionally loving others. even when their capacity to reciprocate has gone. i learned the nothing is forever and had to accept this amazing chapter of my life was now ending. i mourned its loss yet was filled with gratitude that it had ever happened at all. thank you very much for having me here today. [applause] >> thank you so much. >> thank you, really a pleasure. next on history bookshelf,
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jeffrey engel talks about his book, when the world seemed knew, where he examines president george h. w. bush's foreign policy initiatives at the start of the post cold war world. the center for presidential history in southern methodist university, and the george h. w. bush presidential library, cohost of this event in november 2017. >> good evening. my name is tom knock, and i'm a member of the department of history. i served a couple semesters ago as director at the center for presidential history, and i can't tell you what a delight it is for me to welcome you tonight on this very special occasion. before we get underway, i want to express our appreciation to our friends at the george w. bush presidential library who are co-sponsoring this event with us, as well as c-span, which is taping tonight's lecture. we are also very happy to have with us tonight general patrick, director of the bush library. i want to also direct your
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attention to a major event we had on december 7th, when peter baker of the new york times will be a guest to talk about his book obama the call of history. we are also happy to tell you that the d-day trip for june 2018 is fully subscribed but we are taking names for 2019 already and you may also know we have established a scholarship fund for this program so that no student should miss a chance to take this journey because of financial need. if you would like to make a contribution to the fund, we would be thrilled. it is really a personal pleasure for me to present tonight speaker, it's hard to believe it's five years since he joined us in 2012, given his many accomplishments of experience he gained on the george h. w. bush school of government and texas a&m. i must say, it was almost as if he had been waiting for our
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call. and we really locked out. jeff is not just an outstanding scholar and an outstanding teacher. he is an outstanding citizen of this university. the center for presidential history is the chief, though not sole, reason why this is so. but the center was really entirely his idea, and among many other things, along with this enormously popular speaker series which features various guests in cooperation with the george h. w. bush library. he has organized extremely important oral history project dealing with the 43rd presidents administration. and he set in motion a highly competitive post doctoral fellowship of presidential history that draws applicants from all over the united states, and has now become a highly coveted, nationally recognized award. just a couple of other things briefly you may not know
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about him. as an aspiring scholar, jeff got his start as an undergraduate at cornell, where he worked with walter the fever. walter le fever, in my opinion, is one of the four five best diplomatic historians of the 20th century, and he was jeff an initial mentor. then it was off to the university of wisconsin, for his ph.d.. concentrating on the cold war, working with tom mccormack. that was followed by a two-year post doc at yale. his first book, published in 2007 was the cold war at 30,000 feet, the american fight for aviation supremacy. it won a prize for the american historical association. his first foray into bush 41 studies occurred in 2008, when he added the former presidents private day-to-day account of his service as american representative to beijing in
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1974 and 75. the china diary of george h. w. bush, the making of a global president, opens a unique window into this crucial period in u.s. china relations. jeff won applause for his skillful annotations and providing a splendid introduction to the value. meanwhile, at the george h. w. library, he also directed a research team that reviewed and made available some 150,000 documents from that archive. and with another team at the military center, he conducted oral history interviews with the top members of the administration. all of which has brought his endeavors thus far to a kind of grand combination. that is the publication of the first comprehensive diplomatic history of this highly significant presidency, brilliantly researched, wonderfully well written, sure to become a definitive work on
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the subject and a major landmark in the historiography of the cold war, not to mention a bestseller. when the world seemed new, george h. w. bush and the end of the cold war. please welcome our beloved colleague, jeffrey aaron. [applause] [applause] >> i hope my mom heard all of that. thank you all. thank you all for coming out tonight. it is truly an honor to look out at a crowded room of people who have been so friendly and supportive and enthusiastic about our mission here at the central presidential history. more than that, it is truly humbling as well. many of you in this room have opened up your arms to us as we have been here these last
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five years. we look forward to much, much more with you. i'm glad tom said this is a combination about the climax and not the end, because we have much, much more work to do. thank you for coming tonight. what i want to do tonight is tell you about george h. w. bush and the end of the cold war. it's a period of history that we remember fondly, for the most part. it's a period in history that we remember as being sort of the climax of the democratic experience, or the enthusiasm for democracy, around the world. think back to the fall of 1989 and the in suing years, when countries throughout europe, hungary, czechoslovakia, poland, romania, and then even the soviet union itself, turned towards democracy, turn towards freedom, turn towards free markets. in fact, we even saw that movement occur in china as
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well. a seemingly indigenous movement suddenly sprung up from the youth of the country, the future of the country, suggesting they were going to turn themselves towards the 21st century. there was such enthusiasm throughout the world for the concept of democracy, of freedom, of liberty, of free markets, any synonym you want. there was such enthusiasm for this that a man named francis fukuyama became instantly famous, which for a scholar is really hard to do. he became instantly famous by writing a study entitled the end of history. it's the least understood title and all of history. because most people presumed when they heard that that things were so great nothing would ever happen again, not at all what he was saying. what he really was saying in this book was that all of human history had been a struggle, had been a competition, to try to decide how exactly we as human beings should organize ourselves as a society, has a government, and we tried all
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different ways. we tried the roman emperors, pharaohs, kings. by the end of the 20th century, we had really whittled it down to three. think of this if you will as a great ncaa bracket of different government forms. we were down to the final three by the 20th century. you had democracy, communism, and fascism. then fascism lost out and you are in the finals. the cold war was the finals, he argued. and we won. in fact, that was the new york times reaction. their review of the books of the most important thing about the book is we won, and isn't it wonderful that the entire world was turning in a democratic way. in fact, fukuyama suggested we were at the end of history because having now discovered this democratic way, there was no need for competition moving forward. yes, there would still be difficulties and war and conflicts, as long as human beings have natural emotions and enemies, there is going to be conflict. but he argued it
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was always going to play out here on and in a democratic form. and in time, all governments would choose to be democratic. that's a pretty happy thought. now what's really interesting to me about this incredibly influential book, it was a bestseller in fact, he actually wrote the book as a discourse on hegel. clearly the bestselling book on ever written. it came out about four weeks after george h. w. bush said the same thing at his inauguration. if you look back at what george bush was saying at that inauguration, he said we know what works. freedom works. he said we know how to make a more prosperous society through open and free markets. we know how to enliven the human spirit, by every
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discussion of ideas. he even went so far as to say that the date of the dictator is over. it's only a matter of time until the entire world comes to see it. heigel this is really important for understanding who george bush was, because he fully and fundamentally believed in what i just told you he said, that freedom worked, that free markets were the best, and that free societies produce the best human outcomes. he believed it so much that he never questioned it. he never expanded upon it. he never explored it. if you ask george bush what freedom meant, he would look at you and say it means freedom. if you say what are free markets? he'd say because they are the best. why do you want a free and open society? at this point he would probably say, why are you asking me these questions? reason why that is really fundamental to who he was is because he was a leader who had grown up during the great high point, the ascendancy of all
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that america came to offer. he grew up during the cold war. he was a decorated world war ii naval aviator. when america seized the mantle of global leadership and did not go and try to promote its views throughout the world. the story of his life, in many ways, is the story of success. it's personally successful because he came from a remarkably successful family. he was, if you will, to the men are born. and he also was a person who went to the best schools, had the best training if you will, and was successful throughout his entire life. in fact, he was successful at every stage along his life. for example, after being a decorated war hero, he was a successful businessman here in texas in the oil fields. he went on to become a party organizers for the republican party. his father had of course been a senator, so that seems like a logical place to move into. he then was a congressman. then he
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was united nations ambassador for the united states. then he was head of the republican national committee. and then he was de facto u.s. ambassador to china. and then he was director of the cia. and by the way, he spent eight years as vice president. that's a pretty good resume, and a pretty good trajectory. every step moving up the ladder. so from his perspective, america worked. and in fact, during those periods that push to america not working, for example during vietnam, when clearly something was awry in the country, his diagnosis was that there's not something wrong with the idea, the only thing wrong is with the implementation. that is as long as we go back to our central core values, values of freedom, the value of markets, the value of liberty, none further expanded upon other than that notion, as long as we come back to that, everything will turn out wonderfully. and
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bush took over the presidency in 1989 at a moment, as i said, when it appeared to be that the entire world was turning in full agreement to him. this is actually quite remarkable. because the idea the entire world would turn democratic only a few years before, would have largely gotten you laughed out of any academic or policy making room. in 1985, let's jump back a few steps, in 1983, president ronald reagan had declared the soviets and evil empire. you talked about launching a crusade of fire to, if you will, free and purge the world of this evil idea of communism. in fact, i think the best way to understand president ronald reagan's assessment of communism is to know that, when he used the word communist, he would almost invariably use the word godless. this was something that was antithetical to the human experience. and reagan had launched a jihad
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essentially, against the communist world when he took office. pumping up military spending. pumping up moral indignation. pumping up american moral condemnation of all things in the soviet union. and the result was, while frankly, it was nearly the destruction of the entire world. one of the things that we have subsequently found out, and i'm sort of glad we did not know it at the time, was just how close we all came to dying. at least twice during 1983, figures within the soviet union and in the united states, and at one point both, were poised about that far from the button. largely because, i would argue, was because soviet officials had this odd habit of listening to whet an american president said and believing it. that used to not get a laugh. they
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believed reagan when he said he was going to cause a crusade of fire to purge the world of communism. so when the soviets detected say american military maneuvers or nuclear exercises, sometimes they looked a little bit too realistic. and sometimes their fingers got a little bit too close to the button. in fact, it appeared as if the soviets were listening. in 1985, they brought to power a man unlike any who had been there before. mikael gorbachev, a new generation of leader. a new person who promised not just to build a better society, but to reform soviet society. and do what reform soviet society from the bottom up through programs like glass
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announced and prestrike of. and it would appear to american isis, to american ice, as though gorbachev and the russian restructure -- response was a direct response to what reagan had said. if you believe that, you are fundamentally wrong. most people in this room probably believe that. there are two points i will make in which i will get many angry stares back. this is the first one. only the second one as a surprise. we in this country have a notion that ronald reagan won the cold war. in fact, that is usually the word that we use. he won. he won the cold war by calling out the soviets, recognizing the inherent flaws in their economic and social system, and straining them. by launching in arms race that would show the soviets they could not keep up. if they can't keep up, then
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they will surrender. that was reagan's logic. and the cost, the soviets recognized they could not keep up. the cost, they decided to reform and surrender. there has built up a large american narrative that this is all because of reagan. this i think, this analogy to understand this is that reagan in this context, as though the person called for the sunrise, and when it rose, took credit. or was given credit. because reagan said we will build up and they will collapse. we built up and they collapsed. what we now know from the documents behind the iron curtain, and one thing that has been amazingly fun about this project is to see all the newly-revealed documents from all of the major capitals of the world. our project was based on finding american documents. at one point, we had more documents under review for this project then all of the other presidential libraries combined. that's a fact that
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was told to me by and archivist. i just talked to the archivist of united states this week and they verified it. they gave me a look like, you have no idea how much work you caused us. so that project -- along with other projects has given us an opportunity for the first time to understand what was going on throughout the world and in all of those capitals. in berlin, in east berlin, in budapest, in paris, and most importantly in moscow. to try and understand why this thing of the cold war and in the way it did and when it did. one of the most important things that we found out is that the sun did rise when reagan commanded it, but only because gorbachev was pushing it. mikael gorbachev who was the unique leader in history, a true intellectual revolutionary, who decided to do that really unusual thing for a leader. he decided not just to recognize a problem, but to do something about it. because a series of
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soviet leaders from the mid 1970s on, had come to the conclusion, the inescapable conclusion, that their system was not working. that is to say, they knew they were falling behind. falling behind in the military, most importantly falling behind economically, as well as socially. and more importantly, they looked to western europe, that region across the border, that region that, in a sense, that russian leaders have for centuries longed to become a part of europe. and more importantly, i think longed to be accepted in europe. they looked at europe advancing much faster than them. in fact, they had pretty good numbers on this stuff. they were able to calculate that, in the spring of 1989, the total soviet food consumption level for the average citizen was about where it was in 1917. so after the entire soviet experience, if you will, from the individuals perspective, from a caloric
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perspective, they were right back where they started. this was coming apparent to soviet policy makers in the early 1970s. ronald reagan did not come into power until 1981. this became apparent in the seventies. during that period, the soviets did nothing about it. in fact, they brought to power a series of geriatric leaders. they had a man named brezhnev who had been an impressive leader in his day, but at this point he was far gone if you will. and they had a man named and dropoff, and a series of individuals who were basically geriatric leadership and it's clear roddick mindset for their country. in fact, the best way to understand that the
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soviets knew something was wrong, but refused to do anything about it, is revealed in the following job. which you would have heard in moscow in the eighties. but if you heard it, you are probably going to get in trouble with the kgb. the job goes as follows. stolen and khrushchev and brezhnev are writing in a train together. and the train stops. and they look as -- they looked at each other and say how could we possibly get this train moving again? they discuss it for a while and stalin comes up with the first idea. he says it's very simple, we gather all of the peasants, we should half of them and the other half will be really incentivized to move the train. they discuss the various narratives suddenly khrushchev comes along and says it's easier than that. all we have to do is denounce the previous train driver and then everything will be fine. they talk about that for a while at which point brezhnev looks at them and says, comrades, i have an easier solution. all we have to do is pull down the window shades, rock back and forth and pretend that we are moving. and that sense, that tells you everything you need to know about what the soviets were
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doing during this period, until a man named gorbachev comes in and says we are going to change the system. change the system fundamentally by bringing in a new form of democracy, a new spirit of democracy. and also, importantly, a new spirit of openness. we are going to become, if you will, more western. but, here's the kicker, we are not going to lose our soviet and communist identities. we know everyone in this room that the ultimate end of the story, i won't ruin the surprise, but the ultimate end of the story is that what gorbachev ends up starting ends up with the demise of the soviet union. i assure you that was not his plan. his plan was to save and revitalize the soviet union in the ways i just mentioned. and then to do something else that was really quite critical. he began to talk about a common european home, which is to say we know we can't keep up with the west not because of what they are doing. yes, they might be bothering us a little bit with
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these build ups, but it does not change we knew before they started. and we will try to save military spending on better things that we could spend it on like infrastructure or industrialization. and we are trying to lower tensions. what were really after is this common european home in which, he said, we could finally remove the barriers that separate us east and west. the iron curtain, the berlin wall. and find a fusion of soviet socialism and western european democratic socialism in which we will take care of the individual, but frankly be much more successful at it. and all we want to do is show how good and positive and positively european we are, so that ultimately we will be asked to join europe. which, by the way, is going through its own fundamental change at this time, because at this moment, europe is developing the final framework for the european
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union. the idea that after world war ii, european policy makers looked at their past history, the last two generations, and recognized that twice in those two generations they had tried to commit societal suicide, and the expectation was they would not survive. and the reason for their continued fascination with killing each other was because of nationalism. and as we constantly ward, they found themselves as to separate. if we fuse our economies and industries and ultimately fuse our politics, we will be able to do something fundamentally more important, which is to fuse our very identities. we will cease to become german, french, and british. we will be european. when that glorious day happens, we will end the power of war. my cale gorbachev said, us too. that's exactly
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what we want. here is where george bush comes back. because george bush comes back. because the situation i just described the situation i just described to you, which we look back on now and know how it turned out, peacefully, the democratic revolutions, the demise of the soviet union, and we know everyone since has said reagan is responsible. we understand all these stories. but the situation is remarkably, perhaps unprecedentedly, dangerous. the collapse of the soviet union, and of european communism, is fundamentally, and at its heart, nothing less than the collapse of an empire. the soviets had a political, ideological, and military system which ruled over other countries that opposed them, and it was a pretty good one at that. add global influence and global reach. throughout history, i challenge you to
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find another case of a major international empire declining and then collapsing without an ensuing great power war. in fact, i know this one is true. you cannot find another case, an experiment with 20,000 nuclear weapons running around the mix. so as we think about everything that turned out well, for the most part, i want you to think about how fundamentally and dangerous this moment was, this moment that we think of as exultation, but a moment of soviet transformation of identity, politics, transformation of their entire empire, a process which had never before in history successfully occurred without an ensuing collapse in the international system. that's what george bush gets to inherit when he takes office. i know that everyone in this room
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is fully aware of my love for ronald reagan. thank you for laughing, sir. [laughs] here is another reagan idea. you might recall that reagan's fundamental strategy for winning the cold war was we win, they lose. this, by the way, is texas senator ted cruz's strategy for anything, he likes to point out. i like to say that is an aspirational, not a strategy. a strategy requires a form of implementation. in reagan's case, this is an interesting question to ask ourselves. after they lost, what happens next? reagan was very good about saying we consign the soviets to the ash shape of history, but he didn't actually ask with the ash people would look like. george bush gets the ashes. he comes to power in 1989, at a moment when most american security analysts and policy analyst
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said come to the conclusion that ronald reagan had gone too far. it's quite fascinating to go back and look at the republican presidential primaries in 1988, 87 into 80, eight and see just how far every single person on the stage is trying to distance themselves from reagan's legacy, because they thought reagan had been too trusting. reagan had looked at gorbachev, looked him in the eye, i if you will, and believed he was actually getting reforms he wanted. and reagan, who had become quite frightened at the way the cold war almost turn hot in 1983, decides he's going to reach out his hand, and gorbachev reaches out to, and they both begin a revolutionary and quite important dance of opening up the possibility of change. and then, because he is constitutionally limited, he retired. you can't blame him for that one. leaving in january at 89, george bush
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takes over. at this moment, there is fundamental enthusiasm for democracy around the world, breaking out all over. yet, policy makers are telling him, we are fundamentally scared, because we have not seen tectonic changes like this to the international system since the 1930s. and we all know what happened next. how do we keep from going down that road again? in fact, they put in bushs mind something that was already there, but they crystalize it in january. the real fear from gorbachev, there are actually three fears. the first is that he might succeed, might actually revitalize the soviet union, and therefore be able to renew a cold war, because we know that kremlin geopolitical aspirations had not changed. the second great fear is there might be a coup launched against him, because he was so radically revolution airy, that
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we would expect congress stalwarts, troglodytes if you will, either in his country or throughout the soviet empire. people had power and didn't want to lose, it and we expected them to rebel against someone trying to take away power. george bush gets a memo on his desk, his first week in office, and says the following. we expect, any moment now, there is going to be a counter revolutionary coup against gorbachev. bush essentially received the same memo every week for the next two and a half years, until ultimately, it comes true. it's significant, because it helps us understand his mindset. he knows if he does something wrong or does too much, that everything that seems to be moving forward might actually come crashing down, because they had moved too fast, if you will. then there is a third fear, and this is the really important one.
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gorbachev is offering and promising a common european home, where the soviets will be accepted into the rest of europe, no longer feared, and europe will be forever peaceful. do you know what the problem is with that architecture? there is no american wing. if europe is not afraid of the soviets, if europe is living peacefully, they are going to, quite logically, say thank you for your service, american army, who has been there since 1945. we would like you to go home now. you are not actually that popular in many places in the world, because, frankly, no one likes to have an occupying army in their country, even an ally. and there was a lot of fire and fury politically throughout the 19 eighties over the deployment of, for example, american short-range nuclear weapons. think about what i just said
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and the geography of that. the united states wanted to deploy short-range nuclear weapons in germany, with a range of about 15 kilometers. the phrase that went around at that time, in the parliament, was, you have to understand, the shorter the missile, the deader the german. they understood that the american armies presents, in a sense, was a reason for the soviets, in their weird logic, to keep their military presence. once you have to military presences, anything can happen. bush and those around him feared that americans might be asked to go home, essentially. he could think of nothing more troubling and dangerous than that. because that story i just told you about the way europeans thought of creating a new common, international society, european union, which put the base cause of war and conflict, nationalism and division, that
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was not the american reading of the 20th century. that was not the american reading of the european history, more broadly. please understand, this is a reading of history that has direct policy implications, that i argue was passed down from american policy maker to policy maker from generations, from administration to administration, republican or democrat. we see people in the eisenhower administration, all the way up into the one we currently have. they are arguing the following line, which is that europeans, when left to their own devices, kill each other. that's what they do. and they are pretty darn good at it. try to find the american logic, a period in european history that may be punctuated by a large, violent,
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tragic war. world war i, they tried to really do it right, the idea of societal suicide. but we went over and saved the day. it's an american story, but then we did something that is somewhat obvious in retrospect, but sad, and we went home. we had to go do it again. that next time was even worse, but the next time, our leaders made a fundamental leadership decision which was both insightful, brilliant, and necessary. we stayed. and from the american perspective, since american troops arrived and stayed after 1945, there had not been a war in europe sense. period. you might say to yourself, i wonder if that's a correlation or causation. an
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american power had not only kept out the soviets, but as the old saying went, kept the germans down, and it also kept europeans from each other's throats. the united states needs to be there as an arm around the shoulder, as one policy maker said. it's much bigger. and so bush genuinely feared that if gorbachev was successful, and the democratic movements which he thought was inevitable was successful, that actually, in the long term recipe for danger, there would be war. at the moment, he finds himself taking office, and there is a democratic surge breaking, out a democratic surge breaking out not only in
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europe, but also in china. bush had been there as ambassador in the early 1970s. it was a place, that from his understanding, had essentially come out of a period of hibernation, or isolation, from the rest of the world, adopted in the early 1970s when he was, there a sense of new democratic openness, and new possibilities, and also simultaneously a sense of economic reformation, adopting more western ideas, becoming more free market, if you will. and bush looked at the logic and said, in 1974, i was there and things were not so good, but they began to adopt types of democratic institutions, free markets, and by the time i reached office in 1989, in my first few weeks in office, i begin to see these stirring's of a genuine, indigenous, democratic movement within china. a student-led movement calling for freedom,
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calling for peace, calling for democracy, calling for liberty. we know these students were holding signs saying freedom, democracy, markets, in english. because they were playing to the global crowd, saying we are at the dawn of a new age, the dawn of the cnn age. those students were savvy enough to know that if we had signs in english, people around the world would be able to read them, and that might help the cause in a certain way. by the way, this is the second moment. you are going to get upset. those students who were calling for freedom and democracy, yes, they were calling for freedom and democracy. they were not calling for freedom and democracy the way americans typically understood or understand freedom and democracy, certainly not the way george w. bush understood
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freedom and democracy. when bush goes to james baker, policy makers of legendary status and in policymaking circles, when they saw the sides, they presumed they all wanted to become european, excuse, me american. i screw that up. they all wanted to become american. because we are the embodiment, and we know it works. everyone who claims to want freedom must want it like us. we now know, again, because of open documents, research, things you can get out of china is a lot different than other places, but the scholars have been quite clear and quite adamant and quite consistent with the explanation that when students at tiananmen square and other places around the country asked for democracy, they didn't mean it like we understood it, or like bush understood it. they meant it in the way democracy
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was a word that was repeated throughout the chinese party constitution, which is to say a levelling, and equalizer, that all people in society should have access to all things equal. in fact, if we are now 15 years into den xiaoping's great economic transformation in china, essentially allowing people to become more prosperous, everyone should have the opportunity to be more prosperous, which means everyone needs the opportunity to start becoming more prosperous in the first place. so when students went into the streets, asking for democracy, for freedom, but they were really asking for was the freedom to get away from the old system where people got their jobs and got their place in society based on who dad was, which is how the communist party had long run. instead, they wanted people to get jobs
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based upon grades, based upon how they did in class, abilities. that's what democracy meant, the freedom to choose their job. the party could not put you in places where you did not think it was best for you to achieve the aspirations economically and individually that you are allowed to do. this was a terrifying idea to the chinese authorities. and it was a terrifying idea to george bush, not that he was against the students being democratic, because he interpreted them as trying to become more american. but george bush was terrified at the prospect of how much he knew thing happening was
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terrified. because dang xiaoping was a leader who did not like to be questioned. the book goes through the story of the student uprisings at tiananmen square in order to make a fundamental point, which is that we oftentimes remember tiananmen square very narrowly, in a sense. we think of students arriving at protests and people arriving to do them. it's a three-month process. the tanks were actually the fifth different military attempt to take the city. each time they tried to take the city, they opt the level of force, and each time they tried to take the city, the students who did not like being told that they were wrong or criminals, but rather thought of themselves as gray patriots, those that were going to save society from corruption, they began to recognize that they were in a death spiral, quite literally, with their regime. the end result, as you know, was blood in the streets. that's what george bush had feared. and he feared it so much that he acted as president in a way that he tried to influence, or more accurately, not influence, the actions at tiananmen. more specifically, by adopting
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something i call hypocratic diplomacy, when you are faced with a crisis, faced with an international system that seems to be in flux, and a dangerous system at that, first, do you know harm. he recognized the words of an american president reverberated and echoed throughout the world. therefore, when people are calling for democracy and staring down tanks, you have to be very careful about how you choose to encourage them. because yes, you want to give encouragement that you are in favor of democracy and freedom, especially if you care about democracy like us, but you don't want to go down the so-called 1956 path, which bush talks about frequently in his diary. that is the path of budapest and hungary, during a period previously of great democratic enthusiasm behind the iron curtain, where people protested and said we will have a new day and revolution and government up until the moment the tanks rolled them over. that was not the important part
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for bush. the important part was that those people that were rolled over by those tanks believed that they were about to receive americans support because they heard dwight eisenhower say we will support you. eisenhower very clearly did not mean anything other than aide with our, so called, thoughts and prayers. but instead, they thought he was going to send supplies, maybe guns, maybe money, maybe even troops. eisenhower, by the way, never once for an instant thought this was an idea. he was shocked that anyone could be that fundamentally mistaken and what a strategic leader would do as to perhaps put american troops 400 or 500 miles behind the nuclear enemy in the midst of a crisis. bush knew this history. bush had grown up playing golf with eisenhower. his dad was one of eisenhower's favorite golf
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buddies, largely because he was perhaps the only one who would not let eisenhower win, or cheat. and he understood that when people were in the streets, he had a fundamental responsibility to make sure he did not do anything to excite violence, to incite violence, if you will. yet he saw violence occur at tiananmen. that gave him a fundamental problem, that he knew his records could reverberate, but also a fundamental problem on response and he falls back on first principles, to say he still believed in free markets. he still believed in freedom, inexhaustible spirit of students for freedom. it had been generated by engagement with the west, would continue to move on as long as we continued to allow them to engage the west. so and others around the country and around the world called for bush to isolate china, to cut off trade,
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remove trade relations, bush, even though he was pilloried in the polls for doing, so argued instead that we should try to re-engage. of course, we want to condemn. but if what's really got the chinese on this democratic path was exposure to the democratic virus, we want them to have more exposure, not less. therefore, he makes phone calls, writes letters, all behind the scenes. he sends envoys to the chinese with the following message. we condemn everything you did, but we are going to have to start talking at some point. so let's start talking now. his poll numbers plummet. nobody knew that he had done this. but he faced the same fundamental problem then, months later in europe, when similar crowds began to protest throughout east germany, budapest, hungary excuse me, the entire eastern bloc. in fact, those crowds began
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marching and celebrating and seeing the idea of freedom, again, a freedom that's expressed in english. cnn cameras can understand that way. they began marching right up to the police, basically taunting them, daring them to do something. during a period where there is a mass daily exodus of people trying to flee and escape east germany, the crowds in october of 1989 actually changed what they were yelling. they began to yell, we are the people, and we have power. this is the part that was really scary for the people in charge, those communist troglodytes. they began to
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chant, we are the people, and we are staying. that means, you are going. it was a charge. we are going to be in charge now, and in places like life zig, where weekly democratic pro freedom rallies occurred, that by the end of, it accumulated more than 100,000 people, marching around the ring of the city, for freedom, so terrified east german authorities that we now know they actually ordered the troops to pull the trigger. they ordered, quite literally, tiananmen square, something they had been threatening, very explicitly, when they invited chinese authorities and after tiananmen square to visit beijing, but the pictures on the front page of the headline, with the caption, teaching east germans what they know about crowd control. the threat was not subtle, and the order was given. and the order was given to the troops in the field, the police in the army, that they were to fire. the order was given by a telephone, but it
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was not acted upon. you should probably ask why. because, the commander in charge was a very, very good east german officer. and you do not rise through the ranks of the east german military, throughout your career, by showing initiative. you arise by being able to follow the proper and properly distributed orders. so when he got the order to fire, he did the most logical thing, after telling his troops prepare for fire. he told the troops to return to berlin, back to the politburo. nobody picked up the phone. at that moment, he was savvy enough to realize, i kid you not, when the crowd was approximately 100 yards from his troops, with orders to fire, fingers on the trigger, he realized that if they were not going to pick up the phone, there is only one explanation. they were hanging him out to dry. that is to say, they
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wanted the crowd dispersed with flame. and they wanted to blame him for it. people in east berlin wanted to be able to say, we didn't give the final order. he did it on his own. this man was savvy enough at that point to turn off the phone until his troops to retreat, essentially saying to his subordinates, i guess now they don't have to answer the phone, not the troops. we now know how dangerous and close this was, and the scene almost repeats itself in berlin, a couple weeks later. the east german government, having decided to create a new openness with its own people in response to the protests, decided to do something rather unusual, something unprecedented for the east german government. they decided to hold press conferences, to say maybe our problem is messaging. maybe if we just get our message to the
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people, and they can put it on tv live, everyone can understand and we will have a better communication. they picked a man to do this named szybowski. as he liked to say, his primary qualifications prior to the job was that he could read german, and he could speak it allowed. those were his qualifications for being the press secretary for east germany. unfortunately, this calls into question both of those qualifications. on the night of november 9th, 1989, he attended a politburo meeting and was handed from the politburo a list of new travel policies that were going to be
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embargoed, for a few more days, but ultimately would be released and hopefully allow to relieve some of the pressure of east german citizens wanting to flee. it said that citizens could go to various passport control centers and apply for passports. it said they could apply for a passport with the expectation they would get one. and if they went through proper channels, they could even get a 30-day visa to go across the border. that's a big deal for a society that closed itself up for generations. he is in a rush and puts the paper in his briefcase and heads off to the press conference, where he proceeds to bore the crowd, literally to tears, for two hours. i encourage you to google this and look it up on youtube so you can see how many people had actually fallen asleep. until, at the very, and an italian journalist gets up and says, i have one question. do you have anything for us on travel restrictions? something in his mind snapped, and he said yes i do. he pulls out of his briefcase this thing, and begins to read it, and also read it incorrectly. he
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essentially says, any german citizen that wants to travel abroad will be allowed to do so immediately. and he looks up. if you ever want to see what true terror looks like on a face, again, look at that youtube video and see the look on this man's face when he thought he was announcing nothing, and the entire room exploded. it became very clear he had said something he shouldn't, which then led to the only wise response of the entire evening, which is when he said press conference over. but people had been watching, and people came to the berlin wall and said we have been told that there is new travel restrictions allowing us to leave, let us out. the commanders there, as you imagine, quite rightly said we have received no such orders. there were no such orders. the crowd became larger, more agitated. the troops became agitated and called in
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reinforcements. temperatures built, until finally, the commander in charge, does would any good east german officer would do. he calls for advice and is told by the person at the other end of the phone, you have no orders. you are either blind or a coward. you know what to do. by the way, this is a man who had done what he had to do before. he had the spangled banner is on his chest, because he participated in firing of a person who had left eastern without permission. there is an interesting aspect to howard yeager. he was scheduled to go to the doctor that day. he was scheduled to go to the doctor to receive the results of cancer tests, which his doctors had prepped him to anticipate we're going to suggest the worst. he therefore, at that moment, i like to think, said to himself, i am about to meet my maker, and a lot faster than i ever wanted. and i'm about to have to answer for whatever i do next. and he did
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not want that blood on his conscience, he said. so he opened the gates and the crowd swept through. we are in a television age, so when the crowds swept through one gates, and the crowds on television saw this, the next thing you know the world is dancing on the berlin wall dancing on the berlin wall quite literally. interesting thing about jäger, he's still alive. it turns out that sometimes doctors make mistakes as well. and he was fine. that posed a problem for george bush. what do you do when you're in your office watching crowds surge across the berlin wall knowing you have reports from the cia suggesting anything we do to agitate the soviets may cause the very backlash that we cause, or may cause tiananmen square in europe. bush's the response is once more to do nothing. in public, for example, he's in
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his office watching this unfold, and his press secretary tells him he has to give a statement. he says i have nothing to say, go away. they finally get pushed to admit that he has to talk to the press. the president cannot say nothing at this historic moment. instead, bush calls everyone into his office, you can see this on youtube, and for the next 30 minutes he proceeds to speak fully and completely 30 minutes without saying a word. it is complete gibberish. it's perfect. it's wonderful. at the end of which, one of the reporters says, mister president, i'm sorry, we just don't seem very excited. at which he responded, well i guess i'm just not an excitable guy. because he knew something that she did not and anyone else did. that was that the phone calls were starting to pour in. the phone calls from berlin, from warsaw, from paris,
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from london. asking the same basic question, what the heck is going on? and more importantly, here i want to use a technical historian term, the people on the other end of the phone were freaking out, because nobody had planned for this to happen, nobody anticipated this would happen in their lifetimes. and now, we have crowds surging through all of europe. one of the most amazing things i think bush does, and we know this from the records that have been declassified, it's that he manages to keep all those international leaders calm. to try to encourage them to just take a breath. take a step back. so that nobody ultimately pulls the trigger. as he begins to think about the reconstruction of europe, if you will, the strategic map with everything going on. i will and on this point. that is to say, what he does next fundamentally shapes the world that we all live in today. for good and for ill. that is to say, when germans begin to
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dance on the wall, this leads to inevitable question that we will subsequently see, germans wanting to unite. the division of europe and germany had, in many ways, then the entire impetus for the cold war. it was considered in many ways punishment for german participation in world war ii. but now one would think that we would allow germans to come together to celebrate as one common people. that's his vision at this moment. despite the fact that literally that afternoon before the berlin wall fell, he said i think it's probably going to be another 15 or 20 years before that happens. he decides to seize the moment and push towards unification. to become the father of his own country. but kohl has a problem, and it's a big one, there is basically nobody outside of germany the thinks this is a good idea. because people in europe have memories. they remember the last time the germans got together, it had not ended so well for the rest of us. this is an idea that permeates
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throughout western europe, throughout eastern europe, throughout the soviet union, throughout the -- united states. in fact, the best example of the center idea of when germans get together, they lead to war, it's embodied in the following statement by none other than the great geopolitical strategist david letterman. he said, i understand the german unification will have three phases. the first, economic unification. the second, political unification. the third, france surrenders. this is the common fear that is animating policy makers around the world, with the exception of george bush to be honest. this i think is his greatest legacy and similar achievement in office. bush essentially cuts a deal with kohl. would not necessarily believe in that idea that germans were bound to be militarist, but he did not care. he had bigger fish to fry. he recognized at that
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moment that kohl needed help and that he was there for pliable in some important ways. because bush said to him, i am the most powerful man in the world. i have levers of power over the other countries in the four power treaty that have legal responsibly for germany. britain, france in the soviet union. i can get them to say yes if we need to, but you need to do something for me. something you can already predict is, you have to make sure a unify germany remains in nato. because without germany, nato can't survive. it is the biggest man power supplier, the second biggest material supplier, that's where all the good bases are. without nato, why are we in europe? and remember, first principles, the europeans can't take care of themselves. so no matter what happens in this future, bush is determined to ensure that we have an american presence. and
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kohl accepts this deal. in fact, the british and the french accept the deal. everyone except the deal except for the soviets. they too were finally negotiating to accepting this deal. but in a way that has lasting consequences for today. that is to say, mikhail gorbachev had come up with this idea that we were going to demilitarized, normalize relations and be accepted by the west. he ultimately agreed that he would allow the germans to unify. he had both legal authority to say no from treaties never fully implemented after world war ii. and secondly, he had 300,000 troops and nuclear weapons on east german soil. he had some pretty good leverage to say no. he said, i will say yes provided that you accept us into the west. and so long as nato does not expand to the east. to which american policy makers in february of 1990, james baker and robert gates specifically, and this is
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because of new documentation, we have verifiable proof of this, american policy makers that we will make that deal. here, shake on it. we will not move, baker said, nato one inch to the east. at which point, negotiations continue, but there is a basic fundamental agreement on this point. now, here is the kicker. we all know nato has since moved more than one inch to the east. in fact, one would argue that it's all the way up to the russian geopolitical border at this point. in fact, if you want to see the source of russian anger, antagonism and frustration with the post cold war period, and particularly with the united states, it stems back, particularly in vladimir putin's idea, it stands back to this original sin of breaking their promise to gorbachev. of not accepting us, not lowering the borders -- the barriers, but instead pushing them all the way up to our border. you have to be really careful with this one. because this is at the heart of the whole russian american antagonism today. this is why they hacked your
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election. because of this anger over this idea. but here's the problem. remember james baker said shake on it? they never did anything more than shake on it. baker was a lawyer. baker knew, if you did not write it down it did not exist. and the situation began to change. it became clear that they were going to have less leverage, the soviets, than they had before. their economy was declining. there was chaos in their own political system. and it became very clear that, we can get eastern germany into nato. that makes a lot of sense. it seems logical, it's a unified country. and we will hold open the door for everybody to expand in the future perhaps through nato. so that everybody can come. this common european home. we do not mind that idea as long as it has nato which allows us to be there as well. the treaty was never written down. it was never codified. that meant the bush administration was never held to it legally. but more importantly, subsequent administrations were never held
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to it in any way, shape or form. and as we know, subsequent administrations, the clinton administration, the george w. bush administration, did both bush and eagerly accept nato exit -- expansion. but one thing the soviets have been told they would not have to suffer through. the one thing that they were told was going to be a symbol of their not being excluded from europe as they have been in the past. in fact, at one critical moment in february of 1990, mikael gorbachev says to james baker, maybe we would like to join nato as well. stop and think about that. three months before, we are still at the height of the cold war. we want to join nato as well. and baker has an interesting response. he doesn't really give one. but he also does not say no. because the idea of a western democratic movement someday consuming the whole world and maybe even the russians as well, that does not seem to unreasonable 50 years from now. 75 years from now maybe. so let's not foreclose the option,
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let's keep it going. so ultimately, george bush, by having a fundamental vision for what he wanted the world to look like in a post cold war world, i argue, managed to keep those chaotic moments from slipping into actual violence and chaos. he recognized that he did not actually have the power to keep troops from firing on civilians across the seas, but he knew he had a lot of power to make sure leaders did not order it, but she exercised. and he also wanted to ensure that the united states maintained its primary position in the world at the end of the cold war. in fact, i think you could argue that the entire strategic provision for europe, and the entire strategic vision for the entire post cold war world was bush's. that is to say a place, but we see laid out in subsequent chapters in the next lecture, in the gulf war, when bush decides to put his entire
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effort behind making sure that the post cold war world does not include sanctions for aggressions. that is to say, you will respect sovereignty and you will respect the united nations mandates. ultimately, bush calls this his new world order. which did not give him any plus in the polls at all, because he just did not sound new. because i have to tell you it wasn't. and this is actually the last point, and really the essence of bush, the man who had never questioned ideas or fundamentals, questioned the brilliance of american leadership and the values that americans espoused. his new world order was simply nothing more than franklin roosevelts. which is to say, cooperative security, founded the united nations, it's a respect for sovereignty, i respect for free trade, a place where markets
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could expand and democracies could expand and countries could choose their own way of living. inevitably, they would always choose democratic in the end. that was roosevelt's vision. and that was the vision for the war that bush had fought in as a youth. and to his mind, that was the vision that was stolen from the world when the cold war began. we could have implemented in 1945, the cold war got in the way. we removed that barrier, let's go back to original purposes. bush's vision was the vision of 1945. the new world order was the new world order of 1945, but -- finally chance to implement it. largely because of cool headed diplomacy, we all survived an empire collapsing, which should not have been the case. thank you all. [applause] no, i don't
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think so. >> jeff, congratulations. that was a brilliant presentation. >> thank you. >> really fantastic. [applause] >> we have about 15 minutes or so for questions and answers. we have a roping microphone. we have to set up here. so if you would come forward and present a question, or want to make a remark, jeff will respond to it. let me also remind you that we have a table setup out in the lobby area. when we are finished with this part of the program, jeff will be delighted to sign as many copies as you might be buying for christmas presents, what have you, of when the world seemed new. i will turn it over to you, jeff. >> thank you. hi, sandy. >> hi. hello? earlier in
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your top you seem to give all the credit to gorbachev for moving the soviet union in the direction of a reformed society. but if you read the three volume memoirs of nikita khrushchev about his domestic and foreign policies, you get a clear idea that, in a way, khrushchev set the precedent that gorbachev then drove further. just one example of that, it was cruise chip who saw the need to reform the domestic economy. in order to do that, he realized that the soviet union could not afford to have a large conventional and let you know military force. so he moved the military strategy in the direction a missile strategy, which was a lot cheaper, and therefore used
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the money saved to start reforming the domestic economy. do you think that's a reasonable interpretation? he has a reason to rescue his father's legacy. but i think there's a lot to that. >> it's two elements to it you just asked. is it a reasonable interpretation of what khrushchev did? short. do we give khrushchev responsibility for their for ending the cold war 30 years after he died? 20 years after he died. no, i don't think so. this is an interesting question of how we assign responsibility and also give responsibility to great tectonic forces in history. it would be foolish for anyone, myself included, to say this person ended the cold war. it required thousands of people, tens of thousands of anonymous people in crowds throughout the world, acting in concert with leaders, acting in concert with neighboring leaders, acting in
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concert with religious leaders. if you want to make your hall of fame, if you will, of cold war enders, he would have to include the pope for his work in poland, calling out communism there. you would have to include, of course, gorbachev. you have to include reagan. you would have to include bush. you would have to include a lot of people. my contention is that gorbachev ekes out all the others in the end. for doing more than anybody else. but please don't mistake when i say gorbachev ended the cold war. -- and in the cold war. that is not what i'm saying. gorbachev began to process, implemented a process. if you will, he pushed the snowball down the hill, which became an avalanche. >> jeff, we know that james baker wrote the politics of diplomacy. bush 41 and scowcroft wrote their book. you talked about the new
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papers that have been released and how they dramatically change our knowledge and our impression of what really happened. i'm curious about your thoughts on the memoirs of our leading statesmen involved in the foreign policy, and whether it is your perception now that those memoirs are in fact substantially inaccurate because they did not reflect all of this new information that has just come to light. >> that's a great question. there's a lot of information that the memories are not able to reveal, because it's still classified. i will tell you one of the things, as a person who spends a lot of time about how broken our national declassifying system is, and that our national fetish with secrecy. in fact, we saw a great example of this with the recent jfk documents that were released. the most important thing that was released was not who did it. we already knew that. but the most important
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thing was confirmation that the cia was holding back documents because they did not want them revealed because they were embarrassing. and they used the phrase, sources and methods to say you cannot have these. that is the phrase no one is allowed assail. you cannot look at these documents because it's too dangerous. we now know, because of the jfk documents, that is actually being used for political reasons and not national security reasons. so there's a lot of things that they cannot say in the memoirs. and it really bothers me when they begin to pull from the documents that are still classified, that subsequently we can't use. as baker and as bush and scowcroft and all the other memoirist do, because they have more access than i do when it initially right. so as a first scratch of history, if you will, it's great. we learn from the new documents is a lot more nuanced. and frankly, we also learned, and don't tell them i said this, but we also
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learned that people shockingly write memoirs to make themselves look good. so in baker's contention, as one example, one critical example, james baker were here tonight would be very upset. because he would say i did not give a promise. i could show him the document that said i did not give a promise, and he would say that's not what i meant. i could show him the other documents where he said, i'm going to give you a promise, and he could say well there wasn't really promise, because it was never written down. so in his memoirs, there is no discussion of a promise. so we can leave out the memoirs things that we decide aren't exactly the way we want it to describe them, as much as we can put in things that would give us a sense of the way we wish things had been. i will say one other thing about memoirs. it's really critical, and it's the same for oral history in general, never, ever, ever trust anything anybody
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tells you, first of all, about the past. but more fundamentally anything in a memoir or anything in oral history that cannot be verified by two other sources. but always trust the interpretation. that is to say, the memoir is really great for allowing people the opportunity to say, you know, i've been thinking about this for a while and here's what really matters. that is really good stuff. if they tell you what they had for lunch on tuesday, don't believe that. but if they tell you i've really been thinking and lunch is great. that when you can take to the bank. >> professor, i was wondering if our presidents missed a number of opportunities to hasten the demise, if not the complete destruction, of the soviet union and the soviet empire after the second war. for instance, i'm thinking of berlin and the riots of 1953 where we stood by and did not
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think. 56 in budapest and hungary. i'm thinking how we disasterly made a mistake and misread the fidel castro phenomenon. and of course, the bay of pigs two years later. i'm thinking of nixon was mired in vietnam in 68. perhaps nixon could have influenced nato or the european allies, if you can call them that, to do more, more support, perhaps material to help the prague revolutionaries. i can't think of anything more past 68. but i'm wondering if there was a lot of opportunities missed, or if the presidents were otherwise occupied or fearful or what. >> let me put the question back on you. that is to say, what would you have liked them to have done? before you answer, what would you have like them to have done that would have not lead to a
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nuclear war. >> no troops, but i think we could have had better covert support. i don't think we gave any. of course, the bay of pigs we could have stopped. we could have gone right in there and probably won with more air support, more air cover, perhaps better trained troops. i don't know. >> i think your argument works best for cuba, because it's well outside the security sphere for the soviets, and the bay of pigs period is before they put in nuclear weapons. one of the things that we now know about that period that i think is very important to remember is how lucky we were that kennedy decided not to use force, despite the advice from all of his advisers. because his advisers were largely telling him, i'm sorry i'm jumping ahead into the cuban missile crisis, his advisers were
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largely telling him that he should use force now before the soviets have time to put tactical nuclear weapons in. we now know not only had they already put tactical nuclear weapons in, they had given command and control down to the tactical level in the midst of a conflict. that is to say, the moment that american marines start coming onshore, it's not khrushchev or castro that gets to make the decision on launching a nuclear strike, it's actually the colonel whose troops are being killed. so my point is, in all of those situations, our presidents followed prudent policies. they tried to make sure, if nothing else, that we did not instigate something worse. >> it just seemed like, 45 years after the second war, the rotten fruit just fell from the tree, and we really do not do that much in those 45 years. >> yes. to which i think each of those
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presidents would respond, and i did not have to console a whole bunch of widows for those 45 years. -- >> you said our system of classification of records is broken. could you expand on that? what would you suggest to maybe change it moving forward if you could wave a magic wand? >> i would gladly expand on that. every other civilized country in the world, including all of our allies, essentially takes the following approach to declassification. that is to say, after a certain period of time, typically 25 or 30 years, things will be declassified, period. unless the government can come up with a really good reason to show why it shouldn't be. because, listen, i believe things should be secret. don't get me wrong, i am no wikileaks person. there are things that
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need to be held tightly and things that should not be revealed for political, strategic, personal, lively reasons. but the government should have to show why. whether to a judge or credited panel of some kind. in our country, we do things exactly the opposite. that is to say, after 25 years, if you can identify that a document exists, you may ask permission for them to begin thinking about giving it to you. and as i have already demonstrated from our jfk experience and the jfk files, i have zero confidence, and i say this with full love and admiration for my friends in the national archives, i have zero confidence that when the documents leave their hands in the archives and go back to the authorities created documents. the standard english, if you have a document that has a meeting with the defense
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department and the cia representative and someone from the commerce department from 1956, and you want it, you have to get 2017 commerce department and defense department and cia to all agree should be let out. i have zero confidence that they are applying logical consistent rules to what they choose to declassify. first because there's no upside to letting something go. nobody every gets fired for saying you can't have a document. you only get fired for letting the wrong one go. and secondly, because they have no interest in revealing things that are fundamentally embarrassing, as we've seen. so consequently, i would urge, with my magic wand, that we adopt a system that all other civilized countries basically use. which i would also point out, is a heck of a lot cheaper. so it is a win-win as far as i'm concerned. but as i said more fundamentally, our country has a national fetish
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with secret information in secret documents. i think in large part that is because of our revulsion of the exposure of our entire lives in the information of our entire lives in the six new media age, where you can learn everything about you, you and you by paying enough money to google. we are so worried about keeping something secret, that we just hope the government can keep secrets. even though those are the secrets that, as a society, and our civil society actually needs out. >> my question is really theoretical history. let's say the soviet union became a nato partner. how do you think the chinese would have responded? >> oh, man. i have to play out like 17 counter factors to get ... to
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that point. i'm on number 16... if the russians had become a nato partner or at least had continued on the partnership for peace project that began as a stepping stone to full nato inclusion at the end of the cold war. that is to say, let's at least get these people talking together. that the russians and the americans and the british and the french and the czechoslovakians, before we join nato, let's get them talking. if we had continued down that path and become allies, i think you can make a very fair case that would have essentially put anybody who has any great power in the very same situation that we had put the soviets in during the cold war. that is to say they would have been contained. that is there is enough power with russia and western europe and the united states banded together, that nobody is going to mess with it. and be able to
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expand if we don't want them to. so other countries would either have to be nonbelligerent or come to heel. it's almost as though you could suggest that the way to counter a large growing power that has belligerent aspirations, would be to create an economic and social governmental, and ultimately military system of alliances, that would allow you to leverage the power of numerous allies to your advantage. were i to do that today, i might call that the trans-pacific partnership. which of course, as you know, is no more. and nobody is happier about that than the chinese. i thank you all for your time. [applause]
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