tv Discussion on U.S. Role in the Middle East CSPAN November 23, 2021 2:35am-3:18am EST
chicago council on global affairs. >> martin is a distinguished fellow at the council on foreign relations and was twice a former u.s. ambassador to israel and was assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs and was a senior director at the national security council and he was a senior special envoy on the israeli-palestinian peace process through two administrations. before he came to the council on foreign relations, he was at
brookings institution where he was executive vice resident and the founding president and head of the center for middle east studies. most importantly, that's why he is here for us today -- he is the author of a terrific new book, master of the game. you will find a link to the book where you can purchase it on her website. it's wonderful to have you and congrats on the book. it's in their lifetime work. it's a terrific read. it's wonderful to have you here with us today. >> thank you, it's great to be with you and i wish it were in person but hopefully, it won't be too long before we can do that. i am really honored to be appearing again at the chicago council.
> it's always good to have you back and we will do it again in person next time. for now, let's discuss the book. tell us a little bit about how you steeped in middle east diplomacy in so many ways both from practice and is an advocate and as a scholar, decided that at the end -- a long time into your career, learning what kissinger had done particularly in that four-year time when he was secretary of state was so important and you wanted to write about it. >> there is no shortage of books on henry kissinger including his own. there is actually very the written about his efforts to make peas in the middle east. even though it was the preoccupation of his four years as secretary of state.
they talked about china and laos and cambodia in the overthrow of allende,, all of those things took place while he was national security advisor step but his last four years were almost entirely preoccupied with middle east peacemaking. why go back and study that? i presided over the end of the american lead peace process as we know it. i take no pride in that but it's just a reality that there hasn't in a negotiation since 2014 when i presided over the israeli-palestinian final state of negotiations. at that point, i decided that instead of writing another book like the first one i wrote about
why we failed, i would go back and look at what -- and how kissinger had succeeded and he did quite dramatically stop he negotiated for agreements, the cease-fire in the yom kippur war of 1973 and two agreements between israel and egypt and one between israel and syria which had been lasting and successful and laid the foundations for the american lead peace process. i thought maybe there is something we can learn because for presidents from clinton on have tried and failed to resolve these conflicts. even though kissinger was focused on the state to state arab-israeli conflict, there is something to learn from that. plus, there was a huge amount of documentation of that period. 95% of the documents had been d classified.
it documented every conversation, every meeting and every phone call and it's all physically available plus the israeli archives. plus, henry kissinger himself, unlike all of his counterparts in that time is still alive. he was willing to be very generous with his time and i did 12 interviews with him and many other conversations. that together with my own experience gave me a kind of ability to triangulate what happened then, take the reader into the rooms where it happened behind those doors because of the granularity of the documentation step and try to read a great -- re-create that in a place that would bring to life with middle east diplomacy was about but draw some lessons
for how to and how not to make peace in the middle east. ivo: i think the fact that you had 20 years of experience doing similar things to henry kissinger enlightens the story in a way that a traditional historian might not be able to be there. you, in fact, were in the same rooms and talking with some of the same people who you knew and worked with in your own service in the u.s. government stop its that interweaving of your own story with the story of those four years which makes this not just a regular history book, but really a film almost of those days which is terrific. just to underscore the uniqueness of a book like this
for somebody like you writing it. interesting about why and how and sort of 40 years of coming in after four years of success, what was it about henry kissinger? was it the times, the other people around him? what was it that allowed him to succeed in a way -- carter succeeded in the continuation with the camp david agreements but since then and certainly since the clinton administration you served in, we haven't succeeded step was it kissinger, was of the circumstances, was at the goals he tried to achieve? martin: it was a bit of all of the above. i think there was some critical factors that i would highlight. certainly, kissinger's to missy
and his skill and guile was part of it. he was dealing with giants if you compare them to the leaders of the middle east today. i don't know whether that's history or they really were giants but that was a visionary devoted to peace. these were leaders who were capable of making decisions and sticking with them, bringing their people along, not being constrained in the same way as we see today by domestic politics or regional rivalries or those kinds of things. in part, it was a lot about the individuals. kissinger would be the first today -- to say that's a dot in particular was often one step
ahead of kissinger in the whole effort. the other thing that i discovered -- and i did not know this when i set out on this journey, was that kissinger in fact wasn't pursuing peace. he was pursuing order. that makes a hell of a lot of difference in terms of what distinguishes his strategy and diplomacy from everything that followed. he was very suspicious of peace. he had studied the effort to establish peace in the wake of the napoleonic wars that had reached such destruction on your at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. his model for the middle east
was the congress of vienna and the european order that was established in the early 19th century. it seemed kind of absurd on the face of it that he could take a template from 19th century europe and apply it but that's exactly what he did. what he had studied, this was his phd and he published it in his first book in the title tells it all. it's a world restored and the problems of peace. there is of front piece for him was problematic. it wasn't a solution, it was a problem. he warns on the first page of that book that the pursuit of peace with too much passion and energy could lead to its opposite. in other words war. that's why his approach is
really designed to try to tilled a stable order. he did that through his attention to the balance of power and maintaining an equilibrium between those states powers who would want to maintain the order and those who would seek to disrupt it. his purpose was to ensure a balance of power in favor of the status quote. that would preserve stability and that's what he did before the 1973 yom kippur war and it worked for three years and then it lou up. -- then it blew up. then he realized he needed something in addition to maintaining and librium in the balance of our which was and remains the legitimizing function of a peace process. the peace process give the arab
states a stake in maintaining the order. it would address their territorial grievances, regain some of the territory israel had occupied in 1967 and therefore, create a mechanism for stabilizing the order. peace was not an object of it was a mechanism. the peace process was the means by which it would stabilize and legitimize the order. that was, for me, a real revelation because we had kind of come in, i talk about we, during the clinton administration, it looked like everything was lined up for a breakthrough to an arab-is really comprehensive peace. and it did. i remember telling president clinton in our first meeting that if he put his mind to it, he could end the arab-israeli, in his first four years. i did not know kissinger.
kissinger would have said no, mr. president, that's too dangerous. got to try a gradual process, an incremental process. should not try to end the conflict because if you try to do that, you could blow it up. indeed, that's what we ended up doing. we made progress on the accords but we ended up trying to and the arab-israeli conflict in camp david in 2000 and we failed. in that failure, there was five years of conflict between the arabs and palestinians and thousands of people killed on both sides and the whole edifice of israeli-palestinian peace we had struggled for eight years to build was destroyed. since then, it has never been possible to put it back together again.
that is the heart of diplomacy in the middle east that those who came after him including myself knew not what he was trying to do. ivo: it's it's interesting and the self reflection is apt. it takes courage to do that. also it takes the reality of what happened. this order versus peace and peace as a means towards order is a central tension in international relations theories and justice. these are the kinds of issues in your first graduate seminar, you debate. let me push you a little bit on this. clearly, what kissinger was doing certainly after the yom kippur war was working with
states. one of whom occupied territory and was willing to give some of that occupied territory away in this piece for territory resolution 242 which was the basis for doing this. the problem was there were palestinians. you couldn't negotiate with palestinians in this -- at the same stake. how did he deal with the palestinians and once you had peace with egypt and peace with jordan, you have to deal with the palestinians. you had to find a way to create order and how do you do that without actually having peace? how does the palestinian issue complicate this matter? martin: let me comment on border versus justice even though it's theoretical come i think it's important. kissinger understood as a result of the 1973 yunker poor war that
there needed to be what he referred to as a modern kind of justice, that order along without some sense of justice by the powers in the region that could disrupt the order meant that the order would not be stable. he recognized that there needed to be some sense of justice, some addressing of the grievances, not a total fulfillment of that because he didn't believe that that could be achieved. at least a process that address the grievances that was the way he approached the challenge of justice. the palestinians had agreements. in those days, we are talking about the 1970's, the plo was a straight terrorist organization. yasser arafat had been responsible for the murder of two american diplomats in the
sudan not to speak of the hijackings and explosion of planes and taking of hostages. that was engineered by the plo in those days and they had been involved in the attempt to overthrow the king of jordan and kissinger had been involved in that crisis to bolster the king against them. in those days, they were quite dedicated to the proposition that israel should be destroyed. it wasn't as if the plo looked like a prime participant in kissinger's peace process. nevertheless, he did reach out to them and did establish a channel with them through the cia. that was designed basically to keep them quiet while he went off and did these deals. kissinger really didn't know
anything about the middle east. he had never studied it and he had never written about the ottoman empire which was quite relevant to the european order he was talking about at the time. he visited israel six times before he went into government but not once did he know much about it. what he discovered was the egyptians and the jordanians and syrians didn't want anything to do with palestinians. they barely paid lip service to them in those days. as a result, he got the message loud and clear that he could go ahead and do these deals without having to worry about the palestinians. the only one who pushed and was the king of morocco and he wanted a channel. kissinger was happy to oblige with that. essentially, the palestinians did not figure in his concept of a new american-led middle east
border. therefore, when he came to deal with the issue of jordan and the west bank, he basically stayed away from it. his focus was on egypt because he wanted egypt out of the conflict and that would end the state to state conflict because egypt was militarily the most powerful. if he succeeded in flipping egypt, that was his focus. you needed syria to legitimize that process. syria was the beating heart of pan arabia. jordan was a small state any like a king but it had no real weight in the balance of power. his attitude was that israel and jordan should deal with the
palestinian problem between them. it was their problem. it didn't rise to the level of american preoccupation because they couldn't really disrupt the order. that's what he kept on telling the israelis that it's your problem, you need to deal with it. don't ask me to do it and as a result of that, he missed the opportunity which was there in 1974 of actually bringing jordan back into the west bank and establishing the construct in which the palestinian problem could have been solved at the time in a jordanian context. his failure to do that meant almost immediately within a few months to the arab states deciding that it was the plo that was the legitimate representative of the palestinians and that happened
at the end of 1970 four and the king of jordan has been out of it since them. that's essentially what he did with the palestinians was wasn't much at all step today, he is a supporter of the two state solution because he believes in states in the international system and he accepts that the palestinians should have a state. like the oslo process, because the oslo process was kissingerian in its design. it introduced kissinger's notions of a step by step incremental process, oslo had three phases of israeli withdrawal with no endgame, no sacred time, no reference to
palestinian state, jerusalem or refugees. that was exactly what kissinger had in mind in the peace process. you just two steps of territorial withdrawal, build confidence, exhaust the powers until eventually, palestinians would accept israel and then israel could talk about giving up most of the 1967 territory it occupied step that was oslo and that was kissinger. he was very pleased that oslo adopted that approach. he supported that very strongly. when rabin was assassinated, we went to camp david and abandoned oslo and as a consequence, we blew up the process. now kissinger says palestinians
should have attributes of sovereignty, should be a state in the making with its institutions being built and regaining control of the territory and attributes of sovereignty on the way to eventual statehood. he is a two state man and he says -- to make the final point here -- kissinger's process always involved israel giving up territory. that was what lubricated the peace process. therefore, that should apply in the palestinian case as well as was the case in oslo a three phases. his view, and he said this in a book he wrote, that israel
cannot base its existence on the naked use of force alone before -- for if it does so, meaning occupying the west bank forever, if it does so, it will consume its moral substance. that is a profound kind of statement about the future of israel if it doesn't find a way to achieve a two state solution. ivo: i want to get back to that future in a minute. now that you understand the kissinger process in a way may not have in your last installment in government, how would that have changed things? how would you do the process
differently than you did in trying to get to a final settlement in those years of 2013-2014? martin: i was not involved in the initial stage of setting up the negotiation. john kerry did that single-handedly. i know he surprised obama with his success. but he went at it to get netanyahu in the palestinian leader to agree to a nine-month negotiation final state of issues. from the get go, he was focused on final status. as was clinton and camp david on through the clinton parameters, as was bush when he eventually came around to taking it up in his last year.
they went for a final deal. it was natural that obama tried it in his first four years with mitchell as the envoy and then carry all step - kerry. no point from camp david on, did anybody in the american policy community suggest that there was an alternative way to go. that's not true, elliott abrams did. he was the sole voice in the wilderness and nobody listens to him. essentially, it was always focused on trying to end the process. i came into that and did the same. i thought negotiations were a waste of time and the parties themselves ended up further apart on the final status issues at the end of the negotiations than they were at the beginning
stop that told me a lot about the way in which we were going about it and then donald trump comes along and jerry kushner says he will do with this -- his way and it will be different and he comes up with a plan for a final status agreement. nobody took seriously the incremental kissinger process. today, is the ideal time, not just because of the four decades of failure for three decades of failure, but also because you have an israeli government that is a left-right coalition and if they can't agree on the final status and what it should be. on the palestinian side, hamas and the palestinian authority divided our and what they want step one controls gaza and the
other the west bank and in they can't agree. you don't have an ability to move forward step we know what the final two state solution looks like but we can't get there from here. so we have to have an incremental process. indeed, that's with the israeli government is beginning to do but there steps are economic steps. they are not territorial steps. without the territorial component, the process will be very limited in its effect i don't believe it will head off an explosion which i fear is coming but nobody really believes it anymore that it good. the situation there is very tenuous and it's sort of like kissinger before the 1973 war. everybody thinks the situation is stable until it's not. ivo: in a minute, we will get
questions from our audience. if you want to ask question, go to your browser and type inccga .live. as my last question i want to come to this final issue. as you described the middle east, it's both in the palestinian, is really sense and also the wider sense given what's happening in the gulf and what's happening with i ran stop there is a sense of instability and withdrawal of the united states, other countries like china and russia are coming back in. you called for a kissingererian approach to the middle east. you are sitting in the oval office and you have the opportunity in a few minutes to
tell president biden what that would be and how should we go about engaging in the middle east broadly as well as in the israel-palestinian issue where you mentioned that the gradual step-by-step process but there is the instability that is larger now or potentially larger. how can we do that? martin: kissinger starts with the balance of power. the balance of power is actually on a global scale in danger of tipping because of the rise of china. the administration has to take care of that problem which means less attention and less resources in the middle east more focus on asia. kissinger would agree with that completely. but you cannot turn your back on the middle east. we know what happens there.
therefore, the united states has to devise a way of operating in the middle east that maintains a stable equilibrium in the balance of power, even as it is focused elsewhere. that means that we have to look to our partners and allies in the region to step up as we step back. i think that is a message that they have already received even without it being articulated very clearly by the biden administration. egypt is engaging for the first time in a way to calm things down and jordan and israel working together with the palestinian authority to try to calm things down in the west bank. the biden administration in saudi arabia are working to calm
things down in yemen. you can see all around there is an attempt to stabilize the situation. amazingly, the middle east is not in the headline. i've noticed it. that's because as the united states focuses elsewhere, our partners in the region recognize that if they want to keep us in support of them, they need to step up and act responsibly. i ran of course is the big exception. it is the revolutionary power. i ran has to be contained and deterred. but has to be done by developing a balance that's maintained by israel and thesunni arab states
who have an interest in the status quo and feel threatened by iran stop united states has to an active role in that because there is more than just middle east order at stake stop there is modern proliferation, potential for nuclear arms race between syria and the effort to achieve a stable order. that's why think it's important that i ran becomes the exception where the united states has to take the lead. some options will inform the local players more with israel acting more to contain iran or syria. the united states would simply support them. i think that is the overall approach and the israeli-palestinian context, i feel there is the potential for a blowup. we need to get behind and take
bigger steps by the israelis, steps that have territorial components as difficult as that may be. essentially, we need to be a little bit more active in trying to ensure that the palestinians have a stake in maintaining the order as well because it is going to address state grievances over time. ivo: let me go to some of the questions coming across. let me start with a big question about kissinger. the question is -- can you imagine there being another kissinger and not just in terms of the strategic sense which he brought to the job rather than the tactical one we have seen prevail in many ways but also somebody who is so
dominant in the foreign policy when it was being executed and in some ways has been dominant even today. 40 years later, you wrote a book about it. is this singular or do you think we might see this again? martin: i hope you will answer ,too because you haven't some experience with us. i think kissinger and brezinski are both from the same class. they are unique because they came out of a strategic environment in europe. the balance of power was really important. that affected their mindset. they came through the second world war and lived through the cold war. it was all very he had been stro
cooperating with the soviet union to again giving carter all the chance to make a separate piece featuring israel and egypt. that is how carter was able to get camp david. the carter administration were quite upset when they heard that sadat was going to jerusalem stop that wasn't what they had in mind at all. they were very slow to come out and embrace it. they eventually did and ran with it and carter gets credit for the way he negotiated the peace treaty which is a huge lift even though he was standing on kissinger shoulders. the essence of it was the exclusion of the soviet war play immensely to america's
advantage. ivo: as we think about russia trying to come back into the middle east and the chinese doing the same thing, reading master of the game is one way in which future policymakers can hopefully avoid the mistakes of the past and learn for the future. martin, a terrific conversation, thank you so much for writing the book and spending time with us to talk about it. for those who want to delve deeper and i urge you to do so, you can find a link to the o'connor website. by it, read it it's a wonderful read and thank you for being with us and all of you watching, thank you for joining us.