Today, I had the great privilege of attending, with business leaders from all over the globe, a ‘fireside chat’ with Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser and Secretary of State.
The discussion started with Al-Qaida. Dr. Rice explained that, “We were accustomed with Al-Qaida from a very small number of ungoverned states. Now we have a growing problem in Yemen, Syria, Somalia and North Africa.”
“The terror problem is now also home-grown. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the one field general for the United States. Now there are many field generals. That makes it a much harder problem to solve.”
“If you look at what Obama is doing – as opposed to saying – it looks a lot look like a war on terror,” Dr. Rice explained.
Decisions stemming out of the actions of Edward Snowden cause her concern. “You need to know what they are plotting. You must use surveillance to stop terror before it happens.”
“Iraq was stable in 2011. A residual force would have trained Iraq forces in counter-terrorism. We were the glue between the various tribal factions. ISIS filled the vacuum. The biggest vacuum was in Syria. Since we did not support the initial anti-Assad forces, as Assad pushed back hard, the opposition became more and more radical. Now you don’t know who to support.”
“The humanitarian situation is now out of control in Syria.”
“Should we have boots of the ground in Iraq?” someone asked. Dr. Rice answered directly, “To advise Iraqi forces properly, you need to go out on patrol. The President should not have said ‘no boots on the ground’. He should have said, “we are going to do what we can do to support Iraqi forces, including using air power.”
“We have the support of the world in the fight against ISIS and Al-Qaida. The terrible events in Paris create a moment of unity among countries of the world.” She said that we must use and maintain that unity.
“The tide of war is not receding,” Dr. Rice declared. “Somebody senior should have been in Paris, such as the Vice-President, the Attorney General or the First Lady.”
“We must give the military the resources that they need to do the things that we are asking them to do. We are asking them to do more and more, such as China, Korea and ISIS,” she said.
“What about Ukraine?” I asked. “We must be deployed in such a way to show Putin that we are serious to defend it,” she replied.
“There is no such thing as ‘The International Community’.” She elaborated that, throughout history, there has been one country that will coerce, cajole and incent the other countries to keep the world safe. Recently, she said, “it’s been the United States. Great powers are not loved. They can be respected.”
“The shadow of American power checks bad actors,” she said.
“I know Putin well. He kind of liked me. I was a Russianist. I spoke Russian. I went to school in Russia.”
“Putin told me that ‘Russia has only been great when it has been governed by great people.’ He feels that he has a duty to reunite the Russian people. He wants to reunite the 25 million people that were orphaned in surrounding countries by the breakup of the USSR.”
Dr. Rice was confident that sanctions are having an effect. “Oil is having an effect. Russia budget is built on $103 oil.” 65 percent of Russian exports are oil.
“Putin has excised all opposition. People who don’t agree with him are leaving. He can hunker down for a long time.”
She said that Putin has a strong base of support from rural older people. “35 percent of people in Russia are pensioners.”
She was clear that the only way that Russia will change is if the ex-KGB people in senior positions – who have a lot to lose – make a move against Putin.
“The new middle class don’t like him, but they can’t do anything about him.”
“I would arm the Ukrainians. I would be open about it. The Ukrainians, however, are ‘no prize’. There is corruption in government and the eastern part of the country has been ignored.” [RIWI situational intelligence data published in the Washington Examiner have also made the empirical case for arming Ukraine as a means of containing Putin’s expansionist moves].
She concluded her view of Russia and Ukraine by saying, “Putin may be a megalomaniac, but he is not suicidal if he faced American support of Ukraine.”
“What about cyber security?” another asked. “Terrorists and ISIS have been doing some probes. However, there are different levels of cyber capability. The highest levels approach warfare and there are only a few states that can do that,” she said.
“And there is a signature of who is responsible. There is no way to hide it.” She added: “Companies’ unwillingness to share cyber attack information is bad. The U.S. Government has huge capabilities and you want it on your side.”
“Everywhere I travelled, I was under surveillance. You don’t bring anything with you like a laptop or phone. It’s amazing what can be put in remotely.”
She said, “I chuckle about the righteousness about what the United States may have been doing in cyber intelligence. After Paris, there will be more respect for our position.”
“And Iran?” someone else asked. “The United States wants a deal with Iran too badly and Iran knows that. Sanctions have shut it out of the international financial system. If we hold fast, they will realize that they must sign. We can’t blink. The centrifuges must be warehoused, not spinning and of limited number.”
Dr. Rice was clear: “Israel is a major ally and friend. They may be difficult, but they support us and we must support them. We have both friends and allies in the Middle East. We must push and prod them since we know that authoritarian regimes are ultimately unstable.”
“Obama actually believes in the concept of ‘The International Community’. He says ‘you just don’t do that in the 21st century.’” Dr. Rice said, however, that instead of a an ‘International Community’, “there are just nations acting in their own self-interest.”
“So what is the long term solution to the terrorist issue?” a recognizable CEO asked. “Governments that are more representative to their people. The Al-Qaidas of the world hide in the shadows. Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaida: They say to the people that nobody else is on your side except them.”
Dr. Rice was adamant that, “the people at the center of Islam must speak out. It’s more important than anything that we can say.”
As a sign of hope, she said: “in Paris, in the front row along with Netanyahu, Abbas was there too. I wish others were there too. People must be clear and consistent.”
The last question – said only half jokingly – was whether Dr. Rice has anything to announce about 2016. Rice quickly batted that away, “I do not have the DNA to run for office. I did not even get involved in high school politics. I am a happy professor at Stanford.”
It was an honor to shake her hand.
Bob Seeman is Chairman of The RIWI Corporation.
Photo source: http://goo.gl/xun5e7