Seven Questions

Seven Questions: Richard Perle's Advice for Barack Obama

The “Prince of Darkness” weighs in on Vladimir Putin, Bob Gates, and how the new U.S. president can avoid the Bush administration’s biggest blunders.

In the days following the election of Barack Obama, there has been no shortage of advice for the president-elect on how he should shape his foreign policy.

For more words of wisdom, Foreign Policy's David Kenner spoke with Richard Perleonce an insider and later an outspoken critic of the Bush administration. As chairman of a key Defense Department advisory board from 2001 to 2003, Perle emerged as one of the most ardent proponents of the Iraq war. But in a much publicized 2006 interview in Vanity Fair, Perle admitted that he would no longer have supported the invasion and left little doubt that the blame for the huge mistakes ultimately lay with the president himself. Perle spoke with FP about the Bush legacy and how the next administration can avoid the same errors.

Foreign Policy: What gets covered in the campaign isn't always what the president has to deal with when in office. What are some conflicts that could be central to President-elect Obama's foreign-policy legacy?

Richard Perle: North Korea is far from resolved in a stable way. Iran of course has to be dealt with. The obvious objectives are halting their nuclear weapons, their search for nuclear weapons, their program to acquire nuclear weapons, and their involvement in terrorism.

Syria remains very much an unresolved issue. The Syrians are up to no good in Lebanon, up to no good in the region generally, and they make territory available to terrorists. This administration doesnt have a coherent policy with respect to Syria, but the next one will need one.

Russia. Again, I dont think that this administration has a coherent Russia policy, but the next administration is certainly going to need one. The Russians are sounding very aggressive these days -- provocatively, unnecessarily aggressive.

There's the large question about how we deal with terrorist threats. For all the deficiencies of the Bush administration -- and there have been many -- there hasn't been another large-scale attack in the United States since 9/11. If there should be one, that is an existential threat to Obamas second term for sure.

FP: What lessons from your time in government would you like to pass on to the Obama team during this transition period?

RP: Everything is people. The right people in the right positions produce sound and effective policies. And the wrong people can create enormous difficulty. It's often hard to know -- if you put a senator in a cabinet post, someone who has never managed anything -- is he going to be able to effectively manage a huge bureaucratic institution? Same goes for academics. Teaching in a university is about as different as managing policy in a bureaucracy as anything I can think of. I think driving a tractor probably prepares you as well as a Ph.D. for life in a bureaucracy.

FP: What advice would you give Obama in dealing with a resurgent Russia?

RP: The first thing we need is a strategy, which I think we don't now have, for assisting in the development of pipelines that will diminish the dependence of our allies on Russian gas in particular, but oil and gas. It looks to me like [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin's strategy is to try to assure that no oil or gas moves without [the Russians] approval. The closer they get to achieving that, the more aggressive they will become. Chances are that Obama will improve on the Bush policy[of which] there is none. It was just: Hope for the best. Say nice things about Putin and hope for the best.

FP: Some have argued that the United States should stop backing Georgia after its conflict with Russia because it could be damaging to U.S.-Russian relations. What is your reaction to that argument?

RP: That would be a mistake of historic proportions. That would be appeasement of the worst kind. Georgia is now democratic, certainly by regional standards, and it's better than that in fact. Theyve done some foolish things, but they have been invaded and beaten up pretty badly. If we now abandon them on the grounds that we should be kissing Putin's behind, that will be very, very damaging. And it will not improve the [U.S.] relationship with Russia.

FP: The deputy commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps recently implied that Iran should not negotiate with the United States. What does this tell us about the hopes that Obamas election could bring a rapprochement with Iran?

RP: There's a lot of maneuvering going on. I wouldnt take it at face value, but if Obama believes he can talk the Iranians out of their nuclear weapons program, and talk them out of their terrorist alliances, he's wrong. You've got to put it in some context. What is it you want to negotiate? And what do you think can be achieved through a negotiating process? It is an illusion to believe that negotiations will work. Obama will figure that out sooner or later.

Now, Obama has got something going for him. The price of oil has tumbled. The Iranian economy is in terrible shape. It's an unpopular regime, by almost any measure. And if he could get a really tough sanctions policy, he might actually be able to do something.

FP: In September 2003, you said that a year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush and that except for a very small number of people close to a vicious regime, the people of Iraq have been liberated and they understand that they've been liberated. Does the rosy picture at all represent the country we see today?

RP: I never expected that we would get into that occupation. I thought we'd be out of there. Iraqi sovereignty would have been restored. That didn't happen.

Is it rosy today? Do I think most Iraqis have been liberated? Absolutely. I think the Kurds have been liberated, for sure. The Shiites, who were horribly suppressed, have been liberated. And I think many Sunnis, too. That was a place where you got arrested in the middle of the night, and nobody ever heard from you again.

Obviously if it deteriorates into chaos or a new Saddam emerges and people are no better off than they were before, then there won't be [a square named after President Bush]. But I think they've got a decent chance of establishing a representative government that isn't going to look like our system, or some other democratic systems, but if it's reasonably representative and humane, if the economy starts to develop -- yes. I think [Iraqis] will look back and say, we paid a terrible price, but its worth it.

FP: Obama reportedly remains open to keeping Robert Gates on as secretary of defense. Would that be a good decision?

RP: My guess, when the rumors first started before the election, was that it was an interesting way to say to people who may have bought the line that [Obama] was a dangerous radical that in fact he was pretty moderate in outlook. But I wouldn't [keep Gates on]. Hes got better choices, and I think you want someone with more imagination. You're at the beginning of what is likely to be eight years and you probably want to accomplish something. Gates is a decent man. He's very workmanlike, but there's no inspiration and no imagination.

Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press

Seven Questions

Seven Questions: Paul Martin

As world leaders gear up for a major financial summit in Washington, Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin explains why his country has weathered the subprime tsunami better than most, how the G-20 can keep the sky from falling, and what Barack Obama needs to do to make globalization work again.

Nearly two months after the financial crisis sent markets around the world reeling, leaders from 20 of the world's top industrial and emerging economies are due to meet in Washington on Saturday, Nov. 15, to discuss how to clean up the mess. So far, European officials have talked of the need for sweeping change, yet have agreed only on the need for improved accounting regulations and an early warning system. Brazilian President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva would like to see a complete overhaul of the global financial system to provide a greater role for new powers such as Brazil, India, and South Africa. In the United States, many question whether any promises from the Bush administration will still hold once President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.

One man whose advice ought to be taken seriously is Paul Martin, who as prime minister and finance minister of Canada presided over financial and banking reforms that has left the country in far better shape than its southern neighbor. Martin tells Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson that world leaders top priorities should be creating a more inclusive global system, encouraging dialogue, coordinating regulations, and ensuring that market freedom prevails.

Foreign Policy: As someone who has been at the top of a major economy's financial system, where do you think today's ministers and central bankers went wrong in failing to prevent the global economic crisis?

Paul Martin: There was a clear failure of surveillance and regulation in the United States. That was a domestic failure, coupled with a failure to understand the complete seamlessness of the global financial system. When somebody who cant afford it buys a high-priced home in California and subsequently defaults, a continent away a small municipality in Norway goes broke. [Misunderstanding] that connectedness was a failure on behalf of all of those who were involved, certainly in Europe and the United States.

FP: Canada's banks have since been rated the strongest in the world. What's your secret?

PM: The great wave of deregulation and loosening of the [financial] system occurred in the ongoing rivalry between New York and London over which city was going to be the financial capital of the world. At that time, all the G-7 ministers, of whom I was one, were under great pressure to either loosen [or deregulate]. I refused to do this because in Canada we have only six major banks. It was very clear to the superintendent of insurance and me that we simply couldn't afford the risks if one of our banks defaulted. We resisted the siren call of deregulation and in fact tightened up on loan-loss requirements and reserve requirements.

FP: The upcoming financial summit in Washington came at the urging of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, someone who has argued that capitalism as we know it needs rethinking. Whats your reaction to that view?

PM: I think that capitalism's greatest strength is its ability to evolve, and I think that must continue. But we have to understand that its greatest weakness is the ability to go a bit too far. The only answer is ongoing dialogue between regulators, constantly trying to stay, if not a step ahead, at least up to speed with the market. After the Asian financial crisis, the United States declared itself an exception, which is why they got in trouble.

The G-20 leaders should use this meeting to begin the reform of other institutions. The fundamental flaw in the G-8 is that it no longer [includes] the major economies: Brazil, India, and China. Brazil and others are not permanent members; they are only guests by sufferance. This makes no sense. Do what you think is necessary with the Bretton Woods institutions, but for heavens sake, stop keeping half the world out of them! My view is that a vibrant G-20 will become the instrument of reform.

FP: If the world financial system must incorporate economies such as China, Brazil, India, and Russia, what role should those countries play in addressing the current crisis?

PM: Right now they are being asked to participate. [U.S. Treasury Secretary] Henry Paulson correctly pointed out that the overly indebted U.S. consumer cannot carry the world as a buyer of last resort any longer. He asked China to stimulate internal demand and revaluate currency upwards. China is a major holder of U.S. debt. How can you ask China to do this while at the same time shutting the country out of the institutions that are supposed to have the global dialogue? China and Brazil participate in the world economy, but there is a Eurocentric view of the world that says that they shouldnt have a proportionate say in institutions that make [that economy] work.

The cross-exposure to risk within the U.S. economy surprised a lot of people, but what truly stunned them was risk beyond the U.S. border. If the U.S. economy can [create such a crisis] with the failure of its banking system, what will happen in five years when there is a major mortgage meltdown in India? When a Chinese bank goes down? When a sovereign wealth fund speculates imprudently? Those problems will not stay in their countries, just as the United States exported its problem. Thats why it is so important that they be at the table now.

FP: What sort of consensus would you hope emerges from the upcoming summit? What needs to happen at this meeting?

PM: The first reform has to be that the membership [of international institutions] has to reflect the reality of the world. Second, there must be a recognition that ongoing dialogue is more important than the creation of new institutions. And because ultimately the regulation that is going to ensure [financial stability] is going to be on a national basis, we have to ensure that the national reforms complement each other. No country is going to submit its banks or its institutions to an international regulator, but the regulatory community has to ensure that national regulations and national transparency conform to an international standard.

FP: How much does this summit matter, given that U.S. President George W. Bush is leaving office in January? How can any decisions be made without knowing whether there will be buy-in from the next administration?

PM: I dont think it will [distract from the summit]. I think everyone will take this very seriously because the problem is very serious. There will be, I'm sure -- either at the table or certainly behind the scenes -- representatives of Obama's potential government. I think it's a very good thing theyre not waiting [to hold the summit].

FP: What advice would you offer President-elect Obama?

PM: He has a number of priorities. First will be fixing the ongoing financial crisis and the lag time that any potential solutions will have. The second thing is a great desire by the rest of the world to see the U.S. president reach out. These two [challenges] come together hand in glove. We're dealing now with a global financial problem that cannot be solved by the United States alone, and I believe that the G-20 can be the linchpin that will make it all happen.

It is very important that we not ask the G-20 to do what it cant do. But what it can do is to include the reality of the world, meaning China, India. Establishing ongoing dialogue, which has been absent, is absolutely essential to making globalization work.

DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images