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Americas

US foreign policy marked by continuity, says former National Security Adviser

In an interview with DW, Stephen Hadley speaks about the continuity between President Obama and his predecessor Bush that surprised many people and why he views the West Bank as a bright spot in the Middle East.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley at the White House in December 2007

Former US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley

Stephen Hadley served as National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009 and as Deputy National Security Adviser from 2001 to 2005. He is currently a senior adviser for international affairs at the United States Institute of Peace and a principal in the Rice Hadley Group.

Deutsche Welle: Let's look back at US and European foreign and security policy this year and take a tally of some major issues. In Afghanistan 2010 was the deadliest year for the international troops with more than 700 soldiers killed, most of them American. Has President Obama's surge strategy failed?

Stephen Hadley: There's been an initial assessment which has not been released publicly in all its detail. But I think the administration's assessment, and I think it's right, is that the strategy of the United States and other allies including most Europeans who are with us on the ground in Afghanistan is making progress. It's slower than we would like, it's fragile and reversible, but there has been progress. And I think one of the good things about 2010 is that there has been a coming together of Europeans and Americans about the importance of Afghanistan and about how to pursue our strategy.

President Obama has said the US would begin to pull troops out of Afghanistan in 2011, the British have said they may do the same and Germany has announced its plans to start withdrawing troops next year as well. When the three biggest troop contributors start pulling back, can the war in Afghanistan still be won?

Yes, because the lede here is not that the troops are pulling back, the lede is that the United States and its allies believe that they will be able to begin to transfer security responsibility to the Afghans. Remember, Americans and Europeans have for several years now been training and helping the Afghans to build an army and police that can take increasing security responsibility. And Afghan forces are operating with American and NATO and other European forces in Afghanistan now, so what the President said was that in 2011 we could begin the process of transferring security responsibility to Afghan units and as that occurred it would allow some units of American and European origin to begin to withdraw.

But President Obama has been clear, and particularly Secretary Gates has been clear that that handover of security responsibility to Afghanistan and any withdrawal of American forces will be condition-based. That is to say it will have to reflect progress and security on the ground and will be done in a way that does not jeopardize the progress we have achieved or future progress.

Another intractable international issue for the US and the EU is how to deal with Iran's nuclear program. Despite a united position by Europeans and Americans and tough new sanctions that were put in place in 2010 with the help of Russia and China, there doesn't seem to be a change of Tehran's stance. Is the West simply running out of options on Iran?

I think the administration and our European allies have done a better job than I would have anticipated in getting the Russians and the Chinese to go along with very tough sanctions.

As you point out, regrettably, it has not resulted in a change of Iranian policy on the nuclear issue. And this is obviously a source of concern for all of us, because the worry is that if the region begins to conclude that the international community is not going to be able to prevent Iran from having through its enrichment program a clear path to a nuclear weapon that is going to result in an emboldened Iran, it is going to result in weakened Arab states and it is going to result in Arab states trying to develop their own nuclear programs which is a proliferation risk that will make the Middle East less stable not more stable.

2010 was the year in which the Obama administration like many before tried and failed to make progress on the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians because it couldn't convince the Israeli government to extend a settlement stop even for just a few months. Was the US foolish even to try again or has the US completely lost its leverage with both parties, but especially with the Israeli government?

I think the administration has said as much that the effort that began really soon after administration took power in January 2009 to get a construction freeze in the settlement areas did not work as the administration has intended. What they had hoped to do was to send a strong message to the world that the administration was going to be even-handed between the Israelis and Palestinians. That this message would be greeted in the Arab world with steps to reach out toward Israel and to begin rebuilding diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab world and it simply did not work.

And rather than facilitating negotiations and progress on the negotiating table it became a barrier to negotiations. It was a tactic, I think the administration would say, that did not work. So they are trying to restart the process to have these proximity talks to try to turn the focus from settlement construction to what the focus should have been really from the beginning which is the terms of peace. We can only hope that there will be some success in this effort.

But I think what is really good news for the prospects for peace is what is happening in the West Bank. That President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad are building the institutions of a Palestinian state even while under occupation. They are now training security forces that are increasingly taking responsibility for security and are going after terrorists. The Israeli military is recognizing the effectiveness of these forces and cooperating with them. The Palestinians are building political institutions, economic activity and growth has returned to the West Bank and there is peace, there is calm, that is to say. There are no incidents of violence either in the West Bank or in Israel.

So in some sense while the negotiations seem to have foundered, the underpinnings of an ultimate peace, that is to say the institutions of a democratic Palestinian state that is not supporting terror, but is maintaining peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis, that process has gone forward. And I think that is a bright spot and an essential element for an ultimate peace and a two-state solution in the Middle East.

Many US presidents engaged in foreign policy have a doctrine named after them that spells out their vision or version of America's engagement with the world. Obama has now passed the half-time mark of his first term. Is there something that could be called an Obama doctrine and if so how would you describe and compare it to other presidential doctrines like the so-called Bush doctrine?

I think the Obama administration is still a work in progress on foreign policy. I think they would say as much. I think they want to be known as an administration that has engaged our adversaries. I think that policy has had some mixed success I think with respect to North Korea and Chavez in Venezuela and in Iran. And they have certainly been very firm on North Korea about the prerequisites to resuming the six-party talks.

I think one of the things that has surprised a lot of people is while I think the administration has had a positive tone in how it has spoken to the Arab world and how it has spoken to Europe, I think there is a lot more continuity in the policies between President Obama and President Bush than a lot of people expected. And that's not unusual. In the United States, while we have presidential elections that are waged and fought based often on differences in foreign policy, when new administrations come in and see the problems that the prior administration has faced there is a high degree of continuity in policies between administrations.

And I think you see it in terms of the Iraq policy, Afghanistan policy and policies dealing with the terrorist threat. So I think there have been some positive changes in tone. Some have succeeded, some have not. But I think there has also been a high degree and a useful degree of continuity with the policies of its predecessor administrations.

If you had to give a grade to the Obama administration for its foreign policy for this year or for the past two years what grade would that be?

I think any foreign policy in the first two years generally gets an incomplete. That is to say, the first year they are figuring out what their policies should be. The second year they begin to roll out those policies in a more serious way, but it takes another year or two to know whether they are working. So I think almost any administration in the second year gets an incomplete.

Let's switch to transatlantic affairs: One year ago with Lady Ashton and Herman Van Rompuy, two relatively obscure politicians were chosen as the EU's first new president and foreign minister. The US has long complained about the lack of a common European stance on many international issues. Does Washington now finally know which numbers to call in Europe?

I think there is a feeling that the economic crisis that we have been through has put a lot of strain on the European project. So I think most Americans think that because of the challenge presented by the economic crisis there is a certain amount of introspection going on within Europe about where it is going in terms of its political and economic integration. I think that is very understandable.

The economic crisis has been a real blow to the entire world and it's going to take some time to work it through. So I think most Americans would say there has been a little bit of a pause in the European project of political and economic integration. That has been a project that the United States has supported for 50 years, both Republican and Democratic administrations, and one that we want to succeed. But understandably there is some soul searching going on in the Europeans and we need to let our European allies work these issues through.

Barack Obama has been described as the first US president who is not an atlanticist naturally inclined toward Europe, but rather toward Asia. This and the often quoted rise of Asia has led some Europeans to worry about the nature and future of the transatlantic relationship. How healthy is the transatlantic relationship today and how important will it be in the future?

I have been in Washington for over 40 years and sort of every 10 years somebody comes up and declares the end of the transatlantic relationship. And so far all those predictions have been premature. I think this is really the oldest affiliation for the United States this strong relationship with Europe. I think it continues to remain strong and will remain strong from administration to administration.

That said, the rise of Asia and major new world powers in Asia such as China and India is getting a lot of attention in the United States. And it is getting a lot of attention in Europe. Germany's economic recovery is heavily driven by exports to Asia, so it is not surprising that both in Europe and in the United States there is a lot of discussion about Asia and ties toward Asia.

That is to say, how can meet the rise of new great powers in Asia and how can we turn the rise of those great powers and the economic growth and the economic engine that Asia is right now literally pulling the world out of recession, how can we turn that so that it is an opportunity for greater peace and prosperity for the world as a whole. I think that's the task in Asia and it is something that Europeans and Americans should be working on together.

Interview: Michael Knigge
Editor: Rob Mudge

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