Contemporary Problems, Global Solutions:
A Discussion with General Brent Scowcroft
September 28, 2011
We have such a full crowd and not surprising given the wonderful guess speaker we have tonight and the interesting conversation that we are about to have. I'm Sean Aday I'm a professor of Media public affairs, international affairs here at George Washington University and I'm also director of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication which is cosponsoring this event with the Walter Roberts Endowment Board. This evening couldn't have happened without the generous support of IPDGCs parents which would be the school of Media Public Affairs, the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the Allied School of International Affairs.
First I'd like to say a few words about this lecture series and the man that it honors. Dr. Walter Roberts received his PhD from Cambridge-he became associated with the George Washington University in 1995 after a 40 year career in the United States Government. He joined the Voice of America when it was founded in 1942, served in the State Department and the US Information Agency in Washington and overseas and retired as associate director of USIA then the agencies top career position. At GW he initiated a course called the Diplomacy in the Information Age and this was in 1985. That introduced students to the great changes that have occurred and the conduct of foreign policy as a result of the communication revolution and that was before the more recent communication revolution that we'll be talking about tonight. It was during a tour as counselor at the American Embassy in Belgrade, then Yugoslavia that he met a young military attace Brent Scowcroft along with a Foreign Service officer and future secretary of state Larry Eagleburger and the three would become close friends. In fact last week I was having coffee at Walter's apartment and he was talking about how he had found some old appointment books from that era one of which has scrawled in it dinner with Capt. And Mrs. Scowcroft.
Since his retirement from government Walter has written widely and spoken eloquently and I would say in a very forward thinking way about the practice and theory of public diplomacy. His book "Tito, Mihailovic and the Allies: 1941 to 1945" was described by foreign affairs as the best book on the subject. And just this month because he's still very active in writing he published a fascinating piece in diplomacy that placed President Obama's controversial May speech referring to the "1967 lines of mutually agreed swaps in the Israel Palestinian conflict in historical context" something that Walter was uniquely in a position to do given that he covered the United Nations deliberations on this topic in 1947 as a reporter for Voice of America. Walter's commitment to the practice and study of public diplomacy speaks for itself in so many ways not the least of which being this institute itself. Walter along with Barry Zorhian established what was known first as the Public Diplomacy Foundation and then later then when it found a home at GW as the Public Diplomacy Institute. It is his endowment that birthed the institute, which now honors his legacy, support and service with this lecture series and when I first broached the idea at the endowment board meeting a while back more than a year ago now of having an annual lecture in Walters honor and his name the very first person he mentioned as someone who would give that talk is his old friend General Scowcroft.
General Scowcroft served as the national security advisor to both Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. Bush following a long career of service in the Air Force and in government. Among many other affiliations he's the founder and president of the forum for international policy as well as the president of the Scowcroft Group an international business consulting firm. In recent years General Scowcroft has served as co-chair for both the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's nuclear future and National Academy's of Science committee on science security and prosperity. In 1991 General Scowcroft was presented with the Medal of Freedom the nation's highest civilian honor by President George H. Bush for whom he served an exemplary as national security advisory. In fact General Scowcroft has been hailed by many as being the best national security advisor of the many immensely talented men and women who have held that position.
He will be engaging in conversation tonight with his old nemesis from the media Frank Sesno actually we have another faculty member from SMPA Mike Shanahan in the crowd who also covered General Scowcroft's tenure. Frank is the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, is an Emmy award winning journalist among winning many other awards with more than 25 years of experience including 18 years at CNN where he served, where he still serves as special correspondent. He served as a White House correspondent, an anchor and Washington bureau chief during which time as I said he covered General Scowcroft frequently. But we aren't here to listen to biographies and an hour isn't nearly enough time to pick General Scowcroft's brain and all he has to tell us about where we are and where we've been so I want to get us started by framing the discussion in the terms of the class that Walter taught here at GW for some many years.
As Walter taught his GW students as early 1985 diplomacy in the information age is not just about leaders talking to other leaders or elites talking to other elites. It's about government officials talking to people what we call public diplomacy. Presidents and secretaries of state when they are traveling overseas used to only see their counterparts. Today while of course they still do that they make a special effort to reach out to the people of the host country by addressing Town Halls, and I would add these days engaging in Facebook chats, Twitter conversations and other means of communication. They do this because it's a fact that even in autocratic countries as a consequence of the information revolution the people of a country have an ever increasing influence on their governments and ever increasing modes of communication by which they as we've seen in the Arab spring can communicate with each other and with the outside world.
And we need look no further than what we see with some of the I would say really heroic efforts of the US Ambassador in Syria and they way he is engaging the people there on the streets who are trying to effect political and social change but we've also seen it elsewhere in the region and around the world. And these present new and interesting challenges both in terms of traditional diplomacy and public diplomacy and one of the things that has really been a hallmark of the last ten years since September 11th both in the Bush administration and the Obama administration is at least an effort to increase the roll of public diplomacy to get public diplomacy in the first three feet not just the last three feet to use Murrow's phrase, and so one of the things I think we are really interested in discussing with General Scowcroft tonight is the way in which from a historical from a person who has all this experience how these changes in the way that communicate with other publics changes or alters the way that diplomats and foreign policy makers do their job and the way we effect our foreign policy. With that I turn it over to you Frank and General Scowcroft.
Thank you very much Sean and I just invite you to join me in welcoming General Scowcroft at George Washington University.
General Brent Scowcroft
As Sean correctly noted I've had the great opportunity to see General Scowcroft in action in his decision making and advisory capacities and I've had an opportunity to interview him many times and we had a chat yesterday in preparation for this conversation and so what we'll do here this evening is we are going to talk a lot about public diplomacy as Sean Aday laid out this idea of how leaders talk to the world, talk to other citizens, and how media are changing but also have an opportunity to call on General Scowcroft to share his unique perspective and the incredible arch of history that he has in many ways helped to shape. So this conversation will bob and weave a bit and I know that the General Scowcroft -
You mean I will.
You never bob and weave. Unless you are trying to be diplomatic. And then a little bit later we'll open the questioning up to all of you on the floor and I look forward to that as well. General Scowcroft I want to start though with sort of your take on the challenges that we face in the world today if you were in the White House if you were the National Security Advisor today what would be at the top of your list keeping you awake at night? There certainly seems no shortage of that yet you've known plenty of crises in the past so how do you stack them, what would be at the top of your list?
Let me first say just a word about Walter Roberts. It's 51 years ago that I met Walter Roberts and we were both stationed in Yugoslavia, in which Tito trying to construct a new brand of communism different from the Soviet model. It was a very complicated political situation and Walter and I worked through it together we lived just a few doors apart in one of the well there weren't very many exclusive areas in Belgrade but that was one of them this is indeed a great honor for me to kick off this lecture series. Thank you Walter. Your question is a great one. I think one of the things that makes the current scene different from any others is related to the Arab spring and that is I've seen I emerged into public service in the heart of the Cold War I saw that, I saw the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Iraq, Kuwait saw it. But they are all a traditional world. What's...