National Press Club

Scowcroft Calls Middle East Most 'Vexing' National Security Issue

June 7, 2010 | By Lorna Aldrich | Lorna2@verizon.net

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Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, said national security issues now "are like looking through the other end of the telescope," compared with the single focus on the Soviet Union in the Ford years.

He spoke June 7 at an NPC Luncheon at which he awarded the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation Journalism Awards.

In a complicated world of disparate threats, Scrowcroft identified the Middle East from the Balkans to Afghanistan as the most "vexing" issue now. The area contains the residue of conflicts from the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, he said.

But he added that many other national security issues may be unrealized, as were the events in Afghanistan that led to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Facing these issues, he said, "we need to go back to fundamentals." Scowcroft said the U.S. can't defeat terrorism by killing terrorists but by drying up the "slop" that creates them.

The United States is the only country that can lead, he said, but not by saying others have to be with us or or against us. He said we have to explain our values in a way that others will want to join us.

Scowcroft credited the Obama administration with changing the mood within and beyond the country, turning the most negative attitudes recorded toward the United States into more positive ones. But he said now is the time to "move beyond rhetoric to action."

He judged China "the most successful policy of the United States" in the last 30 years. He said that every president, sooner or later, has concluded that broadening and deepening relations were important to the United States. He said conflicts with China are not inevitable.

Scowcroft identified the challenge for the Chinese as being that "the economic system is out-running the political system."

Contradicting claims that the the present times are uniquely difficult, he said it is "time for introspection," and listed the problems facing the Ford administration: pardoning Nixon, the exit from Vietnam, an energy crisis, economic stagnation combined with inflation, the Soviet Union. His point was that Ford addressed these issues sometimes creating contention but still was known as a "great healer" because he reached out to the other side. "History does not repeat itself, but we can learn from it," Scowcroft said.

Scowcroft awarded the Ford prizes to Ben Feller, White House correspondent for the Associated Press, and to Greg Jaffe, military affairs reporter for the Washington Post.