Brussels Forum Impresses

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For the last two days, I have been deeply embedded in German Marshall Fund President Craig Kennedy’s “Brussels Forum“.
In years previous, I have been to the World Economic Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative, Economist Intelligence Unit seminars, McKinsey sponsored meetings, and I generally like them all. But I found this meeting in Brussels to be quite important, extremely well organized — and surprisingly worth the time. It really is one of the premier conferences that brings together international notables — but also wrestles with real issues and ideas.
The Forum has quite a number of papers that have just been released along with the conference — and will be posting videos online of the public, on-the-record sessions — though I feel the best meetings were the off the record sessions.


Unfortunately, the US Senators who were supposed to be here had a plane malfunction, and they were forced to land — and sit — in Newfoundland. We found that out this morning. The many House of Representatives members had to cancel en masse because of late votes on Friday in Washington on the FISA bill and other matters. Only Rose DeLauro (D-CT) made it — though I haven’t connected yet.
A couple of quick observations. First of all, though the “Cuba After Castro” meeting I wrote about the other day was Chatham House rules and thus I can’t fix any quotes on any of the participants — I was given permission to publicly note the views of Czech Republic Deputy Prime Minister for EU Affairs Alexandr Vondra who I thought would be a fellow traveler of sorts with US-Cuba Cold War spear-carrier Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. He pleasantly surprised me and though a fervent promoter of the “human rights” and “democratization” agenda in Cuba policy — Vondra said that the failed economic embargo of Cuba is not a path towards democratization and improved human rights. He said he does not support the embargo or the restrictions on travel and people to people contact — and he (and I in my own remarks) noted the Czech Republic’s vote in the United Nations this past year against the embargo.
The Cuba session was actually quite superb — and I appreciated Deputy Prime Minister Vondra’s candor, as well as the thoughtful presentations of Policy Review editor and Hoover Institute fellow Tod Lindberg, El Pais columnist Andres Ortega, German Marshall Fund President Craig Kennedy did a great job managing a very feisty discussion — and most there seemed to open up a bit to the new possibilities presented by transitions in Cuba’s government as well as the coming change in administrations in Washington.
There’s much more I want to write about — but will do it later. I have to admit that I was quite taken with World Bank President Bob Zoellick’s talk here last night. He’s just an exceptional intellectual able to synthesize economic and strategic issues in the way they should be synthesized. I think that Zoellick ought to be Secretary of the Treasury no matter who the next President is — and nearly asked him (in the on the record session) whether he would consider serving in an Obama administration. I decided to put him on the spot on another issue. More on that later.
I also chatted a short bit with Richard Holbrooke who is the closest thing to a potential Kissinger that the Dems have right now (other than Zbigniew Brzezinski who will not serve in government again). Holbrooke is a broker of power, drawn to power, ambivalent about the unpowerful (at conferences).
A number of people strongly reacted to his provocative performance on a BBC World Debate discussion here with Russian Duma International Affairs Chairman Konstantin Kosachev, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Poland Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, and BBC World Lead Anchor Nik Gowing.. Essentially, Holbrooke challenged Sikorski and Kosachev to stop wasting time in conferences like this one on their “second tier issues” and to focus instead on the macro challenges — like genocide in Africa, turbulence in the Middle East, and climate change.
My favorite audience response about Holbrooke — said to me by at least three people — was “Holbrooke is a prick, but he’s right.” I left the graphic language alone because I think Holbrooke would expect nothing less and would probably like to know that he stirred up some meaningful emotional reaction.
But then, after the session, as I was greeting Holbrooke and UT Austin LBJ School Dean James Steinberg (who served as Deputy National Security Adviser to Bill Clinton), Holbrooke grabbed Steinberg’s hand — much in the same way that George W. Bush walked hand in hand with Saudi King Abdullah on one photographed occasion — and then went and sat with him in the lobby having a private discussion for at least 45 minutes.
Steinberg was one of the first major Democrat foreign policy hands to call for a withdrawal from Iraq as noted in this Spring 2004 op-ed co-authored by Brookings scholar Michael O’Hanlon. O’Hanlon apparently changed his mind on the subject — but Steinberg told me here and in the past that his views on withdrawing from Iraq remain the same.
Holbrooke’s zeroing in on him is the biggest indicator I have seen yet that Jim Steinberg is perhaps destined to be the next National Security Advisor (or the next next?) to the President. He could very well be up for the position in either a Clinton or Obama White House.
Holbrooke would not have spent as much time with him otherwise.
More later.
– Steve Clemons

Comments

28 comments on “Brussels Forum Impresses

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  3. frankline says:

    For the last two days, I have been deeply embedded in German Marshall Fund President Craig Kennedy’s “Brussels Forum”. In years previous, I have been to the World Economic Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative.
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  4. Arnold says:

    I can only say that first see the forum then take there decissions.
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  5. Arnold says:

    I can only say that first see the forum then take there decissions.
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  6. DCM says:

    I’m not all that well versed on Holbrooke but other than being a prick his greatest accomplishment was when he brokered a peace agreement among the warring factions in Bosnia that led to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, in 1995? That worked out well. We need more of that.

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  7. ligneus says:

    Kinda funny all this serious discussion on for instance whether Holbrooke would serve in either an Obama or a Clinton presidency when neither will be President.

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  8. Karl says:

    Hmm. My impression is that Holbrooke is a extreamely egoistic hawk and my impression is that Obama genuinely does not like him or his allies.
    If it’s Clinton he will be Secretary of State for sure. If it’s Obama? I bet he gets sent as far away from day to day planning in Washington as possible. Probably a envoy or something like that.
    James Steinberg however does seem like a very likely pick as National Security Adviser in either Clinton or Obama’s white house.

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  9. daveinboca says:

    I can attest from having two or three dinners with Holbrooke
    [and ConGen Peter Tarnoff] in Lyon, France that Holbrooke is the
    biggest prick/asshole outside of Henry the K in the foreign
    policy universe. Lil Bobby Zoellick is a nice Jewish kid from
    Evergreen Park near Obama’s digs in Chicagoland and from my
    State Dept friends, thinks quite highly of himself. During my
    short stint at the U. of Chicago, his name came up from time to
    time.
    Holbrooke is not only self-centered but a complete sleaze-bag.
    An UnderSecState once told me that he was waiting outside
    Henry K’s office in 1980 when Henry was Republican John
    Connelly’s [remember him?] foreign policy guru.
    Who did my friend see surreptitiously sneaking past him trying
    to avoid notice than Richard Holbrooke, ready to switch parties
    in a nano-second. Tricky Dicky the Prick [as everyone who
    knows him well calls him] simply has the loyalty of Benedict
    Arnold and the morals of Mata Hari.
    This is in reference to Mickey Kaus’s note that RH would like to
    be McCain’s SecState as well and probably has lines out in that
    direction!

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  10. Mr.Murder says:

    As for Holbrooke, the man could really enlighten people to the task of pairing diplomacy with intervention successfully.
    My preference would be Wes Clark as NSA, some see him at Secretary of State. Those two were rivals often.
    Obama gets in, the NSA and Sec of State go through Brzezinski.
    Clinton vets hers through Albright.
    Steinberg may have be a fan of both, and they of him. Steve could write an interesting piece with the access he’s garnered in attendance.

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  11. JamesL says:

    Simon: There is no doubt that Bush invented the theology of Radical Islam.
    Bush doesn’t invent anything. No imagination. This is the guy who said in a presser, before he attacked Iraq, when gas was $1.69; “I can’t imagine why gas prices would go up.” He’s the decider, deciding on things that other people think up that they want him to decide on. Remember Hal in 2001? Bush isn’t Hal. All hat, no cattle.
    POA, anytime you agree with me I figure I’m doing something right. HT

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  12. arthurdecco says:

    “It really is one of the premier conferences that brings together international notables — but also wrestles with real issues and ideas.” posted by Steve Clemons
    Is your subliminal suggestion that you can either have “international notables” present at “premier conferences” OR that you can “wrestle with real issues and ideas” better without the “international notables” to distract you with their showboating and discombobulating?
    Is that why you sounded so surprised that both were present simultaneously at this “premier conference”?
    BTW, M. Simon, Would you be offended if I suggested you consult with your doctor about the levels of psychotropic medication he has you taking?
    Those things are so tricky to get right, aren’t they?

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  13. Mr.Murder says:

    Zoellick take any beeper calls from Karl Rove during the conference?
    He’s got no credibility. Dustbin of history material.

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  14. M. Simon says:

    There is no doubt that Bush invented the theology of Radical Islam.
    In fact we have seen nothing like radical Islam for about 100 years (more or less – the Mahdi Army in Khartoum comes to mind).
    There is no doubt that as the head mullah of Islam (Caliph) it is all Bush’s fault. Or Woodrow Wilson’s depending. Or Perhaps Thomas Jefferson. He was so mean to the jihadis.

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  15. M. Simon says:

    For sure focus on Climate Change.
    Like the coming Little Ice Age. I know we can grow food underwater. How good are we in growing it under ice?

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  16. PissedOffAmerican says:

    James, I must agree. Now, about those potholes that we can’t seem to fix….

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  17. JamesL says:

    Somewhat misleading to argue about what is a top tier problem. Bush has managed through his incompetence to significantly increase the number of “top tier” problems. Almost as if it was intentional.

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  18. Dan Kervick says:

    Steve, I watched the short question and answer session on Kosovo with Kosachev, Kouchner, and Holbrooke. What was going on with Kouchner and Holbrooke when they walked out before Kosachev had a chance to respond to their assertion on the final question? Were they really just late for their next session, or were they intentionally cold-shouldering Kosachev?
    In either case, I thought Kosachev had an excellent point. Whether Kosovo becomes a precedent for other national entities seeking independence really doesn’t depend entirely on whether Holbrooke, Kouchner or any other diplomats or world leaders say “Kosovo is a precedent” or “Kosovo is not a precedent”. It depends on how those national groups respond to the example of Kosovo successfully achieving independence.
    I also listened to much of the session on NATO expansion. It was disappointing that all four panelists appeared to be pro-expansion, although the moderator did try to broaden the discussion by calling on the Germans and others in the audience. In the portion I heard, it didn’t seem the anti-expansion case was being articulated clearly.

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  19. JohnH says:

    Interesting to hear that Holbrooke thinks that “genocide in Africa, turbulence in the Middle East, and climate change” are the first tier issues, not exponentially increasing oil prices, a potential meltdown of the international financial system, and the US’ financing of the Occupation by mortgaging itself to foreign creditors, who may someday make a call on their increasingly devalued loans. Apart from climate changes, Holbrooke’s issues seem disconnected from today’s reality, if not downright quaint. And this man (a prick) is often mentioned as a future Secretary of State? Does he at least understand the link between the weakening of the US economy and decline in its soft power?

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  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    You guys didn’t happen to address the pothole on Banducci Road, didcha? Three years now, and its as bad as ever.

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  21. Berit Eriksson says:

    I suggest that all followers of this post go to the Brussels Forum linked site and view the videos available….this will help us have a reasoned and hopefully better informed discussion.
    I am hoping that understanding that the rest of the world often sees things differently from our US centric perspective will enhance this interchange of ideas.

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  22. Ajaz says:

    What is the point of these conferences. At Brussels they talk for days and very little gets resolved.
    The poverty in Africa does get addressed or the aids epidemic in various countries does not get help. As Richard Holbrook pointed out there was a big deal on Darfur and Europe and the US committed troops, but only France came up with a few and no one else.

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  23. Berit Eriksson says:

    Steve,
    I recall you mentioning Holbrooke at the Berkeley coffee meeting last month. Your take (as I heard it)was that after the situation we find ourselves in internationally due to the current administations dismal diplomacy record, we need a hardass like Holbrooke to help regain our respect in the world arena. Is this correct or please elaborate.

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  24. Jim says:

    **Holbrooke challenged Sikorski and Kosachev to stop wasting
    time in conferences like this one on their “second tier issues” and
    to focus instead on the macro challenges — like genocide in
    Africa, turbulence in the Middle East, and climate change.**
    I don’t know what second-tier issues are, but I’m curious if, at a
    conference such as this, population control is discussed at
    conferences such as this. This occured to me not just because of
    it’s relation to global warming (to say nothing of an indirect
    relation to the other two issues) but because I believe the Polish
    gov’t is heavily influenced by Catholic orthodoxy (?). I know it’s a
    sensitive issue, just wondering if it received any
    attention/discussion.

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  25. Joe Klein's conscience says:

    I don’t get it. Maybe I am just too partisan for the haughty DC circuit, but why would Democrats want any Republicans in their administration? Especially ones that served under Bush? Zoellick might be a nice guy, but I don’t want any Darth Cheney plants in a Dem Presidency.

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  26. Dan Kervick says:

    If Holbrooke is indeed a prick, that all by itself disqualifies him in my view from a high-profile position in the next administration. The US reputation around the world is in the toilet, and our public diplomacy is a miserable failure. It’s not enough to have the right policies – you need to sell them. This country can’t afford another arrogant Rumsfeld or Bolton, delivering high-handed, supercilious lectures to our allies. Maybe Holbrooke should have taken some charm classes in diplomacy school.

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  27. WigWag says:

    Steve:
    Any reports from you on insights from Holbrooke or others on the situation in the former Yugoslavia/Kosovo would be appreciated. It seems this issue doesn’t get the play in the American press that it deserves. Their are parallels between the Kosovo situation and the current problems in Tibet, the siutation between the Kurds and the Turks and problems in many of the former Soviet republics. Any help you can provide in helping us understand this situation would be informative.

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  28. Ben Bartlett says:

    Since she’s my former representative, I feel as though I should point out that it’s Rosa DeLauro, not Rose DeLauro.
    And the off-the-record sessions would have to be the best, wouldn’t they? Admit it, you just do this to tease your readers. ;-)

    Reply

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