Miller Center

Interview with Dennis B. Ross

Introduction

Photo of Ross, Dennis B.

Dennis Ross, the Director of Policy Planning in the State Department, discusses foreign policy issues in the Middle East during the first two years of George H. W. Bush’s presidency. Ross describes in detail behind-the-scenes diplomacy leading up to the Gulf War.

Transcript

McCall

. . . the rules of these things, that anything you say remains confidential. You get to review the transcript and so forth before it’s released to the library into its final form. If there are sections of this that you prefer to keep off the record for a while, you have the option to do that. Anything that’s said in the room, stays in the room so to speak. We’re not here to take notes for books, so on and so forth. So it’s all part of the oral history record. Those pretty much are the ground rules for these things. I’m not sure how fast the transcripts come back. Is it within a month or something like that usually?

Martin

It is roughly that, I believe.

McCall

So you’ll see it pretty soon. We only have a short time today so we’re not talking about a whole lot of material to review. Had you talked to Philip [Zelikow] ahead of time about some of the topics that you want to cover or that he wanted to cover?

Ross

Not really. I’ve read this [the briefing book]. The Middle East ones are most prominently in my own mind right now, so it’s easiest, I think, to cover that.

McCall

One other thing we should do before we start talking is so the transcriber can identify the voices on the tape. If you can just identify yourself in a couple of sentences.

Ross

This is Dennis Ross and I’ll be talking a lot about what went on the first couple of years anyway in the Bush administration on Middle East questions.

Quandt

I’m Bill Quandt from the University of Virginia, I’ll be asking some of those questions.

McCall

I’m James McCall with the Bush Foundation sitting in. Do you want to start with how you hooked up with the Bush campaign and all?

Ross

Actually the best place to start is probably how and when I developed a relationship with the then-Vice President that I did. I had come to the NSC [National Security Council] staff in June of 1986. I think six weeks later, maybe seven weeks later, the Vice President made a trip to Egypt, Israel, and Jordan. At that time as the senior person on the NSC staff, I went with him. He was—and the people around him were—quite interested in him not having what the State Department would prefer, which is a ceremonial trip. I came up with an idea, which I presented on the plane, which was that maybe we could create a statement of common principles between Egypt, Jordan, and Israel.

Now the fact that Egypt and Israel would have that was not such a revelation or such a development, because after all they did have a peace treaty. But Jordan’s relations with Israel were all covert. They had not done anything publicly with the Israelis and the idea that they might join such an effort would represent an advance and it could be a way to move us towards creating a framework for negotiations that didn’t currently exist. Now, the reason I was suggesting it is because I thought there was a unique opportunity.

This was about three or four weeks before the Israeli government, which was at that time not only a national unity one but one that had been based on the principle of rotation between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, meaning that [Shimon] Peres, who was currently the Prime Minister of Israel would, in a few weeks, become the Foreign Minister. And [Yitzhak] Shamir, who was the Foreign Minister, would become the Prime Minister. I knew, as I thought about this, that Peres would want to find ways to constrain what it is Shamir would do. If he could have a set of principles that would not only constrain Shamir but give him some running room to do things himself, he would have a high interest.

I knew that the conventional wisdom in Israel at the time was that Peres would look for an excuse not to carry out the rotation. My feeling was that Shamir would go to great lengths to avoid giving him such an excuse. I assumed that both the Egyptians and the Jordanians would have a very strong interest in constraining what Shamir could also do, given their perception of him being a hard-liner. I thought this was worth an effort and I thought it was a perfect thing for the Vice President to be willing to do on this trip.

So when I presented it to him, he liked the idea, although he was skeptical that it would really work. But he basically said, Well, go ahead and try it. So I drafted up the principles and when we got to each capital, basically he would sit down and we would go over these principles with each leader. We were able actually to produce this statement of common principles. Now, I think as a result of that he developed a very generous view of my capabilities and from that point on he wanted me to come and brief him on a regular basis, which I did in his office.

Craig Fuller, who was the Chief of Staff, and Fred Khedouri, who was at that time the Deputy Chief of Staff, were quite anxious for me to begin not only to talk to him about the Middle East but to talk to him about foreign policy themes more generally. They asked if I would outline for them what would be broad themes in foreign policy that the Vice President might talk about. They also brought Bob Teeter in, who was a political consultant and the Vice President’s pollster, who asked if I would think about the kinds of things that might shape foreign policy in a next administration. What would those themes be and if there were going to be speeches that could be done, what kinds of broad foreign policy themes should they embody. So over a period of time I developed a relationship not only with the Vice President but with the people around him.

They asked me in the spring, the late spring, if I would leave the NSC and join the campaign as a foreign policy advisor to the campaign. Actually, I did go at the end of July. The reason for going at the end of July was because I was going to be conducting some talks with the Soviets on Middle East issues and I wanted to do that round of discussions before going over. So I went over the end of July and worked on the speech that he gave on August 1st, which was a major foreign policy address.

I then worked on the campaign as the person responsible for foreign policy issues, which principally meant that I handled the press. I did all the backgrounding on foreign policy issues or foreign policy speeches. I was out as a surrogate speaker and as someone who was a debater with Madeleine Albright, my subsequent boss. She used to joke about this later when she became Secretary of State. And I prepared the Vice President with a group for the debates. It was in that context that I got to know him even better, as you might imagine, because there is nothing like being involved in what is a common struggle to build very strong bonds between people.

After he was elected I was put in charge of the national security part of the transition. But I knew that to be a kind of artificial position because [James] Baker was going to be the Secretary of State; [Brent] Scowcroft was going to be the National Security Advisor. This was a position that seemingly gave me a lot of responsibility but no authority. Both Baker and Scowcroft were interested in having me go with them. Actually, the President-elect called me and he said, I know Jimmy Baker wants you to come with him but I want you to go where you want to go. If you want to go with him that is fine; if you want to come here to the White House with Brent —because Brent had offered me the Deputy National Security Advisor position— I want you to do what you want to do, where you think you can make the greatest contribution and I don’t want you to feel that you owe anybody anything. The only one you owe anything to is me, and I want you to be happy.

This obviously made me feel good, but I chose to go with Baker. I chose to go with Baker because I had just spent a couple of years at the NSC, and I had spent previous time in the State Department and the Pentagon. It was my impression that you really could dominate diplomacy from the State Department in a way you could not from the NSC. It was also my impression that as a Deputy National Security Advisor I’d have a very important position, but not necessarily one that would have me working on what I wanted to work on.

I had background in two areas. One was the Soviet Union and one was the Middle East, especially the peace process. I wanted to have a leading responsibility for shaping the diplomacy in both those areas. I felt that if I went to the NSC as the Deputy National Security Advisor I’d have overarching responsibilities on all issues, I’d have a very heavy management responsibility for running the NSC staff, and I would have input in the issues that mattered to me, but I wouldn’t be necessarily in a position where I’d have the time to shape them and carry out the diplomacy. So I made the decision to go to the State Department with Baker and he made me the Director of Policy Planning and gave me the rank of Ambassador. That’s pretty much how things got to the point where they did.

Quandt

Did you know Baker very well, before from the White House?

Ross

No, in fact the interesting thing is that I knew the Vice President and the people around him much better than I knew Baker. During the course of the campaign—

Zelikow

By Vice President you’re referring to Bush, not [J. Danforth] Quayle.

Ross

Yes. At that time the Vice President, and then the President-elect, I knew far better than Baker. I got to know Baker a little bit during the campaign. From time to time he would ask me questions. From time to time, especially in debate preparation, he would shape a lot of the questions in preparation in front of the then-Vice President that I would then be answering. So I got to know him from that standpoint, where he was posing questions to me in different settings, but there wasn’t a whole lot of give and take.

Immediately after the election he wanted me to sit with him, which I began to do. That’s when I began to get to know him. But I would say until the end of November of 1988, I knew the President-elect and I knew Brent Scowcroft—I’d known Brent for some time—much better than I’d known Baker. But I had also seen something in Baker. It wasn’t just my own experience at the NSC and the previous time I’d spent in the bureaucracy. Baker in the campaign was an unmistakable dynamo. He ran things. You had an unmistakable sense that this is a guy with direction, this is a guy who once he establishes priorities, he knew how to act on them. He exuded a kind of authority, he exuded a kind of competence, and I felt that he would be obviously a very strong player, also because it was very clear what the nature of his relationship was with the President-elect. I’d also been somewhat of a student of Secretaries of State and who was most effective in what circumstances. It all came back to the kind of relationship they had with the President. It was clear that he was going to be first among equals with the President, at least to me it was clear.

So all those factors entered into it. As it turned out, I got to know him and build a relationship with him very quickly. In fact, I recall Bob Zoellick, who had been with him in Treasury, saying to me before the end of November, Baker tends to rely upon a very few people. It’s not so easy for them to develop the kind of relationship of trust with him that he reserves for very few people and somehow you’ve established that with him very quickly. So that also added to my own sense that this was the right thing to do.

Quandt

If I could ask one more substantive question on this transition period. While you were making that transition into the campaign and so forth, the [Ronald] Reagan administration’s last contribution on the peace process was the opening of the dialogue toward the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization]. It has sometimes been stated that Bush in one way or another made it pretty clear to [George] Shultz and President Reagan that he would be glad to have that done before he came on board. Is there any truth to that? Anything that you know on that?

Ross

Yes. Baker, in fact, had me come over to his house. He said he had spoken to the President-elect, who had been informed generally that it looked like it would be possible to establish a relationship with the PLO, limited though it would be. There were basically two things. One is that Baker wanted me to know that the President-elect thought that this was a good idea because it would get something out of the way that might be complicating. But two was they both wanted me to go speak with Shultz and Charlie Hill, because Shultz had said I should come in but also I should speak to Charlie Hill about this, just so that we had a clear understanding of what the ground rules would be. Now I understood that to mean I wasn’t there to raise any objections to this, I was just there to clarify what was going to be worked out and what wasn’t going to be worked out.

So I did go and see Charlie Hill. I spoke briefly with Shultz, very briefly with Shultz, and spent more time with Charlie Hill in which I started off by saying, Look, it is my understanding that the President-elect feels that this is something that is worth doing. That it’s actually something that is beneficial to his administration. I guess I left out one thing. The one thing I was told was that this was a Reagan administration decision, this was not a Bush decision. They were still in power; it was their responsibility. There was a sense of propriety here. I think there was a sense of, at one level, especially with the President-elect, which I found frequently over the succeeding years when he was President, he had a real sense of propriety and a code of what was proper and what wasn’t.

The idea that we would intrude in any way in the decision-making of the Reagan administration to him was wrong. I think for Baker quite honestly what was most important was that there not be our fingerprints on it. Not just because of the propriety but because he also felt that he wasn’t sure what the political fallout of this was going to be, but he thought it was useful for us to be able to say, We inherited it, we didn’t have anything to do with it. So I pretty much conveyed all that to Charlie and said that the only thing that we’re really interested in is knowing what are the ground rules from the standpoint of what it is we are going to inherit.

Zelikow

Have you already gone over foreign policy issues in the ’88 campaign?

Martin

We did not.

Zelikow

Did you mention your role with respect to issues in the ’88 campaign?

Ross

Before you came in, what I basically did is describe how I developed a relationship with the then-Vice President and how that led into my being asked to be the foreign policy advisor on the campaign.

I guess where I would start would be the August 1 speech. We put a lot of effort into that. The Vice President at that point had not yet made a kind of overarching statement on foreign policy. He had made more limited statements from time to time, but it was decided as part of the effort to begin to draw a clear distinction between himself and [Michael] Dukakis, that he needed to have a kind of overarching statement on foreign policy, foreign and defense policy, or national security policy. And that in fact one of the greatest areas of vulnerability that was, I think as I recall, picked up in Teeter’s polling, was that Dukakis didn’t have experience and that he didn’t really know the foreign policy, national security issues.

As a result, it was felt that this was not only useful for defining Bush, but it was useful for beginning to create a real distinction between the two, and it was important therefore to make this appear as nonpartisan. We didn’t even mention Dukakis in the speech. The purpose of this was to be, here was the Vice President making a statement, I’d use the words a vision, for foreign and national security policy. So we developed what were I think, as I recall, seven thematic areas within the speech, designed to give a kind of integrated view of the challenges that we faced in foreign policy in the coming years and the broad areas that the President, if he were elected President, would respond to them.

We worked on it hard and then we pushed it pretty hard. Both we promoted it and then we did a fair amount of backgrounding in advance of doing the speech and then a fair amount of backgrounding afterwards.

Zelikow

Looking back on it, what kind of impact do you think foreign policy issues had in the campaign? First just in the campaign itself, putting aside what spillover they had in the transition. Negligible? Modest?

Ross

I started to smile, because as I said to the Vice President, I said, gee, right after he gave the speech within a week he got a bump of about five or six points.

Zelikow

Yes.

Ross

So I said, Gee, I came on, we did a speech, and you’re doing a lot better right now. I think it did have an impact, I think it had a big impact. Because somehow, people generally in the country were not unhappy with where things were. When that’s the case, it tends to create more of a focus on other issues, or at least it can. And the Vice President needed to establish a set of credentials that showed that he would be a much better steward in pursuing the country’s agenda than Dukakis would be. At least at this stage, one way to build his authority, one way to build his stature, was to focus more on national security issues because we were still in the era where the sense of survival was tied to those issues. So I believe in fact that foreign policy played a prominent role, at least initially.

There were other wedge issues, like the flag, which were useful, like Willie Horton. These were not part of my responsibility but you’re asking the question of what was really prominent in the campaign. It was clear that there were other issues that were emotional issues, wedge issues that obviously became part of characterizing Dukakis one way. But I think what gave the Vice President a kind of boost initially was the imagery that he was laying out an approach on national security, that made it clear there was a level of responsibility and experience and understanding that he had and that by implication, Dukakis did not have.

Zelikow

I think a lot of people would agree that in the polls and otherwise, that perception was an important factor. How much that speech contributed to it or other things, but that that was an important factor and that issues and positions on defense were important. Within foreign policy, were there particular issues that you tend to dwell on that you thought then were particularly important choices you made during the campaign? The two or three things where you thought, because of the choices Madeleine Albright and others around Dukakis were making, really gave you an opportunity?

Ross

Strange for me to say this given my actual views today, but we played up two things, one of which I still deeply believe in and the other which I had some greater doubt about. One was the issue of proliferation and the challenges that represented. That this was an emerging threat, this was an emerging danger, and you needed a pretty hard-headed approach to defense to be able to deal with this. Now, that was wedded to the idea that we needed missile defense. If you go back and you look at what we actually said at the time—we gave a speech, I think it was in October, on proliferation itself. We just had one speech devoted almost entirely to that. And that I think was by design—well, it wasn’t by accident.

I thought it was important, but Teeter’s polls showed that this was actually, of all the most salient kinds of issues in foreign policy, this was the one that created the greatest responsiveness among people. The imagery that you would have Third World dictators having missiles that could be topped with weapons of mass destruction conjured up great concern. Therefore, I think in all of his data, he saw this as something that was worth emphasizing and I happened to believe it was a serious new threat that we had to contend with. We linked that to missile defense and talked about SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative], but there wasn’t anybody on our side at the time that had a kind of ideological attachment to SDI the way some in the Reagan administration had.

So when we talked about SDI we talked about why we needed to pursue it, we needed to pursue it because of these kinds of missile proliferation threats and non-missile proliferation threats, but we also needed to be willing to deploy technologies that worked. We kind of qualified it that way. But we focused on the issue of emerging threats that were different in kind, that were different in character, that were transnational, like the proliferation—I think we began to raise the issue of drugs as well—these were things we were trying to highlight to show that foreign policy matters. It is going to matter to you, there is a threat out there. The Cold War still existed so you couldn’t say that that kind of a threat was behind us, but we were trying to go beyond that and also say, You need a steady hand at the helm. You need a lot of experience because we’re going to deal with a world that is still quite threatening.

Zelikow

Missile defense was the second issue on which you felt more ambivalent?

Ross

Yes.

Zelikow

Okay. Did you get involved much with the [Manuel] Noriega issue during the campaign?

Ross

Not much. Really not much. It would be like a tag line in things that were said but that was about it. I didn’t get into it more than that.

McCall

Let me just ask one thing about the campaign. Were there specific issues that the President, the Vice President seemed particularly interested in, that he put his imprint on?

Ross

He liked the proliferation issue also. We began talking about developing the regime. There was already a general regime for controlling the spread of missiles, chemicals, biological weapons. He was quite interested in this area of emerging threat. So, you had his interest in it. You had Teeter’s polling that showed that it was something that struck a responsive chord if you talked about it. And you had me, who was quite happy to write about it and kind of promote it as a theme. I recall giving a briefing, I think I briefed him before the campaign, when I was still at the NSC, on proliferation issues. He was really not just attentive, but he was grabbed by it. He said, I want to think more about this, I want to do more about this. I want to say more about this.

For him I think this was really a grabbing issue, number one. Now on Soviet issues generally he was also clearly intrigued with [Mikhail] Gorbachev and he wanted us to be able to say something about this without creating a gap from Reagan. I mean, on the one hand you had something interesting that was developing. In the last year of the Reagan administration you had a summit, you had more than one summit, but you had the summit in Moscow and the image of the Evil Empire was giving way to the image that this was a leader you could work with. I think the Vice President was more forward-leaning on this than Reagan was and certainly more forward-leaning than some of the people in the Reagan administration at that time. But he didn’t want to create any gap. This again goes back, I think, certainly prior to the nomination.

One of the things that is striking as I think about this, the Vice President before the nomination and after it in some ways was two different people. Not dramatically so, but before the nomination he felt again this issue of propriety. He was the Vice President for the President and the President had responsibilities and he couldn’t separate himself in any way. Not just from the responsibilities, but there couldn’t even be a tonal difference between the two in public. After the nomination he stood on his own. At least he felt he stood on his own and he was freer to be able to go out and say things in terms of what it was he would do as President. So it became a little easier, at least for him psychologically, to stake out positions that were more forward-leaning.

So on the issue of proliferation, we became more forward-leaning. I think on the issue of Gorbachev, I wouldn’t say we were more forward-leaning, but he was interested in having us say more about the potential with the Soviet Union, in looking ahead to what might change with them. Trying to create a kind of duality of, We’ll test them on the one hand but we’ll also see if there are real opportunities on the other. That wasn’t a real stretch from where Reagan was, but at least my feeling was it was a little bit of a nuance difference. It’s the sort of thing that prior to the nomination he would have been less comfortable with. After it, he was more comfortable with.

Quandt

Can you say maybe just a little bit more about the two Presidents that you worked for in that period, Reagan and Bush, and how you saw them engaging with foreign policy issues? The kind of style they had, the way they worked with their foreign policy team?

Ross

Yes. I didn’t meet Reagan until June of ’86. I have to say that in retrospect I suspect that some of his capabilities were diminishing at that point. I’ll give you an example and then I will sort of describe the difference that I saw. I had literally been at the NSC for one week when King Hussein came. I was told how there was a format for the meetings and the memos that should be written. I was to write a memo. I was then to attach to the memo the themes or objectives that were written in the memo but were going to be a kind of more succinct way of highlighting for the President what it is he was shooting for in the meeting. Then I was supposed to write talking points, but an abbreviated set for the one-on-one that would be in effect cue cards for him. So I was told to write it in summary fashion, doing the cues and then dot-dot-dot.

We went in for the one-on-one and I was a note taker. With King Hussein, Reagan just read those cue cards exactly as they were. In fact I came back and my secretary who typed it, she said, How did it go? And I said, Well, he didn’t read the dot-dot-dot.

McCall

My goodness.

Ross

Hussein was looking at me like he didn’t understand, because these were not written in a way that made a lot of sense, but that’s exactly the way he did it. Hussein was looking at me for an explanation, so I kind of filled in. After I did it, Reagan went, Well, why don’t we go join the rest. And we did. As soon as we went out there he basically turned it over immediately to Shultz and Shultz just ran the meeting. My experience with Reagan from that time on—I was brought in several times to brief him on several things—and he would listen. At least every time I went in there, he never asked a question. When I was in meetings where there were foreign leaders, he would do his points and then he would turn it over to Shultz very quickly.

Now my impression by the way of his behavior and performance with Gorbachev at the Moscow summit was similar to that on all the issues except the economy, where (a) he felt he had a lot to tell Gorbachev and Gorbachev clearly was in the mode of someone who was actively seeking to learn. I say that because there was a time when we were in Moscow, I think in ’89 or ’90, when [Hosni] Mubarak was there also. Mubarak had seen Gorbachev and he was mentioning to Baker and me that Gorbachev was asking him a lot of questions about how he made his economy work. I said to Baker afterwards, Boy, this guy is really in a lot more trouble than I thought. So it made a certain amount of sense that Reagan would have, these were principles of economic performance that he deeply believed in and knew and Gorbachev was a ready listener, I think, on these kinds of things. But on all the other issues I think the style was pretty much to do what he was asked to do and then turn it over to Shultz.

With the Vice President, in every meeting I was in with him, his style was he didn’t want to have things he would have to read. He would go over what it is you wanted him to do before it, and then he wanted to be able to talk with the leader he was with. If there was an issue or an area, he would say something, he would be quick to turn to—if I were with him he would say, Now, is it right that we want to approach it in the following way? So it wouldn’t be a case of deferring and just turning the meeting over to somebody else, but it would be a case of affirming that this was the right way. Or if there was a question that he wasn’t sure of, having you address the question. But there was little doubt that he would run the meeting.

Maybe most importantly, he placed a great store in his personal relations with those people that he dealt with. And I saw it, from this very first trip with him as Vice President to the Middle East. He was with Mubarak, with King Hussein. Hussein he had known for a long time and there was such an ease, such a facility. Mubarak he liked, and Peres he liked as well. You had someone who was sort of at ease doing this, whereas my impression of Reagan was that he was not at ease doing it, at least when he had to get into any level of detail. As I said, bear in mind I don’t see him until the summer of ’86.

Zelikow

While you’re on that, though, I’d be grateful if you’d flip forward and then compare Bush and [William Jefferson] Clinton. The emphasis on personal relationships, the desire to talk, on the surface, this would sound a lot like Clinton, but I have a feeling it wasn’t like Clinton.

Ross

Well, no one was like Clinton. Look, there are important differences. I’ll give you a good example of a kind of difference. When we were in Helsinki, doing what was a joint declaration on Iraq. This was one month after the invasion.

Zelikow

This was September 1990.

Ross

September 1990. We had had these two separate meetings, where the President and Scowcroft were with Gorbachev and Brent was in as the note taker and Baker and I are with [Eduard] Shevardnadze and [Sergei] Tarasenko. We can get back into this later, but I want to highlight the issue here. The issue was Gorbachev had been pushing for an international conference and Bush felt we should go with that. We ended up having a fairly testy meeting after that where I in particular was saying, We’ve just come from Mubarak and Mubarak was saying, For God’s sake, whatever you do, you can’t do anything on an international conference right now because it’s going to look like Saddam Hussein delivers and we can’t. So don’t put us in a position where it looks like he’s delivering and we’re not. I became fairly impassioned on this theme, probably because I hadn’t slept for a couple of nights.

The President didn’t like being challenged quite that way but he basically let us go off and develop this text. When we got back together with Gorbachev and the President, we had a text. And Gorbachev, the lawyer, wanted to go over it line by line, and that was not this President. He liked dealing with leaders, he liked creating general understandings with them, he liked getting a point of what would be understood, but then he wanted the details to be handled by somebody else. Typically he wanted them to be handled by Baker. He didn’t want to get into a negotiation.

I remember a lot of times later on when we were dealing with START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty], he didn’t want to deal with those issues. He wanted to get an understanding at a general level and he wanted the Secretary of State or someone else to handle the specifics. So when we were in this draft, as soon as Gorbachev started wanting to go line-by-line, literally word-by-word, he said, Look, it’s better for Jimmy to do this. Jimmy, why don’t you sit with President Gorbachev on this. That’s the sort of thing. If it was Clinton, Clinton would have said, Great. Clinton loved to get into the details. Clinton would establish personal relationships with the people he was dealing with. Here I’d say there was a similarity. Because Bush operated on the premise that it was very important for leaders to have understandings, to see eye to eye, to understand each other’s problems. And to be prepared to protect them.

I’ll never forget—it’s a digression but it fits this point—the day the Wall came down. You probably recall this. He was very clear to all of us, No gloating, no celebration. This was going to be hard for Gorbachev and he was not going to put Gorbachev in the corner. So there was a lot of recognition on his part of trying to understand the realities of the people he was dealing with and a kind of sensitivity to that, especially once he developed a relationship. He put a premium on having those kinds of relationships. He had that relationship with [Helmut] Kohl, he had that relationship with [Margaret] Thatcher. He developed a relationship with Gorbachev. It wasn’t there to begin with, but I think after Malta he certainly had it.

Clinton put great store in developing the relationships too, but Clinton also liked rolling up his sleeves and getting into the details. Clinton saw himself as someone who, because he had invested in these relationships, he was convinced that when it came into the negotiations on particular details, he could affect those details more. Not just because he would know them but because he could use the relationship to useful effect.

Zelikow

One final thing to go back to the ’88 campaign and close out on that. Were there legacies of that campaign that you thought shadowed the opening of the administration, positions that you thought you’d been obliged to stake yourselves to that became uncomfortable? Because when you talk about areas like proliferation, those present no such problem. That’s one of their advantages. This is pretty easy stuff from the point of view of inhibiting what you’re going to do when you take charge.

Ross

Nothing leaps out at me.

Zelikow

I mention it because almost every administration since then has been encumbered by things they did in the campaign. You’ve described a story in which you were not so encumbered and I wanted to see if you felt that was indeed the case.

Ross

It’s an interesting point and I don’t recall any issue that we were hamstrung by because of commitments we had made in foreign policy during the campaign. Maybe they’re there, but they don’t occur to me now. The only thing I think that hamstrung us was the commitment—it wasn’t on an issue—but it was on the idea that there would be thoroughgoing reviews on all issues at the beginning of the administration. I don’t recall now if that was something that was stated in the campaign or not, but that did constrain us. We were going off to see Shevardnadze in March in Vienna and we had no position on START. We really didn’t have a position on INF yet. We were still battling on the issue of missiles. Not INF, but the—

Zelikow

SNF [Strategic Nuclear Forces].

Ross

Yes, SNF. I mean, we felt hamstrung by that and finally we basically started shaping, as you may recall, our own approaches, notwithstanding the fact that these reviews were long, tedious and completely absorbing, without changing anything. Because it was the traditional bureaucracy that was producing them, and their drafters were people who believed that what we were doing was fine, so why change anything.

Zelikow

Well, that’s a good segue then into talking about the bureaucratic process issues. You have a new administration, everyone’s feeling their way very quickly as to who is supposed to do what, how the relationships are supposed to work. I’d like you to comment on the State Department, but then to relate the State Department back to the White House. You described earlier your expectations about this strong friendship. Now carry that notion of the friendship and the influence you expected into how they actually organized the government.

Ross

Let me start with the friendship. I learned several things about that relationship pretty quickly. The first thing was that it was a relationship in which Baker also had enormous pride. But he also understood he wasn’t the President. There were some stories in the transition period that talked about Baker the assistant President, and anytime there was such a story, he would come to us and say, I sure as hell hope that none of you are putting this kind of shit out. And I would say, It’s not me, for sure.

But he was extremely sensitive to that. I think he felt, as close as the two of them were, number one, there was a certain competitive aspect at times. I saw this from time to time, the idea that Bush only got places because Baker made it possible was something that didn’t exactly produce a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings. Baker was aware of that and the last thing he wanted were these kinds of stories to be coming out. That was something that he was very sensitive to and he made sure that all of us were very sensitive to. That was number one. Number two was that the Vice President, that is again, before he became President, during the transition period, one thing was also made clear: the battles and the wars of the Reagan administration were not going to be revisited in his administration.

I mean, if you go back and look at the way Shultz and [Caspar] Weinberger fought and how most of it came out in the press and the battles that had been endured, this just was not going to be his administration. He was going to have a team of people, they were going to work together and they weren’t going to have this. So he made it very clear and then Baker did to us as well, that he and [Richard] Cheney had a relationship of 30 years. He and Bush had a relationship of 35 years. He and Scowcroft had known each other well. They were going to work together and they expected all of us to work together in the same spirit. We weren’t going to have battles, we weren’t going to be engaging in policy through leaks, and he would come down on anybody like a ton of bricks if there was any of that.

Number three, he also did tell us that he would have private meetings—

Zelikow

He, Baker?

Ross

He, Baker, would have private meetings with the President once a week that would be private, that he would see him alone. If he wanted Brent to be in on those meetings, Brent would be in on those meetings, but it would be his call. I felt, having laid down the ground rules for us in general terms to respect everybody else, we were also getting a signal that, I’m still first among equals but don’t you try to take advantage of that.

So that I think was kind of the general set of ground rules that we were operating under. What made it a little easier, there was a kind of parallelism here between the relationships that they had had at the top and the relationships that many of us had had below, already. You know, I knew Arnie really well and had known him for some time. I’d known Bob Blackwill—

Zelikow

Arnie Kanter.

Ross

Arnie Kanter, yes, sorry. Condi [Condoleezza] Rice had been my colleague when I was out running the Berkeley-Stanford program and so I knew Condi really well. Paul Wolfowitz, who was coming in at Defense, and I knew Paul really well. I had worked for him twice. So you could begin to see very logical and natural informal networks taking shape, precisely because we knew each other the way people at the top had and we had a kind of comfort. Richard Haass I had known well. And I think as a result of that, we sort of knew what the sociology of the operation was supposed to be on one the one hand, and we had known each other and liked each other and gotten along with each other on the other. So it made it pretty easy to begin to work that way.

Also I think many of us, having had previous bureaucratic experience in the government, also felt that if we did everything through the normal channels we would not get a lot of things done. So it was very natural for us to begin to work informally and, as you know, many of the informal channels became formalized over time. Again, I think pretty much reflected the fact that there was a kind of guidance from the top about how they wanted us to operate. Now, as you know, I’m not saying we never had disagreements, we had disagreements. But those disagreements for the most part didn’t play themselves out publicly. And when they did, whenever there was anything that emerged in the press that shouldn’t have, we would usually hear about it.

Zelikow

What about the State Department’s set up? The characteristic picture of course is that Baker has his inner circle, the career people are shut out. You want to comment on that perception?

Ross

Yes. Sometimes perceptions are reality. And Baker really did operate on the basis of a very small inner circle. In the early going, I will tell you what actually created a gulf with the rest of the building and then how it evolved so that that gulf was, I think, reduced at least in terms of the relationship of the inner circle to the rest of the building.

Baker’s first trip was to Europe. Baker is the kind of guy who was a very serious student and he got briefing books that were stacked very high. He came in to us, to Zoellick and me, on the eve of the trip and he said, You ought to turn this into something I could actually use. So what happened from that point on is that the two of us would divide up the responsibility of producing what would be a one- or two-page set of points that would embody the objectives that he would have in every meeting in every country. Basically, from that point on he said, I want you guys, you and Bob, just divide up how you’ll do it and you’ll prepare the talking points.

Now, for a first trip that was fine. To handle every meeting, every time, everywhere, including the State Department, and around the world is, as I said to Bob at the time, If this is what you and I are doing, we’re doing nothing else but this. This is not something that is functional over time. For a first trip, yes. We’ve got to find a way to be sure that we’re using the rest of the bureaucracy so at least we take the benefit of what they have to offer and we don’t get so consumed we can’t do anything else.

One other thing happened on that first trip. Roz gave a backgrounder the first night, which—

Zelikow

Roz [Rozanne] Ridgway, the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe.

Ross

—which Baker didn’t like at all. And in the aftermath of that he said that either Bob or I would do the backgrounders, which tended to further. . . . I mean, in his mind, his guys would do things, not the bureaucracy. He felt the bureaucracy wasn’t focused on his interests and so he became more riveted on a small circle around him. Now, getting back to how things evolved.

I think both Bob and I dealt with different parts of the bureaucracy. You know, pretty much made it clear what Baker was looking for, what the objectives were and what it was we would need. As a result, we told them, We’ll use your stuff provided this is what it’s doing. I think what happened then is that we were pretty much able to get the first drafts of everything from them and they tended to increasingly be put into a form that was usable. But I think it is a fact that the small circle around Baker was what he was most comfortable dealing with. It basically consisted of Larry Eagleburger, Bob Kimmitt, Janet Mullins, Margaret, Bob Zoellick and myself.

Zelikow

Margaret Tutwiler.

Ross

Right, Margaret Tutwiler. Others of the senior people could play at particular points and they would be involved, but in the first instance when Baker wanted to talk about a problem, it wouldn’t be with someone outside that circle. It didn’t mean the others were excluded, but in the first instance they would not be included. That’s pretty much how things took form.

When I went to the Policy Planning staff, because Baker knew that I had this offer from Scowcroft, I had a fair amount of leverage in terms of approaching what the terms of the job should be. So I wanted the size of the staff increased from 13 professionals to 20, because I wanted to bring in a number of people. I did and we were also able to bring them on fairly quickly. I wanted the people in the building to realize that they would have to pay attention to people on the Policy Planning staff, which is not necessarily the normal way things are done in the State Department. The fact that I was increasingly operating as a kind of Special Assistant to the Secretary made it easier for people on the rest of the staff also to build relationships with the rest of the building, and they did.

Bill Burns was my senior deputy and he was a strong believer—as was I—but he, coming out of the foreign service, in ensuring that we worked with, not against, the rest of the building. And I think for the most part we succeeded in doing that. We ended up developing good relations with EUR [European and Eurasian Affairs bureau]. We didn’t always agree with them but I think Ray [Raymond G. H.] Seitz and I got along very well. John Kelly in NEA [Near Eastern Affairs bureau], same. Dick Solomon in East Asia and the Pacific, the same. So pretty much across the board we had good relations. I think if you were talking to some of the people there they would say it was more on our terms than theirs, which is probably true. But in the end they adjusted and we were able to work together.

Zelikow

I’m sorry; James.

McCall

On this same point, you mentioned earlier that one of the reasons you had gone with State was that you wanted to have some influence in shaping the diplomacy. Were there specific things you were interested in seeing changed?

Ross

I thought that we were on the brink of a new era, internationally. I thought the approach to the Soviet Union in the Reagan administration had been too ideological and I wanted to have an approach that recognized that something profound was taking shape there. So that was one of the reasons I wanted to work on the Soviet Union. In terms of the Middle East and particularly Arab-Israeli issues, it wasn’t so much I wanted to have anything changed, but I felt that we needed to be involved more than we had been and I wanted to take the lead in doing that. So it wasn’t so much a departure as it was shaping what it was we would do, conceptualizing what was possible, and then being able to act on the diplomacy in terms of carrying it out.

I’d had the benefit of being at the NSC for two years, from ’86 to ’88, working on Middle East issues, not on the other issues. You know Secretary Shultz had a metaphor, which was a gardening metaphor. His approach was to work in the garden and get things ripe. That was actually a concept that many people shared, like Richard Haass had written something on the concept of ripening, and I myself had viewed things in terms of how you develop things incrementally. You create the conditions where negotiations become possible. But I also felt we needed to be consistently involved. I thought we had been kind of episodically involved in the Reagan administration.

One of the things I found out from Baker up front was, my view of being episodically involved was seen by him as being too intensively involved. I mean, he looked at Shultz and thought Shultz was flying around the area too much, and you weren’t going to get Baker out there flying around the area—famous last words. So one of the first things he said is, All right, you get to develop what we're going to do but don’t think you’re going to have me out there at all. I mean, I’ll go out there when I think we can do something, I’m not going out there before that.

So I had areas that were of particular interest to me. I think one thing that was different was having been at the NSC, I was able to be on a number of delegations from time to time. But what I was providing at that time was a function of the State Department’s readiness to receive it. And that was fine, that was the structure of the Reagan administration, certainly of the last two years when Shultz became a much more dominant figure. But I wanted to be in a position where I could actually do the diplomacy. I knew from the NSC I couldn’t do it, at least I didn’t believe that would be the case.

McCall

Policy Planning has had a lot of different roles or emphases over the years and each director has a different view on how it should be used. What was your view of how it should be used and did that differ from Baker’s view?

Ross

No, in terms of differing from Baker’s view. Baker basically wanted me to define it whatever I wanted to. Baker gave me a license. And I think this went with the idea that when Baker reposed trust in a few people basically, what he looked to them for was, I want you to tell me what the concepts are. Baker was not a strategist. He was incredibly smart, he could learn any issue inside and out. He was, and is, I think the best instinctive negotiator I’ve ever been around. I learned a lot from him about how to negotiate. But he was not a strategist and he also knew he wasn’t a strategist. So he wanted to have some people around him who could do that and who could provide him that and within that purview he gave them a lot of license. His view was, you do with the Policy Planning staff whatever it is you feel you have to to serve me.

My view of the Policy Planning staff was shaped by how I’d seen it treated during the Shultz period, where they were almost like academics. From time to time Shultz would read papers there and think highly of them, but there was never a kind of mechanism to act on it. I wanted the Policy Planning staff to be able to think more strategically than the rest of the bureaucracy, because the rest of the building on a day-to-day business has to answer the daily cables, but I didn’t want them to be so removed from operational responsibilities that what they were doing would seem irrelevant or would be hard to implement. So I said to Baker at the time that what I was going to do in terms of staff was I was going to ensure that there was a partnership with the bureaus, who had operational responsibilities.

In effect, I wanted people from the Policy Planning staff to be almost like adjunct members of the bureaus, so that there was a daily interaction on what was going on but from two standpoints. Both to inform the people on the Policy Planning staff what was happening day to day, but also to have the people on the Policy Planning staff who I was still charging with a more strategic responsibility to be able to talk to their counterparts in the bureaus to give them a sense of what it is we’re trying to do. Because I used to say, one of the big problems is, if you create global policy at 40,000 feet, it’s so general and is based on such broad principles that it’s too removed from the day-to-day, and you can end up with people carrying out particular actions day to day that are completely inconsistent with where you want to go, without ever recognizing it.

So I said, We’ve got to create some greater cross-fertilization between the two. I am going to bring people into the Policy Planning staff who are idea people but I am also going to bring people in who know how to get things done. So that was my concept for the Policy Planning staff. I had some benefit because I’d been on the Policy Planning staff when Paul Wolfowitz was director of it, I’d been on it in ’81 and ’82. I could see both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Policy Planning staff, both from that experience and then what I saw during the Shultz period.

Zelikow

Let me follow up on that point about Baker not being a strategist. Because this also relates a little bit to Bush, too. Usually the defect of someone who is not a strategist is that the policy lacks shape. It tends to be reactive across the board and you’re driven by your inbox. But Baker—whether this is Baker or Bush or even lower-level staff—Baker was always known for spotlighting a select number of key things that he would decide were very important. So at that level, the decision as to what to prioritize and concentrate on seems to be highly strategic.

The other thing is, there also seem to be some critical decisions made, basically, Among these key things, what’s the basic tone. For instance, at the very beginning of the administration the decision is made on Central America, we are going to turn that off. This was a huge issue. So you are deciding to spotlight it, but spotlight it with the decision that, Here is what the objective is going to be on Central America. So for those two things, the prioritization and then the sense as to what needs to happen here, could you then elaborate a little bit on the respective roles of Bush, Baker, and the team around them.

Ross

Maybe I used the wrong choice of words. Baker was not a conceptualizer, and there is a difference between a conceptualizer and a strategist. Baker was someone who knew the importance of strategy. Baker was someone who knew the importance of priorities. But he needed someone else to basically focus on, how will you conceptualize those priorities? Once that was conceptualized, then he could look at it and he’d add a lot. He’d flesh it out in a way that would make it more real and would also reflect judgments he would make about what should have priority versus what shouldn’t have priority. What did he think actually could be done versus what could not be done. What was an environment in which you could do things and you could have it sustained?

The Central American issue was one that he was convinced you had, as a demonstration of bipartisanship being reestablished in foreign policy, you had to fix the Central American problem. If you didn’t do that you were going to continue to have problems with the Congress. If you didn’t do that, the message you’d be sending to our allies was we still were hamstrung because of a kind of ideological conflict internally. So he made a decision that one of the most important things that could be done was to tackle the issue of Central America up front. Deal with the issue of Nicaragua and the Contras up front, by coming up with an initiative that he would work out on the Hill—and he spent a lot of time in the first month on the Hill, first two months on the Hill—and the purpose was to create an environment where you had demonstrated a clear difference with the Reagan administration. This was one area that was very important in his mind.

We had some discussions about this. Bob Zoellick and I were keen on the idea of trying to take some of the ideology and some of the partisanship out of foreign policy, but this was pushing on an open door with Baker. This was a given for him. I think that Bob Zoellick played a major role in this. Bernie Aronson, who became the Assistant Secretary, played a major role. Bernie had been a lifelong Democrat. But it was clearly Baker who was seized with the idea that this was what had to be done. So maybe the right choice of words with Baker is, he was not a conceptualizer and knew he was not a conceptualizer but he understood how to take advantage of it and he was someone who understood the importance of building strategy.

I guess I was drawing a distinction with Baker from someone like [Henry] Kissinger, who had a kind of architecture in his mind for how to think about the world, how to adjust that architecture at particular points, basic principles that ought to guide us. He didn’t need someone to be conceptualizing our basic approach to foreign policy. Someone like Baker who didn’t have that background in foreign policy needed people to create that kind of conceptualization.

Now Brent had that experience and both personally, having worked with Kissinger, having had a strong foreign policy background, but I think that Brent also—and I didn’t mention this before—Brent on one hand saw his role as National Security Advisor one way and the Secretary of State’s in another way. He did not see his role as being the guy who was responsible for conceptualizing foreign policy, number one. Number two you have to recognize also that Brent—and some of my earlier contact with Brent was as a result of Iran-Contra, where he comes in with [John] Tower and he basically shapes all the recommendations for what the NSC staff should be doing and not doing. So there was also a reason from his standpoint to create a little bit more distance from the shaping of things because it could so quickly evolve into an operational responsibility, which had created the problems in the first place at the NSC.

In the case of Bush, Bush had a general inclination on what he wanted to do but it wasn’t well formed. I think he looked at the Soviet Union and thought things could be different with them and Gorbachev in particular. He looked at things like arms control and it was clear to me that he was more interested in pursuing arms control than the Reagan administration had been. At a general level like that, he had a set of instincts and inclinations. Beyond that it wasn’t real well formed. I think it was left basically to the level below to develop that and shape that.

Now one thing was, once that was done—I’ll get back to the kind of sociology. You had the group below the most senior level of the President and Secretary of State, National Security Advisor and Secretary of Defense. Then you had that group of the President and Secretary of State, National Security Advisor and Secretary of Defense, later on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and also the Deputy National Security Advisor. They constituted one group, and when we would develop something for them, it was actually quite remarkable how quickly they would come to decisions on it. There was a capacity to do decision-making quickly on fairly big strategic issues, like SNF, which was a big issue with Europe.

There was one other thing that I guess I was unaware of at the time but became aware of. President Bush liked to create a sense of surprise. He liked to produce surprise. He liked to produce initiatives that would capture the imagination. Now, we were arguing that after our first trip to Europe, because what we saw was Gorbachev, who was competing with us on SNF, Gorbachev who when we went to see him in April sprung a surprise on us in terms of a readiness to reduce conventional forces. We were making the case back to President Bush that we were losing the initiative, that we were always responding, and we needed to come with something dramatic. In May he became very persuaded of that. That I think then became part of his broader approach, from May on, from the spring on.

Zelikow

Also, it seemed that very desire to produce surprises, and in fact, the way that the particular May initiatives came out, which was this very compartmented, very informal process, in which we both played our parts. But then it seemed to me that then set a pattern of what folks thought worked that was highly informal, that then relied on this kind of looser grouping, partly because that was the way you kept things secret.

Ross

That’s true.

Zelikow

And that has some consequences later on.

Ross

I think in fact the one point I left out is what you just said. There is a logical correlation between wanting to preserve surprise and be able to spring it and having secrecy. So the preoccupation with discretion created great compartmentalization, added to the sense of informality, which was sort of natural to begin with. But then you had an additional logic to pursue it and then given the reaction to this initial surprise, as you just said, there was a conviction, this works. And so all the natural instincts were reinforced by having some successes.

Zelikow

The natural tendency would then be, now we would try to hit hard the U.S.-Soviet stuff, European, German issues, although a lot has been written about that already.

Ross

I don’t think I can exceed what you would say on that. Actually, you already have written on that.

Zelikow

I don’t want to foreclose that, but we don’t have infinite time and one real comparative advantage you have is to think back on the stuff you’ve seen already published and help us fill in gaps, either commenting critically, or They got that right, they got that wrong. But one thing to just touch on briefly and we should return to it, we just mentioned Central America as something to turn on or turn off. Hit it very hard, hit it very fast, so it is not a running wound.

Ross

Right.

Zelikow

Let’s take a moment on the Middle East in ’89. There is another deliberate decision there, but it’s a deliberate decision to kind of stand down a bit.

Ross

Right.

Zelikow

And that’s an issue in which you took special interest.

Ross

Well, as I said, Baker’s main guidance to me was, Develop your policy but you ain’t gonna have me flying out there. Whatever you do, I’m not going out there. In the initial briefings of Baker in particular that I gave, I said, There are new circumstances and they create new possibilities. Now, there also are huge gaps. But I felt that the intifada created a completely new dynamic, because for the Israelis it became clear that there was no military solution to the problem and the people who were most clear in saying that were the military. So that was number one.

With the Palestinians, the fact was the intifada was also a new dynamic because it was basically home-grown, it was from within the territories. It was something that [Yasser] Arafat obviously piggybacked onto, but nonetheless he hadn’t created it. He was obviously able to help manage it after the fact, but it also meant that there was something going on there where he couldn’t simply discount what the attitude within the territories might be. There was a new Soviet Union. Even if it wasn’t as transformed as it was about to become, [Hafiz] Assad had gone to Moscow in 1986 and he had been told that he could forget about strategic parity as a principle, the Soviets weren’t going to back it. So they weren’t going to play the same kind of role that they had played in the past. They weren’t going to be a military patron the way they had been. They weren’t going to be throwing good money after bad the way they had done. They didn’t necessarily see competition in the Middle East as being to their advantage, the way at least before they might have.

So when I laid this out I said, We have a new situation. Add on to that, we do have a dialogue with the PLO, which allows us to double-track whatever it is we are trying to do with Palestinians in the territories. So I felt that there was a need to push something, to launch something, that could take advantage of what was a new dynamic, even though I knew, as I said, the gaps in substance were really legion. Now the problem was there was no way that Baker was going to be involved beyond phone calls. Now having said that—

Zelikow

Why? I mean, you said that. Why?

Ross

Baker was absolutely convinced that the Middle East was a loser as an issue. One thing that also characterized Baker is that Baker’s view of people’s effectiveness and success was a function of their effectiveness and success. Therefore, getting involved with an issue that he thought he’d have nothing to show, there would be no success to point to, it would be a quagmire. It would suck him in and suck him dry and he’d have nothing to show for it. He had absolutely, complete lack of enthusiasm for this. Now, I said to him at the time, One thing about the Middle East, you may not want to be involved with it, but it will involve itself with you. Like it or not, it will impose itself on us.

One thing that he couldn’t avoid, and he didn’t try to, was the fact that we would naturally have a series of visits right away in the spring. So you had Mubarak, you had Shamir come, you had Hussein. So I think what happened at that point was, he wasn’t going to go out there but he saw the value of doing something. What he wanted to do was, he wanted to have a strategy that would allow us to be doing something without involving him very much. I mean the key is, without involving his prestige. So what we did is, he let me set up a private channel with the Israelis right away. He also basically let me outline points for him from the beginning with the Europeans, on our very first trip, about the kinds of things that we had to at least be thinking about.

Zelikow

Who was on the Israeli end of the channel?

Ross

Ely [Elyakim] Rubinstein was the initial. It turned out there were a series of them that I had. One was with Dan Meridor, who at that time I think was the Cabinet Secretary. One was Ely Rubinstein, who had become one of the assistants to Shamir. The essence of what I did with Ely was to say, There’s going to be a lot of pressure to do something. Right now the whole world is focused on an international conference. I’m not an enthusiast for an international conference because I don’t see what it actually does. I don’t think it’s going to launch negotiations. I don’t see the ground having been laid for negotiations. And yet, I’ll tell you, unless we have something from you, we can’t beat something with nothing. So if you want to head off an international conference then when Shamir comes, he has to come with an initiative.

Basically Ely said to me at the time, there was an intifada still going on at this time, We’ve been thinking about giving the Palestinians some greater functional autonomy if the intifada will stop. I said, That won’t cut it, because there has to be a political dimension here or you’re not going to change anything. I laid out to him in fact a broader approach than I’d laid out to Baker. I had written a strategy paper right at the beginning of the administration. In that strategy paper I laid out the following approach. I said, we need a pre-negotiation phase. We need a negotiation phase. We need to have a bridge between the pre-negotiation and the negotiation phase.

The pre-negotiation phase would be designed to change the environment. We have to reduce the violence; we have to diffuse the tensions. We have to find a way for each side to take specific steps on the ground that will begin to demonstrate that they can make commitments and fulfill them. We have to create an environment that could be conducive to negotiations, where each side begins to believe that they can lead somewhere. And we need to inject this with a kind of political flavor, and maybe elections in the territories could be a bridge between the pre-negotiation and the negotiation phase, because elections, by definition, are a political act. But they are especially a political act because you have to create circumstances where they can be held.

So I said that could create in itself a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians to change the real circumstances on the ground. Where is the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] going to be when you hold elections? What are you allowed to do when you run for elections? Who can be candidates in elections? Inherently you’re changing the whole dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian equation, but focused on those things you have a potential to get at right now. We try to deal with statehood or Jerusalem, you’re on two different planets. So the logic of the strategy was to take advantage of what I felt was a new dynamic, but to do it in the context in which I thought offered some promise of success.

I pretty much laid that out. This is what I had given to Baker. Baker actually described these points in general when we went to see the Europeans in the February trip. When Ely came, after I listened to what he had to say, I basically had made these general points to him. I said, Look, this isn’t the gospel, but I can tell you, if you don’t come with something when the Prime Minister comes then you’re going to get something you won’t like. So that was really the basis on which I think they came with their four point initiative when they came in March.

When they came in March we had a series of discussions at Blair House. They had a four point initiative that was really not fleshed out. It had different parts to it. The part that we seized on was the elections because, in fact, the language we used was, Elections to launch a political negotiating process. They wanted us to focus on everything. At this point he didn’t have the endorsement of his Cabinet yet for the four point initiative, but he wanted us to embrace it. He wanted us to sell it. We said, We’re prepared to embrace it if it has political content. We’re prepared to embrace it if we can build on it. I think this set in motion a process where they would come in with things and we would then try to turn them into something that went beyond what they wanted. It was a constant reality of them trying to minimize what they were offering, and when we were dealing with the Arabs they would try to maximize it, and we were trying to pull the Israelis up and bring the Arabs down.

Quandt

Baker gave a fairly tough speech at AIPAC [American Israel Political Action Committee] I think in the middle of ’89, and seemed to express a lot of frustration as well as pessimism. You call us when you’re ready, and so forth. On the kind of human level do you sense that Baker and Bush ever believed that Shamir was a guy that they would be able to work effectively with in peacemaking? Or was there a deep skepticism that he just wasn’t going to be the guy to be a serious partner in this?

Ross

Baker went through an evolution. Bush I think—and I’ll explain why—Bush did not. I don’t believe Bush ever thought that Shamir was serious. And I believe it stemmed from a misunderstanding from the very first meeting. It was a misunderstanding on the settlement issue, when in the meeting Bush said to Shamir, You know there is a real problem with settlements. I’ve got a real problem with settlements. I think they’re a real problem. And Shamir literally said, Well, they won’t be a problem. Now Bush took that to mean, Great, you’re not going to be building them. And Shamir basically took it to mean, Well, I don’t think they should be a problem, therefore they won’t be a problem.

Quandt

The same thing happened with [Jimmy] Carter and [Menachem] Begin, almost word for word, almost exactly, first meeting. And the same legacy.

Ross

It is pretty amazing, isn’t it. And in this particular case I can tell you what happened to Bush right after it. Shortly after this meeting he was shown intel [intelligence] that showed the Israelis were starting new settlements. Probably very similar to the Carter experience.

Quandt

Exactly.

Ross

And therefore Bush thought, This guy lied to me. Now Bush being the kind of guy he was, with a code, with a sense of propriety, the idea this guy would lie to him really was something he just never got over. I even told the Israelis at one point, I said, Shamir needs to write a letter. He needs to tell the President what happened; it was a misunderstanding. He did not mean to mislead him and he should apologize for that. They eventually did write such a letter about two months after I told them to do it. And when they did it, it’s a classic case of people not being able to help themselves. They did a pretty good job for about four pages and then the last two pages it all had to come back with what they wanted to do, why it was okay, why it was right, why they were justified. Then the very end of the letter was just a kind of diatribe against the PLO, and why were we continuing with this dialogue with the PLO. It just, in the end, the letter which was designed to try to repair things made it worse.

In Bush’s case I don’t believe he ever got over it and he never trusted Shamir after that. In Baker’s case it was a little different. I think it’s also a difference between someone who has responsibility for actually doing the diplomacy and someone who’s sitting a little farther removed from it. Baker had great doubts about Shamir after the first effort, our effort—

Quandt

The election one.

Ross

What became known as the Baker five points. I’ll tell you in a second how they evolved, because Baker’s actual discussion of them in his book is not right. Baker really felt at the end of that, when Shamir turned down, voted back, had lost in his own Cabinet on the compromise that we had fashioned, that had been agreed with Moshe Arens, at that point Baker said, Well, good riddance to the guy. Because we knew, I mean, the government fell the same day. He was convinced that Shamir was just not serious at all at that juncture.

But what affected Baker a lot, I believe, is that during the Gulf War he respected the fact that Shamir withheld and withstood the pressure to retaliate, even though he knew the pressure was strong. He got it directly because he had a couple of meetings with Arens. Arens, I mean, it helps when someone speaks Americanized English, which Arens did. But Arens is also just very direct, I mean, he is blunt. He doesn’t mince his words; he says things without a lot of subtlety. We actually had one meeting where a SCUD hit in Arens’ neighborhood while we were having the meeting. He asked to take a break in the meeting so he could go call his wife to be sure she was okay. I mean, that has a pretty dramatic effect. He came back and he was really pressing Baker in the aftermath of that to allow them to hit back.

Baker was sympathetic to why they felt that way but he was not open, he wasn’t prepared to agree to it because of the impact it would have in the region. So he really acquired much more respect for Shamir in the aftermath of that, number one. Number two, even though—and this is also something that didn’t find its way into his book—he got to the point where he felt that Shamir was straight with him. I mean, we walked out of one meeting and he said to me, You know, I trust that little guy. Actually, it was a funny position to be in. At this point I was more skeptical. I said, Really? But he did. He said, When that guy gives me his word, he sticks to it. I think I said at the time, Yes, the problem is getting his word.

But he became over time convinced that as hard as he was to deal with—and there was no mistaking that—he said, He’s a hard ass but I trust that little guy. He doesn’t lie to me and he sticks up to what he says. If he tells me he is going to do something, he actually does it. Now, this was at a particular moment, the day after a bad meeting with Assad, where Assad had retreated on something he had committed to, so it might have been affected by that.

But you know, it really did sort of evolve. When we got to the point late in the process where we were dealing with the question of who was going to be in the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation and Baker said—

Zelikow

This was now in 1991.

Ross

Yes. And Baker said to Shamir, I’ll give you my word that there will be nobody in that delegation that you can’t sit with. And Yossi Ben Aharon and Ely Rubinstein started to say, We can’t just rely upon that. And Shamir cut them off and he said, If the Secretary gives me his word, that’s good enough. So in a curious way, the two of them developed a kind of respect for each other, even though they had a lot of hard meetings that you didn’t see elsewhere. That’s not something that Bush developed with Shamir. I don’t believe Bush ever got over that initial meeting.

Quandt

Maybe just one more follow-up on that. Jumping ahead a little bit, Bush then took the fairly tough decision on the loan guarantees at the time of the Madrid conference.

Ross

Yes.

Quandt

Not to go ahead with them, postpone them, whatever, make conditions. Is it possible to interpret his decision on that, which had some political ramifications and risks, as his willingness to put some real pressure on Shamir at that time, and perhaps even with the hope that it would hurt Shamir in the elections that were coming up the following year?

Ross

It may seem paradoxical given what I’ve just said, but I think Baker basically had made the decision that we would not do the loan guarantees because it would, at this point . . . well after Madrid . . . when Baker made this decision, I’ll give you the context. When Baker made this decision it was in February or March of ’92. It was well after we had the negotiations begin, several months after Madrid.

The original effort to do a deal on loan guarantees came up in the summer of ’91. At the time we weren’t paying a lot of attention to it, but AIPAC was apparently working the Hill very actively. When we became aware of it in August—I mean, one of the reasons we weren’t paying attention is because we were traveling out there all the time—but when it came up in August, the last thing in the world that we wanted to deal with was the loan guarantee problem. We saw it as complicating. This was after Assad had said he would go. We were in a position where we were pretty hopeful we were going to be able to get to Madrid. We didn’t need this issue to complicate what was going to be possible. We didn’t need suddenly to force the settlements front and center where we might put the Arabs in a position where they had to do something.

In August what happened is, Baker asked Janet Mullins and me—Janet Mullins was the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs—to see if we could come up with an approach to defer this problem or avoid this problem. Janet came back after having done some soundings and told me that AIPAC had all the votes lined up and we were not going to be able to head it off unless the Israelis weren’t going to request it. So Baker made a call to Shamir and tried to persuade him to not request this right now. He asked for a day to think about it and then called back and said, you know, they had to go ahead. He said, You and I could talk about it when you come out, but they had to go ahead. The issue became somewhat charged, to say the least, even before we went out on this visit, which was in early September. We were going first to the Soviet Union; this was after the coup in the Soviet Union. Then we were going on to the Middle East from there.

As a result of Baker’s direction, I had begun talking to different Senators about ways to head this off. Senator [Robert] Kasten of Wisconsin at that time had spoken to the President and left the President with the impression that I had adopted a position that was different than the President’s. I may be many things, but one thing I’m not is someone who would say things that were inconsistent with what the President wanted. The President sent Baker when we were in Leningrad a one-page note, sort of saying that he had heard this from Kasten and he didn’t want Baker doing a deal on loan guarantees when we were out there. So Baker brought this one-page note from the President to him and showed it to me and said, I don’t think you and I are doing a deal on this one when we’re out here. And he said, What did you say to Kasten? I said, I gave him your six points.

Baker developed six points that he had used with Tom Dine, talking about how we might be prepared to do this but only if it were deferred. We would be prepared to consider it next year but not now. So I basically just repeated what he had said to Tom Dine. The way Kasten interpreted that was that we were prepared to do it, as to consider it, at a later date. So Baker felt at this point that the President thought that perhaps the two of us were too forward-leaning on this and he didn’t want to be. His position was, I am not for doing this. On this one I will tell you that the President had a very strong personal position that was driven, I think again it goes back to that very first meeting.

Quandt

Settlements.

Ross

He was convinced that not only were they an obstacle to peace but he’d made an effort with Shamir and Shamir lied to him. He never got over that, and he was going to be damned sure if we were going to provide $10 billion in loan guarantees that we weren’t going to be indirectly funding a whole new array of settlements. Now there is one other factor I left out, a little factoid I left out. We did $400 million in loan guarantees the previous year. In fact, I had persuaded the President and Baker that we should do so on the grounds that this was basically a down payment. The Israelis wouldn’t be stupid enough to jeopardize getting much larger loan guarantees by violating the understandings that we had negotiated with them, which turned out to be wrong. So my own credibility on this issue, even prior to the time that he saw Kasten’s report of his conversation with me, was pretty low. So this was kind of the backdrop to our going out there.

To make matters even more interesting from Baker’s standpoint, Tom Friedman had written a piece; he covered us. Tom has a way of encapsulating an idea with a simple phrase. He wrote a piece when we were out in the area that said, Baker had succeeded in convincing the Arabs not to make settlements an issue, but he hadn’t succeeded in convincing the President. [William] Safire had picked that up and said there were people at the White House who were complaining of this because Baker was interested in the Nobel Peace Prize and that was his only focal point. So you take all of this together and what you get is Baker feeling we’re not going to allow the appearance of any wedge between us and the President to emerge, and he then staked out a pretty tough position on this issue.

The President obviously did as well, and that’s when he gave his famous press conference when he talked about he was one lonely man. That did succeed, by the way, we succeeded in having the issue not considered in the fall of ’91. It wasn’t considered until the spring of ’92, or at least February or March. There was a basic deal that Baker worked with Senator [Patrick] Leahy and that was on the idea of the dollar-for-dollar deductibility, if we were to pass or accept loan guarantees, the dollar amount that we estimated the Israelis spent on settlement activity in the territories would be deducted each year from the loan guarantees. But Baker I can tell you made a decision in the February-March period that we would not do the deal on loan guarantees because to do that would work against [Yitzhak] Rabin. He may well have had a period where he trusted Shamir and he did, but given the choice between having Shamir in there and Rabin in there, he preferred Rabin.

Quandt

And the President presumably shared that view as far as you know.

Ross

Yes. In fact, there was—last point on this—Zalman Shaval was their ambassador. He came and had a couple of discussions with me and it was clear we could have cut a deal, a one-year deal that would have deferred most of this. It would have said $2 billion in loan guarantees and defer the rest for negotiations down the line. In return for the $2 billion they would, in fact, not have any new starts. Shaval thought he could sell Shamir on that, but when I went to tell Baker about it, Baker wasn’t interested. He said, I don’t want to hear about it.

Quandt

Do you share their—did they make the right decision?

Ross

Yes. There is no question in my mind that with the Russian vote in Israel, one of the reasons that they went against Shamir was because of the problem with us.

Quandt

Are we going to have some time for the Gulf War and when do you want to turn to that?

Zelikow

We actually only have about an hour left. You see, we actually did have some things to talk about that.

Ross

I didn’t dismiss that. It’s just that I’m writing every day and you know what that process is like.

Zelikow

Yes, so we may just set another time to perhaps talk about some other things. But I think Bill’s suggestion about going to the Gulf War is a good one, because I think your perspectives on that process are invaluable and I don’t think are picked up very well, though you may comment on this. On the Gulf War in general, is there a book or account that you think, Oh, that nails it, I really don’t have a lot to add, this is pretty well out there, that you would commend to future readers?

Ross

As you know, there’s a number of books that are out there. My vantage point is closest to Baker’s book, obviously. But the other books that have been done, both some of the journalistic accounts that have been done—the names of the authors are escaping me right now, but I think there are two—

Zelikow

There’s Friedman and [Efraim] Karsh, for instance. There’s [Michael] Gordon and [Bernard] Trainor.

Quandt

And Rick Atkinson.

Zelikow

Yes, but Atkinson doesn’t do much with the diplomacy in which you were involved. I mean, a lot of these, Gordon and Trainor do a little with the diplomacy and what they have has some merit. In a way, that’s one of my concerns, that the literature on the Gulf War doesn’t pick up the full range of the diplomatic activity.

Ross

I guess that’s what I was going to say. When you look at the books that have been done, they are much more focused on the war itself. They don’t deal a lot with the development of the coalition and the essence of the diplomacy. Baker’s is the one that does most of that because that was where his responsibility really was.

Quandt

Tell us about the intelligence failure. I don’t think there is any other word for it. In retrospect, of course, one always sees lots of things that you wish you had picked up on. Did you feel in the early part of 1990 as Saddam was making the various threatening statements and blackmailing his Arab partners and so forth, did you get at any point a sense that this is qualitatively different? We’ve really got to raise the alert level? Or did it come in such small pieces and you could always find an explanation for why he was doing it, that it didn’t change your fundamental judgment? Not just you, but the President and Baker and Scowcroft.

Ross

My feeling is that part of the problem is that the President, Baker, Scowcroft, me, we weren’t focused on Iraq at this time. There are some things I want to talk about, especially in the aftermath of the Gulf War, because they relate also to what I call the kind of fatigue of decision-making. And also the reality of group-think and how it both constrains what can be done and just what the emotional response is to an intense level of involvement with great anxiety for a long period of time. And then you succeed, and there is a kind of let down. It did affect the top of the administration. But getting back to your question, Bill, when I say we weren’t paying attention, you have to understand what we were riveted on at the time and how often what we were doing—we were geared towards German reunification.

Quandt

Right.

Ross

We had the fall of the Wall. We had a Soviet Union that was in crisis. I think Baker and I were seeing Shevardnadze almost every two weeks. Our focus was there. We were doing the arms control negotiations on START; we were managing German unification. We were involved in very intense diplomacy which captured the President’s attention. I would write Baker’s night notes—and they would be long night notes. The President would be seeing these every day and then when Baker would get back, this is what they would come and talk about.

Zelikow

Just to interject, night notes are memos that the Secretary of State would send to the President for his overnight reading. In essence at the end of a day, sort of a one-page piece of paper. I’m sorry to interrupt.

Ross

Sometimes they were longer. Often times I would write two- and three-page single-spaced memos because these were historic discussions that would frequently take place. First of all the President liked to read them, and secondly Baker felt the need, I think at one level, just to have a historical record. But at another level, they were an opportunity also to influence thinking and so he wanted them to be done seriously. I raise it, again, more because I think the focus was elsewhere. To the extent to which there is a Middle East focus it stayed on Arab-Israeli stuff, at least Israeli-Palestinian stuff until the Shamir government fell, and that took you into the end of March. The preoccupation with other big issues: German unification, arms control negotiations, South Africa. We went there, saw [F. W.] de Klerk, saw [Nelson] Mandela.

You in a sense had these overriding international developments that were the focus of attention. Iraq, I felt, was really being dealt with [by] the more traditional bureaucracy. So it wasn’t getting the President’s attention, it wasn’t getting Brent’s attention, it wasn’t getting Baker’s attention. For it to get Baker’s attention it would have had to have my attention and it really wasn’t getting my attention. The first time I say and do anything about it is when Saddam makes his speech, where he talked about burning half of Israel. You know, I went into Baker and I said, I’m not following this real closely but I’ve got to tell you that people are sending in cables and offering all kind of explanations to excuse what Saddam said and explain it away, in a sense doing what you were describing. Many, in effect, said: Well, you’ve got to understand what he meant by it. I said, This is a guy who went to war with the Iranians, paid a terrible price. I don’t think he’s learned too many lessons. So I think maybe we ought to think this is not someone that we can moderate.

The tenor and the gist, when I would take a look at what was being said, was that this is someone that we can work with. So at one level I think it was not having the political level pay attention to the issue. In retrospect, I obviously wish that I had paid more attention to the issue than I did. But I didn’t. At the very end, in the last couple of weeks, when again, we were still traveling, we saw Shevardnadze I think on July 15th in Paris. Then we saw him again in Irkutsk on August 1. In that period we began receiving reports, I remember reading them on the plane, that began to sort of highlight a higher level of concern.

I recall Paul Wolfowitz calling me as well, saying he was pushing to get us to send some tankers out to the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and to run an exercise. And he said he thought he needed my help because there was resistance on it at the State Department. I called up Bob Kimmitt and Kimmitt was actually saying no, we’re going to do this. But then suddenly they got cold feet in terms of not wanting it.

Zelikow

The UAE?

Ross

Yes. So I think you have the absence of political level of attention on one hand and you also have an operating assumption. I mean, most intelligence failures come from having an assumption that allows you to discount all the information that comes in that doesn’t square with the assumption. That’s pretty much what I think was happening here.

Quandt

Yes.

Zelikow

In the spring of 1990, you did intervene enough to help knock down the policy of constructive engagement on the issue of agricultural credit guarantees. You and Kimmitt both intervening to basically overrule the sixth floor and actually overrule Haass too, but [Robert] Gates agreed with you guys.

Ross

Right.

Zelikow

And you kind of knocked this down in these two Deputies’ Committee meetings, one in April, one in May, which is still pretty low-grade but percolating up a little bit.

Ross

Right.

Zelikow

What’s striking in retrospect is you on the seventh floor could intervene enough to kind of stop that, but you couldn’t intervene enough to invent a whole new policy to take its place.

Ross

I think you’re highlighting what is the problem of lack of attention. If there was attention—let me put it this way. At one level I was clearly distracted, focused on other things. When I became concerned, I became concerned enough to weigh in to try to stop certain things. But I didn’t allow it to somehow grab my attention enough where I would say, We better start focusing on a different way of doing business with this guy. Although I did ask, in fact I did ask Bill to have—

Zelikow

Bill Burns?

Ross

Yes, Bill Burns, to have Steve Grummon on our staff write up what might be a different approach. Write up a memo, and Rick Hermann who is now at Ohio State—

Zelikow

Spell his name too.

Ross

Hermann.

Zelikow

Thanks.

Ross

Both Steve Grummon and Rick Hermann did write up, I think in June, a set of memos on the problem that Saddam represented and the alternatives, or at least different things we ought to be doing. I recall reading them and they were quite good. They were sending out a much stronger set of alarm bells. I forwarded them, but again I didn’t do much with them. And again, I think the main reason for just not doing much with them was, I remember, the first week in June we were in Copenhagen with Shevardnadze.

Zelikow

Scotland, Berlin.

Ross

Right, every two weeks we were meeting. This was a case where I was completely consumed at this point with management of the Soviet relationship and managing German unification. There just wasn’t much time for anything else. So you know, I think, had I really been riveted on this, I probably would have taken the Grummon-Hermann memos and done much more with them and probably done something myself, but I didn’t.

Zelikow

So pick us back up again, the narrative when the alarm bells really do start to ring.

Quandt

I think the [April] Glaspie meeting with Saddam is something I’d like to hear. Does it still register in your mind, reading it?

Ross

I was on the plane and Baker and I were actually sitting together. I read it, I remember—

Zelikow

The Glaspie message reporting on her meeting with Saddam.

Ross

Yes. I read it and I was just sitting there shaking my head. Baker looked over at me and he said, What’s the matter? I said, Well, I’m reading this account of what April has said to Saddam Hussein. And if I were Saddam Hussein, the only conclusion I could draw from this is that basically he can go into Kuwait. We aren’t going to do anything and he doesn’t have to worry about anything. We’re so interested in having a relationship with him, that you know, he doesn’t have to worry about us at all. And he goes, Dennis, it couldn’t be that bad. So I said, You read it. So he read it and he said, Damn.

I said to him I honestly don’t know what to do about this, because she obviously went in without instructions and she didn’t know what to do. She was called and she just did this on the spot. But I think we have to go back with something that corrects the misimpressions. I think instructions were given, it was written. We gave instructions I guess to John Kelly. They were written and I don’t in fact recall clearing on them before they went.

Quandt

I remember what it said, though. It didn’t strengthen the message. It said we still want to have good relations.

Ross

Yes, I remember that too, because the reason I said—

Zelikow

It said, While we take no position on your disputes, we are against the use of force . . ..

Ross

Yes, but it was pretty soft.

Quandt

It was pretty soft.

Ross

We were at this point—to get to Irkutsk, Baker had gone to ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and I didn’t want to go to ASEAN. It was agreed that Howard Graves and I would fly to Hong Kong to meet Baker in Hong Kong when the plane refueled so we could fly with him from there to Irkutsk. So in the midst of my traveling out there, I didn’t see the rewrite. I saw the rewrite after I got to Irkutsk. I went to Baker and I said, Did you approve the message that was sent back out? And he said he really hadn’t had a chance to look at it. I said, Well, you remember what we both felt about the Glaspie message? He said yes. I said, I don’t believe that what was sent out has corrected the impression. He said, I’ll talk to Kimmitt about it.

Right about that time Kimmitt was calling, saying, Looks like we’ve got an invasion. So that’s what happened. You know, there is something here. As good as communications are, and they’re probably a little bit better today than they were then, when you’re traveling around a lot, it’s not so easy to manage precisely the messages you want sent.

Quandt

I don’t want to quarrel with that, but you did have a White House and an NSC staff and an NEA who were all there, not facing a communications problem.

Ross

That’s true.

Quandt

And Kelly’s call on this was as bad as anybody’s could be. He said, We have no defense treaty with Kuwait the day before they went in. That was true, we didn’t. But again, if you’re trying to signal, you at least want to add the next sentence, Nonetheless . . ...

Ross

I mean, if one is a student of history and one knows the beginnings of the Korean War, you know that when you say, They’re outside our defense perimeter, you send a message. And yes, look, what I’m saying is, I’m not defending what others did. I am saying that in effect, we didn’t play the role on this that we could have, probably should have. And in any case, I have no doubt what our views would have been. They wouldn’t have been this.

Zelikow

If you had taken a tougher line, do you think that you could have pretty easily swung the other top people in the government to back your play? Because they were mostly preoccupied and distracted too.

Ross

The hardest issue was that the other top people weren’t paying attention either. The people who were paying attention weren’t the ones who were making a case to take a tougher line. If Baker had called the President, if we had looked at this and said, This is important enough and we might face a war here real soon, we might face an invasion here real soon, you know, sure, he’d pick up the phone and he’d call him. One thing about Baker, whenever something was important enough he’d call the President. Or he’d call Brent, one or the other. Often times, as you know, if you call Brent to say he was going to call the President, that would obviate the need for such a call.

Either way, he didn’t have to call the President, he could have called Brent. He didn’t do it. The truth is, we were planning for Irkutsk. We had a whole different agenda. We were riding in the car over for the first meeting with Shevardnadze when Kimmitt called Baker. I was sitting next to Baker when he got the call. Kimmitt suddenly said, Look, we think he’s going to invade. And Baker raised it with Shevardnadze that night and Shevardnadze said, Nah, it’s not possible. He’s a rogue but he’s not a fool. But he asked Tarasenko to check and see whether there was anything they knew about this and Tarasenko came back and said, There’s nothing, we don’t know anything.

The next morning when Kimmitt called and said they’ve gone across the border, Baker went into Shevardnadze and said, We have reports he’s gone across the border. Shevardnadze said, That’s not possible. To this day I think one of the reasons that Shevardnadze reacted the way he did was because he felt embarrassed. I mean, we’re sitting there, he’s blindsided and he doesn’t know about it. He asked Tarasenko to check and he comes back with information—only after the invasion did he come back and say they actually have invaded but our people think he’s just going to stop. So every step of the way what he was being told wasn’t consistent with what in fact was happening on the ground. That added to his own sense that he would proceed, that Shevardnadze would proceed.

Quandt

I don’t want to divert from focusing on the American side, but just your current thoughts on Saddam’s strategy. Do you think he had spent quite a bit of capital cultivating King Hussein and maybe even Mubarak and needless to say the Yemenis in the Zaire thing?

Ross

Yes.

Quandt

Essentially saying, Look, these rich Arabs are not sharing, we understand your grievances against them, because King Hussein was really ticked off at the Kuwaitis, I heard directly that spring. My sense has always been that Saddam said, We’re going to scare the living daylights out of the Kuwaitis and shake some money out of their bank accounts. We’ll make sure you get plenty of it, but don’t overreact when you see us beginning to make the threats. They’re just meant to get them to open the purse.

I’ve always thought that that helped explain why, on the Arab side, there was so little alarm. That in a sense Mubarak knew this was part of what Saddam had said he was going to do. We’re going to scare them, we’re going to blackmail them, but you’ll get some benefit. Does that fit with what you now think may have been happening?

Ross

Yes. Not only does it fit with it, when I go back and think about what we were hearing from all of them even in the last days, every single one of them was sending us messages that this isn’t real, this is just posturing, it’ll be worked out. The interesting thing is it wasn’t only—I mean, King Hussein even after the invasion sent a message to us that basically said, This will be okay and I have an assurance from him that this is not what you think it is, something close to that.

Mubarak wasn’t alarmed, but even King Fahd wasn’t alarmed. We got a message from him too, saying, We expect to be able to take care of this. So I think obviously what he was saying to the Saudis was something different than what he was saying to King Hussein and Mubarak. In a sense Mubarak’s sense of betrayal is what governs him. I mean, he is so angry, when we go see him the first time he is talking about this guy is such a liar, and then he goes through and he says, You know he’s tried to buy people. He tried to buy me. He tried to buy me with 50 Mercedes. You know I saw through it, I knew. Yes, afterwards. But in my mind I think that was absolutely what had happened.

Zelikow

Why don’t you take a little time and describe—there is some of this in the literature—describe those immediate efforts that were so important to move the Soviets on this issue. Especially stuff that you think won’t show up well on the documentary record.

Ross

Well, first let me say, life is often times a function of serendipity as opposed to planning. The idea that somehow I had consciously planned to have policy planning talks in Moscow at this time, and Bob Zoellick decided to hitch along for this, and that’s why we were riding back with Shevardnadze on his plane, planning all this . . . . What really happened is two weeks before when we were in Paris, I knew that Baker was going to go on to Mongolia after Irkutsk. Baker wanted to go hunting. I mean, I had little kids at the time, the last thing I needed to do was be away over the weekend and so I was thinking hard about how could I avoid going to Mongolia and get back here for the weekend.

So I turned to Tarasenko and I said, Don’t you think it would be a good idea for us to have policy planning talks right after Shevardnadze finishes with Baker in Irkutsk? He goes, Yeah, that’s a great idea. I said, Will we do them back in Moscow? He agrees. I said, How will we get to Moscow? He said, You can ride with us. Now, the only reason I was doing this is because I wanted to go back for a day of policy planning talks and then get back home. As it turned out with the invasion, now flying back on the plane, a six-hour plane ride from Irkutsk to Moscow, gave us an opportunity to discuss all the different possibilities on the flight back. Bob was sitting there with me with Tarasenko and then Shevardnadze joined us for part of this discussion.

Zelikow

Where is Baker at this point?

Ross

Baker has flown from Irkutsk to Mongolia. So he’s flying east and we’re flying west. We don’t have a lot of information beyond the initial reports that we have that they’ve gone across the border. The initial Soviet report that Tarasenko passed on was that they thought he was going to stop. So what I did on the plane was actually use it to talk about different possible contingencies. I mean, what if he doesn’t stop?

More than that, to use it to condition. This is what I felt was a strategic opening to demonstrate that the Cold War was over. I said to Tarasenko and also to Shevardnadze, You know, in our little meetings of the four of us, Baker and me and the two of you, we’ve talked a lot about the potential for partnership. We’ve talked a lot about the idea that we’re not only no longer going to be adversaries, but that we don’t have to limit what we do to cooperating. We can actually think about areas where we set a tone, we set a direction and we become partners. This is one of those events that we need to respond in a similar way. We have to be on the same page.

There was a fair amount of that on the plane ride back. They weren’t persuaded at this point because they weren’t persuaded that this was that serious. They weren’t persuaded that this was anything other than a move across the border and then he’d get out. So they weren’t buying, necessarily. We got back to Moscow, we said goodbye to Shevardnadze, went over to the foreign ministry. I said this before, and it’s in Baker’s book. Tarasenko said, I want to find out what’s going on. I expected him to pick up the phone and call his people and he turned on the TV to get CNN. During the Gulf War there was always, CNN had this clip of Mubarak saying, I was always watching the CNN. It could have been us. I could have done the clip for them. But what we found out when we turned on CNN is that he hadn’t stopped. So they suddenly realized this was much more profound than they had contemplated.

Peter Hauslohner, who was a guy on my staff here who was in Moscow there to meet us for the policy planning talks, he said we should have a joint statement. I turned to Tarasenko and said, Are you willing? And he said yes. I said, Why don’t we draft it and then I’ll check with Baker and see if he is willing to come back here for it. So we drafted it, he was fine with it. In fact it was a very strong statement. So I called Baker and said, Here’s where we are, and he asked me to call Scowcroft to let him know. Scowcroft and the President were in Colorado. Brent was fine with it. So we then proceeded on this.

Now only after the fact did I find out that Tarasenko was having a much harder time delivering the statement. Baker was planning to come back and when Tarasenko came back to me with what the foreign ministry was prepared to accept in the statement I said, Look, if this is all you’re going to say, I’m going to call Baker and tell him not to come, which was unfortunately a threat that I could not have produced on at that point, which is not a position you want to be in. But I basically kept threatening and he kept going back and eventually he got to the point where it was close to what we wanted. He left in brackets the idea of a joint arms embargo, because he said only Shevardnadze can accept that.

He told me what had to happen. He said Shevardnadze has to hear from Baker that this is what is necessary so that Shevardnadze can say to Gorbachev and face the people down here that we couldn’t have the joint statement without this. He said, I’ve done as much as I can do. The resistance was pretty high from within the foreign ministry, We cannot be teaming up with you, with the United States, against the Iraqis. The Iraqis are our friends, they’re our client, and all this. And Shevardnadze, his attitude was very clearly, We’re going to change the way we do business. We’re going to change the way we think. But he actually, in this sense, he needed Baker’s strong pressure to justify it. So anyway, we got that initial joint statement.

One of the interesting things about it was also the effect that it had on both Baker and the President. The evolution in the first week is a very interesting evolution. Nobody around the President except the President was determined to basically say this isn’t going to stand. When he says it on day four, we were traveling again. We’d gone off to Turkey as part of the first effort to begin to develop a coalition. I can tell you when we were on the plane and we got the report the President said that, Baker said to me, Why would he say that? That just ties his hands. That doesn’t give us any room to maneuver. I said, Well, I think because he is pretty serious. He says, Dennis, in order to succeed in politics you’ve got to have peace and prosperity and we ain’t gonna have either.

I mean that was symptomatic of where I think everybody was around the President initially. This was something that had to be dealt with, but I don’t think Brent, I don’t think Cheney, I don’t think Baker, and I don’t think [Colin] Powell were ready to say we’re going to go to war over this. And I think the President from the beginning, certainly by the time he saw Thatcher, had made a decision that whatever it took, we were going to reverse this. Now once he made that decision, the people around him, that was it. There was no longer any hesitancy. But in the first week there was a lot of hesitancy.

Quandt

Can you help us understand why Bush came to that?

Zelikow

On the chronology, Bush saw Thatcher that first day while you were still in Russia.

Ross

Right.

Zelikow

The kind of statement you’re talking about, though, probably would have been while Baker is en route back to the States before launching off again for Turkey. I was on that trip. That was after Desert Shield had already been announced that you relaunched again.

Ross

That’s right.

Zelikow

But Baker managed to get back, I think, for the Camp David stuff that weekend.

Ross

We got back the night before. We got back around midnight the night before. He had to go for Camp David and then we turned around and we flew to Turkey. So in that initial period—I may not have the sequence exactly right—but the one thing I am quite sure of because of my conversations with Baker and also Eagleburger who was sitting in for Baker before we got back, that around the table that first day, there was not a whole lot of enthusiasm to position ourselves so that we’d end up on a pathway where we’d have to force this guy out if sanctions weren’t to work.

Zelikow

This is a good opportunity to just follow through and characterize the evolution of Baker’s views, which as you know have been the subject of some controversy.

Ross

Let me digress for one second and then I’ll come back to it. I was starting off on the attitude toward the Soviets. I think the joint statement was very important because of the effect it had on Baker and the effect it had on Bush.

They became quite convinced that having the Soviets with us was really critical towards shaping an international coalition, and I was there from the beginning, for two reasons. First because I was focused on how we were going to change the Soviet relationship and I saw this as a real opening to change the Soviet relationship. But I also had a focus on the Iraqis. I was concerned that if the Soviets weren’t with us, the Iraqis would hide behind the division between us and the Soviets. You would remove their ability to hide, you’d remove their ability to somehow justify or legitimize what they had done if we and the Soviets were together. I thought that would also have a profound effect on the rest of the Middle East by having us together. So I was really riveted on it from the beginning.

Baker became, having his name out there, being out there with Shevardnadze, suddenly he acquired a big stake. When he talked to the President about the significance of it—we not only wrote but he talked to him on the phone about it—I think it had an effect upon the President. Now the reason I mention this is, the month of August is kind of a weird month. Because on the one hand most of the people around the President on the first day are not hard over that we have to launch into a pathway that is going to put us in a kind of straightjacket, in terms of where we might end up.

But later within the month, there is an impulse towards much more unilateralism on our part. We’re going to take out an Iraqi tanker, we’ll do this on our own, we don’t need to go to the Soviets. Baker, though, is of the view that it’s a mistake for us to act unilaterally. We’ve got Soviet backing, we should keep Soviet backing. A premature rush into unilateral actions, especially military action, is going to lose the Soviets in his view, based on his talking to Shevardnadze on a daily basis. Now when there’s this Iraqi tanker, I think there is a strong impulse on the part of some for us to actually stop it. Baker is against that, he wants the Soviets on board. As a result of conversations with Shevardnadze he gets the impression that they’ll back a resolution that would allow us to stop these things if we don’t rush to do it right now.

I think that Baker is not necessarily the dominant voice at this point, but the President decides to go along with Baker. I think, again, the two of them become convinced that having the Soviets with us is a profound development that will help shape what it is we can do. That’s why the original joint statement I think is very important for what transpires or evolves over the month of August.

Now in terms of the evolution of Baker’s view. Baker’s initial attitude when he said this peace and prosperity line to me—I remember exactly when it was, we were flying back from Turkey, so that would have been like August 7th.

Zelikow

Later. It was Turkey and then NATO and then home.

Ross

It was on the return from that trip and I think that was August 7th. We did Turkey and NATO in like two days.

Zelikow

Right.

Ross

So on the way back, he and I were sitting up front on the plane. He said, I know a lot about politics. Presidents don’t succeed if there isn’t peace and prosperity, and we aren’t gonna have either. So that’s where he was. But he also said, at the same time he made it clear to me, Look, we’re going to do what the President wants. He was real clear on that. Now was he an enthusiast early on for thinking about the use of force? No, I don’t think so. In our initial discussions, the first trip we made to the Middle East was, I guess, the beginning of September. In that first trip, everybody we talked to, I remember [Emir Sheikh Jabir] al-Sabah said to us—and he echoed actually what [Turgut] Ozal told us in the meeting in August, he used almost the same language. Once you get sanctions in place, that will force Saddam to come to his senses and within six weeks he’ll get out. In fact, they used the same time period. Although it was a month apart, they used the same time period.

So I also think that at that point Baker probably felt these were the people who knew Saddam best. They were saying sanctions would work, so sanctions will work. I think he doesn’t expect, he doesn’t feel that there is going to have to be something more than that, so that’s why he’s still focused on that and he doesn’t really evolve until later. I think he does evolve later and I think it’s more in the October time frame is when he really has moved.

Quandt

Did he share the concern after October that if Saddam were to appear to comply, say 90 percent compliance, that this would force us into a real dilemma? Or was he prepared to say, better than having to fight a war?

Ross

I’m not sure. The reason I say I’m not sure is because I kept highlighting the dilemma for him because that’s what I expected Saddam to do. I kept saying, he’s got a way out that absolutely puts us in a corner. It will destroy the coalition. He’ll still gain something. I was describing to Baker at one point, I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I was describing to him what I felt the impact in the region would be of Saddam gaining from this, even if it was limited. I said, He will look like he’s overcome the two superpowers and it will give him a kind of mystical power.

In 1956 [Gamal Abdul] Nasser didn’t even overcome the British, the French, and the Israelis but it looked like he did. It gave him incredible leverage over the rest of the region. The difference here is, this guy will look like he overcame the two superpowers. To understand what this is going to mean psychologically in the region, I think you have to recognize that we are going to face a very different region with him having the capacity to cow the rest of the Arab regimes. And he will, if he acquires these kinds of mystical powers. But I kept saying, you know, If he’s smart and this is what he does, we’re going to be in an impossible position.

Baker didn’t seem to really—Baker acquired what I would describe as a kind of instrumental mind set. If you look at what we did between August and the outbreak of the war, we basically did two things. One was to build a coalition and cement it, and the other was to do what we called the tin cup exercises, where we basically financed the war before we fought the war. Baker got very riveted on that. When I would try to engage him at times on the dilemma that we might face, it was almost as if he said, Look, we’ll deal with it when we have to deal with it. Right now we have something more immediate to worry about. That seemed to be more of his focus.

Quandt

What about the Geneva meeting, was it? With Tariq Aziz?

Ross

Yes. January 9th?

Quandt

Yes. Did you go along?

Ross

Yes.

Quandt

Any real expectation that it could produce anything?

Ross

There was no expectation at one level. But I think there were great fears back here. The reason I say that is, I don’t recall ever having talking points that I had written for Baker reviewed by so many people, overhauled so many times and a last minute change, at two different levels. The only way I read it was there was a concern that Baker was going to do a deal. Not because Baker was going in planning to do a deal, but because Baker was so good at doing deals that there was a pretty good chance that he’d come up with something and we’d have a deal. We had really labored over these talking points, both in terms of the message they were to send and in terms of what we were going to say militarily.

Howard Graves, who always traveled with us, who was the three-star general who was sort of the interface between the chairman and the rest of the national security bureaucracy, he got instructions from Powell in the wee hours of the morning that we could not say what we had planned to say . So we then went back and redid them again. That was motivated by something different. Powell felt we were giving him too much in terms of what might be of military benefit. Personally, I had wanted in this meeting to convey to Tariq Aziz that they might well have an image of us that was such that they thought they could fight the war on their terms. I wanted them to understand that they weren’t going to fight the war on their terms, that we would define the terms of this battle. To do that, you had to say enough about what we would do to them. So we said that but scaled back dramatically what it is we were going to present. Powell’s concern was operational security.

Quandt

Don’t give away the war plan.

Ross

That’s right. I think Brent and the President’s concern was that Baker, despite himself, or maybe because of himself, Baker would end up doing a deal. All I can say is that never in all my experience with Baker did he stick so closely to a set of talking points as he did in that meeting. To be fair—and this meeting went on for six and a half hours, we had two breaks. The initial set of talking points were completed in the first round, the first phase. At no point during the six and a half hours was there ever an opening. That’s what was striking. I have to tell you, I honestly don’t know what would have happened had they offered anything at all.

I want to go back and cite something I referred to peripherally but didn’t really describe in full detail. When we were in Helsinki, and Baker uses these words in his book, I had some intemperate remarks with the President about how we couldn’t do this international conference. It would just destroy basically our Arab friends who didn’t want Saddam to look like he was gaining for the Palestinians when they couldn’t. Baker’s account is right but doesn’t quite capture the emotion. The President came back at me—didn’t focus it on me but made it more general—and he said, I’m the guy who sent these kids out there. If they live or die depends upon me. I’m going to do every possible thing I can to ensure that we don’t lose anybody. If we end up having to fight, okay. But I want to be sure that I exhausted every possibility before that happened.

And that, I have to tell you, that always stayed with me because it was extremely poignant. You know, here’s a guy who has his own personal experience in war. He had a code. He looked at what Saddam had done as being something that could not be accepted. But he also felt a responsibility to the soldiers that he put out there and it obviously weighed very heavily on him.

As much as Brent and the President at this point had made a judgment that there was no way to avoid war, we were never presented with any possible opening. In the back of my mind, I wonder what our response would have been if Tariq Aziz had given us something. We’ll never know, because the fact of the matter is he gave us nothing. At no point did he create an opening. He was very clear that the sole purpose of the meeting from their standpoint was to try to convince Baker to come to Baghdad. They were obviously trying to convince us that they were a mature leadership. They knew they didn’t have the power we had, but they would not desist, they could define their own interests.

He came across as highly intelligent. He was someone who could argue every point. And his arguments, even if you didn’t accept them, they were coherent and they were logical. You had to accept their premises, but the fact is, as Baker said when he came out, Aziz did very well with a bad brief. But there was never an opening at all. And the funniest thing is [Prince] Bandar picked me up at the airport. We went from there to Saudi Arabia. I usually rode with Bandar in his car on the way to the meetings from the airport. Bandar said to me when I got in, he says, You guys almost gave me a heart attack. Six and a half hours. What could you be doing in six and a half hours? Jimmy Baker doing something for six and a half hours? He was cutting a deal! I kept calling places, what’s going on? I said, You didn’t have to worry. Tariq was going to rescue you throughout, and he did.

McCall

Can I pick up on a different aspect of all this. You’re in a unique position to comment on it. The coalition building, especially with the Arabs, leads to a new set of dynamics in the Arab-American relationship. Is there anything you want to add to that that’s really not covered in the record? Comment?

Ross

There are a number of things that are happening at this point. The effort with the Arabs in truth is not a particularly demanding one; Mubarak feels completely betrayed. The Saudis are afraid. It’s true, they crossed a big threshold in the first week. It was not a given that they would invite us to come in. But once they did, then their openness to us, in terms of what we were asking, was quite remarkable. It was measured not only in terms of requests we made and the responses they gave, but also even on money. I mean it was as close to being prepared to provide blank checks as you could imagine. The only thing the Saudis asked is that we get an equal amount from the Kuwaitis. So that wasn’t particularly demanding.

The one interesting question was Syria, would Syria be a part of this or would they not be a part of this. It was very clear that the Saudis desperately wanted the Syrians to be in because it would create an umbrella of legitimacy for the nationalist forces within the region. It is true that I was not an enthusiast for going on the first trip to Damascus because I really did believe that Assad was going to be in this coalition regardless. I mean, nobody hated Saddam more than he did. But I also think in retrospect, as I thought about it, that there were certain things I underestimated about that. One thing I underestimated was sort of the mood on the street.

What Saddam had captured was the mood frequently on the Arab street to defy those who have humiliated you. Assad—I didn’t really feel this until the first meeting with him, and I knew this was a kind of manipulation to try to gain something from us, but there are manipulations that still have a kernel of truth to them. He talked about the mood of history and it wasn’t so easy to join in a coalition with us against brother Arab. The reason I say it is because there is an interesting distinction, as I’ve thought about it, that I’ve drawn between Assad and Arafat.

Assad, as insular as he was, somehow tended to look at broader strategic trends. Certainly he’d been to Moscow in ’86, he understood what was going on with the Soviet Union, he saw the trends there, he saw that we were the emerging dominant superpower. He was interested in having a relationship with us. To prove that Syria was a significant player, we had to be paying attention to him. To get us to be sympathetic to his needs and therefore prepared to be at least more responsive to what he wanted vis-à-vis the Israelis, he had to have a relationship with us. So he looked at these broader trends and he was prepared to do something that he didn’t have to do. The fact is, he could have sat this out and not dealt with what was the mood on his street.

Arafat is an instinctive politician who is basically close to the street and doesn’t see the broader strategic picture. He goes with Saddam. He goes with Saddam because he’s feeling the mood on the street and that’s what governs. Well interestingly enough, Assad made himself a major player as a result of this, at least in terms of our diplomacy, and Arafat was quite weakened as a result. In terms of the broader dynamic of who we were dealing with at the time, we established ourselves with the Arabs as ultimately the only one who could come to their defense and save them, even if we had an international umbrella. The Bush administration established that if it said it would do something it would do it. And as a result of that, I think the credibility was very high.

Now in the aftermath of the war, credibility was high because we won. The credibility was high because we did what we said we’d do. The credibility was high also because the threat was gone. It looked like the radical forces were not only in decline but they were almost in despair. So I think if I look at the sweep of this, I see interesting developments in terms of what Assad was about and I also see our standing riding extremely high. When I try to compare where we had been to where we are, one of the things that I am struck by is we had an interesting constellation of circumstances that built up our power and our credibility. We had the Gulf War and then we had Oslo. That shaped the realities of the region in a way that is dramatically different from where we are today.

Those exhausted themselves in terms of our credibility. But at the time I think every meeting we had when we went around the area, every leader that we talked to, they looked to us. There was a U.S. answer here. It was nice to have an umbrella; it was important to have the Syrians in. All these things gave certain trappings, but it was the U.S. Baker was a perfect guy to have doing your diplomacy because Baker exuded such power and authority himself. You know, he walked into a room and he carried himself in a certain way, and everybody knew he had this relationship with the President. It was almost like he was an extension of the President. There was a kind of aura about him, both before and after the war.

Quandt

Maybe just to wrap up on the Gulf War, I’m interested in the end game, the decision to stop when we did. I’m interested in how analogies sometimes get brought into play. I wonder whether you remember, or if the President used any analogies like Korea, we have to be careful not to . . . or Vietnam, or anything. Or was it just we’ve done what we said we were going to do, we’ve got to stop.

Ross

I remember the last days pretty vividly. I wasn’t at the White House but I was with Baker and a lot of this was happening over the phone. I was in his inner office with him. There were not analogies being drawn. In my recollection, the overriding factor at the time was coming out of Colin and the military and [Norman] Schwarzkopf. First, I mean literally, one of the things we heard was the U.S. Army does not have a tradition of shooting people in the back. The Iraqis were in full retreat and we just don’t do that. So that was number one.

Number two, the objectives had been achieved and there was no mandate from the international coalition to carry this war into Iraq. We had achieved our objective. The one thing for sure the military didn’t want was to have what looked like a neat, clean victory become more murky. The overriding reason for ending things the way we did came from the military. Also it fit with what the President felt because the President felt there had never been a mandate to go to Iraq. I recall being in one meeting with him—I don’t remember exactly when it was—but he had said, The last thing we’re going to do, we’re never going to go into Baghdad. He used an analogy when he made this point, it was an interesting analogy for him to draw. He drew the Beirut analogy and said, We’re not going to do anything like that.

Quandt

You mean, the Israelis going into Beirut.

Ross

Not Eisenhower, but the Israelis.

Quandt

Interesting.

Ross

It was. It struck me that it was an interesting one, not one I would have predicted. I don’t remember exactly when that was, it was a couple of months before. We weren’t at war yet. We had had a discussion and somehow that came up and he said, I can tell you one thing, we’re not going into Baghdad. So there was a strong predisposition in that direction and the military was determined to end it, end it now.

Quandt

No strong dissent within the upper echelons.

Ross

No.

Quandt

Next echelon down, Wolfowitz, people like that?

Ross

No, nobody dissented. And I didn’t either. We got out there. We took a trip one week after the war ended. We saw Schwarzkopf in our very first meeting and he made it clear he wanted the guys out. We still had people in southern Iraq and he wanted them out. He wanted to move. He wanted to get them out of southern Iraq and he wanted to be able to begin to reduce our presence in the area immediately. There was a very strong presumption, and I heard it more than once and I heard it from Colin more than once, that this was a neat, clean victory. It was going to stay as a neat, clean victory. Nothing should be done that would begin to drag us into a different conflict.

You asked about the dissent. The dissent came later on, and actually it did involve both Wolfowitz and me, on the issue of the use of helicopters. We both, from our own vantage point—there was actually a meeting over at the White House that neither one of us was going to be in, but he was actually charged with preparing the points for Cheney. He wanted me to support the idea that even though Schwarzkopf had agreed that the Iraq military could use its helicopters, that we would now make it clear that if they used the helicopters against their own people we would shoot them down. I agreed with that and I also went to Baker and made a case for it. Baker was noncommittal with me, went to the meeting and came back and told me that it was decided not to do that.

Zelikow

This was after the Marsh Arabs had revolted? So the armistice deal was already in effect and you want to reopen that.

Ross

That’s right, that’s right. That’s when the dissent begins. This is the point I started to make earlier. There was an incredible group dynamic at the top. It’s hard to exaggerate the significance of this, where day in and day out the same high-level team was meeting. Meaning the President, the National Security Advisor, Deputy National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State.

When you think about it over a period of months, they meet all the time, they go through a period of extraordinary anxiety, because the early projections about how many people might be lost were very high. Admiral [William J.] Crowe was up testifying on the Hill, talking about thousands of body bags. The anxiety level was extremely high and I think it created such a group-think. There really weren’t any other assumptions that would be discussed because they all basically shared the assumptions at that point.

So when it came to war termination, there wasn’t going to be a dissent because this was a given. When it came to having a deep fear that if we somehow intervened in any way on behalf of either the revolt in the south or the revolt in the north, this was going to create a new Lebanon. I can tell you, as we were flying into Kuwait, I got into an argument with Baker. This is one week after the war, this is our second stop. It was an incredible scene anyway, we couldn’t see anything because of the fires. I said to him, There is a superordinate fear that you have

that this is going to be a new Lebanon. There is no comparison between the two. He said, I’m telling you, Iraq will fall apart and then you’ll have the threat from the Iranians. It’s going to affect everybody else in the area and it’s just too dangerous.

I just didn’t share the assumption, but it was clear to me that it was very hard to break through what was the group psychology. There was no debate, from none of us, on the issue of continuing the war, but there was a debate on the question of once they began to use helicopters and heavy forces to put down—and obviously brutally so, the Marsh Arabs. First they did the south and then they turned their attention to the north. That was a point where there was some discussion, but it was very hard to break through what was a deeply rooted mindset at that point that to do that would risk fragmenting Iraq and creating a new Lebanon. That was almost—

Quandt

So there was a kind of Lebanon analogy in people’s minds.

Ross

There was, ironically.

Zelikow

A couple more things on that and then I think we’ve about used up the time we allocated. It is interesting Schwarzkopf goes into the ceasefire talks. At that time, around now we’re talking February 28th, March 1st, there is a triumph of policy planning and what looks on the surface like a real failure of policy planning. There is a triumph of policy planning, which is this extraordinarily ingenious and unprecedented method had been devised for what I sometimes call the indirect occupation of Iraq, through UNSCOM [United Nations Special Commission]. Where you basically, we have these disarmament objectives that can only be achieved ordinarily with occupation. We are going to develop this regime that is going to disarm them without it. We’ve kind of gotten that locked in there, and that struck me as very innovative. Mostly struck me in retrospect, not at the time.

Then on the other hand here’s Schwarzkopf going into the ceasefire talks basically totally unguided. The impression I get—and I wasn’t close to that particular issue at the time—is that he is making this up on the fly. The action officers are not the people who will think, What are we going to do when this happens, preparing for that contingency. That is quintessentially the kind of task for policy planning. Both of those were. One seems like a real success, one seems like a real failure. It’s a question for you; it’s a question for Haass too.

Ross

Yes.

Zelikow

I’m wondering whether or not you’ve reflected on that.

Ross

I had managed a major project that dealt with the post-war scene. I had written a war termination paper with others. I had written a security structure that we want to have post-war paper. I had written an economics paper, which of course I was not an expert on, which is why others wrote it, actually. But it was to deal with the have/have not issue, which Saddam had sought to exploit. And, obviously the disarmament or the arms control features of Iraq.

Now many of those things then got embraced in our interagency process. The one thing that really never did get embraced was the war termination, which had implications for how the war actually ended without much dissent. Also, somehow—and I can’t fully answer it because this is a part I wasn’t that involved in—but somehow, even though there had been this very tight management from the top, you had what was the very top and then you had the next layer of managing day-to-day, of which I was not a part of. That was Haass, that was Kimmitt, that was Wolfowitz. I was only very peripherally involved in that and I would only be involved in it when Baker would bring me into some aspect of it. The one thing I don’t know is actually how it happened some of the things we were talking about outside of those two circles got integrated and some did not.

We were not a part of what Schwarzkopf was doing. I don’t know what the management was, because that’s where, as I said, you had these two circles of which I really wasn’t a part. I don’t know what their relationship to him was, but I have a suspicion. I have a suspicion that this same impulse that dominated at the very end, which was neat, clean, no complications, was primarily being driven by the military, who wanted a victory that would erase Vietnam, who wanted a victory that would show that force could be used effectively and wouldn’t become controversial because of the consequences of having debate over the use of force, from the standpoint of the integrity of the institution. That was one thing I became quite sensitive to in conversations I had with a lot of the military guys, especially Howard, who I traveled with a lot and who I thought the world of at the time and still do.

There has been an extraordinary group of people in uniform that I dealt with over time that were enormously impressive to me. But there was clearly—and this is an issue that I used to talk about with them—their concerns about the impact of the use of force on the institution of the military, if there were debate or any kind of disunity here, Vietnam had such a searing impact on them that this was, I felt, a kind of overriding preoccupation. Maybe I read too much into it. But I think that very much colored their views at the end of this war and very much colored how they approached the Iraqis too, in terms of negotiating what the terms would be.

One other factor here. This notion—as I said, I heard it more than once on the last day—the U. S. Army doesn’t shoot people in the back. We don’t shoot forces that are retreating. I think there was also something, again, a kind of code of honor in terms of when you sat with the Iraqis, you didn’t humiliate them. And Schwarzkopf’s approach to dealing with them was also very much governed by the sense, Right, we have defeated them in war but we’re not going to humiliate them.

The Iraqi request that was made on using the helicopters was made on a humanitarian basis. So my sense is that probably governed it. I’m not the best person to talk to on this because I really was not a part of that. When Wolfowitz came to me—this was probably after we came back from our trip, when they’re using the helicopters against the Marsh Arabs—when he came to me it was at that point to try to enlist my support on this and it’s really a couple of weeks later.

Zelikow

Maybe one concluding question, because you alluded to this at the beginning and it seems to flow through this point. Maybe we can end with this for now. It’s the point that you made early on, you alluded to fatigue. Because you’ve been talking a lot about the group dynamic here, this in a way is a good follow-on, and then what happens to that group after the war. This gives you a chance just to offer a thumbnail sketch of ’91 and ’92, in which a lot goes on on arms control, the Middle East peace process and so on, some of which we’ve discussed. Could you comment on how the leadership changes in the second half of the administration?

Ross

I felt after the war there was both a kind of euphoria and release, which was completely natural and logical. Then after a short period of time there was a let down. Partly out of fatigue, partly because there was such an intense emotional experience that when you have finished that kind of experience and you have on the one hand a kind of relief from it, you also don’t have the adrenaline rush that comes with it. Fairly early on, I can say it about Baker.

Zelikow

And even the war, right after all this other stuff. There had been Germany and then right as Germany was ending, the war. One thing after another. It had just been like that. It felt like folks had been going flat out on all cylinders—

Ross

That’s the other point. You’d had a series of these. You had one that was so incredibly profound because of the strain it put all of them under. So at the end of this there is a kind of relief and then it’s hard to re-tool. It’s hard to get re-energized. It’s hard to grab on to another issue because no other issue seems to have that kind of command. It’s not compelling. I can say it in terms of Baker. He got riveted on the Middle East at that point. But see, that in a sense, it was an outgrowth of what we’d just been doing. Because we’d also promised that once this was over we would make an effort. After all, we had a coalition for war, so now we’d have a coalition for peace.

That was a natural follow-on and it is something that could command the same kind of attention and interest that the war had for at least Baker. But the other issues didn’t. I’ll give you two examples. I did get interested at this point in Yugoslavia because Slovenia was about to declare independence. It was pretty clear it was going to set off, set in motion a train of events that was likely to be quite violent. For me to say I got interested in, I had people on my staff who got me interested in it, because they wrote a couple of memos that were quite compelling. It was very hard to get Baker interested in that. The other thing it was hard to get Baker interested in at this point, even though I tried hard, was what later became Nunn-Lugar.

Zelikow

Nunn-Lugar.

Ross

If you go back and you recall, some of us were trying, and I was trying, to create a billion dollar fund so we could deal with the consequences of what was happening in the military establishment there [the former Soviet Union]. What would happen in terms of a lot of spent fuel, what would happen in terms of weapons that might or might not be destroyed. And I couldn’t get him. I never had a problem before. It was like, it was too hard to get re-energized on anything else.

I don’t think that he was unique. Maybe it’s too much to expect of people to go that hard, that long, to go through that emotional experience and then still have the kind of energy, intellectual and otherwise, to do a lot. And when I said I was trying to energize him on Yugoslavia, I don’t want to go overboard. I made an effort. Even I didn’t—it wasn’t easy for me to get up. I had people on my staff trying to get me interested in a lot of different things and I had a hard time. It’s something that is worth studying because I am convinced that there is both the group-think dynamic that takes over, which makes it hard for a discordant assumption to break in. But there’s also the fatigue factor that takes over, that makes it very difficult to re-energize yourself, especially after what is so emotionally, really so emotionally demanding and draining.

Zelikow

That’s an intriguing factor too, as I think about periods like the period immediately after World War II, when there is this almost lassitude in the [Harry S.] Truman administration. That’s a good point. Although Baker does seem to reengage pretty well, kind of pull a lot of things into gear, connected to the Soviet break-up.

Ross

Right, but that gives us several months, and the energizing thing there is the coup and then the failure of the coup. Then it’s very clear what we’re on the brink of seeing. But it takes, I think, from the end of the war—I think really, for Baker, he gets re-energized on his trips. Even there, by May he’s ready to call it off. Nonetheless at least he has something that he is focused on, he’s riveted on, he’s working. Everything else, it was like doing it by the numbers, it was. I still believe that it should not have been Nunn-Lugar that we then reacted to. We should have led the way on building a fund to deal with the collapse of the Soviet military. Some of us were trying to work on the issue of brain drain. We could get a certain amount done, but it became very hard.

Zelikow

Well, it’s after four and you’ve been very generous.

Ross

A pleasure, actually.

Zelikow

But I think, as you can tell—and really we didn’t talk much about the Soviet Union. Actually even though I think that first period, maybe my book has covered some of that, that second period, the period surrounding the break-up I don’t think has been well handled. It is extremely important. You can be helpful on that one. So I think we should try to persuade you to find another afternoon.

Ross

Okay.

Quandt

Or just give us a copy of the draft of your book. [laughing]

Ross

Thank you.