Presidential Oral Histories

John Negroponte Oral History

About this Interview

Job Title(s)
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; U.S. Ambassador to Iraq; Director of National Intelligence; U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
Negroponte covers his experience during the Vietnam War; joining the George W. Bush administration; the September 11 (9/11) terrorist attacks and the immediate UN resolutions; the War in Afghanistan; the UN resolution on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction; Arab-Israeli issues; the Iraq War; Iraqi governance; the transition of being the first Director of National Intelligence; the President’s Daily Brief; the relationship among the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; the national security process; enhanced interrogation; Abu Ghraib; transition to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; George W. Bush’s personality; Africa issues; Pakistan; China; and Latin America.
Presidential Oral Histories |

John Negroponte Oral History

Transcript

Riley

This is the John Negroponte interview as part of the George W. Bush Oral History Project. Thank you very much for coming to Charlottesville. We’ve had a conversation about the basic ground rules before the tape was turned on but I’ll repeat here on the record that the most important one is that these are discussions under a strict veil of confidentiality and I’m pleased to report that we’ve got an unblemished record of maintaining those confidences over the last 30 years. We hope that you’ll speak candidly about your experiences. The one thing that we do need to do is as an aid to the transcriber is to go around and identify ourselves for voice identification. So I’m Russell Riley, the chair of the Oral History Program.

Knott

I’m Stephen Knott. I’m a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. I worked with Russell for six years.

Negroponte

What do you teach?

Knott

I’m in the National Security Affairs Department. We teach midlevel officers how national security policy is made in the United States.

Negroponte

Because I co-teach at Yale with John Gaddis, who spent time at the Naval War College.

Knott

Yes. Great.

Negroponte

I also teach grand strategy. I have a grand strategy seminar that I co-teach with him, Paul Kennedy, and Charles Hill, and I teach my own course as well.

Riley

He was also the head of the [Ronald] Reagan Oral History Project here. I was working with him.

Negroponte

Oh, is that right? Of course, I was his Deputy National Security Advisor.

Knott

Right.

Long

I’m Stephen Long. I’m an assistant professor of political science and international studies at the University of Richmond.

Perry

And I’m Barbara Perry. I’m a senior fellow here at the Miller Center, in the Presidential Oral History Program.

Negroponte

Great. Are you a historian?

Perry

Political scientist.

Negroponte

Good. And I’m John Negroponte.

Riley

Again, thanks for being here. We would love to spend half a day on your biography, but I think that would crowd up time for other things. Let me start by asking you this question. Reflecting back on it, which of your experiences as a diplomat, before coming into the 43rd Presidency, were most important for you, if you can identify one?

Negroponte

I’d say the most important was definitely service in Vietnam. That was a career-defining experience for me, like so many people who get into those kinds of jobs. Vietnam was a bit of an accidental experience. I didn’t go to college saying gee, I’m going to become a Vietnam expert for the United States government. These things happened because of circumstances. But I ended up spending almost four years in Vietnam. I spent almost five years working on the Paris Peace Talks process, both in Paris and then working for Henry Kissinger, and then later as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia. So Vietnam took up more than a decade of my career in one way or another, and when I went out to Iraq I carried that whole experience with me. I recalled very vividly how Ellsworth Bunker and William Westmoreland and Creighton Abrams and others had handled these situations. And I certainly had it seared in my memory how Henry Kissinger had botched the Paris Peace Talks. So there were a lot of lessons for me that came from Vietnam.

Secondarily, although probably more important in terms of personal diplomatic achievement, was the North American Free Trade Agreement, which stemmed from my whole service as Ambassador in Mexico for four years, which was probably my favorite diplomatic posting, personally, and the most interesting, without question.

And then I guess lastly would be part of my background that is not as widely known, which is my whole experience in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Among other things during my watch, my office negotiated the only global greenhouse gas agreement that has been reached yet, which was the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, in which I was deeply involved. So there it is. That’s it in a nutshell.

Riley

There was an indication in some of the readings that your—I don’t know whether a formal affiliation with parties, but that your partisan dispositions had been transformed over time.

Negroponte

Well, I’ve never been partisan and I certainly believe that politics should stop at the water’s edge, and I’m a professional diplomat. My DNA will make me defend the President and the Secretary of State every time, no matter what. As far as I’m concerned, we only have one President at a time. My family were Democrats. My parents, because they had immigrated to this country, were internationalists. [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt was a hero in our house, [Harry] Truman also. In those days we associated the Republicans with isolationism and the America First movement and all that kind of stuff.

I think my disenchantment with the Democrats came at the time that it came for a lot of people, which was Jimmy Carter’s handling of the whole Iran situation and the mess that we found ourselves in at the end of the 1970s. So I guess I became a bit more associated with Republicans after that and I certainly am, to this very day, a registered Republican. I think some of this is more coincidence than anything else. It just happens that I hit the prime of my diplomatic career at a time that the Republicans had a 12-year winning streak. Let’s be honest. With the two Reagan terms and George Herbert Walker Bush—I befriended George Herbert. First of all, I was Reagan’s Deputy National Security Advisor for the last year of his administration and I got to know George Herbert Walker Bush particularly well.

Perry

Could I follow up on the word that you used, “botched.” You said that Kissinger botched the Paris Peace Talks.

Negroponte

How much time have you got? [laughter]

Perry

All day. But what I was thinking specifically about was that you prefaced that by saying you took the lessons of your time in Vietnam and at the Paris Peace Talks when you went out to Iraq. So I wondered if you could just maybe link the botching comment with the lesson.

Negroponte

It’s not so much the botching of the peace talks. I took the botching of the peace talks to other situations, like Central America. I reacted to some of the—the Contadora process and everything that happened in Central America in ways that were really shaped by my Paris Peace Talks experience. And I was probably a bit overreactive to that. I had a real antagonism toward the whole Contadora peace process in Central America. I didn’t think we could negotiate our way out of that situation, at least not at the time I was there. I was forced to recognize later on that more was possible because of the strong stand we’d taken.

My lesson from Vietnam, when I went to Iraq, had to do with how we organized to fight the war, embassy, civilian-military relations, what you can and can’t do about nation building, and probably most importantly, the question of “Vietnamization.” We started that much too late in Vietnam. Westmoreland wanted to do all the fighting. I sat in meetings between Westmoreland and Ellsworth Bunker, as a back bencher, and Westy wanted to do all the fighting. He had all these people around him who said they hadn’t gotten their combat infantryman’s badges yet. I remember a briefing where he said the strategy was to interpose American forces between the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese and let the South Vietnamese defend the villages. I remember walking out of that meeting 40 years ago, or whenever it was, saying to myself, That’s a prescription for a perpetual stalemate. It was only when Creighton Abrams came on board in ’68 that we adopted this Vietnamization policy.

Perry

Right.

Negroponte

So it was four years too late, and it was four years during which we dissipated American political support for the effort out there. Then 9/11 comes, we go into Afghanistan, I’m sitting as Ambassador to the United Nations and George Tenet comes to visit me in my office. I say, “George, you’ve got to develop the Afghan Army.” They didn’t do it for six or seven years. We didn’t do it until Bob Gates recognized that that was our exit ticket out of there. And then we got NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and we’re going to raise their forces to 113,000. I was in on some of those debates when I was Deputy Secretary.

I got to Iraq and there’s one battalion in the Iraqi Army. Reconstruction. We’re building electricity and ditches and power lines, going to fix their energy capacity. General [Colin] Powell, Secretary Powell, said, “Evaluate this reconstruction program.” And I said, “OK, I’ll come back to you in a month with some recommendations, after we’ve done a quick review.” I brought somebody out with me to run the reconstruction office who was terrific. Bill Taylor, a diplomat who was a graduate of West Point, an Army vet. He’s still working in government. We came back and said you’ve got to take a couple billion dollars and reprogram them to building up the Iraqi Army and police forces. There was nothing there. I mean, they didn’t even acknowledge that there was a war going on. Bitter-enders, remember bitter-enders? That’s what Jerry [L. Paul Bremer] called them, just a few disaffected bitter-enders. And we had a full-scale insurgency. So to me, I carried the Vietnamization lesson right through.

So my answer, if you ask me now, my formula would be if you want to get into another one of these situations, I certainly wouldn’t advocate it. Think about what you’re going to do to build local capacity right from the get-go and don’t think—and this is what we do because we’re optimistic, can-do Americans. We say oh, we’ll take care of this in no time flat and then we don’t have to worry about all that other stuff. And that’s the part that never works.

I remember a sector advisor in Vietnam, ’65 or so. I’m a political officer there. I’m a provincial reporting officer and I’m accompanying U. Alexis Johnson, who eventually became Under Secretary of State and who was the deputy ambassador, and we go visit this sector, a coastal area of South Vietnam. It was a place that had had Viet Minh during the French time and it had a lot of those Viet Minh remnants around, and the situation was heating up. This is the fall of ’64, a critical time, when the North Vietnamese had decided to send North Vietnamese troops into the south. Major Gibney—Jack Gibney, I’ll never forget him—and Alex Johnson asked him, “Could you use American troops here?” We hadn’t sent combat troops yet. Major Gibney said, “Oh, yes, that would be great.” And how many would you need and how quickly could you clean up this province? “Oh, just give me a battalion and I can clean this place up in a month.” Eight or nine years later, there were two ROK [Republic of Korea] divisions in that province, and we still hadn’t cleaned up the place.

There’s a separate story about whether we could have defeated the insurgency and everything else. I’m just saying we have a tendency to underestimate the enormity of the problems.

Riley: Were there other people in your later years, in the 43rd Presidency, who had common experiences in Vietnam, who developed some more sensibilities?

Negroponte

There were times when I was absolutely flabbergasted about how few there were. I would attend NSC [National Security Council] meetings and people were straining to remember Vietnam. [Richard] Cheney didn’t, [George W.] Bush himself didn’t. Even Dick Myers, I heard him talking. I think Peter Pace was a young Marine in Vietnam and there were one or two others, but there were very few who had Vietnam experience. [David] Petraeus and company were writing counterinsurgency doctrine based on histories of Vietnam, not having lived it.

Riley

Right, but not their own experience.

Negroponte

There are really very few. People in the military who know those things the best, I found, tend to be the ones who were enlisted men first and then sort of bootstrapped over to become officers, because they’ve got that much longer experience.

Riley

Exactly.

Negroponte

Like Jack Vessey, for example, because he started his life as an enlisted man. He fought in Anzio or something like that. So they end up having 45-year military careers, whereas the standard general officer, at age 57 or whatever it is, they’re out of there. You’ve got one of the best officers that I ever knew who lives about 20 miles from here, General Paul Gorman. I don’t know if you know Paul.

Riley

No.

Knott

He was at our Falklands conference.

Riley

Oh, was he?

Knott

Yes.

Negroponte

I don’t know how he is today, how his health is, but he was an absolutely brilliant officer. He was in Vietnam.

Knott

We did a joint American-British event on, I forgot what anniversary, 20th or so, of the Falklands Conflict, and he was there.

Negroponte

Now, Powell fought in Vietnam, [Richard] Armitage fought in Vietnam, but they didn’t listen to Powell and Armitage.

Riley

That’s what we hear.

Negroponte

That may be part of the problem.

Riley

Sure. Let me ask you about the personal connections in that work that you were doing, those that were useful to you in bringing you into the second Bush White House. Who did you know—

Negroponte

It’s very simple. It is totally simple. Both getting in and once I was in; he’s called Colin Powell. I didn’t try to network to get in. I wrote him a letter after Mr. Bush was elected and just said look, if you can use me I’d be delighted to serve. I went down to see him after the election.

Riley

Down in Washington?

Negroponte

Washington. I went and saw him in the transition office at State. I was working at the McGraw-Hill Companies. They didn’t have anything open off the bat because he had already decided on a deputy. I’d been Colin’s deputy on the NSC but he’d already—Rich Armitage is his best friend and he decided on him. So we had a cordial meeting, but I didn’t hear anything for two months after I was there. I just went and saw him after November. Then toward the end of January, I’m taking the Acela Express—I used to commute. I would go and work in New York and then come back and spend the weekends in Washington. I was coming back home one night from New York and he called me while I was on the Acela and said, “How would you like to be Ambassador to the United Nations?” He actually gave me a choice. He asked how would I like to go either to the UN [United Nations] or be Ambassador to South Korea? For me, South Korea would be a great post and very interesting, but would become just a repeat, a lateral move compared to the posts I’d already had.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

And the UN, of course, is the premiere Ambassadorship. I said, “Well, is the Pope Catholic?” I said sure. He said OK, “Well, then we’ve got to go have an interview with the President.” And he took me in to see the President.

Riley

How much time passed?

Negroponte

It was within a week or so. I know he’d offered it to various others and you mentioned that in the review. I think he offered it to Elizabeth Dole and I don’t know who else.

Riley

Did you know that at the time?

Negroponte

I’m not sure. I had to assume that because he got in touch with me so late. It wasn’t like he got in touch with me in November to ask me. This was in January. I think it was late January. And then he took me in to see the President; we had a 20-minute interview. I had met the President before, only once, when his father was President-elect. I met him at the Vice President’s house. So we had a very brief interview. I mean, he’d obviously decided. And so I came on board. In terms of networking, you’ve got to understand, Colin is very hands on. I don’t know whether you’ve interviewed him for this project.

Riley

For the Reagan project very briefly. We had about an hour with him.

Negroponte

He was very hands-on. I think I spoke to him virtually every working day of the time that I was both Ambassador to the United Nations and Ambassador to Iraq, even sometimes if it was just hi, is everything OK? I’d say yes and he’d say good, I’ve got to go. But from that to very long conversations, like when we were doing [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 1441 and all that.

So he was my chain of command. Since I had such direct contact with him, I didn’t feel the need to network all over Washington. In fact, it would have been counterproductive vis-à-vis Powell, and it would have annoyed him. And I had enough to do in New York to not worry about schmoozing all over Washington. I think sometimes to the slight frustration of people in the White House and other parts of the government, I didn’t spend a lot of time taking instructions or guidance or anything from all of them.

Knott

There’s a reference in our briefing book, too, that before you accepted the UN position you first had to interview with President George H. W. Bush.

Negroponte

No, that’s wrong, I corrected it.

Riley

And that, just for the record—

Negroponte

That is wrong. It was George W. Bush.

Riley

I don’t know whether the [George W.] Liebmann book is something that you cooperated with or not. That came directly out of his book.

Negroponte

That’s wrong.

Riley

I thought there were places where the editor could have done a better job with this book.

Negroponte

Yes, George could have done a better job. Before I even knew he’d undertaken this project, George had already written 300,000 words, then he told me he’d done this. I said, “You what?” And he said, ”Well, we had lunch a couple years ago and you said you hadn’t kept many notes, and I took that to be an invitation to me to.…” He’s a nice guy, well intended, but he’s not a professional historian, which is obvious.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

He’s kind of an amateur in the old style of the word. It’s a friendly biography, a very friendly biography, but it has its weaknesses.

Riley

I found it to be very interesting.

Negroponte

But it’s a first draft of my biography.

Riley

Right, it’s inerudite. He badly needs an editor.

Negroponte

I’d like to find a real biographer someday.

Riley

Maybe that will come. In fact, when I was reading the text, I thought, This doesn’t sound plausible, the first time I saw the record, because there were three or four occasions where he would misuse H. W. Bush when he meant the second President. In any event, I’m glad it gave us an opportunity for clarification.

Knott

I’m glad we clarified that.

Long

I wonder, sir, if you could talk to us a little bit about how you saw Secretary Powell change, if at all, in his sense of what his role was and how he was being treated, what his position was in his job, pre-9/11 to post-9/11.

Negroponte

I certainly didn’t sense anything immediately, I honestly didn’t. I know that, temperamentally, and the way he thinks about things, that he wasn’t in the same place as Donald Rumsfeld or Vice President Cheney. But to me, I think he managed that. He’s a loyal soldier. Here was the difficulty I think he had. He had the difficulty of adjusting from being a loyal soldier to being a freestanding Secretary of State. But where it really sort of came to a head was in the transition, toward the very end of the first Bush administration.

But I think his problem—let me just address the other part of it. I think his issue was that he had difficulty handling disagreement with the Vice President of the United States. Condi [Condoleezza Rice] had no difficulty at all. She’d say, “Oh, Mr. Vice President, that’s just silly,” or she had said as much as that, maybe not in those words, but she was very good at that. She was very authoritative and she knew how to handle him, and she got past the difficulty of worrying about contradicting the second popularly elected leader of our country.

Riley

Could I ask a predecessor question to this, when you were contemplating coming into the administration, about your sense as somebody on the close periphery and then somebody on the inside, about the constellation of key foreign policy actors and how they got along, and where Powell fit into that?

Negroponte

I was offered a job that—I’m a career Foreign Service officer, and if you asked me if I want to be Ambassador to the UN, I’m going to accept. It’s very simple. You might call that ambition or my professional makeup. You can call it what you will, but I didn’t sit around scratching my head about Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld. In fact, I was a little bit put off sometimes by some of the commentary I picked up in the department when I got in, because I think they invited some of the antagonism that they got.

I can remember sometimes in the building, hearing talk about the Pentagon as being the enemy kind of thing, and it was a little bit gratuitous. So the interagency process, particularly at the level below Powell and Rumsfeld and all, the Under Secretary, at the deputy level, got quite antagonistic at times, so I was glad I was well out of it. I was not a member of the Cabinet, I wasn’t invited to National Security Council meetings, with one or two exceptions, unlike some of my predecessors and successors. I didn’t hanker to be involved in the innards of the process in Washington. I felt that I had more than enough work to do and I thought my brief, and I believe the brief of a UN Ambassador, in New York, is to first and foremost know every other member of the Security Council as well as you possibly can, so that when you are called upon to deliver a vote or a resolution, you’ve done everything in your power and in your capability to be able to deliver that. Because there’s no one else who’s going to do it; you’re the one who’s got to go schmooze with these guys.

I wonder how they reacted sometimes when they’d say, “I want to see you” and you’d say, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go down to an NSC meeting.” Well, that says something about your importance in Washington, but they’ve got to communicate with a valid United States interlocutor, so I made a point of being there and being available all the time. And I thought that was my most important job. I think we had a pretty credible record of delivering resolutions up there. We ultimately couldn’t deliver the second resolution on Iraq, but that’s another story.

Riley

Sure. How did you go about preparing yourself?

Negroponte

For the UN?

Riley

Yes. I mean, the President offers you the position, but there’s a long interval before—

Negroponte

Well, because then a bunch of Senators decided they’d write a letter to the President about my record in Honduras and the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] Inspector General’s report, which had a lot of mistakes in it, and so my appointment got politicized. Luckily, even in the Democratic Party, I had a lot of supporters from over the years. Chris Dodd even actually really wanted me to get confirmed in the end, but he allowed his staff to torture me. I was subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques for a number of months and I finally actually succeeded in dispelling some of the critical elements of these reports that they were relying upon, including with the help of a guy who was my deputy station chief in Honduras during the time and who helped rebut critical portions of the CIA Inspector General’s report. His name is John Malott. I saw him last night at the Charlottesville Committee on Foreign Relations meeting. He’s retired in this area, a wonderful guy.

I had a hearing scheduled for the 12th of September, and it was prior to 9/11 that they basically decided to finally let me through. It was the act of holding up the hearing that was preventing me from getting confirmed.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

Because I was confident, I think everybody was pretty confident that once I got my opportunity I would win over the committee. Chris Dodd said that as much to Powell. He said, “We’re going to give him a hearing on the 12th, don’t worry.” And then 9/11 happened and they postponed it a day and, as you know, this shows you how quickly the Senate can act when they want to. I had my hearing on the 13th, and by the 15th the full Senate had approved my nomination by voice vote, along with a couple hundred other people whose nominations were pending.

You asked me how I prepared. I was still working for McGraw-Hill, thankfully they kept paying me and kept me on board, but I read in. There’s only so much you can read and do to prepare for these jobs, so I would say that my preparation, given the fact that I had about six months, was pretty exhaustive. I focused a lot on peacekeeping, the Brahimi Report on how to reform peacekeeping. I zeroed in on parts of Africa that I had not really known much about, like Sierra Leone, which was one of the basket cases at the time.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

And I talked to people who had been in that job before, including John Bolton, who was in the administration. He was Under Secretary for Arms Control and Disarmament. John, as you know, is prolific. I went to see him one day and I asked him if there was anything he’d written that I could look at. The next day a messenger from the seventh floor came down with a Safeway cart full of material that John had written about the United Nations. I said, “Oh, thanks.”

Riley

Did you get through them all?

Negroponte

No. He’s a very brilliant writer actually.

Riley

We haven’t talked with him yet. He’s on the list but I think he’s otherwise occupied these days.

Knott

I would like to follow up on something you said earlier. You picked up a certain antagonism in the State Department toward the Pentagon, almost viewing the Pentagon as the enemy. Again, we’re kind of jumping around here, we’re jumping way ahead here. Do you want to hold off on that?

Riley

Yes, let me hold off because I’d like to get you into the position before we start questioning you about what’s going on.

Negroponte

Good, fine.

Riley

Steve, did you have something?

Long

Well, about the UN position. Now that you’ve been nominated and approved by the 15th of September, as that early phase of your time in that position developed, were you surprised at all by any policy changes or differences between how you were expecting to do the job and how you were asked to do the job?

Negroponte

No, not really, because of course we moved into crisis mode right from the beginning, and crises are crises. Like Harold Macmillan said, “Events, dear boy, events.” And that’s what interferes with carrying out policies. So we had an event to deal with and we pretty much rallied around that. I got up there that following Monday after I was confirmed. We drove up because the airport in Washington was closed, and within a week or 10 days we’d negotiated the first really major counterterrorism resolution, 1373.

So my point being, though, there were no real surprises because we were dealing with situations in real time. Policies were being made as we went along. We were scrambling.

Riley

Where were you on September 11th?

Negroponte

I was in the State Department with one of these so-called murder boards, with eight or ten people from the State Department, preparing for my hearing the following day. They were taking me through questions about budget, the Helms-Biden Agreement, [Richard] Holbrooke’s experience in trying to get funding for the UN, and going through all those questions when the Deputy Assistant Secretary Bill Wood walked in and said there’s been this—the first crash. And then he just walked out. It’s like what happened to so many people; the first time, you didn’t pay that much attention and the second time you said hey, this is really serious. And then within about 15 or 20 minutes, the State Department building was being evacuated because they thought a bomb had gone off in the department. So yes, I was in the State Department.

Riley

Did you head home then?

Negroponte

Yes, I had my car in the garage, I went down and got it and drove home. Like everybody else, I cleared out of the building. I had three of my children going to school in Washington, so I slowly located where everybody was in the family and did the things that people did that day.

Riley

Sure. Were you in touch with people in the administration that day? Did you talk to Powell?

Negroponte

No. The answer is no, other than somebody called me eventually and told me my hearing had been postponed but that they were going to schedule it ASAP. I can’t remember when they decided to schedule it for the 13th, but that was pretty quick. And when I went up there that day for the hearing, you could hear a pin drop in the Senate. I think that hearing may have been the only thing that was going on in the Senate on that day.

Riley

Two other preliminary questions about things you’ve already referred to. I didn’t ask you about the original meeting that you had with the President. Was it mostly just small talk?

Negroponte

I would say it must have been about 20 minutes. He asked me one substantive question, which was, “You’re going to be a member of my foreign policy team, so it’s not just that you’re going to the UN. I really have an interest in your view on the world and how you think we should deal with Russia.” He asked me about Russia for some reason and my answer was, “With care.” I can remember using the phrase, “And don’t ever back them into a corner.” That was my one observation, and with care obviously because they are a nuclear-armed power and because the Russians want to be thought of as a coequal with us, a peer. Other than that, he made a remark to the effect that he was very impressed by my background and my résumé. And that was it.

Riley

Was either Powell or Condi Rice in the room?

Negroponte

Oh, I’m certain they were both—well, I know Powell was there, he brought me over, and I’m sure Condi was there. She may have prompted him to ask me the question about Russia, wanting to be sure that we saw things somewhat the same way, I don’t know.

Riley

And during the period of time when you were preparing in New York, were you seeing foreign nationals also at that time?

Negroponte

No. You’re enjoined from doing that. When you’re pending confirmation, you’re discouraged from acting as if you already had the job. It can sometimes annoy the Senate, if they hear about you going around and meeting with other, say, Ambassadors. I had a few chance meetings because Holbrooke is a good friend of mine. He’d been a roommate of mine in Saigon and he was already the former Ambassador to the UN. But he would occasionally give a party or something and he’d invite me to it. I met Sergey Lavrov, for example, at Holbrooke’s apartment. He gave a book party for Wesley Clark when Wes Clark published his book, and he invited Lavrov. He also invited Bill Clinton, which was kind of hilarious. I remember meeting Lavrov, but the answer is no, I did not.

Riley

So that wouldn’t have been part of the preparations. You also earlier said that one of the most important pieces of the job in New York was getting to know the other permanent members of the UN.

Negroponte

Well, basically being able to deliver the vote.

Riley

Right. Can you tell us how you began doing that? I would imagine that in a crisis situation, it doesn’t follow a script in the way that it would have if you’d been able to—

Negroponte

No, but New York lends itself—I mean the setup at the UN lends itself to doing this fairly easily. First of all, it was a lot of personal diplomacy. I think that the UN is one of the last vestiges of real personal diplomacy because you’ve got face-to-face contact with these people every day. Most of us would go to the UN building some time during the course of the day. The Security Council meets constantly, not formally but in informal session, so you get to see people at the margins or in the informal consultations all the time, number one.

Number two, I was a great believer in just going around and meeting these people. We have a tradition in diplomacy where you call on your counterparts. When you’re the new kid on the block, whether you’re in a bilateral post or a multilateral post, you go and call on all these people and spend a half an hour or an hour with them over coffee and start getting to know them. Well, I did that with the 14 other members of the Council, and I did it with key people in the Secretariat, Kofi Annan, et cetera, and then I started doing it actually systematically with every permanent representative to the United Nations. I must have called on 120 of them, or something like that.

I remember the Ambassador to Niger almost fell off his chair one day when I asked if I could come and visit him at his embassy. I think he may have thought I was coming to collect the rent. But New York lends itself to that and unless you’re a misanthrope of some kind, you can’t help but get to know all these people pretty well. That’s just the way it is. So you’ve got to do that. And then of course, then you’ve got to know the substance of the issues.

Riley

Right. You’re put into a crisis situation, and what’s the first big thing on the agenda when you come in?

Negroponte

The first big thing on the agenda is that Treasury and State sent up this draft resolution, 1373, saying look, we’re having a devil of a time in the number of countries, getting them to take certain kinds of measures against terrorist financing. If you’ve got a Security Council resolution that made this a binding resolution on all of these countries, then it would be easier for them to do these things. They could then internalize the Security Council decision. So it took us about 10 days. The French were the president of the Security Council at the time, Jean-David Levitte, who later became a pretty key actor in various other negotiations. But we got that thing through in about 10 days, it was good. It was pretty much as we tabled it. The thing pretty much came out looking like it did when it went in, which is a little unusual for a Security Council resolution, which sometimes get twisted rather badly. But this was a technical enough subject so it remained pretty much intact.

That was the major thing. You had a thing against terrorist financing and you hear it cited quite often still to this day as a useful tool in the international fight against terrorist financing. It gives countries cover for cooperating with our financial enforcement authorities and things like that. So that was the first thing.

Riley

Was there a—and my memory might be faulty. There was a resolution within a day or two after 9/11 regarding rights of self-defense, or this comes later?

Long

Thirteen sixty-eight, I think was the resolution.

Negroponte

There was a resolution condemning what happened. I can’t recall the language about self-defense, but maybe it’s in there. Jim Cunningham, my deputy, got that before I even got there. There was a resolution right away, a resolution of some kind of support, but I don’t remember the specifics. I remember other things about self-defense. I remember why I went up to the Security Council the day we attacked Afghanistan, I mean that we retaliated. And I made the correction in this bio here because it wasn’t that I announced that we would act in self-defense earlier in the day on Sunday, as was written there, it was that I had told the department that if we attack Afghanistan, if we retaliate, we should inform the Security Council under Article 51. If you look at Article 51 of the Charter, that’s what it says you should do. It was a Sunday and so I asked the president of the council—I can’t recall who it was, I think it may have been the Irish. This was October and we convened a session of the Council that Sunday night and I made a statement notifying them that we were acting in Afghanistan in self-defense.

Riley

Was that the first UN action directly related to Afghanistan?

Negroponte

In the 9/11 context, I believe so, right. To show you how I was not in the loop with Washington, I did not know we were going to retaliate against Afghanistan. I was still commuting on the weekends at the time because I hadn’t yet moved myself or my family to New York. Sunday morning I flicked on my television in Washington and I saw, at about 9:00 in the morning, the President getting on a helicopter to come back from Camp David. I thought, Uh-oh, that’s awfully early for the President to come home on a Sunday so I’d better get up to New York. Or my intuition told me to go to New York early, don’t wait until tonight. And so I got back in the middle of the day and, sure enough, I found a flash telegram from the department, which the code room had messed up. They hadn’t deciphered it and retrieved it as quickly as they should have. I should have known that there was a flash.

The telegram advised me that we were going to retaliate against Afghanistan and that I should find the Iraqi Ambassador and use the following talking points. I’ve not done a freedom of information request, but the points were basically to summarize them. They were if you even think about taking advantage of this situation created by our going into Afghanistan, we will blast you to smithereens. That was the sum and substance of that telegram.

Long

Did that strike you as odd?

Negroponte

Yes, of course, that’s why I’m telling you the story. That’s the first—I mean to me, that’s the first evidence that I saw that somebody down there in Washington had Iraq on the mind. I didn’t object to it, but I thought it was strange. And I can assure you that the Iraqi Ambassador thought it was strange. I found him.

Riley

How did you find him?

Negroponte

Well, I had called our protocol office and asked do you have a home number for the guy and can you get me an appointment with him. They said yes, and they got me an appointment that afternoon. I went to him and I went through my talking points. If you so much as think.… Sort of like that. And he looked at me and he was bemused. He didn’t really know what to say and he shrugged it off. He said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to do that.” Actually, he must have reflected on it because he was sufficiently distressed later on. But the next day, he told Sergey Lavrov about it and Lavrov went and told the Washington Post that in the wake of our retaliating against Afghanistan, the U.S. Permanent Representative had threatened the Iraqi Permanent Representative. So, where did that come from? You’ll have to ask. Ask Doug Feith and ask Paul Wolfowitz. You can’t do this history without Paul Wolfowitz.

Perry

And how did you translate—you used the term “smithereens.”

Negroponte

I can’t remember what the—you really do have to get hold of this cable.

Perry

But what did you say, how did you address it?

Negroponte

I was faithful to my instructions. I told him. I used the words, which were something about if you try to take advantage of this, you will face the direst of consequences from us and that we will take the severest measures, things like that. It was a threatening message.

Knott

Had there been ongoing incidents with the no-fly zones and things like that?

Negroponte

No, I don’t think there was any of that, but there may have been. There may or may not have been. I very much remember at the time, I remember it vividly, and every time I reflect back on the experience, I think of it as the first indication I saw, of this very early fascination, if not obsession, with Iraq.

Long

And were you asked to see anybody else, Pakistan or any other…?

Negroponte

No. Well, I was also in agreement with what I had told Washington. I was asked to seek a meeting of the Security Council, to inform them of what we were doing. The only Ambassador that I recall being asked specifically to go see was the Ambassador of Iraq.

Riley

Can I ask you, when you’re asked to deliver a message like this, are you cognizant of your body language, your facial expressions, these kinds of things, when you have a meeting? I mean, not having been in the presence of a diplomat charged with doing—

Negroponte

I think I delivered it earnestly, yes.

Knott

Had you ever done something similar?

Negroponte

With a poker face. I don’t think I’ve ever—

Riley

Poker face, of course, all right. We were going to ask you about your poker-playing exploits. [laughter]

Negroponte

Had I ever been asked to do something like that? No, nothing quite so— That’s why I remember it so vividly. I don’t think I’d ever gotten an instruction like that. Well, I’d never been so directly involved in a diplomatic communication concerning war and peace. That was kind of a red-letter day, right?

Long

Afterward, did you talk to Powell? You said you talked to him almost every day.

Negroponte

No, you know what? We went on. We had so much other stuff to do, we just kept on going.

Long

But you didn’t ever question where that came from?

Negroponte

I don’t remember discussing it with Powell. Perhaps I should have.

Riley

This was a period of time when the traditional accounts emphasize a remarkable degree of uniformity of international opinion about the American response to the attacks of 9/11. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your perceptions of that kind of unity after 9/11.

Negroponte

Well, I think that’s true. I think people were very sympathetic to what we did. They were behind our response in Afghanistan. We worked closely with the Secretary General. You’ll have to pardon my not remembering all the dates and times, but when he appointed a Special Envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, for Afghanistan, we had [Hamid] Karzai come over, and he may have been the interim President. I can’t remember whether he was formally the President or not. There was a lot of very positive sentiment. We brought him to meet the Security Council. I remember going out to the airport at LaGuardia to meet him, and he was with Zal [Khalilzad]. There was a lot of support for what we were doing, and by the way, there was a lot of support for the UN role in Afghanistan, and I attribute that to the effectiveness of the UN Special Representative. The SRSG, Special Representative of the Secretary General, makes a difference, and Lakhdar Brahimi was one of those people. So actually our players out in Afghanistan were willing to submit to his kind of organizational activity. And if he would convene a meeting, you’d get the American Ambassador and the commander to go. So yes, there was a lot of pretty good feeling about the response, about wanting to help Afghanistan. I think that that went on for quite a while actually.

Riley

And what about within the administration itself?

Negroponte

There you really have to—this isn’t a cop-out or a caveat or something, it’s just that, as I told you, I really didn’t focus on what was going on inside the administration. Occasionally, I’d hear this frustration being expressed by the people who worked on the—particularly in the Deputies Committee. I thought that they were having disagreements about people like Marc Grossman. And Marc is a very decent guy and a team player and a pretty easy guy to work with, and they were all having difficulties.

Riley

So you’re not in a position of feeling it necessary to defend multilateral UN action within the administration itself.

Negroponte

No, not for that.

Riley

All right.

Negroponte

Really. And I think the President gets it. Don’t forget that his father was Ambassador to the UN, so you have to think about the background. George W. Bush even had a room in the apartment that I lived in. He had come and visited his father up at the apartment in the Waldorf Astoria. He understood this, and by the way, I think he likes Kofi Annan. The couple of times that I saw them together, I thought the chemistry was very good. You wouldn’t always know that from what Kofi puts in his most recently published memoir, but they got along.

And don’t forget, the General Assembly gets postponed, the so-called general debate, right? Every year we have the general debate, which is the highlight of the General Assembly, when all the leaders come. It’s usually the third week of September but because of 9/11 it was postponed and it happened on the 11th or so of November, and Bush came up. You asked about the atmosphere. I remember him walking out of the large room there, the General Assembly room, with delegates coming up to him saying we support you, we’re with you. I can remember Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian Permanent Representative, trotting alongside as Bush was walking out with his security people, saying, “We’re with you, we’re with you.” That was the attitude. “We’re all Americans.” Remember the French saying that? I think that sentiment still carried certainly through the year.

Riley

Through the year being 2001.

Negroponte

Yes, and I’m sure beyond, but at least I saw evidence of it in November.

Riley

What are the—and we don’t have to do all of them—but what are the high points? Obviously, Iraq starts intruding on the agenda at some point in 2002, but in the interval, when Afghanistan is still the main course of action, are there other major things that you’re doing with respect to Afghanistan?

Negroponte

Well, my experience with both, my recollection is that we did a lot more resolutions vis-à-vis Iraq, as I recall, than we did with respect to Afghanistan, including the management of the occupation.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

I can’t remember the specific Afghanistan resolution. To be honest with you, there’s nothing especially noteworthy about the Afghanistan response. We basically organized ourselves as a Special Representative. There’s Karzai—frankly, I forget whether it was an electoral process or not—but all that just moves along more or less routinely. We’re dealing with the usual things that you deal with at the UN.

We probably had one—here’s a discordant note. At some point in that spring of 2002, there’s an obsession again of the DoD [Department of Defense] with the International Criminal Court [ICC], which was the hobbyhorse of Doug Feith. You could talk to Doug Feith about the weather and he’d answer back about the International Criminal Court. [laughter] And he did that constantly, until one day I got this absolute bombshell of an instruction, supported by [Stephen J.] Hadley and Feith and all of them, saying we can’t reapprove the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia unless there’s a specific exemption of foreign forces from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and if we don’t get that we’ll veto the resolution, or something like that. So actually, I think I may have even been instructed to exercise the veto, and I just threw the Security Council into complete fits. It then took us about four or five days to work our way through this whole situation, but there was a real thing about the ICC.

Riley

Sure. When you get an instruction like that, do you ever consider it appropriate to push back?

Negroponte

Sometimes. I didn’t in that particular case. I’m not somebody who challenges my instructions very often, I really don’t, although I’m not shy about doing that if I feel I absolutely have to. I knew enough about the Security Council to know that that wasn’t the end of the road and that even if I did that and caused a great stir, that we’d—I mean, the great thing about the Security Council in some respects is it’s really a closed loop, and because we have veto power, it means that we can really shape the outcome pretty well and pretty much in accordance with our wishes, unless one of the other permanent members decides to exercise their veto power. As long as you can make that calculation properly, you’re in pretty good shape. Congress was very wise to insist that we have the veto power in the UN Charter.

Knott

You had a meeting, or President Bush met with President [Pervez] Musharraf at the Residence.

Negroponte

A magnificent meeting. November.

Knott

Yes. Could you tell us about that?

Negroponte

That was the first meeting. The President came up to the Residence early and said not to bring him in the living room or anything, take him right to the—both Bushes are just congenital racers, they want to get everything done as quickly as possible. Don’t give him a drink in the living room; take him right to the dining room table. And so we brought them all into the dining room and we offered them drinks and we finished the lunch in 42 minutes or something like that. And I asked Powell, “What kind of diplomacy is this anyway?” He said, “That’s nothing. I think the record is 27 minutes.” [laughter]

We nonetheless had a very substantive conversation and that was basically—well, I don’t remember all the details, and of course it’s been written up too. Basically, Musharraf said we’re on your side and he committed to going back home and taking a strong stand against international terrorism. A few days after he got back from New York, in Islamabad, he gave a nationwide televised address saying exactly that. So that was really where the two of them cemented their relationship, and it was a good relationship, Musharraf and Bush, and it was a consequence of that luncheon at the Residence.

So we go to Iraq in the fall and they’re having this debate in Washington that I’m not involved in, about whether or not to go to the UN. The war planning is going on and I’m woefully uninformed about that. I probably should have been better informed.

Riley

Who makes the decision about whether you’re involved or not? Is it the President?

Negroponte

Well, as I said, I wasn’t a member of the Cabinet, nor was I a member of the National Security Council. I never made an issue of that because I felt my job was really a diplomatic one in the field. I thought of it as like being in another embassy.

Riley

Of course.

Negroponte

Maybe that’s because of my Foreign Service mindset.

Riley

But it must have been consistent with the administration’s White House.

Negroponte

And with Powell. Powell doesn’t want to have two Secretaries of State; you do have that issue. When you make the UN Ambassador a member of the Cabinet or the NSC, you basically have two foreign policy voices at those meetings. Powell is a disciplined military guy with a hierarchical view of things, and frankly, I didn’t disagree with that.

So anyway, they had this big debate about whether or not to go for a resolution. I understand that Powell succeeded in persuading the President to go for a resolution. That’s where I come in. And the President comes up to New York and gives his speech at the General Assembly. [pauses] Now, you say in the notes here that he makes the case for war. Or no, that Powell made the case for war. Anyway, he makes Iraq the focus of that presentation to the General Assembly and then says we will seek a resolution, so then we launch on this process of negotiating a resolution.

That was really a joint effort between me and Powell. There was no way—just like Jim Baker negotiated the First Gulf War resolution pretty much personally, right, by going and visiting all the capitals and everything else, Colin Powell wasn’t inclined to go and visit all these capitals. He spent an awful lot of time on the phone with the key foreign ministers, mostly Jack Straw and Dominique de Villepin, et cetera, and we basically spent the next whatever it was, about five or six weeks, totally immersed in trying to get Resolution 1441, which we finally did. There are quite a few accounts around of it. A lot of it was Powell’s own personal negotiating effort. I supported it fully and was very busy trying to bring people on board.

My small triumph in all of that, you may have seen, was that the Syrians were the last to come on board, and their DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] called me up as I was walking to the Security Council the day that we were voting on the resolution to say that they decided to support us. We were delighted at that because the Syrians had been very hard to deal with on the Security Council.

Riley

Who was the British Representative at the time?

Negroponte

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who is a fabulous diplomat and very good. The Brits have a little—he has a bit of an advantage over me because he would get records of Tony Blair’s conversations with the President and things like that from Jack Straw. But he was a very good guy to work with and it was a very cooperative relationship.

Riley

The inference being that you were not getting the same reporting about Washington.

Negroponte

No, not always. I had enough but I just was—

Riley

Greenstock, did he recognize this and…?

Negroponte

Not necessarily. The British system is a little different. They trust their people. They document everything much more, right? I’m sure you know that in your line of work.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

Cabinet records and things like that. They all carry around little red boxes that contain all the accounts of all the different things that have happened.

Riley

Right. Although in this instance, Blair came under a lot of criticism for the SOFA [Status of Forces Agreement] culture there, that there were decisions being taken about Iraq that didn’t follow the—

Negroponte

That sounds possible. But anyway, Greenstock was a good rep and Jean-David Levitte was the French rep. I’m trying to remember. At some point in the middle or the end of the process, he picks up and goes to Washington to become the Ambassador in Washington. But I think he stays through the adoption of Resolution 1441, and he’s the one who makes the critical point to me. He said, “You have enough in there to attack Iraq if they remain in material breach. Don’t come back to us to get a second resolution because that will be very hard in France.” Regrettably, the Brits have the exactly opposite view, and at one point Jeremy tells me that their Attorney General says we can’t go in without a second resolution.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

And of course the irony of it is that because of British insistence, we try to get a second resolution, fail, and then the British come in with us anyway, irrespective of what the Attorney General said, which makes you wonder about how sincere they were in the first instance, whether it was just a political point that they were making, rather than a genuine legal point. If their Attorney General had that view, how is it that they could come in with us afterward?

Riley

Right. Was Powell so hands-on in these negotiations that he would have been immediately privy to these competing expectations about what the resolution meant?

Negroponte

Oh yes, we reported these things exhaustively and instantaneously. I must have spent I don’t know how many hours, dozens of hours, on the telephone with the guy, talking about language. We really got down in the weeds with 1441. We didn’t do that with every resolution. With 1441, we got down to the commas and the prepositions and everything else, particularly with Villepin and Straw. And of course Secretary Powell’s daughter was getting married right in the middle of all of this. But we got it, and basically what did we get? We got an inspection process and we got a revival of the inspection process.

Knott

In February, the administration announced its detainee treatment policy that the captured Taliban and the captured al-Qaeda were not going to be given POW [prisoner of war] status. In light of the fact that this becomes quite an issue down the road, do you start hearing any complaints from the international community about this?

Negroponte

I don’t really become particularly conscious of the POW issue until I go to Iraq, which is June 30th of ’04. But no, at that time no. I may have even dealt with some POW issue during the time, but I just don’t remember.

Riley

Sure. Steve, did you have a follow-up question?

Long

I’m interested in the point at which things kind of break down with the UN, frustration with the inspections and the decision to withdraw the second resolution.

Negroponte

Right. Well, that’s a fascinating story and a very intense period. First of all, we build up this new inspection process, UNMOVIC [UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission], the Iraq inspection. We’ve got Hans Blix there, who’s a very serious guy. I mean, this is a top-notch person. Any country would be fortunate to have a man of his caliber in a position of leadership, and he took the job very seriously, and the inspection process started.

But then within a month of the passage of the resolution—I think the resolution was passed in early November—they were supposed to submit the full, final, and complete declaration of their WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programs, what they’d done with it and everything else. So that was the first big crisis because they submitted this thing and it was a real bad job. It was just a stack of documents really, and some of it was old reports that they’d made. It was a mishmash of hundreds and hundreds, maybe even thousands, of pages, I don’t know. It took a helicopter to carry the darn documents. They submitted that and then they gave it to the president of the Security Council, who was the Colombian.

I’d gone to a memorial service for Walter Annenberg in Philadelphia the day that we were supposed to get hold of these documents. We failed to get them from the president of the Security Council and Washington was absolutely furious with me. They were so mad. I got a call from Elliott Abrams telling me, “You have disobeyed orders.” And I said, “That’s strong language, Elliott.” That’s the only time somebody from the NSC had called me like that. So I found out what the problem was and, well, I had been at a memorial service. Anyway, I spent the next two days browbeating the Colombian Ambassador and his foreign minister, Mrs. Carolina Barco [Isakson]. I’m lucky they’re still friends of mine because I got those documents. I got the Colombian Ambassador, in his capacity as president of the Security Council, to turn them over to representatives of the United States, who came by and ferried them down to Washington in a helicopter. They made copies of all of them and then sent the originals back to the Security Council. Then they came to the conclusion that the report was very inadequate and that they continued to be in material breach. So that was the beginning of what I’m getting to.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

This is the threshold event that begins the slippery slope down toward the attack, or the justification for the attack.

Perry

Could I ask, why do you think—this was Blix who handed in—

Negroponte

It wasn’t Blix, it was the Iraqis. The Iraqi government gave it to the Security Council.

Perry

Directly.

Negroponte

Yes, I mean maybe through the Secretariat, but the addressee was the president of the Security Council. Technically, we didn’t have a sufficiently special right to be able to have those documents before anybody else, but we asserted it and we got our way.

Perry

And what was Blix saying about the fact that that’s what had come in?

Negroponte

I don’t think he’d had a chance to look at it either yet. We ended up having the first look and they were inadequate. I’ve talked to Blix subsequently and Blix is always—he and I have had an interesting conversation about this. He looked at me one time after we went through all this and he said, “The thing about Saddam [Hussein] is I don’t know why the heck he acted so guilty.” And it’s true. He may not have had WMD but he acted guilty. Some people theorize that it was partly because he wanted people to think he had WMD. But in any case, these documents were inadequate, and since the resolution, if you look back at it, 1441 says Iraq is in material breach. So here was another straw that’s added, and that’s when the process starts heading downhill.

Then the next thing that happened, sometime early in the new year, Washington starts sending these signals that we want to have an Adlai Stevenson moment in the Security Council.

Riley

They’re using that term with you.

Negroponte

They do. And I told Colin that I think that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Why don’t you go do that in the Congress or in a hearing or in a press conference? Don’t use my Security Council for that. That was my reaction, don’t use my venue, because it’s theater and I didn’t think it was the right place to do that, and it’s very unilateral. We were going to do this thing and no one else was going to have much of a speaking part.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

But they decided they wanted to do it anyway, and then they prepare this report about—with Colin holding the vial [of anthrax] and me and George Tenet behind him. Powell had come up the night before and he wanted Tenet in that chair because he wanted the Agency to validate that what he was saying was correct, and he wanted Tenet accountable for what was being put forward. We went over all that material the night before. I remember we rehearsed the whole thing on the 12th floor of the UN mission. During the previous week Powell had been going up to the Agency, and we took some stuff out that he didn’t think was sufficiently reliable. So I think he made the presentation in completely good faith.

Riley

I was going to ask you if you had come to an independent judgment about the weight of the evidence.

Negroponte

At that point there were a couple of things that I had questioned. Earlier on, at the end of the previous year, I had been asked to make some presentations informally about various supposed infractions of WMD prohibition by Saddam. I had been asked by Washington, in my talking points, to raise the purchase of uranium by Iraq from Niger. Ambassador John Wolf had been the guy dealing with nonproliferation in the State Department and was sort of Powell’s point man for all of these issues and point man for organizing the inspections and everything. He was up a lot during that time. He told me that stuff is really squirrely, don’t use it. So I just struck it out of my talking points when I presented at the informal meeting of the Council. I’d been given to believe that at least some of the information we were using might be questionable. I got an intel briefing every day from a CIA intel analyst.

Riley

This is throughout your term?

Negroponte

Yes. I pretty much did, actually, through the whole time that I was working in the Bush administration because every job I had needed it.

Riley

Right, of course.

Negroponte

And I appreciated it, I found it very valuable. The briefer asked, “What about these aluminum tubes?” which she was showing me pictures of. She said that what they tell me is they’d been tooled and refined to a level of fineness that you would only use if you were using them for enrichment, rather than as artillery pieces. Well, in a future life, as DNI [Director of National Intelligence], I visited NGIC, the National Ground Intelligence Center, which were the guys who put out that bad information at the time, and of course they subsequently confessed that they had just missed the Italian artillery piece that these aluminum tubes came from. They hadn’t looked at the right catalogs or something. But other than that, I had asked about those tubes.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

I didn’t question the other things. We put all this whiz-bang information out, we had intercepts of people talking about things that sounded pretty good, and the case was presented very well. And my God, we took over the Security Council, we set up props and, what do you call them, video displays and everything else, PowerPoint. It was basically a PowerPoint display, which I think was the first time we ever did that. Well, I don’t think it turned out not to be an Adlai Stevenson moment. Powell felt very betrayed at the way things turned out. For him, that is the searing experience of his tenure as Secretary of State. He felt truly burned. He was put out there to do this and they exploited his capability. That’s the way he feels; I’m not speaking for myself now. I think he’s right. But I guess what’s more disturbing, or equally disturbing, is how could we fall for such a bunch of stuff?

Knott

I hear this occasionally from some military officers, that maybe this material was moved between the time that the Bush administration made it clear.

Negroponte

Yes, these trucks going to Syria.

Knott

Yes, exactly.

Negroponte

Well, they haven’t shown up yet. I had CIA agents, guys who I’d worked with earlier, who came out, retired ones—they’re always trying to make a buck—saying they knew, they had these divining rods and everything else and they were going to find all this stuff. It created a whole cottage industry, the search for Iraqi WMD.

I think, in retrospect, Colin feels really burned by this experience. It’s really the low point of his career. I think he feels he was put up to it, and I just can’t imagine some of the choice words he might have for some of them.

Riley

Could you tell us a little bit more about the preparations leading up to the presentation? You said you did an all-nighter?

Negroponte

The presentation?

Riley

Yes, the presentation.

Negroponte

The only part that I have personal knowledge of—I heard accounts of the fact that he’d gone to the CIA three or four times to get briefed, and he vetted the material and actually scrubbed some of it out.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

I think he narrowed it down to information that he found credible. The main point is that he, once again, wanted to go over it, on the top floor of the UN mission. We set up there. We had a table with all the material out there, the displays and the PowerPoint, and George Tenet, and we went over the whole thing again. I can’t recall what might have been taken out or put in or modified as a result of that, but all I’m saying is that he really did what he felt was a good effort of due diligence.

Riley

Of course.

Negroponte

I mean, he did his due diligence and he had George Tenet sitting right behind him during the whole briefing, and myself.

Riley

And in some respects that’s the most troubling aspect of it, because you’ve got this professional—

Negroponte

Well, we get to the intelligence reform subject later. Curve ball.

Riley

Having somebody of Powell’s intellect and skepticism go through these materials, for him to be convinced.

Negroponte

Yes, well, you’ve got to go back over the WMD Commission report. Larry Silberman and Chuck Robb went through all of this, and how we made these mistakes. But anyway, it becomes a factor in my being selected to be DNI.

Knott

Are you getting feedback from Tenet along the lines that this is a slam dunk? Anything when you’re sitting in these preparation meetings?

Negroponte

No.

Knott

But is there a confidence in—I guess I’m trying to measure, there’s been some dispute as to where the CIA really stood on some of these questions.

Negroponte

Well, they were satisfied enough to present this material. Now, what was behind the scenes, to be honest with you, I had no conversation with him about any of the details, I really didn’t. I’ve just got to tell you that I believed it. I had no reason to doubt it, and John Wolf, who I spoke to as recently as a week ago—he now runs the [Dwight] Eisenhower Fellows program in Philadelphia, and he was the nonproliferation guy for Powell—he still believes it. He doesn’t believe that they had it, but he believes that it was credible and that the way they behaved and the way they reacted to inspections, all the body language—you talk about body language of the Iraqis—was sort of like guilty.

Riley

You said it turned out not to be an Adlai Stevenson moment. What was the reaction in the room and what are you hearing from the other representatives in the aftermath of this?

Negroponte

You know what, I honestly don’t remember, but I don’t think they were overwhelmed by it, I really don’t. And that was in early February, if I remember correctly, and we almost immediately proceed into—this is the predicate now, right?—for trying to get support for a second resolution.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

And the antibodies to the second resolution build up pretty fast.

Riley

Why?

Negroponte

They don’t want us to attack Iraq. They want us to give the inspections more time.

Riley

And who are the leading antibodies?

Negroponte

There are a lot of antibodies out there. Washington thought that we had a majority. You need nine out of fifteen to pass a Security Council resolution, and they thought that with Mexico and Chile and whoever else we had on the Council at the time, Pakistan maybe, that we could do it. Frankly, we would have been able to do it much better with the previous Council, but as you know we get five new members—five step off and five come on every January 1st, and the previous year we had Bulgaria and Singapore. We would have done much better if you look at the lineup in the previous year. So it was circumstantial, but it just turns out we got a worse crowd among the elected the second time around, led by guess who? The Germans. There was a guy named Gunter Pleuger, who is a career diplomat but very close—their career diplomats identify politically, and he was very close to [Gerhard] Schroeder, and he led a one-man campaign against the second resolution.

Riley

Did this come as a surprise to you?

Negroponte

It annoyed the hell out of me, and the funny part about it was that I don’t think Joschka Fischer, who was the foreign minister and who was not, I think, from the same party as Schroeder, I don’t think he felt as strongly as Pleuger. What Pleuger did, which was the annoying part, the aggravating part, was that he went and organized the elected ten. He said, “OK, you have the permanent five, but we’re going to be the ten,” and he would start hosting meetings of the ten. So here we had this terrible situation where an ally of the United States, a NATO ally, for whom we have done so much, was deliberately trying to organize the elected members of the Security Council against the United States.

Perry

And what was his motivation, condition to his politics?

Negroponte

He didn’t want us to go to war.

Perry

Just that simple?

Negroponte

Well, that plus he was of liberal leftist German political orientation. Personally, he’s quite a nice man, and he’s also quite intelligent and well educated. But just to give you one vignette of the difference of, say, a pragmatic American diplomat and a somewhat theoretical German diplomatist, in an informal session of the Security Council we were having a debate about the language of a resolution one time and Gunter at one point said, “We have to remember that in the future, when our work is reviewed, it will also be reviewed by our former law professors.” That’s never been a motivation for my work in the Security Council.

Riley

No, not since you left Harvard after a week.

Negroponte

He said that you’ve got to remember that our law professors will look at the work we do. Anyway, Gunter was an issue. But notwithstanding his efforts, I think we still thought we had a chance through a combination of the British and maybe a French abstention and so forth, permanent members abstaining, British folks with us, and then we would have scarfed up seven of the ten elected members. And we made a major campaign. We went to all these countries. There was Cameroon, they were on board. They were solid from the beginning.

Riley

You personally traveled?

Negroponte

No, I didn’t. The ones I could line up in New York, I lined up. I lined up the Cameroonians very early on but no, we did diplomatic outreach. I think we maybe even plussed up some of the economic assistance to some of the more needy countries. There was a major effort, but in the end, the decisive factor, there’s no doubt about it, was the French decision to oppose. Ultimately, it was in the mind of one person, and when Mr. [Jacques] Chirac publicly used the word “veto” it was over. They argued with us, they tried to dissuade us. They didn’t want to do it, and ultimately I think Chirac actually uttered the word, and once he uttered it, there was no point and we pulled the resolution.

Riley

Sure. Was it ever sellable? In retrospect, were there things that could have been done?

Negroponte

I didn’t think so. I thought we did it too early. I thought that the inspections should have been given time. You can’t set up—actually, I think it shows that we didn’t really take the inspection process seriously, and that was probably a mistake. We shouldn’t have used the UN that way. It’s not serious to set up an inspection process in November and pronounce it dead in February. In bureaucratic time, governmental time, that’s a split second.

Long

In our briefing book there’s a reference to a Chilean proposal in mid-March, before the withdrawal of the second resolution, for a 30-day deadline extension for Iraq, that at least one source says may have had French support. Do you recall anything about that?

Negroponte

That’s awfully late. The Chileans were very active, but that was Valdes, I think, Gabriel Valdes. They were very opposed. And then remember that somebody in Britain had leaked—it’s in the material there—information that we had been eavesdropping on various things.

Riley

I’ve got that on my list.

Negroponte

Oh God, and Valdes was the one who was really offended. He came to me and said, “John, that was really horrible.” I think we lost the Chileans—if we hadn’t lost them already, we lost them when that came out.

Riley

Right. Were you aware of this before the press accounts?

Negroponte

I’m not going to comment on that. I’m not going to talk about that.

Riley

OK.

Negroponte

Honestly, unless you’re very naïve in the ways of the world, I think it’s hard to explain how an experienced diplomat would be outraged by something like that. It’s just that it was too in your face.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian Ambassador counterpart in the UN, used to always tell his friends, “Don’t put it in a telegram if you don’t want the Americans to read it.” [laughter]

Riley

Let’s take a two- or three-minute break.

[BREAK]

J. Negroponte, 9/14/2012 27

Riley

All right, so you had a comment to make about the eavesdropping. Were you going to say more about that?

Negroponte

No. I have nothing further to say about the eavesdropping. I did have something to say about full, final, and complete declaration. I believe there was a theory. I don’t have proof of this, but I’m sure the person to ask would be Hadley, because he’s the lawyer in the family. The notion was that you would take the inadequacies of the full, final, and complete declaration and then use that as the justification for going to war. It was a bit of a lawyerly approach to a foreign policy issue. I think Steve has evolved into a broader thinker about policy, but at that time, I believe that they felt they were setting a legal trap for Iraq, and the legal trap was to have a resolution that says you continue to be in material breach. And then, with a faulty full, final, and complete declaration, you continue to be further in material breach, and then that justifies the war effort.

Well, the mistake of the Iraq War, from my point of view, is that we paid a very high political price for not having the legitimacy of a unanimous Security Council resolution. Now, it’s the President’s privilege and authority to decide whether or not he wants to pay that price, but I don’t think anybody foretold it. No one really—and I think there I fault those who advised him to go to war. I don’t think they pointed out to him sufficiently what the international, not to mention domestic, but what the international political costs of acting that way would be. You could still decide that it’s important enough and therefore it’s the right thing to do. Who am I to second-guess the Commander in Chief, but I’m not sure they made all of that calculus at the time.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

There was a gathering storm: we want to do this, we have our reasons for wanting to knock out Saddam. That’s the way I read it. I still don’t think I know for sure why we went into Iraq. I’m not sure I know what was going on in the President’s mind when he made that decision.

Knott

So you hear people say that perhaps this was payback for the attempt at—

Negroponte

Exactly, all that stuff. I just don’t know for sure. Strange.

Perry

Could I ask you a personality question, just to link back to the dinner party that you had in which you commented, I think you said both of the Bushes were known for their racing and that you raced…

Negroponte

The luncheon, yes.

Perry

They raced into the meal.

Negroponte

They’re people who do things quickly. They play 18 holes of golf in an hour and 20 minutes. I’ve seen George Bush Senior do that.

Riley

Are you a golfer?

Negroponte

No, I’m not. I used to be.

Perry

I don’t mean to draw a direct link between rapidity of playing golf and going to war, but you’re saying to us that you’re not sure why the President made the decision he made. Is it possible that it was too quick a decision, or not listening to all opinions or concerns about going to war?

Negroponte

No question that the Bushes do things quickly, but the kinds of things I was talking about are relatively superficial: a round of golf, a luncheon. We were with Uribe one time, Álvaro Uribe, the President of Colombia, in the Oval Office. I was then Deputy Secretary and he was on an official working visit. You know an official working visit, there’s just sort of a package. You get an Oval Office meeting and then you get a lunch at the Residence. And so the meeting at the Oval Office was at 12:00 and the lunch was at 1:00. Well, we ran out of things to say at about 12:25, so George Bush, in his inimitable style, said, “Well, let’s go get some chow.” We wander over to the Residence and by 20 minutes till 1:00 we’re sitting down at the table, 20 minutes early for the lunch. So of course the Vice President shows up at 1:00 for the lunch, takes his seat, and says to the President, “That’s what I get for being on time.” [laughter] But does that translate into hasty national security decisions? That would be a stretch.

Perry

That would be a stretch.

Negroponte

I think it would be a stretch. You’ve got to be fair.

Riley

Let me get your reflection on one other thing, and that is the post-9/11 mentality that’s captured in caricature by the One Percent Doctrine that allegedly Vice President Cheney had adopted.

Negroponte

You mean if there’s so much as even a one percent doubt.

Riley

Right. Does that resonate with you? Was there such a heightened sense of vulnerability after 9/11 that people found themselves maybe more easily persuaded to do things that they wouldn’t have done under other circumstances?

Negroponte

Well, I don’t know, I’m not sure, because I don’t think that really heightened sense of insecurity lasts very long. It’s like New York and Washington were in the doldrums for two or three months, and they didn’t open the national airport for a while. I remember that real estate values and all—but six months later normalcy had been pretty much restored, right?

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

At least domestically. So I don’t think people walked around in some—although there was this one thing about a fear that a nuke had gotten loose somewhere in New York City.

Perry

And then the anthrax scare.

Negroponte

And the anthrax scare, but that was all fairly early on.

Riley

That was much earlier.

Perry

Right.

Negroponte

Anthrax was earlier on. The loose nuke was some time during the winter of ’02. But no, I didn’t feel that there was a particularly tense atmosphere.

Riley

And that would include the President and his inner circle. In other words, that there wasn’t a heightened sense of vulnerability and therefore the need to act more quickly or more resolutely.

Negroponte

I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the dynamic of the decision. I really don’t. I don’t think I would be adding much to history on this particular case.

Long

I wonder if we can go back to that time around the second resolution falling apart or being withdrawn, and then the decision to go ahead into Iraq. That’s a pretty short timetable. At some point in the middle of March, it must have been clear that military preparations were already underway, to be able to go in on the 9th of April.

Negroponte

And we started bombing sooner.

Long

Right.

Negroponte

Didn’t we start the 17th of March?

Perry

The 19th.

Long

Officially Operation Iraqi Freedom begins the 19th. Did you have a sense that you had only a small number of days to work out the situation?

Negroponte

Yes, I did, and although I wasn’t getting daily briefs on that, Secretary Powell kept me well enough informed on that issue for the following reason: the UN had inspectors in Iraq and we owed it to them to give them sufficient warning time to get out. I was dealing with a fellow named Dimitri Perricos, who was the head of the inspectors’ corps, the operational head, and we at one point gave him a signal, you guys had better leave, which was probably three or four days before the bombing.

Riley

Now, in the interval before the bombing and the invasion, are you getting at that point a lot of pushback from the international community about the U.S. not going in? In other words, the people are saying you’re not authorized to do this.

Negroponte

No, they’re not saying—they just don’t want to associate themselves with approving it. I think one of the interesting, not ironies, but one of the interesting aspects of our going into Iraq and the UN role is that even though the Security Council did not want to approve our going in, they sure as hell wanted to play a role in managing the occupation of Iraq. In other words, once we get past the issue of approval, they want to be right back in the game, maybe tying our hands down, but also they want to play a role. After all, the UN runs the Oil-for-Food Programme. They control the disbursement of the Iraqi funds that are in escrow in the New York Federal Reserve Bank, and they want to play a role in helping guide and oversee our occupation of Iraq. They want us also to acknowledge that it’s an occupation.

Riley

Is it too much to say that they wanted to keep their hands clean, but they were not genuinely opposed to seeing the U.S. go in and take care of Saddam?

Negroponte

They were not sorry to see Saddam go, by and large, although at that time I was having frequent meetings with the Arab group, minus Iraq, but with the 21—actually, he may have come along to some of the meetings too. The regional groups all meet at the UN, and I would meet with all 22 Arab countries. Aboul Gheit was the big influence on me; he was the Egyptian. He would tell me that they’ll greet you with flowers and they’ll just treat you like heroes and all of that, and that will last for 30 days, and then after that you will be viewed as an enemy, as an adversary. I guess just about anybody could have said that, but I thought it was interesting that that’s the way he felt. None of them had any love lost for Saddam, but I think basically they were quite uncomfortable with the idea that we’d gone in there the way we’d done it.

Riley

Unilaterally.

Negroponte

Well, and that we’d gone in there at all. I don’t think they were very comfortable with that.

Riley

When the bombing and the invasion starts, are you fending off criticisms?

Negroponte

No, not particularly, that I remember. No, really, the next thing that I remember within a couple of months’ time, I don’t think it’s right away, is that we get down to writing these various resolutions about the occupation and political timetable, various different things that we dealt with.

Riley

Let me ask you about, then, the question of what, on the military side I think was called the phase four planning, the postwar planning aspect of this. Were you in any way involved or consulted about what the occupation government would look like?

Negroponte

No, we were consulted about certain things. We had people come up to talk with the UN planners before we invaded, about possible Iraq contingencies. What was visualized at the time was that there would be a lot of internal displacement of Iraqis, which in fact did not happen. We had people coming up from the Office of Refugee Resettlement and from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, and all of them to do some contingency planning with the humanitarian assistance people at the UN, for how to deal with the big dislocations that would occur inside Iraq, which never happened.

Riley

But that was [Jay] Garner’s principal—

Negroponte

Right. Garner came, and so did—who was the comptroller of the Pentagon? He organized it. We worked with him.

Riley

Was it Dov?

Negroponte

Yes, Dov Zakheim. He came up and we had a conference with the UN people. We did a certain amount of financial and economic and humanitarian planning beforehand, but it was all theoretical, it was not very concrete. And things only started getting very concrete once we really set up a system over there in Iraq. The big issue initially was there’s all this money, Iraqi money, in escrow in New York, and how could the occupying authority get its hands on it?

Riley

Did you have a hard time with that?

Negroponte

No, we didn’t, but I think we needed some resolutions to deal with that. We acknowledged that we were the occupying power, and some my colleagues didn’t like that, but we just used the word once. I told the other Security Council members please don’t rub it in, because we thought of ourselves as liberators, not occupiers. But legally speaking, we were the occupying authority, we had responsibility.

So anyway, we spend those months trying to shape what follows, and then of course the UN, just like Brahimi in Afghanistan, sent Sergio Vieira de Mello to Iraq, and he was a very good element. He was superb and people admired him and thought highly of him, and they were willing to pay attention to him. Tragically, in August of ’03, he gets killed.

Knott

August 19th.

Negroponte

And it happens on a day that we’re having some kind of conference on Iraq up in New York, because I remember Powell coming up that day. That was a real setback, and we never got a Representative of his stature and caliber and gravitas at the UN after that. That was a pity.

Riley

Had you worked with him before?

Negroponte

Yes. I’d known him before. I can’t recall what job he had prior to that but yes, he’d been around. I knew him and he was very highly regarded.

Riley

And then after the bombing, the UN presence dissipates for a while?

Negroponte

Yes, it’s just paralyzed, and they withdraw behind walls. I think there was an absence of leadership for a number of months, until they found a successor to Sergio.

Riley

What kinds of issues then are finding their way on your plate as a result of the occupation, once you get past the first period of time?

Negroponte

Well, one example is the legitimization of the multinational force presence, and we passed one or more resolutions. That to me is the vindication of the view that they may not have wanted to give us that second resolution, but they were perfectly happy to be involved in the administration of Iraq because the Security Council approved the presence of the MNF-I [Multi-National Force–Iraq] by unanimous resolution. So suddenly we were there legitimately, with a UN Security Council resolution to show for it. And it was actually a very important legal basis for our presence there because it also carried with it certain immunities, and it was a surrogate for a status of forces agreement. Remember all the problems we have once the UN mandate expires? We then have to negotiate our own status of forces agreement. But absent a status of forces agreement, this UN resolution was serving that purpose because we wove language into it that gave our troops the kinds of immunities they needed. They were housekeeping activities that basically made it possible for us to conduct the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority], that’s what they were, and the UN went along with that willingly.

And then the other big thing that happened was we had the corruption and the scandals that surrounded the Oil-for-Food Programme, which in my view were slightly exaggerated, and that the Oil-for-Food Programme actually had done some good in its time. But, unfortunately, it turned out that the person responsible for administering it within the UN itself did turn out to be a corrupt individual. That was very unfortunate.

Riley

How much of your time was that occupying?

Negroponte

Well, Iraq in its entirety, I would say was occupying 20 to 30 percent of my time.

Riley

And what are you doing with the rest of your time? What are the other portions?

Negroponte

What else do you work on? OK, maybe even if it’s 40 percent, first of all the UN Security Council always has Africa on its platter because that’s where all the big peacekeeping operations are. You’re almost daily getting briefings on what’s happening in Sierra Leone, Liberia, et cetera. History kept moving besides Iraq, so we had other issues.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

And then you had of course the Middle East. We had a major Palestinian resolution, which I actually engineered, Resolution 1397, which recognized the vision of a Palestinian state. But we’re always on the alert for efforts to embarrass Israel in the Security Council or in the General Assembly. So that was another area of activity. But in terms of what mattered to the President and to the national security team in Washington, certainly Iraq was the principal issue.

Riley

Although the President did make an issue of a two-state solution.

Negroponte

He did indeed. He did at that time, right, in 2002.

Riley

Did you have to use a lot of your diplomatic skills in getting the resolution that you just mentioned adopted?

Negroponte

It was one of the harder ones to get.

Riley

Can you tell us about that?

Negroponte

This happens, I think, in 2002, something like the spring. The harbinger of any trouble on the issue of the Middle East question and Arab-Israeli matters is always when you get a call from the Palestinian delegate who says he wants to come and see you. OK, so what does he want? So he came around.

Riley

Who was this?

Negroponte

Nasser Al-Kidwa. He was a nephew of [Yasser] Arafat. He said we’re thinking of getting our Arab friends—of course they can’t table the resolution themselves, they have to get an Arab sponsor from the Security Council—to table it. We’re thinking of doing one now because of Jenin and some Israeli activity that was annoying them and troubling them. And so sure enough, a few days later the Arab group told us that they were going to float this resolution. So I asked Washington for authority to do something that we hadn’t really tried before, which was to turn the resolution on its head, take it, modify all the parts of it that we didn’t like, but throw in a few sweeteners and try to make it something that maybe would put them a little bit on the defensive and that we could live with. I included things like a ban on not only certain kinds of activities of the Israelis that they didn’t like, but I put in language about incitement, because that’s what the Palestinians are always doing, trying to incite violence, provoke violent activity so that the Israelis would clamp down on them, and then they could point to this as a grievance of some kind.

Anyway, we negotiated for a whole week or so and then one night, about 9:00 or 10:00, I met with the whole Arab group, I think led by the Jordanians, in a little side room off the Security Council, and they said, “We’ll accept your resolution provided you add one thing.” I said, “What’s that?” And they said, in the preamble, we want you to put in “acknowledging the vision of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.” I don’t like to wake up Colin Powell, but I woke him up and said, “I’ve got one for you, boss.” And he listened to me and he said call David Satterfield, who was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East. He said, “If he says it’s OK with him, it’s OK with me.”

So I called Satterfield and Satterfield, who is a very matter-of-fact kind of guy, said, “Oh, well, that’s language we use all the time.” I hadn’t noticed that we used it that often, certainly not at the Presidential, or we’d certainly never used it in the Security Council. But he cleared it, so I agreed to it, about 11:00 at night. And then we put it in—you put it in blue, they call it, which is a text printed on a blue sheet of paper, which just means it’s ready to be voted. We went into the chambers of the Council and lo and behold, the Syrian delegate said he had no instructions. It’s kind of a no-brainer for an Arab to vote, but oh no, Mikhail Wehbe, the Christian Syrian Permanent Representative in New York, said he had to get instructions. There was a scene right after that of five or ten of these other Arab perm reps all around Mikhail, all sort of gesticulating, how can you not—And I think in the end, not only did they abstain, I believe we may have postponed the vote until the following morning. They left their chair empty, but I don’t know why. Anyway, yes, we got it through.

Riley

The Israelis are agreeable to this?

Negroponte

They were fine with it because I had gotten in it some language that very clearly tasked the Palestinians with bringing incitement and the provocation of violence under control. It was a balanced resolution.

Riley

Sure. One of the persistent questions, especially on Middle East issues, is the extent to which there is U.S. consultation with the Israelis.

Negroponte

Oh, well, tremendous, because I had to veto several resolutions. You haven’t really had your baptism of fire in the UN until you’ve had to veto a resolution. I vetoed the one on the ICC and I vetoed several on Israel. At some point or another you have to just get up and do it.

Riley

And what do you get in return?

Negroponte

The gratitude of Israel. They come to expect it of us, but we certainly use the veto more than any other country.

Riley

I see.

Negroponte

We did, at least. I don’t know if that’s still true or not. It’s to be avoided if you can.

Riley

I was going to ask you if you recall any instances where you antagonized the Israelis during your term at the UN.

Negroponte

No. I always felt that it’s better to have them on your side. I think you’ve got to get as close as you can to them. And the way to increase the comfort level and reduce paranoia in Israel and reduce concerns about their security is to be as reassuring as you possibly can. Our relationship with Israel is a fact of life, their influence in the U.S. is a fact of life, so I didn’t fight that, and I got along very well with the Israeli delegation. I made a point of that.

Riley

Was there a change in Israeli governments while you were serving, or were you pretty much dealing with the same cast of characters?

Negroponte

There was a change in permanent representatives. I can’t remember when Mr. [Ariel] Sharon had his stroke, but there was a change in perm reps.

Knott

I’m curious about this Israeli question, the Arab delegates seemingly in public presenting a united front, but I was wondering if you saw any evidence—we hear this, that behind the scenes there’s far more cooperation between some, or there used to be, between some Arab states and Israel.

Negroponte

There is, I think, on the ground, maybe not so much at the UN. But you know, Qatar and a few others have—and a lot of these countries will have relations between their intelligence services and their counterparts in Israel, because sometimes the Israelis get pretty good information that is helpful to the authorities of these countries. And of course Egypt has relations, Jordan has relations.

The other place where I did a lot of work to try to keep Israel from being isolated, with frankly only moderate success at best, very modest success, was in the General Assembly, where there’s this overwhelming—the Arabs would put forward these resolutions and they would be voted by overwhelming majorities, against Israel. Sometimes you’d have it 150 to 4, ourselves, Israel, Vanuatu, and one other Micronesian country. So there the name of the game was to try to get as many abstentions as you could, because you figured if you could get more abstentions than the resolution got affirmative votes, that would be a setback. The key there was the Europeans, because the EU [European Union] votes as a bloc at the UN.

Riley

Is that right?

Negroponte

Yes, they do, because they coordinate their policies.

Riley

There’s an EU Representative to the UN.

Negroponte

There is, but every one of the countries also votes.

Riley

And the EU Representative has equal weight to the other countries? I just don’t know. Has a vote?

Negroponte

I don’t think the EU Representative is a member state—I don’t know how that works at the UN—but it’s the member states who vote. They have coordinated positions and it’s usually not only the EU, it’s the aspirant countries. I mean, if you’re from the Ukraine or whatever, Romania—well, now Romania is a member—but countries that aspire to become part of the EU also tend to vote along with the EU at the General Assembly.

Riley

I see.

Long

Were you tasked with any statements or bargaining or discussion with other representatives about any reform of the UN? I know that was one of Bolton’s big things, but did you push for anything or were you asked to talk about anything?

Negroponte

Well, we always had issues about management reform. It depends on what you mean by reform. You’ve got the management reform, which is one thing, and then you’ve got the issue of reform of the Security Council, which is another matter.

Long

I mean primarily the budgetary things that affect the United States.

Negroponte

We were constantly tussling about the budget. The appropriations process in the UN is as bad as it is in the U.S. Congress, except that you always have a budget in the end. You always end up with a budget, but it usually goes until midnight, December 23rd or something like that. It’s a calendar-year budget. They take advantage of the fact that a lot of us want to go home for Christmas, to finally eke out the budget on December 23rd or so. But basically we are always, along with a number of countries, trying to restrain spending. Then there are others that are pushing for—who see the UN, these poor countries, as some sort of a cash cow that they want to milk. That’s the nature of the debate.

Long

Did you have a large staff compared to the previous person in your post? Did you see any of your—

Negroponte

No, these things don’t change.

Long

Yes, it was pretty much the same.

Negroponte

These are slots that are appropriated by the Congress. You don’t get to change much. I had a very good ambassador for management, Patrick Kennedy, who still, to this day, he’s the Under Secretary for Management at the State Department. He was a great budget guy. But the real management issue in New York was collecting parking tickets for the city of New York. We had real problems, I’ll tell you. Mr. [Michael] Bloomberg was very upset, he called me up irately. One of my predecessors, Tom Pickering, once called the French Ambassador and asked for his support for a resolution that we were trying to get through the Security Council, and the French Ambassador said, “Well, I’ll come back and vote for it if I can get my limousine back.” [laughter]

Riley

Was it impounded?

Negroponte

I think so. It may be apocryphal, but this kind of thing does happen. I think Egypt had I don’t know how many thousands of parking tickets, so we had big negotiations about parking. Not really a big factor in the history of the Bush administration, but it took up quite a bit of Kennedy’s time.

Riley

Dues often are. You were up-to-date on your dues the whole time that you were there.

Negroponte

Well, yes, because we benefited from the Helms-Biden Agreement. It started to erode as I was leaving and we started slipping back into our old habits, and then I believe this administration made it up again at the beginning, with Susan Rice pressing for that. So we got off to a good start and then pshhhhh.

Riley

Was there pressure at the UN at some point to get involved in the business of transitioning from the CPA to a government by Iraqis, or was that something that—

Negroponte

I think we pretty much decided that.

Riley

We, being the U.S.

Negroponte

We the U.S. You know the CPA was set up, there’s that history there in April and May, which is very complicated, and you get confused accounts from Jerry and Zal.

Riley

We talked to both of them and yes, you get confused accounts.

Negroponte

You get confused accounts. The big threshold decision that was made, and I don’t know who made it, was instead of supporting a new Iraqi government, we all of a sudden decided to go for an occupation government. Frankly, I never fully understood how that happened because certainly that’s what Zal was working on.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

And Garner, on creating an Iraqi government, and we ended up going for this occupation government, I guess on the theory we didn’t think they were ready for it. Anyway, so when I got there—can we go to Iraq?

Riley

We can, but I wanted to make sure that we weren’t missing a part of the story at the UN related to the transition.

Negroponte

No, we weren’t, and I think, if I remember my numbers correctly, it’s Resolution 1546, where we tee up the return of the exercise of sovereignty to the Iraqis. And I’m in the very fortunate position—it’s like the proverbial getting to write your own instructions because I’m negotiating the resolution knowing that I’m the person who is going to go and implement it. I think I negotiated it in May or June of ’04, and then on June 30th I go to Iraq.

Riley

When are you first approached about going to Iraq and what are the big points that we should know about in terms of the instructions that you’re writing for yourself?

Negroponte

I can’t remember the dates.

Riley

We can check those out.

Negroponte

You can check when it was announced but it’s not far from that. I volunteer, which is mentioned in your materials. I tell Powell there’s this big situation going on there, and people like Ellsworth Bunker and Averell Harriman, they were my role models and they were sort of senior people who volunteered for these tough jobs. I’d like to do that, rather than sitting here in New York. I’ve done that now for three years, or almost three, and I’d be interested in doing it. So then we go down to Washington again and we had an interview. I think they considered other people, because at one point Colin said, “Well, it’s not a done deal.” I said, “Oh yes, Colin. Tell me who else is volunteering.” But they may have talked to others. I think they may have talked to Paul Wolfowitz, I’m not sure. I have no knowledge of that.

Perry

So what is that interview like with the President?

Negroponte

That interview was a little different. His question this time—they’re always brief, but the key question was, do I think democracy in Iraq is possible? I think he wanted to gauge the level of my commitment to—Here’s what I said. I don’t know if this is an ambiguous statement or not, but I said, “Well, I don’t think it’s beyond the wit of man.” That’s what I said. To accomplish democracy in Iraq. I don’t think I even completed the sentence, and I just said I don’t think it’s beyond the wit of man. I think the President said something like well, you gave the right answer. And actually, as it turned out, one of my big jobs while I was there and one of my accomplishments was helping them carry out their first elections. But anyway, that was the interview and he said, “OK, thanks.”

Then I get nominated and I go through my hearings. Then of course I have to wait until we actually transition, but I start pulling together a team.

Riley

Your nomination goes OK, any fights at this point?

Negroponte

No, this time nobody tried to hold me up.

Riley

Honduras.

Negroponte

Honduras I don’t think was an issue anymore. They wanted to approve me before I changed my mind. And then I spent a few weeks preparing for it, but mainly in terms of pulling together a team. In terms of my instructions other than whatever it was, preparing for the transition, I think the main thing was this agreement that we would review the $17 billion reconstruction program and what the priorities were for that. I had that as right at the top of my list.

The other was establishing a relationship with George Casey, who was going out to be the commander just at the same time that I was going out to be the Ambassador. We actually drew up an outline of how we thought we would work together. And then we ended up translating that later on into an actual joint civilian-military mission plan. So there was that, the civilian-military relationship. Then the rest, I’m just going to wait.

I had already gotten to know some of the actors because they were parading through New York. Hoshyar Zebari, who is still the Foreign Minister of Iraq to this very day, had become a new friend of mine as a result of Iraq starting to come to the Security Council. The governing council members came. There was a lot of movement between Baghdad and New York City, so this was not unfamiliar terrain.

Riley

I see. Had you had a debriefing at any point with Bremer?

Negroponte

Bremer came to New York at least once, maybe more, and I sent Jim Jeffrey, my deputy, out a month or so ahead, so he was an implant. He was part of the winding down of the CPA, so he hit the ground running. When I got there he was the Deputy Chief of Mission but he knew the lay of the land very well. I ended up having, I think, four Ambassadors there along with me, Jeffrey and a couple of others, Ron Neumann, I think he was in Bahrain, et cetera, and also a lot of people who had been Foreign Service officers who had been detailed to the CPA and who came back and worked. My political counselor, Robert Ford, who has since become Ambassador to Syria—and he’s one of the real stars at the moment in our Middle East Bureau—was my political counselor. So we had a crackerjack team.

Riley

You just mentioned something—forgive me, but I have to go back to this because I had meant to ask it earlier. At some point when you’re in the UN, Elliott Abrams is sent to New York.

Negroponte

He was up several times.

Riley

Why was he there?

Negroponte

Well, he covered the Middle East. He also sent one of his people to be there on my staff with me when we were negotiating 1441. I think there may be a reference to my having been annoyed about that or something.

Riley

There’s some reference to an interpretation that this was the White House keeping an eye on what was going on in New York.

Negroponte

Yes, well, they do that all the time. Hell, John Bellinger was a legal advisor of Condi’s and he was up there while we were discussing resolutions. And one time, a little bit to my horror, I was negotiating informally in the informal meeting room and all of a sudden I hear John reporting on a cell phone directly to the White House what’s going on in the meeting. It didn’t bother me too much, but it was poor form on John’s part.

Riley

No, it’s interesting, because it gets flagged and—

Negroponte

It’s what in Iraq we used to happily refer to as the “10,000-mile screwdriver.” We had these video teleconferences with Washington, and they always felt that if they scheduled a video teleconference you should materialize at a moment’s notice, as if we might not be doing something out there. And in the end I just set myself a rule; I wasn’t going to go to any of these things except when the President had his National Security Council meeting. And it was the NSC trying to—

Riley

OK, forgive me, I didn’t mean to get us off track.

Negroponte

No, but it has to do with management, and I don’t think the Bush administration always handled departmental relations very well when they tried to run these two wars. There was a time when some of these relatively inexperienced people would be engaged in hyperactivity that interfered with our ability to get our job done in an expeditious manner. It was never irreparable, but it could at times be a nuisance.

Riley

Do you recall any specific instances?

Negroponte

Yes, I’ll give you a good example. I remember having to have an urgent operational meeting with one of the UN people there, but I couldn’t get to talk to him because he was talking to Meghan O’Sullivan in the White House. You tell me.

Riley

I’m not editorializing. [laughter]

Long

If we could go back to your arrival in Iraq. At this point you’re the new highest ranking person on the ground.

Negroponte

Except for a couple of junior people in the White House.

Long

Your supervisors that are on your staff.

Negroponte

The 10,000-mile screwdriver.

Riley

The people on the other end of the 10,000-mile screwdriver.

Long

Right. This is also kind of in the midst of new questions about where the money is going in Iraq; where American money is going, where Iraqi money is going, and issues of corruption. Is it right that you were tasked—

Negroponte

Not quite yet.

Long

Not quite?

Negroponte

No. I mean, maybe some of the Oil-for-Food, but that was really more, what was the UN doing with it? I don’t think quite yet, because we hadn’t dispensed that much money yet. The criticism when I first got there was that we weren’t disbursing it fast enough. We had a $17 billion program and we’d only obligated something like three or four hundred million dollars. Well, anybody who knows anything about the budget process knows that it’s multitiered, multistaged, and there’s allocation, appropriation, obligation, on and on. It goes on in at least five or six different stages. But we started spending it fast enough. By the time I was gone, it was going plenty fast. But I don’t think corruption was that big an issue at the beginning.

Riley

Let me ask an open-ended question. What are you finding when you get on the ground there?

Negroponte

What am I finding?

Riley

Yes, in Iraq.

Negroponte

The main thing that I find is that there is a really underestimated security situation. As I mentioned earlier, there’s only one or so, maybe two battalions, in the Iraqi Army. Most of those people are Kurds, Peshmerga, who are filling Iraqi units. We don’t really have a good security plan to build up their army and their police forces. You have the Iraqi government totally dependent on us for everything. They have no air force; they have no ability to get around. If they want to go somewhere they’ve got to fly in an American helicopter or risk their lives driving on those roads. It’s a hellishly dangerous place. I just couldn’t believe it.

I served as an unarmed civilian in the political section in Saigon for almost four years,’64 to ’68, and I wandered all over that country as a provincial reporter. I went to all the provincial capitals. I realized there’s a huge fundamental difference between the conflict in Iraq and in Vietnam, which is that Vietnam was a war for the control of the countryside, and the cities were basically pretty damn safe, except when they occasionally overran a province capital or something like that. In Iraq, it’s a fight for the control of the cities so you’re in danger the minute you walk out your door. And it was frightening, in that sense. To go to the finance ministry, my security detail decided they’d rather fly me there in one of those little Blackwater helicopters, rather than go by car. We had incidents going to various ministries all the time. There were people who transitioned from the CPA to the embassy who still were operating a little bit in the old style, because before the UN building was blown up, people had moved around Iraq fairly freely.

One of our education advisors got killed one Sunday when I first got there because he went downtown unescorted, alone, nobody, not an armored car and so forth. That all really changed. So there was a security issue. We were trying to establish an embassy presence around the country. I went and opened various branch offices of the embassy, in Mosul, in Kirkuk, in Basra, and in Hilla. What I really found, politically, was they had real problems with Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shiite extremists. And there was this whole huge kerfuffle about Najaf, and there were some incidents down in Najaf. We got into a real issue of trying to restore law and order there. I’m a great law and order advocate. I don’t think you can help these countries build themselves up if you don’t have security in the first place. So first, they got the situation in Najaf under control, but they killed a lot of Muqtada al-Sadr’s people, a lot, because he just threw them into the—you know, like cannon fodder. And Sadr City was an issue.

So we had security from the point of view of the Shiite extremists. That was one issue. The other was Fallujah and what to do about it, and that became, in the summer of ’04, the most serious problem. This guy, who I feel like I got to know, [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi, was a madman, but there was a method to his madness and he established this al-Qaeda safe haven in Fallujah. And they were starting to have Sharia courts and everything else. Casey and I ended up agreeing that unless we get control of that place again, we’re not going to be able to have these elections that we want to have. And that was the plan, to have elections, because this was just an interim government and the next step. That was all laid out in the transitional administrative law, the TAL, that Jerry gets full credit for and has been essentially adhered to ever since, really. It’s been one of the most enduring elements of our presence in Iraq.

By the end of ’04—which was basically my tenure in Iraq, from June ’04 through March of ’05—we managed to restore order in Fallujah, after the battle for Fallujah in November-December. The elections were carried out on the 30th of January, without Sunni participation really, participation of the Sunni provinces, but that’s basically because the security wasn’t good enough there and they were scared. They were afraid of retaliation from al-Qaeda. We hadn’t wrested enough back from al-Qaeda yet to protect these people from retribution. And they came to me, the Muslim—it’s called the Iraqi Islamic Party and they’re the Sunni types—and they came to see me. They saw me once, said they’d participate in the election, and then they came back to me again just as the election approached and said, “We just can’t do it.”

I know this is a bit of a stream of consciousness. It goes over the main issues, because for me the main issues there were the reconstruction funds, bringing some sense of order against both the Shia and the al-Qaeda troublemakers, and carrying out the elections. That was the agenda.

Knott

There were some folks in the Bush administration who argued OK, no connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. But once the insurgency occurs in Iraq, it was frequently described as a—that it became a battle against al-Qaeda, that we were fighting al-Qaeda. To what extent was that true?

Negroponte

I think it was true. Experts can always confound you. They’ll tell you about all these different groups and factions, and it actually turns out that there really are different groups and factions, but that just means that they’ve actually been able to identify the leader of a particular band of people. But these people all pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden, and Zarqawi directed things. So I think what you ended up having was some kind of convergence between these disaffected revolutionary guard types from the Saddam regime, but it morphed into an al-Qaeda movement really.

Riley

Homegrown or are you getting an influx?

Negroponte

Well, you’re getting both. You’ve got foreign fighters coming in; you’ve got the guys coming in through Syrian territory and from all over. It was like the Spanish Civil War, right? You get people coming in from all sides, but there are still Spaniards there fighting too, right?

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

I think it’s the same idea in a way. It gets a bit internationalized. Fallujah was a huge issue. I argued with Washington. I felt that we just hadn’t been firm enough. We should have gone in, in the spring, but they got cold feet, which they shouldn’t have.

Knott

Did you ever have the sense—you’d spent a lot of time in Vietnam, now you’re in Iraq. You mentioned the 10,000-mile screwdriver. Was this a war that was being micromanaged excessively?

Negroponte

Not really in the end, not really. They can sit back there and ask questions and convoke you to meetings and things like that.

Knott

So the commanders in Iraq had flexibility on their own.

Negroponte

Yes, sure. And the President has a good sense of that. I think George Bush respected the chain of command; he respected the people on the ground. There’s no question that he became more knowledgeable about the prosecution of a war as time went on, and he became more aware of the fact that not all the judgments he was receiving were infallible. I think by the time his term ended, this is a very experienced Commander in Chief. You watch the way he conducted the war in the second term. We’re having the NSC meetings and the weekly meetings with the command in Iraq on these video teleconferences. It was very systematic. He pulled it all into the White House in the second term.

Riley

You said that one of the first things that you notice when you come in is the security problem. How do you resolve the security problem?

Negroponte

Build up the local forces. Go back to the Vietnamization question.

Riley

And how do you go about doing that?

Negroponte

You’ve got to devote money; you’ve got to start training forces, which is what we did. They started building training camps in different parts of the country and they just came up with a plan, build up battalion by battalion, division by division, and eventually they got to where they are now, which is a pretty substantial army. But at the beginning it was onesies and twosies, and then it builds up.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

The police effort was a bit more screwed up. They were taking them to Jordan. We had a police training center there, but it wasn’t very effective because we were then bringing people back and losing track of them. Police don’t operate like an army, and so they disappear and you don’t necessarily have them in organized units the way you do in the army. So it was a little harder.

The other thing that totally bedeviled us was that it was very hard to get some kind of automated pay system for the army and government servants. The economy was all cash for a long time. We were flying bucket loads of cash out from the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.

Riley

This is U.S. dollars?

Negroponte

Yes, and then that would be converted into dinars. Then people from every army unit, every two weeks or a month, on payday, people would get their cash and then take the money home to their families. So you had a lot of absenteeism from units just because people were trying to get their salary back to the family. It was ridiculous. But it took a long time. These were problems that, unfortunately, we seemed to be unable to fix more quickly.

Long

And about $8 billion was essentially unaccounted for, from CPA? What happened with CPA?

Negroponte

Well, be careful with that term “unaccounted for.” I mean, unaccounted for is a real weapon of choice from critics because you can have spent money in perfectly good faith and not have kept good records. It actually happens in people’s daily lives, doesn’t it? There are many times when I have not been able to account for my salary but I know I spent it. [laughter]

No, the accounting wasn’t always very good, but I don’t think the CPA itself engaged in corruption. We certainly wasted a lot of money, but I think the bigger cost was not so much corruption or poor accounting as it was so much of the money being spent for security. So you have a $100 million project and you end up spending $50 or $60 million of the $100 million for the security forces that are going to protect the darn thing, which was another argument, to my way of thinking, for let’s fix the security first, before we give too much priority to the—

Riley

What was your position on U.S. troop levels when you came in? Sufficient? Inadequate?

Negroponte

That they had to stay longer. I can’t remember whether we ever had the prospect of them being withdrawn while I was there. I wasn’t so much asking for more troops because I felt the answer was Iraqi troops, but I felt that we should be prepared to stay at least five years, and I put that in this cable I sent back to Washington.

Riley

How did they react to that?

Negroponte

I don’t know. Colin apparently circulated it all around. The President didn’t really like it when I talked to him. He said, “That’s too long. I don’t have time.” It ended up actually turning out to be right, that it was at least going to be five years, and I think he would acknowledge that. But in the heat of the moment, I think people were in a hurry to get out as fast possible, because there had been such a backlash about the war.

Riley

This is what Bremer reports in his published writings, fighting the troop rotation problem because of the fear that the overall numbers would be drawn down as a result of the rotation issue back home. Were you fighting the same battle?

Negroponte

No, I don’t think I was. The thing I remember about rotation is that—in Vietnam we did it differently. In Vietnam, we kept the units out there and rotated the individuals. So you’d have the 173rd Airborne or whatever there the whole time, or most of the war, but the individual soldiers would be rotated in and out after a year.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

And in Iraq, I believe we rotated the units after a year. What I found, and this is really out of my lane but I couldn’t help but notice it, was that I couldn’t believe how many National Guard and Reserve people we used, and I felt that it was a bit of a shame. I really wished that we had increased the size of our Armed Forces to have been able to accommodate the demands of Iraq. I was being flown around, for example, in C-130s. Practically every day I was being flown somewhere, I was visiting somewhere in the country, and sometimes it was in a C-130, sometimes in a chopper. You get in a C-130 and it’s, “Hi, where are you from?” “Oh, we’re the Louisiana National Guard.” “What the heck are you doing out here?” The next one, it’s the Alaska National Guard. They were all from the National Guard.

And yes, I was with United Airlines and I got pulled off. We used reservists in a way that no wonder there’s so much PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder] and stress around. You’ve got to have a little more fat in the system to be able to sustain a force out there, psychologically, like that. And then these poor guys would be fighting there and the next thing they knew, what’s the relief? They get assigned to Afghanistan after that. So it was just too much. I think we were trying to squeeze water out of a rock.

When I left Saigon in January of 1968, I left three weeks before the Tet Offensive, we had 520,000 troops in Vietnam, and that today is the size of our entire army. There’s a limit to how far you can cut back ground forces. If you’re going to deploy ground forces, the rule of thumb for a Marine security detachment, if you’re going to guard one post at an embassy, you have to have three watch standers for the 24 hours in the day. Then, obviously, you have to have their boss, and then you probably need a couple or three others to relieve these people on Saturdays and Sundays. Well, it’s the same with a military force. We got to the point, really, where we just didn’t have any spares.

Riley

The published reporting seems to emphasize that there was a change in civil-military relations on the ground in Iraq when you arrived.

Negroponte

I think that’s probably true. I was on speaking terms with my military counterpart.

Riley

And you think that was not true—

Negroponte

For starters.

Riley

And that was not true early on?

Negroponte

I’m told that Jerry and [Ricardo] Sanchez didn’t get along very well. But I took mine out of—go ahead, I’m sorry.

Riley

No, I was just going to ask you how you managed to do that.

Negroponte

Again, the Vietnam experience was very helpful. I’d watched Ellsworth Bunker and I’d watched the mission council operating in Saigon. I was very determined that that would work together. I’m very familiar with the division of responsibilities between the military and civilian elements of our society. I know what’s in the civilian lane and I know what’s in the military. We have Presidential instructions that are almost standard, that are issued to any Ambassador, to tell you how you’re in charge of all U.S. personnel in a country, except for those uniform personnel who are under the command of a combatant commander. So that was all deeply ingrained in me. I established, right from the beginning, and it was reciprocal, a good personal relationship with George Casey, and then we tried to build on that.

Perry

There’s also a note here in our briefing book that the President, recognizing the strain between civil and military relations in Iraq, called you and General Casey, and your respective wives, to the White House for a dinner.

Negroponte

The President offered a dinner in our honor when we were both appointed to go to Iraq.

Perry

What was that evening like?

Negroponte

It was really initially for me, and then Casey was announced and I think they said we ought to do it for both of them. It was a dinner party with three or four tables. The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense and Condi were there. It was a nice evening. My family was there, my wife and two of my children. It was nice, but it was a social event really.

Knott

It wasn’t rushed?

Negroponte

Actually yes, it was not 42 minutes.

Riley

But he famously liked to go to bed early.

Negroponte

Yes. No, it was a proper dinner up in the Residence. It was very nice of him to do that.

Riley

How did your wife react to your interest in going to Iraq?

Negroponte

She did not like it particularly. She particularly didn’t like being alone in New York with my youngest daughter, but she got used to it.

Riley

So she was in New York at this time?

Negroponte

Well, because I had been Ambassador to the UN.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

I had made the mistake of selling my house in Washington when I got appointed Ambassador to New York. I didn’t think I’d go back to Washington so we rented an apartment on 68th Street, and she and my daughter stayed there. She was not very happy about it, but I would say she got used to it over time. One of the great institutions in Iraq is that everybody is issued a telephone upon arrival, and you’re told that you can make as many phone calls as you like because we can’t figure out how to charge anybody for them. So we all had our little handheld Motorola telephones with a U.S. number, a 9-1-7 number.

Riley

Oh, yes?

Negroponte

Yes. We’d worked something out that way.

Riley

Maybe that’s where the $8 billion went. [laughter]

Negroponte

Maybe, that’s right; it was to pay the phone bill. So we were in very frequent contact.

Riley

And you just had the one daughter at home still then.

Negroponte

My other children were still at school but they were away in college or boarding school.

Knott

You mentioned the Guard, sort of stretching the Guard and Reserves to fill these positions in Iraq. Just to make sure, I noticed a couple months before you become Ambassador, the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks.

Negroponte

Horrifying, yes.

Knott

Any repercussions? Anything you had to deal with when you take the helm a couple of months later?

Negroponte

No, although one of the huge headaches of the administration, and one of the legacies that is going to keep lawyers and human rights advocates busy for decades, is this whole prisoner-of-war issue and terrorist prisoners. We’ve got experts on that, so I’m not sure I want to confuse you with my interpretation of events, except to say that it’s a very complicated and difficult issue, because what do you do with these people once you’ve captured them? They’re caught carrying out some terrorist act, but you don’t have the adequate legal mechanisms established to deal with them.

You get called by Sunni tribesmen and leaders who say, “Let my cousin go.” You get a lot of that in Baghdad too. We tell them, “But the guy had gunpowder burns on his hands,” or “He had dynamite, we found traces of dynamite in his persona,” or whatever. It was complicated and difficult, and of course we ended up getting large numbers of prisoners. Now, that’s obviously no excuse for their mistreatment, but there’s also the issue of indefinite detention and how long do you hold these people? And of course most seriously and most controversially, Guantanamo, which became an issue later on, when I was DNI.

Riley

Right. The protocol is that the station chief is also reporting to you?

Negroponte

He does report to me, he was my station chief, a very good man. I had a couple of them.

Riley

And those relations were good the entire time?

Negroponte

Excellent. Well, I had a lot of experience dealing with the Agency: Vietnam, Central America, the Contras, remember the Contras?

Riley

Yes, I do remember.

Negroponte

They operated out of my embassy in Honduras.

Riley

We’d love to do another oral history at some point and get—

Knott

A new Reagan oral history.

Riley

Yes, exactly. I could probably find somebody who’d be willing to fund it if you wanted to. Have you ever written about that?

Negroponte

Not yet, no.

Riley

Have you ever created an oral record?

Negroponte

I started it at State, but I’d never gotten very far. I’m working with Charles Stuart Kennedy on this. We’ve gotten somewhere but it gets interrupted. I’ve spent a number of days with him. That’s my commitment at the moment to him.

Riley

I hope it works because it’s important to get the record clear on that. How often are you talking with the President as Ambassador?

Negroponte

Actually, it turns out to be fairly often; I would have said if it wasn’t once a week it was at least once every couple of weeks. It gets progressively more regular as time goes on, where we have these National Security Council meetings, with us, and our end in Baghdad. And they’re very important.

Riley

For you or for him?

Negroponte

I think for both of us, but I think it was useful for me because I would get guidance on certain things that was extremely helpful. I’ll give you a concrete example. Fallujah takes place, we finally go in, in November of ’04, after the elections, November-December. And a debate starts to emerge and some of the people in Iraq want to postpone the January elections. I raise that in one of the video teleconferences, or the President—one side or the other raises it, and the President says, in no uncertain terms, “I just want you to know that as far as I’m concerned these elections must take place as scheduled.” I think he may have said it in a more colorful way, but in any case that was the message.

So I went to visit Fallujah a few days later, after action, to see what had happened there. I remember a commander there asked me if I was willing to talk to an AP [Associated Press] correspondent who had come out to interview me, and I said sure. And there I am standing on a pile of rubble in a flak jacket and the AP guy asked me, “Are conditions secure enough for elections to take place in Iraq on the 30th of January?” I said, “I believe they’re secure enough and I’m confident that the elections will take place on the 30th of January.” I was coming right off of the previous day’s, or whatever, video teleconference with the President. A couple of hours later I hadn’t even gotten back to Baghdad and I already had a call from the President of Iraq saying come see me right away, and is it true that you said that the elections must take place? Within 24 hours the whole body politic had fallen in line with the notion that there’s no question that it’s going to happen. So that was just one very specific example of how I felt the President’s guidance got translated almost immediately.

Now, you could have a process question in your mind as to whether that’s the best way to make that kind of a decision, or should he have put that to his advisors first, or is the Ambassador really—was it right for me just to act on his intuitive response to my statement that they’re thinking of postponing? It’s an example of how it worked.

Riley

Sure. During these video conferences, was he an active interlocutor?

Negroponte

Yes, oh very. No, he directed these meetings.

Riley

OK, he’s the director.

Negroponte

He did, or sometimes there was a subject for a briefing. I’m not very good at PowerPoint presentations and slides and things like that. Eventually [Robert] Zoellick becomes the Deputy Secretary, this is after the changeover, when Condi—and Zoellick wants to get my material beforehand and I’m not very good at that. I’m not sure I even tried. But there used to be some kind of briefing from the military. They would always have charts and things like that. But we would always report on some topic. I’d sometimes have a subject matter expert.

There were certain issues that were always of great concern in Washington. One of the big metrics that the 10,000-mile screwdriver obsessed about was the amount of electrical power that was being produced in Iraq. The irony of it is that it was always the same amount of power, notwithstanding our best efforts. It was always 5,000 megawatts; it didn’t go up. Maybe slightly, and it hasn’t gone up that much yet.

When I got there, there was a General [Andrew James] Molan; he was an Australian lieutenant general. He had discovered that the insurgents were knocking down the power lines with such regularity that he had to form a little response team whose sole job in life was to put electrical power towers back up. He made a whole career of that for one year in Iraq. But that was the kind of problem we were dealing with. You asked me what situation I found when we got there, that’s exactly what I found. We’d wake up in the morning and they’d say four more towers were knocked down last night by the insurgents.

We finally figured out how to bring all those things under control but it took a long time. That’s another big lesson, of course, that has nothing to do with just one administration but multiple. Eventually you figure out all of these wars, it’s just a question of how long it takes you to do that. You can argue that for Vietnam, for Iraq, for Afghanistan. I mean, people learn how to succeed but usually, notwithstanding all the treatises that have been written, it ends up being trial and error.

Riley

But the learning curve gets interrupted when you’ve got turnover, right?

Negroponte

Yes, it does, but the commanders were there a fairly long time. Casey was there a couple of years I think, two and a half.

Knott

To what extent do you think the insurgency was fueled by the standard line of we shouldn’t have disbanded the Iraqi military, we should have kept those people in place, at least at the junior or intermediate level? Is that your sense, that it was a mistake to disband the army?

Negroponte

We actually started hiring back some of their field-grade officers, captains and majors, to help train the new army because we didn’t have anywhere else to turn. People say it was a mistake for Jerry to do that. There was an obsession in the beginning with Ba’athism, and I think it was maybe overdone because even to be a schoolteacher or a university professor or whatever, you had to be a Ba’athist at some point. I think that may have been a bit too much and it spilled over into the treatment of all these army officers. The hatred of Saddam must have been a big driver, and we go back to why we went into Iraq in the first place. I think there is this real, strong dislike for the Saddam regime and what it stood for and for anything that smacked of his regime.

Riley

You’re talking about within the country.

Negroponte

No, our policy. Well, not Bush personally, I don’t think so much as I think maybe Paul. Whatever it was, it was strong enough for them to act on it.

Perry

You mentioned your interview in Fallujah with an AP reporter, which jogged from my mind the concept of dealing with the press overall and your thoughts about that while you were in Iraq, and trying to get across the precipice.

Negroponte

They had a hard time. I’d meet them, I would invite them to the embassy, we’d give them lunch, we would have them for briefings and things like that. We tried to be as transparent with them as we could be, but just like everybody else, they have a hard time getting around. They were very dependent on us, mainly the military, for transport, and how do you get to see units and everything. It’s dangerous.

There was a New York Times guy who had been a stringer who eventually got killed in Basra. He wrote a book called Inside the Red Zone. He tried to survive out in a place like Basra, and he was in other places as well. You just couldn’t do it. You were at too much risk. The only really good, nifty way to be a correspondent, in my opinion, in Iraq at that time was to be embedded in a unit somewhere. Then at least you got to see something and you got transported around and had security. And you were only in as much danger as the unit might be, which was probably less than if you were just walking down the street as an innocent civilian.

Riley

During your tenure there, was the metric of body counts something that people in Washington were interested in?

Negroponte

No, thankfully, I don’t think of Iraq that way. That was an issue in Vietnam, in the weekly reports and all. Washington was following—I mean, they were trying to follow the nation-building part of this.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

And particularly the electricity. But the counts that to me were important were how quickly we were building up the military forces and the police. You can measure everything you want, but to me, getting control of Fallujah was really—and suppressing the rebellions in Najaf and in Sadr City. We more or less managed to do all of those things in good time.

Riley

Let me ask you one other general question and then we’ll break for lunch, and that is about the level of success you had in moving from the CPA to the arrangement that you had with turning sovereignty back over to the Iraqis. Did you find that this went relatively easily or had they become—

Negroponte

Yes.

Riley

OK, so they had not become acclimated to—

Negroponte

It’s a good question. You’re asking had they become so dependent on us that they weren’t able to exercise independence anymore? Well, to some extent yes, that was an issue, especially since they didn’t have much of the wherewithal. For example, [Ayad] Allawi, the Prime Minister, didn’t have an aircraft. During my time there we finally arranged to give him a C-130 and a crew, and we trained Iraqi crews to fly it, but I think initially we probably flew him around ourselves. We gave him security; I think there may have been SEALs [sea, air, land team/special operations force] as security. So yes, because of the destruction and because of the collapse of everything, there was a lot they depended on us for. And that just took time, it took time.

Very often we’d have an international conference. I remember there was some meeting in one of these—maybe it was a meeting with the Arab leaders, or maybe it was with the Iraq donors, somewhere, taking place in the region. They’d invariably call up and ask if they could have a couple of planes to take them there, the foreign ministers.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

So it takes time, they had no airline. One of the problems they had, because of Iraq sanctions and their disputes with Kuwait and everyone else about who owed what to whom, they couldn’t even have an airline, because anywhere it would land, it would get impounded because the Kuwaitis would get a court to enforce some kind of a judgment against them. They’ve just finally resolved that. That was one of the bigger long-term challenges, to get Iraq focused on trying to improve its relations with the rest of the Arab world. They’ve always been a bit of an outlier, even in more normal times. They’re different and still, to this day, the question of Iraq’s relations with other Arab countries is a bit problematic, but that was an area that we worked on as well. We worked on a lot of other things in addition to the things we’ve discussed here.

Riley

We’ll come back to it after lunch. You’ve been very accommodating.

Negroponte

It’s fun; it’s interesting.

Riley

It certainly is fun for us, and illuminating.

[BREAK]

Riley

We can spend just a little bit more time on the Ambassadorship and then we need to move on to the DNI period. Anybody have any questions? Do you have anything carried over?

Perry

We haven’t revisited WMD and that issue while you were Ambassador.

Negroponte

Charlie Duelfer was there, and he was doing his big inquiry. While he was there, he came to the conclusion that they couldn’t find anything but that he felt that, nonetheless—I think he came to the conclusion that Saddam did have the intention of reinstating the program at some point. In other words, he came up with somewhat of an ambivalent conclusion. So while there may not have been any WMD there, he thinks that the intent might have been latent. But anyway, he worked on that.

In terms of a frantic or an active search for WMD, there wasn’t much of that going on when we were there. In fact, the priority really was on dealing with the security problems that we talked about. I think that WMD was no longer a priority for our forces there as it was during that first couple of months of the war when we were going to go find them, right? And as I said, I had a few kooks who showed up with these crackpot schemes to help us find WMD, freelancers of various kinds.

Knott

Any pressure from the White House—did you get the sense that—

Negroponte

On the search for WMD?

Knott

Yes.

Negroponte

No, that was over. I mean, we didn’t get much. I can’t remember any pressure on that.

Riley

Was any significant percentage of your time devoted to dealing with the neighborhood, the surrounding countries and relations?

Negroponte

No, not really.

Riley

Is that unusual for an ambassador?

Negroponte

We pretty much had embassies in all the other countries. The only place, of course, that we didn’t was in Iran, and Iran was a unique problem. I think the Iranian support for the extremist forces in Iraq was not as pronounced while I was there as it became later, the EFPs [explosively formed projectiles] and all that.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

It was a little bit more during my DNI time that I became more aware of that.

Riley

Now, you were in Iraq for how long?

Negroponte

From the 30th of June to the middle of March.

Riley

So not quite a year. Are there any major pieces of your experience there that we are omitting, that we ought to talk about?

Negroponte

No, I really don’t think so.

Riley

At what point did you begin to think about leaving?

Negroponte

I didn’t. I mean, my commitment was for a year. I fully expected to stay for a year, but I got a call from Andy Card asking me if I’d be interested in being the first DNI. I think they were having trouble filling the job. It’s a little bit like the UN tale that has been told.

Riley

Except you didn’t volunteer for this one.

Negroponte

No, I didn’t, absolutely not. I think they offered it to Bob Gates, and there was some item in the papers about him turning it down. Andy asked me if I was interested in doing it, and I had not even seen the law or anything else. I hadn’t followed the debate because I was too busy in Iraq, but I remember calling my wife and she said, “Take it, take it!” She just wanted me to come home. In any case, I accepted and it actually turned out to be an extremely interesting challenge.

Riley

Was your immediate response that you accepted, or did he need you to come back?

Negroponte

Well, I told him I’d call him back. I called back a day or two later and then I was asked to come back to Washington to talk to the President about it. I went in and had a conversation with him and then we announced it, we went out there in front of the press corps. I forget the exact date.

Riley

So you accepted it the same day that you spoke with him?

Negroponte

Yes, when I spoke with the President.

Riley

Had you had an opportunity in that interval to do any digging or to make any phone calls to colleagues?

Negroponte

Not much. I’d read the legislation and of course I had a station chief, and I knew the intelligence. I knew Porter Goss, who was the head of the CIA. I knew quite a bit about intelligence. I’d just never been an intelligence officer.

Riley

And there were no overwhelming anxieties anyway.

Negroponte

No, I thought it was kind of interesting. Here’s the second startup I’m being asked to work on. First, standing up an embassy in Baghdad and now standing up this ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence]. So I thought that it was a challenge.

Riley

One more question that comes to mind about the embassy. There was a fair amount written at the time about the inexperienced quality of a lot of the Americans in the Green Zone. When you got there, did you find—

Negroponte

There had been a lot of volunteers and people who were not career personnel. I routinized the recruitment for the embassy and made it more of a Foreign Service operation.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

Not only on the personnel front but, for instance, I instituted more systematic cable reporting, telegraphic reporting out of the post, so that we had a historical record. They hadn’t been doing that; everything had been by emails or phone calls or whatever. So just the whole thing was—I also discouraged people from working 24 hours a day and sleeping in their offices and a lot of other things like that. We tried to make it a little more of a standard embassy operation.

Riley

We were talking over lunch about the situation in the Middle East right now with the embassy security. Did you ever feel personally endangered during your time in Iraq?

Negroponte

No, but we had masses of security, my security detail was enormous. But even though, as I’ve said, it was a dangerous place, particularly the cities, we traveled with a lot of protection everywhere I went. Even though it was dangerous, I had an opportunity to travel extensively, all over the country. I opened all those different branch embassy posts, visited aid projects. I was quite active.

Riley

How do you then go about preparing yourself for the transition into this new job?

Negroponte

Well, I eventually get back to Washington, in late March or so. I forget when I was actually confirmed, I think it was April, but I had a couple of weeks.

Perry

April 21st, 2005.

Negroponte

Is when I’m confirmed?

Knott

Confirmed.

Negroponte

Well, it takes them a while.

Negroponte

I must have had my hearings before that. They gave me a small office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, so I was operating out of there. I was told that they had already decided to make Mike Hayden my deputy. So he and I were there and a small skeleton staff that maybe filled a couple of offices, that’s all, who were there.

Riley

But this is during the transition or that’s the original—

Negroponte

Before I’m confirmed, and so that’s my reading in. I’m basically put in the hands of the NSC Director of Intelligence, who at that time was David Shedd—he’s now the Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency—and the lawyer for intelligence matters at the White House, a fellow named Ben Powell. So they start reading me into all the issues, familiarization with the law. Probably the most important thing we did was get briefed on the Robb-Silberman report. There was this WMD Commission that the President had established and was chaired by Judge Silberman and former Senator Robb, and they were coming up with a number of recommendations as to what to do by way of implementing intelligence reform.

They came up with something like 75 recommendations, and the publication of that report coincided with my taking office. We had a meeting in the President’s office, myself and Judge Silberman and Senator Robb and others, when they unveiled the report, briefed the President on the report. Fran Townsend was there, and the President basically told me to think of those as my marching orders. So I had a little bit of a template out there, of reforms to pursue and actions to take, which was helpful. But it was very spartan sort of pickings when I got confirmed. Then we moved from the White House to that other Executive Office Building just up 17th Street, and I had a suite of offices that may have fit 20 or 30 people in it. But the ODNI is an organization of about 1,500 people, so we were operating on a shoestring for six or eight months, until I got an office at the Defense Intelligence Agency. They were building a new building and I got the top couple of floors.

Riley

That was out in Virginia?

Negroponte

No, it’s in Bolling Air Force Base in Maryland, just across the river. It’s where [Charles] Lindbergh landed in Washington once, and you could see some old hangars. There’s no runway there any more.

Riley

So what kinds of problems are you confronted with trying to do that?

Negroponte

The main thing is standing—some of it is just bureaucratic and organizational, you’ve got to stand this thing up. And so I have to do that and we do it from scratch, it’s de novo. It’s not like there was a model that existed beforehand because there wasn’t, it’s completely new. So that was one thing, and the other was dealing with the President’s Daily Brief [PDB]. For the first month or so, Andy Card suggested that I do that together with Porter Goss, and then once I got comfortable with it, Porter could stop doing it and he’d go back to the CIA and focus on that and not be involved in the daily briefings. So I did that.

The briefings were done by—there’s a briefer always, besides the Director of National Intelligence or the head of the CIA. I had a nice little office in the Old Executive Office Building, and I would go there first thing every morning, instead of to my own office, about 6:30 in the morning. I’d get the brief the night before in draft. I found, from talking to Judge [William] Webster and others, that this pattern has existed for a long time. I would get the draft by classified fax at home the night before and then look at the final version of it at 6:30 in the morning with whoever was going to do the actual briefing, and then we’d go in and brief the President at 8:00 in the morning.

The President was a great customer; he took at least half an hour every day, six days a week, no matter what. If he was traveling, one of the CIA briefers, one of the briefers from ODNI at that point, would be traveling with him, so he would get briefed that way. He’d always take a brief on Saturday. If he was in Crawford [Texas] or something, we would brief him by video teleconference. But by the time I’m the DNI, Mr. Bush has been President more than four years and there’s not much you can teach him, for example, about foreign leaders. I mean, he’s going to know them all. So you have to really know how to add value. With that said, he’s a much better customer, in some respects, because he knows the limitations and the potential of the intelligence community to address specific questions. He was an excellent customer. He believed in using the President’s Daily Brief as a launching pad for discussions of important topics like what are Iran’s intentions, what is really happening in Iraq, so on and so forth, and he’d ask good questions.

Mr. Cheney is an avid reader of intelligence. He’s got a voracious appetite, I’d say, for intelligence material. He would take long studies—you know the intelligence community, it’s like a university, they don’t quit, they keep publishing stuff up the wazoo. Cheney would take all that material home and read it on the weekends. He’d come in the following Monday or Tuesday and he’d say, “John, I saw this report….” And it would be something I hadn’t seen myself because they produce so much you couldn’t begin to read everything, even if you wanted to.

Perry

So would you brief him or would he come to you?

Negroponte

The President’s Daily Brief is—and I think that had been fairly standard. It would be the President; the Vice President; the National Security Advisor; the Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten; and then the Director of National Intelligence and the briefer. Maybe there would be some special topic that we’d address that day, like we’d do a so-called deep dive on WMD or whatever the subject is, and then we’d bring in that subject matter expert or experts, sometimes two, from the intelligence community.

One of my challenges was to try to rope in the rest of the community a bit more. In other words, so that it was not completely CIA-centric, and I think we succeeded in doing a certain amount of that. We got more people from other agencies involved in preparing the PDB, although the lion’s share was still prepared by the CIA. We did get people from NSA [National Security Agency] and FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], even State sometimes, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, writing articles.

Perry

Did you attempt to blend the reports of the Robb-Silberman Commission with the 9/11 Commission, in restructuring and reorganizing and rebuilding?

Negroponte

Well, the law took care of a lot of it. Maybe because of the way it was structured, the Robb-Silberman report was more of a roadmap frankly. For example, Silberman had a very specific recommendation about how to deal with the FBI and to create a national security branch in the FBI, and I got that done. I did that. I got the FBI to agree to it because, as you know, one of their issues had been with whether they focused enough on the whole concept of intelligence. They tended to be more focused on just making cases. And the kind of indication I got from the President, too, was that he really did want us to pay more attention to the Robb-Silberman report.

There were other issues that the DNI was very involved in during my watch, like what was happening in Iraq. Iraq was going through desperate straits then. Then February 22nd of ’06 is the Samarra bombing. The President is at the nadir of his sentiments about Iraq. He’s totally depressed by it. He’s watching these heartrending accounts of sectarianism. I saw moments when he was getting these briefings where I felt he was just genuinely pained by what he saw.

Perry

What did you see in him, his facial expressions, his eyes?

Negroponte

Yes. Bordering on despair during those weeks, I would say, after the Samarra bombing. Then that got them really thinking hard about what to do next and they created this group with J. D. Crouch, who was very key to all this. I don’t know if he’s on your list. Have you talked to him yet?

Riley

Yes. He was in a group with Stephen Hadley.

Negroponte

He did a very good job of pulling everybody together, and I designated David Gordon from my shop. He was the Deputy Head of the National Intelligence Council. He now works with the Eurasia Group. David was the intel, sort of DNI rep for that. The CIA at that time was providing frightfully pessimistic information. Actually, quite a bit of it was really quite bad, low quality, like they just decided they didn’t like Iraq any more, and they do this sometimes. I know the CIA would do this; I’ve seen it before.

Riley

Elaborate on that.

Negroponte

They had a couple of people who had a bee in their bonnet about how this place wasn’t worth the effort any more and they gave, in my opinion, unnecessary weight to defeatist views about the situation in Iraq, and they were feeding the President that stuff. Don’t get me wrong, these things are subtle, they’re not blatant, but I felt it. In fact, I recall that when the person who ran that office of Iraq analysis was no longer there, the atmosphere changed almost immediately. You know it can happen in life. It’s an intel guy who says he doesn’t think it’s worth it and he’s not going to lend his reputation and standing to this travesty, and so it’s going to influence the kind of material he serves up. I’m afraid there was some of that.

Long

Could you talk about the bureaucratic or political difficulties of creating this new office? Of course there were the logistical issues, but we all know that a new department doesn’t just saunter in and take its space at the table. It’s being taken from other players who used to do those things.

Negroponte

Well, we were an amalgam of various parts of the intelligence community, but basically what we were was the old…. The DCI, Director of Central Intelligence, had the function also of being the community manager and he had a community management staff, and that was conveyed lock, stock, and barrel to the ODNI. So I inherited that, and that was my core staff. I inherited the National Counterterrorism Center and the National Counterintelligence Center, so the NCTC and the NCIX. And then I created a National Counterproliferation Center at the recommendation of the Robb-Silberman group, and that basically was the ODNI operation.

The one place where I got resistance was that the CIA was supposed to give me more analysts for the NCTC, because the debate was whether you should have national assets assessing intelligence or whether you should have an operational arm of the CIA, which was more focused on tracking and chasing terrorists, be the ones who provide that analysis. The judgment was that we ought to redistribute that. The lion’s share had been at the CIA and we felt that the balance ought to be adjusted, and to do that we needed another so many dozen, I forget, 70 or 80 analysts from the CIA. They resisted that to the point that it became a serious point of contention between myself and Mr. Goss.

Riley

How was that resolved?

Negroponte

He left.

Riley

And after that, his successor provides what you need?

Negroponte

General Hayden, my deputy, went over to run the CIA.

Long

What about budgets? At the beginning, your office was to have a good bit of budgetary control over the members of the community.

Negroponte

Yes, and I don’t think that ever happened. I don’t think it was realistic to say it would happen. I mean, the President announced it when he announced my appointment. He said I was going to have control over the budget. He had me standing there as he was saying John’s going to run the budget. Well, the fact of the matter is, I don’t know any head of agency in Washington who has the final say about their own budget. That’s the OMB’s [Office of Management and Budget] job, and then of course it’s Congress’ job.

I shaped certain parts of the budget. There are some classified programs that were significantly modified as a result of my leadership, but there are other things I was not able to accomplish. That’s probably one area that I think if we were to try to think of ways to strengthen the hand of the ODNI somewhat, I would say budget would be one of them. But you know that most budgets in Washington are dead on arrival. You draw up your budget and then it gets relitigated de novo, up on Capitol Hill.

And this goes to the issue of whether—the DNI was a compromise as a result of a political process. I don’t think President Bush wanted the DNI. I don’t think he wanted the reformed legislation. I think he felt once the Curveball—it’s because of Curveball that this all happened, because of the false information about WMD. If it were just the 9/11 families… And that’s why I think the WMD report takes ascendancy, really, to the 9/11 Commission report. If it had just been 9/11, I don’t think we would have had intelligence reform. But then when it came out that that source, Curveball, had been a phony, and that came out in the summer of 2004, there was no stopping reform, there was just no way of preventing it.

I think the President just decided he had no choice but to go along with it. Why would a man who is the son of a former CIA Director voluntarily, willingly strip that office of significant authority? I can only assume, and I’m reasonably confident that I’m right, that he reluctantly accepted this reform.

Riley

Can we bear down a little bit on the CIA’s response to this?

Negroponte

Yes.

Riley

You mentioned that there was one area where you needed personnel, and that was a place where there was some tensions. One could imagine that the President’s Daily Brief is an important piece of territory also.

Negroponte

Well, it was decided right at the beginning that that would come over to the DNI, and there just wasn’t any question about it. That was actually one of the Robb-Silberman recommendations. We did it right from the get-go. In fact, we took the analysts who worked for the so-called PDB staff and we made them all ODNI employees.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

The CIA term for that, we “sheep-dipped” them, as ODNI employees, because they were still basically reverted back to the CIA, most of them, once they finished working on the PDB.

Riley

And they were relying, I think you’ve already said, heavily on the same sources of information.

Negroponte

Absolutely, because the CIA is the repository of all source analysis in the U.S. government, and frankly they’re the best at it. There’s no question in my mind about the quality of the CIA, but the function of the PDB was taken from them and put in the charge of the Director of National Intelligence.

It’s like having a second opinion, in some respects, and that’s the way I treated it. I viewed myself as sort of the analyst in chief. If it came down to some issue where I felt I really wanted or needed a way in, I would, but I didn’t try to substitute my time, effort, or judgment for theirs. Ninety-nine percent of the time I just let whatever they had to say go forward, but I would be there to contribute to the conversation that would inevitably ensue, and since the President liked to talk—Unlike some executives, he doesn’t just read the material and then hand you the folder back.

Colin Powell and I used to brief Ronald Reagan. He didn’t have an intelligence briefer; he got the information from his NSC staff. What we would do is walk in at 9:30 in the morning, when he had his national security time with Colin, and we would give him the book with the reports in it. He’d take it from us. We might highlight one or two, and we’d say, “Mr. President, you really ought to have a look at this one because it says this, that, and the other thing.” But then he’d take it and he’d maybe keep it for the better part of the day, and at the end of the day he’d give it back, and when he had a chance, he would read the material. But for George Bush it was a completely different thing. It was an iterative, reactive, conversational exercise. In fact, very often you’d give him the material to read and he would say to the analyst, “OK, I don’t want to read this article, tell me what’s in it.” Just to get a conversation going. He was very engaging and very engaged.

Riley

The current President has come under criticism in the last week or so for not doing briefs in this way, of taking the written reports and using them as the basis.

Negroponte

Well, you know the proverbial joke about [Robert James] Woolsey and crashing the airplane into the grounds of the White House to get the President’s attention. No, George Bush was the ideal customer in that sense and, as I say, having been four years into his term, was very knowledgeable. So we had some really interesting conversations.

Riley

I was going to ask you about the briefer first, because we talk to people all the time and I couldn’t tell you what the profile of a briefer is. Does the same person do this?

Negroponte

They rotate them. It’s a pretty grueling schedule because they usually—I talked to them quite a bit about what their lives were like—they would go in usually 10:00 or 11:00 at night and become familiar with the material throughout the night, and then the final thing they do during the day—well, they brief the President at 8:00, and then they’d go back and give a debrief to the Agency before they went home and went to bed. It’s a pretty disruptive kind of schedule. I think one or two of them stayed quite a while, but it was unusual for any of them to survive more than a year. I think at least one I can think of was there for two years. They’re usually from the DI, the Directorate of Intelligence, the analytic side of the CIA, although now there might be some from other agencies as well. You could get somebody from INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research] or whatever but again, as I said, the CIA was the main source.

Riley

And what kinds of personality traits work well in a briefer?

Negroponte

To some extent I guess it depends on your customer. For George Bush it was a person who could think and stand on their feet and talk back. George Bush liked to get into a debate with you. He wasn’t happy until he’d had—he had a very dialectic kind of approach to learning, and it wasn’t really a learning experience for him unless he’d had a bit of an argument. So you’ve got to have the strength of personality and character to do that, which can be a little bit intimidating for a junior government official, unless you eventually got to know the President and understand that this was OK, it’s OK to disagree with the boss. And they would do that; the good ones would do that.

Riley

And these are highly coveted positions within the Agency?

Negroponte

Well, it’s a mixture, it’s a mixed blessing. It’s highly coveted and at the same time they know what they’re getting in for, so they don’t always get lots of volunteers. It’s just tough work.

Riley

You said junior. Are these 40-year-olds or 50-year-olds?

Negroponte

I would have said between 35 and 50. Yes, 40 would be about the ideal age.

Knott

There was a certain amount of finger-pointing that went on, in a sense, between the CIA and the White House as to who might have been responsible for some of these intelligence failures, particularly the WMD situation. Did that cross your radar at all? What prompted this question is your reference to the analyst who was head of the Iraqi situation, who was kind of negative or wasn’t quite living up to the task. Was that a problem? Was there something to that in terms of the conflict between the CIA and the White House that was reported in some media outlets?

Negroponte

I don’t know. First of all, you’ve got to step back for a minute. I always felt that intelligence needed to be kept in perspective, and that it wasn’t a panacea and it was not a magic bullet. It was simply the collection and analysis of information for the purposes of statecraft, and the intelligence community didn’t have a monopoly on truth, far from it. They relied enormously on our diplomatic traffic. The State Department assessments of what was going on abroad were, as far as I’m concerned, every bit as good as, if not better than, some of the CIA reporting, in part very often because the people doing the reporting were actually meeting the actors who were on the stage out there.

But I didn’t get any sense while I was there that there was any particular tension with the White House. The President did not like National Intelligence Estimates [NIE]. Those were the responsibility of the ODNI, by the way. They were transferred over to us from the CIA because that was part of the community-wide function. And what he was reacting to was that he didn’t like the NIE that got us into trouble back in whenever it was, 2002, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, again on the WMD question. But he also felt that the NIEs were—he must have had more than one bad experience with the NIEs, because whenever I told him we had another NIE coming down the road he cringed. He really didn’t like it. We served up quite a few of them. I served him one on Iran, on the Iran nuclear capability and how Iran was determined to acquire nuclear weapons. That was the first NIE over which I presided, in the spring of 2005. I’d barely been in the job a month or two and my job—again, that’s one of the functions that came over from the CIA—was to be the reviewer of last resort, if you will, of these reports before they got published.

Anyway, by the time that office is established, the President has a very well-balanced view, in my opinion, of the value of intelligence. He knows how to use it, he knows it’s the opportunities, he knows the shortcomings and limitations, I think he really does. And he presses back at us and he tell us, “Yes, that’s nice, so Iran’s got Azeris and Persians and Kurds and Arabs, but what are the real fissures in their society, what are the fissures inside the government? Tell me who’s doing what to whom among the ayatollahs. I know this general stuff; we all know that.” He drilled down always, and he asked the penetrating questions. He asked very often about Iran, what are the fissures in Iran? He really wanted to know that. So he had questions in his mind that he wanted us to answer.

Knott

You referred to the conflict with Porter Goss. Could you elaborate a little more on that relationship?

Negroponte

Well, it was basically—look, I think the CIA to this day does not like what happened with the reform. I think they continue to value and want to uphold the premiere position in the intelligence community, and where they felt they could resist some of these changes, they did. And since these were positions that were under their control at the time and we were requesting that they make them available to us, they chose to resist it. I think what they didn’t expect was that I was going to enforce the authority that I had, and the White House supported me on that. We’ve built the NCTC up now into a pretty credible organization, and I say that one of the accomplishments, at least during my tenure at ODNI, was the bolstering of our National Counterterrorism Center, which took these 28 different databases from all over the government and tried to integrate it into one place.

Knott

Did you ever have any face-to-face showdowns with Goss over this issue?

Negroponte

We had disagreements. Quite a bit of this happened by correspondence, where I’d asked him for these positions and he sent me a letter back saying he didn’t feel he could provide them, and that was kind of a decisive moment. Porter had other issues, as you know, about his management style, some controversies within the Agency itself.

Riley

Personnel.

Negroponte

Yes. Ran it a big like a congressional office. He’s a good guy. He had been a classmate of mine at Yale. I knew him very well. He’d been from the directorate of operations, so he knew that side of the business very well.

Riley

This was a Cabinet-level position?

Negroponte

The ODNI is Cabinet level. Well, they call it Cabinet level. Now, what does Cabinet level mean? What it ended up meaning for me was you get paid the salary of a Cabinet officer and you attend all the NSC meetings, which you would anyway as the ODNI, but I wasn’t treated as a member of the Cabinet. You get paid as a member of the Cabinet but I wasn’t in the Cabinet.

Riley

Right. But you were at the NSC meetings at this point?

Negroponte

Yes. If you’re going to be the head of national intelligence, it’s hard to conduct an NSC meeting without the senior intelligence officer there.

Riley

Exactly. Let me ask you about, then, the conduct of those NSC meetings during your period there. What can you tell us about how those operated and the dynamic among the people who are now populating those senior positions in the second term?

Negroponte

The NSC has some fairly constant elements to it, and I suppose the most constant of which are that apart from the President and the Vice President, the really key people are the NSC Advisor, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of State. Those, in my way of thinking, are the three most important people in the NSC constellation. The intelligence people are basically a support function, right? We almost always opened one of these NSC meetings or a Principals Committee meeting with a briefing from the intel community, which sometimes I would provide, sometimes someone else would provide, but that’s a fairly classic role for the intel community that I’m sure continues to this day.

Riley

And that didn’t change with the development of a DNI.

Negroponte

Well, different people might have given the briefings, but the DNI staff and DNI personnel tended to go to a lot of these meetings in the interagency and in the NSC process more than the CIA did, and that freed the CIA to work on the other things it was working on. It ended up being a blend of people coming to them. If you were having a meeting on the Horn of Africa and the best analyst in the business happens to be in the CIA, you’re going to want to have that person there. It’s better than making the stuff up, don’t you think?

Long

That never happened, did it?

Riley

I want to make sure that I didn’t stumble over that. But the question was more related to the perception of your role. You’re at the table during these NSC meetings.

Negroponte

Oh yes, definitely at the table.

Riley

But your perception, if I recall correctly, your terminology was in a support role rather than.. . .

Negroponte

Well, I consider intelligence a support function, and I say that with considerable conviction because I believe intelligence is a tool. It goes to another point, which is people talk about whether the ODNI should be a Cabinet department. I do not believe—I don’t see that it fulfills the requisites of a Cabinet department.

Riley

Meaning?

Negroponte

Because I think it’s there to support other departments. It’s there to support the military, to support the Defense Department, to support the State Department, and so I mean it in that sense.

Riley

OK. I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

Negroponte

No more than I would make the Weather Bureau a separate government department.

Riley

OK.

Negroponte

OK? That is forecasting for you what the weather is going to be like. It’s telling you about environmental and atmospheric conditions, so I’m doing that for you in the political and national security area. That’s my point.

Riley

I gotcha. So you did not then see—

Negroponte

I was the weatherman of the NSC.

Riley

The weatherman. You were not a policy advocate.

Negroponte

Very rarely, although since I was a diplomat and had been an ambassador to a bunch of places, I couldn’t resist the temptation of making some comments, but I tried to restrain myself. But if the President turned to me or someone asked what would I do or what do I think, I’d give my opinion.

Riley

Do you recall any specific instances?

Negroponte

No, I honestly don’t, except that certainly on Iraq, I would be asked. But I think you know we’re pretty good in government service about understanding role-playing.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

So I tried to play my role.

Riley

We’re trying to understand from the outside because we’re not in the room, and the best we can do is get a description about what’s going on.

Negroponte

Normally you wouldn’t have the ODNI up there saying, “Mr. President, you shouldn’t send 50,000 more troops over there.”

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

And I don’t think I ever did that.

Riley

OK, let me ask you this. Was it your perception that there was a belief among the people who created this role that perhaps George Tenet had been an advocate?

Negroponte

No. I think the reason it got created was that the WMD fiasco just got everybody so mad that there was a reaction on the Hill that said don’t just stand there, do something. Unfortunately, it was events that occurred in an election year and so there was extreme political pressure to do something.

Riley

Let me ask you about the interagency process. One of the things that we’re always interested in is how well it functioned and whether there were any perceived differences in the functioning between the first and the second terms.

Negroponte

I think it worked better in the second term because I think there was more consensus. I mean, the best NSC process that I watched in my 44 years—of course, I didn’t get to watch the first ones that closely because I was too junior—was certainly Bush 41. Those guys really got along and understood each other: [Brent] Scowcroft, Bush, Baker, et cetera. The first Reagan administration was a disaster. You remember that, if you did the oral history.

Knott

Yes.

Negroponte

It was a real disaster.

Riley

How many national security advisors?

Knott

Five national security advisors.

Negroponte

It just became worse and worse until finally they got [Frank] Carlucci and Powell, and we sort of patched it up. I was involved in that part and we patched it up in the last couple of years.

So in the first Bush administration there was a certain amount of talking past each other. George W. Bush was not that experienced, Condi was not that experienced and a professor, and Powell I guess didn’t fight that hard or whatever. I don’t think the NSC process worked that well. I think in the second administration the President is now well versed, just like I told you about his briefings and everything else.

The Vice President, on the other hand, is disengaging somewhat or getting more tired, I’m not entirely certain. He was not as proactive as I had expected him to be, and I noticed when he’d get into a debate with one of the other members around the table, he’d back off. He was mindful of the criticism that he’d interfered too much somehow and he’d say, “Oh, Mr. President, it’s for you and the others to decide, but here’s my opinion. But you do what….” He had that kind of a posture, so that wasn’t an issue. Condi was sort of—I’d say she was in the catbird seat, she really was, in the second term. She knew she had the President’s confidence. She had four years of experience and she’s a smart lady.

And when Bob Gates becomes Secretary of Defense, you have what you had with Powell and Carlucci and [George] Shultz, at the last year of the Reagan administration, you had these people who understood and communicated very effectively with each other. Contrast that with when Shultz and [Caspar] Weinberger weren’t even on speaking terms, and here they worked together at Bechtel. I don’t know how the hell they ran Bechtel. They sure as hell couldn’t run the national security establishment. They wouldn’t even talk to each other at the end, they were so mad. So Condi and Gates got along just fine, and I think that made a big difference.

Riley

All right, we haven’t talked much about Rumsfeld.

Negroponte

Right. Rumsfeld, I knew only very slightly at first, because when I’m in the UN and I’m in Iraq, I had very few dealings with him. As I told you, Colin was very possessive of his chain of command. In fact, the one time that I went over to see Rumsfeld and he asked me if I would meet with—Who was it? I think he wanted me to work with [Newton] Gingrich on some project that Gingrich was working on, on Iraq, some ideas that he was thinking about. Rumsfeld asked me—this when I was Ambassador to Iraq—he asked me if I’d be willing to sit down with Gingrich. Powell heard about it and he absolutely blew his stack and called me up. It was one of the few times that Colin had ever been so cross with me. He told me to cease and desist forthwith. He had some issue that he had with Gingrich, which doesn’t totally surprise me, and we stopped doing it. Anyway, I really didn’t have too much to do with Rummy early on.

When I became Director of National Intelligence, I had dealings with Rumsfeld. I would go over to see him about once a month. We had lunch, we’d talk about things, because after all, the DoD controls 90 percent of the hardware in the intelligence community, or 75 percent. They’ve got NSA, they’ve got NGA [National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency], and they’ve got the NRO [National Reconnaissance Office]. They’ve got all these different outfits, so I talked to Rummy quite a bit.

I’d go to see him and they were always very amicable meetings. He had a very good Under Secretary for Intelligence named Steve Cambone, Dr. Cambone, who was a bit controversial but extremely smart. I worked with him quite a bit and we didn’t have any big problems. Sometimes I wonder if Rummy isn’t one of those people whose bark isn’t a little bit bigger than his bite. We always had a very cordial relationship.

I think where Rummy was very tough and firm was on this issue of increasing the size of our Armed Forces, doing our fighting smarter. He was really very taken with that idea, and so I think people who had to deal with him on those subjects, like General [Richard] Shinseki, they’re the ones who had the problems, but in the intelligence world, we had no big difficulty. And he obviously understood intel.

Riley

Was Powell disappointed or aggravated that Rumsfeld didn’t leave at the same time that he left?

Negroponte

I don’t know. I have no idea. Of course, Rummy did eventually leave, right? I forget when he left. What was the date?

Perry

Right after the 2006 elections in November.

Knott

Two days after.

Negroponte

So he was there two years longer.

Riley

Right. There’s a sort of conventional portrait from the outside that Rumsfeld in some ways was toxic in this environment, that he was very possessive of the chain of command and could be preemptory with other members of the Cabinet. And my question for you is whether you saw any validity to these outside presumptions.

Negroponte

I don’t know whether he was toxic or preemptory. I think sometimes he didn’t make the effort. He didn’t make the effort to understand the perspective of some of these other departments. Where I saw it the most frequently was when he would come to NSC meetings and frequently would say—and I’m sure he wouldn’t deny it if we had him in the room right now—he would say, “I haven’t had a chance to read the papers.” Well, if you’re in government and you take a lot of trouble to lay your point of view out in a memo in preparation for a meeting of that kind, you aren’t necessarily happy when one of your interlocutors and counterparts says, “I haven’t had a chance to read what’s in here.” On the other hand, if there are too many of these meetings, sometimes it may be a good reason why people haven’t had enough time to read all the papers. So I think the NSC sometimes has to exercise a bit of restraint.

I’ve noticed a tendency in the years that I’ve been around government for the NSC to maybe meet a bit too often, a bit more often than it used to. They’ve become very process-fascinated over there, and you get constant Deputies Committee meetings. I counted the numbers of Deputies Committee meetings that I chaired when I was Deputy National Security Advisor and it was something like 97 meetings in a period of 14 months or so, which comes up to much less than a couple a week or something like that. They’re meeting every day, all day, and sometimes having two, three, four Deputies Committee meetings a day on different subjects. You can exhaust the bureaucracy with that kind of thing.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

And I think that’s an equilibrium that hasn’t—I don’t know whether it’s been found in this administration, but I felt that it was getting a little out of kilter and that too much of the process was moving from the Cabinet departments to the White House. I really felt it when I was Deputy Secretary.

Riley

And we’ll get there shortly.

Negroponte

Yes, right.

Riley

You had said earlier that the team that worked the best was the George H. W. Bush team.

Negroponte

The first Bush, yes, I think so.

Riley

Because all those people got along so well together.

Negroponte

Reasonably so.

Riley

But if you’re an institutional person, you can’t always count on the principals getting along well.

Negroponte

Well, I’m sorry; it’s small enough that in fact you do. You do, and if they don’t get along or if the level of disagreement is to the point where they might not speak to each other or whatever, it becomes dysfunctional pretty fast. We do not have that big a government, not at the top, when you look at the number of confirmed Presidential appointments we have and so forth. It’s not that big, so there has to be a modicum of good relations among them.

Riley

And you already mentioned that you felt that—

Negroponte

I mean, we always remember when people disagreed in any administration. We know that Cyrus Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski didn’t get along, right?

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

We know that McGeorge Bundy and Dean Rusk got along reasonably well, and so on and so forth. You can go through the—

Riley

Sure, which we do.

Negroponte

And Brent. Hell, Brent got along with anybody. He’s just that kind of guy. He’s got pretty strong opinions, but he works well with others. Henry just overtook the whole process. He just sort of gobbled it all up.

Riley

Did he get along with himself?

Negroponte

That’s the right question because when he was Secretary of State and NSC Advisor at the same time, he said, “That was a period of unprecedented cooperation between the White House and the State Department.” [laughter] I’ve heard him say that. And of course when Condi came over to be Secretary of State, another proof that she was in the catbird seat, she persuaded the President to appoint Steve Hadley, her deputy, as the NSC Advisor. So it was in pretty good shape at that point.

Riley

So for those of us who are institutionalists, are there other things that you could recommend for an optimally operating national security process? You’ve already said you can’t have the Deputies Committee meeting all the time because you burn out. You’re looking for collegiality among the membership. Are there other factors that you could prescribe for the next—for President [Mitt] Romney?

Negroponte

For President Romney or for the second President [Barack] Obama, for whomever, I think we’re moving into a new era, and it’s very tempting to think, Gee, I could bring our decision-making process into a room this size and all I need is the five of us sitting around and we can have up on the screen, split screens with the combatant commanders, the Ambassadors, and all the relevant people to the issue we’re discussing and we don’t ever have to leave here. We can just decide everything in talking with these people up on this screen.

I think we have to find a way to put a little distance between the Commander in Chief, our President, and these very convenient tools, and try to get some discipline or rules of thumb, if nothing else, as to how and under what circumstances you use them, because it’s just like the example I gave you of the President when I said that the Iraqis might postpone the elections. Was it really the best thing, from a process point of view, to get the instruction on how to deal with that directly from the President in that video teleconference, or would it have been better for him to say, “Well, John, I’m going to ask Colin and Don to take a hard look at this and get back to you by the end of the week,” or something like that? So that’s one thought. Should these convenient things be a routine vehicle through which you make decisions? I’ll be darned if I know how to fix that entirely.

The other thing is that I think we’re straying a bit from legal authorities. I used to see memos coming out of the White House that said, “The Deputies Committee met today and decided.” They decided things that were within my legal authority granted by the Congress, over which they had no authority. It happens. It happens quite often. And sure, I understand that the Deputies Committee, what it’s going to recommend to the President as a way of policy, and within certain limits it makes sense to operate that way, but I think we sometimes are straying a bit too far from Cabinet government. I’ve been on both sides, right? I’ve been on the NSC twice and at a high level in a Cabinet department. I think the legal authorities of Cabinet departments are being run over a bit roughshod at times.

Riley

Did you ever feel that the legal authorities that were impunitive—

Negroponte

I’m not talking about people wanting to break the law.

Riley

No, I understand. It’s a question about what’s the proper locus of decision making for the exercise of a duly constituted authority. I want to ask a more general question about the growth of Presidential power under this notion of a unitary executive, whether you were ever uncomfortable with the extent to which the administration was pushing decisions based on interpretations of Presidential authority that may not have been settled in law but were asserted by the White House?

Negroponte

I don’t know. Maybe to do with war powers or things like that?

Riley

Yes, things of that nature.

Negroponte

Well, the other thing that is an issue, and this is a little inchoate, I mean I haven’t really gone and studied it. I think what happens is that sometimes you get very inexperienced people, people who are young enough to have the energy to get up in the morning and go to the NSC at 6:00, and they’re enthusiastic enough to say, “Yes sir, we’ll get that done right away, sir,” but they don’t necessarily know enough about government to know whether they’re even within their rights to do X, Y, or Z. You shall reprogram so much assistance to So-and-So. By the way, this involves a reprogramming letter to the Appropriations Committee and we’ve got to take into account their view, we’ve got to do this, that, and the other thing. I don’t know how much they know about governance, so I suppose if you were asking me what does that mean in terms of what could you do to make it better, I think one of the things would be that the NSC may need a permanent professional staff, and maybe some percentage or some part, maybe there ought to be NSC part A and NSC part B. Seriously. And so you have a core part of the NSC that goes from administration to administration, real professionals, the way budget examiners are, or anybody else.

Riley

Well, the Office of Legal Counsel.

Negroponte

Exactly. And who know government processes and what existing legislation is, just a little bit, because what they do now is very often they’ll bring in a whole new crowd pretty fast, all at once.

Eisenhower had that Operations Coordinating Board, which was a little bit—I don’t know how well that worked. I remember people talking fondly about it when I worked on the [Richard] Nixon NSC, but I’m always a little leery of the NSC. I get worried about people who, after they’ve been in their job in the NSC too long, start saying that the President wants this, the President wants that, and it becomes part of their self-esteem to assert their authority with the bureaucracy. You’ve just got to be careful about it. It’s probably a political thing as much as anything.

So what else?

Knott

Could you talk a little bit about congressional oversight in the intelligence community? A number of events that occurred probably prior to your taking the position as Director of National Intelligence, the warrantless wiretapping, the enhanced interrogation techniques.. . .

Negroponte

Well, they all came to surface when I was there. Those were big issues and we didn’t touch on them. They were both big issues, because big press stories came out on both of them while I was DNI. I guess the first was the revelation of the existence of detention facilities in third countries, which had been created at our request, which had been used for detaining suspected terrorists, and that was revealed by the Washington Post. We succeeded, through efforts of considerable persuasion, in dissuading the Washington Post from naming the locations, so I feel very good about that.

Knott

They were initially prepared to do that?

Negroponte

They were going to.

Perry

How did you accomplish that?

Negroponte

We talked at great length with both the chief editor and ultimately with the publisher of the Washington Post, but mainly with the editors. I think they were persuaded by our arguments that this was just going to create a completely unnecessary, avoidable complication in our relationships with the countries involved. So it was a big issue.

Long

And was that the same logic—we have some reference here, I’m not sure if it’s true or not, and I’d like to hear your answer. Did you also speak to the New York Times about their article on the wiretap program, to try to prevent that from coming out?

Negroponte

Yes, we did the same thing. There we tried, actually, to dissuade them from publishing the entire article. I still to this day think that they made a mistake in publishing that article.

Long

Who were you worried about offending in that case, since these were calls between foreign terrorists?

Negroponte

It was the fact of the program. It was a top-secret program and we would have been just as happy that it wasn’t written. I can’t remember all the reasons, but we were a little bit—because it was being written from the angle that it was illegal and we didn’t think that that was.… [Eric] Lichtblau is the Justice Department correspondent of the New York Times and I think his slant, at least, tended toward the idea that this was an illegal program, which we didn’t believe it was.

Long

Was there any legal advice, from the Office of Legal Counsel or elsewhere, to give you the sense that it was legal? Was it was just decided among the people who created the program or was there any outside legal advice on it?

Negroponte

You’d have to ask Mike Hayden. Mike Hayden was in on setting up this whole thing. I just don’t remember. I certainly remember the safeguards built into it, the so-called minimization policy. If you happened to pick up an intercept of an American citizen who just got innocently caught in that conversation that they were intercepting, they would make sure that that name wasn’t bandied about, or if they accidentally intercepted an American. It was a pretty carefully managed program and they had briefed the congressional leadership extensively on this.

But anyway, those were two issues, and the President was very disturbed by these revelations, very. I think he may have felt that it was just part of an effort to unravel some of the steps that had been taken to deal with the aftermath of 9/11 and so forth. And of course in the end, what we’ve succeeded in doing is getting the NSA intercept program basically ratified and on a more solid legal footing, and the detention policy and the interrogation thing basically were nowhere. We have no detainees. We don’t even know what to do with a terrorist we pick up abroad now, and our interrogation techniques are governed basically by the Army Field Manual, which I used to call the “Boy Scout manual.”

We spent an incredible amount of time while I was DNI—I didn’t go to them myself—but a lot of time talking about what to do about the detainees in Guantanamo. My chief of staff, David Shedd, went to these endless meetings. He’d sometimes leave at 11:00 in the morning and come back 8:00 or 9:00 at night. The President did announce a plan, and I’m sure you have run into this already, in something like late 2006, September or so, to close Guantanamo and to take some steps to make the program more viable and acceptable.

We ran into two things. One was objections to these techniques from the human rights community and civil rights and so forth, and then the other was John McCain himself. And then there were various court decisions that came down.

Knott

You were quoted in 2006 as saying that the black prison program and the enhanced interrogation techniques saved lives. Do you still believe this?

Negroponte

Yes. I don’t know about the black prison program, but certainly the enhanced interrogation techniques. First of all—and this is post-waterboarding, even when they stopped doing that—some of these techniques are really not that big a deal, some were, but some were not. What I meant, I’m sure, at the time when I said that, was that the people who were interrogated in these programs provided a lot of very useful background on terrorist activity. For example, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was water-boarded 186 times, which sounds a bit extreme to me, once he was broken, if you will, he ended up sort of becoming a consultant for the intelligence community. They would ask, have you ever heard of this guy, do you know that guy? And he gave them some pretty useful information. But yes, I think overall it probably did save some lives. Is it worth the political price and the political controversy here in our country to insist on this? Probably not. I mean, we might as well just content ourselves with the Army Field Manual, and if people won’t talk, well OK, so be it.

Nick Rostow used to say, “What do you do if somebody has information about a nuclear incident that’s about to occur?” He was a lawyer. He said, “What I’d do is I’d torture him and then I’d turn myself in.” I just don’t know what the answer is to some of these dilemmas that people conjure up, but we clearly have to do things that are sustainable. And so I think the President, in the latter part of the second term, just sort of gave up on this.

Riley

What about your perception of the effects of this in the international community as well? What you just said relates, I think, mostly to domestic opinion and the uproar here, but there are also costs abroad in terms of the American image in the eyes of the world as to whether—

Negroponte

Well, if it’s Abu Ghraib, yes, for sure. Abu Ghraib was an absolute travesty. Some of these other things, the thing about a lot of other countries is they do it, but never admit it. And of course you’ve got the argument about to what extent do these techniques necessarily work? Are they counterproductive? You get different views from different people.

Riley

Right. I don’t know whether we mentioned rendition to third countries.

Negroponte

You did mention it, yes. We stopped doing that also, prior to my coming to ODNI. So I don’t think it came up while I was there.

Riley

That’s a political decision or a legal decision?

Negroponte

I think initially what George Tenet was doing was sending them to places where he felt they could be interrogated more roughly, frankly, without us bearing the legal liabilities. So in that sense, I think the people who were criticizing it had a point. On the other hand, are Americans able to hold on to these people on our own territory? We’ve never been able to agree on what to do about these people. Indefinite detention, that’s another issue that’s still problematic. Anyway, there’s a host of these issues that are still not completely resolved.

Knott

Did you get a lot of pressure from the oversight committees regarding these issues when these stories broke?

Negroponte

No, I don’t think so. I wonder if some of the stories came out of some parts of these oversight committees. It’s conceivable. I don’t know.

Long

Congress is leaky, as they say.

Negroponte

Yes, I just don’t know—but it was not a big issue with the Congress. It was more an issue with the press and with the media. Frankly, the one that ended up being the most stubborn was what to do about Guantanamo. That’s the most—because we don’t use enhanced interrogation techniques anymore, but what do you do about the residual detainees. So when I was Deputy Secretary, I worked a lot on the issue of trying to get these people sent back to where they’d come from.

Riley

Right. Were you DNI when the issue came to a head about the destruction of the videotapes?

Negroponte

It didn’t come to a head. I was just told that Jose Rodriguez wanted to do it, Porter told me that. I remember, physically, where I was when he told me. We were having one of our periodic meetings in my office and he said, “Oh, by the way, Rodriguez wants to destroy this material.” I said, “Tell him not to do it.” Porter later told me, “I told him not to do it.” But Rodriguez did it anyway. I can’t recall when he did it, but it was probably while I was DNI.

Riley

And was there consideration of penalties?

Negroponte

Not that I ever heard of. Nothing came out of my office.

Riley

Not internally. But just to push on it, you had indicated that he shouldn’t do this. Was that because you didn’t want it to be done?

Negroponte

I indicated he shouldn’t do it and I remember that part of the conversation too. What I recalled to Porter was that when I was in the State Department a number of years ago, in ’87, when Iran Contra broke out, and a lot of it had to do with what had happened in Honduras, Abe Sofaer, who was a legal advisor to the State Department then, told us all, at the secretary’s staff meeting, whatever you do, when a matter like this is under investigation, don’t you dare destroy any information that may have a bearing on this investigation; it’s one of the stupidest things you can do, destroying evidence. So I was guided by—I recalled that situation and that was the advice I gave. I didn’t feel particularly strongly, and I guess I’m a bit relieved that one of these films of somebody conducting one of these torturous interrogations— Can you imagine what that would be like? It would make this movie about the Prophet Muhammad look like child’s play in terms of public reaction. It would be like Abu Ghraib or something.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

It would be another Abu Ghraib thing. Anyway, Rodriguez, didn’t they decide not to pursue charges against him just recently?

Knott

That’s right.

Riley

I think that was correct. But there was no consideration, having—was this an instruction or this was advice you were giving him, that you weren’t basically—

Negroponte

It was an oral guidance. I told him, “Tell him not to do it.” But frankly, I didn’t think much about it. Once Porter told me that and I gave him my opinion, I didn’t follow it up with a written memorandum, although my chief of staff did, David Shedd did. He told me, and in fact I think he showed it to me once, that he sent a memo over to the CIA saying that the DNI believes it’s important that this material not be destroyed.

Riley

Right. But there was no internal sanction.

Negroponte

No, there was no internal sanction, and in all honesty, I don’t think that ever occurred to me.

Riley

What can you tell us about the hunt for Bin Laden on your watch? Anything historically useful?

Negroponte

Just that once a week we had a meeting that went beyond just the daily brief. We’d have the CIA Director come in to brief the President on various types of covert operations. I think it was Wednesdays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and it would be right after the PDB, and very often it was, “Well, have you found him yet?” That’s very often the way the conversation started. But historically, I don’t think there’s much to say.

Riley

The trail had gone cold by this time?

Negroponte

During the time I was DNI, I don’t ever feel that we had any kind of insight as to where he was. We suspected he was somewhere in that Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There were a couple of times we got some photographs of some people that looked like it might be him, but it was all—I remember some guy on a parade ground, standing in a Jeep, being driven around, and they decided no, that wasn’t really him. I don’t think we were ever, to my knowledge, on his trail during the entire time I was DNI, whereas I knew, in the case of Zarqawi in Iraq, that we were on his trail quite often.

Riley

Did the President voice frustration or anger at the absence of—

Negroponte

It was more in jest, but I think there was an undertone of seriousness to it, “Have you found him yet?”

Perry

And was there discussion at that time about what would happen if there was a trail to him, or thought to be a trail to him, of what action would be taken?

Negroponte

I saw that you had noted that I was interviewed somewhere about what would I do if we—

Perry

It was Charlie Rose.

Negroponte

Was it? Yes, well, I guess I don’t know. It’s just as well we’d do him in, right? Isn’t that what I said?

Perry

Yes, even if he was in Pakistan. Charlie Rose was pressing, what if he’s in Pakistan?

Negroponte

Because we’d had discussions. Yes, we did have discussions about that subject, which was that we felt—and I think this is true—that we had a tacit understanding with Musharraf, that going after any Tom, Dick, and Harry in al-Qaeda was one thing, and that would require a higher level of consultation and coordination with the Pakistanis. But they understood that if we thought we had our sights on Osama Bin Laden, we would do what we wanted to do, without further reference to him or anything else. I think he conceded to us that that was such an important issue to us that we weren’t going to ask for permission of the Pakistani government to deal with Osama Bin Laden if we had him in our sights.

Riley

Could you elaborate on the relationship with Pakistan during this period?

Negroponte

Yes, but you might as well take me to the Deputy Secretary position because I then become responsible for the relationship with Pakistan in the Department, which I’m not when I’m DNI, except to say that I of course went over there and I was entertained and hosted by Mr. [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani, who was at that time the head of the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], and of course today is the head of the Pakistani Army. So I did get to know the players there extremely well, and they were as inscrutable to me then as they have been ever since.

How do you want to transition to deputy? I can’t think of any other issue.

Riley

I had one question that this flows out of, so let me park on this, and then as far as I’m concerned—

Perry

I just have one quick one after that.

Riley

Mine is about your relationship with other intelligence chiefs around the world. Is that a big part of your portfolio, coordinating with others?

Negroponte

We didn’t talk about organization internally with the other agencies. I created a periodic meeting with the other key intelligence agencies, so I had—whatever we called it, the big five or the big six: CIA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], NGA, NRO, and FBI—we’d have them around once a month or so for a coordination meeting. I set up that mechanism. It goes back to the issue of you asking me how do we set up the DNI, and that was one of the things I did.

On the international part, I wanted to make it clear—As operational as I have been in most of my career as a State Department guy, running this or that in the State Department, I want to make it clear that I wasn’t trying to be an operations officer in the intelligence community. One of the ways this came up was that I was asked to create DNI representatives abroad, and I said, “Let’s just make the CIA station chiefs the DNI rep as well, and let’s save ourselves the trouble of having to go through some kind of exercise.” And that’s what I did. So the station chiefs were simply also my representatives, and it worked just fine. I didn’t pretend to substitute myself for the CIA in terms of liaison relationships around the world, although Hank Crumpton, in his otherwise good book, says that I created a whole office to deal with foreign liaisons. It’s not true, it’s not accurate.

What I did do was two things. One, if foreign intelligence officials wanted to meet me, if they asked for an appointment and I had time and I got sufficient notice, I would do it. And then there were a handful of intelligence services that I did take a direct interest in. For example, Israel, mainly because of the nuclear program and all those issues, and the “Five Eyes” because it’s an institution that I actually participated in. This group is sort of the pinnacle of our foreign intelligence relationships: it’s us, the Brits, the Australians, the Canadians, and the New Zealanders.

Riley

What did you call them again?

Negroponte

The Five Eyes.

Riley

Eyes, eyeballs.

Negroponte

Eyes, eyeballs. And it meets annually and it is really—

Riley

Do you know this term?

Knott

No, I’ve never heard of it.

Negroponte

It’s a very interesting group and it meets once a year. I even hosted it once, somewhere in Maryland, at some resort. I’ve been to the UK [United Kingdom] meeting; they had it at some typical—we go to some resort to Maryland, and they hold it in some castle over in England. I did that with Porter, and we hosted it here, it was me and Hayden. So I did that, but regularly on relationships; that was for the CIA. I consider that an operational matter because most of it has to do with intelligence sharing and things like that. It wasn’t my job to start getting in the middle of the flow of intelligence sharing.

The guy who runs the FSB [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation] and the Russian intelligence, Mr. [Vladimir] Petrishchev, came to see me. I had to get my office debugged or whatever after he left, and I didn’t particularly care to see him again. There were a few others who came around. Some third-world countries, where you have these sort of repressive regimes. They assumed that if you’re the Director of National Intelligence, you must be unusually powerful and important, so they would want to come and see you.

Perry

Just a quick follow-up question about the period with the NSA taps and all that material is coming out in the press, and you mentioned how the press emphasized it. I’m noticing about that time that you’re writing some editorials, op-ed pieces. There’s one in the Washington Post and one in USA Today. How did you decide when to do those and was that your decision, solely, to do them?

Negroponte

I don’t remember specifically. I did have a very good advisor named Robert Earle, who had been a public affairs officer for years, and he was with me in Iraq. He wrote a book about my tenure in Iraq called Nights in the Pink Motel, and some of it is pretty good actually.

Knott

What does the title mean?

Negroponte

I’ve never figured out the reason for the title. I have no idea.

Knott

It sounds kind of racy. [laughter]

Negroponte

But Bob would have been involved. Whether the White House asked me to do this from time to time, it could have been, they do that. When you’re at that level, usually if you’re going to write an op-ed, you would probably clear it with the White House in any case.

Riley

I’m paging through the timeline to get us to the State Department, and my eyes have fallen on the June 2005 Italian judge issuing warrants for the CIA agents in Italy. Do you have any specific recollections of being in the loop on these things?

Negroponte

Yes, that was just a mess. These guys really invited it upon themselves. I mean, they didn’t conceal their identities well and they were just terrible. It was a real mess, from the beginning to the end. We worked diplomatically. It really became a diplomatic issue through State, sending our Ambassador in to try to get the Italians not to pursue this.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

Which I think they ultimately did. I don’t know whether they’ve convicted anybody or not.

Knott

There was just something in the news recently.

Negroponte

But the guy who was prosecuted had a home in Italy and everything else. It was a mess. It was just bad tradecraft and an embarrassment all around.

Riley

Right. So at what point are you then thinking about leaving this position? Had you signed on for a specific term?

Negroponte

No. I had expected to stay until the end, I always say that, and then something else came along. Zoellick left the job of Deputy Secretary, and Condi and I had a conversation maybe a month or two after he left and I told her I’d be willing to do it, but then she explored the possibility of a couple of other people becoming her deputy. Eventually she raised the idea of my doing that with the President. In fact, I thought it would be a great place to end my career.

Riley

Was your name in consideration for the World Bank job that Zoellick took?

Negroponte

Yes, but that was after Iraq. I was in line for the job. Not in line, my name was thrown into the hopper for Hank [Paulson] to look at when—

Riley

Wolfowitz burned up?

Negroponte

No, before Wolfowitz got the job. I forget who was the head of the World Bank before Wolfowitz.

Riley

[James] Wolfensohn?

Negroponte

When Wolfensohn quit, my name was apparently thrown into the hopper. [John] Snow had told me that Wolfowitz and I, I don’t know who else. I think it was submitted to him to look at, the Treasury Secretary, and then nothing ever came of it.

Condi wanted me to come over and the President said, “Yes, but I won’t let him do it unless I’ve got a replacement for him.” It took him a while to find a replacement for me, to the point that I actually thought I was going to stay through the whole tenure of my term because I thought it was never going to happen, and then I got called. I said I’d do what the President wanted me to do, either way. He can leave me in ODNI or bring me back to State. I got a call from Steve Hadley toward the end of 2006 saying the President wants me to go over to State, and so I did. I went in February.

Riley

That also is a confirmable position?

Negroponte

Oh absolutely, there were hearings and the usual procedure, but by then I’d gotten—this was time number four, so we got through OK, no big problems.

Riley

No murder boards this time?

Negroponte

No, there was just the Pink Ladies or whoever it is who go up and protest.

Knott

Did they disrupt your hearing?

Negroponte

They usually do. I can’t remember whether they disrupted that one. They disrupted others. But no, it was OK.

Riley

So as you’re leaving the position, are there concerns about the state of affairs that you’re leaving behind or are you feeling like—

Negroponte

No, they’ve identified a successor, Admiral [Mike] McConnell, and I think they have him in place before I’m confirmed as Deputy Secretary of State, because I recall going to his swearing-in ceremony. He was sworn in by the Vice President, so all of that is pretty much in hand.

Riley

And does the briefing book properly convey that you had asked the President to be at your swearing-in?

Negroponte

Yes, I did. I wanted him to ask me personally to do the job and I wanted—I mean, I expressed that desire, that it would be nice if he asked me himself, and secondly, if he were willing to witness my swearing-in, and he said yes to both. By that time, my relationship with the President was pretty close. I used to see him every day and we got along just fine, and I really like the guy, I like him a lot. So yes, that was part of it.

Riley

Did you ever play poker with the President?

Negroponte

No.

Riley

Do you think he would be a good poker player?

Negroponte

I don’t know. He has a hard time concealing his emotions.

Riley

And you do not, based on what we’ve read. Is that right?

Negroponte

He shows his emotions.

Riley

You’re a good poker player?

Negroponte

I was, yes, but I haven’t played for 35 years because diplomacy ended up being a very nice surrogate for playing poker.

Riley

How is that?

Negroponte

Just a lot of risk, risk calculation on various things. You’ve got to read [Carl von] Clausewitz. There’s a line in Clausewitz about war and gambling.

Riley

Yes?

Negroponte

It’s a famous line.

Riley

Do you know this line?

Knott

I should but I don’t.

Perry

Tell us what you liked about the President. You mentioned some personality traits, but tell us more.

Negroponte

First of all, he’s just a very likable guy. Secondly, when he likes you and when he gets to know you, he’s capable of being very informal, even in the most stressful situations. Thirdly, and this is a Bush characteristic, he doesn’t beat around the bush. He gets to the point really fast. If there’s something on his mind, he lets you know about it. He’s not inscrutable by any means; in fact, he’s very transparent. I developed a bit of a fascination with his decision-making process and with his process of learning about things, because I had noticed that very often we’d start out with an argument or a debate and then we’d say this and that and it was like a ping-pong game or a dialectic, until you got to some point when he says, “Now I understand it a lot better,” and you’ve actually covered quite a bit of ground in that. So he had a dialectic that was really interesting and it was his way of learning about a subject.

And then he was kind of amusingly modest about his own intelligence. He’d say “I’m not a good word person; I’m not very good with words.” He is, in a way, very good with words, from a politician’s point of view. All of us are sitting around trying to figure out how to defend this wiretapping program and he comes up with the phrase, “Well, when al-Qaeda is talking to people in America, I want to know about it.” What the hell else do you have to say? That’s the best justification I heard of that program, and he’s the one who said it. We were all busy trying to craft these very clever words. I think his innate intelligence is extremely high, I really do.

Condi was off in the Middle East a lot so I ended up filling in for her in a lot of functions. I went to a number of international meetings with him, like to the G8 [Group of Eight] in Sapporo. I went to two G8 meetings, for example, and the last one in Sapporo in the summer of ’08. I wasn’t at the dinner because the leaders ate dinner alone, just them, but I was just outside the room, and the warmth of the applause and the affection for this man was really very high. I think once these leaders began to understand him, they really appreciated him.

The other thing I liked—you talk about his intellect, the reading was extraordinary. The contest he had with Karl Rove about who could read more books, and they were tough books. I’d walk in some day and he’d say “Ponte”—he’d call me by my college nickname. I’d been at Yale with his uncle, Bucky [William H.T.] Bush, Bush 41’s younger brother. My nickname was the last two syllables of my last name, Ponte. He said, “Ponte, have you read The Stranger by [Albert] Camus?” And I said, “Yes, I have, as a matter of fact. I studied in France, Mr. President.” He said, “Well, I just read it this weekend. What did you make of it?” He read pretty heavy-duty books.

Riley

What did he make of it?

Negroponte

I can’t remember.

Riley

Oh, come on, history is the weaker without knowing his reading of Camus.

Negroponte

He read about a lot of stuff and he’d get recommendations for reading from a lot of people.

Knott

Taking you out on a limb, why do you think the image or the reputation arose that he wasn’t all that swift?

Negroponte

I think it’s a combination of the Texas accent, having grown up in West Texas, and his ability to relate to American folklore, if you will, and the folksy style, and people unable to make that bridge between that side of him and the side that went to Andover, Yale, and Harvard Business School. They don’t see all sides of him. Those of us who worked with him in substantive jobs got to see the other side. That’s the difference. Others don’t believe it.

I have two brothers, they’re twins, they’re inveterate liberal Democrats and I tell them about Bush and his books and they don’t believe he’s ever read a book. [laughter] They just don’t believe it.

Riley

Presidential Cliffs Notes, prepared by the National Security Council.

Perry

We didn’t mention too much about the surge. This is before you go back to State, but it says that in November of ’06, you and Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Peter Pace, Hadley, and Crouch met with the President to talk about the surge. Was the conversation that you had with him similar to this dialectic model that you’ve described about his personality and his decision making?

Negroponte

I don’t remember. When I talk about the dialectic, I’m principally talking about when he’s getting intelligence briefings. I don’t remember that particular conversation about the surge. I’m sure I was there because I was DNI, but not because I was one of the foremost participants in the conversation. I can’t remember when we decided to go forward with the surge. Wasn’t it early ’07?

Riley

I think the decision is articulated later.

Perry

December ’06 is when Bush announces his support for a surge at the principals meeting.

Negroponte

Right.

Riley

So that was about the time you’re leaving.

Negroponte

But what really struck me about the surge is how much of a decision it was for Bush. He was not getting a lot of support around that table from all of us, saying, “Yes, Mr. President, you should do it.” I think we were all very worried and I’m not sure we really knew what to do, to be honest with you. Plus, we were getting these CIA reports about how it’s all going to hell in a hand basket. I’m sure J. D. has given you the best possible insights on that, because he’s the one whom we closeted off with about 10 other people for several months, several weeks anyway. It was a long process. They would come up with weekly reports and then discussions, and then they’d talk again, endlessly, about it, but they finally came up with the surge. But I really think it was the President and Petraeus, supported by J. D. Crouch.

I would not have recommended—I don’t think I was one of the advocates of the surge. I didn’t advocate against it, but there’s an example of where I was Director of National Intelligence and I was sitting there listening. I was deeply worried and horrified by what was going on and didn’t really know whether an American intervention, additional intervention, could make a difference. My default position in a situation like that would be to say, “Well, what does the Ambassador say?” I was just saying, “What does the person on the ground think?”

Riley

OK. Why don’t we take a two- or three-minute break and then we’ll come back and finish up, get you through the State Department.

[BREAK]

Riley

All right, we’re on the homestretch now. We’re moving you to the State Department. What kinds of conversations do you have with Secretary Rice about your portfolio and what the expectations are for your work?

Negroponte

Well, I’m sort of the alter ego. For one thing I’m the deputy across the board. Unlike today, where there are two deputies, there was only one, myself. So that’s one thing. Secondly, she travels a lot so I held the fort quite a bit. Some things happened by dint of her travels, and so you have to stand in for her at NSC meetings, meetings in the Oval Office, et cetera.

And then I had several portfolios as a regular, for a steady diet, one of which was the U.S.-China Senior Dialogue. I was in charge of that with Dai Bangui, who at that time was the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, but who became the State Councilor [of the People’s Republic of China] and still is. He has his dialogue with Secretary [Hillary] Clinton now and [Timothy F.] Geithner, but at the time he got promoted to State Councilor. He and I got along well enough that he seemed to want to continue to conduct the dialogue with me. We had three or four meetings during the time I was Deputy Secretary, and those were extremely interesting and I thought pretty important. So that was one main area.

The other was the relationship with Pakistan, and I beat my brains against that issue for the entire two years and went out there quite a bit. I worked through the whole transition from Musharraf to the new government and the murder of Madame [Benezir] Bhutto and all the different problems that we dealt with there.

I went back to Iraq a couple of times, although really, as we’ve talked about earlier with the President having developed this hands-on approach with video teleconferences every week with our Ambassador, with the NSC and everything, I wasn’t that much in the day-to-day management. But one of the things I really did take on with considerable satisfaction was staffing of the embassy and making sure we got really good people to volunteer to go. I was able to maintain our record of filling all the diplomatic positions in Baghdad through a volunteer process. We never had to order anybody to be assigned there. We never had to do what we called “directed assignments,” we always got volunteers, and I was very pleased about that.

I had a general oversight of Latin America, just because of my strong Latin America background. I dealt with management issues. Also, we had a Blackwater incident where the Blackwater, remember, killed a number of people in that square in Baghdad. Those are the kinds of things that fall in the lap of the Deputy Secretary of State. I investigated that and took remedial measures.

I took a strong personal interest in mentoring the service, particularly incoming junior officers. We were at that time, because of the big buildup, taking in about a thousand new officers a year, something like that. It was a large number for the State Department. I would meet every class. I’d go and talk to every class that came in and swear them in when I was available. In fact, one of the most amusing things was when the President swore me in, in early ’07. Prior to that I had sworn in a class of incoming officers, 132 of them or so, and I invited them all to my swearing-in, and they were there in the audience. The President, sitting next to Ms. Rice, said, “Who are all those people?” I explained who they were when I spoke, and he said, “Why don’t I get to meet people like that?” [laughter] And so the next thing you know, he invited them all over to the White House. I said, “You guys are really starting out pretty rich here; you’re never going to have it so good.” So they started out meeting the President of the United States, which was quite an interesting and amusing thing.

I focused on Africa. I tended to focus mostly on the third world; I didn’t mess much with Europe. I’ve always felt that we had enough diplomats and others who liked to go to London and Paris, Italy and Rome, and Brussels. I stayed away from that. My view of diplomacy is that it’s more about dealing with the more volatile and less developed parts of the world. I took two big trips to Africa and visited eight different countries. So I guess the third world—China, Pakistan—management, and alter ego, meaning just about anything that came up.

Riley

One of the initiatives that the President is now being recognized as a leader in was PEPFAR [President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief].

Negroponte

A tremendous program, and I saw the benefits of that and worked very closely with Jendayi Frazer, who was a terrific element in the administration. She was the Assistant Secretary for Africa, an African American lady. She’d been one of Condi’s students. We saw the benefits of that when I went out on these couple of trips to Africa. It was already an established program.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

And had its own—there was a line-item budget, so there wasn’t much to do about it. It was set, and of course it had enormous congressional support. It was one of those programs that almost got too much money because it was so popular.

I went to the Sudan and I met Mr. [Omar al-] Bashir, the President of Sudan. We were working on the Darfur Peace Agreement, the comprehensive peace process. That was important and interesting. But I think probably, in the substantive area, what was of the most constant interest to the President would have been the China relationship on the one hand and the relationship with Pakistan on the other. What will you do to keep them on board?

And then of course Ryan Crocker, out in Baghdad, and others were working on this Status of Forces Agreement, which came to fruition by the end of his administration, which was a major initiative. I talked to the President a number of times about that and he explained why he was so keen on the Status of Forces Agreement. He was very worried that if the Democrats won, that somebody might be elected who’d been a real opponent of the war in Iraq, and that if he didn’t have a SOFA, including a date for our withdrawal, a phased withdrawal with a date fairly far out, end of 2011, that somebody like Hillary Clinton or Obama might just withdraw our troops immediately, and he didn’t think Iraq could withstand that.

So he chose between what he thought were the lesser of evils. He accommodated [Nouri al-] Maliki’s insistence that there be a date certain for complete withdrawal, but he pushed it out as far as he could. He rationalized accepting that, even though he would have preferred, and we all would have preferred, I think, to keep a residual force in Iraq. I think that’s the ideal way to do these things. If you’re going to go to the trouble of all the intervention that we did, you ought to keep some kind of presence there afterward so that you can preserve whatever gains you might have achieved. But he thought it was better to have a deal than no deal at all, and it was the only deal that Maliki would agree to. Maliki, for his own political reasons, could not agree to a continued American military presence.

I told Ryan Crocker, when we finally reached the agreement, that one thing in my career that I’ve seen that is very similar between the Iraq peace agreement and the Vietnam agreement is they’re both misnamed. I told him that his is called a Status of Forces Agreement and it’s really a withdrawal agreement, an agreement to withdraw by the end of 2011, and the Vietnam agreement is called, very hypocritically, the Agreement to End the War and Restore Peace to Vietnam. Of course, South Vietnam was invaded two years later, but in any case, never mind that. It also was a withdrawal agreement. It’s interesting how we choose to camouflage our withdrawal agreements with these fancy names.

Riley

Do you have any specific recollections of your trips to Pakistan that you could share with us?

Negroponte

It was a tumultuous atmosphere. There was always something going on in Pakistan that was out of the ordinary. One time I went there and Musharraf had just fired the chief justice of the supreme court, and that got him into no end of trouble. Another time I got there and Mrs. Bhutto had just gotten back. Another time I was getting there and Nawaz Sharif, who is a big political power there, had just been rebuffed and sent back to Saudi Arabia. He’d landed and either they sent him back or they forced his plane to turn around and go back without allowing it to land, I forget which. And then one time I went and the transition was actually taking place. It was when Musharraf was relinquishing office and the new government was being sworn in.

The country is in constant turmoil with civilian-military issues. There’s a real chasm between the two, and all the national security and diplomatic—the real national security-type powers rest with the military in Pakistan. And then there are divisions between the landed gentry of Pakistan and those who are immigrants from India. It’s a complicated place.

Riley

Is it fixable?

Negroponte

Well, one of the issues that I had a slight difference with my colleagues on, including Condi and Jim Jeffrey, who eventually became the deputy NSC advisor, was on the—and Boucher above all, Richard Boucher, they all wanted Musharraf to step down. Boucher had this great dream of some power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and Madame Bhutto, so he was one of those who helped engineer her return. Condi was very adamant about Musharraf taking off his uniform. I harken back a little bit to the conversation we had at lunch. I was a bit leery of that because I thought that—whatever you thought about how Musharraf had reached power, one of the conveniences of him being both head of the army and the President was that he could actually make his decisions stick. He was negotiating with India about peace; he had tried to moderate some of the behavior of the madrasas and so forth. And, of course, in the wake of 2001, he did become our ally in the War on Terror. He dialed back the Lashkar-e-Taiba a little bit in Kashmir. My sense is that all of that came unstuck after his demise. Again, America hates to choose between the lesser of evils.

Condi had some pretty tough conversations with Musharraf about taking off his uniform. The interesting thing about Musharraf is he actually listens to Americans, and when we were so insistent, he ultimately said, “OK, I’ll take my uniform off and I’ll do what you say, but you may end up regretting it.” That’s what Mr. Musharraf said. And I don’t think we’re much better off now than we were then. Mrs. Bhutto got killed during that time, which was a tragedy.

Riley

What about India? Did you have a piece of the action?

Negroponte

I did. I went to Delhi after the attacks on Mumbai, in late 2008.

Riley

I’d forgotten that had happened on your watch.

Negroponte

Yes, it did, and Nick Burns was gone. Nick had handled India and he’d negotiated the nuclear agreement and all that, but then he went to Harvard. I don’t even remember if we had—yes, we had an Under Secretary. I dragooned him from Russia, Bill Burns, the other Burns, but he didn’t have any recent background in dealing with the India-Pakistan thing. So I went out to Delhi and tried to set up some kind of information-sharing arrangements between Pakistan and India because they didn’t want to talk to each other, they didn’t want to share any information. They just wanted to ventilate, and so I went out because of that. But I didn’t get involved in the other aspects of the India relationship particularly.

No, I take it back. We had a very tense moment. I don’t know if you recall, but part of the India agreement had to be approved by the assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]. There was something to do with the fuel cycle that had to be approved by the IAEA, by the different member governments of their annual, whatever they call it, board of governors meeting or something like that. I remember that the Chinese were holding out, as well they might. It was the middle of the night and John Rood, our Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, was in Vienna, and it was 1:00 in the morning their time or something, and he was calling me up saying this thing’s going to break up in a few hours and it’s now or never, and you’ve got to get the Chinese to help us. So Hadley and I worked up a letter to Hu Jintao, from President Bush, to get his agreement. We did all of this in an hour or an hour and a half’s time, and we got the Chinese on board and we got this nuclear agreement through the IAEA meeting. I couldn’t begin to reconstruct the details of the agreement itself for you, but I worked on that part.

Riley

What did we have to give up in return?

Negroponte

I don’t think anything. I think it was just a question of persuading the Chinese that this was important to us.

Riley

Yes, but normally when you persuade the Chinese, you have to give up something.

Negroponte

Maybe ultimately in some other aspect, but Bush and the Chinese had a good relationship, a very good relationship. We had both the political dialogue that I dealt with, and then Hank Paulson had this big economic dialogue where he had eight or nine different government departments. It was like a big dog and pony show. I was not envious of his role at all. He would take this large committee over to China once a year or something, or they would come over here, and the meetings were huge. It was just unbelievable how many people were at them. But we had a lot of discussions with the Chinese and the President followed them very closely.

Long

Did you ever get the sense that the deal with India, or just dealing with India on such friendly terms, was creating problems for keeping Pakistan on side with the Taliban? Because long after, it’s been suggested that our involvement with India remains the main stumbling block to better relations, or more predictable relations, with Pakistan.

Negroponte

Yes, but it was bedrock for the administration. Condi had written a paper. She published a piece in Foreign Affairs, if I’m not mistaken, on the strategic opening to India. They had telegraphed that fairly early on, and I think it was part of the outreach to the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, China] countries, really, when you think about it. We did this similarly with Brazil. The President had a very good relationship with Lula [da Silva], and a lot of work was done on improving the relationship with Brazil. I think we were fairly committed to doing that and I don’t think the President was about to change his mind, and Condi was very committed. And it is a democracy too; the democracy angle was very important for the President, so they were just going to have to get used to the fact that we were going to try to have good relations with both of them.

By the way, one of the big things that happened during that time was the bombing of the Syrian reactor. That happened in the fall of ’07, and I was Deputy Secretary at that time. I had had a lot of discussions with my Israeli counterparts when I was DNI, with both the head of the Mossad and with the head of Israeli military intelligence, about what to do about the Iran nuclear reactor. Not so much the Syrian one, because the Syrian one crept up on us. We discovered it first, we and they, in the spring of ’07, and it develops over the summer, and by whenever it was, September or October, they finally knocked it out. We told them they were on their own as far as we were concerned. But I thought that was one of the more amazing politico-military feats I’d ever seen in my life. The Israelis were able to do that and to play it in such a way that the Syrians were so embarrassed that it had happened that all they could think of doing was to cover it up. Not to protest or to react, just cover it up, and that’s what they did. Bashar [al-Assad] issued almost instantaneous orders to his people to bring out the bulldozers and erase any trace of this installation.

Riley

So that’s not replicable in Iran.

Negroponte

That’s one of my points; I don’t think it is replicable. First of all, in Iran there are multiple locations, and secondly, I don’t think you could ever expect the Iranians to react that way. But the whole question of the Syrian reactor, and then an NIE came out—I had already gone—that announced that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program as of 2003. I don’t know if you remember that; there was an NIE that contradicted earlier intelligence. I was very disappointed in that NIE, and if you read it—you need to look at this NIE; there is an unclassified version of it. It has a footnote that acknowledges that they were still working on the delivery means and that they were still enriching, but what they meant by “military program” was just the weapons design. I told the President, when I heard about this report, that I’d like to think that if I had been Director of National Intelligence, you would not have been confronted with this report. I don’t think I would have confronted him, and I don’t think it was right. I honestly don’t think it was right.

Knott

You mentioned a minute or two ago about Brazil being a democracy and that was important to the President.

Negroponte

That his relationship with Lula was very important.

Knott

Yes. President Bush’s second inaugural address is a tribute to the idea that democracy is destined to be the form of government that the rest of the world will adopt. I mean, it’s his flowing sort of Wilsonian rhetoric. Did you, as somebody who has spent your entire life in the Foreign Service, have any reaction to that idealistic pitch that the President made in his second inaugural address?

Negroponte

I think of him as a Wilsonian. I think of him as somebody in the Wilsonian school of thought, and I don’t have any problem with that. It’s just that you have to be pragmatic at the same time. I think Elliott Abrams carries that notion to an extreme. But no, I think the President, in his role as the spokesman for our country, I don’t think that’s—it didn’t bother me when it happened.

Knott

Even the notion that the Arab world was destined to follow this path as well? That didn’t strike you as—

Negroponte

Well, I’m skeptical. I was probably somewhat skeptical of that. I guess my answer to that would be that it’s extremely difficult to engineer and it’s just not that easy to do, and it doesn’t happen in a straight line. For example, I was disappointed—I remember that at one point we were going to have free trade discussions with Egypt and then we canceled them, in part because the Egyptians had arrested Ayman Nour. I think that we would have been better off embracing them and working on arrangements that could improve their economy, which over the long run would be even more important toward contributing to a democratic outcome. So I suppose the debate in the end would come down to the means and whether you punish people because they’re not democratic, or how much you punish them and to what extent you do. We didn’t get into many of those discussions because you’re more preoccupied with specific events and specific situations in your day-to-day occupation.

Riley

Do you have any observations about the relevance or implications of what the administration achieved in the Middle East with respect to what happens subsequently, the Arab Spring and the contemporary developments? Is there any cause and effect?

Negroponte

Between Iraq, do you mean?

Riley

Between Iraq and what happens elsewhere, in any form of logic. The argument that was often made in defense of the administration was that it was too soon to tell, as the final days of the administration approaches, whether the efforts in Iraq had succeeded ultimately in helping to transform the region, which was a goal that some people had established. I’m just wondering if you’ve had a chance to reflect on Iraq as it relates to the rest of the neighborhood and whether there is any form of cause and effect in these things.

Negroponte

I don’t know, but if it were so, it would be nice to be able to point to somebody in one of these countries who tells you I did this because of Iraq.

Riley

Yes.

Negroponte

But I’m not aware that that exists. On the other hand, you make the argument well, a really authoritarian figure has been eliminated and therefore it’s been made easier for those who follow. I guess it’s a bit of a theoretical argument.

Riley

Yes.

Negroponte

If you had a bunch of people who said I did it because of whatever, then it might be different. I didn’t feel that the day-to-day events, that this notion of a democratic Middle East was—I think the President was preoccupied with more concrete things than that.

Riley

OK.

Negroponte

He may have had these ideas, but that wasn’t what guided his conversations with these leaders. I do think it’s what inspired him to say we’ve got to have this election in Iraq, on that date that we talked about. And he had faith. Here’s another example of the faith in the democratic process—and I forget where I was at the time; I think I was DNI—when he was very adamant that they should go ahead with elections in the Palestinian territories, and Hamas ended up winning them. I don’t think he would ever apologize for that. He felt they should go forward, and he was quite insistent with the Israelis about that.

He would say, and probably with some justification, that the outcome was the fault of Fatah for having fielded too many candidates and not unified their slates. And so what happened is that Hamas, very often in these various constituencies, found themselves with multiple opponents, where Fatah could have done more to consolidate the candidate lists. But he definitely wanted to see elections take place in the Palestinian territories. Does he have regrets today? I don’t know.

Riley

You mentioned that Latin America becomes a portfolio at the end.

Negroponte

Of sorts, yes.

Riley

Had the violence in Mexico begun to escalate?

Negroponte

Yes. In fact, that was another one of the things we did. We had this partnership for security and prosperity, SPP [Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America], with Mexico, Canada, and ourselves, and the three leaders met each year. We met once a year, and both times I represented Ms. Rice. We met in Montebello, Canada, near Ottawa, one time, and we met in New Orleans the second time. And the first time, I think in 2007, we launched the Mérida Initiative. We announced that we would create this fund to provide support to the Mexican counternarcotics program and rule-of-law program. So yes, that was definitely on the radar screen.

Riley

And was the reaction to that predicted? Was it expected that the levels of violence would escalate in the way that they did?

Negroponte

But that wasn’t really a reaction to our program. It was a reaction to the fact that the Mexicans took on these guys.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

Actually, today in the papers you’ll see that they’ve captured the head of the Gulf Cartel. No, [Felipe] Calderón was a very brave and courageous leader. Bush appreciated that; he liked him a lot. He very often told me.… It’s kind of interesting. I went to the State dinner for Vicente Fox, not to the dinner itself but to the event. They sometimes invite guests to come for drinks afterward and for the music. I went to that part of it with my wife on the 5th of September, 2001, and then 9/11 occurs six days later. Of course, that was the last time we had that kind of interrelationship with Fox.

I remember several times, when we would be meeting with Mexicans or other Latin leaders later on, when I was with the President, he’d say, “This is what we would have been doing all the time if it hadn’t been for 9/11.” Because if you look at some of the things he said in the campaign and prior to that, he was much more focused on Latin America. And he did push through some good initiatives. He pushed through CAFTA-DR, the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement. He pushed through the Panama, Peru, and Colombia trade agreements. That all happened on his watch and it was good. So he cared about it, but I think he felt that 9/11 had cramped his style a bit.

Riley

Sure. How frustrated was he with the South American—

Knott

[Hugo] Chavez?

Riley

Yes, Chavez.

Negroponte

Oh, he was great about Chavez. His view on Chavez was that we would just dignify him by mentioning his name, so he never mentioned his name, and I think it really annoyed Mr. Chavez a lot. He just wouldn’t rise to the bait. He also put Carlos Gutierrez in charge of a little effort to figure out what we might do if Fidel Castro died, because we had these reports that Castro was deathly ill. It turned out to be wrong and we never got very far, and then we even roped Jeb Bush into the deal. He came up for a couple of discussions, but it was an ill-fated initiative and we never came up with much of anything. I think we all ended up basically feeling that even if Castro had stepped aside, which he did, as long as he was still breathing, not much was going to change in Cuba.

Riley

And therefore, no change in American policy with respect—

Negroponte

And therefore it was kind of—yes.

Riley

From your perspective, is contemporary Cuba policy a relic?

Negroponte

I once rode in an airplane with Harry Shlaudeman, who had worked on our Latin American policy for decades. On a flight from Honduras to Washington, he took me through every initiative, every effort that had been undertaken in the U.S. government for the previous 25 or 35 years to change our Cuba policy, and then explained how every one of them ended up on the shoals. As long as there’s a Bob Menendez in the Senate and a [Ileana] Ros-Lehtinen in the House of Representatives, you aren’t going to change Cuban policy. It’s just basically a straight domestic constituency issue.

Riley

Gotcha, OK. Which of the jobs that you had, ultimately looking back, did you find to be most rewarding?

Negroponte

Under Bush?

Riley

Yes.

Negroponte

They were all very interesting, they were all very good jobs, and I told him that at the end. I told him that he’d given me incredible opportunities to serve, and he looked at me and said, “And you took them.” [laughter]

Riley

You volunteered for some of them.

Negroponte

They were all extremely interesting. I guess from a diplomat’s point of view, it’s hard to choose between Ambassador to the UN, Ambassador to Iraq, and Deputy Secretary of State. These are all very high-level jobs. I think in the end, it’s a little easier really, to be an ambassador than it is to work in that Washington environment. I almost wonder sometimes if a career person isn’t a little bit handicapped. You almost have to be a politician to be effective in Washington, D.C., at those levels. I mean “politician” in a broad sense of the word, somebody who’s come from the outside and not been a career government official. But they were all interesting and they gave me—even the Deputy Secretary job gave me a lot of exposure to the President, because Condi was away so much. Although I must say that being DNI, it was extremely interesting for me to be able to see the President every single day, and I enjoyed that. I never tired of that.

Riley

Sure.

Negroponte

We never had a tense moment between us and voices were never raised. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him and I think he’s very misunderstood. He’s insufficiently appreciated. But the other thing I’d say is that I feel that the way we went into Iraq will be the defining issue of the way people look at his Presidency for a long time. Whether that’s the way they look at it in 20, 30, or 40 years from now, I don’t know, but at least for the foreseeable future, I think he’s going to be basically judged by the fact that he went into Iraq. If tomorrow, Iraq up and gets really democratic on us and all the security problems go away and they become the model for the Middle East, to your question about the Arab Spring and Middle East democracy and all, that’s one thing. If it descends back into chaos, that’s another.

Riley

If you were starting out as a junior Foreign Service officer now, is your career still possible? Is the trajectory still possible?

Negroponte

Yes, I think so, but I don’t think people—their mindset is a little different. They say, “My God, you spent 44 years in the government?” I’m not sure as many people are ready to think about a lifetime commitment to government service. And to some extent it’s been made a little more difficult because the relative compensation is not nearly as—In the old days, say when I entered this work in 1960, the private sector and government sector salaries—At one time I was a little frustrated with my career and I was talking to a company that operated in Switzerland, a grain company, about possibly going to work for them. This was about five or six years into my career. And they said, “We’d be very interested in hiring you but we’re not sure we can match your government salary.” [laughter] You can’t imagine a company saying that today, it just wouldn’t happen. So for the kind of talent we’re looking for, people with the levels of education and knowledge, which today usually means a master’s degree in something, they can pull down better pay elsewhere.

Riley

And what about the change in the communications environment and the media environment?

Negroponte

It’s obviously important.

Riley

Is diplomacy in the way that you experienced it coming up still possible?

Negroponte

In the following sense, absolutely. When the President arrives in a country I’ve been in, let’s say Mexico, and I meet him at the airport and he jumps into the limousine and we’re going to meet the President of Mexico half an hour from then, and he wants a half-hour briefing on everything that’s going on and who’s doing what to whom and who are all the people who are going to be in the meeting with the President, there’s no substitute for somebody who’s been on the scene, who’s been an on-the-scene analyst and implementer of the President’s policies in that country. There’s no substitute for that kind of ambassadorial or diplomatic capability. You’ve got to have it, and the only way you can have it is to immerse people in these situations.

I come back to Clausewitz or war theory and there’s just a huge difference between having a remote view of a situation and having to live with the texture and the detail of what’s happening, because in the end, these relationships come down to a level of detail that people outside can’t always imagine or understand or appreciate. So yes, I think it makes a big difference.

I think the analytic contribution that a diplomat makes, the personal acquaintances and friendships that he makes—look at this fellow who got killed in Libya. It’s clear that he was top notch. It was absolutely evident, just from three days of newspaper stories—I didn’t know him personally—that he was a superb diplomat. And why? Because he’d been a Peace Corps volunteer, he knew the language, he made an effort to get around and meet people. He had a level of engagement and involvement with Libyan society that can’t be replicated by a BlackBerry or a TV set.

Riley

Part of my question, though, relates to—and I’m not quite sure how to phrase this, but it’s the lack of space available for decision making.

Negroponte

In terms of time.

Riley

In terms of time and in terms of the instantaneous communication. It’s a problem.

Negroponte

This is very true and that’s a problem, but there again, an ambassador who knows what he or she is talking about and who has sufficient command of the local situation to give the President reassurance that what he’s seeing on the ground and the conclusions he’s drawing from it are right, can help ward off some of these pressures.

When George Bush tells me, on that video conference I referred to earlier, “Ponte, we’re one week away from the election and there are not enough voters in the Sunni areas. Why don’t you go out there immediately and help get ballots mailed to these people so they can vote by mail.” I tell him, “Mr. President, believe me, sir; that is not possible.” And he might make one more pass at it and then I tell him again, and he’ll accept it if he trusts the judgment of his man or woman on the scene. So local knowledge does matter.

I was getting suggestions like that when the Sunnis decided to boycott the election, and they were being put to him by the NSC staff. Things like, you have mail, you can do this and that, you’ve got a surrogate, and there are different kinds of remote voting. I told him, “Mr. President, we’re out of time. One week from now might as well be 12 hours from now, as far as the speed at which we get stuff done here in Iraq. We can’t do that.” But if you have experienced people and the President has confidence in them, or the Secretary or whatever, those opinions will make a difference.

Riley

Sure. You have been very patient with us.

Negroponte

I’ve enjoyed it. It’s about experiences that I went through.

Riley

Well, it’s been extremely illuminating about your service and about the President himself. We like to consider that your public service continues when you’re doing these interviews because the kinds of insights we’re able to preserve here will be extremely useful and educational for folks decades to come. You’ve been good to help out, and thank you.

Negroponte

Thank you. I teach up at Yale one day a week and I feel a bit the same way about teaching, particularly the seminar I do on U.S. diplomacy and national security. Maybe 20 or 30 percent of the students go on to some kind of public service and I think it’s useful and good to be able to share these experiences with them. Some of them might remember a bit of what was said.

Riley

The wisdom of your experience is just irreplaceable, and that’s why it’s important for us to do what we can to capture it.

Negroponte

Thank you, I enjoyed this. Let me know if there’s anything further I can try and illuminate.

Riley

And you’re permitted, if you want, to elaborate on anything when you get the transcript. If you’ve got documents that you want to append, we’ll accept those.

Negroponte

I’m not much of a document man.

Riley

Right.

Negroponte

I wasn’t very good at keeping my own notes. Actually, in this briefing book, I thought you did a pretty good search of what’s around and what’s available on a couple of these things.

Riley

Good, I’ll let the researchers know. The final thing is to the extent that you’re in communications with others that we might interview, let them know that this is not a painful experience and that we would appreciate their cooperation.

More George W. Bush interviews

View all George W. Bush interviews