Our previous coverage of former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage speaking at Missouri Boys State last evening:
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage speaking at Missouri Boys State in Hendricks Hall on the campus of the University of Central Missouri.
….Question: …I have two questions. My first one was, is that, as you know, a lot of what we sell, er, buy comes from China and Japan and the Asian countries. Uh, you can’t really pick up anything without seeing ‘made in China’, Japan, Korea there. Do you think this affects anything at all, like our economy, or do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing? What are your thoughts?
Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State: That’s the first one, what about the second question?
Question: And the second one was, what is Persepodas? You said that, uh, the Persians, when you cut them and bleed, they bleed Persepodas, or something like that, and we wanted to know what that was.
Richard Armitage: Okay. The question of, when we buy cheap goods from China, it’s, used to be from Japan, not, not much anymore, theirs are kind of high tech goods. Uh, I don’t think it bothers us much. We’re not doing the manufacturing. Uh, we’ve benefited immensely of, uh, of the Chinese products that we were buying here before. Now exports are way down.
What does have a big effect on our economy is the number of treasury bills that China holds. China, Japan hold enormous amounts of our treasury. I think the image that you should have of the three of us is of three people in sort of a circle, each with a gun at the other’s head. If China pulls out their t-bills our economy falters terribly, but their bills are not worth very much. The same is true of Japan. So, they kind of have to keep us rocking along to keep the value in the treasury bills. So, I think at this point in time, uh, we’re still all, in the words of, uh, Ben Franklin, gonna have to hang together or else we’ll hang separately on this…
…On the question of Persepolis and the Iranians, you wanted me to develop it a little more? Is that what it was?
Question: Just to kind of explain what it was. A couple of us had a question about what it was. [crosstalk]
Richard Armitage: Well, uh, twenty-five hundred years ago with the time of Darius and Cyrus the Great, the great kings of Persia, uh, Persia was dominant throughout the whole Arabian Gulf. They were a tremendous power. Uh, they’ve obviously fallen from favor since then. Uh, but none of the Persian interlocutives with whom I worked had anything but that moment in history in their frontal lobes. They remember the glory that was theirs, that was Persia’s. And they wanted to recover, to some extent, that position on the world stage. And I think to some extent, in some minds, having nuclear weapons is one of the keys to get back on that world stage. After all, from their point of view, a third rate nation like North Korea is able to make us dance around pretty well. What about a great, historically great nation like Persia?
Question: …I just wanted to ask, like, when we’re leaders of the country, or when we’re in your spot, like after Iran, North Korea, and the Middle East, what do you think are the future national threats to the United States, or challenges we’ll face?
Richard Armitage: Well, look what’s happened in, in my career, the national threats have changed a lot. It used to be, of course, the cold war and all of that. And, uh, that’s all gone. And now the threats are everything from, uh, the terrorist threat from Afghan Pakistan, to nuclear proliferation, to human trafficking, to economic turmoil, to drugs, to cyber attack, uh, climate change, changing environment. So, the threat to our way of life and to us has expanded dramatically. If I had to say what might be the biggest long term threat I’d say it might be climate change. As none of us really understand, I don’t think politicians have the courage to really take dramatic steps. And in this regard, it’s interesting to note that China, it’s much easier for her to take dramatic steps, she just made an announcement that all her cars will be ‘x’ per cent more efficient in three more years. Which for us would be impossible, because of our political system, but they just do it by mandate. So I think that’s the biggest threat in the long run.
From, I’ll tell you this, when we come out of this recession, I’m sure of one thing. And, and I’m not an economist. But I’m sure that everything we’ve known in the past about economies is gonna be changed, because, as, as we come out of this, Brazil will come out of it, India out, and China. And I think it’s, although we’ll still be the most powerful nation and the richest nation in the world our relative dominance will have dropped a lot. And I don’t know if the others, the, the Brazils, the Chinas will start working as a block or not. But that’s something to really, I think, keep an eye on.
Question: …My question was, uh, China holds roughly half of, I guess, I think the number is, U.S. treasury bills. And you talked about trying to escape the, uh, recession faster than, uh, them. What would happen if they tried to recall or have us pay back all of our debt to them and what would kind of be the consequences for us?
Richard Armitage: If, if China did it? Is that what you’re saying?
Richard Armitage: Yeah. Well, uh, our economy, I can’t say it would collapse. It would come close to collapse. They’d fall as well.
Here’s the thing with, with China, ’cause they’re so tied in with us. Unlike us, we, if we have unemployment continue to rise, inflation continue to rise, we’ll have some social demonstrations, right? The Chinese public has made an implicit bargain with their government. And that was that the government would keep the economy humming along about ten per cent, minimum eight, but ten per cent, in exchange for which, the people will overlook the fact that the government structure in China is basically illegal. It’s not in any way chosen by the people. And would overlook, to some extent, the amount of corruption which is endemic in China. That is if all or most of the citizens could see that tomorrow will be a little bit better than today. If the t-bills, if China withdrew, they would not be able to keep that economy humming along. They would have instant social upheaval in the countryside and probably in the cities. For me, as sort of an Asian student, one of the most interesting ironies of history is that the most modern city historically in China is Shanghai. And Shanghai was the home of the Boxer rebellion, was the home of, of the, the birth of the Chinese communist party. And it’s from these most modern cities that all the troubles have come. Why is that? The cities attract people. People come and the government has not developed the infrastructure, water, medical, uh, etcetera, etcetera to service these people. And they rapidly become hotbeds of dissatisfaction, what you, what a military officer…I saw earlier today, he’d say it’s a strategic center of gravity against the sitting government. So they would be really in a world of hurt if all of a sudden they could not keep their economy at eight to ten per cent. There’d be all kinds of social upheaval. And that’s not something we want because the implication, not only for our economy, but for our friends in the region with refugees and everything else.
Question: …My question, over the past few months, uh, we’ve seen that Vice President, the former Vice President Cheney’s been doing a lot of public criticism of the new Obama administration. Uh, as a former Bush ad
ministration official yourself, do you agree with what the former vice president is saying, and also do you think he’s within his rights to be criticizing him like this, or do you think he should kind of pipe down and stay quiet like, uh, President Bush has?
Richard Armitage: I completely disagree with former Vice President Cheney. I think he should, in your word ‘pipe down’. [applause] I think it’s unseemly. [applause] I think it’s unseemly and very much admire the way President Bush has, has said he owes President Obama his silence. And that’s right. Beyond that, as a citizen, obviously Mr. Cheney has a right to his point of view, but I think the, the burden of being a former vice president trumps it. And it makes him look so mean spirited now as it, it’s, I guess Leon Panetta, uh, the CIA, said it makes Mr. Cheney look as if he’d almost want a terrorist attack to kind of show up Mr. Obama. And look, I’m an out of work Republican right now, but I don’t want our president to fail, I’ll tell you that. And it seems Mr. Cheney’s kind of seen to put a lean in that direction. I don’t like it.
Question: …as a foreign policy expert what are your opinions, if current President Ahmadinejad of Iran were to be reelected, how that, how that would affect the United States?
Richard Armitage: Well, I, I think, in the first place, either of those two gentlemen having been elected would not grandly affect the United States. Mr. [garbled] Mousavi seems to be pretty benign, nice guy, but here’s a fellow who in his earlier years, very involved in not only the, the revolution in Iran, but the, uh, taking over of our embassy, and very involved in getting birth, giving birth to Hezbollah. So, the relative benign nature of Mousavi vice, versus Ahmadinejad is, is something that I really question. I think they, it, it’s just a matter of degrees. Second, I , I don’t think there will be any dramatic changes in U.S. Iran relationships. We will, as Mr. Obama said, reach out the hand of friendship. That’s a good thing. They’ll have to make a decision whether to take it or not. I’m not totally hopeless that we can dissuade them from their program. Make sure that they do have nuclear power, but that they don’t, uh, misdirect it toward nuclear weapons. And I think this is gonna be something that proceeds almost a snail’s pace, no matter who is elected.
Question: …My question is a two part question, actually. North Korea was brought up in your speech earlier and the rise to power of Kim Jong-il. Recently, uh, North Korea, uh, they’ve reopened their nuclear power facility. They’ve, uh, collected enough plutonium for six to eight nuclear, uh, bombs. And they’ve sent two, uh, test [garbled] missiles, they launched them. Uh, why hasn’t the U.S. stepped in, um, we play a vital role in, um, financing, well giving them foreign aid. Do you think we could use that to [garbled], to our advantage, of stepping in and shutting down the facilities? And, uh, making, uh, would create less of a threat for world power.
Richard Armitage: Okay, thank you. Uh, let me roll out the entire facts here. Nineteen ninety-four President Clinton negotiated called the framework agreement. And in exchange for the Yongbyon reactor to be deactivated we, the Japanese, China, south Korea, would provide assistance, primarily fuel oil and food, from the, from the United States. Uh, and for a time that Yongbyon reactor was closed and we’d made an agreement. Many of us, I’m, I’m on record, I testified to U.S, Congress back then and said that I was very happy with the framework agreement, but that it did not address unknown facilities, secret facilities. So, although North Korea could stop the Yongbyon reactor they had many other mechanisms, and if they chose they could use to make, uh, plutonium. Uh, this agreement then, that was the first sale, rather, by North Korea of the Yongbyon reactor. North Korea then started it, as you correctly indicated, sold it to Mr. Bush twice. Right now they’re getting prepared to sell it to Mr. Obama once. For a grand total of selling the same reactor four different, or trying to sell it four different times. In addition, in two thousand two, the North Koreans admitted to the Assistant Secretary of State Jim Kelly that they also had a highly enriched uranium program. It was a secret program. So, what many of us feared back in the nineties turned out to be true, they had these secret facilities. They have not agreed anywhere to stop that program. And it leaves us where the intelligence agencies estimate that they have enough, uh, uranium for, or plutonium rather, for six to ten weapons. These weapons are not mounted on missiles. They haven’t been miniaturized and put on the missiles yet so they, you wouldn’t want to call them really bombs or, uh, certainly they’re not married up to missiles. We have stopped our assistance and have, for some several years. There was a story in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper of south Korea the other day saying that South Korean governments, not the present one but the previous two, had provided between seven and nine billion dollars, dollars, of aid to North Korea in very real way. If that story is true they have funded the development of missiles and weapons which potentially could be used against South Korea. But that was the policy of the two previous governments of South Korea. Uh, right now, as far as I know, all of that has stopped. I’m having lunch with president Lee of Korea on Wednesday. He’s coming to Washington to see the president and I’ll have lunch with him after and we’ll get to the bottom of it. But I suspect that the majority of the assistance has come from China and South Korea, as much as that seems strange. We limited ourselves to NGO with fuel and, and food. You had a second part to your question? Great. Thank you.
Question: …What do you think should be the next course of action for the U.S. in the world as we try to regenerate our educational system?
Richard Armitage: Well, I, I don’t think it’s, uh, much to do with the world. It has much to do with ourselves. The debate that Mr. Obama is trying to encourage right now about rewarding teachers who actually care about students and actually want them to, to do well. To try to turn ourselves into a, a much more literate society. One of our problems right now, and you’ve heard about this in your schools I’m sure, you cannot find enough qualified engineers. That’s why we’re hiring so many from abroad. The problem with that is many of our high tech industries require security clearances. And some of our foreign friends it’s very difficult for them to get security clearances. So, my own view is we’ve gotta really get hot here domestically. Secondarily, uh, we’re back up to where we were before two thousand one in terms of the amount of foreign students who study at our great universities. Let’s face it, for six, six years at least after nine eleven we exported anger and fear, which is not a traditional export for the United States. We kind of deal with hope and optimism a little better. But we’re back on track I think for that now, in, in better shape. You have a follow up?
Question: No. Thank you.
Richard Armitage: Thank you.
Question: …Sir, as I’m sure you know, when John Adams was president the nation as a whole wanted to declare war on France. [crosstalk]
Richard Armitage: Start that. Start that again please.
Question: When John Adams was president, sir, the [garbled] nation wanted to declare war on France, but Adams [garbled] did not [garbled] what the nation should do. So he thought it was best for the executive branch not to. And my question for you, sir, is how much do you think that the president and the executive branch should respect the will of the people and how much do you think they should just listen to them [garbled] in deciding foreign policy.
ge: Well that’s a very interesting question because the only truly, uh, the only president who truly did not believe in that the United States had a role in projection of human freedoms and human rights and democracy etcetera was John Quincy Adams. He was very much a, a stay at home, look home type guy. Wanted to really eschew any foreign involvements. Uh, the president’s first duty is to protect you and me. That is his first duty. Beyond that we do like to help the world. We, all post war presidents certainly been very active in the spread of human rights and human freedom. But protection of U.S. citizens properly trumps all the rest of them. Now many of us, and I’m one of them, view the fact that if we hold ourselves and carry ourselves correctly in the world in terms of traditional respect for human freedoms and human rights, we actually lessen the possibility that the president would have to commit force to protect us. On the other hand, go around pissing everybody off all the time then we’ve got a little different problem. [audience reaction] But, uh, but my point of view, the, the men and women who were the fathers of our republic and the great architects, the great builders of our nation, those great presidents and all those [garbled] have shared a view that the world is safer when we’re engaged across the board in the protection of human freedoms and human rights. It is the manner in which we’re engaged which is important. If we try to put democracy on somebody through military force, that’s quite a different proposition. From trying to develop all the institutions, and the parties, and free press, and transparency and good governance that necessarily has to precede a competent and democracy.
Question: …What is the main thing, or the main action that you’ve taken in your whole career that you think has greatly influenced the world and America?
Richard Armitage: I think I’ve got two. Can I have two?
Question: Yes. [laughter]
Richard Armitage: In two thousand and two, in summer, India and Pakistan were going to war. And Secretary Powell and I stopped it. Stopped it dead. [applause] The other thing is, is quite different. Uh, the day Saigon fell. I had been sent back to Saigon, five days, four and a half days before the fall for a particular mission for the government. I was to destroy some things and I was to make sure certain equipment didn’t fall into the hands of the communists. Well, along the way I developed with the CNO of the Vietnamese Navy a plan to get thirty-one thousand people out, but didn’t tell our government. But I was so mad at my government because I’d thought they cut and run. And I thought we owed this. And so we brought out thirty-one thousand people with, the U.S. government was furious when they found out they had a big, much bigger refugee problem than they, they had thought. But that action actually found pretty good favor in the public and in, in the Congress when it turned out that we eventually ended up taking out hundreds of thousands of refugees. Which, as far as this citizen is concerned, has dramatically helped our country. [applause]….