Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Photos from AFP/Getty Images.

Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Photos from AFP/Getty Images.

According to writer and scholar David Rothkopf, the U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented sense of vulnerability and fear. For his latest book, he investigates the past decade of American policies abroad, from the early days of Bush to second-term Obama. And what he finds is a series of foreign policy extremes that has left the U.S. without a clear sense of identity and direction. He emphasizes the importance of understanding what drives our leaders and the people around them…and how their styles of governance shape key decisions for our nation. David Rothkopf on the people and the choices that have defined this period in American history…and the way forward from here.


  • David Rothkopf CEO and editor of the FP group (which publishes Foreign Policy Magazine); author of "Superclass" and "Power, Inc."; president and CEO of the international advisory firm Garten Rothkopf; visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and former U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Policy.


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Over the past decade, U.S. leaders have struggled to confront the unique difficulties facing the nation, from new brands of terrorist threats to a financial crisis and beyond. Many of the decisions have been shortsighted says writer and scholar David Rothkopf, publisher of Foreign Policy Magazine. For his latest book, he interviewed nearly 150 of the Bush- and Obama-era decision makers. He lays out the failures of the nation and its leaders, from over concentrating power in the White House to a series of foreign policy missteps at a moment in U.S. history that Rothkopf says stands apart from all others.

  • 11:07:46

    MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled, "National Insecurity." David Rothkopf joins me in the studio. You are always a welcome guest on this program. So join us by phone, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to you, David Rothkopf.

  • 11:08:15

    MR. DAVID ROTHKOPFIt's a pleasure to be here.

  • 11:08:17

    REHMYour subtitle is "American Leadership in an Age of Fear." Why do you call this an age of fear in America?

  • 11:08:29

    ROTHKOPFWell, I think from September 11, 2001 onward, for a variety of reasons, we have had a sense of heightened vulnerability that we haven't had since perhaps the darkest days of the Cold War or perhaps even the beginning of World War II. We saw, all of us together, in a way that had never happened in American history, 17 acres of lower Manhattan leveled, people jumping from the building. We had a visceral reaction. And then political leaders and people in the media capitalized on that, went with it, and I think we went to a period of overreaction and then into kind of a PTSD -- a national PTSD, you know, where everything that happened subsequently also produced overreaction or that sense of vulnerability.

  • 11:09:21

    REHMBut of course we've had other tragedies in this country. But you feel 9/11 was really special.

  • 11:09:33

    ROTHKOPFIt was different. It was, you know, I mean, Pearl Harbor happened and -- but most people saw that two weeks later in a movie theater, in a newsreel, some grainy shots, or they read about it in the paper. And so for most people, the reaction to something like that was intellectual. It went through their brain. This went through our gut. And our politicians saw that, reacted to it themselves. But they also took advantage of it and they used it to justify overreach, justify setting aside the Constitution, justify doing a lot of things that in retrospect were unjustifiable.

  • 11:10:11

    REHMSo how did we, the country, get pushed into the wrong direction?

  • 11:10:19

    ROTHKOPFWell, in a way it was because we responded to a terror attack the way a terrorist wants you to respond to a terror attack. In other words, we succumb to the terror. We took a group that, at the time of 9/11, most estimates have core al-Qaida as 100 people. You know, this was not an existential threat. This was not the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons that could destroy the world. And yet, what we did was we said this is equivalent to that. We used our sort of -- our sense memory of the last big enemy we saw and we captured and we rechanneled and we said, Okay, this is an existential threat to the United States. And if we don't deal with it, we will become potentially changed as a society.

  • 11:11:11

    ROTHKOPFOf course the trap in that is that we changed as a society and we allowed ourselves to let these, you know, extremists living in caves on the other side of the world -- who didn't have an army, a navy, an air force, a country behind them -- we let them have us change our principles, our constitution, our strategy, our sense of where threats lay in the world. And then we let other things that happened subsequent to that, whether it was the financial crisis or -- or then the fear of doing what we had done before produced this chain reaction of overreaction followed by under reaction followed by doubt about who we are.

  • 11:11:52

    REHMSo at the heart of all this, you say, are the leaders that we have had, the decisions they've made, how they've made those decisions. What was the first decision where you think we went wrong?

  • 11:12:14

    ROTHKOPFWell, I think, if you look at the first two weeks after 9/11, the president had a lot of support. The people responded around him in the way that almost any administration would. But, you know, you read the accounts of the time, you talk to the people that were there, it was towards the end of that period that you started hearing, Let's go after Iraq. Let's extend this. Let's take all the threats we've seen and conflate them together. And so what did we do? We ended up invading a country that shouldn't have been invaded. We ended up sending troops into a region that we would upset more by entering the region than by handling it another way.

  • 11:12:54

    ROTHKOPFAnd we started compounding the threat, making the threat worse and ultimately triggering a chain of events where, today, there are more terrorists, more terrorist groups, more terrorist attacks, more terrorist casualties than there have (technical) time in modern history. So we didn't make it better.

  • 11:13:15

    REHMWhat do you think the right approach would have been following 9/11?

  • 11:13:23

    ROTHKOPFI think the right approach would have been -- identify the perpetrators, identify the best means of getting at the perpetrators, go after those perpetrators, simultaneously use the fact that there was global public opinion against these people and start creating multilateral responses in terms of intelligence, in terms of using financial mechanisms to undercut these people, in terms of going in periodically using tools of law as well as tools of war to capture potential threats and bring them to justice, without inflaming an entire region, putting a lot of Americans at risk, costing trillions of dollars and actually pouring gasoline on the flames of the kind of extremist message that existed.

  • 11:14:14

    REHMSo you're talking about Bush and Cheney.

  • 11:14:21

    ROTHKOPFI think we're talking about Bush and Cheney. I think we're talking about Rumsfeld. I think we're talking about a number of the people that were in that core group that succumbed to this. You know, and I would like to say, you know, one of the things that I try to do in the book is I try to pull away the partisanship. Because I think that, you know, the heightened partisanship in Washington has led to a discussion that doesn't enable us to see what went wrong or what went right or how we fix it. I think, at that moment in time, there were a lot of Democrats who supported these actions. The Iraq War was supported on a bipartisan basis.

  • 11:14:57

    ROTHKOPFA lot of people were going along with this. And so it was a national phenomenon that they responded to in the wrong ways. And so, you know, I think that the core group around the president presented him with choices that were the wrong choices. I think the president, perhaps acting in what he thought was the national best interest, made the wrong choices and followed through with them. And I think the story of the ensuing period is then responding to our wrong choices, rather than to the threats that were out there.

  • 11:15:33

    REHMAnd now, looking at the Middle East, would you say that President Obama has gotten himself involved in the wrong choices?

  • 11:15:48

    ROTHKOPFYeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, one of the things that as we look back on this period we're going to see, is that Bush made a wrong choice and the signature act of that wrong choice was the war in Iraq. Obama overreacted in the opposite direction and the signature mistake he has made is going to be a war in Iraq, because of a variety of things and perhaps the best intentions of both men, but both living the context of this era of fear.

  • 11:16:17

    ROTHKOPFAnd Obama got elected, and said -- I'm not going to do what Bush did, I'm afraid of those same kind of involvements -- and went too far, then, in the way of not getting into any involvements, not building the right kind of coalitions, not undertaking the right kind of steps earlier that might have prevented this kind of...

  • 11:16:34

    REHMBut one of the things you talk about in the book is in -- whether you're talking about Bush or Obama -- you're talking about a concentration of power in the White House.

  • 11:16:49

    ROTHKOPFRight. And I think that that has gotten worse over this period of time. You know, when Henry Kissinger was the national security advisor, there were 30-ish people on the National Security Council. When Bush was president, it was a couple of hundred people. Now, today, according to the National Security Council, there's 370 people on the National Security Council. And even within that, which represents a concentration, in this particular White House, you've got a very small group around the president who have special influence. And he's not really taking the best advantage of his whole cabinet.

  • 11:17:21

    ROTHKOPFAnd if you talk to people within this administration, they will say, this is not a White House that empowers other agencies. It's a White House that assumes the prerogative of other agencies and micromanages from within. And that's dangerous, whether it's Democrats or Republicans, because as you say, you know, you mentioned the Middle East. Look at the Middle East today. Libya, Egypt, Israel, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, into Pakistan -- this is just the Middle East -- how many crises is that? You can't manage that with a couple of hundred people. You need a whole government.

  • 11:18:00

    REHMDid all of what we now see not only begin with 9/11, but with the immediate reaction to 9/11 by going into Iraq?

  • 11:18:20

    ROTHKOPFNo. I think a lot of what we see began with going into Iraq. Part of what we see is the decay of the Middle East. Part of what we see is that these systems do not work, are not empowering their people, and that's creating an opportunity for extremists to sell their message successfully.

  • 11:18:41

    REHMDavid Rothkopf, his new book is titled, "National Insecurity." Short break. Right back.

  • 11:19:57

    REHMAnd welcome back. David Rothkopf who is publisher of -- what are you publisher of?

  • 11:20:06

    ROTHKOPFI'm actually the CEO and editor of Foreign Policy Magazine.

  • 11:20:09

    REHMForeign Policy Magazine. We have so many of your wonderful reporters on this program including one of my very favorites. David Rothkopf is the author of a brand new book. It's titled "National Insecurity." We're talking about what has happened since 9/11 through two administrations, how the world has changed and how Americans now feel a sense of fear of what's going on in the world. How has President Obama grown as a leader during this period of fear in America?

  • 11:21:06

    ROTHKOPFI'm afraid one of the most disappointing things for people who supported President Obama -- and I was in the Clinton Administration and I -- you know, those are the circles I travel in largely -- is how he has not grown. You know, Bush did a lot wrong. I think we've stipulated that. I think the first term of the Bush Administration was as bad a period in U.S. foreign policy history as we've seen in the modern era. A lot of big mistakes were made.

  • 11:21:33

    ROTHKOPFBut in 2005 and 2006 Bush said, this is not working. I talked to the people around his team. He said, you know, have you talked to Stephen Hadley, who was his national security advisor, one day. And he was looking at the results from Iraq and he said, our strategy's not working there. And Hadley said, that's right, sir. And Bush said, well then get me a different strategy.

  • 11:21:53

    ROTHKOPFAnd Bush changed his entire team. He got rid of Rumsfeld. He pushed the vice-president back. He shifted Condoleezza Rice to the State Department. He promoted Stephen Hadley. He brought in a new Chief of Staff. He changed the military leadership. He initiated the surge. He also initiated -- and this is sort of lost in the story, you know, PEPFAR in Africa in terms of fighting AIDS. He doubled down on the millennium challenge. He started reaching back out to the allies.

  • 11:22:19

    ROTHKOPFAnd so for all -- you know, we stipulate all the mistakes that were made in the first term. By 2006, 2007 and into 2008 they recognized some mistakes and they began to change them. That's presidential growth. And I think a lot of that comes out of the fact that George Bush had a life full of mistakes and failures. You know, he had failed as a congressman, he had failed in business. He had been an alcoholic. He couldn't have gotten ahead in his life without actually acknowledging some mistakes and getting ahead.

  • 11:22:49

    ROTHKOPFBarack Obama has not shown that. In fact, if you look from his first term team which we've now seen with Panetta and with Gates and with Hillary Clinton, with others within the administration, an unprecedented series of criticisms from people within the administration because they felt that they weren't making an impression, that they weren't being listened to. Now you've gotten into a second term where his team is actually less that team of rivals, less a series of outside voices, more concentrated to his campaign advisors and people who are close to him, less likely to challenge him on issues. And that has made it harder for him to grow.

  • 11:23:29

    REHMAnd to what extent have the actions of the congress made it harder for him to grow?

  • 11:23:38

    ROTHKOPFLook, the dysfunctionality in Washington, the -- having an opposition party that wants the president to get nothing done is absurd, you know. And it's dangerous to the United States. This is irresponsible. It's unpatriotic. The congress has a responsibility to work side by side to find what they can get done and do it and they haven't done it. They've made it hard for the president.

  • 11:24:02

    ROTHKOPFThe president hasn't made it easy for himself. You know, if you go play golf a couple hundred times and only once with a Democratic legislator, you're not trying. You know, you're not really making an effort. If you go out on the hustings and you don't let those legislators up on the platform with you, you're not really trying. So he could've built bridges to the other side. But there is no question that we are living in a moment right now where the United States congress is as dysfunctional and irresponsible as it has ever been.

  • 11:24:31

    ROTHKOPFAnd yet, you watch, next week there'll be an election and the majority of people elected to the congress and Senate will be incumbents. Because the American people have not yet grown sufficiently fed up with a system that's corroded by campaign finance, that rewards incumbents, that rewards partisanship. And, you know, that's a big part of our problem so you can't blame it all on the executive branch by any means.

  • 11:25:01

    REHMDo you believe the Republicans will take the Senate?

  • 11:25:06

    ROTHKOPFI know what I see and I read. I think that they will make some gains in the House. I think they will make some gains in the Senate. That's what happens in these kind of off-year elections. I think it's more likely than not that they get to the point where they actually take the Senate.

  • 11:25:22

    REHMAnd to what extent will that change the dimension of what happens not only domestically but in foreign policy?

  • 11:25:33

    ROTHKOPFWell, given that they don't get anything done as it is, you know, you can hardly get less than nothing done. You know, I think the atmosphere is going to be lousy but, you know, you know Washington better than anybody. You know, on the -- one minute after midnight on Election Day in the rest of the country it's a day later.

  • 11:25:51

    ROTHKOPFIn Washington it'll be 2016. Everybody will be talking about the campaign. Everybody will be talking about who's the next president. Obama will be twice the lame duck that he is. He will try to do things by executive order. He will make some progress on things like EPA regulations. He will make some progress on places where he can actually take independent action.

  • 11:26:14

    ROTHKOPFAnd having a more Republican congress may actually let him make some progress on things like trade where the Democrats are actually the opposition or a drag on things. But, you know, I wouldn't expect any result in the next election is going to be produce a renaissance in productivity on Capitol Hill.

  • 11:26:34

    REHMWhat do you believe this country ought to be doing now in regard to the Middle East? If you saw an optimal way to go, what would it be right now?

  • 11:26:54

    ROTHKOPFWell, you know, one of the things that we've lost is a sense of the strategic. And I think the first thing to do is to step back and say, what are our interests in the Middle East? What's changing in the Middle East? And one thing I would say, by the way, which is counterintuitive is all the headlines we're seeing, all the chaos we're seeing right now, the fact that the Middle East is in the news so much, that's not a sign of its growing importance. It's actually a sign of its growing irrelevance.

  • 11:27:19

    ROTHKOPFYou know, look at a couple things that have happened there. Absolutely amazing, right? In the course of the past six months you've had more fighting in the Middle East than at any time since the flood, okay. Stock markets have not responded. They don't care. Oil prices have gone down. They're at $85 now. They're at unprecedented low. That's not what's supposed to happen. Why has that happened? Because the markets have discounted the region. They've hedged their exposures in the region. They have come to the conclusions this is not a place you can deal with.

  • 11:27:50

    ROTHKOPFBut countries have to deal with it. And if we're going to look at the region, one of the lessons of the past 15 years is, we need allies in the region and we need to build a real permanent coalition among moderate allies in the region, recognizing none of them are going to be perfect by our standards. But all of them can help us advance our interests. And we have alienated a lot of those countries over the course of the past five, six, seven years.

  • 11:28:18

    ROTHKOPFAnd I think beyond that we need a strategy for dealing with violent extremism. Not ISIS per say, not Jabhat al-Nusra, not Ansar al-Sharia or Hamas or al-Qaida in each of its incarnations, but all of them, which means economic empowerment, political empowerment for moderate Sunnis, especially the empowerment of women. Because if we empower women in these societies that sucks the oxygen out of the room for these extremists.

  • 11:28:46

    ROTHKOPFAnd look at the fierceness with which the Kurdish women are fighting ISIS. Look at the fact that, you know, the emirates air force, when it went in to attack was led by a woman who was a fighter pilot who was a major in the emirates air force. There is a story here about the empowerment of women that those directly contrary to the medieval attitudes towards genders, which is central to the message of ISIS and central to the message of the extremists.

  • 11:29:16

    ROTHKOPFSo I -- there is not one thing in the toolbox. But the mistake we can't make is targeting one group in one place with just a brute force strategy that doesn't foster an alternative, foster organization, grassroots institutions on the ground to fill in the void where they are and to offer a better alternative. And that's where we ought to be focused.

  • 11:29:41

    REHMSo putting aside party for a moment, putting aside ideology, what kind of a president does this country need in the next election? What are the characteristics of that person?

  • 11:30:03

    ROTHKOPFWell, first of all, the United States government is the biggest most complicated organization in the world.

  • 11:30:09

    REHMYou bet.

  • 11:30:10

    ROTHKOPFSo for us in Washington to devalue management as a skill set is hubris. It's silly. You know, we constantly make the mistake in Washington of thinking that the ability to articulate a goal is the same thing as the ability to get it done. It's not. We need people who know how to manage the system to have some executive experience. But it's not just that. You need a certain kind of sets of experience. Foreign policy is domestic policy. 9/11 taught us that. Problems elsewhere in the world are problems at home. But five out of the last six presidents have been elected with effectively no foreign policy experience. Another problem.

  • 11:30:50

    ROTHKOPFYou also need presidents who have the strength of character to surround themselves with quality leaders and to empower those leaders because the government is too big, the problems are too diverse. The secret of leadership is empowering the people that work for you and having a strong cabinet and subcabinet to be able to lead in all of those institutions.

  • 11:31:12

    ROTHKOPFFinally, one of the things that the course of the past 15 years has shown us is you need a president who's actually willing to be challenged and able to challenge himself, who will acknowledge when they make mistakes. You know, one of the things that I think happens in Washington is -- or anywhere in the United States, is we go and elect a president and we think, this is the next Washington. This is the next Jefferson. This is the next Roosevelt. And it almost always is the next Rutherford B. Hayes.

  • 11:31:39

    ROTHKOPFYou know, we almost always elect somebody who's in the middle. And we need a system that's going to accept and counteract the flaws and weaknesses of whoever we get because we're not going to elect a perfect president. And the odds are against elected a great one.

  • 11:31:54

    REHMThink about the current Ebola crisis and the feat that that has generated, not only in this country but in other parts of the world. What should the president be doing about it right now?

  • 11:32:15

    ROTHKOPFWell, first of all, I think what we are right now is more or less what we should've been doing several weeks or several months ago. We had every African leader in the world in Washington in August. You may remember that, and there was an opportunity to go and raise and address this but a lot of people said, oh, we don't want to do that. It's a distraction. Clearly that was a mistake.

  • 11:32:37

    ROTHKOPFHaving said that, I think the thing that the president needs to do -- needed to do early on is get the people who are public health professionals who are responsible for this together to interact with them and to empower them. CDC may have made some mistakes but CDC was in the position to fix those mistakes.

  • 11:32:56

    ROTHKOPFI have a lot of sort of background experience with public health professionals. It's not the same as everything else to go and pick somebody like Ron Klain who I think a lot of, who's a very capable talented guy and to say, okay, he's now going to fix the system that he's never worked in, with problems he's never dealt with is just absurd. It'd be like saying, you know, he's a good manager. We're going to put him in charge of invading Iraq. You know, the military would go crazy. People would go, you can't do that. He doesn't have experience. And yet we're saying we're going to take somebody with no public health experience and put them in charge of that?

  • 11:33:30

    REHMDavid Rothkopf. His new book is titled "National Insecurity." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email, David. "Can you talk about the role of the news media in conflating and exaggerating the threats after 9/11?"

  • 11:33:58

    ROTHKOPFI think the news media played an egregious and unhelpful role. The media likes pictures. It likes emotion. It likes conflict and it likes things that grab attention. And, you know, if the headline the next morning is "Al-Qaida threat not as big as we thought," turn it off, change the channel, find something else. So we play to the big drama.

  • 11:34:22

    ROTHKOPFYou know, this is why -- you know, the Malaysian airliner crashes and, you know, for the next two months we're like, well, you know, space aliens, whatever it was, you know, that was going to attract eyeballs to those broadcasts ended up focusing on this. So it sensationalizes. The other thing the media does, and it's gotten worse and worse, is it plays to type into particular groups. We now have a liberal team and a conservative team. They're listened to by liberals and conservatives. It's an echo chamber. People tone into news flavored with the spices of their own political inclinations, right.

  • 11:35:00

    ROTHKOPFWell, this doesn't help anything because everything has a built-in bias to it. People aren't actually listening to the facts or approaching things on an objective basis. And it exacerbates this partisan divide which has contributed to the paralysis we were talking about earlier.

  • 11:35:16

    REHMAnd here's an email from Chris. "Could you just name a couple of freedoms you believe we lost after September 11. Getting on a plane without being searched was not a constitutional freedom. It was a nice convenience. Can you name real concrete freedoms we've lost?"

  • 11:35:46

    ROTHKOPFWell, you know, I think a constitutional freedom is the Fourth Amendment which guarantees us against, you know, illegal search and seizure. And we've seen through the NSA crisis that members of the United States government have determined among themselves that metadata is not covered by the Fourth Amendment. Although, you know, if you put the founding fathers in a room and you said this is a kind of data that can say where you are, who you are, who you're communicating with and so forth and therefore it's exactly the same as a diary or datebook or something written on paper, they'd say, yes, that should be protected.

  • 11:36:24

    ROTHKOPFSo I think we have lost some of the protections there. I also think, you know, there are protections regarding due process that a lot of Americans who ran on the wrong side of this might feel that they had lost themselves because thanks to the Patriot Act and thanks to decisions that were made in the immediate wake of it, we said, you know, this whole torture thing, you know, we found a gray area in here. Maybe it's okay to do this in these particular areas. Well, you know, that's something that's prohibited by the constitution. And that's something that we ended up on the wrong side of too.

  • 11:37:06

    REHMDavid Rothkopf and his new book "National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear." When we come back, your comments, your calls. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:39:52

    REHMAnd welcome back. Time to go to the phones. 800-433-8850. First to Charlie in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:40:09

    CHARLIEHi, thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:40:11


  • 11:40:12

    CHARLIEI am, unfortunately, one of those people who was very much a supporter of the war in Iraq, just like a vast majority of the country, as your guest described. And he described this as a bipartisan issue. Everyone was on board with this war, and as we've gone and spent years from first entering into the war, I recall back to the buildup where the last of us who got on board were driven to do so by the urging of our elected officials. And they were touting evidence that was -- couldn't be refuted.

  • 11:40:54

    CHARLIEAnd all of a sudden, now we find that maybe this evidence was falsified or fabricated. And I'm curious to know from your guest whether that falsification or fabrication that led to the sweeping support of that mistake is really a bipartisan issue? Or if this is really -- is it fair, in other words, to say that, you know, both Republicans and Democrats supported this war? Or is it really that one party drove us towards this mistake by, you know, less than ethical measures?

  • 11:41:34

    REHMThanks for calling.

  • 11:41:36

    ROTHKOPFFirst of all, you know, I think there were Democratic supporters, but this was a Republican led effort. And I think we have to give the administration, you know, the responsibility for the actions that they took. Having said that, you know, we can explore, we can speculate on the origins of the bad analysis regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I had a conversation with Steve Hadley, who later became the National Security Advisor, in which one of the things he said was that in looking back at it, he wonders whether one of the mistakes that they made was not appreciating fully the degree to which Saddam Hussein was covering his tracks on this.

  • 11:42:19

    ROTHKOPFIn order to send a message to the Iranians that they had something that they didn't have. I think it's pretty murky. Clearly, when we look back on it, it was the wrong war in the wrong place for the wrong reasons, with the wrong evidence. Fought the wrong way, presented the wrong way. And there's no way to present it as something that we should have done or that helped us. Having said that, once we were in it, there were better ways to approach it and less good ways to approach it. And it even took us a couple of years to get towards the better way to approach it.

  • 11:42:54

    ROTHKOPFWhich was done towards the end of the administration. Having said that, once we were leaving, there was a good way to leave and a bad way to leave. And we left too quickly without attending to the political issues or, you know, fully appreciating the weakness of the Iraqi army or the threat of potential extremists there. So, we got in in the wrong way, we got out in the wrong way. And that's why we're back.

  • 11:43:18

    REHMI think our caller's question, though, reflects the attitude of many people, which is that we, the American people, were duped. Duped into believing that there were weapons of mass destruction. Duped into believing that if we did not go into Iraq, disaster would result. And that really does cause for some responsibility.

  • 11:43:56

    ROTHKOPFNo, it absolutely does, and I think the best proof of that is if you remember back in the months before we went into Iraq, the United States was looking for allies. And we were essentially rationale shopping. And we went around and we said, what if we went in for this reason? Or what if we went in for that reason? And the only reason that resonated with the British and with other Europeans was, well, if there were weapons of mass destruction there. So, that then became our central reason.

  • 11:44:18

    ROTHKOPFWe overemphasized it, and it led us to oversell the quality of the intelligence that we had. So, in that respect, duped is a good word. And the consequences are still unfolding to this day.

  • 11:44:36

    REHMIndeed. To Greensboro, North Carolina. Hi there, Joseph.

  • 11:44:42

    JOSEPHHi Diane. Very nice to talk to you and talk to your guest. I love your show.

  • 11:44:47

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:44:49

    JOSEPHOne caller already, or actually, one emailer already asked my question about the role that the press plays in our policy makers' decision making process. I struggle with the liberal press and the conservative press. And I listen to both outlets to try and form an opinion, because neither one of them are trustworthy. But I want to ask your guest, if he were king for a day, and could make one law that could never be rescinded, such as, you know, I guess I'm planting a seed here, such as term limits or campaign refinance, et cetera.

  • 11:45:26

    JOSEPHWhat law would he make to improve or change our government for the better? And one other question I have is do you feel, well, would it be fruitful to have more -- bigger penalties for basically lying in a campaign, like campaign commercials? I don't know what to believe. I don't know what's true and what's not true. And thanks, and again, great show.

  • 11:45:54


  • 11:45:55

    ROTHKOPFI think that if, you know, I think you've put your finger on a very serious problem. We have a broken political system and the place it's broken is at the campaign finance area. You know, primaries don't matter, except the money primary, where candidates go out and they figure out whether they're going to be able to raise the millions or the tens of millions or the hundreds of millions they're going to need to be a Congressman, a Senator, a Governor or President of the United States. Well, that means the people who've got the hundreds of millions have more of a vote than the other people.

  • 11:46:26

    ROTHKOPFAnd that, in fact, was something that was effectively ratified into law by the Citizens United decision, which is as egregiously bad a decision that's been made by the United States Supreme Court. As one Congressman said, since the Dred Scott decision. Because essentially, what it's doing is saying money is speech. And therefore, people with more money have more speech. That's wrong, so if you want to start someplace, let's start with real campaign finance reform.

  • 11:46:55

    ROTHKOPFShorter campaigns, perhaps publicly financed campaigns where it's a level playing field and we're not allowing the people and special interests who've got access to cash to put their thumb on the scale of American democracy.

  • 11:47:10

    REHMI must say, I do agree with our caller about lying in campaign ads. I mean, people cannot understand what the real issues are when, in fact, people are hurling diatribes at each other.

  • 11:47:29

    ROTHKOPFAbsolutely. And I've seen recently, in the past couple of days, some campaign ads from now, which are just appalling in terms of both they're sort of playing to the lowest common denominator. And coming to grotesque conclusions and misrepresenting the views of opponents. I think if you had publicly financed campaigns, if you had shorter campaigns, if you had clearer rules, we wouldn't have this. But you know something, at the end of the day, in the US system, the boss is the people. And right now, the people are not voting out these guys.

  • 11:47:58

    ROTHKOPFThey're not saying this matters to them. If people thought they weren't going to get elected unless they supported campaign finance change, then they'd support it. But, you know, the American people are sitting on their hands on this.

  • 11:48:10

    REHMTo Mark in Silver Lake, Ohio. Hi there. You're on the air.

  • 11:48:16

    MARKThis is one of your best shows. I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying this.

  • 11:48:20

    REHMMe too.

  • 11:48:22

    MARKBut I wanted, I wanted to evoke what I thought was a very surreal moment, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, when President Bush and Rudy Giuliani went before the American people. And advised us to change nothing. To go for a drive, to go shopping, the message was, if you change your way of life in any way, they win. And I compared that to what my parents' generation, the Great Depression/World War II generation did after Pearl Harbor, where everybody sacrificed.

  • 11:48:57

    MARKNow, I'm not suggesting that the nation needed to sacrifice in the way it did during World War II, but I'd like to ask Mr. Rothkopf if he was sending a message to the American people, after the 9/11 attacks. What might it have been, other than don't change anything?

  • 11:49:18

    ROTHKOPFWell, you know, I think in that statement, there was sort of the kernel of a good idea. If you look at countries, whether it's Columbia or Israel or Sri Lanka or other places that face terrorism on a regular basis, one of their messages is, don't let the terrorists reset our patterns of life. Don't let them be in charge. And I think that's kind of what they were getting at. I think, however, you have to combine that with a message that gives people faith that we're actually going to prevent future attacks and go after terrorists in a way that's effective.

  • 11:49:51

    ROTHKOPFWe didn't do that. You know, we went after countries when non-state actors were the threat. We went big when going small was the right response. We went military when going with intelligence and police and a combination of special forces was the right response. We didn't score early victories in the way that would have given people confidence. You can't tell people to pretend it's not happening and at the same time go, this is an existential threat to the United States.

  • 11:50:21

    ROTHKOPFThis is gonna change our way of life. These people hate us. You know, we were also sending a mixed signal. So, you can't send a mixed signal, either.

  • 11:50:29

    REHMNo mixed signals, but you've got to send a signal that fits the occasion.

  • 11:50:37


  • 11:50:37

    REHMAnd somehow, the signals that were sent didn't match what had happened to the country.

  • 11:50:46

    ROTHKOPFWell, that's right. And I think that's largely, not because they said, you know…

  • 11:50:50

    REHMGo out and shop.

  • 11:50:50

    ROTHKOPF...go on about your business. It's not that, it's that they said, oh my God, here comes this threat. It's gonna change your way of life. These people hate us. You know, this kind of fundamentally anti-Islamic, you know, message, this message that somehow, these few guys had the capability of destroying America. They didn't. What they did have the ability to do was to scare America into the wrong kind of actions. And that's precisely what happened.

  • 11:51:17

    REHMHere's an email from David, who says, I think the root cause of terrorism is the fact the US has been meddling in those Middle East countries for decades. I'd like to hear you opinion on that.

  • 11:51:35

    ROTHKOPFI don't think we've helped matters by going in and fighting the Iraq War, but the root cause of terrorism, which existed long before the United States went into these regions, has to do with the fact that these are dysfunctional, non-representative societies for the most part. That nobody is offering a way, within the system, for people to get ahead. And that allows people on the extremes to essentially go in and say, well, you can't succeed within this system. Come our way, and so the fertile ground for this was laid, essentially, by leaders within the region.

  • 11:52:09

    ROTHKOPFAnd I think we have to recognize that, because the solution lies in changing that domestic equation within those countries.

  • 11:52:18

    REHMOkay, but suppose we had not gone into Iraq. What do you think that whole region would look like today, if we had not?

  • 11:52:33

    ROTHKOPFWell, I don't know. I do believe this. I think, because the way we went in, it looks worse.

  • 11:52:38


  • 11:52:38

    ROTHKOPFBecause we removed some stabilizing forces, it's less stable. Because we de-Bathified the army, and pushed those guys looking for a team that they could join, they're now working for ISIS. I think we can make a long list of things that we did to make it worse. But I don't know that the Arab Spring was necessarily triggered by what's going -- you know, what we did. I think that there are deep, deep problems in societies that exclude women, exclude the bottom, reward people at the top.

  • 11:53:09

    ROTHKOPFAnd in societies where groups that play to the extremes, that play to, you know, religious orthodoxies that don't make sense in this particular era, that are intolerant. All have contributed to the problem just as much.

  • 11:53:24

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." When President Obama was elected, some in the country, and the majority in the country, rejoiced with the election of the first black president. I wonder, given the backlash he has received, whether the same thing might happen with the election of the first female president.

  • 11:54:03

    ROTHKOPFWell, I don't think it will. And I think part of that has to do with the political mood. In 2008, when Hillary Clinton ran, and offered essentially a more moderate message, the country really had an appetite to swing away from George Bush. And Barack Obama was kind of the anti-George Bush. He was more credible as the antithesis of George Bush than Hillary Clinton was. We've now gone through a period where we swung to one extreme, which got us into trouble, and then to another extreme, which got us into trouble.

  • 11:54:32

    ROTHKOPFSo, I think the appetite of the American public is going to be something more centrist, responsible, still forward looking, forward leaning in terms of its origins. I think that's why Hillary Clinton will ultimately be the Democratic candidate. I also think that's why the Republican candidate is more likely to come from the moderate part of the party, whether it's Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush. Because the message is going to be not we're going to offer you more Bush, or we're going to offer you more Obama, but enough.

  • 11:54:58

    ROTHKOPFLet's go back to something else. Let's find a way that works, that's not the extreme of overreaction or the extreme of under-reaction. But the sweet spot in the middle, where we can lead, have a balanced reaction, have a strategy, reform coalitions, leverage those alliances around the world. And grow at home, as we've been doing pretty well for the past few years.

  • 11:55:21

    REHMDo you any one of those three people would have the wherewithal, the dynamism, the internal fortitude to create the kind of leadership structure that you think is needed now?

  • 11:55:40

    ROTHKOPFI certainly do. Look, first of all, Hillary Clinton would come to the office with more foreign policy experience than any, you know, recent candidate. Possibly more than anybody since, perhaps, Richard Nixon did when he came to office. So, he was a mixed bag, but on foreign policy, you've got to give him props for having, you know, achieved quite a number of things. You know, she also was within an administration that had its strengths and weaknesses. She saw the weaknesses. She's looked up close at what executive management is like.

  • 11:56:09

    ROTHKOPFI think she understands from her president -- I mean, her husband's experience and also from her experience within this administration, what works and what doesn't. And she had the experience of running 60,000 person State Department, which she attended to. You know, when she was Secretary of State, she was not, you know, off on a plane all the time and not managing the department. She brought in a deputy for management. She empowered her under secretary. She actually made the department work quite successfully.

  • 11:56:36

    REHMAnd Mitt Romney? Again?

  • 11:56:39

    ROTHKOPFWell, you know, I think, you know, one of the amazing achievements of Barack Obama is that he somehow made Mitt Romney relevant again. He's taken this guy who was dull and everybody thought was over, but, you know, this is the guy who said look at Russia. And this was the guy who said we shouldn't have gotten out of Iraq so fast. And all of a sudden, Mitt Romney can run on the I told you so tour.

  • 11:56:59

    REHMDavid Rothkopf. His new book is titled, "National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear." How good to talk with you.

  • 11:57:12

    ROTHKOPFA real pleasure.

  • 11:57:13

    REHMThank you. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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