Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, said on Monday that he agrees with the position, stated mainly by Sen. Barack Obama, that the U.S. would benefit from having direct talks with the leaders of its most distrusted adversaries.
"Absolutely," said Scowcroft, when asked by The Huffington Post whether he thought the next president should meet with the likes of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "It's hard to make things better if you don't talk."
Scowcroft, a former Air Force general who is widely considered to be one of the preeminent foreign policy minds in the United States, was appearing at an event with Henry Kissinger at Georgetown University. His take on U.S. diplomatic outreach comes as Obama's position -- to meet with our enemies even without preconditions -- has gotten the Illinois Democrat routinely criticized as naive and inexperienced from his Democratic and Republican rivals. Scowcroft declined, when asked, to directly assess the foreign policy platform of any of the presidential candidates. But he briefly outlined what he thought was the best steps forward in Iraq.
"Our goal in Iraq is to leave an Iraq that produces more stability in the region and not chaos. And that's going to take time," he said. "[It will take troop presence] for a long time...I think gradually security is improving and as it improves we can reduce troop levels. But what we need to do is provide an environment in which their political evolution continues."
Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Scowcroft expressed public misgivings concerning the course of action. In 2002, he wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled, "Don't Attack Saddam," and warned that action against Iraq, without a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "could turn the whole region into a cauldron and thus destroy the war on terrorism."
Scowcroft has since warned about the dangers of a precipitous troop withdrawal from the country. In May 2007, he was quoted in the Financial Times as saying: "If we get out before Iraq is stable, the entire Middle East region might start to resemble Iraq today. Getting out is not a solution." In invading Iraq, "we created a revolution; a social and religious revolution," he said. The U.S. should "gradually withdraw from inter-sectarian warfare. Shia versus Sunni is not a problem we can solve."
Yet a New York Times story published earlier this month identified Scowcroft as part of a group of Republican advisers concerned that McCain "might be coming under increased influence from a competing camp, the neoconservatives, whose thinking dominated President Bush's first term and played a pivotal role in building the case for war."
"Scowcroft is said to have expressed reservations about Mr. McCain's call for creating a League of Democracies as a complement to the United Nations," the Times reported. "An associate of Mr. Scowcroft said he viewed it as an effort to diminish the United Nations -- a target of scorn among neoconservatives -- and inhibit engagement with enemies."