April 4, 2007
Brent Scowcroft

Ipek Cem was recently in Washington to talk with Brent Scowcroft, one of U.S.'s leading experts on international policy. Their conversation topics included U.S. Foreign policy, the situation in Iraq and U.S.-Turkish relations.

Ipek Cem: Our guest today is General Brent Scowcroft. He is the Chairman of the American Turkish Council, among his many other responsibilities. Welcome to the show.


Brent Scowcroft: Nice to be with you.


Ipek Cem: We are here at the Annual ATC Conference, in Washington. And I believe it's the 26th year.


Brent Scowcroft: Yes, it is.


Ipek Cem: Much has been accomplished over these 26 years, and before. How would you rate the status of the Turkish-US relations? In this day, in 2007.


Brent Scowcroft: I think it is... I think it is improving. You know we had a very good relationship for most of these 26 years. Turkey and the United States have been very close allies for about 50 years, and we have fought side by side, and operated side by side in many of the struggles around the world for those times. The defence relationship is not quite so important, now, and in 2003 we had some problems over the Iraq situation, but since then, the relationship is recovering. And last summer, Foreign Minister Gül and Secretary of State Rice formulated a strategic vision for the two countries as to how we can develop together. So I feel good about it now.


Ipek Cem: In Turkey there is always a debate over is Turkey a strategic partner of the US? Is it not? Has it been kind of dismissed after the veto to sending troops to Iraq? Is there such a title, concept that is in operation right now?


Brent Scowcroft: I don't know what the title would be. I think Turkey is at least as important... maybe more so... in the world today than it was in the days of the Cold War when it was the anchor of the NATO alliance against the Soviet block. But now I think the world is changing and developing so and Turkey is at a crossroads as so many different things... geographic, cultural, commercial... all sorts of things that it really plays a key role, and while the nature of the relationship is changing, I think it is probably more important than ever now.


Ipek Cem: Previously you mentioned that the impact of the defence relationship is not so much on top of the agenda. I'm guessing you're implying that the commercial relations, and the political relations are taking more the place of the defence relationship. How do you view the commercial relationships progressing, because we are always saying the is more to be done, there is more to be done, but...


Brent Scowcroft: Yes. Well. There is always more to be done, but I think we are... and I am speaking for the United States... we're just discovering the commercial relationship because for most of these years we have been allies, it has been almost entirely defence. So the defence business has gone on, but now as I say, that it's not so important, and we're discovering that Turkey is a thriving country. Over the last few years you've made enormous development in rules, in regulations, encouraging economic development and so on, and now some of our largest American corporations are investing in Turkey. So that is becoming to be the driving force in our relationship in addition to the political... but it is, you know, it has a long way to go.


Ipek Cem: In terms of trade relations, clearly the US is a large country with lots of international companies. So the general idea is that US companies come and invest, or partner-up with Turkish companies. Do you see a lot of flow in terms of product and services coming this way from Turkey? Do you see this trend?


Brent Scowcroft: I think there should be... should be more.  One of the problems is American business, by and large doesn't know Turkey (Yes) and doesn't know, you know, the size of the economy, the size of the population, the opportunities. So investment is just beginning, really, and I think the prospects are for much greater flow of trade, in both directions.


Ipek Cem: Institutions like the American Turkish Council in Washington, and there is the Turkish American Business Council in Turkey, clearly contribute to creating more awareness about Turkey. But, you just mentioned, the American companies are just discovering Turkey. You are a man with a wealth of experience around the world... How can we, as Turks, explain ourselves better? Make our case known better commercially, and politically? Are there some tools? You are in the midst of all this, and I'm sure you are giving this advice to many people.


Brent Scowcroft: One of the things that... that you can do, and that the Turkish Embassy in Washington is beginning to do, is to travel around to the various States and give little seminars about the business opportunities in Turkey. Opportunities for trade, for export, import, and so on and so forth.  That helps a lot, because it focuses on businesses, explains to them what is going on and what the opportunities are. I think that's one of the greatest... and one of the things, in addition, that is starting, is greater advertisement about the tourist opportunity for the average American, because Americans love to visit archaeology sites, and so a lot of Americans go to Greece for the antiquities. But what they don't realise is that right next door is Turkey where the volume is actually greater than in Greece, and not only the Greek classic civilisation, but civilisations over and over before it. So, Turkey is an archaeological treasure that is just beginning to be discovered by American tourists.


Ipek Cem: So this is going to have a cross over impact on business and other relations as well.


Brent Scowcroft: I think so


Ipek Cem: You have had many roles in the US Government including National Security Advisor, and we know that you have been a critic of the Iraq war, before even it started, and your position has not changed so much as far as I know over the past couple of years. I'm not going to ask you whether you oppose it or you like it, but rather, what can be done ... the facts on the ground are the facts on the ground. What can be done, starting today, starting next month, to create a more just environment in Iraq and in the region? And also, for US people who are funding, the taxpayers, I think are also at a loss.


Brent Scowcroft: Well... That's a... that's a very difficult question (yes), because there are no easy answers.  It is going to take patience. It is going to take time.  Iraq is a country which is badly broken, and it will take cooperation on everyone's part to put it back together, to make it a stable and prosperous member of the region.  There are no easy ways through it. It's going to take a long time, and we... I hope all of us have the patience to see it through.


Ipek Cem: Now, with a Republican Government, and the Democrats opposing each other on various topics including Iraq, do you see a cohesive way that the current Government is handling, now, the operations in Iraq? It is a very difficult situation, but is it more difficult to move now because there is different parties pulling in different directions?


Brent Scowcroft: Yes. It is more difficult now, because the costs of our operations in Iraq are apparent to all Americans, every day. There are soldiers being killed, hundreds of million dollars spent. The cost to the United States of leaving are not so apparent. So if it İS costly to stay, why not leave, and so it is a very difficult argument to make... but I think that given the situation there now, it would be a disaster to leave prematurely.


Ipek Cem: And... In your opinion, for Iraq to remain as a whole, do you see that that's a possibility, or is it going to be very difficult for the country to remain as a whole?


Brent Scowcroft:  I believe one of the reasons that we have to stay, is I think it it's extremely important for the country to stay as a single country, because all of Iraq's neighbours have a strong interest in what happens in Iraq, and I think the process of Iraq's splitting into several parts could be a  larger regional conflict. I think it would be a very very bad thing to happen.


Ipek Cem:  And Turkey and other neighbouring countries, now, they have an initiative on Iraq and to help the situation. Do you think Turkey can play a more prominent role in helping Iraq through this process?


Brent Scowcroft: I think so, and I hope that would take place, because we have strong military forces there. We don't basically understand the region like Turkey does. Turkey is in, and of, the region. Turkey understands the region, and I think the more it can help in working our way through this very difficult problem, the better off we will all be.


CEM. When we talk about the region, and Turkey, one of the ways that the US and Turkey are allying themselves in the region, in the Caucuses, is through energy policy, and through the many pipelines that have been built, and are going to be built. And then there is China on the rise, and there is Russia with natural gas, and other attributes. How is that policy landscape shaping, in your opinion in the 2000s with new... Turkic republics maybe gaining more power, and China gaining more power?


Brent Scowcroft: I think that Turkey can play a very key role. In energy there is a lot of energy both petroleum, and natural gas in Central Asia, in a way locked up in Central Asia, not easy to get out. One of the obvious routes is through Turkey. Both for Kazhak oil Turkmen gas, and so on and so forth, so I think there is a bright future there, at a time when energy resources are getting more and more scarce for Turkey to play a key role.


Ipek Cem: When you talk about US Turkish relations, these days of course, at the forefront, Armenian genocide proposal, and I know that at ATC, and also personally you are working towards... blocking this legislation. And this legislation has come before, but this time we have the feeling from Turkey that it is a more stronger, point that it could pass. What are the odds, and what could impact the different results?


Brent Scowcroft: It is very difficult to know what the odds are. This is an intensely political issue. Political in the sense that there are Armenian Americans that have a great deal of influence with the Congress, and are pushing hard for this... for this resolution. It... This is not the first year. It has happened over and over again. It is probably a more powerful force this year because of the make-up of the Congress. It's hard to say exactly what the outcome will do. We in the American Turkish Council are working very hard. The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, have written strong letters to the Congress laying out the damage which would be done to US Turkish relations. It's a strange operation, because even if the Resolution passes, it has no practical significance. It doesn't change anything. It is merely an attempt to legislate history. There will be no actual consequences for the passing of the resolution.  The damage it does is psychological. And it is... and it is very very serious.  And we're working in every manner that we can to ensure that it does not pass.


Ipek Cem: It will also impact Turkey's relations with Armenia, inevitably, and it's kind of sad because in these relations have to actually open up further. What are your thoughts on that? Do you feel that people who are for the legislation are very much aligned with politicians in Armenia as well.  I see that... personally I see that as a hindrance of Turkish-Armenian relations.


Brent Scowcroft: One of the problems in Turkish Armenian relations is the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh . At the time that the Soviet Union collapsed and the... the Soviet Republics became independent countries, in Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh has a large Armenian population inside Azerbaijan. A conflict developed there, and drove out most of the Azeris, and it is now occupied by ... I don't know whether they're legally Armenian troops, but they are troops from Armenia, and there are close to, I think, a million refuges in Azerbaijan from that conflict. Now, Turkey and Azerbaijan are very good neighbours and so resolving this very difficult issue is one of those things that spills over to the Armenian genocide issue.


Ipek Cem: And when we look at US-Turkish relations you have the benefit of both positions and history with you. Do you see that the European Union path is going to benefit Turkey to be a stronger regional country, or do you see that as a separate issue?


Brent Scowcroft: I think Turkey and Europe will benefit by Turkey becoming a member of the EU. It is  a controversial issue right now, in the European Union. I think time will demonstrate the benefits of the relationship. I think that it would also help US-Turkish relations. I mean everybody would benefit by increased trade and so on. But I think that, regardless of what happens with Europe, that it is in America's interest, and Turkey's interest to pursue better bi-lateral relationships, as well.


Ipek Cem: I'm a student of political science, by training as well, and when I look at the world today, and I  look at some of the regional conflicts like the Palestinian conflict, what has happened in Lebanon,  and the Iraqi conflict, I am a bit astounded, because, on the one hand it looks as though the world is making a lot of progress towards human rights, towards sharing more with the underprivileged parts of the world – not great progress, maybe, but some progress -  and on the other hand we see billions of dollars wasted in these regions. And it kind of astounds me that really intelligent people in positions of power.... and in the end it comes to this. Is there something we're missing? Is there something that some proponent of progress that we are not paying attention to that we keep falling into the same cycles?


Brent Scowcroft: That's a very good question. I'm not sure I have an answer to it. But I think one of the things that has happened is with globalisation, and the advancement of communications more people know more about the world, and they also know that they're different from other people and so they like to celebrate that difference in many ways, and so what you've had is a surge around the world of countries breaking up into smaller groups and so on, and so forth. That's one of the bad parts of globalisation, because the other part of globalisation is that we are becoming more interdependent: economically, socially, in health, in environment, all of those things. So you've got those contradictory forces going on and one of the big problems we have is how to grapple with those, and to let people celebrate their individuality, but realise that only by a certain association in larger groups can they prosper. That's it. That's what we're going through now, I think.


Ipek Cem: Since the September 11th attacks, and the time after that, we've also seen a polarised world in terms of people of the Islamic faith, that they've felt that they were kind of.... maybe not targeted, but not viewed positively, and they were stereotyped. Do you feel that it is difficult to be a Muslim in the US? In this respect? Within this time period?


Brent Scowcroft: I think it is always more difficult when you are different, but I think it is less difficult in the United States, for example, probably than in Europe, because the United States is not an ethnic group. The United States originally all the people of the United States, except American Indians, are from somewhere else. So there is an instinctive greater tolerance for people who speak different languages, who have different habits, and so on. And so I think we are immigrants, who are different, are less conspicuous in the United States than they are in most countries, for that reason .


Ipek Cem: When you look at US-Turkish relations now, we have talked about the US side, but in terms of the Turkish side, do you see, now, more of a willingness to ally ourselves again with the US?


Brent Scowcroft: I think there is an improvement in our bilateral relationship, although as I look at polls of the Turkish people and their attitudes, their attitude towards the  United States is getting more and more negative.


Ipek Cem: This has more to do with Iraq, I think.


SCOWCROFT. I think... I think it probably does, but nonetheless, if it continues, that's not healthy.  So I think yes, as a whole we are getting to understand each other better and I'm optimistic, but I don't like these trends.


CEM. Ups and downs.


Brent Scowcroft: I think it is mostly US policy, not Americans, but... but that's something which I find worrisome.


Ipek Cem: And just a quick note on the Middle East... the Secretary of State, Rice, met with Foreign Ministers of some Middle Eastern countries recently. That the Middle East is so divided, even amongst the Arab nations which can be the, kind of, leading countries in bringing about some change in the Middle East?


Brent Scowcroft: I think Turkey is in a unique position to be helpful in the Middle east, because there aren't a clash of ethnic groups, of cultures, of religious groups, and so on. But Turkey, in a way, bridges that. It is a Muslim nation, by and large, but it is a secular nation. It is neither Arab, nor Persian and it has a good relationship both with the Arab world and with the Israelis, and so it is uniquely situated, I think, to spread a sense of broader community in this region that has so many intersecting conflicts.


Ipek Cem: Well on that note I'd like to thank you very much for this candid interview.


Brent Scowcroft: Well thank you. It was nice to be with you. Thank you.


This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, NTV networks and Ipek Cem cannot vouch for its accuracy.