The World in 2005Robert D. Kaplan
Remarks to the Open Forum
September 17, 2002
Mr. Kaplan:Thank you. Thank you so much, Alan. I'm glad to be speaking today in the Loy Henderson Auditorium. Loy Henderson was a man who helped significantly in bringing the Shah back to power in Iran in the 1950s. But at the time that he did so, he also warned that we bought ourselves just another generation before there will be some upheaval there. So Loy Henderson really sets the standard in terms of looking ahead, and thinking tragically in order to avoid tragedy in the first place.
In looking ahead, just to give you an idea of how difficult it is, if I were standing before you 100 years ago trying to pinpoint what would be the greatest challenges of the 20th century from the point of view of 1900, it would be very difficult for me to do so, because three words would not have existed in common parlance, or even in most dictionaries at the time: inflation, fascism and totalitarianism. All those words only started to be used in the late 1920s and 1930s. So in regards to this coming century, we may not even have names yet for some of the problems and challenges that we are going to face.
So I am going to try to do something less ambitious: look ahead over the next 40 years or so over the next 10 years. And in doing so I want to keep one thing in mind: that only serious futurology is the study of history. History does not allow you to predict the future. All it can do at its best is give you some vague outline, some vague parameters to make you slightly less surprised for what happens next. And that's about the best you can do.
And when I look at history, one thing is inescapable: that it is not poverty that causes upheavals, revolutions, terrorism; it's precisely the opposite. It's development. The French Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, many of the changes in the Chinese dynasties over the millennia, upheavals in the Ottoman Empire, the revolution in Iran in the late 1970s -- were all preceded by impressive urbanization, population growth and economic dynamism. And it is precisely because of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in particular have been so impressive in terms of economic growth and the creation of middle classes in places as diverse as Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, elsewhere -- it is precisely for all those seemingly good things that we should look forward to a decade of turbulence.
And why? Why is that so? It's because the very word "development," what it really means is on the ground, is that people are being liberated, or they are leaving go of their lives as fatalistic peasants in poor villages and migrating into cities where they earn low-wage jobs. They become part of a sub-proletariat. And on an economist's chart this is improvement. This is development. This is why India has been so impressive, and other countries. But in fact what it does is it releases all these ambitions and yearnings and frustrations and desires for millions of people who are politically quiescent previously, so that these societies, precisely because they are developing successfully, are that much harder to control politically.
If you look at the collapse of many Chinese dynasties, what do you see? And keep in mind that the Communist Party in China is just one more Chinese dynasty from the point of view of two millennia of history. You see gradual urbanization. For years and decades rural workers migrate into the outskirts of cities in search of jobs. They form new organizations, labor unions, self-help groups. And they challenge the existing elites. And they demand all kinds of reforms. And this in many cases will overwhelm the creaky centralized over-bureaucratic regimes so that they can't cope. And that's where you get upheaval.
I would call the Chinese regime a bunch of guys on a magic carpet with a volcano coming up below them. And the reason I use this picture is not because they have been failures. Quite the opposite. They have certainly been the most liberal Chinese regime over the past 100 years of Chinese history. Probably more people in a faster period of time have seen their lives, their material lives and personal freedoms -- not political freedoms, but personal freedoms -- increase over the last 23 years in China. And people can move around. They can buy videos, they can open bank accounts, and they can dress as they want. There's been vast change in China, and it is precisely because of that that China is so unstable. And I am going to get more into that later.
Now, in the 1990s, we saw the fraying at the edges only of this colonial gridwork of states that took shape in the 19th century, was declared dead by 1960, but which in fact has proved very resilient in terms of organizing large swaths of humanity into political zones throughout Africa, South America, Southern Asia, the British empire, the Soviet empire, others. And in the 1990s this only started to crack up at the least important edges. With all due respect, Rwanda, Haiti, Tajikistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Abkhazia -- places like this were marginal even to their own regions. None of them were pivotal. They all had relatively small populations. They were not particularly strategic. Yet look at all the challenges they served up to the international community.
I think that we should expect over the next 10 years or so that we will start to see weakening in bigger more complex, more strategically important societies, whether it's Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Pakistan. I think that the greatest drama occurring now in the sub-continent is the gradual inexorable institutional meltdown of Pakistan. And that the tragedy in Pakistan's history was that Musharraf's coup should have taken place several years earlier than it did, because of all the damage that was done in the mid '90s under what were officially democratic regimes but in fact was a regime that was trying to create a theocratic dictatorship under the guise of democracy through buying off parliamentarians and smuggling tens of billions of dollars abroad. But, as I said, I am going to get into that a bit later.
Now, why do I naturally assume that big states are going to have problems simply because small ones have? Why does it naturally follow? Because of about five reasons I'd like to go in to. The first is demography. Now, when we talk about demography we have to be careful, because these large statistics, such as the world population is going to grow from five or six billion to nine or ten billion -- they are frankly meaningless and uninteresting in terms of what is going to happen in Morocco over the next three years, or what is going to happen in Sinn Province in Pakistan over the next four years. They are far too vague and impressionistic. You want something more specific so that demography can help you in this regard.
If you look at your television screens and you try to unite the one factor that pits violence and instability in Ache in Indonesia with riots in the West Bank, with labor strife in Kenya, it is that all the faces on the screen are young men between the ages of 15 and 30. So what you want -- the only figure you should be interested in is what is going to be the youth population in about 30 or 40 fragile countries around the world, relative to the population at large in that particular country. How dramatically is it growing, if at all? The FBI uses this idea to kind of get a vague, impressionistic sense of where crime rates are going around the U.S. over the next five or six years. And it's fairly accurate. And in terms of saying, you know, the youth population is going to go down, we'll see a slight-- you know, that will account for some decline in crime. And when you look at the youth figures around the world -- while the rate at which world population growth is dropping; in other words, the rate at which world population is growing is coming down, and we are seeing the graying of the world in general, even in Africa though on a much, much, much slower level. But the male youth population in quite a number of countries for the next 10 or 15 years will continue to go up measurably. The top 10 youth bulge countries happen to all be in sub-Saharan Africa: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire, and a number of others. In other words, the places that are already in trouble are going to have over the next decade significantly larger numbers of men between the ages of 15 and 30, many of which will be without jobs, without prospects, who will have migrated into cities. And so leadership in these countries is going to get harder, more challenging rather than less challenging.
And the next five -- in other words, the 11 through 15 youth bulge countries, tend to be in the Middle East: Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank are all in top 15 or 20 in terms of the rate at which the male youth population will grow over the next 10 years. So that's one figure.
And, as any journalist knows, one issue doesn't get you far. The whole thing of observing a society is to put all kinds of things together. It's to be a generalist.
The other thing that goes hand in hand with this is urbanization. It's very interesting. People sometimes wonder what accounts for the phenomenon of militant radical Islam. And I think one reason that isn't stated enough is urbanization. Militant Islam is in a way a reaction and a coping mechanism to urbanization in the Middle East over the last half century. Fifty years ago the Middle East was a pretty rural place. Karachi had a population of only 400,000 in 1947. It now has nine million. And it grows by 400,000 about every 10 or 11 months. Tunis, Rabat, Casablanca, Cairo -- these were cities of a few hundred thousand, a million or so, you know, decades ago. Now Cairo has a population of 10, 14 million -- I don't know. Tunis is two million. These are vast cities. And yet something very interesting has occurred in them. Outside of political strife and outside of the odd pickpocket in the tourist zone, there is relatively no crime, relatively no random crime against strangers in some of these poorest, most badly lit, badly policed cities in the world. Why is that so? It's because religion has risen up to the challenge. When religion had to deal with life only in the villages, religion was -- it was unconscious, unideological. It was part of the movement of daily life from sun-up to sunset. If you are a woman in a small village in Afghanistan, chances are you only saw your male relatives during the day. And so you might not have had to wear a veil. But if you migrated into a refugee encampment in Pakistan, amidst the anonymity of an urban area, suddenly the veil came on because you were among strangers. And all these kids who have migrated from villages into big sprawling cities, where they have been -- big sprawling, pseudo-Western cities with karate films, bad lighting -- all these enticements. In order to keep the family structure together religion has had to reinvent itself in a starker ideological form.
The reason why there has been quite a lot of juvenile delinquency in Israeli development towns is because the Jews from Islamic countries who migrated from the '50s didn't become religious in the process of coming to Israel. They entered a very fiercely secularizing society so that the family structure broke down, and there was nothing to replace it. So you had a significant level of juvenile delinquency and crime. The opposite happened in the Arab world, which is why there is so little crime. But the ironic upshot is that it has provided a kind of fertile petri dish for the emergence of diseased germs, like terrorists, which really is a badly urbanizing phenomenon. So you have urbanization, you have youth bulges.
And then you have resource scarcity. Like demography, it's the matter of getting narrow. Exactly what figure are you looking at? I think the most important issue is water. In the Middle East, where even as 40 percent of the Arab world is 14 years old or younger, over the next two decades or so the availability per capita of potable water is going to go down by almost half in many areas. And that is going to curtail irrigation, which is going to drive even more people into the cities, and let urbanization continue.
And if you want to get a good idea of what all of this looks like, when I am in Jordan, an interesting place to go is Zarka, which is about 40 minutes by minibus north of Amman. It's sort of like a neither-nor of a place -- not urban, not rural -- with vast bazaars that sell shoe laces, car batteries, hardware equipment, new apartment blocks, but not landscaped with sheep and goats walking on the outside. And there's just all these men hanging around, with running shoes without shoelaces, nothing to do -- girls in veils. This is the real face of Jordan and the Middle East increasingly over the coming years. And what this means is stop thinking about the Middle East as countries. Lebanon is already becoming Greater Beirut from the Israeli border in the south to the Syrian border in the north. You see the sprawl enveloping the road between Aleppo and Damascus. You see how Amman is spread out. The next generation of autocrats in the Middle East that's emerging now are going to be less rulers than big city mayors, governing vast urban metroplexes, you know, involved in the whole process of messy municipal politics -- kind of like being a mayor of New York City with 15 boroughs to deal with -- much poorer than the ones now. It's going to be much, much more challenging.
Now, so far I have been talking only about driving forces -- things that are vaguely predictable, that give us some vague insight of the general direction or the general challenges we face. But again -- then again, we are going to have side swipes, unexpected things. There was a conference this morning on AIDS. I don't think anyone in the late 1970s could have predicted AIDS and the instability it would wrack on sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s into the present. What's an example of another kind of sideswipe? I would look at environmental conditions -- things like earthquakes, flash floods. It's not out of the question that at some point in the next 10 or 20 years we'll see an environmental event that will lead to a change of regime in some strategically important country. The Egyptian earthquake in 1992 almost came close to that, where the regime did not react fast enough, distribute blankets, medical care. But the Ikhwan Al-Muslimun, the Muslim Brotherhood, did. So that's the kind of example of the kind of thing that can happen.
And then -- and then of course on the subject of autocrats in the Middle East, I come to what I believe is the most destabilizing force that will cause us the most challenges, and that is the hardest thing for Americans to deal with, and that is the issue of democracy itself.
I think that any U.S. foreign policy in order to be true to its own historical experience and its own values has to promote the expansion of the boundaries of historic liberalism. By historic liberalism I don't mean liberal conservative or liberal in the economic sense. I mean it in the sense that Isaiah Berlin, the philosopher, the Oxford philosopher in the 20th century, meant it: civil society, human rights, the protection of minorities, the rule of law, protection from onerous and unpredictable changes in taxation. In other words, good government, good leadership. But the complication is that the world is a very varied place, with over 190 countries. And those things that I just mentioned in all places will not necessarily in the short term be promoted by holding elections as soon as possible. In fact, holding elections as soon as possible may be the opposite here.
To a certain extent, we have all been prisoners of language, because when we talk about democracy we mean different things. When a president or a Secretary of State mentions it, I don't think he means or she means that when you get into a room with Hosni Mubarak you say to him, "Now, you have 90 days to hold an election." So I think we have to be very cognizant of this contradiction, that democracy tends to be best when it's instituted last, after you already have institutions that function, after you do have a middle class of some kind, after the big issues of the society have been answered, so that the weak minority governments in parliament can spend their time arguing about what they consider primary issues, but which in fact are secondary issues. When that occurs, then you have democracy as sort of the icing on the cake.
But the challenge we face is that democracy is occurring all over the world in places with inflation rates and unemployment rates very similar to that of Germany when Hitler came to power democratically, in Italy when Mussolini came to power democratically. And I think the best example of this that really engages our contradictions is Pakistan. And Pakistan is an example of some of the problems we are going to face in the years ahead. Pakistan saw bad illiberal government under two democratically-elected regimes between 1988 and 1999. It saw more liberal government in terms of speaking out on human rights and many other things after a military coup. The military ruler of Pakistan in the '50s, Ayub Khan, was certainly a far more liberal man in terms of his actions than that of the two democratically-elected leaders in the 1990s in Pakistan. In fact, there are two wonderful books coming out this month, one by a New Yorker writer, another by a BBC correspondent. Both of them say that the only future Pakistan has is with Musharraf, and that whatever limitations he has there really is no other way forward there.
But Pakistan just opens up this challenge we face, because let me talk a bit about Central Asia. We have all these what I call -- they are officially new countries -- Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. But in fact all of them are governed by Brezhnev-era central committeemen. And it's a kind of Soviet Union that has been living after the death of the Soviet Union. So these regimes -- Central Asia has not gone through a post-Soviet upheaval yet, with the exception really of Tajikistan. The Caucasus have, with civil wars in the 1990s. Russia has, the Balkan states have. Central Asia doesn't. And Central Asia has even weaker institutions, weaker kind of building blocks for civil society, than Pakistan has, than Iran, than Iraq, than many other places. And yet these regimes will be challenged in the next two or three years, because the very relocation of some of our bases there, the very war on terrorism has risen hopes among the people there for more liberal, historically liberal open government. But the problem is going to be that when these dictators are challenged by their own elites and they are weakened, the replacements may even be worse, or they may not be a replacement at all. And one of the challenges facing government is that the media, the academic community tends to subscribe to the fallacy of good outcomes, meaning there should always be a better alternative to Mubarak, there should always be a better alternative to Musharraf. But what if there isn't? What if there isn't?
In Tunisia, for example, you have a man in government since 1987, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who is a security service heavy, like Putin. He has increased the size of the middle class over 10 times without oil. His political opponents are leftist Nasserites and rightist Islamists who kind of -- who would like to topple him in the name of democracy. Ben Ali has gotten more repressive in recent years, and we need to put more pressure on him. But toppling him, getting rid of him, forcing him to have a true free and fair democratic election, would not be in the interests of expanding the boundaries of historically liberal society in that country.
I think the real issue in many of these places is the size of the middle class. Show me a country that has a sizable middle class, and no matter what kind of government it has, more than likely it's a country where you can predict the future that is good for investment, that is stable, that is a decent place to live. Show me a country with no middle class, and I don't care how many elections it's held -- it is not a good business investment. It's impossible to predict what's going to happen next.
Now, but the issue then is the middle class. But worldwide, though the middle classes in India, Nigeria, South Africa are growing in absolute numbers, relative to the rest of the population in all of these places they are not growing at all. They may even be slipping behind. India may have a middle class of 100 or 150 million people, but it's a country of a billion people. So you can't call India a middle class society.
Why has India been so successful as a democracy over the last 50 years? That's a question that everyone asks. Let me answer it in two ways. First of all is that Pakistan happened to be the part of the British subcontinent that was the frontier zone, where British civil administration had never extended. And Pakistan had no great cities, with the exception of Lahore, at the time of independence. It was a frontier and tribal zone. So that its elites, when they took power, had no civil administration to inherit. And because larger India challenged them, the military per force became very powerful in Pakistan. India happened to be the area where there was a very highly developed civil administration to inherit. Also, India had two things that you don't normally find in a country. It had a big peasant population for the first few decades of its existence -- people who had relatively few demands, who were easily satisfied and who were more than pleased to vote periodically. But you could say, "Well, doesn't sub-Saharan Africa have that?" Yes. But what sub-Saharan Africa didn't have in many of the countries, largely due to India's mass, is a very large population of literate bureaucrats who could man the institutions.
However, over the last decade and a half or so, as many of these peasants had been liberated from the villages and have moved into cities, and India has become a more complex economic society, with a large middle class, large sub-proletariat, Indian politics have gotten nastier and more tumultuous. And I think they will continue to do so.
I think part of the problem in the subcontinent, without going into the issue of Kashmir, is that central government in both India and Pakistan is weakening and under siege. And therefore the last area where the government has to prove its virility, prove its legitimacy, is in the area of foreign policy. So as the central governments are able to do less inside their own countries, they naturally become more truculent in terms of their foreign affairs.
All right, if elected democracies will not provide the answer in the short term, and if military dictatorships of the Latin American style of the 1950s have also been discredited, I think what we have to look forward to over the next 10 years is what the ancient Greeks and Romans called mixed regimes or hybrid regimes. There will be all kinds of governments around the world that officially in diplomatic parlance we'll have to call democracy, and we'll all go along with the lie. But behind the scenes, the way these places are really run they won't be democracies, but they won't be military dictatorships either. There will be all these kind of messy in-between situations -- Hong Kong, where the power really lies in about half a dozen real estate oligarchs; countries in the ex-Soviet Union which are officially democratic, fledgling democracies, but where the security services have more and more control. Jordan is an example of a working mixed regime. It's a monarchy. The parliament has significant powers, but the king can abrogate them at any time he really feels. Turkey is another example with the military implicitly sharing power with the parliament.
In terms of the Middle East in general, because of all these trends I mentioned, I think what we have to look forward to over the next decade from Morocco to Pakistan is a series of many messy Mexico style scenarios. I use -- without Mexico's advantage of a border with a First World country, and without Mexico's high level of institution building, which some countries in the Middle East, in the Gulf and Tunisia have, but which most don't. What's happened in Mexico? It's no longer a sharp pyramid with one man ruling at the top. The elite has broken down somewhat into factions. To get things done, you have to kind of convince 40 or 50 people, rather than one or two or three people. The United States proclaims democracy, but in times of turmoil and emergencies in the Middle East, we are very thankful to have autocrats to deal with, because it means convincing or dealing with one or two or three people in each country to bring them on your side. But in the future, the next generation of Arab autocrats, in addition to messy municipal politics to deal with, are also going to have -- will not have the luxury to govern quite as autocratically as the previous generation. So that while democracy per se may not succeed, all of these regimes are going to open up, and you are going to get situations where you are going to have 40 or 50 middle-level officers and politicians jockeying for power and position in many of these countries. And that's going to make diplomacy, dealing with emergencies, even more challenging.
Also, the Middle East now is a mass society, and a mass society is defined by mass media. It has mass media. And when mass media misreports or is subject to rumor, or just reflects the cultural predilections of its society, just like the three anchors and our worst talk shows reflect the cultural predilection of ourselves. You can have like instant demonstrations, instant riots, based on something that has been heard on a television news channel. In other words, modernization makes, though in the long run it improves the world, in the short run - in terms of security challenges - it makes for more instability.
I'd like to close up by just engaging a bit for a few minutes in big-think territory in the Middle East. In the 1970s -- at the beginning of the decade of the 1970s, when we had wonderful relations with Iran, and we had no embassy whatsoever in Egypt, if one were to say that by the end of the decade we would have excellent relations and a big embassy in Egypt, but Iran would become the dark side of the moon, you would have thought that person was crazy. Don't close your mind to similar flip-flops in the coming years ahead. Because when I look at the populations in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, I am very optimistic and hopeful about the public mood in the lands of our purported enemies. Iran to me is the future Serbia and Poland in terms of a highly educated, highly urbanized, developed, sophisticated population, estranged from its leaders, where the most popular figure among Iranian young people is the baby shah -- a population that is on the brink of epochal change at some point once there is some kind of shock to the region.
Iraq -- the oppression is so severe. As I said before, whenever I've gone from Iraq to Syria under Hafez al-Assad, it was like entering Syria was like coming up for liberal humanist air. That's how less oppressive Assad Syria was compared to Saddam's Iraq. Saddam is like an ice age Cold War regime better to compare it to that of Ceaucescu, of Stalin, than to any other in the Arab world. And therefore I think public opinion in Iraq is really an unknowable. And because it's an unknowable, I think we have reasons to hope.
However, public opinion in the land of our purported friends -- whether it's Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia -- is much more troublesome. And one of the reasons it's more troublesome is because we have been put into a difficult position to which there are no answers. Hosni Mubarak may represent the Brezhnev-Chernenko phase of the Nasserite dynasty. However, it would be irresponsible for any U.S. government to deliberately try to destabilize him, unless there is an identifiable, well-organized element that represented a better, more liberal system that in all probability would replace it. And unless that element is there, we have no choice but to support the current regime. And even though we may put pressure on it here and there on various issues, the populations in those countries won't give us any credit for it.
So just keep your eyes open to the possibility of a similar flip-flop where five and six years from now we could have big U.S. embassies in Baghdad and Tehran, and Riyadh and Cairo could be much, much more problematic.
I think that -- let me just end, before I open it up to questions and answers, with a few other things. Keep in mind that I think a country that is going to be very important in the next few years is going to be Eritrea, Ethiopia, because I think we are going to find them increasingly enticing for U.S. military bases. They are right on the edge of the Middle East. They have deepwater ports. The populations are friendly to the United States. On Central Asia, one thing. I think the most important country in the region, the fulcrum demographically is Uzbekistan. It has the most repressive regime in the post-Soviet bloc, but nowhere is it written that if the regime were to collapse things wouldn't get even worse with some sort of ethnic conflict, because of the domination of Tajiks in some of the cities, and just the virtual absence of usable institutions at all.
This all sounds very bleak, but all it is normal run-of-the-mill current events in history -- no better, no worse I think than at any time in the past. It's just that in the 1990s we were wrongly seduced that the world was marching in unison toward some standard issue universalist, liberal universalist horizon. And we are not.
How do you deal with this? I would again go back to the Federalist Papers, to the Founding Fathers - the way you avoid tragedy is to deliberately cultivate a sense of it. The American public is a public that's irrepressibly optimistic, because it had the good fortune of having its institutions founded by people who were basically pessimistic, or at least thought tragically, who worried about every possible thing that could go wrong in advance, so that very little of it did. And the only things that did go wrong are the things that weren't worried about endlessly beforehand.
So the more that these problems are grappled with, the less likely they are to occur in the first place. And thank you very much. And whatever time we have, I'll be open to any questions. Thank you. (Applause.)
Mr. Lang: Mr. Kaplan, on behalf of the Secretary's Open Forum, I would like to thank you for insightful and timely presentation. Please give him another round of applause. (Applause.)
At this time I would like to open the floor to your comments and questions. As a courtesy, please identify yourself and state your organizational affiliation before posing your question.
I would like to begin this segment of the program, sir, by asking you to tell us a little bit about your thoughts on the future of the middle class in China and the burgeoning environmental and health related challenges posed by rapid industrial expansion. Does China have an adequate infrastructure to deal with these challenges? Will China be more likely to cooperate with other countries in meeting challenges ranging from environmental degradation to global infectious disease?
Mr. Kaplan: Okay. I think that the most important notion we should have about dealing with China is to do no harm, because we are not in control of what's going to happen there. So since we cannot control the outcome, we should not do something precipitous.
In the last 20 years, the Chinese have seen a growth in their day-to-day real freedoms to an extent that probably no China expert could have in the most optimistic terms predicted in 1979. China is changing so rapidly that I think it would really like beg instability if we made undo demands in terms of democratization, et cetera. I think because of all the issues that you raised -- you know, rising youth populations -- China is in a real environmental bind. And I don't mean a spotted owl kind of aesthetic bind. I mean the environment in China is in such bad shape in terms of water resources, et cetera, that it is putting restraints on the leadership. The leadership has to get growth down. It can't -- in order to deal with this environmental challenge of diminishing water resources. I think about two-thirds of the Chinese population lives in what is technically considered flood zones. So if you put what I was saying earlier, you know, the idea of an environmental catastrophe in with regime instability, you see, because most Chinese are now living in environmentally fragile locations where human beings have never lived before, so that you don't need global warming, you don't need an increase in earthquakes, you don't need weird weather. All you need is the normal run-of-the-mill weather and seismic variations to have the kind of challenges to the regime that no Chinese regime ever faced in the past.
I think that the Chinese regime has to get the economic growth rate down. But if it is does so it encourages unrest, because of the whole idea of rising expectations. I think China can be democratic, if it decentralizes, if there are many Chinas -- not governed from the center. But the idea of a centrally-controlled China run from Beijing that is going to be democratic in some Western sense I think is a very flawed kind of idea. I think the more China decentralizes the more you will see different region-states and governates, and some will just be run more liberally than others.
Question: I am with the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. In my Foreign Service career I served in Tehran and Kabul, among other places in South Asia, India as well. In the current issue of Harpers, Lewis Lapham cites Lucidities and his warning to the Athenians about invading Sicily, and he uses this as a metaphor in discussing possible U.S. movements on Iraq. And I'd be curious -- you haven't really touched too much on what we might do with Iraq, but you have certainly raised some points we have to consider, both foreign policy as well as military policy, in dealing with the Iraq issue and what comes after a toppling of the current regime.
Mr. Kaplan: Yes, the Athenian invasion of Sicily is a great metaphor for Vietnam I think much more so than for Iraq. I would say these things about an invasion of Iraq: negotiate in advance a deliberate ambiguity concerning the Kurds whereby where on the ground it's clear who runs what, but both the Kurds and a new central government in Baghdad can both claim to be controlling Kurdistan. The Kurds having real autonomy, the central government saying this is still part of Iraq. These are the kinds of things that need to be staffed out in advance. Start negotiating now with the likely next rulers of Turkey, maybe Tayib Erdewan (ph) or Ismail Cem or Kemal Dervis or others. The Turkish economy is in a shambles. I think that people like Erduwan (ph) in particular, who can put an Islamic imprimatur on our invasion, will want to see us pick up the tab for restoring the Turkish economy. And, more important, to show them respect that we are consulting them. In other words, get all our ducks in a row. I think we should foreswear any -- and I have a piece coming out on this -- we should foreswear any evangelical lust to implement democracy overnight in a country which though developed in terms of urbanity has no real tradition of it. And rather than a kind of democracy in Iraq, what we should try to identify is some -- (tape flip) -- Mubarak or a Tunisian Ben Ali, or a Musharraf, or someone like that -- a kind of transitional dictatorship that will unite the ethnic groups across -- unite the ethnic merchant communities across sectarian lines. All of these issues have to be thought out clearly in advance. It's not the invasion I worry about, it's the afterwards.
Question: I'm with the American Academy of Diplomacy. You spoke a little bit about the military regimes of the 1950s in Latin America being passe. But many of the factors that you cite about what's likely to come up sound to me very much like the kinds of regimes we were looking at then. And so the issue is how do you live with them now without going down when the inevitable change comes?
Mr. Kaplan: Yes. I think the difference between the '50s and now is -- again, let me use Turkey as an example. Turkey had periodic coups up until the end of the Cold War. The conditions for coups after 1989, like in 1993 and elsewhere, were actually just as good or better than the ones previously. But there were no official coups, because it wouldn't be tolerated by the U.S., its allies, and the global economy in terms of what was being demanded.
So, what happened in Turkey? You had a kind of a soft coup. It was called a coup by media, whereby the army took over from within, directing the policies of the civilian government without officially proclaiming it was in control. And when you official proclaim you are in control, you go through this ritual, where you say, I will hold democratic elections within two years. But if you never proclaim you are in control, then you never have to hold elections, because you can work through the democratic regime, which has little or no power, but which satisfies the West -- but while you are really controlling things behind the scenes. So I think what we are going to see in the future, there is going to be more of that variation than army officers just coming up before television cameras and declaring that they are in control. I think we would have seen -- if this were pre-'89, we would have seen a coup in Argentina by now. And the fact that we haven't means that something has changed, or a number of things have changed.
Question: I wonder in 1921 the British designed or reinvented the Middle East. It's easy enough to imagine that we may be confronted with an equally challenging environment in the post-Saddam situation. I wonder if you could think that one through.
Mr. Kaplan: Yeah. If and when the regime in Iraq topples -- and I am going to assume that it will be toppled -- that I am going to even assume a year from now that the Revolutionary Command Council, Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, and the others, will not be in power. I think when you see that scenario a number of other things start to emerge, which is that the universal joint in the Middle East is Iran. It is not Iraq. Iran has a population of 66, 67 million people -- very sophisticated, urbanized -- I wouldn't say pro-American, but less anti-American than probably any surrounding population -- maybe even pro-American. But the radical ayatollah and the goons in the security services are entrenched, for a variety of reasons.
Also, there's something else about Iran: it's a collective leadership. There are three government power centers -- or more. So it's -- so every change is a process of haggling. It's the opposite of a dynamic system. So in order to get a crucial change in its foreign policy it has to kind of witness some military shock in the region that allows it to rethink its balance-of-power calculations. So a successful U.S., British, French, et cetera takeover of Iraq -- and I include the French, because I never saw how the French could stay out of a country -- just standing by and watching the U.S. and British go into a country with the second largest oil reserves in the world. I just don't see that as a possibility.
And once you have the French in, then it is perforce an international coalition. (Laughter.) So once this international coalition in effect topples the regime, I think you are going to see rapidly more consultations, private meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials. And that -- which could lead to a subsiding of Iranian support for Hezbollah, and a lot of other things that the Iranians do, which will help us immeasurably.
Once we have done this, then from a position of strength we can by stages ease the Israelis out of the West Bank and Gaza. To do it now would seem to reward September 11 category criminals, the suicide bombers. But to do it in a different context, from a position of strength, I think, would send out an entirely different message, because remember the removal of Saddam's regime, a movement of 10 or 15 degrees in Iranian foreign policy, is going to strengthen Israel's security situation, and put it in a better situation to contemplate this kind of thing.
I remember during the Gulf War that there was no pressure of any kind put on Israel until the war was successfully concluded. And then came the pressure from former Secretary Baker, which led to the Madrid process, and things changed. So I think that ultimately the U.S. government will put undue pressure on the Israelis to successfully get them out of the West Bank and Gaza, but it is a matter of sequencing. It cannot be done now. It can only be done after Iraq is dealt with, Iran changes somewhat. And the -- and I think if Iraq changes, if we are able to do this thing, I think it is going to lessen the pressure on regimes across the Middle East, rather than increase the pressure. And I say this because of what has actually occurred.
In 1990 there were all these demonstrations. But as soon as we won the war, the demonstrations ceased. Palestinians stopped naming their children after Saddam. There were all these anti-American demonstrations up until Ramadan. When we didn't flinch, we kept bombing, the demonstrations ceased. I think the successful use of power in the Middle East has a tonic effect. The Middle East is not a part of the world that understands soft power.
Mr. Lang: We'll have to leave it there. I would like to thank you once again, Mr. Kaplan, for a superb presentation. I would like to commend all of you for your thoughtful comments and questions. At this time I would like to present the Open Forum's Distinguished Public Service Award to Mr. Kaplan. Thank you for all that you have done, all that you are doing, to enrich public discourse on vital issues confronting America and the world. (Applause)
Released on October 18, 2002