tv WJ Thomas Countryman - Diplomacy Trump Administration CSPAN February 27, 2017 3:13am-4:05am EST
>> the day after the inauguration, 2 million mostly women marched on the streets of 100,000 marched here in this country and it was an expression of fear and anxiety that we had someone in the white house wielding this enormous .ower -- the power was enormous the intellectual capacity of the croident's quotas owing -- tozoan. gton journal" continues. host: we want to welcome thomas countryman, veteran of the state department let go just a few weeks ago. what happened? guest: i began my service as a foreign service officer in 1982.
i had the opportunity to work at several embassies around the world, white house, united nations, pentagon. in 2011 i became assistant secretary for nonproliferation, which is an appointed position chosen by the president and confirmed by the senate. i did that job since 2011. after our election, like every other presidential appointee, i tendered my resignation. i sent a simple letter to the white house saying i am prepared to leave service if the new president does not want me, otherwise i am prepared to stay. during the transition to the trump administration, i tried to work with the transition team in order to prepare them for the very specialized issues of arms control and nonproliferation that they would face. i was also prepared to stay on,
as is traditional, every four prepare a new to under secretary and assistant secretary for a pretty good job. instead, about five days after the inauguration, while i was traveling to jordan and preparing to go from this meeting in jordan with arab league officials onto another meeting about nonproliferation in italy, i was informed by the department that the white house had decided to accept my resignation effective at the end of that week. host: why? guest: that is not entirely clear. we have to speculate a little bit. it is on that day, january 25, the white house made that decision for two officials at the undersecretary level and four at the assistant secretary level.
there has never been an official explanation on why exactly those officials were asked to depart. course,t unusual, of for the new administration to put their officials into place. i absolutely accept that the new president has the right to appoint his people into those jobs. what was unusual about it was positionsof these key out of the top two levels of the state department were simply empty by the white house without a new person appointed or even anbody ready to step in in acting capacity. that is what concerns me. i am happy to be retired after 35 years of working very long hours. i am concerned that if you empty out the management and policy leadership of the state
department without having a replacement ready to go, it does two things. number one, it means you cannot increment the policies that the new president wants. number two, and this is i fear potential, it is a signal from the white house that they are going to do all of the management of american foreign-policy from the white trust inhout input or the professionals who do this day in and day out into are prepared to serve the new president loyally. host: when you say white house, are you referring to steve bannon? guest: i do not know the inner workings of the white house. from what i read about mr. gannon, it would be consistent with some of the things he has said in the last week about wanting to clear out the administrative state. i understand the rhetoric that is employed, but what concerns me about that is if you take out
anybody who has experience in dealing with other countries, you end up with an amateur foreign-policy. host: you wrote a letter to america. you have officially retired for three weeks and three days. in your last day at the state department, you said the following. what's watch. [video clip] >> we still owe something to america. we owe a lot. we still have a duty. as have a duty to stay professionals, and to give your best advice to a new administration. a policy without professionals is by definition an amateur policy. you have to help make the choices that bring this country
forward. our work is very little understood by our fellow americans. sometimes that fact is exploited for political purposes. opportunity to travel around this amazing country and make the point that we do not have a state department, a foreign policy because we love foreigners, we do it because we love americans. host: on january 31, the last day at the state department yourg tea= -- speaking to fellow employees. rex tillerson confirmed after that. guest: i have heard nothing but positive things about mr. tillerson for my friends who remain in the department. i hope he succeeds as an effective secretary of state. i know that there are thousands of foreign service and civil service officers were prepared loyally and make it
succeed. what we have not seen is whether the white house is going to give him, show him the confidence that they need to have in their secretary of state if they want him to actually lead american foreign-policy. host: your biggest fear, your biggest worry is what? guest: i have a number of big worries. number one would be is if the secretary of state and secretary of defense have their roles reduced to running around the world and explain that our president did not actually mean wordse said, if in other our top cabinet officials can only do cleanup for statements the president made, we cannot push forward our policy. we cannot move ahead as the leader of the rest of the world. out of many big concerns, that is the single biggest one.
host: our guest is thomas countryman, retired from the department of state. what are you going to be doing now? guest: i will be working less. i will be giving talks here and there in academia on my specialty area, arms nonproliferation in the balkans and middle east. i hope to be giving civic talks waterer education, registration, resisting efforts to suppress voter turnout. host: we are glad to have you. larry, washington, d c, republican line. caller: good morning. this is all revolving around the former secretary of state hillary clinton with the emails and so forth. housellerson cleaning the . it is called the shadow
government. that is the case of why they were pushed out. i will say this. he has to watch vladimir putin. he is not a person to be trusted. as i'm speaking, russia has seven divisions amassed in eastern ukraine. stalingrad used to be the capital of prussia. that is another thing we will have to watch. germany. host: thank you for the call. guest: on the first point, i agree. president trump has the right to put his own people in place. i have never disputed this. it is not about me. my concern is that by leaving the leadership of the state
department bacon with the with the of -- vacant exception of secretary tillerson, the president is giving away one of the most valuable tools we have. remember that the alternative to using a strong diplomatic corps in foreign-policy is to use your military. successive presidents and secretaries of defense have talked about the mississippi -- the necessity of keeping the state department strong and active so you have options besides military force. that is my concern. nothing about me personally, what is good for the nation. in general i agree with your comments about russia and the yed inor us to be clear e dealing with the russian federation. host: good morning. independent line. caller: i like to make a comment
on [indiscernible] host: i am sorry. you are breaking up. can you repeat one more time? caller: i would like to make a comment regarding our foreign policy. i am a navy veteran. i served back in [indiscernible] host: i'm sorry. you broke up. i apologize. we just cannot hear you. foreign policy in the last 30 years. guest: i'm not sure which direction you were going. than is more consistency radical departures from one administration to the next. i was proud to serve under six presidents, republican and democratic. while they would emphasize the changes they would make, there has been a basic consistency in american foreign-policy. that would be worthwhile for us to consider in this new administration as well. host: let's go to terry from
louisiana. republican line. good morning. caller: good morning. countryman,to mr. when you first thought about replacing your position and other positions, the president before he ever ran for president, i have been on facebook within her many years. i have followed his thoughts and ideas. he has repeatedly said that when he got into office that he would and thatall positions he may eliminate some because of cost and trying to save money. host: -- guest: ok. that is the right of the present. i don't think he is saving any money yet. i do know that he is handicapping the state department and other federal
agencies, the defense department as well. all the tools of american power and all the tools of american influence are not being used the way they should be used, and as a consequence, not only are we not saving money, we are giving up america's leadership in the world little by little. that is my view. i respect yours as well. host: this headline from the washington post available online, in the first month of the truck residency the state department has been sidelined. guest: i am afraid there is a lot of truth to the headline. it is important to read the entire article. secretary tillerson is very well respected by the new team he has inherited at the department of state. he has to be able to be his own man, to be able to make choices positionse 35 vacant
in the top two tiers of the state department. i do not see the white house giving him the authority to either do that or speak out for himself on foreign-policy. host: let me follow up on a specific point in the new york times this morning. the dateline's beijing. after plans on friday for formal talks between the north korean delegation and american officials, the trump administration reversed course hours later, withdrawing approval for the north korean visas for two people who were to take part in this conversation. they had been told by the state department friday morning the visas would be granted, and they were overruled at the white house. nytimes.com.y at guest: i have not seen that
story yet. this is something that usually does not make headlines. this is called track to diplomacy. you do not have official diplomats talking to each other, but instead you have retired generals, retired diplomats, academics who can engage informally without the authority of the u.s. government to talk to north korean officials to try to find out what is happening in that closed country in what may be possible to dramatically -- possible diplomatically. it is a long observed practice. taken notcision was to give visas to this group i do not know. it may be another example of the white house deciding that it is only a tiny handful of officials in the white house who know how foreign-policy, and
secretary tillerson and thousands of professionals who have worked loyally for republicans and democrats are not to be trusted. until hold off on that i see the full article. host: our guest is thomas countryman. he is a 30 year veteran of the state department. he served on the national security council. our next call is from columbus. good morning. caller: good morning. how are you all doing? i would like to ask the gentleman, he said he was at the state department since he was 19 years old. guest: no. since 1982. caller: i am sorry. calling, is there an advantage to being there so ang, and there is
disadvantage to being there so long. host: that is absolutely correct -- guest: that is absolutely correct. 34 years is a long time to be at a single job. , and whatld say attracted me very much about this career was that i did many different jobs over 34 years. every two years or three years or four years, i moved to a position of increasing responsibility and in a different area of specialization. it is similar in some ways to the military where in the course of a 30 year military career you might do 15 or 18 different assignments at increasing levels of responsibility. that keeps you fresh. keeps you challenged. allows your experience to be brought into a new area as well.
i think the other thing that is required in the foreign service is the ability to have an open mind. loyalty toth equal both republican and democratic administrations and was prepared to do the same here, at least for a time. that is what the value of experiences. same valueis the whether you are into providing services, the military, or a private corporation. you learn something and bring it to new tasks as you go along. host: let's go to steve in michigan. the morning. democrats line. caller: good morning. the president said before the campaign about a year ago that japan and care if south korea had nuclear arms. he said we are going to pour billions of dollars into upgrading our
nuclear arms. , younk i am paraphrasing will have the best and most nuclear capability in the world. in general, your comments about what he has said and worst is late about what effect you think that might have on the arms treaties we have signed on to? host: thank you. guest: those comments to concern me. this is the field i was working in the last several years of my career. arms control and proliferation. when he said in an interview last week that he thinks the united states has fallen behind in our nuclear capabilities, i have to say that is simply not true. the united states has more nuclear missiles than anybody. we have a greater capability to deliver them on a target than anybody else. agreement with the
russian federation, the new start treaty you mentioned, that deployingh sides to 1550 missiles. that is a level we will reach by 2018. 1550 nuclear warheads is more than sufficient to completely annihilate each other. the united states is second to nobody in our nuclear capability. begunhave the intention under the bush administration and obama administration to modernize our delivery systems. that is something that is going to cost close to $1 trillion. 1000 billion dollars over the next 30 years. those are choices we will have to make terribly. we will have to see it is possible to reduce that expenditure and increase our security through new arms control agreements.
it concerns me very much that the president does not seem to understand that the new start treaty has been beneficial to the national security of the united dates -- united states. that is what every serving general and diplomats and three quarters of the u.s. senate that ratified.reaty was reportsccording to news has deployed a medium-range the infthat violates treaty. the intermediate nuclear forces treaty signed by president reagan in 1987. it is important to make this distinction. there are two treaties out there. there are many treaties between the united states and the russian federation. the new start treaty, which forces,trategic nuclear
the longest range nuclear , is being incremented faithfully by the united states and the russian federation in full operation. on the other hand, the inf treaty, also terribly important, there is apparently a violation by the russian federation. that is just one more issue we have between the united states and russia. do not mix the tube. one treaty that is working well and serving our national security interests, and another trading where the russian violation is serious and must be addressed. remained withes our guests. we are focusing on foreign-policy. our guest is thomas countryman. he was asked to leave the state department by the trump administration in january. he formally stepped down january
31. caller: thank you for your service. i appreciate it. you mentioned that [indiscernible] you stated there would be a bunch of amateurs. guest: not exactly what i said. go ahead. caller: that is what you imply to the audience. speechlerson's first focused on efficiencies. guest: among other topics. caller: presumably he wants to get the most bang for the result. can you tell me how much waste exists at the state department? guest: i cannot. what i can say is the image that is projected by some politicians of the state department being an incredibly expensive piece of
the federal government is just plain false. -- barely 1% of the entire budget. it is a fraction of what we spend on defense and other agencies. the number of people in my category, foreign service officers, is a little more than 4000. we have fewer professional foreign service diplomats than the u.s. military has musical band members. we are not spending a huge amount of the federal government budget on the state department. are there ways to save money? yes. the foreign and civil service are ready to support secretary tillerson in all his efforts in that regard. are 7000 employees roughly, and 4000 foreign
service officers. a petition quickly generated about 1000 signatures. washington, then went to jakarta and africa, one version even showed up on facebook. temporarily barring citizens from seven muslim nations. the cable getting at least 1000 signatures within a short time. are you familiar with this? host: i guest: i've seen the same stories as i was leaning out my desk and getting ready to leave. the department of state has something for the defense more, inince being no which it they disagree with the policy, they can express that directly to the secretary of team.and his a days a channel that has been used frequently at times of big
in thetional crises balkans or iraq or syria, of both democratic and republican presidents. ist was unusual in this case number one, how rapidly it spread, number two, how many employees of the state onartment put their names this document, and number three, and this is unfortunate in my view, that it was available to the press before it had been shared with either the acting secretary of state or after february 1 with secretary tillerson. it is a long-standing tradition which allows people to express an alternate point of view. the other key thing to keep in is that all of those people who signed it are still implementing the president's
policy. it is not an act of disobedience. it is inactive showing there is an alternative point of view, and the same people who signed it are still prepared to work for this administration and not to divert it. host: from minnesota, matt, republican line with thomas countryman. good morning. you.r: honor to speak with >> question of the experience of presidency, who is your favorite president? guest: that is difficult. the easy answer would be for me to say barack obama, number one, because he appointed me to the position where did the most fascinating work, but also because he showed, i think, great consistency and leadership around the world. one of the things that is most
frustrating for me during a political campaign was to hear rhetoric last year that says the united states is no longer respected around the world. i have traveled the world. not just to diplomats but journalists and ordinary people around the world, and i can tell you that under the obama administration, the united states enjoyed broad respect .round the world more so under previous administrations, and i see that .espect today declining rapidly if you follow anybody in the foreign press or anyone who should be our allies, who should be ready to follow american leadership and see the precipitous decline in respect of the united states that we suffered in the last couple of months, you ought to be worried. there is something that liked about all the presidents, including ronald reagan because he was president when i started
this work and for whom i have terrific respect. host: let's go to al from tennessee, independent line. caller: thank you. [indiscernible] been around the world, too, and respect is earned. regarding the budapest memorandum, are you familiar with that? guest: yes, i am. caller: so the u.s. did not act under the memorandum when we should have. do you happen to know of great britain and northern ireland had an aircraft carrier? caller: i do not recall. i think the united kingdom does have what you call a ship capable of launching carrier jets but i don't know precollege and aircraft carrier. guest: only the united states has the strength to act and do that and talk is so cheap. the north koreans [indiscernible]
will soon have delivery systems because you're not active. i have another question. position ore of any any start of the state department that we could do without? caller: yes, absolutely. they are in every single government agency, including the white house, positions they can do without. it is incumbent about the new leadership of any government agency to look to see what our priorities that we have that we went to give additional emphasis to under this administration and what are things we don't want to do anymore or that we want to give less emphasis to? that is a legitimate function for every government agency, but you know what? you cannot do that with one guy. secretary tillerson is extremely
imagine thatt to he is going to review the organization chart for an organization of several tens of thousands, much smaller than exxon mobil, but an organization, he will do that in his spare time at the same time is flying around the world and negotiating and meeting with his counterparts. you need additional people and it bothers me that not only at that just, homeland security, the white house shows no urgency in picking anybody qualified for any of these positions, so yes, there is a lot of government reorganization and saving that can be done, but trying to save money by saying, you just will not appoint anybody qualified and we would just let these organizations whether is a dumb way to do it. host: let's go to virginia,
democrat line, good morning. caller: good morning, sir. you, i do not understand the obama administration policy in the middle east. syria [indiscernible] did [indiscernible] take action when [indiscernible] iran rune let [indiscernible] wet: thanks for the call, are getting feedback. let's take the iran issue. guest: i cannot speak about this with direct knowledge on syria and iran. president obama at that time in in2 declared the red line syria used chemical weapons. he did not specify what the red -- would mean.
when the syrian regime killed citizens with chemical weapons, the person didn't threatened military -- the president threatened military response and the congress was reluctant for full support,ing they was the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world and we successfully completed that mission. i understand the frustration of many friends in the arab world who believed that what the president should have done was to declare war on syria, to involve the united states and their fight against the regime. i am glad the president at the time, mr. obama, did not do that . we could have dragged the united states into an all-out
confrontation and to instill in the foolish war middle east. he chose instead to eliminate those chemical weapons that syria possessed. host: but why threaten initially and then backtracked from that? is that a mistake? guest: no, i don't think it was a mistake. everybody has a different memory of what he said. he did not say that the red line meant wewould go -- would go to all-out war. after the red line was crossed, he did say that he was going to make military strikes against syria. he never said no matter what some of our allies hoped in what some critics imagined that we would get fully involved in trying to over a throw thessad regime -- overthrow the assad
regime. now, if there is some value to being ambiguous when the president says, this is a redline and did not specify what it meant, when the white house in this administration two weeks ago said it is putting iran on .otice about ballistic missiles it did not specify what putting on notice means. i am trying to figure out how it is different from a redline. it is appropriate for any president, whether president obama or president trump, to be but to their language read themselves flexibility to avoid doing stupid things. host: let's go to mike, illinois, independent line. good morning. caller: good when you come quick question, the past two levels we have been talking about in the branches of the cia, can you
tell me exactly the layman's terms of what you guys did the night of the incident where he got killed? can you lay out what you did to save him? guest: no, first, i would note that i knew chris stevens personally. i knew he was a brave person and that he knew, as does every foreign service officer, that the work involved going into dangerous environments, statistically, it is a lot more dangerous to being american ambassador in sabine american general. you are much more likely statistically to get killed as an ambassador than you are as a general. that is a fact. ambassador stevens and his team, i was not involved in any of the decision-making. it moved very fast and has been
covered exhaustively by investigations of the congress that concluded that there is no reason to blame the leadership of the state department at that time for what occurred. go back and read those reports. chavez, who was so diligent in conducting those investigations, finds new energy to look at similar scandals regardless of which party is in the white house. host: are you referring to worship? guest: i -- i are prying to russia? guest: -- are you referring to russia? to what am referring would be investigated by republican leadership, but embassy security is kind of like a balanced budget for morality in office or avoiding conflict
of interest. it seems to me that republican leadership in congress hears about those issues deeply when there is a democrat in the white house and does not care about any of those issues when there is a republican in the white house. but -- host: let's go to james in texas on the democrat line. caller: good morning. aboutoncerned [indiscernible] respect around the world. i like to think that secretary tillerson is going to try the diplomacy that is not based on subversion or rather than just good old dealmaking, what she has been successfully doing now for several decades on behalf of exxon. host: thank you.
guest: again, i have confidence that secretary tillerson, as he is given more room from the white house to do his job as he deals with excellent people with who he trusts, i think he will be a strong secretary of state and i look forward to that. the second part of your statement is something that commented on in the farewell remarks that i made on january 31, which is diplomacy is not business. it is wrong to look at everything as a transaction. if everything we do with our friends, our allies, is viewed pro, let's make a deal, and we are no different from the chinese or the russians , and i think that is the wrong way to go. if review all of our friends who
are looking for american leadership as strictly business partners rather than looking at them as allies and friends, then we are no longer worthy of the title leader of the free world. host: jamie is joining us from melbourne, florida. good morning. caller: good morning. hello? host: go ahead, please. caller: thank you. i am watching thomas countryman as he speaks, and i am curious why is representative of national security [indiscernible] id it is the first time watched the committee meeting over the weekend that was [indiscernible] and celebrated the 25th of thesary
theroliferation success of 2011-2017 as the assistant secretary of state, i did not hear anything about him. i did not see him at the conference. he was never referred to create a he was so successful, i am wondering why the troubles with iran and syria and some of these other places where he is supposed to be so involved, ended up being that the united which was not successful. host: thank you. guest: first, i don't think either our host nor i said i was the most successful diplomat in
u.s. history, and i don't mind people criticizing my record or the record of any of the six presidents that i served. the specific event that i think you watched on c-span over the weekend because i watched it as well, marks the 25th anniversary --the non-booths our program non-loser program on that reduction. i did not have a speaking role because there were people far more qualified to had been working on the program for 25 years. i like that you mentioned the program because it is what our policy ought to be, a nonproliferation control. senators from different parties both sought the need when the soviet union collapsed to ensure that all of the nuclear material and weapons and other chemical
weapons that the soviet union possessed did not simply disappeared and were not sold to terrorist. instead, or kept under tight security and destroyed a. that program, started by supported byties, president bush, then president clinton, president bush and then president obama, was a great atcess in reducing the risk the world faces from nuclear and chemical weapons. i am not in the same league as those senators and i don't expect ever to be. host: charles from north carolina, republican line. the morning. couple ofjust had a comments and a question. the first is when hillary and bill clinton left the white house, they were broken had to borrow money from [indiscernible] about home in new york, and then
in time, they amassed $250 million in net worth. much of that money was due to expendituresmaking and then there was the email server and so forth. that is number one. number two, puma aberdeen -- huma was getting four different checks, secretary of state, hillary clinton's private accounts -- host: in fairness to our guests, i'm not sure this is an area he can comment on. if you want to frame your question toward his area of expertise, he can get a response but not to worry you're going at the moment. -- shouldck of the the secretary of state office be politicized and be a way to make money and enrich yourself? host: thank you. guest: the answer is if it is political, yes.
if it is a means of making money, no. i do not know how the sentence made money. one thing you can do is look at their tax returns for the last 30 years, and i think any serious person who is asking for the confidence of the united states would release their tax returns so we could have an educated discussion about how he makes money. is fromr next call florida. rodney, democrat line. the morning. caller: good morning. my problem is we go in and we destabilize and held them to get rid of weapons like in libya. we went in and advised them to get rid of weapons in libya. the countryfend
itself. we don't go back and say we made a mistake create that was a total mistake by destabilizing libya. our problem is we have to understand [indiscernible] and ask for forgiveness, and family do super stuff like that -- guest: i agree with the general points that we should be more honest about mistakes that we have made. we should be more honest about the way the 2003 invasion of iraq ultimately led to the creation of the islamic state. i think it was a foreign-policy disaster, but i continued to serve the bush administration and defend that choice because that was my job to do it. now, i am outside the government and i can speak a little more frankly. a quick notes on digg sample you
cited. the bush administration did very good. in 2003-2004, the gaddafi regime to give up its nuclear program and other weapons of mass destruction programs. stabilityood for the of the region. it is not directly connected, in my view, to all the reasons that ultimately led to civil war and the overthrow of gaddafi in 2011. you could be critical of what in 2011,d states did but i don't think that is the result of the good work done years earlier to convince gadhafi to give up nuclear and chemical weapons programming. host: let me ask you about north korea, two parts. what we saw was the half-brother of kim jong un used to kill
him -- and what was used to, and airport and the testing going on. what is your biggest worry and concern? i think in the field i have worked in, the biggest concern in the united states is the capability of north korea to develop an intercontinental holistic meso with a nuclear warhead that could hit united states. host: are they close? guest: it is hard, even for the best intelligence experts, to know how close they are but it is undeniable they are progressing toward that, and the testing program for missiles and nuclear weapons and north korea is pursuing and has more to do with the scientific development program. i don't see them just as provocations. host: getting the products from where? guest: most of the work that north korea does, they have
become reasonably self-sufficient in the materials they need for missiles and nuclear weapons. what they do need to get they are able to procure through planned and staying -- through clendenin stein -- to clendenin enstine parts. that is what i did for the last five years, to help close off those procurement channels and make it harder for iran, syria, north korea, to obtain the technology they need for their weapons. , who thomas countryman served at the state department for more than 30 years, stepping down at the end of january, thank you for being with us. guest: thank you,
mccain. >> we have to figure out what the credentialing will look like for the jobs that are available. not everything is going to require a four-year degree. i'm not as concerned about the folks with four-year degrees. but what are you doing after high school that's going to get you a job? i think the federal government is looking at credentials that relate to employment and having conversations with the private sector and funding those type of programs. >> tonight at 8:00 eastern on c-span 2. >> this weekend, president trump announced on twitter that he will not be attending this year's white house correspondents dinner. on sunday, on abc's this week. >>