Spokane native Ryan Crocker, who has been called the premier U.S. diplomat of his generation will be part of Tuesdays conference, Afghanistan After America, sponsored by the Frank Church Institute.
Crocker, 63, served 38 years in the Foreign Service, retiring in July after a year as ambassador to Afghanistan. He also was ambassador to Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Kuwait and Lebanon. Three of his immediate predecessors were assassinated.
His keynote talk will be in the Student Union Simplot Ballroom at Boise State.
Crocker is teaching this year at Yale as the inaugural Kissinger senior fellow. He plans to return to his post as dean of the George Bush School of Government at Texas A&M next year.
Crocker spoke with the Statesman on Monday before his appearances at the College of Idaho and the Boise Committee on Foreign Relations.
Q: You saw the bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut, massive casualties in Iraq, continuing conflict in Afghanistan. What do you say to those who see the Arab world as a billion fanatics intent on destroying America?
A: That they dont understand the Arab world in its immense sweep of diversity and they dont understand its history, either. The overwhelming majority of Arabs want the same things we want. They want a good life, particularly for their children. Theyre like us.
Where they differ is history. From Morocco in the west to the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq in the east, These highly diverse countries have one thing in common. They have all been occupied by Western armies at least once. So when we see ourselves as liberators overthrowing despots so democracy can flourish, thats not how they see it. Here come the Brits again, the Russians, the Italians. And on it goes.
That brings an inborn, inherent resentment that can be radicalized to the point of violence. You have to understand that history, and we dont. For Arabs, the Crusades (11th to 13th centuries) were the day before yesterday. We dont even remember what they were about.
A history of occupation has impeded development of effective governments, which gives running room to extremists.
Q: Should the U.S. be doing more to arm rebels in Syria?
A: We need to proceed with great care, in consultation with neighbors most directly affected and knowledgeable, such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. Lets not do our customary thing and decide, Let us figure it out. Were the Americans.
The legacy of the 1982 destruction of Hama, ordered by the father of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to kill members of the Muslim Brotherhood, lingers. Syrias Sunni Muslims have an undying desire for vengeance against the ruling Aliwites.
So guns to rebels? Be darn sure you know who those rebels are, what their agenda is, what their likelihood of success is, and what they will do with that success. Or you may be arming the next al-Qaida.
Q: Should the U.S. look the other way while Israel attacks Irans nuclear facilities?
A: Maintaining and strengthening international consensus and tightening sanctions remains the best option, because Iran is one of the more democratic states in the region, where peoples voices count, Crocker says. Continuing covert computer virus attacks also is worthwhile.
Iran is prepared for an attack, having learned from the Israeli bombing of Iraq in 1981. Whatever they are doing, they are doing it at a level of complexity and redundancy and survivability that in their view will ensure they still have the essence of that program. ... The main problem with the attack option is its not likely to work.
Q: Talk about the evolution of the Arab Spring, from the enthusiasm of 2010 to last months assassination of your friend, Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
A: Republican regimes that took power in the 1950s turned out to be as undemocratic and repressive, or worse, than the monarchies they overthrew. Since 2010, the republics have fallen in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia and are danger in Syria and Yemen.
The monarchies Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait have been relatively stable because their rulers work hard to knit their kingdoms together. They will survive, but the republics are unpredictable.
We thought the Arab Spring was over and we had entered into a sun-dappled upland of democracy and prosperity when CNN and Fox News turned off the lights in Tahrir Square (in Cairo.) Today, almost two years into this, this is Act 1, Scene 1 of the Arab Spring. ... God knows whats going to happen, except a lot will. This year, next year, the year after.
Q: Did the Obama administration fail in its duty to protect Ambassador Stevens?
A: Weve got to go where its dangerous. Our largest embassies are Kabul and Baghdad, not London and Paris.
That said, The administration couldnt have screwed up the telling of the incident more horribly if theyd subcontracted it to the opposing party. But it doesnt change the basic facts. Chris Stevens knew the risks. ... You just cant have 120 armed guys around you and do your work.
Al-Qaida targeted Stevens. When he showed up, they pulled the trigger. Its pretty hard to defend against that kind of thing; I would say almost impossible. And if you try to defend against it, then you render yourself ineffective because you dont go anywhere and they win.
Q: What are the prospects for success in Afghanistan after the U.S. goes in December 2014?
A: I stay away from words like optimism and pessimism, but when I opened our embassy (in Kabul in 2002) after the fall of the Taliban, there were 900,000 kids in school, all boys. Today, its 8.5 million kids in school, 40 percent of them are girls. Universities are thriving with a high percentage of female students.
They have come of age in the post-Taliban era, with a level of unprecedented freedom, access to the Internet, and dozens of newspapers, TV and radio stations that attack the government regularly.
Youve got a whole generation who fundamentally look at their country and the world different than any previous Afghan generation. They are, ultimately, the instrument of change, and are pretty well determined to do it. And I think they can do it, if a modicum of security and stability is present.
Q: Who should be most nervous about your memoir?
A: Actually, no one should be nervous. The last book Id write would be one of those Washington gotcha books. Ive been in this business too long not to know how hard it is to make and implement policy.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics