Diplo­mats to Trump: En­gage in­ter­na­tion­ally

Re­tired am­bas­sador Crocker sounds warn­ing to U.S.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Bruce Fin­ley

A U.S. diplo­mat who ran em­bassies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pak­istan, Syria and other hotspots warns that Europe and the Mid­dle East are tee­ter­ing and says pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump must en­gage strate­gi­cally to pro­tect na­tional in­ter­ests as ri­vals horn in.

“What hap­pens be­yond our bor­ders af­fects us very, very di­rectly,” re­tired am­bas­sador Ryan Crocker said, cit­ing the 9/11 at­tacks and World War II as ex­am­ples of what can hap­pen when Amer­i­cans re­coil.

“It is not a ques­tion of the United States not hav­ing enough power. It is an is­sue of the United States not us­ing its power,” Crocker said in a widerang­ing Denver Post in­ter­view in which he laid out chal­lenges Trump will face, start­ing in the first week of his pres­i­dency. A six-time am­bas­sador, Crocker also joined four-time am­bas­sador Chris Hill, now at the Uni­ver­sity of Denver, speak­ing pub­licly this week at a World Denver fo­rum.

Europe and the Mid­dle East have fallen closer to “chaos” than at any time for 100 years, Crocker said. Rather than hun­ker back in an “Amer­ica First” pos­ture that dis­counts the rest of the world, Trump must drive the United States to re-en­gage as the world leader. A win­ner of the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom, Crocker has crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Barack Obama for dis­en­gag­ing, which he blames for prob­lems such as Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad stay­ing in power.

“Europe is the most divided it has ever been since World War II. The Mid­dle East is get­ting worse by the day. If the United States doesn’t lead, no­body leads — and it be­comes a free-for-all. We’re see­ing that in Europe. I’m very hope­ful pres­i­dent-elect Trump is go­ing to take a long, careful look at the world he is in­her­it­ing and will con­clude the United States is go­ing to have to lead,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean the U.S. should do it all. Ab­so­lutely not. But without U.S. lead­er­ship, we’re not go­ing to see other na­tions step up — with the ex­cep­tion of those who are our ad­ver­saries. You have Rus­sia. You have Iran — in Syria, Iraq and Ye­men. They are step­ping for­ward.”

If it turns out that Rus­sia re­ally tipped the U.S. elec­tion, Crocker said, the re­sponse should be in­ter­na­tional, not the U.S. act­ing alone. “Even though what­ever this was was di­rected at us, it is about the whole world — not only the United States.”

The worst harm Amer­i­cans en­dured dur­ing the past cen­tury hap­pened be­cause the na­tion ig­nored for­eign prob­lems in­stead of be­ing ac­tively en­gaged, ac­cord­ing to Crocker. The car­nage of 9/11 fol­lowed U.S. neglect af­ter Soviet oc­cu­piers left Afghanistan in 1989 and al-Qaeda moved in, us­ing Afghanistan as a base to plan and ex­e­cute the at­tacks, he said. Sim­i­larly, a lack of U.S. in­volve­ment in Europe af­ter World War I led to World War II.

“We didn’t play any sig­nif­i­cant role in the post-World War I po­lit­i­cal space, didn’t even join the League of Na­tions, and 20 years later we had World War II,” Crocker said. “But, in the post-World War II era, we did play a role: We fash­ioned the struc­tures of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. And we led it. … We have not seen any re­turn to global con­flict.”

Crocker stands out among U.S. diplo­mats be­cause he re­peat­edly sought and wel­comed as­sign­ments to rep­re­sent the na­tion un­der the tough­est con­di­tions. He served most re­cently in Afghanistan. He pre­vi­ously ran the em­bassies in Iraq, Pak­istan, Kuwait, Le­banon and Syria. As a ju­nior diplo­mat, he served in Beirut dur­ing 1983 when a sui­cide truck bomber blew up the em­bassy there, killing 63 peo­ple in­clud­ing 17 Amer­i­cans. He helped dig through rub­ble for sur­vivors.

In Syria, a mob ran­sacked his

res­i­dence while his wife hid in a safe room. In Afghanistan, he en­dured a lengthy gun­bat­tle in 2011 as in­sur­gents at­tacked the U.S. com­pound.

Pres­i­dent Bush awarded him the medal of free­dom af­ter his work in Iraq. Af­ter serv­ing for Obama in Afghanistan, Crocker cited a health prob­lem in re­tir­ing. He be­came a dean at the Bush School of Gov­ern­ment and Pub­lic Ser­vice at Texas A&M Uni­ver­sity.

The World Denver fo­rum on Wed­nes­day drew 160 peo­ple hun­gry for in­side in­for­ma­tion on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. Re­tired am­bas­sador Hill, dean at the Uni­ver­sity of Denver’s Kor­bel School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, who fol­lowed Crocker in Iraq, echoed Crocker’s call for ro­bust en­gage­ment. Hill said Trump must con­duct a de­tailed pol­icy re­view aimed at hon­ing U.S. in­ter­na­tional strat­egy.

“You’ll prob­a­bly need more than 140 char­ac­ters,” Hill said.

Among loom­ing chal­lenges re­quir­ing tough de­ci­sions, Crocker pointed to the fol­low­ing: with North Korea may af­fect U.S. re­la­tions with a ris­ing China, and Pak­istan ap­pears un­sta­ble, he said. The Iran treaty Trump has crit­i­cized, de­signed to help con­tain Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, may look bet­ter once Trump set­tles into Oval Of­fice de­ci­sion-mak­ing, he said. “The only threat to our na­tional sur­vival would be a nu­clear threat. It is im­por­tant that we all keep things in per­spec­tive. There is nu­clear. And there is ev­ery­thing else.” The na­tions ap­pear shakier than at any time since Bri­tish and French colo­nial pow­ers drew boundaries, Crocker said. Failing gov­ern­ments opened the door to ri­val non­govern­ment forces, in­clud­ing Hezbol­lah, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The United States must still use mil­i­tary tac­tics, he said, but ur­gently needs a strat­egy for ad­dress­ing core prob­lems rooted in poor gov­er­nance. Italy may fol­low Bri­tain ex­it­ing the Euro­pean Union, a fo­cus of U.S. strat­egy since World War II, which could lead to wider dis­in­te­gra­tion. Keep­ing Europe to­gether is es­sen­tial, Crocker said. EU dis­cord plays to Rus­sia, he said. “If we want to di­min­ish the chance of a col­li­sion over Europe, we need to do what we can to strengthen the Euro­pean al­liance.”

Trade deals, in­clud­ing the Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship, af­fect more than eco­nomics. These are strate­gi­cally im­por­tant for na­tional se­cu­rity. And re­ject­ing the TPP, a com­pact that Trump has op­posed, would waste a huge op­por­tu­nity in Asia, Crocker said. “It is a group­ing of coun­tries in­clud­ing the United States and not in­clud­ing China.” The U.S. must back it, he said, re­fer­ring to a U.S. mil­i­tary leader’s as­sess­ment that the pact “is worth sev­eral bat­tle groups.”

This is no time to turn in­ward and ig­nore the rest of the world, Crocker said.

“We had bet­ter take a long hard look and de­cide where we are go­ing next be­fore we de­cide to aban­don the pol­icy of broad in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ments and lead­er­ship by the United States,” he said. “We’d bet­ter take a clear-eyed view of the state of the world. … What are we go­ing to do?”

Ryan Crocker, pic­tured in 2007, says pol­icy “is not a ques­tion of the United States not hav­ing enough power. It is an is­sue of the United States not us­ing its power.” Getty Im­ages file

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