Address to the AIPAC's National Summit
Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
October 24, 2004
Thank you. That was a great – my mother couldn't have done better than that. My mother couldn't have given an introduction better than that, although she would have left out the part about
Germany. But I'm glad Amy mentioned it.
When my mother came back to Germany – she traveled all over the world. She took buses in Nigeria and open boats in Borneo, but she wouldn't set foot back in Germany. My grandfather was a
very wise man. He read "Mein Kampf." He said, this guy means it. And he had enough money and took the family out. And so when my mother came back – Lonnie (sp) said I could tell this story.
When my mother came back I took her to Berlin. She had never been to Berlin because – she was 13 when she left. I'm supposed to never admit that, but if you believe her statement of her age,
she wasn't born in 1933. (Laughter.) We went back to Berlin and I took her to Charlottenburg and there was a conference of U.S. and German military officials, and I'll never forget this. We started
into the palace and there were these Germans in uniform with white hair, and she grabbed a friend of mine who was from the Defense Department. She said, they're all Nazis, and she really got upset.
And he said, no, they weren't born until after 1945; it's okay. But I'll never forget that.
But anyway, I am just thrilled to be here. I'm thrilled to be part of this extraordinary organization. I'm very grateful to Amy and Bernice for inviting me. My personal relationship with AIPAC
goes back a long way. I visited Si Kenen in his offices in the late 1960s when I was a junior diplomat in Washington working at the Johnson White House. I knew Morrie Amitay and Tom Dine, and now
Howard Kohr, so I think I've known all but one of your leaders in the 50 – since your founding leader, and Si Kenen was a remarkable man, and his vision for what Israel needed, a group in
Washington that would bring to the attention of Congress, the executive branch and the world, the realities of the region changed American foreign policy in a very dramatic way. And so, whenever I'm
asked to speak at AIPAC – I spoke at the regional New York meeting two years ago – I am deeply honored to be here. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
And to see Congressman Berman here – Howard Berman, who was one of my unindicted co-conspirators in the effort to get Israel into a regional group to warn the other countries of the
consequences if it didn't happen. For 40 years every one of my predecessors always tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee they would do it and no one ever did it. And we thought and thought and
tried, and President Clinton personally called up King Juan Carlos of Spain after we determined that it was Spain, not France, that was the problem. Everyone thought it was the French. The French
were not as bad as people expected, and we got into it, and we got them in and it's always good to see you here.
Now, I – oh, one last thing that Bernice reminded me of. We had an AIPAC dinner in New York in 1999 at which – and Bernice remembered this; I didn't – in which we had about 500
people at one of the New York hotels. I think it was The Pierre. And there were about 15 U.N. ambassadors in the room, and I made a speech honoring somebody, and in the speech I called it
anti-Semitism, and these ambassadors were furious. And they came up to me – the British ambassador was there; he was a good friend – they came up to me and said, how can you say we're
anti-Semitic? I said, if you aren't anti-Semitic, prove it by letting Israel in.
So we named them, we shamed them, we worked with many of you in this room, and Israel got in. And we did the same this for Hadassah. We got them accredited in a bitter, bitter fight. We kept Sudan
off the Security Council. I mention all this before I go to my main subject because the U.N. – I know all of the problems you have with the U.N. – I really understand them – but
you've got two choices with the U.N. – since you can't eliminate it, it's there – you can fight every issue, every resolution, build up the coalition against the pro-Palestinian movement
by pointing out to countries like Nigeria and South Africa and that vast group of island states in the Caribbean South Pacific that they're not voting their own interests when they support these
anti-Semitic, anti-Israel resolutions, or you can sit back and do nothing.
We found every one, and I regret to say that approach ended three years ago. But if you fight every resolution, you raise the price, you begin cutting into their margin, it makes a big difference.
We had reached the point by the end of 2000 where the anti- Israel resolutions were no longer getting over 50 percent of the votes in the General Assembly, and that really sent a signal, and I think
if we kept that up we would have made progress.
I am here today to talk briefly about the election. It's only nine days away, and you all know the two candidates. But I want to say something about the agenda that each man – either man
would face on January 20th, or if President Bush is reelected, immediately, and I'd like to talk just about three issues, although there are many, many other issues. I want to talk about what you
might call the three I's: Iraq, Iran, and of course Israel. If you want, I'll talk about Italy, Ireland, and India too, but I – (laughter) – and Iceland. Let's not forget them.
First Iraq. Like most of you in this room, I suspect, I supported the resolution in Congress. Like all of you in this room, I thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I don't regret
supporting the effort to remove Saddam Hussein. He was a very, very bad man – worse than Milosevic. (Applause.) I don't regret that at all. He was worse than Milosevic. We had worked out a
policy that brought Milosevic to his just reward in The Hague, where he now is. And I felt that the President of the United States deserved our support.
Now, why has the situation reached this state of dispute, that there's been this constant refrain about every member of Congress' vote, and particularly Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards's votes?
I need to be very clear on this, and I want to take a moment to explain clearly and unambiguously what Senator Kerry's view is on this because it doesn't always get through in the din of
representation and misrepresentation and quick sound bites.
Senator Kerry does not regret the vote. He doesn't regret the vote at all. It is his contention, however, that had we known that there were no weapons of mass destruction, we would not have had to
go to war at that time, in that way, and that had the inspectors been allowed to finish the job, we would have found that out. This is not October 2004 revisionism. On March 17th of last year, the
same day that President Bush announced that the inspectors had to leave because the war would start, Senator Kerry issued a statement saying, it's a sad day; the inspectors should have been allowed
to finish the job.
Now, this is not an academic or historical issue. It's an issue of real consequence. It hurt us and it's going to hurt us going forward. We have had several major intelligence failures in our
nation's history: Pearl Harbor, the North Korean attack in June of 1950, the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968, which I remember rather vividly because I was working on Vietnam then. I wasn't in
Vietnam the day it happened, but I got there two weeks later and saw it continuing. And of course, 9/11. All of those four mistakes were our failure to detect a sneak attack. That's something that
happens. It's bad; it's terrible. Each time we have to examine it. But in the case of this issue, the intelligence committee did something without historical precedence: they discovered something
that wasn't there, and on the basis of this discovery went to war.
This is going to have – and I say this with the greatest regret, having worked with the CIA for over 40 years since I first worked with them in Vietnam when I served there as a young Foreign
Service officer – this is going to have forward-going consequences. Even the worst thugs in the world are going to throw our intelligence failures at us. When Senator Corzine and I were in
Khartoum a month ago on the Darfur crisis, telling them that we knew that these militia, the Janjawid, were bombing and strafing – were having the bombing and strafing support of the Sudanese
army, the vice president of Sudan – a real thug and one of the main authors of what Colin Powell has rightly called a genocide – the vice president of the country looked at John Corzine
and me and said, well, you said that about weapons of mass destruction. Now, it doesn't change the facts – the Sudanese government is guilty of genocide – but it does illustrate what's
going to be a recurring theme. But more important than that, it's going to erode our reputation and credibility for the next crisis, and the internals of this have not yet been sorted out.
So I want to be very clear on Senator Kerry's position here. He was always in favor of regime change, but he believes – and I believe the facts bear him out completely – that had we
allowed the inspectors to continue the job, we would have found there weren't weapons of mass destruction – the central argument for going to war in March of last year. Imminent danger, Tony
Blair's famous 40 minutes from London, was not true. We had time to work on a different approach.
Now, you all know what the costs are of the Iraq involvement now. They're fantastic, and I'm not just talking about the $150 billion costs. I'm not even talking only of the terrible loss of life.
I don't know how many of you have seen today's news, but terrible massacre today of 44 Iraqi soldiers who had enlisted and had signed up for our security force and who were just butchered –
shot in the back of the head at a roadside. And the first American diplomat killed today in Iraq – the first fulltime State Department officer. I'm not just talking about those terrible costs;
I'm also talking of the fact that our forces are now stretched too thin around the world so that they are withdrawing a brigade from Korea to back up Iraq. How can we withdraw a brigade from Korea in
the middle of a negotiation with a country that really has weapons of mass destruction? And what kind of signal does that send to Iran – which I'll talk about more in a moment.
Well, the costs are very real here. I'm not going to go into the policies of the two candidates on this issue because we don't have time and because you've heard them, but I do want to underscore
one thing, and it' s absolutely critical: John Kerry has said over and over and over again that he, if elected president, will not withdraw from Iraq. He's fully aware of the fact that such a
withdrawal, whether you were for the war or against the war beforehand, would now result in an even more chaotic situation, possibly a civil war, possibly the involvement of the neighbors, who are a
very bad lot, starting with Iran and Syria. The Turks would probably move into the north. He well understands that. He has made clear over and over again that he would finish the job, and he believes
he can do it better. And I need to underscore that because his position has not always been correctly represented in the heat of the bitter, bitter campaign.
Let me turn now to the most difficult of the three issues I need to mention to you, and that's Iran. Earlier today Steve Rosen very kindly invited me to sit in on what looked to me like an
extended staff meeting of the hierarchy of AIPAC with Brad Gordon, Rob Barnett (sp) and several other people were there. And then there were about 100 of those of you in the room now. And I listened
very carefully to the discussion of Iran, and I don't really have much to add to it – it was an extremely sophisticated analysis – but I would like to make an observation. The Iranians
– as was amply demonstrated in the discussion I hear about an hour and a half ago in this hotel – the Iranians are an enormous threat to the United States, the stability in the region,
and to the state of Israel. And the current policy of simply letting the French, Germans, and British represent our interests in Tehran is self-evidently not going to ever succeed. And anyone who's
worked with the Europeans knows this.
Now, some of you in the room may sense a certain irony in what I've just said because two of those three countries are what the Secretary of Defense has called the "old Europe," and Senator Kerry
says we're not multilateral enough. President Bush says Kerry is too multilateral, and yet here I am, as Senator Kerry has, criticizing what appears to be a multilateral effort. Now, I've worked with
the Europeans a lot – not just on the issues that Amy mentioned in introducing me – Israel and the regional group – but I've also worked with them on the Balkans, Bosnia, Kosovo,
East Timor, a whole slew of issues, and I can tell you one thing: the Europeans will never be an effective diplomatic tool without the U.S. taking the lead – never.
It isn't because – it's a lot of different reasons. It's cultural, it's their political system, it's the bureaucratic mess at the European Union. I'll give you an example to show how messy
they are. They decided to get in the North Korean issue once about two or three years ago, and they sent a EU delegate – (audio break, tape change) – current president of the European
Union – you know they rotate every six months – the past president, the future president – that's the so-called troika – plus they had the man who was the commissioner for
Foreign Affairs at the time; that was Chris Patten – plus they had a newly formed position at a different level, which they call Monsieur PESC, held by Solana, and then they had a special
So for the European Union, six different people from six different countries sat at the table. They never can get their act together, and for us to turn that over to the Iranians is just –
to this British, French, German group, will not work. If we are to make progress along the lines that I heard discussed so precisely this morning by the AIPAC leadership, the only way to do it is for
the U.S. to engage directly and aggressively. Now, since events are unfolding very rapidly and the Iranians have to prove their position within a month – but I'm sure they're not going to
– we're going to – if John Kerry is elected, this issue will inevitably rise to the level of what I would guess would be the second – one of the two or three top issues after Iraq.
And I cannot say today exactly what Senator Kerry would do as president because events between now and January 20th will dramatically affect the situation.
But I can say that in Iran, as in North Korea – where you'll notice, if you're following North Korea – the same thing applies: the United States is working within a six-nation group
and not talking directly to North Korea, which means we're losing our leverage, and in the debate, President Bush said, "China has more leverage with North Korea than we have;" let China push it. The
first half is a direct quote; the second half is a paraphrase.
Anyone who thinks that the Chinese will carry our water in North Korea or that the British, French, and Germans will carry our water in Iran does not realize the recent history, because it's not
how it works. When I was ambassador of Germany, Iran was the most contentious issue we had with Germany because we felt that they were selling things to Germany which they shouldn't be, and they
didn't agree with us on economic sanctions. So I say to you in both North Korea and Iran – which are critical because those are the second and third parts of the axis of evil – that the
administration's policies do not add up to a firm or steady course.
Let me close by turning to Israel, because we're on a very tight schedule. And here I want to talk about the – not about the details of Israel but about Israel in the presidential campaign
– with the permission of Bernice and Amy and Howard. I'm not here to criticize President Bush. His support for Israel is, in my mind, unquestioned. (Applause.) That wasn't supposed to be an
applause line. (Laughter.) But so is Senator Kerry's. (Applause.) You had me worried there for a minute. (Laughter.) Both men support Israel in the tradition of every president since – and I
can be very precise on this – 6:00 p.m. on May 15th, 1948, when Harry Truman signed the document recognizing the state of Israel. (Applause.)
A quick footnote: I coauthored Clark Clifford's memoirs, this great, distinguished person. When we sat down I said, how do you want to do this? He said, how do you want to do it? I said, let's not
start with your birth; let's start with the most memorable thing in your life. So he said, I want to start on May 9th, 1948 with the showdown with George Marshall and the Oval Office. And so I
researched this at length, and later on, when I went to the Truman Library, I was given a beautiful facsimile of the document I just mentioned. And if you don't have it, you should see it because
it's about four sentences long: "The United States recognizes" et cetera, et cetera, signed by Harry Truman, but where the name of the country is it says, "The Jewish State," and then in Clark
Clifford's handwriting – it's an extraordinary document – "The Jewish State" is crossed out and it says, "Israel," because until 15 minutes before Ben Gurion's declaration, we didn't know
what the country was going to be called. There was a lot of different names floating around – Judea and so on – and it was Effie Efrom (ph), the Jewish Agency representative in
Washington, who called up Clifford and said, "Israel," and he said, "How do you spell that?" (Laughter.) This document has got to be seen to be believed. It's just chilling to look at it.
In any case, both John Kerry and George W. Bush support Israel. That's not an issue. There is no American president who could not support Israel, and it's not what this election is about, and
that's why we haven't had a debate on it. Both candidates support the Gaza withdrawal. Both candidates support non-negotiations, no discussions with Yasser Arafat, and both candidates support the
I particularly stress the Arafat line. I only met Arafat once in my life – two hours at the U.N. He came to the Security Council after the collapse of Camp David. And I called up the White
House afterwards – they wanted me to do the meeting – and I said, I want to form an ABA – a club called the ABA: Anybody But Arafat club – because I, having negotiated with a
lot of bad people over the years – Milsosevic and Marcos and Mugabe – I got all the M's except Mobutu; I missed him – (laughter) – and a lot of thugs, I said, this guy will
never make a deal and I don't understand why we're making an effort. He is either unwilling or uncapable of an agreement, I don't know which, but we're never going to get there with him.
So no one's going to negotiate with Arafat next year no matter who wins, and the U.S. will support the government of Israel, and AIPAC will continue to be the leadership organization advocating
that and advocating a new generation of members of Congress. (Applause.) There is, however, one difference between the two candidates, and I want to outline it to you clearly, because, again, like
Iraq, there has been some misrepresentation on it, and that's the question of the special envoy.
Now, I want to be very clear on this. Senator Kerry has said more than once that if he's elected president, he will get more heavily involved in the effort in the Middle East, and that he would
appoint a special envoy. Now, there was a special envoy of one sort or another from 1973 under Nixon-Kissinger to the last day of President Clinton's presidency. One of them will be talking to you
tomorrow, if I'm not mistaken – Dennis Ross. And some of these efforts were very successful, like the 1978 Camp David agreements, which effectively took the issue of the war between Israel and
Egypt off the table. Others were not successful.
But – and this is a genuine difference between the two candidates – it is Senator Kerry's – it is my view anyway; I don't want to put specific words in the Senator's mouth,
although he has spoken to this issue many times – if we have an envoy, if we have an involved effort in the region, it is not at Israel's expense. It is not unilateral pressure on Israel for
concessions in a negotiation where there's no one to negotiate with. There is no one on the other side. You can't negotiate with Arafat, for the reasons I've already discussed, and the Palestinian
Authority is a mess right now. But an American presence, a concern for Israel's security, which includes a diplomatic wing, which has been missing for the last three years, in my view, is of value to
The United States should be continuously in the region pressuring the neighboring Arab states to stop supporting terrorism, to stop supporting the Palestinian terrorists. We should be much more
aggressive with Egypt, with Syria, with other countries in the region on behalf of Israel, and above all – above all with Saudi Arabia, which gets such a free ride, in my view, on this issue
that I cannot even understand it. (Applause.) Of course we all understand we get a lot of oil from Saudi Arabia, but are we going to be held hostage by the oil to a government which has underwritten
terrorism, which has never seriously – the Saudis, to my knowledge, have never agreed to be in a room with a representative of Israel, which teaches a generation after generation of
schoolchildren a map of the Mid-East which doesn't show Israel, which funds the worst kind of madrassas all the way from Nigeria to Indonesia, and which, as we all know, was the birthplace of many,
if not most, of the 9/11 hijackers. I just don't feel comfortable with this and I don't believe that we in the last three years have done remotely enough on the Saudi front. (Applause.)
And I need to stress – I'm talking to you today as a friend of yours, as a friend of Israel, and as a person who feels that there has been a misunderstanding on the part of some people
– deliberate misrepresentation on this point, so let me just say one last time, a diplomatic effort to couple our unstinting, unambiguous support of Israel's security does not in any way
suggest pressure on Israel for any kind of concessions. I need to stress that. (Applause.) And that is the essential difference, phrased the way I have phrased it – I'm not putting every word
I've just said into the senator's mouth, but that is the essential difference.
So, we face next year a very difficult agenda. There is no room for complacency – not for the United States, not for its next chief executive, not for AIPAC. I believe – truly believe
that the next president of the United States will face the most serious and daunting agenda in the international field of any president since at least 1945, and when Harry Truman became president,
the war was almost over, he inherited a united team, the Congress was in the hands of the same party as the White House, and the great decisions – NATO, the recognition of Israel, the Marshall
Plan, the Cold War, resistance to Korea all lay in the future. So it's a long time, if ever, that a new president will have faced such a daunting agenda. Whoever wins in nine days – and we all
know how bitterly contested this election is – whoever wins in nine days, I think that we're all going to have to unite behind the new president – or the next president – and we're
going to have to work hard on this, and I can guarantee you that AIPAC will be as important as it has been in this long 50 years in which you have played such an indispensable role.
Thank you so much for letting me do this. (Applause.)