Human Rights, Security, & the Helsinki Legacy: A Discussion with Peter Osnos

Feb 5, 2024 55 min listen

This Carnegie Council special event features a roundtable conversation with author Peter Osnos on human rights, security, and the legacy of the Helsinki Accords. Osnos is the founder of the publishing house PublicAffairs and is a former correspondent and editor for The Washington Post. His latest book is titled Would You Believe . . . The Helsinki Accords Changed the World? This event took place at Carnegie Council on January 24, 2024.

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JOEL ROSENTHAL: As you can see, tonight we are set up for conversation, deliberately so. Lectures are fine, and there is always a time and place for them, but not tonight. I know Peter joins me in hoping for questions, for dialogue, and a healthy exchange of views, and we really want to tap into the knowledge and experience around this table, which is considerable.

We asked Peter to join us this evening because of his wide and deep knowledge of international affairs. As he titled his memoir, he has had “an especially good view” of the past 50 or so years of world events. I think most of you know his background as a journalist, author, and publisher, and his firsthand experience on all of the major stories involving many of the major protagonists in international relations over the last several decades.

I wanted to have Peter here tonight because for me he embodies the values of this institution, and it is what distinguishes our work from many of the other worthy international affairs organizations in this city, this country, and around the world, but Peter has the experience and the ability to reason, reflect, and promote—through his writing, through his work, and through his journalism—the principles that are central to this Council around pluralism, human rights, and ideas of basic human decency and fairness.

With that, we are going to jump in. I know Peter wants to get going, so I am going to tee it up with a couple of questions, but as our format suggests we are going to have dialogue, discussion, Q&A, and so on. I am going to start with a couple but get ready because we want to hear from you.

I am going to use as my point of departure the Helsinki book and the Helsinki moment because that is how we started our conversation. The title of the book is: Would You Believe . . . the Helsinki Accords Changed the World? Advancing Global Human Rights and, for Decades, Security in Europe. We understand Helsinki as an origin moment for the idea of human rights and security as we understand it today.

To start, could you tell us a little bit about this unlikely story of Helsinki roughly 50 years ago? I have a couple of questions related to this, which I think will tee it up for our conversation: Do you think these ideas are holding up against current events and trends? Obviously the wars in Ukraine and Gaza are central to our concerns now. Some of us are deeply worried and concerned about the human rights project as it was imagined in Helsinki 50 years ago.

PETER OSNOS: Thank you, first of all, and congratulations on this magnificent space.

I think what we now realize is that Helsinki, the Helsinki Accords, and what they represented, which was the moment in which essentially World War II boundaries were set—divided Germany, the Oder-Neisse line, which divided Europe, all that postwar sense of East/West—and in it were provisions about how people should be treated, meaning much more open dialogue, open immigration, and so forth.

At the time it was seen as just a bunch of pages, but what was not understood at the time is that we had reached a moment where if you actually looked at the words and began to implement what was in them something would happen, and what did happen is that between 1975, when Helsinki was signed—35 countries signed it, including the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union, and so on—was that basically until 2022, when Putin went into Ukraine the borders were fixed in a positive way because you actually had language in the Accords which enabled Germany to be reunited.

The second thing that happened was that you put on paper the kind of language that would enable human rights organizations to get started. Helsinki Watch, which came right after the Helsinki Accords, where Susan worked for 20 years and where I was on the board for a long time and wrote about, is a bunch of dissidents, Andrei Sakharov and a few other people in a kitchen basically, and today Human Rights Watch, which is the descendent of Helsinki Watch, is 650 people with a huge endowment and covers the world in ways that were inconceivable at the time the Accords were signed, which is why I say they changed the world. On one hand, Europe, where one war after another started, was essentially stable. Even the Balkan wars took place within the boundaries of the old Yugoslavia.

We basically created a situation in Europe that was stable and provided language which began to give human rights global reach that it had never had before. Amnesty International existed; they wrote letters on behalf of political prisoners, but it was very different from what the human rights movement became. That is why I say Helsinki was so substantial and so unexpectedly significant.

Susan’s father, as it happens, was the chief American representative on negotiations while being ambassador to Czechoslovakia. I knew every member of the Helsinki Moscow group—Sakharov, Sharansky, all of them. Later on the board I wrote about it.

I decided to write about it not as a dispassionate observer but as a journalist who actually understood it. I am probably one of the very few people who actually read every word of the Accords because I had to to write a book. That is essentially what it was.

Where is it now? I don’t think there is any question that we have taken a very substantial step backward on security in Europe. You have a full-on war, which is now about to get to two years, and it is a stalemate. No one knows quite how it is going to get resolved. On human rights I think it is a fair statement to say that in places like Gaza and around the world the idea that human rights are respected or that the laws of war are being upheld do not apply. So, yes, we have taken a substantial step backward.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Following this line, the Accords come out of this geopolitical moment, the Cold War moment, so I cannot resist asking you about Henry Kissinger as well. We are two or three months now from his death. There has been so much written about his legacy. To me, because you are talking about security and human rights, Kissinger is in there. I am just curious of your reflections.

PETER OSNOS: Kissinger was in fact dismissive of the concept of the Helsinki Accords, and he thought it was going to be just a lot of people getting together and talking. One of the reasons that Susan’s father was appointed to be the chief American delegate was because he had been the ambassador in Czechoslovakia, so it was a part-time job.

One of the things that amused me at the time was that their residence in Prague was a palace, one of the best in the entire Foreign Service. The premises he lived in to negotiate the Helsinki Accords had a Murphy bed, so you can see there was a difference between the perception of being ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

On the other hand, this thing had its own momentum, and Kissinger in the end, according to the history of it, which as I said I studied, was very significant. It was he who actually got the language put in that said to the Soviets, “If there is a strong preference for reunification of Germany, there has to be language in it to allow it.” He and Gromyko negotiated that in Vienna. The Soviets agreed to put in what essentially was human rights language because they were so eager to get the security provisions, the borders. What happened was that the Soviets were so intent on getting something signed that they did not realize what they were giving away. Of course Kissinger would tell you that was his triumph, and I suppose on some level it was.

On the other hand, we were in Vietnam. We were in Cambodia. The cynicism that you discover over and over again in Kissinger—I guess some people would call it realpolitik; it is “getting the job done”—and the reason he has been getting the kind of attention he is is that he really was everywhere all the time for a very long time. He lived to 100, and in his 99th year was sitting down with Xi Jinping, which is pretty amazing. So he spanned the entire period that started with World War II and has gotten us to where we are now, and I think history is going to say he was a very significant figure and did an awful lot of stuff which was significant, not all of it positive.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: I think he wrote a little bit about this idea of human rights. He took it seriously to some level in terms of the perceptions of legitimacy.

PETER OSNOS: My sense of him as a person was that he had no idea that you could create a human rights movement. Remember in 1948 the International Declaration of Human Rights came at a time when people were beginning to talk about genocide and holocaust in ways that we truly did not understand. I have always been fascinated by the degree to which no one really understood just what it had meant in Europe that 6 million people had been massacred.

Human rights as a concept was beginning to be discussed, but a human rights movement I think probably in this country began with civil rights. The civil rights movement established a way in which individuals could mobilize together to achieve goals. Because it also coincided with the rise of television and subsequently other social movements—antiwar, feminism, and so forth—created a culture in which people began to believe that you can mobilize outside government to make changes.

In this country the relationship between human rights and civil rights I think is profound and not truly understood to the extent that we did not talk about human rights in this country. If anybody ever talked about the international global declaration of 1948 it was basically, “Eat your peas.” It was not taken all that seriously as a mandate for change, which is why civil rights was important and subsequently the antiwar movement. Helsinki came along in the middle of all of that.

One other thing, which is part of the book and not completely understood, is that idea in the Accords that you could immigrate happened to coincide with the movement in the Soviet Union on behalf of the Jewish population, which was trying to go to either Israel or the United States, and what the Accords did was say to the people in this country who were advocating it, “Here are the rules.”

Again, what you had was a template. You thought it was just a lot of rhetoric, but once you had a template, once you had a map, people could begin to pursue the map, and that is what happened.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: I am going to open it up soon, but I am going to keep going until somebody interrupts me. I was going to ask you this based on our conversation the other day. I remember now that you edited Jimmy Carter and worked with him closely, if we could pick up the story there, because you were talking about this relationship from civil rights to human rights.

PETER OSNOS: Jimmy Carter, when he announced in January of 1975 that he was going to run for president, his hometown paper, The Atlanta Constitution, said, “Jimmy Who?” He is a former governor, and somehow 18 months later he was president of the United States.

I have come to believe—where we are right now everybody thinks the situation is completely frozen, it is Trump and Biden, and oh, my god. The truth is, anything can happen on any given day. I give you September 10 and 9/11; I give you October 6 and October 7.

Carter was very much framed by personality with religion and the belief in principles of humanism, and subsequently the civil rights movement, which he had a complicated relationship with as governor—he was the governor of Georgia—but when he got in he was pushing against what had come before him curiously and the way these things work. Gerald Ford, who was the president who actually went to Helsinki, did it over the objections of people like The Wall Street Journal editorial page and William Safire. He was under a lot of pressure not to go, but he did. Then there was pushback, and when he was asked to see Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the White House, he said actually, “I’m doing my sock drawer,” or whatever he said.

Carter comes in, and one of the first things he does, with his background in civil rights and instinctive sense of humanism, is write a letter to Sakharov. In Moscow the Soviets looked at that and said: “Writing to Sakharov? That’s outrageous.” That was the beginning.

In other words you had this weird confluence in which Ford had gone to Helsinki, took a certain amount of guff for it so backs away from human rights, and then Carter jumps in. American politics is sometimes not governed by great deep principles but by circumstance, and I think that is certainly the case here.

So Carter starts with the letter to Sakharov and meeting with a couple of dissidents in the White House, which drove the Soviets nuts. The following year, 1977, they did a huge crackdown followed by what was called the “Helsinki follow-up,” where the American delegation that came to be led by Arthur Goldberg, the former Supreme Court justice and former Labor secretary, and a very, very staunch advocate for his views. He took human rights to the follow-up conference and again made it part of the table. He had the support of the administration, which was interested in human rights.

One thing led to another, and I think it began to cascade. I think Jimmy Carter believed it and lived it. I like to say, as you will have noted, the Carters were legitimate. When I worked with them in Plains, their table was a lot less impressive than this one. We said grace; we had sandwiches. One night, in their bedroom where they had a television, we watched Ronald Reagan squirm through a speech on the Iran-Contra business, so for Carter all of this became real, and the more he did it the more real it became, and I do think his record as an advocate on behalf of human rights is legitimately honorable and that he deserved the Nobel Prize that he eventually got.

QUESTION: I think that is exactly right about Carter. I was also thinking as you were talking about Solzhenitsyn, the old saying, “One word of truth saves the world,” but I have something more depressing to ask I guess.

I associate Helsinki and everything you described coming out of it with, as you say, the rise in faith that civil movements of different kinds—protest movements, of course the civil rights movement in the United States but many others around the world, Russian refuseniks, Solidarity in Poland, and so on—could not always but sometimes succeed in pushing political change. I feel like something happened after the Arab Spring, in 2011 or 2012, somewhere in there, where the leading dictators of the world just decided, “We are never going to let that happen again,” so Syria; in Venezuela you had these mass marches and movements, Juan Guaidó; Myanmar; the Hong Kong protests; so many, one after another, were crushed, but we still have today an even more vibrant set of civic organizations, human rights nongovernmental organizations, that are still trying to do that, to make progress through these sorts of civic movements. I am not saying they achieve nothing. I think they achieve a lot of consciousness raising, but could we now be at a different point in world history where that is not going to be enough to cross some big threshold. I worry.

PETER OSNOS: European history, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, you have the massacre of Armenians, you have the Holocaust. The record of civilization is filled with moments in which things change for the better or they don’t.

If you look, for example, at Poland, I would say there were three people—all of whom, as it happens, I had engagement with in one way or another—who were responsible for what happened in Eastern Europe in ways that most people did not understand. Not all were obvious ones. Jimmy Carter was and Andrei Sakharov. Here is a guy in slippers who leads a movement that eventually is so powerful in its international impact that the Soviet Union, among other reasons, dissolves.

The second one is Pope John Paul. I was in Poland as a reporter in 1979 for The Washington Post and saw what went on in Poland in 1979. I knew at the time that the Polish government, regime, or whatever you want to call it, at the time was doomed, and only a few months later came Solidarity. When you saw an entire country that was supposedly communist in a political sense turn out for a religious figure—remember Stalin: “How many divisions does the Pope have?” In this instance he had quite a lot.

The third one, which I think is the one that may require you to absorb, is George Soros because George Soros started in the 1980s, because he saw that things were moving, to create a network of civil society, and because he was so rich all those communists said, “If he’s rich, he must be smart,” so they let him begin to create civil society.

Civil society in Eastern Europe—Catholics and Solidarity in Poland, civil society including in the former Soviet Union for a while—were things that happened in a certain period of time, and inevitably there was a pushback, some of it in the Middle East. Every time you think there is some progress you discover that the Middle East is what it is, but remember until the early part of 1979 Iran was a very close ally, and then one day it became our nemesis and controls a lot of the turbulence that is going on in the Middle East. Is that forever? I don’t know.

I think there are certain elements of the way history operates that are so embedded—one thing we know: You can take the communists out of Russia, but it turns out you cannot take the Russians out of Russia.

That is what we are seeing. Russian activity in Ukraine is very emblematic of the history of Russians in one way or another. There is a czar and there is a degree of commitment to imperial goals because that is what they are. That is what the Russians are.

What you see in this country, which is one of the reasons people always go back to de Tocqueville, is that we still behave a lot like what he said we would, for better or worse. I do think there are certain patterns in history that repeat, and at the moment, as you say, correctly, we are in a period in which tyranny, repression, and violence are ascendent, but it is not World War I, it is not World War II, and it is not nuclear, which is a thing that is fascinating.

QUESTION: I want to play devil’s advocate. In the movement that brought down the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union there was this wonderful Helsinki spirit, but there was also nationalism. We see now in the evolution of a number of former Warsaw Pact countries how nationalism has taken over, not completely, but in Hungary and Poland it is problematic.

I wonder: When you said this American/European struggle became then a global struggle, if one of the reasons why it has a hard time actually becoming global is not just because they are some nasty dictators who are pushing back but also because the sense of identity of a number of countries and people around the world feel that this is something that is being imposed on them by giants in the North so there is a certain schadenfreude now in seeing that the North is not so triumphant.

PETER OSNOS: Again, I would make a somewhat broader point, which is that what you see as history evolves is that some of what we think is happening today has always been happening. The idea that Poland has got this struggle between the two elements of Polish character, well, that is Poland. The idea that Russia, in historical terms, went through a relatively short period first of the Soviet era and has reverted essentially to the pre-Soviet area.

I think in the United States what we have seen—and I think it has become increasingly clear in recent years—is that the fundamental narrative about what kind of country this is is being heavily reexamined partly because of the way history works, partly because of the way media works, and partly because of the way our understanding of social movements works. I think any one of us will tell you that we should have had had a better understanding of the history of race but we certainly have a better understanding now than we did. We live in a moment-to-moment world, so we look at things from moment to moment, but sometimes they just are all part of a spectrum of history, and it is very hard to change what is deeply ingrained.

I think the Russia story is a particularly good one because in 1991, no more Soviet Union. I did two books with Boris Yeltsin, and I can tell you, when I say I “did a book” with somebody it was not like somebody came along and I hooked the graphs. I spent enough time with Boris Yeltsin to have a real opinion. This is a guy who showed a certain kind of courage in transforming Russia from what it was, but then suddenly he gets up one morning and he has this huge country in a total mess, he does not really know what to do, he has no kind of vision—as could he?—for an economy, so it lasts about ten to twelve years.

Just after he stepped down in 2000, I was visiting him at his dacha, and I asked, “Why Putin?” Remember, he chose Putin to be his successor. He resigned literally on January 1, 2000, and Putin I think was made prime minister or something. Anyway, he was designated.

Boris Nikolayevich sits there and says: “Wow, all the other guys were just toadies. I said: ‘This Putin guy, he’s pretty tough. I think he can handle what is going on, the mess.’” That was a bet—and it turns out we got what we got—in which he simply asserted classic Russian czarist-style behavior, oligarchs, military, and so on.

What I am saying is that, yes, the facts on the ground as they evolve are always going to be what we look at right now, but if we frame them in a broader historical context sometimes they make more sense, for better or worse. You could say, “Can we really ever change anything?” Well, we can because what we now know is that you can change almost anything with a gun, with assassination, as we did several times in modern American history, or a single wildly inspirational person like Osama bin Laden. Look what he did. You have this weird mix of the rhythms of history and the presence—Tolstoy had a lot to say on this subject—of individuals or situations.

QUESTION: I was very struck by the way the conversation led from your reference to Henry Kissinger and the number of individuals who have been spotlighted from Boris Yeltsin to Ambassador Sherer and others who were involved in the process. It occurred to me that we very often look at individuals in the sense of their public persona and how they present themselves.

In Gerald Ford you had the only unelected President of the United States, who was desperate to create a platform which would make him electable, and it is surmised that he chose Helsinki because that would win him the support of dissidents in this country on issues like Vietnam and the student protests; you had the Soviet troika, which was very uneasy between Brezhnev, Podgorny, and Kosygin, and which was trying to reach out to the United States through the arms control treaties of 1972 and 1973, and then move on to Helsinki and the three baskets of human rights; and you had Willy Brandt, who was looking for his second Nobel Prize, so you had all of these individuals with personal agendas of their own which coalesced into this remarkable experiment.

What occurs to me is that we do not have that sense of personal involvement, of personal stake, in the issues 50 years later, particularly something like climate change.

PETER OSNOS: Yes, but we might have them and not yet realize who they are. Again, one of the great ironies is that Gerald Ford always said that the biggest blunder anyone ever made in a presidential debate is what he said about Poland: “Poland is not under the thumb of the Soviets.” He didn’t know what he was talking about, but he was right. Poland in the 1970s, because of the church, because of the incipient belief among Poles that there is always going to be a Poland that is not Soviet—he just did not know what he was talking about. He did not understand the issues.

There is a wonderful new biography if you have some time—it’s 900 pages—by Richard Norton Smith. I think it is called An Ordinary Man: The Surprising Life and Historic Presidency of Gerald R. Ford. It is a full biography of Gerald Ford. I would say as a publisher I don’t know how many people are going to read it, but if you do, you come away with a sense of how Ford functioned as a non-elected president. I don’t think he understood Helsinki at all, I mean truly understood the kinds of technicalities and provisions, although Ambassador Sherer by a weird coincidence shared a law office with him when they were both studying for the bar. That was just incidental.

I think the thing is that right now, if I asked you to identify the great leaders of Europe—who is the guy who runs Germany? Poor old Macron?

It is just a weird moment, partly because I think—and this is a whole other area which we have not touched on yet—of the way information flows. The bombardment of media stimulation has made almost everybody vulnerable. Literally overnight you can be destroyed, so it is very hard for people—well, I would say with the exception of Donald Trump, who can for some reason absorb it no matter how much there is.

I think of Kwame Nkrumah, I think of the Kenneth Kaunda, I think of Mandela, I think of all of the people who were so important in a certain period of time—Sadat—and it would be very tough to have that kind of individual stature now given the pressures the world inflicts upon you on a day-to-day basis.

As for the climate, that it is a whole other—and I do not have a hell of a lot to say about it.

QUESTION: I will preface this with I will own the romanticism of the question when I get there. I actually found a lot of hope in your book. I found it really hopeful that the right people were in the right place at the right time as you talk about or it could have gone totally differently. One of the quotes that made me laugh of hopefulness is talking about the fact that they “didn’t accomplish anything, but they didn’t do damage either,” which I think is actually amazing considering the time we live in now.

I am going to ask the question differently: What makes you hopeful with regard to human rights or some of these border and security issues now if anything at all?

PETER OSNOS: Really you got the point of the book. The reason I called it Would You Believe that the Helsinki Accords Changed the World? is because no one thought it would. As you said, at the end of it they all went out, had a drink, went home, and said: “Well, that was that. We did the best we could.”

The provisions in the Accords said that every country had to publish the thing in full. I am promising you that The New York Times did not publish the Helsinki Accords in full, but Pravda did, so essentially everybody could read it there if they wanted to. Then there was a congressional delegation that came and met with the dissidents who had the Accord in Pravda, one of whom was Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey. She was a fabulous character and worth looking up. She smoked with a holder.

Initially somebody said, “Aren’t you the reporter?”

“No, I’m Congresswoman Fenwick.”

She was the one who said to this aggregation of Russian dissidents she was meeting with: “You know, this thing is written down. Are you going to do something with it?”

That was in August. They then got together, a couple of them, Sakharov, Orlov, Sharansky, and said: “She has a point. Let’s create something out of this.”

Do I have hope? Yes, I have hope because always there is the possibility that circumstances will enable at one time or another the unexpected, for better in this case. Honestly, I would say you would have a hard time finding anybody on August 2, 1975, the day after it was signed, who said, “This is going to change the world,” and when I sat down to write a book about it I did not think this was going to be a huge commercial success because it does not relate in any broader sense from the way we think things work.

The only thing that is truly predictable about the future is that it is the future. There are trends, there are historical phenomena that repeat, but then things happen overnight and, for the moment anyway, change. Is that fair?

QUESTION: Peter, you make the point that the Accords inspired people to work for change, but change has happened as has happened with Russia and Ukraine. The commitment to maintaining borders has fallen apart, and nobody is enforcing it, or the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) cannot enforce it.

There was a warning that change for the worse could happen, and it was given by a Russian ambassador named Kozyrev in 1992. They were having a conference of the CSCE, and he got up and delivered this address that shocked the people who heard it. He was saying that the Russians were not going to put up with anybody else messing with the borders of the Baltic States or Russia, etc. It shocked people so much that they went to the telephones and called up to see if there had been a coup or something in Moscow because things had been going well up until that point.

Half an hour later, after they were milling around, he came back and said: “Forget what I said. It was all just a warning to you that things can change for the worse.” And they did, of course, with Putin, as you said. Kozyrev interestingly was foreign minister of Russia for four years after that and stayed in the Duma, the parliament, until 2010. Guess what he did then? He went to Miami, where he lives today.

What about, when change comes for the worse, there is no way to enforce the accomplishments?

PETER OSNOS: Did you cover that thing in 1992? Did you hear him say it? Is that your story? There is very little that Craig did not cover in those years.

The way to understand Ukraine is that in Putin’s mind Ukraine is not a foreign country. That is not altogether false. The way the borders and nationalities of that part of the world move, borders went back and forth. For 150 years Poland was Russian. When you ask a lot of people where their ancestors came from, they say, “Somewhere over there,” it might have been Ukraine, it might have been Poland, or it might have been Lithuania. What Putin seriously underestimated was that the Ukrainians liked the fact that they were now Ukraine and not just an extension of what had been the Russian Empire.

That is true in Poland as well. When the Poles think about what the Germans did to them at one time and what the Russians did to them at another time, part of what the Poles think about all the time is, “We want to be Polish.” The Ukrainians it turns out want to be Ukrainian. Unfortunately, Ukraine is in Putin’s mind, and not altogether incorrectly, an extension of classic Russia and the Russian Empire.

I think it was 2007 when Putin for the first time made clear how angry he was. I recommend if you have the time and patience to read—I would say it is historical pornography now—but when Putin was first named, his first media advisor actually was a guy who had worked with Yeltsin named Valentin Yumashev. I was in Moscow, and we met with him. He said: “Putin wants to know how he should introduce himself to the world. Should we write a book?”

I said, “Well, no, because everybody will know he didn’t really write it.”

This is now 2001. I said, “Suppose he sits down with a group of Russian journalists and does an open-ended session with them, a full autobiographic set of interviews.”

So that happened. It is called First Person, and it is a book you should read, but my favorite parts of it are the things that Putin said and the photographs he gave us to put in the book. Did you know that his nickname was Rufka? That was his nickname from his friends. Do you know that there is a picture of him holding a baby and another one with a dog, kissing. He was telling us what a good guy he was. That was his initial impulse for media management.

We did not understand as a society and as a world that what we were getting was what we were getting, and it took time for that to become clear because the more he thought about it the angrier he got, because he knew—he is a Russian, and Russians are very sensitive to these things—that we were basically demeaning Russia in all kinds of ways. We were tolerating them, we were inviting them to come in, but they were the loser, and he did not want to be a loser.

So this man who thought he could somehow be part of the West or part of the world, gradually his old animus, the traditional, deeply ingrained Russian sense of insecurity or whatever it is, or belief in themselves as a great power, was resumed. Whether it could have ever been different, unfortunately we will never know, but the fact is that there always is in Russia this weird combination—I have always been fascinated by the degree that in War and Peace everybody in St. Petersburg spoke French. They didn’t speak Russian.

The Russians have this very complicated relationship with the world, and I think Putin is a manifestation of that in his willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of the Russian Imperial sense, for a guy who at one time thought of himself as Rufka.

QUESTION: A bit of a different approach. History does repeat. There are these periods where it feels unprecedented, and maybe in some ways it is, there is an arc to that, there is the postmortem, and then a sort of recovery. However the Ukraine situation ultimately concludes or moves to its next chapter, as we talked about earlier, how does the move forward wind up being written with lessons learned from this period in your mind in a way that is productive?

PETER OSNOS: I think at the moment—it is not being said as forcefully as in fact is true—we are at a stalemate. Neither side can win in this war at this point. At some point something has to change, and what exactly that will be I don’t know. I think the Ukrainians are beginning to understand that the notion that they can somehow drive the Russians out altogether is probably more—and the Russians understand that they are not going to take over Ukraine. So what will happen?

What will happen is what happens in international diplomacy. At some point some way will be found, nobody will win, but you can in those deliberations come up with something positive, like at the end of World War II you ended up with the United Nations and so forth, or something horrendous, like Versailles.

What will come out of Ukraine? What will come out of Gaza? You know for sure that this war in Gaza has to have a resolution. You are not going to in the end be able to say that there is no Hamas in Gaza. You are not going to be able to say that Israel lost because they are not going to, so what will you say?

Craig, Susan, and I were all in Vietnam together. I am now studying that period particularly carefully. Vietnam ended technically for the United States in January of 1973, but when it ended there was a peace treaty, withdrawal—actually, Craig, you and I were on the border almost to the very day up in Quang Tri when the ceasefire was announced, and we watched the people waving at each other across the river.

CRAIG WHITNEY: Then we came down the road a bit and there was fighting going on. The South Vietnamese wanted to establish where the ceasefire was.

PETER OSNOS: The South Vietnamese officer who saw Craig and I and our Vietnamese interpreter shot out our tires and left us by the side of the road. Anyway, that is not relevant.

The point simply is that the resolution of the Vietnam War was not a resolution. What the resolution in Gaza will be remains to be seen, but the idea that it could actually resolve strikes me as unlikely in Ukraine, unlikely in Gaza, and we will see.

QUESTION: This may warrant an additional session altogether—maybe I will tee it up for cocktails—but I think inquiring minds want to know, when you think back to working with President Trump on Trump: The Art of the Deal, can you have fathomed that he would be president 30 years later? What are the lessons from that when you think back to what you learned from working with him on that, and was he the same guy then that he is now?

PETER OSNOS: I was, for those of you who may have missed it somehow, the designated editor of The Art of the Deal, but I also was the publisher of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Obama’s great book. My daughter always says that when I get to the pearly gates they are going to say, “Art of the Deal,” and I am going to say, “Dreams from My Father,” and they are going to say, “Purgatory.” So there is hope.

I will say simply because it is such a big subject that the man I saw in those years as his editor—the book was being written by a guy who now regrets it terribly, Tony Schwartz, who did a hell of a good job telling the story. What was fascinating to me and remains fascinating to me was watching the impact of the book when it came out. This is Donald Trump the developer. It sold a million copies in its first three months of sale. People said, “He must have bought them.” He didn’t buy them; he’s too cheap.

Eighteen months or two years later but before The Apprentice he was promoting professional wrestling in Atlantic City. I went with my son, who was very briefly a fan of professional wrestling. We got tickets, the face value of which were $10,000. That is a Trumpian saying.

He, a friend of his, and I went to see this. We sat there, the three of this. Trump comes in. This is 1988 or 1989; 18,000 people who paid money to see professional wrestling stood up and cheered, and that was the moment when I said, “We have a problem.” But it did not in 1988—yet—seem to me that he would end up not only being the president of the United States but on the verge of being the candidate again.

There was something in the way this man related to people which, although then he was a developer and media figure, there was something in the way he engaged with a portion of humanity, which found him irresistible, and I think that is what we are dealing with. Other than that, I have no opinions.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Peter, thank you so much. This was enlightening and exactly what we hoped for.

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an independent and nonpartisan nonprofit. The views expressed within this roundtable are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the position of Carnegie Council.

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