Future Challenges: The UN and the UNA. David Speedie Interviews Ambassador Thomas Miller

October 28, 2009

DAVID SPEEDIE: I'm David Speedie, director of the Program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs in New York.

As part of our ongoing interview series, I'm delighted to welcome today Ambassador Thomas Miller, the relatively newly appointed president of the United Nations Association of the United States of America.

Tom, you came from a 30-year career as a diplomat, garnering numerous awards for service, beginning at the Department of State on Middle East and North African affairs. You were also an executive assistant to the President's Envoy to the Middle East, which involved you in the Palestinian peace process. After, you were ambassador to Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also negotiated in Cyprus.

All tough billets, to some extent, the Middle East peace process, postwar reconstruction in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Which was the toughest?

THOMAS MILLER: They were all different. I think Bosnia was very, very difficult. It was right after the war and there was just tremendous physical and emotional destruction. It was kind of a new paradigm for us in the United States. We've since had Iraq, Afghanistan. But I think there are a lot of lessons learned from Bosnia.

Greece was tough when I was ambassador because there was a terrorist group that was killing Americans, as well as Greeks, and we had security for the 2004 Olympics.

The Middle East peace process—you all know how difficult that is. I actually was working on it at a time when it was pretty good. This was when Rabin was the prime minister in the early 1990s, and we actually did a lot of good stuff.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Do you miss the fray of direct engagement in these frontline situations?

THOMAS MILLER: Not really. I tend to not look back. I've enjoyed very much what I've done subsequent to my time in the State Department. For four years, I headed one of the world's largest children's charities, or non-government organizations. It has been a fascinating six-month period since I came on as president and CEO of the United Nations Association of the U.S.

DAVID SPEEDIE: You came to UNA, United Nations Association of the U.S., at a propitious time and a difficult time, perhaps, both. It was, among other things, the early days of the new Obama Administration. Perhaps the most distinctive self-assumed cachet of the administration is what the president described in a speech to the UN General Assembly in September as a new era of engagement. In Cairo, of course, he adopted the same theme of engagement with the Muslim world and so on and so forth.

From your vantage point—and, admittedly, you're both rookies, as it were—how do you think he's doing?

THOMAS MILLER: Let's also remember that he came in the most difficult economic crisis in our lifetime, David. Let's remember that he came when we were in the middle of two wars.

I think, under the circumstances, he's doing pretty well. I say this as a Foreign Service officer who never indicated his political affiliation and one who served loyally in many different administrations, Republican and Democrat. I think the circumstances in which this president came into office were the most difficult, most trying, most challenging of any president in my lifetime, and I think he's doing a pretty good job.

DAVID SPEEDIE: But in various forums, including the online bulletin that you do - I'm sorry, I've forgotten the name; you do a regular bulletin that goes out online—

THOMAS MILLER: The World Bulletin.

DAVID SPEEDIE: The World Bulletin, I'm sorry.

In various forums, you kind of hold the administration's feet to the fire on this engagement business. In a September op-ed piece in The New York Times with Bill McDonough and Tom Pickering, you speak of "do as I do" diplomacy of the U.S.—not just talkin' the talk, but walkin' the walk—both for the sake of our pledge to restore our moral standing in the world and, presumably, for the general good of the world.

What's your sense of how this will unfold?

THOMAS MILLER: I think it's very important for organizations like the United Nations Association of the U.S. to keep their focus very, very clear. What we were trying to do is remind the administration of their commitments, of what they said during the campaign. The specific article you are referring to is calling attention to the fact that the United States takes leadership in a lot of areas around the world and is seen as a leader, in the human rights area, in any number of areas. But we often don't sign the underlying conventions or treaties that are behind those issues. I just would tick off a few for you:

And the list goes on and on and on. So what we were trying to do in this editorial was to remind the administration that it undercuts their moral authority when they don't sign the conventions that they indeed led on the issues.

DAVID SPEEDIE: You describe it at one point as "the forgotten tool of U.S. foreign policy." In other words, the U.S. has taken a lead in many of these treaties, but has then sort of fallen over its own feet in following through.

Of course, in the case of Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, or CTBT, there's the question of the Senate vote, 60 votes. Even in the Senate, it's going to be tough to bring to fruition.

I want to get to UNA, by the way. I'm just interested in your view of some of the issues that are more pertinent to the global picture.

You point out in one place that this slippage, as it were, is not just attributable to the perceived-by-some anti-engagement years of the Bush Administration. This goes beyond that. It's a sort of equal-opportunity foul-up or loss of place, as it were.

How did it happen? To what do you attribute this?

THOMAS MILLER: On the conventions or more—

DAVID SPEEDIE: On the question of falling short on our obligations.

THOMAS MILLER: I think there are a couple of things that are out there that are common themes. One is, some people in this country interpret some of these conventions as superseding U.S. national law. That's just not true. This is best-efforts stuff.

Secondly, on some of the conventions—take the Convention of the Rights of the Child—some people, again erroneously, interpret this as invading on the primacy of the parents in raising children. There's nothing in there that says the state is going to start raising your children.

Some of it is just plain and simple ideological sovereignty issues. Indeed, the Law of the Sea is a great example. If you want to look at how to best advance American economic and military security interests, you would sign the Law of the Sea and have it ratified by the Senate immediately. That, according to our military, according to our corporate sector that's involved in deep-seabed mining, is the kind of stuff they need to protect their rights.

So there's a tremendous contradiction here when you get past kind of the ideological argument.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I'm still picking up that it's partly an education process, but the jury, to some extent, is still out. There's every indication that the president takes the UN seriously as a global agent for change, perhaps, and addressing the greatest global challenges. Yet at one point, you were quoted, before the UN session, I should say, as saying—I love this expression, by the way—"I'd love to see the president say something about the U.S. putting its pen where its mouth is." Very felicitous, if I may say.

So there's still work to be done.

THOMAS MILLER: There's a tremendous amount of work. I think, again, getting back to that editorial that Ambassador Pickering, Bill McDonough, and I signed, the point there was, with the administration having so much on its plate these days, just to serve as a gentle reminder: Let's not forget this stuff. This stuff is important, because this is about American credibility, and more important, it's about American interests.

DAVID SPEEDIE: We often quote Hans Morgenthau around here. He reminded us that American national interests and international obligations - I'm paraphrasing - are not necessarily self-contradictory; in fact, they are often quite harmonious.

THOMAS MILLER: Absolutely. I'll tell you, I take the last three initials of my organization as seriously as I take the first three. It's the United Nations Association of the USA.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Yes. I will get to UNA in a moment, I promise. But I do want to just ask one more thing about—and this really fits into the mission, I think, quite clearly, of the UNA and the importance of "UNA" and "USA" here, the education part of that, education process. But this is in terms of public perceptions.

In one of your World Bulletins, you do ask the following: "Why does the UN, some pundits asked, let tyrants like Colonel Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran [have] even a chance to speak for 15 minutes (or longer, as the case with Qaddafi)? Because the UN is meant to be a democratic forum, allowing everyone who belongs, which is 192 countries, a chance to express their homeland's gripes, concerns, and grievances, regardless of how unsavory the comments might seem to many of us."

Then you go on to talk about the remarkable achievements of the General Assembly and the role of the UN, the victims in West Sumatra, the various relief programs, the World Food Program, and so on and so forth.

Have you not been in the job long enough to be frustrated at the enormity of getting this public perception about what the UN does across? You see what I'm saying? People look at Qaddafi speaking for over an hour and think, "This is just beyond the pale," and yet there's much more to it than that.

THOMAS MILLER: There's a heck of a lot more to it. I'd love to do a split screen when you have Qaddafi going on and on or Ahmadinejad or someone else, with comments that any American would have great difficulty with. I'd love to see on the other side of the screen the 100 million people a day that the World Food Program feeds, the 30 million refugees that the UN High Commission for Refugees takes care of every day, and all of the other UN agencies—what UNICEF does in terms of inoculations of kids, what the World Health Organization is doing with the H1N1 virus. The list goes on. Even when you get on an airplane, that's the International Civil Aviation Organization. As I say, the list goes on and on.

This is the UN that I know. This is the UN that I worked with for my close to 30 years as a diplomat. It wasn't so much what was going on in New York. The UN that I know is the people in the field who are delivering lifesaving services to keep people alive in places like Darfur, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, like responding to the tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan. The list goes on and on and on.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Let me put in a personal plug here. In an earlier life, I was privileged to be the president of the Philadelphia Area Committee for UNICEF. As you know, many of these board services are a free education, basically. When we found out how many wells we could dig in African countries for pennies—it's really quite astonishing, what the efficiency of the provision of some of these services to the world's neediest people may be. As you say, the UN is the focal point for coordination of so many of these efforts.

THOMAS MILLER: I think the interesting thing, David, is, Americans are a very generous people, and whether it's the Committee on UNICEF or the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Americans give a lot to support these activities. I'm very, very proud of it—as well as what our government does. I'm very proud that President Obama has finally paid up arrearages, money that has been owed. We have for many years been in arrearage on paying what we committed to.

I think somehow we need to do a better job of closing that gap. Americans, on the one hand, know that UNICEF and the High Commission for Refugees and the World Food Program and the World Health Organization—they know those are wonderful organizations, but they don't associate them as being part of the UN. They all are part of the UN.

DAVID SPEEDIE: What's that great expression you quoted from Dag Hammarskjöld? "The UN may not deliver us to heaven, but it will deliver us from hell." Is that close?

THOMAS MILLER: It's close. "The UN was created not to deliver us to heaven, but to save us from hell."

DAVID SPEEDIE: Well-put, Secretary-General.

Of course, the other point is that, anecdotally at least, we know that the American public has been out in front of previous administrations in support—the public opinion polls quote levels of support for the UN that have not been reflected in previous reluctance to pay arrearages and so on and so forth. So there's a public opinion base to build from.

THOMAS MILLER: Absolutely. There has been good polling data on the UN for decades. There's a particular good company that is associated with the University of Maryland. If you read their data, you see that, overwhelmingly, more than two-thirds of Americans are positively disposed toward the UN.

Now, by the same token, most of those Americans don't really have good information about what the UN does.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Right. But intuitive support is not a bad base to build from.

As I was reading through your various materials, the World Forum pieces and so on, two things really came across: The treaty question and filling the gap there was one obvious priority. The other is—I think this is a direct quote—"reenergizing and expanding UNA's base through the chapters of the UN Association."

You have traveled the country. You had a recent trip that I want to get to before we conclude here. What are you hearing as you go around that helps shape your agenda for UNA-USA? How is this filling out? Obviously, you have really hit the ground running and covered a lot of the country in terms of the chapters.

THOMAS MILLER: We have 135 chapters and divisions around the country. Name a city of any size, and I'll tell you the chapter there. In these 135 chapters and divisions, we have 12,000 dues-paying members and many, many thousands more, because if you are a member of a family, the rest of your family might not be counted, but they are definitely contributing.

We also have a very active youth group, called YPIC—Young Professionals for International Cooperation. Many of these people come out of a Model UN experience, and they just are very enthusiastic about multilateral diplomacy and the role that the United States can play.

What am I hearing? I'm hearing all kinds of things. I'm hearing, number one, a tremendous commitment. These are volunteers. These are people who are taking their own time and they are deeply committed to the concept of multilateral diplomacy, to the concept that we do better as a country when we work with other countries and we don't go it alone. That doesn't mean you have to take every issue to the UN. Take the global economic crisis. Probably the more appropriate forum is the G-20. But it's a principle that we do better when we work well with others.

On the issues, it varies. Some chapters are very big on climate change. Some chapters are very big on the Millennium Development Goals, the issues of poverty. Some are very, very big on social justice, others on the issues of war and peace. What I try to do in my role is provide them with a context to make sure that we are adding value to our efforts, that, working together, we speak with a much more powerful voice.

The beauty of UNA—there are many, many organizations out there that work on foreign policy issues, but there aren't that many that have a membership base. So when I go up to Capitol Hill and Congressman or Congresswoman X says, "Who do you represent?" I can say, "I represent 135 chapters and many, many thousands of committed volunteers who are passionate about these issues." That does pack a lot of wallop. That really does pack a big punch, rather than just being another think tank writing another paper.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Two thoughts occur from that. The first is, is there—I won't say a downside, but obviously UNA, like many NGOs, has had its financial challenges. That includes staffing and being able to address all the issues that you might like to address. With this diversity of issues, from climate change to nonproliferation issues to social justice to whatever, when you come back to home base, is there a problem serving all these interests of the various chapters? Clearly, you hear these things, and they expect something to be delivered from home base. Is that true?

THOMAS MILLER: Not really. There is not really a problem. I'll tell you why.

I was fortunate that I headed one of the world's larger non-government organizations, civil-society organizations, before. In my position, one needs to know how a nonprofit works and kind of the culture of a nonprofit. It's important that people feel that they are being listened to, that they are being included.

My message was very simple when I came in. I said, if we are to be effective, we need to focus more. We can't be everything to everyone. We can't just chase issues.

So what I have tried to do is focus the organization. That doesn't mean that a chapter can't pursue an issue that isn't part of that focus. You mentioned the conventions and treaties as one thing that we have done as a national effort. Another thing that we have done as kind of a national effort is what I would call UN strengthening, what might have been known as UN reform in the previous administration. That is making sure that the UN can function more effectively and efficiently than it does right now. Anyone who says, "No. It's wonderful. Just leave it as it is"—no institution can't use strengthening.

Some of our real brain power—and here's another great thing that I love about the United Nations Association. I don't have the money—nor, frankly, the inclination—to go hire a bunch of high-priced consultants and think-tankers. Instead, we have this tremendous resource within our chapters. We have people who have worked for the UN for many years. We have former diplomats. We have people who have a tremendous range of experience. We draw on them for our expertise.

So what I have tried to do is utilize the chapters and utilize the expertise in the chapters much more than we have done in the past.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Makes sense.

Building on that, again in reading about your earlier career, it's clear that you have had kind of—it's interesting. You're a diplomat, and yet even as a diplomat, you had a strong commitment to the grassroots factor in both framing and moving the policy agenda or getting things done, so to speak. You mentioned the Model UN in passing—modestly, you did not mention that you helped found the Model UN program. Is that correct?

THOMAS MILLER: That's going a little bit too far—

DAVID SPEEDIE: In Washington?

THOMAS MILLER: In Washington, D.C., a colleague and I, when we were at the State Department, were talking one day—this was back in the early 1990s—and it struck us as strange that we would commute to Washington, D.C., every day from the suburbs and we never did anything but work in the District. We never gave anything back. I had told him of an experience where my family and I had been working in soup kitchens for a while, on holidays and stuff like that. I thought it was something good for our kids. This was many years ago. One day—this was over Thanksgiving—the soup ktichen asked us to leave. They had had a big church group come in and they had too many workers and not enough people to feed.

That really got me thinking. I said, "You know, working in a soup kitchen is great, but where can I use my background and expertise?"

That led to a conversation with my colleague, which led to an effort. We found that there was no Model UN in the Washington, D.C., public high schools. In the suburban schools, it was all over the place.
So what we did was to launch a partnership with the Washington, D.C., public high schools. We went to individual principals. We didn't want to go to the school board, because we wanted to do this within the next decade. We raised money in the Washington, D.C., business community. We went to the secretary of state and asked if we could serve as volunteers, including during working time, to be coaches for this Model UN. That got off the ground.

One of the things, David, that I was absolutely proud of—my first day on the job here in the United Nations Association was not in New York, it was in Washington. I introduced Hillary Clinton on stage with 600 kids from the same program that we had started 16 years before.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Smart move on her part. The next generation.

THOMAS MILLER: They loved her.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I was smiling when you spoke because I was thinking—having spent a fair bit of my professional life visiting Washington—how many people still commute to Washington every day and feel this need to give something back to Washington itself, as opposed to the agencies or departments or whatever they serve? An intriguing thought.

But when you were in Sarajevo and then, I believe, in Athens, you developed a community-service network for local and American volunteers. You built some homes for war returnees in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Then, of course, as you mentioned a couple of times, you were CEO of Plan International. So this sort of grassroots commitment is pretty embedded, isn't it?

THOMAS MILLER: It is grassroots, but it's kind of fundamental to my way of running my life. Whatever the issues, however complicated the issues, ultimately it's about people. It's about people with needs, with aspirations, with interests. It's about making sure that whatever you do, wherever you spend your time and resources, you really have a good appreciation for what those needs and aspirations are.

When I was the chief executive of Plan—and I even do this in UNA now—I used to like to go around and tell people that I'm a person who likes to use this and this a lot more than this. That's kind of my way of finding out what's really going on. You learn a lot more when you listen than when you talk.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I mentioned a few minutes ago the next-generation question. It's something that we here at the Carnegie Council take very seriously. We have a New Leaders Program. We recognize that you go to many of these events at think tanks and, frankly, the audience is graying in many cases. There is this next-generation imperative. So we have the New Leaders Program.

The other part is that, whether it be a student audience or whatever, you think back to the 1960s—before I came to this country, but in Britain, too—and the role of the grassroots—I think SANE/Freeze might be what you point to here—in really getting the antiwar movement and the various campaigns against nuclear weapons and so on. It's something which I thought was very fundamental and very important.

When you say you go to the Hill and you can say you have 100-odd chapters and so many thousands of members around the country, that, as you say, carries some clout, clearly, in moving some of these big issues like nonproliferation of WMD, weapons of mass destruction, and climate change issues. That's very important to movement on these issues, I would think. Do you agree?

THOMAS MILLER: I totally agree. I believe there's a very important role for civil society. The term "civil society" is relatively recent. I think that, whether you're a think tank, whether you're a grassroots organization, whether you're a combination of the two, there's a very, very important role, not only in terms of working the issues and coming up with innovative, creative solutions, approaches, but also reminding our leaders of their commitments, of their obligations. When I mentioned the conventions and treaties before, that was very much in that guise that I feel UNA performs a very, very valuable function.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Obviously, one of the looming big deals is Copenhagen, on climate change, in December. You said at one point, I think, that so much of the important work in Copenhagen is going to happen before, in the buildup and so on. Is your role basically to say to the chapters, "Go forth and be fruitful," in really getting the issues advanced in public awareness or in speaking to their elected representatives on Copenhagen? There is a role for you, presumably—

THOMAS MILLER: Absolutely. I think there's a very important role. I was just out in Seattle with the secretary-general of the United Nations [Ban Ki-moon] over the last three days. I met with our Seattle chapter, and I was very pleased that I was able to introduce each of them to the secretary-general. We had this discussion with the secretary-general, and they asked, "What can we do?"

There happen to be two senators in Seattle that are both very supportive of the climate change legislation that's being discussed in the Senate. What both the secretary-general and I suggested to them is that every single chapter, whether they have senators right now who are supportive of or in opposition to the climate change legislation in the Senate, should be doing all they can to make sure that their senators are fully briefed, are apprised of the crucial importance, and particularly the timing of this thing. With healthcare, there's a real danger that it just might get crowded out.

Why this is important is, the U.S. position at Copenhagen is of crucial importance to the way the rest of the world is going to react, and the U.S. position really has to be largely a function of where the Congress is. Right now you had a climate change bill passed in the House, but it hasn't passed the Senate yet. That's where our chapters can play a very, very important role—reminding their senators, whether they are from states where senators are in opposition or in favor, of how important this is. That's what our legislators respond to.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Tell me more about your trip with the secretary-general. I was going to get to that anyway. What's it like traveling with the secretary-general of the UN?

THOMAS MILLER: He's a good guy, number one. He's a very nice man. He goes into every meeting—he gave a whole series of speeches and lunches and dinners and just private conversations—always very well prepared. A very, very hard worker.

Coming back on the plane yesterday, I dozed for a little while. When I went to sleep, I saw him working hard, and when I woke up, he was doing the same thing, preparing for today's schedule. We got back late last night. He went into the office and started working. He had meetings, et cetera.

I'm very, very impressed with him. Just like we are trying to focus at UNA, he has really tried to focus in his job. Climate change is at the top of his list. He doesn't ever miss an opportunity to push for a Copenhagen success. But he also, by the same token, doesn't neglect the other issues, the issues of poverty, the issues of war and peace, the issues of social justice. These are all issues that are on his plate. He has an extremely difficult job. He has a tremendous amount of responsibility, but not anything close to commensurate authority to carry out those responsibilities.

DAVID SPEEDIE: You and I spoke briefly—and you just mentioned it—of the nexus between climate change and social justice issues. Clearly, obviously, climate change will affect some of the most impoverished parts of the world. Also, as you mentioned, you don't have expertise on staff on climate change issues, for example. It's my understanding that you at least have in mind the notion of UNA having perhaps a more robust partnership with other NGOs around a big issue.

THOMAS MILLER: Right, absolutely.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Is that sort of a gleam in the eye at the moment?

THOMAS MILLER: It's much more than a gleam in the eye. It's a reality. What we try to do is add value to whatever we're working on.

On the issue of climate change, no, we're not the world's expert on climate change. We don't pretend to be. There are plenty of excellent organizations out there that are doing wonderful work on climate change. We have signed up, as part of a broad coalition, with an organization called 350.org. "350" is 350 million parts per whatever of carbon. Some people are saying that's too ambitious. Some of the scientists are saying it should be 400. But stretching a bit is not a bad idea.

We see ourselves at the United Nations Association very much as a team player. Our goal is to make sure that there is success on whatever issue is being worked on. I'm less concerned with who gets the credit. If you are out there and you are concerned about all these issues all over the world and you don't know where to start, I think becoming a member of the United Nations Association is a very good way to start. It's modest dues, 40 bucks a year. You can play in a lot of different arenas by being a member of the United Nations Association of the U.S.

DAVID SPEEDIE: If I may finish by getting back to just a couple of bigger-picture questions. Not to put you on a spot here, but there has been criticism recently—and this gets back to your past as a diplomat—of the three high-level special envoys. Afghanistan-Pakistan and the Middle East are the two that have particularly attracted some attention. As I read it, it's partly attributed to personal chemistry, to the question of "fit" with the situation at hand, partly sometimes to at least the appearance of "not on the same page" of the administration's voices at all times on these hot spots. Obviously, they are clearly the belly of the beast when it comes to what we have to take on.

What's your take on this?

THOMAS MILLER: Let's take each of them. What was the third one?

DAVID SPEEDIE: There's Afghanistan-Pakistan as one, there's the Middle East, and, of course, Iran has been—

THOMAS MILLER: Oh, okay, Dennis Ross, yes.

I would say Iran is not nearly as high-level. It's much lower-key and it's much more internal.


THOMAS MILLER: I would say that's not in the same category.

On the Middle East first, Secretary Rice in the last administration, and particularly in the second Bush Administration, was spending a tremendous amount of her time working the Middle East. She realized, as did President Bush, that you can't ignore the Middle East, as he kind of did in the first term. Appointing someone like George Mitchell as a high-level envoy I think is absolutely the right way to do. You get someone of Mitchell's stature who has a tremendous track record with the Northern Ireland success, and I think you can get the best of both worlds.

Afghanistan-Pakistan is the number-one foreign policy problem for the United States today. It's multidimensional. It has all kinds of angles to it. There's a drug angle. There's an insurgency angle. There's a terrorism angle. I think taking someone like Dick Holbrooke, who has a tremendous record of success as well—that's the way I would do it. Now, if I was Holbrooke, I'm not sure I would have ever taken the job. Dick Holbrooke is one of my good friends. I've worked with him and for him on any number of occasions.

Again, what's the default? That the secretary of state or the president is spending all of their time on these things? You have to get very, very senior, very good people working these issues. I think in those two cases it was the right thing to do.

You mentioned Iran as well. Dennis Ross is much more low-key and much more internal in terms of organizing the administration's deliberations on Iran and what we should do and where we should go. So I wouldn't put that in the same category.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Not to push you too far on this—well, I find that you tend to give honest answers—is a situation like Afghanistan-Pakistan really set up for a very, shall we say, determined and high-profile individual?

THOMAS MILLER: That's a very good question. I don't know. We all look for analogies. Whenever we see a difficult situation, we look in our history for analogies. A lot of people are thinking Vietnam these days. A lot of people are thinking even aspects of Bosnia, which Holbrooke did. They are all apt to a certain degree and inappropriate to a large degree.

I think Afghanistan-Pakistan is probably the most difficult dynamic that I've seen in many, many years—and I've worked some of the really, really tough ones—in some ways, even more difficult than the Middle East peace process. In the Middle East peace process, I and anyone else who follows it could tell you where we're going to come out. I just can't tell you the road we're going to take to get there. But Afghanistan-Pakistan—I'm not even sure where we're going to come out.

DAVID SPEEDIE: That was actually going to be my last question, since you were involved in the Palestinian question and the peace process. It just seems such an intractable, zero-sum business. Any prognostications?

THOMAS MILLER: If you want take a lesson from Iraq, what happened in Iraq with the surge—accompanying the surge was something that I think was even much more significant, and that was getting a lot of the Sunnis to see, for their own interest, that al-Qaeda was a much bigger threat. They turned. They joined the government. That was really the big trick there.

A lot of people are asking, can you split the Taliban? I don't know the answer to that. What General McChrystal is trying to do is make clear that this is not your traditional conventional war; this is not about body counts and kills and stuff like that. It really is a war for the hearts and minds of the people. I don't like to use that term because that's a Vietnam term, but that's really what it's about. Are people ultimately going to feel that the government can do a better job for them—the government and its associated—including us—or that the Taliban can? That's what this is all about.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Again, of course, Afghanistan embodies this shift in the role of the military that really goes back to the 1990s, I guess, to, to some degree, a civil society-building role that is not purely traditional military.

THOMAS MILLER: Absolutely.

DAVID SPEEDIE: There's still a strong debate, especially within the military.

THOMAS MILLER: I don't think it's a debate so much within the military anymore. I think that when you have people like Petraeus and McChrystal and others, they get it. They understand the importance of the civil society aspect to this. You can win the battle and lose the war. The battle is the military thing, but you'll lose the war if you don't deal with the civil society issues.

I would just add an additional issue that we have to grapple with, David. In a place like Afghanistan, there has been a lot of talk of the things that we are most proud of—girls going to school, the rights of women, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That's very, very important. That's core American values. But I think what the current debate is about is, if you're going to do all the core American values, you're going to be there for a real, real long time. I'm 100 percent supportive of those values, but that's Nation Building 101. That's many, many decades. The question is, are the American people willing to commit for a very long period of time?

DAVID SPEEDIE: On that profound and open question, our guest has been Ambassador Thomas Miller, president of the United Nations Association of the USA.

Tom, we know you flew back late last night. We're delighted that you joined us today. Thank you very much.

THOMAS MILLER: Thank you very much, David. It was a pleasure.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Read MoreRead Less