Ideas and Consequences

This July, for the third straight year, The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute co-hosted the Aspen Ideas Festival. What follows are excerpts from this year’s discussions, including Colin Powell on his attempt to avoid war with Iraq, Richard Branson on the dawn of private spaceflight, Thomas Friedman on why the world isn’t really going green, and Bill Clinton on whether he did enough to prevent 9/11.
Sallai Meridor on Israel and Palestine
The Israeli ambassador discussed his nation’s decision to accept the partition of the Holy Land.

Israel has made a decision which I not only diplomatically but personally fully support: that for the future of Israel and the future of the region, we need to compromise with the Palestinians and separate the land that we believe is ours and they believe is theirs, for the future of our children. It’s easy for me to say; it is very difficult emotionally … We are talking about the land that has been promised to us in the Bible, the core of the heritage of the Jewish people. We know it will necessitate the uprooting of tens of thousands of the best of Israel; we know it will mean a change of Israel’s … national narrative. And you open the Bible, you read about the very places, some of which we’ll have to tell our children we have given up forever. Not tactically, not Hamas-like, but given up forever for peace.

But we’ve made this decision, and the decision is, in my view, in the very basic Zionist context … If you go to the text of the mission of the Zionist movement as articulated in 1897 … there were three elements there. One, that it should be a Jewish state, a state for the Jewish people. Second, it didn’t say “in the entire land of Israel”; it said “in the land of Israel.” And it had to conform with basic universal norms, the first of which is the democracy and equality of human beings.

So … we need to make sure that we maintain Israel forever as a Jewish and democratic state, with a large Jewish majority living in peace with its neighbors, and for that we need … to adjust our policy to the original narrative of Zionism.

Bill Clinton on the responsibility for 9/11
The former president was asked whether his administration did enough to prevent the September 11 terrorist attacks.

We prevented an enormous number of attacks. The Republicans, let me remind you, when I tried to get Osama bin Laden, based on good intelligence, they accused me of “wag the dog,” and they made fun of me, and they said we shouldn’t be doing anything about this. And one of the reasons I thought President Bush was disserved is a lot of his neocon advisers said that we were crazy when we told him in the transition that the biggest problem was bin Laden. They said any fool knew that Saddam Hussein was a bigger threat to our security than Osama bin Laden.

… So the same people that are criticizing me now criticized me then, because I was obsessed with bin Laden. We dealt with him four or five days a week, every week, for the last four years I was president. I did not turn down one request for the use of force. We tried to mount a CIA operation to go in and take him out; they couldn’t do it. We contracted with tribals to try to take him out; they couldn’t do it. I was willing to use whatever power I could—we didn’t have, until 9/11, any kind of basing rights, remember, in Uzbekistan or anyplace else; the logistics of doing this were much different.

I would’ve attacked him at the end of my presidency, even though they would’ve accused me of trying to affect the outcome of the presidential election, but the CIA and the FBI had not jointly certified that he was responsible for the USS Cole bombing, even though we all knew it. If I had been president in the spring of 2001, when they did confirm that, I would’ve given the Taliban an ultimatum … But I wasn’t there then.

… I don’t think there’s any question that we were far more obsessed with him—and I don’t mind using the word—than the Bush administration. Their obsession was Saddam. You can draw your own conclusions about who should’ve done what when; I don’t think we should be in the business of blaming anybody for 9/11.

Jessye Norman on the arts and public schools
Norman, an opera singer, argued for the necessity of arts education.

I cannot claim this idea as my own, but it is surely one about which I am passionate … that is the necessity of the arts in our lives, the need for the arts in the education of our children.

I do not mean only the home that I have found in music, but all of the arts—from the written word to the most ephemeral dance step, from the most permanent of carvings in wood or stone to a canvas so covered in ideas that it simply takes the breath away.

… When our schools and our school systems say that they must save money, the arts are the first to go. We have to say no to this … Resolve to be acquainted yourselves with the teachings of your own hearts; as I always call it, your “soul’s music” … Resolve to make sure today’s young minds are nourished completely, and that their spirits are encouraged to fly.

Karl Rove on Iran
The president’s then-adviser discussed the administration’s strategy for containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Look, this is a country with a fragile economy … 40 percent of their gasoline comes from India. They take the oil, send it to India, refine it into gasoline, and bring it back … They depend for most of their food on imports. They grow very little of their food. Their consumer goods are almost entirely imported. They make very little in the way of their consumer-market goods internally. They are a very vulnerable economy.

We have been working through our partners the EU5, Russia, etc. Look, we played our sanction card in 1979. There are other sanctions—little itsy-bitsy sanction cards—that we could conceivably play. Some of them are being played by state legislatures, where they are saying that their retirement systems have to divest of any investment in a company that does a certain amount of business in Iran … But we played our big card in 1979.

Our object now [has] got to be to get the rest of the world to be serious about playing their cards, and convincing them that they would have a problem that requires them to join with us in playing the sanction card … That process has been long, involved, complicated, but it has been moving along … As time has gone on, and particularly as we have seen changes in Germany and in France, we have got greater hopes that we will be able to bring about a serious international regime that will help force Iran back to the table.

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