'It's a more complicated world'
John Sununu, US President George H. Bush's chief of staff from 1989 to 1991, tells Anthony Manduca the world has become a more complicated place since the end of the Cold War.
John Sununu was back in Malta last Friday to address a conference organised by the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies (Medac) to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the George Bush-Mikhail Gorbachev summit.
Interviewed by The Sunday Times, Mr Sununu, says: "I think the surprise to the world has been that post the Malta summit, post the collapse of the Cold War, life has become more complicated. It's less dangerous, there is no nuclear threat between the superpowers but it is more complicated because everybody wants to be part of every negotiation and everybody wants independence on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood basis."
Mr Sununu says that in the "old confrontational climate" it was the Soviet Union and its allies on one side and the US and Britain, France and other Europeans on the other. No matter what issue arose, the sides were always exactly the same.
"Nobody dared to break ranks, whether in trade or strategic arms, or whatever was being negotiated. In a way, it was easier, even though there was always the threat of nuclear confrontation, than it is today. Today if you have a trade issue some countries will be on your side while others will be against you; if tomorrow there is an environmental issue, different people are with you and against you, and you have to negotiate a new coalition on every issue."
The former White House Chief of Staff describes the Malta summit, which he attended, as the pivotal milestone event in the ending of the Cold War. Certainly there had to be things that came afterwards to confirm the change, but Malta, he points out, was where Mr Bush and Mr Gorbachev decided to co-operate to end the Cold War.
Mr Bush was not sure what to expect from the Malta summit, he says.
"He hoped we could end up with a 'relationship' with the leader of the Soviet Union who had started to make changes that were significant. I think everybody left the summit thinking we are now partners trying to make good things happen rather than opponents trying to disagree on almost everything."
The Malta summit, he stresses, was a good basis for the summits that came after that. A framework was reached which led to the SALT Agreement, and Mr Bush put forward a number of offers to the Soviets, including the elimination of all chemical weapons.
"So there were specifics that they talked about, but it was the specifics that really catalysed the personal relationship and the nation-to-nation relationship."
Mr Sununu is full of praise for Mr Gorbachev, saying he des-erves credit for having recognised when he came into office in 1985 that the internal economic situation in the Soviet Union was a major problem and "that it was impossible to continue the commitment of resources for strategic weapons.
"He really deserves credit for having the vision for Perestroika and Glasnost and being smart enough in trying to start a series of events that encouraged the US to come in as a partner. I think history is going to treat President Gorbachev very well for being the one who made very hard decisions. It was not easy for him. Remember, there were the hardliners in the Soviet Union and there was an attempted coup a little while later."
As communism started to crumble in Europe, Mr Sununu says Mr Gorbachev realised Mr Bush was not going to gloat every time something happened. This, he points out, was important because the Soviet President needed a climate during all this change in which the USSR was not seen as the loser in the process, but was in a "partnership of winning".
"I think this prevented the hardliners from having a rallying cry against Perestroika and Mr Gorbachev, and even though they did not like it, they couldn't rally support," he says.
Mr Bush is credited with having successfully managed the delicate transition after the collapse of the Berlin Wall as well putting together an international coalition which liberated Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion. Was he shocked by his defeat in the 1992 US presidential election?
"It's not the first time this type of shock has occurred. Winston Churchill, Britain's World War II hero, was defeated in an election shortly after the end of the war. Electorates in a democratic society are very fickle and their priorities change. It was a surprise, but in retrospect we shouldn't be shocked by these things," he says.
That election, he explains, was further complicated by the appearance of a third presidential candidate, Ross Perot, who had the support of a lot of Conservatives who would have voted for Mr Bush.
He adds: "It's a shame, I think the world would have been better off with a George H. Bush second term, but life goes on."
In last year's November election, Sununu's son, John E. Sununu, lost his US Senate seat in New Hampshire as the tide turned against the Republicans and Barack Obama was elected President.
Did he blame President George W. Bush's unpopularity for his son's defeat?
"There's no question that in the last election there was an anti-administration feeling among the electorate and it was complicated by the fact that Senator John McCain made himself famous by being the anti-Republican Republican."
Mr Sununu, who was the Republican Governor of New Hampshire from January 1983 to January 1989, says the Republicans found it difficult to rally their base, even though Sarah Palin was Mr McCain's running mate.
"Ms Palin helped but in the long run it was a hard election for Republicans. I believe that in 2010, like everything in life, the pendulum will swing back in the other direction."
Some observers believe President George W. Bush should have taken some foreign policy advice from his father. Did he agree?
"George H. Bush and I often sit down and talk. I had a son in the Senate, his son was President, and we often talk about how the only advice taken is the advice that's asked for. We sit there and grouse that the phone is not ringing," he says, laughing.
Asked what he thought of Mr Obama's foreign policy record so far, Mr Sununu answers with a broad smile: "I certainly think the Nobel Peace Prize was given too quickly."
On a more serious note he says: "Look, it is a hard world, and I just hope President Obama begins to be a little bit more specific in his objectives and sticks to a path that has more consistency to it.
I think basically he's made the right decision for Afghanistan, but I personally believe it would have been better to give General Stanley McChrystal the 40,000 troops he requested rather than compromising with 30,000."
He adds: "When you start compromising important decisions you begin to take the impact of those decisions. That's the kind of concern I have, but it's only the beginning of Obama's four-year term, not the end."