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Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of "Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy" (HarperCollins 2009), a book[…]

The author praises George H. W. Bush’s diplomacy and Sully Sullenberger’s competence.

Question: What foreign policy lessons can we learn from the Cold War?


Leslie Gelb: President George H. W. Bush, Secretary of State Baker, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft did a brilliant job of ending the Cold War without war. They helped Gorbachev relinquish his own empire in Eastern Europe, and then helped him dismantle the Soviet Union while people in this country were screaming, Gorbachev is a Commie, this is the time to tell him what to do. If they had done that, it would've been a reaction from within the Soviet Union, and none of this stuff would've happen, you'd still have the Soviet Union today. But they handled the demise of the Soviet Union by helping them kill themselves off, another brilliant act of diplomacy.

It's not as if the spark of genius exist only in that immediate post-Cold War era, it existed at other times. Because the essence of it is good common sense. And that's what we really need now.

A couple of months ago, this country went crazy over Sully Sullenberger. I went crazy over Sully Sullenberger. What did he do? He landed a plane safely on the Hudson River. And the country thought this was absolutely marvelous. They thought it was absolutely marvelous because it was an act of simple competence. And this had been seen so rarely in our country that they went nuts over a guy who exhibited it. And this used to be the hallmark of America and Americans, pragmatic, problem-solving, common sense, and competence.


Recorded on 5/1/09.