DATE April 24, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Former American diplomat John Brady Kiesling discusses
his resignation in protest over US policy in Iraq
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
After a long career as an American diplomat, John Brady Kiesling resigned in
protest over US policy in Iraq. He was based in the American Embassy in
Athens, when, in late February, he wrote a letter to Colin Powell saying, `The
policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American
values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq
is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's
most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow
Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of
international relationships the world has ever known.'
You may have read his letter. It traveled around the world through the
Internet. We invited Kiesling to talk with us about why he decided to resign
and the personal and political repercussions of that decision. We also
invited one of his diplomatic counterparts who has supported the war in Iraq
to talk with us, but the State Department declined to participate in our
John Brady Kiesling served in diplomatic positions in Tel Aviv, Casablanca,
Washington, DC, and Armenia as well as Athens. Let's start with an excerpt of
Mr. JOHN BRADY KIESLING (Former US Diplomat): (Reading) `Dear Mr. Secretary,
I am writing you to submit my resignation from the foreign service of the
United States and from my position as political counselor in US Embassy of
Athens effective March 7th. I do so with a heavy heart. The baggage of my
upbringing included a felt obligation to give something back to my country.
Service as a US diplomat was a dream job. I was paid to understand foreign
languages and cultures, to seek out diplomats, politicians, scholars and
journalists and to persuade them that US interests and theirs fundamentally
coincided. My faith in my country and its values was the most powerful weapon
in my diplomatic arsenal.
`It is inevitable that during 20 years with the State Department I would
become more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and selfish
bureaucratic motives that sometimes shaped our policies. Human nature is
what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for understanding human nature.
But until this administration, it had been possible to believe that by
upholding the policies of my president, I was also upholding the interests of
the American people and the world. I believe it no longer.'
GROSS: John Brady Kiesling, now that the fighting in Iraq is over, do you
still think the war was a mistake?
Mr. KIESLING: I'm afraid I do. I'm very pleased that the fighting ended
quickly. I'm very pleased indeed at how few American casualties there were.
I'm relatively relieved that the number of Iraqi civilian casualties was low.
But this was not a military problem, this was a political problem, and the
political problem is as bad or worse than I had expected.
GROSS: In what way?
Mr. KIESLING: We have dismantled a very nasty dictatorship and made clear
that we had absolutely nothing in mind, at least nothing realistic, to replace
it with. We're now seeing the emergence of forces--you know, the Kurds in the
North; the Shiites in the South. We ourselves have no legitimacy, no
effective credibility with the bulk of the population there. We cannot
persuade them to act in their own interests and get along. The structures
that exist are mostly religious structures. They're fundamentalists, they're
inherently hostile to or at least suspicious of the United States. We will
find ourselves with a growing disaster. I can see now a tendency for the
administration to say, `Oh, it's Iran's fault,' and to make threatening noises
there, but it's not Iran's fault. The Shiites have no source of legitimacy
but their own religion and their own structures, and those structures are
coming to the fore now in a way we will find frightening.
GROSS: So what are some of the problems you think we have inherited?
Mr. KIESLING: One of the worst problems is that we now have a Kurdish
community that's relatively well organized, relatively well disposed to the
United States, rather divided internally, that is now in a mode of triumph and
exultation. It's wonderful that they've rallied around General Garner and
they love him as a liberator. That's fine. However, anything that makes the
Kurds happy automatically will make everyone else in Iraq scared to death.
They know that the Kurds want to have an independent state. They know that
there will be an independent Kurdish state unless they all rally. They see
the Kurds and the Americans in bed together and their conclusion is not going
to be a positive one as far as US interests are concerned.
There are many other problems we can talk about. We can talk about the
general problem of the collapse of services, the fact that for the next year
or so the population of Iraq is going to be considerably worse off than it was
under Saddam. To make the situation better than it was under Saddam will
require spending American money which the American taxpayer--though he
implicitly made a commitment to spend it, the US Congress is not going to make
people do something difficult when the budget deficit is so huge elsewhere.
GROSS: The process of deciding to actually resign must have been a difficult
one. I'm sure there were plenty of times in the past when you had
disagreements with the administration that you were representing, but in the
scheme of things, you accept that you had differences. Would you describe a
little bit about what that process was like for you of saying, `This is it. I
really can't go on'? I mean, how hot did the water have to get before you
were ready to, like, jump out of the pot?
Mr. KIESLING: Resignation is a very complicated process. There are very few
people in the world who are pure enough to do anything purely for an ideal,
you know, or an idea. I was, you know, for personal reasons somewhat
disenchanted with the State Department. I saw that over time, you know,
starting with the new administration of President Bush, the traditional role
of the State Department was getting much less appetizing. The policies that
we were being called to represent were policies that were basically ugly. We
were telling the world America is too weak, too vulnerable to accept any kind
of international law like the International Criminal Court.
I mean, that kind of idea, the idea that even though in the past we had
believed the International Criminal Court was something that the world needed
so the United States would not have to try war criminals; rather there would
be, you know, a legitimate international body that would do the dirty work.
And we knew this was in our interests, and then suddenly we lost our nerve and
said, `Oh, my God, they'll drag Henry Kissinger away and throw him in jail.'
You know, this was nonsense. But for populist reasons, the US Congress, you
know, passed the American Servicemen's Protection Act, which said, you know,
no American person will ever be subject to the International Criminal Court.
There is a vein of paranoia in American politics. It's a dangerous vein.
It's usually kept under control, but this time I saw that vein of paranoia had
risen to the fore. We had a president who was too weak and too uninformed to
serve as a meaningful check on that and so we were drifting into just a really
unnecessarily bad foreign policy. And this made me angry. I saw the State
Department, a bunch of people who are much more effective than I am at
balancing their ideals with practical politics--they were being cut out by
people totally ideological, and the trend was getting worse and worse. And
then when I saw that the American president was willing to stand up and lie to
the American people or actually tell half-truths that were then interpreted by
others as lies, I mean, it's--for example, about the role of Saddam with
al-Qaeda and September 11th. You know, there was no role. We knew there was
no role, but for political reasons, it was excellent--you know, it helped win
the mid-term election.
GROSS: So you found yourself more and more in disagreement with the policies
of the Bush administration and with the statements coming from leaders within
the Bush administration. Well, was there anything in particular that you were
asked to say or do that you felt you couldn't say or do?
Mr. KIESLING: I had loyally defended American policy on Iraq. I had gone
through and made all of the arguments why the only way that we could disarm
Saddam was by being ready to go to war if he did not disarm. It's a powerful
argument; it's a true argument, even. I loyally called up, you know, old
Greek friends who said stupid things about American policy and I chewed them
out. And I said, `Look, our policy on Iraq is about the security of the
United States and the security of the world, and we're not going to do any of
these bad things that you're saying. We have a reasonable policy.'
But then--anyway, I did that over and over again. I could not persuade anyone
in Greece. We could not persuade anyone in Europe. You know, world opinion
was overwhelmingly convinced that we were lying, which is a very bad thing to
do. Lying to the world, you can get away with occasionally. You should not
do it as a matter of practice because when we have no credibility, then we
have no legitimacy. Everything we try to do afterwards costs us much more and
becomes much more difficult and dangerous.
Anyway, so I came to the conclusion as I saw what happened in the United
Nations that, in face, the decision for war had been made months ago. I see
that's been confirmed by Time magazine, that President Bush had made the
decision as early as March of last year, but I felt that I had been used. I
felt that the system was so badly undercutting America's long-term interests
that I couldn't be part of it. And when you combine that with general
disenchantment about how diplomacy has been marginalized, how we have been
asked to do things that are essentially impossible--and then, of course, I see
now that Newt Gingrich is blaming the State Department for having failed to do
something that, A, we knew was impossible, B, we didn't really agree with,
but, C, we loyally tried because the president of the United States told us
to. And it didn't work, and it didn't work not because we didn't try but
because it was impossible. And now Gingrich is trying to rewrite history and,
you know, damage Secretary Powell who's a very competent and decent person
even if I don't always agree with his policies.
GROSS: My guest is John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat who resigned in
protest over the war in Iraq.
We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Brady Kiesling. He was
the political counselor in the US Embassy in Athens. He served in several US
embassies before his most recent position in Athens. He resigned in protest,
effective in early March, over the impending war in Iraq.
Did you talk with Secretary Colin Powell before resigning, and did you express
your concern to him about US policies, about the war in Iraq and about the
difficulty you were having representing those policies?
Mr. KIESLING: I should have. I'm not certain what would have happened if I,
as a, you know, senior mid-level foreign service officer, had asked for a
meeting with the secretary. I suspect I would have been given a meeting
either with the assistant secretary or possibly with Undersecretary Grossman,
but, no, I didn't. I spent a lot of time in September drafting something
called a dissent channel message, laying out my views that our coming war with
Iraq would really hurt our interests. I never sent it because the State
Department was not the decision maker in this. We had already been rolled by
the Defense Department and some of the ideologues in the White House.
Secretary Powell was not the problem. He, unfortunately, could not be part of
the solution, either, and so I just decided, you know, there's no point in
burdening them with it. They know the problems in the State Department. They
agree with some of them; they don't agree with others. But it wouldn't make
any useful difference.
GROSS: You mentioned that you were going to send this dissent channel
Mr. KIESLING: Yeah.
GROSS: Is that a kind of formal way that a diplomat is supposed to express
their disagreement to the secretary of State?
Mr. KIESLING: Exactly. It's a wonderful system. It's been in place since
the Vietnam War. Anyone in the State Department can write a message or draft
a memo or send a letter and just write at the top `dissent channel.' That
message will automatically go to the secretary's office. It must be answered.
The writer cannot be punished in any way for having given his advice. It's a
mechanism that isn't used very often, but every once in a while it's been used
effectively. And the fact that we have it speaks very well of the State
Department for encouraging this kind of, you know, unconventional thinking.
We don't always use it, but at least we try.
GROSS: So the letter of resignation was really the first that the State
Department knew of your...
Mr. KIESLING: That's true. I told my ambassador the day before I sent the
letter--I showed him the letter before I sent it. He was in an awkward
position because he couldn't really comment on the content of the letter. I
mean, he's a loyal representative of the president of the United States, and
as the ambassador, he has no flexibility on this. He can report privately
back to the State Department that things are going badly, but, you know,
publicly and even to his staff he has to maintain a strong facade of loyalty.
GROSS: So what was the reaction within the State Department and the Bush
administration in general?
Mr. KIESLING: I don't know about the Bush administration. The State
Department, to its credit, took the high road. I mean, they said, `We regret
that Mr. Kiesling chose this. We regret that he resigned. We don't agree
with his views, but, you know, we respect his right to make those views
A lot of my colleagues came up to me and expressed their full agreement with
my letter, expressed their dismay at the way our policy was going, or even
some--actually, they were all nuances because the State Department is, in
fact, itself divided. There are people who firmly support the war with Iraq,
a smaller number but a handful who think that it's a good idea to bypass the
United Nations. But most people were sort of ambivalent about the war but
knew that we were unnecessarily harming our interests by damaging the NATO
alliance, by weakening the United Nations, by alienating European and Middle
Eastern and Asian public opinion and by generally telling the world that
international law doesn't apply to us.
At any rate, so I had a lot of support, a lot of friendly e-mails, and then I
heard from people I hadn't heard from in years; a huge amount of respect at
least for my moral courage in doing what I did, and that felt good.
Mr. KIESLING: It was a real help to me.
GROSS: ...was it a very difficult letter to write? And I don't mean the act
of writing a dissenting statement, but rather word for word, finding the right
phrases to express the depth of your feeling?
Mr. KIESLING: Normally, you know, I'm a medium fast writer, but I tend to
play with words a lot. This letter came out of me much faster and more easily
than I expected. I wrote it one night. I came back the next day because I
realized, you know, I wrote something that's very cold and foreign policy
oriented, and, in fact, I need to put myself into this to say, `Here is an
American who believes in America, you know, who thinks that America has
ideals, who believes that America's ideals are fantastic, who thinks America's
the greatest country in the world who suddenly sees himself and his colleagues
and his country being asked to behave as if we're a bunch of frightened,
defensive, surly, dare I say, bullies, I mean, in the international world when
we have such a position of strength and dominance that we don't have to behave
badly.' We have the luxury of behaving well. And even behaving well serves
our interests, but, no, you know? This was for me a source of anger and
anguish that we have a choice to do good. We, as the United States, have
power, have money. We have leisure. We even have good intentions. There is
no limit to the good that we can do in the world if we try, if we believe in
ourselves, if we live up to our own ideals, and we're not.
GROSS: Your letter of resignation was spread around the Internet. People
were e-mailing it to each other. Did you expect that to happen and do you
have any idea how it did happen, like, who started it?
Mr. KIESLING: I don't know. I did not expect this to happen. It was, for
me, gratifying. The one thing I worry a little bit about is--you know, all of
the response I saw was very positive, but there is another Internet community.
They're sort of the liberal idealistic Internet community. And then there's
the tough-minded, you know, America first Internet community, and they don't
overlap at many points. But I saw that somehow what I wrote had reached out
not just within the United States but around the world. I think my text has
been translated into, you know, probably dozens of languages now. I've gotten
e-mails from bizarre parts of the world speaking to the idea--you know, the
message I've gotten from the rest of the world outside the United States is,
`Thank God. We were losing faith in America. We had already seen America as
a place that actually believed in things, even if they didn't always behave
well, and, you know, you've confirmed that there still is this good America,
this America of vision and idealism.'
And in a way, it's pretty frightening when I personally am elevated to this
pedestal of being someone speaking for the good America. You know, obviously,
there are, you know, tens or hundreds of millions of Americans who, offered a
chance, would speak for the good America. Unfortunately, they're not visible
publicly right now or many of them.
GROSS: It sounds like you also read a lot of negative things about your
letter on the Internet. Were there Web sites that were insulting you and
Mr. KIESLING: Actually fewer than I had expected. The nice thing about a
well-written letter is it tends to shut up the opposition pretty well. The
negative comments were mostly not attempts to argue point by point with what I
said or believed but simply, `Well, good riddance. We're glad you're not a
diplomat anymore.' That's fine. I mean, I'm glad I'm not a diplomat anymore
if being a diplomat means having to speak for an uglier America than the
America I think we really should be.
GROSS: John Brady Kiesling was a career diplomat. He resigned in protest
over the war in Iraq. At the time, he was the political counselor at the US
Embassy in Athens. He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with former US diplomat John
Brady Kiesling. In February he resigned in protest over the pursuit of war
with Iraq. Kiesling was the political counselor in the US Embassy in Athens
and also served in embassies in Tel Aviv, Casablanca and Armenia. His
resignation wasn't the first time he expressed a dissenting opinion.
Now I've read that you thought we should have intervened sooner in Bosnia to
stop the ethnic cleansing there, and you protested that by being one of a
small group of people who signed a memo in 1994 protesting the US failure to
stop the killing of the Bosnians by the Serbs. And did you think that that
protest resonated? Was it effective in getting the Clinton administration to
change its policy?
Mr. KIESLING: That protest was a little different in that our problem was
mostly that we didn't really have a policy. We were drifting along.
President Clinton was not enthusiastic about getting us involved in foreign
adventures. It was a messy issue. But a lot of people in the State
Department were convinced that if the United States and a few of its European
allies under any kind of international rubric at all--if we just sort of
stepped out and said `no more' to the Serbs, we could stop the violence. And
that's what we pushed for, and we actually succeeded temporarily. But, yeah,
it was a model of how you can work within the system when you have an
administration that's open-minded enough to take advice.
GROSS: You were actually given an award for constructive dissent in 1994 from
the American Foreign Service Association. It's an interesting concept for an
award, one that's totally unfamiliar to me, an award for constructive dissent.
What kind of award is that, and what did it mean to you to get that?
Mr. KIESLING: The award was given to the dozen of us who protested the policy
in Bosnia and got that policy to change. And it's an excellent award, our
colleagues, sort of the diplomatic trade union, saying, `Look, you've been
willing to stand up and challenge the received wisdom and make a difference,
and you should be praised for it.'
The terrifying thing about bureaucratics is that people tend to hunker down,
go with the group think. And you can get yourself into catastrophic
situations if there's nobody willing, you know, to stand up and say, you know,
`Excuse me, the emperor has no clothes.' And the foreign service says it
wants that. The secretary of State is absolutely clear that he wants to hear
dissenting views. But very few midlevel bureaucrats really believe in their
heart of hearts that this is true. And, you know, it takes a certain amount
of courage, but usually that courage is rewarded and not punished.
GROSS: You know, Bosnia was a profound experience for a lot of people who had
formerly thought of themselves as being primarily anti-war because in Bosnia
and in Kosovo they felt that, you know, the United States needed to use force
to intervene to stop the slaughter. And so some of the people who supported
the war in Iraq were supporting it because of this lesson that they felt they
learned from Bosnia and from Kosovo, that sometimes the United States has to
intercede with force. You're obviously not in that group of people. Although
you felt strongly that the United States should use force in Bosnia and
Kosovo, you didn't think force was appropriate for Iraq. Would you talk about
that a little bit?
Mr. KIESLING: It's a matter of the scale of the thing. We used force in
Bosnia and Kosovo to achieve very specific goals, to stop the slaughter of
innocent people. We did not have major goals of redrawing the map of the
Balkans. We were trying to go back to an old status quo. That wasn't quite
possible, but at least we had a limited aim, we used limited force to achieve
it and there were existing structures to take over.
In the case of Iraq, there's not the urgent problem of, you know, lots of
innocent people being slaughtered. Saddam has murdered, you know, tens of
thousands of people, no question. He wasn't actually slaughtering them right
now. We were going to go in, remove his regime and build up something from
scratch. This is a huge job. You could argue that it's worth it if you're
willing to pay the cost and recognize how high the cost is. My argument was
always that the cost was too high for the United States. We had no legitimacy
to do it. No one in Iraq really likes us except some of the Kurds. They
don't believe in us. The world doesn't think we have what it takes to do it.
I've tried to do democracy building in other countries. It's hard. You
seldom get the results you want. We have messed up Iraq really badly, and I
knew that the scale of the enterprise was so vast that it was totally
incomparable with the narrow humanitarian intervention that we undertook in
GROSS: You've said that you worked to build democracy in other places that
you were posted in and you know some of the difficulties that one faces in
trying to do that. Where are some of the places that you tried to build
democracies? And how does that apply to what we're trying to do in Iraq?
Mr. KIESLING: As the Romanian desk officer, I spent a lot of time working
with USAID and the US Congress and others interested in weaning Romania from
its communist past. It was a fascinating job. The problem is: After the
communism fell, a bunch of old parties, new parties, business elites,
oligarches, all tried to divide up the spoils. We were working as best we
could on building, you know, what's called civil society, a network of
parties, groups and just sort of faith in human institutions to make the
country work. We did not have much success.
Romania has turned the corner because it now has the option of joining the
European Union, and the European Union says that you've got to be really
democratic, and the Romanians are pulling up their socks and trying very hard.
And, you know, here's an example of how the European Union, because it has
this old-fashioned American vision of human progress, of democracy, of ideals,
is actually helping democratize Eastern Europe whereas our influence was not
all that great.
I then went to Armenia. I spent two years there working very closely with
politicians, with local groups, with democracy building. We had made a little
progress, but by and large the country is still dominated by these, you know,
rich oligarches. And we don't have a good solution despite all the money we
spent, despite really good intentions, despite, you know, a lot of work. And
that's a country that's pretty small, it's pretty homogeneous, it has a lot of
good ties to the United States, and we haven't made much of an impact.
In Iraq, a huge country, vastly divided, religiously polarized, it's going to
be much more difficult, and we have no clue how to do it.
GROSS: My guest is John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat who resigned in
protest over the war in Iraq. We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Brady Kiesling, and in
early March he resigned from his diplomatic position at the US Embassy in
Athens. He resigned in protest over the then pending war in Iraq.
I'd like to ask you to read another paragraph from that letter of resignation,
and this is a paragraph that's about the secretary of State, Colin Powell.
Mr. KIESLING: `Mr. Secretary: I have enormous respect for your character and
ability. You have preserved more international credibility for us than our
policy deserves and salvaged something positive from the excesses of an
ideological and self-serving administration, but your loyalty to the president
goes too far. We are straining beyond its limits an international system we
built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations and
shares values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever
constrained America's ability to depend its interests.'
GROSS: You know, in reading that line `Your loyalty to the president goes too
far,' is that something that you think would have been perceived as
insubordination, which I suppose is irrelevant when you're leaving a position
anyways? But that's a pretty potent thing to say to the secretary of State.
Mr. KIESLING: I agonized over that line. I don't know whether I thought that
he should himself resign or whether that he should stay and fight the good
fight. On balance, I think he should stay and fight the good fight because he
has international credibility, he has credibility with the American people,
he's got to use it to resist the trend toward isolationism, toward sort of
GROSS: Do you feel like he's, quote, "fighting the good fight" or do you
feel like he now actually supports the policy that you were hoping he would
Mr. KIESLING: I'm disappointed, frankly. I believe that he's moderated our
policy, but not enough really to do any good in terms of saving our lost
GROSS: You were a diplomat for how many years, about 20 years?
Mr. KIESLING: Just under 20 years.
GROSS: Do you feel in those years that you served as a diplomat that you saw
attitudes toward America change?
Mr. KIESLING: I've seen attitudes toward the United States go up and down.
During the Cold War--you know, I saw the end of the Cold War. And during the
Cold War there was a general feeling that Americans were kind of tough
and--well, Americans were a necessary evil. Then there was a post-Cold War
period when, you know, things were getting better. We seemed to be pretty
good. President Clinton enjoyed a lot of admiration, at least in Europe, as
someone who had real sort of humane values, who was doing his best to work
with the international community to make the world a better place.
The real crash came with the past year, basically. Attitudes toward the
United States, which in Europe used to be, say, 70 percent positive/30 percent
negative, have crashed down to, you know, 70, 80 percent negative/5 percent
positive, and this is terrible. We and the Europeans share so much. I mean,
all our values are in common. And if they think we've gone sort of off the
reservation, it's sad and it's unnecessary.
GROSS: As a diplomat, do you share any of the Bush administration's
criticisms of the United Nations, that the United Nations is a bureaucracy,
that it often slows things down, that it's ineffective, that, you know, people
representing tyrants have important votes in the United Nations? Do you share
any of those concerns? Or do you mourn the disarray now in the United
Mr. KIESLING: The United Nations has always been slow and bureaucratic and
somewhat expensive. But that said, usually in foreign affairs the best thing
to do is not very much. The United Nations has been a great force for slowing
down people from doing stupid things and for giving international legitimacy
to good things that need to happen on a global scale. It's not wonderfully
effective, but over time--you know, it's had bad periods and good
periods--we've pressed hard and effectively for internal reforms, and 80
percent of the time the UN is a really good organization to have in our
corner. And the 20 percent of the time when its resolutely opposed to us,
it's probably not a bad idea for us to ask, `OK, why does the whole rest of
the world disagree with us? Is there any logic to their position?' And,
unfortunately, sometimes there is.
So definitely, despite all of its weaknesses, we need the United Nations. We
should work to strengthen it, not to weaken it.
GROSS: You're in an interesting position now. In the 20 years that you
served in diplomatic positions around the world, you were known within the
international community, but you weren't a public figure outside of that, I
don't think, certainly not in the United States.
Mr. KIESLING: Oh, certainly not. I'm just, you know, a minor cog in a vast
American foreign policy apparatus.
GROSS: But now you're a lot better known as a result of that letter of
resignation, which traveled around the world through e-mail and through I
suppose Web sites on the Internet and you've been making speeches now, you've
been written up in newspapers. So it puts you in a different position because
suddenly you're more of a public figure, more of a public spokesperson and
you're at the center of controversy as opposed to diplomacy.
Mr. KIESLING: That's true. And it takes a very different way of handling
myself, and I'm still learning. You know, I haven't figured out what my real
role should be. I fear that by speaking out too openly I will lose my
credibility, you know, with key people in the foreign policy establishment at
the same time and there's enough frustration that every once in a while I
can't keep it bottled up.
There used to be an alliance of realism and idealism in foreign policy. We
have to go back to that. I would like to help sort of the traditional foreign
policy players re-establish some control of the game and take it away from the
GROSS: Do you have any second thoughts about resigning?
Mr. KIESLING: Not about resigning. I have a lot of second thoughts about how
best to have used my resignation to do good. I have a lot of second and third
and fourth thoughts about what to do next with my life. But the actual
resignation seems to be the one decision in my life I've taken where I'm
absolutely convinced it was right.
GROSS: So what are you thinking about doing next? And have you been getting
a lot of job offers and suggestions?
Mr. KIESLING: Not job offers so much, a lot of suggestions, a lot of
sympathetic interests. There are people who would like me to write a book.
I'm seriously thinking of that. I'd like to become an academic, I think. I
like working with students. So my guess is that I'll do some more writing
over the next few months. See if I can turn that into at least a temporary
position at a university and try to retread myself as a more disciplined
academic thinker and less as a, you know, sort of disheartened American
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. I really
Mr. KIESLING: Well, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to your
GROSS: John Brady Kiesling was a career diplomat who served as the political
counselor at the US Embassy in Athens. He resigned in protest over the war in
We tried to also speak with one of his diplomatic counterparts who supported
the war, but the State Department declined to participate in our program.
Thersis(ph) Felice Bryant died on Tuesday at the age of 77. Her name isn't
nearly as well known as her songs with her late husband, Boudleaux Bryant.
She wrote The Everly Brothers hits "Bye-Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie,"
and the Bluegrass standard "Rocky." Here's The Everly Brothers recorded in
(Soundbite of 1957 recording of The Everly Brothers' "Bye-Bye Love")
THE EVERLY BROTHERS: (Singing) Bye-bye, love. Bye-bye, happiness. Hello,
loneliness. I think I'm going to cry. Bye-bye, love. Bye-bye, sweet caress.
Hello, emptiness. I feel like I could die. Bye-bye, my love. Goodbye.
There goes my baby with someone new. She sure looks happy. I sure am blue.
She was my baby till he stepped in. Goodbye to romance that might have been.
Bye-bye, love. Bye-bye, happiness. Hello, loneliness. I think I'm going to
cry. Bye-bye, love. Bye-bye, sweet caress. Hello, emptiness. I feel like I
could die. Bye-bye, my love. Goodbye.
I'm through with romance.
GROSS: Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews Madonna's new CD, "American Life." This
is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Madonna's new CD "American Life"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Madonna pulled the video for the title song of her new album, "American Life,"
because it contained anti-war images, and she said she did not want to offend
anyone who might misinterpret her video. A Madonna who doesn't want to
offend? Ken Tucker has this review.
Backup Singers: Do I have to change my name? Will it get me far? Should I
lose some weight? Am I going to be a star?
(Soundbite of music)
MADONNA: I've tried to be a boy. I've tried to be a girl. I've tried to be
a mess. I've tried to be the best. I guess I did it wrong. That's why I
wrote this song. This type of modern life, is it for me? This type of modern
life, is it for free? So when...
KEN TUCKER reporting:
As self-created a star and musician as pop music has produced, Madonna's
career depends on her constantly reinserting herself into the culture at
precisely the right moment to be maximally effective. Thus, releasing an
album called "American Life," complete with the first single that critiques
the indulgence of stardom and a video emphasizing Army fatigue green would
seem to prove granite-ab-gut instincts to be as infallible as ever. But then
listen to this rapping inserted into the middle of the title song...
(Soundbite of music)
MADONNA: (Rapping) I do yoga and Pilates and the room is full of hotties, so
I'm checking out the bodies and you know I'm satisfied. I'm digging on the
isotope to spare the ...(unintelligible) (censored) scope, and if all this can
give me hope you know I'm satisfied. I got a lawyer and a manager, an agent
and a chef, three nannies, an assistant and a driver and a jet, a trainer and
a butler and a bodyguard or five, a gardener and a stylist. Do you think I'm
satisfied? I'd like to express my extreme point of view. I'm not a Christian
and I'm not a Jew. I'm just livin' out the American dream, and I just
realized that nothin' is what it seems.
TUCKER: The times they are a-changing too fast even for a woman married to a
jump-cut junkie like director Guy Ritchie, and so the clipped rap that
commands the most attention in the middle of the title song, a yammered list
of celeb perks--trainer, butler, assistant, three nannies, a bodyguard or
five--seems at first not like the clever self-parody she clearly intended, but
rather a facile confirmation of her critic's most knee-jerk conviction, that
middle-aged Madonna doesn't have a world view beyond her next Pilates
However, if you listen a bit more closely, you'll hear songs that are unironic
arguments for substance over style, family over isolation, long-term love over
flighty romance. She's also found a musical corollary for such fulsome
sentiments, a mixture of acoustic and techno.
(Soundbite of "Love Profusion")
MADONNA: (Singing) There are too many questions. There is not one
salutation. There is no resurrection. There is so much confusion. And the
love profusion you make me feel, you make me know. And the love vibration you
make me feel, you make it shine. There are too many options. There is...
TUCKER: That song, called "Love Profusion," is one of many romantic ballads
on "American Life," attesting to a newfound serenity. These can be gloppy,
but at least once, on the terrific "Nobody Knows Me," she makes wonderful
music out of meditation and maturity.
(Soundbite of "Nobody Knows Me")
MADONNA: (Singing) I've had so many lifes since I was a child and I realize
how many times I've died. I'm not that kind of guy. Sometimes I feel shy. I
think I can fly closer to the sky. No one's telling you how to live your
life, but it's a setup until you're fed up. This world is not so kind.
People trap your mind. Gets so hard to find someone to admire. I...
TUCKER: I don't think this album is going to dense mass pop consciousness in
any appreciable way and, of course, mass penetration is an absolute fundament
of Madonna-ology, which is to say this album fails to do what this brand of
pop music must now do: provide future "American Idol" contestants fresh
anthems to belt out with mindless enthusiasm. Which should count in her
favor, shouldn't it? I mean, here's something to chew on, Madonna haters:
She's become beside the point in part because she's meditated, exercised and
exorcised herself into the thoughtful, humble--well, OK, striving-to-be-humble
star-slash-musician you never thought she had it in her to be.
(Soundbite of music)
MADONNA: (Singing) I--I'm so stupid 'cause I used to live in a fuzzy dream.
And I used to believe in the pretty pictures that were all around me. But now
I know for sure that I was stupid. Please...
TUCKER: Oh, and as for that video that she pulled, I think its retraction had
little to do with fear of being the latest chick to be Dixie-fried. Come on,
unlike blindsided, otherwise mannerly country acts, Madonna thrives on, indeed
plots her controversies. No, it had more to do with the fact that current
events imposed an interpretation on its images that this meticulous
performance artist did not intend. It's true, war in Iraq has altered the
context of her new music in a way that's not always flattering. But since
when did Madonna ever crave flattery?
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"American Life," by Madonna.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
MADONNA: (Singing) I want to know everything. Maybe someday I will. What I
want is to find my place, breathe the air and feel the sun on my children's
face. That's what I want. I go round and round just like a circle. I can
see a clearer picture when I touch the cloud. I come full circle to my place
and I am home. I am home. I want to let go of...
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