I’m attending the launch conference today for the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) that is headed by two former CSIS senior staffers, Kurt Campbell and Michele Flournoy.
The conference has pulled together a real who’s who of the Democratic national security establishment into this invite only confab at the Willard Hotel. But there are some of the Republican persuasion here too — including Philip Zelikow who until recently served as Counselor to Condoleezza Rice, Peter Feaver of the National Security Council, and a lot of folks from the uniformed services — who reportedly are 70% Republican and 30% Democrat in their ranks.
In a session titled “The Inheritance and the Way Forward”, panelists CNAS CEO Kurt Campbell, UT Austin LBJ School Dean and former Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg, Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter and futurist and Johns Hopkins University SAIS professor Francis Fukuyama sorted through the mess that America has in its foreign policy portfolio.
In a question I posed, I asked the panelists to suggest real proposals that would reverse the real collapse in the perception of American power in the world. I mentioned the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Survey (of which a new phase of information is about to be released) that show that what used to be Bush-focused anger and frustration around the world has turned into systemic disdain and disregard for the United States. In other words, global anti-Bush attitudes have become more firmly rooted anti-American views. I asked what could they recommend to the next President to help turn this “perception” of our decline around.
Anne-Marie Slaughter said that the first thing she’d recommend is that the next President go on a “listening tour” — a real listening as opposed to a “telling tour” — along the lines of what Senator Hillary Clinton did in up-state New York. The second initiative that Slaughter would push would be for America to initiate a process ot get fundamental reform and redesign of the UN Security Council. She said that when India, Germany, Japan, Brazil, no African nation, and other key states are not part of the most important international power management machine, then this furthers global frustration with the lack of fairness and equity among key stakeholder states. She made the point that we need more of the world’s population to be stakeholders in the international order.
Kurt Campbell responded by saying that the most important initiative that could be initiated to change the terms of America’s global engagement and change the way America is “perceived” globally would be a fundamental shift in our efforts on global climate change. Campbell argued that this would helps us reconnect in constructive ways with the G8 members. Campbell also added that the US and China are actually working together to try and block climate change efforts — and this is wrong-headed and must be reversed.
James Steinberg said that the most important thing the next American leader can do is to step back from the impulse to offer meaningless platitudes in defining the goals and objectives of American foreign policy. He said that we must “match rhetoric with reality.” Announcing lofty goals that are not connected to “means and ends” undermines American credibility in the world and has contributed to the perception that America’s ability to achieve change in the world is eroding. Steinberg said that the next US President needs to “think before pledging”.
Francis Fukuyama did not get a chance to respond as moderator Richard Danzig called for the next question.
(Former Clinton Administration Deputy National Security Advisor James Steinberg and former Defense Secretary William Perry)
I thought that all of the responses I heard were sensible — but I guess I would have added something that focused on changing America’s stance on the Middle East. My view matches Zbigniew Brzezinski’s that the combined storm of America’s engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, brewing problems with Iran, lack of meaningful success in Israel-Palestine peace, and regional disdain among Arab Muslims for the United States is the defining challenge for America.
We need to turn that around and given the collapse in legitimacy America has experienced because of failure in Iraq, much more priority should be given to establishing a stable Israel-Palestine deal that produces two states and includes other regional deal-making including normalization of relations with Syria and a new set of economic and collective security arrangements with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other regional players.
That did not come up in the session and should have — but it was nonetheless a good exchange.
I’m now listening to a discussion about Iraq. CNAS Senior Vice President James Miller gave a number-specific, calendar-specific four year withdrawal strategy from Iraq. I have a hard time seeing how such a strategy can be publicly embraced given the fear so many in America have that the Pentagon and White House are not being truthful about Iraq and what are real long term intentions are there.
General Anthony Zinni basically whacked the earlier presentation (in a tactful way) by saying that there can not be an “Iraq strategy” without a regional strategy. He agrees with my view that we need some sort of new regional security arrangement among key players that today are not acting in any real unified manner.
Philip Zelikow and Washington Post correspondent Tom Ricks are up next. Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed is moderating the meeting.
— Steve Clemons