Vague’s Activism: A CEO’s Approach to Diplomacy and Foreign Policy


hagel richard vague daniel yergin.jpg
(Daniel Yergin, Richard Vague, and Senator Chuck Hagel at New America Foundation salon dinner, 20 February 2007)
Richard Vague, a businessman who became distressed by the course the U.S. was on and its misapplication of power and resources in the inaptly named war on terror, wrote a set of New America Foundation essays titled Terrorism: A Brief for Americans. (pdf version here)
This brief was designed for those casually interested in the affairs of Washington — businessmen, primarily — who have other things going on in their lives and don’t realize how the US economy and America’s own moral credibility were being quickly undermined by the war in Iraq and our collectively bad national security decisions.
Vague — who was at one time the founder of the largest credit card business in America — is a moderate Republican, basically a Chuck Hagel-type Republican who respects and supports the positions and work of Senators like Joe Biden and Richard Lugar. I think it’s important for the next presidential administration — either under Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama — to make a lot of space under their tent for Chuck Hagel Republicans, who in this environment and most likely in a McCain administration are considered “dissidents.”

I strongly agree with Vague’s manner of dismantling the inappropriate metaphor of a global war on terror and his efforts to reach “regular Americans” who have basically subcontracted out the national security and foreign policy challenges of the country to people who are undermining their interests.
I missed previously and just read this interview with Richard Vague in the Philadelphia Inquirer in February but particularly liked this section:

A: The most important policy we have toward Muslim countries is our terrorism policy, which has been misguided and has led to increased global terrorism, a $2 trillion war, and $100 per barrel oil.
While we clearly need to pursue true terrorists, the real solution to terrorism has to be economic and political rather than military. . . . If you kill a terrorist but don’t take care of these causal issues, another terrorist will simply rise to take his place. If you instead reverse the political and economic calamity, this terrorism will wither away.
Q: President Bush says Iraq is stabilizing, and U.S. troops need to stay or our enemies will take over. Is he right?
A: Instead of supporting our stated goal of unifying the country under a common government, [U.S.-led forces] are essentially ceding the most troubled regions to local warlords, such as Sunni warlords in Anbar province, where they had previously been fighting against those same warlords. This has had the effect of temporarily reducing violence. . . . This only delays the day of reckoning, however, and leaves unaddressed and unresolved the structural problems of the country.
Q: Are there examples where big nations like the United States have successfully adapted the strategies and tactics you recommend?
A: The U.S. has successfully used economic policy to combat dangerous instability and ideologies on a number of occasions, the most famous being the indispensable Marshall Plan in Europe deployed after World War II. Several South American countries have used economic policy as a tool in recent decades to help successfully fend off violent terrorists such as Peru’s Shining Path.
Q: Who are the United States’ actual and potential allies in Muslim countries?
A: While no country supports all the things we would want them to, not even Britain, and none of them has a government that has all the features we would like, countries such as Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Malaysia and many others are allied with us on a very large number of matters.
Q: How have you formed and evolved your views on the U.S. role in the world?
A: I try to read as broadly as possible – from books about Darius in Persia in the 5th century B.C.E., to China and Africa in the Middle Ages, to Japan in the first half of the 20th century.
I look for the universal principles history reveals about human nature and the patterns of history that emerge.
When 9/11 occurred, though many viewed it as a singular moment in history and view the current terror threat as unique, they are in fact part of well-established patterns from the past.

For those interested in more commentary from Richard Vague, here is a talk he gave at my New America Foundation shop in July 2007.
It’s interesting to note that when he gave this talk, oil was $63 per barrel — and that worried him. Now it’s nearly double that — and we haven’t even had any of the next wars that John McCain has said he feels are inevitable.
I hope that a President Obama or President Clinton will be quick to get someone like Richard Vague quickly appointed to a key role helping to reshape and redirect American public diplomacy and foreign policy.
— Steve Clemons


14 comments on “Vague’s Activism: A CEO’s Approach to Diplomacy and Foreign Policy

  1. DonS says:

    Real progressives are like beggars in this political environment.
    That’s all well and good for the political insiders who, like stockbrokers, make a profit on the play. But for the effect on the country, it shifts the political landscape continually toward the right.
    Centrism is fine, even radical centrism, but in the absence of a viable left, a left that is not vilified, scoffed at, scorned, laughed at, centrism it may be a nice philosophical luxury we can ill afford.
    It may stick in the craw of many centrists to fraternize with progressives, but it may be the only meaningful way to provide weight to counter the death grip the right has on the levers of power in society.


  2. weldon berger says:

    By the same token, Carroll, you’re advocating that voters be disenfranchised when they vote for Democrats, presumably based upon the notion that the party offers a superior governing philosophy, and receive Republicans in top administrative poositions. What strikes me as especially pernicious about the notion is that only Republican figures are beneficiaries; why not reach out to the left? There’s obviously plenty of room in the Hillary and Obama tents for people such as Hagel; all they need do is walk in. But there’s precious little for someone like Bernie Sanders, or even Russ Feingold. And god forfend we consider anyone who might consider demilitarizing US foreign policy.
    As for the nomination process, I think anything other than a popular vote contest is a travesty, but what we have now is a battle between two candidates who both received way more votes in most of the primaries than the others. It’s a far cry from the pre-1972 machine-driven system.


  3. Carroll says:

    Why push for anything more than that?
    Posted by weldon berger Mar 19, 10:38PM
    One reason (to me) for including repubs in dem adms and visa versa, is I would like to see party lines broken down somewhat. In fact I would like it if the “parties’ were mostly broken up or splintered.
    More and more we have government by, for and of the “parties”, not the people.
    If you want a good example look at the dem nomination race right now. The “parties’ make up their own selection- election process rules? The party says “they” should decide who the nominee is based on “electability”? No..there is a better way then “party” politicans making the rules for for their “party’s” benefit.


  4. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi, karachi-Pakistan says:

    Agreeably,nothing seems to be so much an abstract-war in terms of its meaning and definition as that of the US-orchestrated war on terror. And of course, nothing has been the most common subject of debate among the world’s policy makers/ strategists/ transnationalists/ transatlantists as that of the US- driven war on terror. And indisputably, nothing has so cruciously damaged the US’s image in the world as has been done by the US-waged war on terror. And above all, nothing has so badly undermined the crediblity of the Bush administeration as that of the administeration’s policies in Iraq and Afghnaistan.


  5. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi, karachi-Pakistan says:

    Agreeably,nothing seems to be so much an abstarct-war in terms of its meaning and definition as that of the US-orchestrated war on terror. And of course, nothing has been the most common subject of debate among the world’s policy makers/ strategits/ transnationalists/ transatlantists as that of the US- driven war on terror. And indisputably, nothing has so cruciously damaged the US’s image in the world as has been done by the US-waged war on terror. And above all, nothing has so badly undermined the crediblity of the Bush administeration as that of the administeration’s policies in Iraq and Afghnaistan.


  6. weldon berger says:

    Mr. Murder, he’s what passes as a foreign policy moderate these days, and his reactionary domestic politics are not to be mentioned. It’s a fad, one hopes.


  7. Mr.Murder says:

    Chuck Hagel, ES&S/Diebold.
    He’s moderate? What is this, another SA convention? The lesser of two evils?
    As for reading on Japanese government and foreign relations, and scale economic transitions in the early 20th century, you really need compare this with the prior era as well.
    Japan did regional and strategic diplomacy in the closing decades of the 1800s. They were allied when it best could suit their regional interests, and opposed when the oil and energy commodities were endangered.
    This included antagonistic items that charted the development of the far east for coming generations.
    The earlier era than that was of feudalism and rule by tribal warlords, with varied results in trying diplomacy on a national level.
    All of those lessons apply now to south central Asia. Warlords, feudalism renewed, conflicts across former standing governments, being adapted into a “big five” or League of Nations containment policy against other government styles, the tendency of nationalism and militarization to emerge as response to worldwide recession or depressions.
    Who will be the next Northern Alliance or Ferdinand Marcos that we enable? Whose Anti-Comintern(Anti-Islamintern) pacts for pattern containment, or unequal treaties imposed upon or by our client states, will we set into place?
    Gunboat diplomacy returns.
    We don’t really want a Marshall plan, more along the lines of Commodore Perry. Intimidation via arsenals. We’ve simply added language less stark to a continued policy of unilateral intervention. Sail into harbor with our big cannons and mention how nice it would be for them to sign on.


  8. weldon berger says:

    But Carroll, why is that even a concern? Vague is a very wealthy, powerful businessman, and Hagel is a US Senator; does anyone believe that they can’t get their phone calls returned or are being shunned at parties? They’re not among the political have-nots of this world, and any time they want input on something, they’ll get it. Why push for anything more than that?


  9. Carroll says:

    No, I am not saying dems are anti-business.
    I am saying that it is stupid really not to at least engage people like Vague and Hagel…
    Must run now, I am on the phone to Iran…LOl


  10. weldon berger says:

    Carroll, it isn’t that they have nothing to offer, just that they have nothing unique to offer; they’re slightly exotic because they’re simultaneously Republican and sane on some issues, but their ideas are by no means singular. As for balance between business and labor, are you under the impression that the current crop of Democratic leaders are anti-business, or that there’s any danger at all of labor suddenly gaining control of the government? Vague’s biggest campaign contribution beneficiaries are Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Clinton’s chief campaign strategist runs a business that includes a union-busting component. The revolution isn’t around the corner.


  11. Carroll says:

    You’ve mentioned Vague before…I haven’t read his brief, but will now…from the quotes in the post I think I am going to agree with a lot of what he espouses.
    And I do wish dems would get over the idea that conseratives like Vague and Hagel have nothing to offer to the dems. ..especially on the economy and foreign policy.
    To have an economy that works for ‘everyone” it has to have “balance” between labor and business.
    Not to mention bringing some balance to our foreign policy.


  12. weldon berger says:

    I continue to be puzzled by your outreach program to superannuated Republicans. If they want to endorse a Democrat for president, the only obstacles are self-imposed. I imagine Clinton isn’t returning Vague’s contributions to her campaign, and I’m sure neither she nor Obama would spurn a Hagel or Lugar endorsement. What I don’t understand is what benefit Democrats or the country would derive from rewarding Lugar or Hagel with a cabinet post that could equally well be filled by Democrats who have not spent the past seven years voting to fund or authorize every crack-brained Bush administration scheme to come down the pike. If they want cabinet posts, then the obvious solution is to reform their own party to the point where they could earn one within it.


  13. Concerned American says:

    On the eve of the 5-year anniversary of the start of this disaster, Reuters has put together a potent 5-minute retrospective:
    Everyone should read Richard Vague’s Brief and Joseph Stiglitz’s new book with Bilmes: The Three Trillion Dollar War. Don’t count on CNN or Fox News to give sufficient coverage to these important contributions to the discovery of reality.


  14. JohnH says:

    What’s really needed is not simply people who are interested in a different process–diplomacy instead of military. That’s important, of course.
    More important is to find people willing to publicly challenge the fossilized assumptions about America’s role and ambitions in the world. Unless we arrive at a 21st century consensus on this, all the diplomacy in the world is just serving the selfish interests of those who seek to dominate the world and loot those “vital strategic interests.”
    It’s time for the military and foreign policy establishment to be on the same page with the American public, not pursuing some hidden agenda that trashes American values.
    From what I read here of Richard Vague, he sounds like a nice guy, but not one who will support fundamental change.


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