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Chuck Hagel - Great Decisions

Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel is Chairman of the Atlantic Council. He is a former United States Senator from Nebraska and the author of the book, America: Our Next Chapter.

Chuck Hagel is Chairman of the Atlantic Council. He is a former United States Senator from Nebraska and the author of the book, America: Our Next Chapter.

Transcript

Let’s start with intervention. When do we intervene? When do we not intervene? I think most people would see Libya as a successful example of intervention. Do you agree with that? And if so, what elements made it so?

Well, I think that’s a pretty sweeping statement.  I don’t agree with that yet.  It may eventually be a success, but Libya is very much still in the throes of great uncertainty.  Who governs?  How will that governing body or individuals come to power? NATO was very divided on Libya.  There were only about eight NATO nations that participated; rather significant members of NATO strongly protested NATO’s involvement.  So I think we have to be a little judicious when refer to Libya as a case or model that we can hold up as a successful intervention, here as we go into the second decade of the 21st century.  It may turn out that way, it may not, but I think one of the things that did come out of that intervention was a realization that it’s always going to take strong alliances of many countries and interests to do this.  It is my opinion that America got itself into a lot of awful unnecessary trouble by invading and occupying Iraq.  Here we are twelve years in Afghanistan, having very significant difficulties on winding that [down]. Easy to get into war; easy to intervene.  Not easy to “un-intervene,” unwind, or get out of war.  I think that’s the primary lesson of the last ten years that all nations are looking at.

Do you have a doctrine or a philosophy on when the United States should intervene in a country for humanitarian purposes?

Well, I think so-called doctrines are great American capitalizations that make things kind of simple, black or white. The world is not black and white. Interventions are dangerous because interventions always come with rather significant unintended consequences, ripple effects that ripple out, which can lead to bringing other nations into conflict. Each nation is different. I don’t think you can put a cookie-cutter model on top of any region, any nation.  Every nation in the Middle East, every situation there today, North Africa, is different.  Tunisia is different than Libya, Egypt is different than Syria; each of those countries represents different problems.  Bahrain is different than the rest.  There are strains of similarities, but I think we have to be very careful — and I think we’ve learned this too — that this “easy assessment” that we’re going to “bring democracy,” we’re going to impose democracy, people are going to like democracy, democracy will flourish, and that’ll be the end of that. I recall vividly a few years ago when Hamas won elections in the Gaza Strip, and the United States was very strong and focused on elections.  Let the people decide; democracy is the way to do it.  Well, the winner in that election was Hamas; so even though we touted democracies, we refused to deal with Hamas. You can’t pick and choose your democracies.  There’s only one coin of the realm in the world for both individuals in the world. It’s trust.  And that trust comes as a result of having confidence in people, and you’ve got to play it fair.  Each nation responds in its own self-interest, but you can’t pick and choose. You say, “Democracy lets the people decide.” They decide someone you don’t like.  Well, “I’m sorry we don’t like them; we’re not going to deal with them.” These are consequences of intervention that you have to always factor in.  Therefore, each one is different and, I think, has to be assessed in its own different perspective and frame of reference.

To some of the critics of the Libya intervention, the intended outcome was regime change. Does that in any way harm future efforts of possible humanitarian intervention?

Well, I think if you look at that particular case, and you’re correct, you know that both Russia and China have used that not to go along with tougher U.N. sanction on Syria.  “You clever fellows tricked us on the Libyan thing; you didn’t talk about regime change, you talked about humanitarian issues.”  But after all, it was all about regime change. This is another component of Iran.  We get ourselves all jumbled up on that issue because there are some people in the United States and other countries that push for regime change.  But once you start that, that’s another ballgame, that’s another direction you’re taking. So you lose sight of all the other strategic interests that should be the focus and, up to the point, have been.  Iran’s case, obviously, is the development of the capacity to create nuclear weapons, but if you mix that in Iran with regime change, you got a whole new series of combustible elements.  Libya was the same. Each of these countries, as I said earlier, is a lesson on to itself. And when you are using the United Nations — I’m a strong support of the United Nations, I’m a strong supporter of all these coalitions of common interest that we built after WWII, and they’re going to be more important, I think, today and in the future than they’ve ever been for obvious reasons — you have to factor into this equation, “Are we setting a precedent?”  We have to straightforward — transparency.  What is the mission?  The mission has to be limited. One of the reasons we’re in trouble in Afghanistan is because we went well beyond our mission.  We accomplished the mission then we took our eye off the ball and intervened, invaded Iraq, and occupied Iraq.  And now, twelve years later, we’re not sure what our mission is.  Is our mission to eliminate the Taliban?  That never was our mission.  Is it nation building?  Is it sending children to school?  Is it building sewer systems?  Is it going after al-Qaeda? All those factors are complicated, but they have to be carefully thought through.  I’m not sure we’ve done that very well in the last ten years, but do I think we’ll do it smarter. We always learn.  They’re tough lessons to learn.  Vietnam was a tough lesson for us to learn. If we’re wise in how we handle this, judicious in the employment of our power and reaching out and building alliances of common interests, then I think we can move to manage a lot of our big problems.  We won’t solve them all, some are not solvable right now, but I think the best we can do is manage them, move them to the higher ground of a possible or potential solution, and eventual resolution.  That’s the kind of world we live in, and it isn’t getting any less complicated.  Seven billion people today, soon to be nine billion.

What are the new security threats that we really should be focusing on in this economic pinch?

Well, I think I’ll start with what you just said—economic.  All nations’ security is anchored directly to their economic strength.  Everybody knows if you don’t have any money, if you don’t have a job, if you don’t have any prospects, you probably don’t have many opportunities.  The budgets drive everything; they drive strategies.  We’ve not paid attention to that for twelve years in this country, so we’ve run up this huge debt; we cut our taxes, we did everything the wrong way without paying any attention.  So it’s pretty predictable that we’d end up where we are; pretty predictable what would end up happening in Europe. The social programs that the Europeans couldn’t fund and they were in the same kind of situation, in many ways, as the United States.

So these things are not just new developments that surprise peoples on the horizon, if you’re thinking.  Leadership should always be the future.  Leadership is not about yesterday, it’s not even about today. It’s about tomorrow.  And so these are things we’re going to have to deal with, but the economic challenges that the United States faces, as do all countries, are going to be, right now I think, going to be front and center; aside from all the other realities of terrorists, conflicts regional and national.

But take cyber.  Cyber is a huge issue.  That cyber warfare dimension which we are just now just getting our arms around, the United States, as other nations are.  If you concentrate on that arena of warfare, you can completely paralyze a nation.  You can paralyze power grids; you can paralyze financial services; you can stop a country; you can paralyze computers on ships.  I think the greater threat to all of us is going to be directly a dagger at the heart of economic interests, and certainly I would start with cyber.  All the other threats are still going to be there—nuclear proliferation, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, [and] all the things we’re dealing with today.  But, in the end, we can deal with those; we can manage those; we can work our way through those.  The big issues are things like cyber, that’s where we’ve really got to pay attention.  It’s not like sending one army against another.  You’re not going to win that by having a bigger navy that the other guy’s navy. You need big navies, you need strong security, but you need so much more now today to protect our economic interests, which are our vital security interests.

China’s obviously been very active in places like Africa, in Latin America, and other parts of the developing world in the past decade, in a way that could replace the United States. Is that something we need to be concerned about in the U.S.?

Well, I’ve never taken an attitude in life that you should play the other person’s game.  Play your own game.  I would not trade America’s position in the world — our ledger, our debts, and assets — for any country in the world.  There isn’t a country in the world even close to America.  When you look at first, we are a nation of laws.  We have the largest, but most importantly the most flexible and agile economy in the world.  People are not trying to get into China, they’re trying to get out of China.  The United States is the only great country where people are trying to get into to this country for obvious reasons. When you look at some of those fundamental, foundational elements of a country – an economic system, personal incentive, people being able to soar as high as your God-given talent and hard work will allow you – boy, that’s pretty important with a tremendous emergence of talent all of the world.  China is going to emerge and grow.  It should; we should welcome that.  They’re going to be competitors, they are now; India, Brazil, other nations. That’s okay.  Trade, exchanges, relationships, common interests; all those emerging nations, economies, and strengths are all captive to basically the same kinds of things: stability, security, energy  sources, resources, and people. Everything that we have to have in our country to prosper, so do the Chinese.

The Chinese have bigger problems though. They’ve got huge problems, starting with the fact that they’ve got 1.3 billion people, and hundreds of millions of them live in abject poverty.  That means jobs, that mean all the rest.  They’ve got energy issues they’re going to be living with.  They are a communist, authoritarian, opaque government.  There’s no transparency.  What they have and what they don’t have, we’re not quite sure.  They’ve made tremendous strides.  They are a great power today, and they going to continue to be a great power — and that’s okay.  But we shouldn’t cower in the wake of that, or we shouldn’t be concerned that they’re going to take our place in the world.

Play our game, take our strengths, maximize on your strengths.  Who are you, what do you have to offer?  Why have you, since World War II especially, been the greatest country on earth? No one has ever been close to America by any measure since World War II, except for the Soviets in the nuclear area.  But really, it’s been more than 100 years since America became the dominant economy in the world.  And that’s pretty significant that we’ve not only held that position, but we’ve vastly improved that position.

So I’m not worried about this country if we continue to do the wise things, the smart things. We lead the world; we don’t dictate to the world, we don’t impose to the world, we don’t intervene everywhere, and we don’t occupy and invade.  We work with our allies.  We do exactly what Eisenhower, Truman, Marshall, and all those other wise leaders after WWII did. That’s what’s brought us over the last sixty-five years to where we are. We have problems; we’re going to continue to have problems.  Every generation in the history of man has had problems and challenges, but it is all up to one thing, and that’s response.  How do you respond?  And that always tells the difference.