CFR-UTSA Election 2020 U.S. Foreign Policy Forum

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

President, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Special Assistant to George H.W. Bush (1989–1993)

Stephen J. Hadley

Principal, Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel LLC; Former National Security Advisor (2005–2009)

Jeh Charles Johnson

Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; Former Secretary of Homeland Security (2013–2017)

Mary Beth Long

Cofounder and Principal, Global Alliance Advisors, LLC; Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (20072009)

Margaret E. Talev

White House and Politics Editor, Axios; Political Analyst, CNN

Presented by the Council on Foreign Relations and the University of Texas at San Antonio

About this Event

As part of the Election 2020 series, watch an in-depth, nonpartisan conversation featuring former government officials from Republican and Democratic administrations discussing the critical foreign policy challenges facing the winner of the 2020 presidential election. 

This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


MILLIKEN: Good evening. I’m J.B. Milliken. I’m chancellor of the University of Texas System. Thank you all for being here. I know you’re looking forward to hearing and learning from the remarkable panel this evening as much as I am. Now, I know the people in this room are familiar with the University of Texas System, our fourteen academic and health institutions, 240,000 students across the state of Texas, including two great institutions here in San Antonio—UT San Antonio and UT Health Science Center San Antonio.

So I’m here, of course, as chancellor, but I’m also here as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The Council’s a legendary organization, founded in 1921, whose mission, in the words of its President Richard Haass, is to be a resource of ideas and provide analysis and background to help people understand the world. It’s nonpartisan and independent. Its publications are unsurpassed. And its programs are widely known as forums for some of the best discussion anywhere. And evident from the talent, perspective and experience represented in tonight’s panel. Its goal is to help all of us understand the world better through the sharing of ideas and expertise.

So there’s an obvious and symbiotic relationship between what the Council does and what we do in higher education. When I joined the Council, I was chancellor at the City University of New York at the time. And I had the good fortune of living two blocks away from the Council’s headquarters. And Richard told me then that strengthening the Council’s connections with colleges and universities was among its highest priorities. He and his team do a great job putting on programs like tonight’s and giving students and faculty access to webinars and conference calls featuring experts on global issues of the day. This engagement with higher education is good for them, it’s good for our students and our faculty, and it’s good for the world.

So what was it about the Alamo city that made this New York-based organization focused on global affairs want to hold one of four election-issue forums here? Why is San Antonio the perfect venue for tonight’s conversation? San Antonio has grown to the seventh-largest city in the nation, one of the fastest growing, with a Hispanic majority, a strong economy, proximity to one of our largest and best trading partners. In many ways San Antonio represents the future of America, or at least what we hope for the future. It’s dynamic, multicultural, on the rise, and highly engaged with the rest of the world.

Helping make that hopeful vision a reality is the city’s hometown university, where we are this evening. UT San Antonio’s long been a catalyst for the city’s growth, prosperity, and cultural engagement, and future. And having recently celebrated its fiftieth birthday, it’s charging into its second century and moving on many fronts to become a model for student mobility and success, to be a great research university, and to drive continued growth and innovation here in San Antonio and in the state of Texas. Fueled by its students and faculty, including a number of those with us here tonight, UT San Antonio’s destined to play an even bigger role in this city, in this state, and on the global stage. And so I can think of no better venue for tonight’s conversation.

To get things started I want to introduce our host and my outstanding colleague, President Taylor Eighmy, president of the University of Texas at San Antonio. (Applause.)

EIGHMY: Good evening. I am so delighted you’re all here. Before I begin my formal remarks, I just have to give a shoutout. The Council on Foreign Relations picked four locations around the U.S. to have these conversations. The first took place a couple weeks ago up at the University of New Hampshire, my old institution, and we are the second to host. There will be another at Wayne State in Michigan and another in Florida, I think, at the University of Central Florida.

So we are one of four universities to host this discussion in this very important period that we’re in. And it reminds me of my days at UNH a lot. In my old job I had the opportunity to meet a number—many, many presidential candidates over many election cycles, and the power of meeting folks, thinking about the issues, being informed about the issues is such an important thing as we think about the coming election.

So I am just delighted that the Council selected San Antonio and UTSA to host this second national conversation. So it’s an important thing for us, and it excites me. It reminds me of my old world where I was paying attention to politics 24/7.

Chancellor Milliken, thank you for the opportunity. I’m delighted you are here to visit us again. I appreciate your working with us to do this. I’m also appreciative of your staff: Julie Goonewardene for her work with us. I’m appreciative of the Council staff and my staff.

Let’s give a shout out to our organizers who organized this event for us tonight. (Applause.) Thank you.

We have some elected officials in the House: Charlie Gonzalez, former U.S. congressman; Jada Andrews-Sullivan, San Antonio city councilwoman; and John Courage, San Antonio city councilman. It’s great to have our electeds here.

The Council on Foreign Relations is a very, very special organization, as you will hear in a minute. It is a wonderful educational resource for us, and to have the opportunity to host them here is just so special.

You know this, but I’ll repeat this. UTSA is nationally recognized for our focus on civic engagement, having earned the prestigious Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, and I can’t think of a higher and more noble purpose about being community and civically engaged than voting.

To prepare our students for future leadership roles, UTSA has invested in teaching them to be engaged and active participants in civic discourse—that’s needed now. As such, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to remind each and every student in the audience to participate in the Census—the 2020 Census count so that you are counted because there is direct benefit to be counted in terms of student aid that’s given out.

And I also want to ensure that each and every one of you votes in this coming primary and in the election in November. Please, please vote—independent of your party just make sure you vote. We actually have a polling station here on campus, as you probably know, and that’s an important thing to have access to.

So it’s with this keen interest in civic engagement that I look forward to tonight’s thoughtful discussion on critical foreign policy issues that will face our next administration. We’re only 150 miles from Laredo. Laredo is the biggest port in the United States. Our economy in Texas and the economy in Mexico is so intertwined it’s indistinguishable.

Our university has about 120 formal relationships with universities in twenty-six countries; fifteen of them are in Mexico, so think about that. We just had a delegation of senior administrators go down to UDLAP to talk about some programs that we want to jointly establish with UDLAP.

I’m on an economic development board, and we’re very interested in the economy of Monterrey, the economy of San Antonio, and the economy of Austin as we think about the future, so there are a lot of critical foreign policy issues to discuss.

Our panelists represent some of the country’s most brilliant minds in this topic of foreign relations, and we couldn’t be more honored to have them here with us tonight. I’ve been particularly impressed with how eager our panelists were to spend their time with our students today—our political science students. That was a wonderful opportunity to sit and talk about issues of the day, and I’m very appreciative that 50 of our students had that opportunity to meet our panelists. Not only are these panelists foremost experts in their field, they are also incredibly generous with their time, and we are very grateful.

Now it’s my distinct pleasure to introduce our distinguished moderator for tonight’s panel, Margaret Talev. Margaret is currently serving as a White House and political editor for Axios, one of the most interesting and wonderful news organizations in the country, as well as a political analyst for CNN. Prior to these roles she served as senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg.

Well respected in her field, Margaret is past president of the White House Correspondents Association and the Washington Press Club Foundation. The work she is doing today to cover the current administration is the latest chapter in Margaret’s extensive career in reporting on the White House. As a senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg, she covered Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and President Obama’s two terms in the White House.

Before becoming White House correspondent, Margaret honed her journalism skills at newspapers throughout the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, and the Tampa Tribune. Her stellar reputation as a reporter was built on her numerous national stories, including the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 262, for which she was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Margaret earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland at College Park where she majored in journalism with an emphasis on political science. In 2018 she served as a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy Institute of Politics. A first-generation American, Margaret is a native of Bulgaria and is fluent in Bulgarian.

Please give a warm, and loud, and heartfelt Roadrunner welcome to Margaret and our esteemed panelists as they come up to the stage. (Applause.)


TALEV: (Off mic)—that CFR is co-hosting with universities across the country in pivotal states like Texas, timed, you might have noticed, slightly ahead of your primary elections.

But look, the idea here is not to get into partisan politics; it is to discuss foreign policy challenges that I know all of you care about, and that whoever the winner is in November will face for the next four years.

As an independent member organization, and think tank, and publisher, CFR serves as a non-partisan source of information and analysis, and the idea here is to advance all of our understandings of global affairs and some of the foreign policy choices that the U.S. is facing and that other countries face, as well.

So tonight’s goal—as are the goals of each of these forums—is to raise awareness about these international issues that affect all of our lives and to help you make your own decisions when you are in the privacy of the ballot box.

As you can imagine, there are way too many topics to cover in an hour, so we are going to try to pare this conversation down really to what matters most to all of you and what matters most in the realm of foreign policy. But we will divide this up in a way where we have a chance to have a conversation for about a half an hour and then we turn it over to you for your questions. And we hope that makes everyone have an opportunity to be a participant tonight.

We also hope that, in the lead-up to this election, you all take advantage of the many resources that are available online through CFR. The website, of course, is, and you can follow everything there. There are candidate responses to foreign policy questionnaires. There are podcasts, there are videos, there are great explainer briefs on topics that you care about, and there are articles by candidates, by experts from Foreign Affairs, and all of the wonderful products that CFR publishes to help inform you about the world.

So again I’d like to thank you UT at San Antonio for this event, the Carnegie Corporation of New York for their generous support of CFR’s 2020 Election Series. And I’d like to thank our panelists in advance. I am not going to give them the same over-the-top windup that I got here—(laughs)—because you already know these fine people.

But look, we have here among us, starting of course with Dr. Haass, folks who have worked for decades for Democrats and Republican presidents and helping guide foreign policy. Dr. Haass, of course, is the president of CFR and also a former special assistant to President George H.W. Bush. Steve Hadley, former national security adviser to President George W. Bush. Jeh Johnson, former Homeland secretary—Homeland Security secretary under President Obama. And Mary Beth Long, former assistant secretary of Defense in George W. Bush’s administration. So I really want to thank all of you for joining us tonight.

These conversations, as always, are on the record. They’re also being livestreamed. (Laughs.) I don’t want that to intimidate any of you, but I just want you to know what you’re getting into before you get started here. (Laughter.) Look, there’s something else that we tried to do as we got started tonight, and that is to take a survey to get a sense of what you care about. And just by way of some frame of reference, I came straight from New Hampshire where I got up around 6:00 this morning. I was up till around 3:30 last night watching election results. And as you can imagine, the conversation there is very much about electability, domestic policy issues. If you wanted to get specific about issues, maybe health care. Maybe economic inequality. These are the issues that are driving the Democratic primary right now.

But for everyone in this room, and really for many Americans even if it’s not front and center on their minds, foreign policy is such an important part of what is going to shape the next four years, and issues, you know, that we all care about. And so we wanted to get a sense in the room of what you guys are the most interested in. And that’ll guide some of our conversations tonight.

But just to give you all a feel for how your neighbors in the audience answered, one of the first questions was: When you’re being asked who to support for president how much do you care about foreign policy? And for this audience it was a huge factor. Two-thirds of you said it was a big factor in your decision. About a third of you said it was somewhat of a factor. And almost no one said it was not a factor at all—maybe 3 or 4 percent. What do you consider the greatest threat to U.S. national security? Anyone want to guess? China. China. In this crowd. By a pretty fair margin. But climate change and Russia close second and third. Iran and North Korea, interesting to talk about. We’ll definitely talk about these issues tonight, but nowhere near as urgent in all of your minds. We can talk a little bit more about Iran in detail.

We talked about defense spending and democracy and human rights. Most of you are for maintaining defense spending. Not a big appetite for increasing the defense budget. And on this question, this perennial question for the United States, how important is democracy and human rights promotion to U.S. foreign policy, a bit of a split decision. It’s very important to many of you, a little bit more than half, but only somewhat important to about the other half. Almost none of you said it’s not important to you at all. So this is the room. This is—this is where we are tonight, and by way of that introduction let’s get started.

Richard, you know, I think I’d like to start with you because you’ve got a new book coming out about the world. It’s just a quick primer to anyone who has never heard of the world. And I think part of the goal is to give people a good baseline understanding of the world beyond your, you know, sort of immediate day-to-day life, and why that matters. And I just wanted to ask you, like, not only—obviously foreign policy is important, but why do you think foreign policy is going to be important in the next four years. What are the top issues? Why should we care?

HAASS: Thank you. Thank you. Is this on? Thank you all for being here. When you run for president you can choose a lot of things. You can choose your running mate. You can have a lot of say over your platform. You can choose what it is you say at the State or the Union or at your inaugural. The only thing you can’t choose when you run for president is your inbox. That doesn’t change depending upon who wins. That just greets the winner. And it’s going to be an extraordinarily difficult, daunting inbox for any number of reasons. That’s one reason that whoever is the forty-fifth or forty-sixth president, whoever is president come January of 2021, he or she is going to have enormous challenges.

Secondly, I’d say is we live in a time that what happens out there affects the quality of life here. I don’t know how many are old enough to remember that commercial a few years ago where it showed a few workers going off to Las Vegas. And they were clearly misbehaving. And the tagline at the end of the commercial was: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Well, the beginning of wisdom about foreign policy is that nothing stays local for long. Or, put another way, what happens in Wuhan, China doesn’t stay in Wuhan, China.

We learned the hard way on 9/11, what happens in Afghanistan or Pakistan doesn’t stay there. It can come here, and 3,000 people paid with their lives. We’re learning with climate change, what’s happening around the world doesn’t stay there. Climate change doesn’t reflect—respect borders. It comes here. What happens in cyberspace, what some hackers—whether they’re backed by a government or not—what they do can have implications for our privacy, for our elections, for our bank accounts. So the second part I simply want to think is the world matters.

And thirdly, things go the other way as well. What the United States does and doesn’t do, and how we do it, probably matters more than any other country. This is not boasting. This is simply saying the world we live in—OK, the world we live in—I don’t have to repeat all that, do I? (Laughter.) To a large extent was framed by the United States. And no one country has as much objective power. We’re still roughly a quarter of the world’s economy. We have this extraordinarily capable military. The dollar is central to the functioning of the world economy. We have tremendous not just power but the influence that derives from it. And how we decide to use it and where we decide to use it affects the world.

So it’s almost a feedback loop. What happens out there affects life here. But what we decide to do—(laughter)—

TALEV: You’re doing it wrong. (Laughs.)

HAASS: The people who are in charge of the sound just came from Iowa. (Laughter, applause.) They’ve got it well under control. (Laughter.) And they also did the tabulations in that poll. (Laughter.)

TALEV: Yeah, exactly.

HAASS: We’ll have tremendous confidence in what you just heard from Margaret. (Laughter.) So my point is, again, that foreign policy matters. The world matters. What it is we do is central to the quality. And the reason we wanted to do this, the reason in some ways the organization, the institution I’m associated with is, is to try to contribute to the debate in this country.

Today all four of us were lucky enough to meet with some of the students here. And quite a few of them were majoring not just in political science but in global affairs. And actually all of the ones who were majoring in global affairs had to take certain courses, and others did as well. And that’s really important. But that’s rare. It turns out you can graduate from virtually every high school in the United States and not be exposed to the set of issues we’re talking about tonight.

It turns out you can graduate from virtually any university—college or university in the country and while course are on offer, you’re not required to take them to get your degree. And most students navigate their requirements so they’re not exposed to it. Then there’s all the people who don’t go to college or university. And then there’s people who ten, or twenty, or thirty years later either they forgot what they learned, or people of our generation we were studying about the Cold War. Well, last I checked the Cold War ended thirty years ago. So a lot of what we learned isn’t necessarily relevant.

So again, the—if this—to me, the measure of success of evenings like this is not so much what you hear from us tonight, though I hope that’s helpful, but then also that you go home and spend time on these issues so that when you do vote, hopefully, on March 3 in the primaries and all that, and ultimately in November, this becomes an important factor in your decision making.

TALEV: Mary Beth, I want to turn to China briefly, because I’m wondering do you agree with the audience that this is the biggest challenge, foreign policy challenge, foreign policy threat? And how should we think about China? Is China, like, a military threat? Is it an economic threat? Is it a health threat? Next four years, how should we get our heads around China, no matter who the president is?

LONG: If you had asked me what I thought was the largest national security threat from an economic and military perspective, I would have said China. But part of that isn’t because of the Chinese. Part of that is because of us, and let me explain for a moment.

I started out at CIA as a sinologist. Actually was hired by the East Asia Division because I had gone to school in Taiwan and China and spoke Mandarin, and had traveled around and spent time in a girls dormitory in both places and been sponsored by families, and had the hubris to think that I understood Chinese.

Well, the first thing about Chinese is you don’t understand them if you’re not Chinese, and I think a lot of our national policy is incredibly reflective of a huge cultural divide between what we think the Chinese are thinking and want to do and what we think they should be doing for us in order to either deconflict that or to be responsible players on the world scene.

Chinese—if you speak to Chinese in the 1980s, when I was there, and now, their national goals are remarkably consistent. I would be at a dinner and everyone would say quite matter-of-factly, you know, we absolutely admire you Americans. You have the most remarkable things that you have—McDonald’s, foods, clothing, cinema. Your freedoms are incredible. You have this wonderful middle class. You all have cars. We’re going to have that someday.

But you’re incredibly chaotic. You never know what you’re doing. People get to—people are going in all kinds of directions. No one is organizing them. You are unpredictable. We couldn’t stand that in our lives. Everybody gets to say anything they want. How do you survive in that—why aren’t you fighting each other? People walking around with guns. That is just not what human—what being human is about.

So we would love to have your economy and your middle class. But we wouldn’t trade who we are culturally if that meant that we would be as chaotic as your citizenry must be. This idea that you all go and vote and fight each other every four years, what—I mean, how is that even—we can’t understand how you got here.

And that’s pretty much the way they feel now. Our inability to be consistent—well, first of all, to have a China policy, to be able to execute it and then to have consistency in our national goals with China, not only within an administration but over administration, makes China much—a much bigger challenge than I think China thinks it should be, number one. If you speak to Chinese now—and I’m in track twos—they describe themselves as a regional power. Well, that’s part of Chinese being very understated.

But from their point of view, the idea that we rule the Pacific, that we have air superiority and naval superiority in their back yard, is a real military threat to them. And—although they’ll tell you that the Chinese people, just because there are so many and we’re so diverse and our economic power is so great, we will conquer the world someday but we won’t have to do it militarily.

You people are going to burn yourselves into the ground, and they’re right now looking at us going—(laughter)—because you don’t have limits on these freedoms and this individual action. So you can’t really produce the military weapons that you need to because you’re fighting over how your budget is going to be spent and you really can’t all get behind an idea because of your politics. And we will. We might have to go to a military action but we probably won’t. You’re going to, basically, become a second-tier and third-tier country as we excel.

What we haven’t decided, I think, is what that means. Certainly, an economic threat. Certainly, a military threat. They’ve been robbing us blind for years from an intellectual property standpoint. But we need to sit down and think hard about what are challenges, what are threats, and what are our national goals with China and how do we address them long term with continuity. But I would say China.

TALEV: At some point tonight before we leave, I want us to have a conversation about Huawei, at least a short conversation about Huawei. But while China’s on my mind, Jeh, I wanted to ask you about where foreign policy meets homeland security. I think from your experience in the Obama administration and just your perch in the national security world, something like the coronavirus, like, comes to mind for me. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

People might think that Huawei or intellectual property rights or whatever are these sort of far off issues that don’t really affect them. But someone getting sick and making thousands of other people sick and making Americans sick is something that really frightens people. And I’m just wondering, like, do you see foreign policy and homeland security as two distinct issues? Are they the same issue? And what areas should we be looking at for the nexus of those two things?

JOHNSON: Well, thank you for that question. Can everybody hear me? My sound works. See? (Laughter.) All right. Now I really feel bad. OK. So, first of all, I have to say it’s great to be back in San Antonio. I think it’s been about twenty years and maybe 2 million people ago—(laughter)—that I was here, back in the days when I was general counsel of the Department of the Air Force.

As everybody here knows, there’s a large military presence in this community. There’s a large Air Force community here—ATC. I came here a lot. So being here today, talking with students, talking with faculty and a number of retired military reminds me of my days as general counsel of the Air Force.

Was a civilian presidential appointment, Senate confirmed. I was appointed in October 1998. I served for twenty-seven months in the last twenty-seven months of the Clinton administration, and I had stepped out of being a corporate lawyer in New York to all of a sudden being this very senior-level person in the Pentagon, a place I had had no experience with.

I was not in the military and, as everybody here in the military knows, protocol, hierarchy matters for everything. Everything. It dictates who is referred to as sir, who is referred to as ma’am, who can give orders, who picks up the phone first, how you sign your letters, whether you put “very respectfully” or not, the size of your office. Everything. And for us civilian political appointees, as Mary Beth knows, they have to find a place for you in the hierarchy. (Laughter.)

LONG: Or not.

JOHNSON: They got to figure this out because it’ll drive the military crazy if all of a sudden they’re dealing with a civilian official and they can’t figure out where you are in the hierarchy. So all of a sudden, as the general counsel of the Department of the Air Force I was a four-star equivalent. Equivalent. Imagine that. Going from being a lowly corporate lawyer to being a four-star equivalent, and it took some adjustment for me.

I had to learn protocol, and one of the things that I struggled with was, among all the different things, like, when you get in the car—the staff car—with a general where you’re supposed to sit. (Laughter.) And so I was at a conference with every Air Force four-star general at MacDill Air Force Base as well as all the assistant secretaries, the secretary, and we were getting on this bus after the conference to go back to the lodging and I see the chief of staff of the Air Force, General Michael Ryan, who was the chief of staff 1998, ’99, 2000. Six foot three, fighter pilot, Vietnam. He was, like, the poster child for an Air Force general. Full head of hair. Every fighter pilot in the Air Force has a full head of hair. Did you know that? (Laughter.) And he has his staff car and he says: Jeh, come ride with me.

So we’re walking toward the car and I’m doing the protocol math in my head, thinking I’m a four-star equivalent but he’s, like, kind of four and a quarter. (Laughter.) So I will sit in the rear of the car on the left hand side. And so I made my way around the car. I got in the back on the left hand side and General Ryan got in the driver’s seat. (Laughter.) A little embarrassing. His exec saved me. He got in the front.

So but anyway, so your question is a good one.

TALEV: Oh, I think I just want some more stories, actually. We’ll get to a question later.

JOHNSON: I have more. I have more. When I came into the job of secretary of Homeland Security, I did not anticipate the extent to which foreign policy matters for homeland security, but it does. I probably, in thirty-seven months, met at least three dozen of my counterparts and traveled numerous times, and I like to say when I was in office that the job of homeland security is not necessarily just defending the homeland from the one-yard line but defending the homeland from the thirty- or forty-yard line, which means foreign policy.

TALEV: Before it gets to the homeland. Yeah.

JOHNSON: And I can testify firsthand to the importance, for example, of intelligence sharing when it comes to homeland security, our threat streams. I can testify firsthand to the number of instances where we prevented something bad happening here in the homeland because of our intelligence-sharing arrangements with intelligence communities in other nations, ministries of the interior in other countries.

And you asked about the coronavirus. So when I think of the coronavirus, I think of the crisis we had with Ebola in the fall of 2014. It was a lethal virus, and when you’re dealing with a lethal virus the first reactions are not always the best reactions. There’s a lot of public anxiety and fear when it comes to a lethal virus because people don’t know where it’s going to end.

People don’t know when we’re going to turn the corner. People don’t know how far the virus will spread, how many people are going to die, whether it’s going to be on your front door tomorrow or in your mailbox or in your school or, you know, in your college dorm. And so there’s a lot of fear and anxiety and first reactions are not always the best reactions.

And so there was a lot of pressure on us in 2014 to, basically, suspend all travel from West Africa, where the virus was coming from. Just shut down all travel. And from the homeland security perspective that has a lot of appeal because when you’re in homeland security you’re all about buying down the risk to the homeland. Reducing the risk.

Turns out, frankly, that was—that was the first reaction but it wasn’t necessarily the best reaction. The best reaction to dealing with the Ebola virus in West Africa was an approach—an international approach—a foreign policy approach. Not just reducing the risk to the homeland but helping go to the source to stamp out the virus at its source.

And so while we did not suspend visas what we did do, which is what the current administration is doing, I’m glad to see, is funneling all the air travel from that part of the world to just five airports where we heightened the health inspections of those arriving from that part of the world. We armed all the hospitals with awareness about what to look for for the symptoms and we sent our health community and our military community to that part of the world to help them combat the virus rather than isolating that part of the world. And I think that has to be the correct approach here, assuming China is willing to accept that assistance.

TALEV: I was going to ask. China has been a little bit more reluctant. Yes.

JOHNSON: And they’ve been slow to do that. But it is—it is true that for homeland security, protecting the American people, keeping us safe, there is a huge, huge foreign policy component to it. We have to—we have to be able to share resources and intelligence and learning in the international community in order to keep the American people safe.

TALEV: It does seem like trust is one of the big X factors to that because if you’re going to contain the spread of something before it becomes epidemic, if you’re going to understand the problem you have to know what the truth of the problem is.


TALEV: And I think—you know, I want to go to Steve Hadley. But I hope when we have just a couple minutes for a conversation together maybe we can talk about trust sort of as a two-way street. What are our—what are our challenges with trust of the United States? What are our challenges with being able to trust some of the other major countries that we deal with either as frenemies or partners, or both?

HAASS: If I could say one thing on trust there. The bigger problem there is not that China doesn’t trust us, though I think they haven’t let in the Centers for Disease Control. They don’t trust their own people. China is not allowing a free flow of information. The people who originally blew the whistle on the coronavirus were harassed, threatened with imprisonment, and so forth. They were punished. And because any—if there’s a problem in China it’s an implicit rebuke of authority and they couldn’t live with it.

They lost precious weeks. This is a crisis largely of their own making because the first month of it they simply tried to circle the wagons, wouldn’t deal with it, and they and the rest of the world are paying a price for it. So there less of an international issue though, again, the consequences are global.

TALEV: Absolutely.

HAASS: But in many ways, they themselves have created an enormous share of their own problem.

TALEV: Well—

HADLEY: And it raises the issue that Mary Beth talked about because it now means that the Chinese people are not trusting their own government—

LONG: Own government. Right.

HADLEY: —because their government did not tell them the truth early on and is not really fully telling them the truth now. And it’s one of the questions that those people Mary Beth were talking about. There’s a real question about whether this is over the long term going to undermine the legitimacy of the regime in Beijing and particularly Xi Jinping, who has centralized power unto himself, has gotten rid of the collective leadership, has gotten rid of a succession planning, and as my friend, Condi Rice, says, if you’re going to be omnipotent you better be omniscient—(laughter)—because if you’re not and you make a mistake, it all comes back on you.

And this is, I think, the interesting crisis for the Chinese regime now that is—that it is—they have now a legitimacy issue with their own people and it’s going to be a problem that undermines Xi Jinping, and the question is where this leads. And the longer it goes, the worse it gets, the more problematic it’s going to be for China.

So it’s a—you know, they say that authoritarian systems are slow to identify problems because they sit on information. They don’t share it. They try to smuddle it. But once a problem comes they’re effective at dealing with it. Actually, China, on this crisis, has been bad on both. And the question is, what’s that going to do to the relationship with the regime and their people?

HAASS: Yeah, I agree. Just—

LONG: I think it’s even more than the relationship, if you don’t mind me just jumping on for one second. In China, the needs and the desires of the individual are outweighed by the collective, and whether the collective is the local party or the—or the national government or whether it’s Xi, I think this even goes further than that. I think a lot of it will be blamed on Xi.

But I also think the Chinese are looking over the transom, saying this is a period in which the collective itself as represented by the governmental system that we have, they opened the door a little bit with markets and that worked out well and now they’re really putting us at jeopardy. Maybe this collective, represented by Xi with this idea that Beijing is where every decision needs to be made, is fallible. We’ll see.

TALEV: Steve, I had originally planned to ask you about Iran. But I think this question about the role of democracy and human rights in U.S. foreign policy, it’s very interesting to me. I think it’s interesting to folks in the audience and I think it plays into what we’re talking about here both, you know, in terms of what the U.S. role, going forward, should be. Should the U.S. be more engaged in democracy and human rights promotion than our country has been in the last three years? Or do you see that things are not moving in that direction and, you know, and how do you—do you think that this is going to be something then the next president is going to tackle or only if there’s a change of the guard will be something the next president will tackle?

HADLEY: Well, this is an issue I expect you’ll get some—a variety of opinions on this panel.

TALEV: Good.

HADLEY: So why all this discussion about the United States, about freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law? And it’s because that’s the thing that brought us all together in the first place. You know, the United States was a country not founded on the basis of common ethnic background or common language but was really founded on a set of principles—freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law—that attracted people from all over the world that wanted to build a country based on those principles.

So they’re in our DNA. So when people say, well, why do you promote them or stand for them abroad—I would say stand for them abroad—it’s because they are in our DNA as who we are as a people. And if you look at the rhetoric that’s associated, I think—and Richard will correct me on this—almost every war we ever fought, a strong element of why we fought it was to promote freedom, democracy, rule of law, and human rights.

It has always been part of our foreign policy. There is a dispute, people say, between the idealists who want to promote American values and the realists who really focus on American interests—you know, not having terrorism, not having proliferation of nuclear weapons and things like that—and that these are somehow in tension. I’ve never felt that way. I always thought actually it’s profoundly in our interests for the world to embrace our values because a world based on those values are going to be more congenial to American interests, to American prosperity, and American security. And indeed, as Richard said, we after World War II established an international system with our friends and allies that actually reflected those values to a large degree.

But the issue—so if you accept that as the preface, the framework, it isn’t only about our values. And we do have other interests in addition to our values. And therefore, in any given situation, you have multiple interests and you’re going to have to make tradeoffs. And so the issue is certainly we need to stand up for our values.

TALEV: What are our values again?

HADLEY: The question is—(laughter)—shall we start again? Freedom, democracy, rule of law, human rights. Now, one of the things about values and aspirations is you don’t always measure up to them. Second of all, they aren’t the only thing that is involved in our foreign policy.

And the issue is, what do you do when there are tradeoffs, when there are competing issues, competing interests? And the real question is, how aggressive are you when you stand up for those principles? Do you actually fight for those principles? Do you try to impose those principles on others? And that’s where we get into the—that’s where we get into the tussle.

George W. Bush administration, with the second inaugural, a lot of people thought went way too far in terms of promoting our values. (Laughter.) A lot of people said we tried to impose democracy on Iraq through the barrel of a gun, which was completely not true. But we can come back to that. That’s a sore point for me, Iraq, but that’s another—(laughter).

But the issue is, when—if you have those values and if you believe in those values, how far do you go? And people thought George W. Bush went too far. President Obama, I think, dialed the rhetoric back in the early years of his administration, but I think you found him over time—

HAASS: Really?

HADLEY: —beginning to talk about the importance in standing up for our values, principles, human rights, and the like. I think President Trump has dialed it back now even probably further. But if you listen to some of the speeches that Pompeo and—(laughter)—it’s still there.

And one of the things I think that some of our friends and allies miss is that we don’t seem to be standing up for those values and principles now in the way that we did before. They were an organizing principle in the international system, and the system depended on us to be the champion of those values. And—

JOHNSON: But there’s a limit—I think we all know there’s a limit to which we could take that. So the most vivid example I think of is, before I was at Homeland Security, I was the general counsel for the Department of Defense. And I was in Afghanistan 2009. And we wanted to create a structure for them that resembled the Department of Defense in many ways.

And so I met with my Afghan counterpart, who was the legal adviser to the Afghan military. And he was a civilian legal adviser. And we wanted to see him create an office of general counsel like the Department of Defense’s Office of General Counsel—rule of law, rule of law, rule of law.

And that meant handing him a template for various different divisions—international law, procurement, environmental law, and fiscal law.

TALEV: (Laughs.) Fiscal law.

JOHNSON: I’m supposed to explain to this Afghan military adviser what fiscal law is.

TALEV: (Laughs.)

JOHNSON: And, you know, there’s only so far you could take that conversation. And so there’s a limit to which—Stephen, I’m sure you appreciate this—there’s a limit to which we can try to impose the way we pursue our interests when it comes to human rights, rule of law, and the like.

TALEV: I just—

HADLEY: That’s the question, though—impose. And one of the things I think that has been, for those people—can I do this?

TALEV: Definitely.

HADLEY: Thank you. (Laughter.)

One of the things, for those people who have championed the United States standing for these values and principles, is they’re not just ours. And I agree, they can’t be imposed. Our belief, for a lot of Americans, is that actually not only is the world better for us if it’s based on those values, but it’s actually better for the people who are in them. And if you look historically, when people have had the freedom to choose between authoritarianism or democracy, most of the time they voted with their feet in favor of freedom. And that’s what you saw at the end of the Cold War.

TALEV: So we’re going to move to questions in just a second. One of the guiding sort of principles of our coming together here today was that we were going to try very hard not to make this about individual politicians. But I think it’s hard to have the democracy and the human-rights conversation without taking into account some of the shifts of the last few years. And some of these have to do with the president and the administration. Some of these have to do with larger global trends.

And, you know, I just wonder, the appetite for engagement in the Middle East has declined. The American appetite to remain engaged in long wars has declined. And under the Trump administration, the desire to, like, you know, we’ll fight China on trade but we’re not going to go to war with China over human rights, much less Turkey, Saudi Arabia, like, any number of countries, I just think it changes the equation. And I really wonder, no matter who is president, from which party, after November of 2020, whether the U.S. calculus for integrating democracy and human-rights promotion into the core of foreign policy has changed, whether it’s really changed.

HAASS: Actually, I don’t think it’s changed that much in principle. But foreign policy is ultimately about practice. And that’s where Steve’s point about—there’s—one issue is tradeoffs. If you have strategic or economic interests with a country and you don’t much like what’s going on in terms of human rights or democracy, what takes priority? That’s a big debate.

Thirty years ago, when you had a Tiananmen Square, the repression there, the Bush administration, Bush 41, decided that, yes, we would be critical of China, we would do some limited sanctions, but we would maintain the basic relationship for various strategic reasons. Now essentially we’ve gone, I think, to an extreme of overlooking these issues.

The other question—and this is probably where Steve and I disagree somewhat—is how do you right-size what it is you do. It’s almost if you thought of there’s three buckets. There’s reach, there’s overreach, and there’s underreach. And what falls into those various buckets?

What is the right amount of effort to promote these things, as opposed to where do you go too far? Just not worth it? Or, no matter how much you do, there’s—the soil isn’t fertile for it. The preconditions don’t exist. Where are you doing too little, and where do you give up opportunities and so forth where they might—because I think this is actually—it’s nothing new. It literally goes back to the Founders. Every president has wrestled with it.

Some would say the best way to do it is by example. If you go back to the writings of someone like John Quincy Adams, one of the few—one of the only presidents who was also secretary of state—his whole idea was we do it by example. And if that’s the case, then we look at what’s going on in this country and we have to ask ourselves, are we setting an example that others want to emulate? And I would say in many areas no.

And indeed, just to circle back to where we began the conversation, we asked the question, what’s the greatest threat to the United States? And I think a plurality of you said China and to our position in the world.

I would actually have a much more radical answer. It’s us. It’s us.

TALEV: Yeah.


HAASS: Right now I think the biggest threat—

TALEV: Write that down. That’s the most important thing you’ll hear tonight.

HAASS: —to America’s position in the world is the United States.


HAASS: And it’s either what we’re not doing at home in terms of being economically competitive; just the budget the other day. If we want to compete with China—and you said you wanted to talk about some of these—right now it’s very hard to compete in 5G. We do not have 5G to compete with on a global basis. We’re cutting our basic budgets on basic research. So that’s—it’s not China’s fault that we are not in a position to compete with them as well as we might. This is—these are our own decisions.

For seventy, seventy-five years, the world, I would say, worked pretty well from America’s point of view. And the question is, if we go about disrupting it, which I think in various ways we’ve done over recent years, either by overreach or underreach, I think a real question for people who want to be president is what is their sense of what’s right-sizing American foreign policy.

If they don’t like the status quo and they want to disrupt it, what are they going to put in its place? I think that’s a legitimate question to ask. If they want to—if they like the status quo, what are they prepared to do to maintain it, to even deepen it?

And I think those are the sort of questions we need to ask of the candidates, because you don’t want to have a situation, if someone gets elected, and you don’t know their answer to those questions. That’s what we need to avoid here.

TALEV: We are going to move to questions now. And as—I’m going to tell you how to do that. And then, as we get organized, I know Steve and I were talking just before we started about the importance of voting and why voting matters. And I’m hoping you’ll share some of those thoughts with the crowd as we move to this part.

Here's what I’d like you guys to think about in the next thirty seconds to a minute or so. We’re on the record. We’re still being livestreamed. And think about what question you want to ask. When the time comes, I’m going to want you to raise your hand. There will be a microphone. The microphone’s going to come around. If you would, tell us who you are. What’s your name? Are you a student here? Do you live in the community? And then ask an actual question, if you would. And we’ll get to as many of these as we can.

But as we start to get organized, would you share with the group some of what we were talking about, just the idea that voting actually matters and engagement actually matters?

HADLEY: You know, one of the things that Richard and I talked about, especially when we have—are in front of student audiences, I think we would all agree that this is probably the most—from an international standpoint, the most challenging situation we’ve faced since the Cold War, and maybe including the Cold War. And for a lot of the reasons that Richard was touching on, we’re not particularly well positioned to deal with these challenges.

And I think another thing we would say from our experience is who is the president of the United States really matters. I’ve been in a lot of—a number of administrations now, and what always strikes me is how much of the decisions actually go to the president and the president has to make them. So who’s president really matters.

And for young people here, it’s really going to matter for the world that you inherit, because this future is yours. It’s not my generation. My generation is passing from the scene. The future is yours. And you need to seize it. And by how this election comes out and who you vote for, you can have a hand in shaping the future of the country that you will inherit.

So if there’s one message that is behind this CFR program, it is please be informed. But most of all, please participate. Please organize. Please get involved. And for goodness’ sakes, please vote, because the last elections—(applause)—the 2011 (sic; 2000) election was settled by about 550 voters in Florida. So if that—if you don’t think your vote matters, it really does matter. And it’s your future, and you should seize it. And the way to start is to get involved and vote.

TALEV: And everybody’s watching Texas, as everybody here knows. OK—

LONG: Can I—


TALEV: Last word real quick, and then we’re going to go to questions. Mary Beth.

LONG: Super, super quick. So in the conversation about exporting or promulgating our values in human rights and transparency, democracy, and dovetailing with what Steve just said, I am an unabashed believer in American exceptionalism. And if you’re not, go live abroad in a country that isn’t in Europe for two weeks and tell me that you don’t come back a changed person.

And if you—and I, as a CIA officer, spent all my time in the crappy places in the world—(laughter)—because they were the most wonderful, because the people were—they were much more real. But every single one of them, whether they loved us or they hated us, they were passionate, because America meant something to them.

And even now that I’m sitting in track two and doing business, every time we sit down and people have a meal together, it’s talking about our president, talking about what our Congress is going to do. It matters so much to the interlocutors in the international arena that they think we’re crazy that we don’t require voting and that people opt out, because from their perspective our votes have a huge impact on their lives.

And they think the privilege that we have to have been born in this country and to have these Founding Fathers to put the structure in place—and it is culturally bound—that we can have all these things, we can have people being chaotic, we can have an economy where everybody gets to do whatever they feel like, and they can change their mind, all of that because we had an incredible base. And they’d do anything to have it themselves. So vote often, frequently.

TALEV: Only once per election, though. (Laughter.)

OK, we’re going to—all right, we are now—we’re going to—we’re doing this.

All right, who’s got the microphone?

HAASS: Not Chicago.

LONG: Not Chicago.

TALEV: Ora’s (ph) got a microphone. Awesome. We are going to start right over here.

Q: Good evening. My name is Craig Elstak. I’m a full-time student here at UTSA on the GI Bill. I am a global-affairs major. I am a geography minor, member of the United Nations Society, and also a McNair scholar.

I was on a submarine when Dr. Haass was working for George H.W. Bush, and I was in the Pentagon when he was in the State Department. I did one year at Morehouse, and I believe—I don’t believe in American exceptionalism. In my ten years living outside of this country as a uniformed servicemember abroad, what I heard was about our hubris. And our hubris comes when we believe that we can take our beliefs and impose them on others. And although I believe—I’m an American; I love America—but I don’t believe that I can make the world in America’s image.

And so, Dr. Haass, I have such respect for you and such respect for all the panelists. But when I read your book, A World in Disarray, you talked about the world order 1.0 and world order 2.0. When I read how you presented it and I thought about being overseas, I don’t see the difference between manifest destiny as 1.0 and regime change and the policy of American regime change as 2.0.

And I—my question is, how do the intellectuals, the power thinkers, get those—get the point across that we can’t make the world in our own image? We have to make room for everybody else. And in doing so, we can’t say things like—you know, I watch you on Morning Joe all the time—we can’t say things like the president, as you said in 2006 at the BBC, the president will inherit a world or the world, the globe. The U.S. president doesn’t inherit the world.

TALEV: OK, so your question is, how do you reconcile the ambition to bring order to the world or bring—export U.S. values without being overbearing or over-imposing ourselves?

OK, panel. Thank you very much, and thank you for your service. Thank you for your question. (Applause.)

JOHNSON: Can I say one thing?

HAASS: Yes, sir.

JOHNSON: It takes a Morehouse man to answer a question like that. (Laughter.) I’m class of ’79. (Laughter.)

Q: I just did one year. (Laughter.)

JOHNSON: It was good enough.

HADLEY: Well, it was a good year. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Look, we talked about this a bit. And I think there’s real limits to our ability to engineer the internals of other societies. I actually think the principal purpose of foreign policy—the principal, not the sole, but the principal purpose of foreign policy ought to be to shape the foreign policies of others.

That’s pretty ambitious. History would suggest that’s plenty ambitious. To try to remake other countries seems to me, in most instances, a bridge too far. We’ve been successful on occasion. For example, after World War II we were successful with Germany and Japan, but it did take World War II. And it took years and years of occupation. And these were societies which, in many ways, were homogenous and lent themselves to certain types of reform.

It, obviously, gets very different when you have societies that have not reached certain points of development. I’m not saying they don’t have potential for it—don’t get me wrong; this is not a racist argument and so forth—this is simply that all societies are not in—have reached the same stage of political and economic development. And it seems to me we’ve got to be mindful of the limits.

I tend not to be a big enthusiast of regime change. It’s very hard to bring about, and also you can’t guarantee what you necessarily get in its aftermath. So again, I just think that we’ve got to understand our limits.

I think there’s—and again, it gets back to this conversation—there’s dangers in overreach. And Steve and I have had our differences about the Iraq War of 2003, which I saw as overreach and he sees differently. But I also think there’s dangers in underreach. And I think in recent years, beginning with the last president—this is a bipartisan critique—and continuing with this one, I think by historical measures the United States can probably be better characterized by underreach. And I think that’s also extraordinarily consequential. So I think one can be mindful of what you’re saying about the limits of our influence and our capacity to push others in certain directions, but that doesn’t mean also—one can say that and still have concerns about a foreign policy that does too little.

HADLEY: And if I could just say one word, I think the best example—another example—is where we are putting ourselves behind the aspirations of the people themselves. So if you look at Central and Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War, those were countries that wanted democracy and free markets and wanted those values. And we facilitated that by bringing them into NATO, working with our European allies to bring them into the EU. And these were people that thirsted for what I would call values, the same values on which our country is based. I think that model works best, when we’re enabling and supporting people.

I think, you know, imposition doesn’t work, and it is an example of hubris. And we can talk about individual cases, but I think—I think the country’s learning and I think we’re getting a middle ground on this issue. But if Iraq was an example of overreach, Syria was an example of underreach. And they showed that you can have disastrous consequences from both, and that’s the point Richard’s making.

TALEV: With the glasses. Yes, you. Yes. Totally, a hundred percent you. Yes. (Laughter.)

Q: Hi. My name is Alyssa Goessler. I am a master’s student studying global policy studies at the LBJ School up in Austin, as well as a former special assistant in the executive office of Dr. Haass. It’s good to see you, sir. (Laughter.)


TALEV: This is a rigged crowd, by the way. (Laughter.)

Q: I swear, I didn’t even mention—

HADLEY: A ringer. A ringer. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Good to see you, though.

Q: You as well, sir.

My question is a simple one, is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

TALEV: Oh, yeah, that’s easy. Good. (Laughter.)

Q: We hosted Ambassador Dennis Ross today at the LBJ School and he was talking about his take on the Trump administration’s Israeli peace—Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. His take was less than favorable, but an aspect that he noted that I think is of particular interest for tonight’s conversation is the provision for the four-year period during which the Palestinians could opt back into the plan. And that four years gives us a direct overlap into the potential next administration. So I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the potential for a revival of the plan under either a Trump administration 2.0 or a potential Democratic administration.

TALEV: Thank you for your question.

HAASS: Let me just quickly say the problem with the four-year period is that it’s not clear that, for example, Israel will be precluded from taking unilateral actions during those four years. So to say the Palestinians have four years to think about it but during those four years land is annexed, that’s not a very tempting option.

Two, I’d simply say for the next—two other points. One is the Palestinians, though, can’t just continue this pattern of rejection. Serial rejection has not served Palestinian interests. What is on offer today may be inadequate, maybe one-sided—indeed, I think it is; I wrote just the other day that it’s an unattractive offer—but the Middle East is not like red wine. If you put it aside for ten or twenty years, it doesn’t get better. (Laughter.) And what the Palestinians—it may take new leadership on the Palestinian side, but I think the strategy is not working.

And that gets to my basic point. Whether there’s success or not in the Middle East negotiations is going to not have a—it’s not going to depend on the next American president; it’s going to depend on there being Israeli and Palestinian leadership that’s willing and able to make compromises and some big decisions. We can facilitate that, and all of us have worked on negotiations. And it comes back to you can’t impose it. We cannot make the peace. We can’t impose the peace. We can’t make it stick. We can be helpful, but we’re like the last 5 percent. The first 95 percent of any negotiation is the parties themselves.

F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela made a deal not because of the United States. They were willing and able to make compromises because they had a vision and they had the political ability to sell it to their respective bases. That will—peace will only come to the Middle East if and when you have leadership in Israel and on the Palestinian side that are both willing and able to make peace. We can help them if they are—if they emerge. But until that happens, no peace plan will ever take hold.

TALEV: Yeah?

LONG: I happened to read Dennis’ writings, and I think he’s got it spot on. And I also agree with my colleague. I think the bigger problem—there’s two things—factors that no one’s really talking much about, and that is how do you make peace with the—with the Palestinians having been absent from any of the process. And it does force the Palestinians not to be the naysayer again, but to accept at least some portion of the plan in order to lock, I believe, the U.S. and the Israelis into a formal negotiation process so that during the four-year period or whatever period it is there are certain limitations on territorial aggregation, settlement building, et cetera.

The one thing I’m not clear about is where the Arabs play a role and if they play a role, because certainly Palestine is lacking in the leadership and the—and the cohesion to come to the table with a position, and I think a lot of people are counting on that. But if they could enter into negotiations with the help of either an outside force or an outside leader or an Abbas successor, they’ve got to somehow get into a process where they’ve locked into negotiations in order to maintain at least as much of the status quo as they possibly can and then walk back what they possibly can. But I think it’s—I think it’s a trap, and it’s one that they’ll likely fall into.

HADLEY: Just say one thing. You know, there’s two characteristics about a state. One is, what are its borders? And the second issue are, what are the kinds of institutions within those borders? And one of the things we tried to do in the Bush administration—and I think there are echoes of it in the Trump administration plan—is focusing on how can the—we support the Palestinians to build the institutions of a state that are not corrupt, that are trying to deliver for their people, that produce jobs and economic livelihood, and don’t support terror. The Palestinians not just deserve a state; they deserve a state that can do that for them. And the Israelis deserve a neighbor that meets those characteristics as well and with which they can live at peace.

So it’s a complicated issue. It’s not just about the borders. It’s also about what kind of state is going to live inside those borders. And that’s an issue for the Palestinian people. It’s an issue for the Israeli people.

TALEV: Secretary Johnson, did you want to embrace Jared Kushner’s peace plan before we moved on, or? (Laughter.)

JOHNSON: No, no, no, just—

TALEV: No, OK. (Laughter.) Yes.

JOHNSON: I know my limitations. (Laughter.)

TALEV: Yes? Right back there with your hand up. Yes.

Q: Yeah. Hi. I’m Alan Yasinov (ph). I’m a poli-sci student, philosophy student, and economics.

And my question is about China and their energy policy. So they’re moving towards a more sustainably-sourced, let’s say, natural gas energy system. And what they have been doing also is they’ve been exporting their coal industry into Africa and to African countries. They have about two hundred projects in thirty-four countries. And my question is, how—or should the U.S. have a counter to this plan? Should we implement any sustainably-sourced energy policies in these African countries? And how may the other or—and should the other developed nations in the world have a—have a helping hand in this?

TALEV: Thank you. Thank you for your question.

HAASS: Want to take it, or should I?

LONG: I got to do China the last time, so I’ll give you guys a voice.

HADLEY: I’ll do a—I’ll do a quickie on this.

HAASS: OK. When you’re done I’ll—

HADLEY: One of the things I think that’s been interesting is that a lot of those projects are part of the Belt and Road Initiative, and there has been a lot of objections raised to those Chinese projects by the countries in which the projects are being built. And there’s been concerns about environmental sustainability, fiscal sustainability, and all the rest.

And Xi Jinping, in a speech he gave last summer, I think, on a Belt and Road forum in Shanghai, acknowledged some of these criticisms and suggested they were going to reform. And one of the things we could all do—the United States, our friends, and allies, and the international community working, again, with the Japanese, the Indians, the Australians—is come up with a set of standards for these kinds of big infrastructure projects because the world—the developing world desperately needs more infrastructure. But let’s come up with a set of quality standards that ensure that these projects are transparent, don’t promote corruption, are fiscally sustainable, are environmentally sound, that benefit the people in which the projects are built. If we could get China to sign on to those kinds of standards through international pressure, I think that would go a long way to beginning to address this problem.

TALEV: First we need our infrastructure week, though, right? (Laughter.)

HAASS: Let me just make two points on that. One is Africa is central here. If you look at the rest of this century, right now the global population is somewhere between seven-and-a-half, eight billion. By the end of this century—probably even in fifty years, it’s going to be closer to between nine and ten billion. Almost all the increase is in Africa. This is the area of democratic bulge. So Nigeria, you know, is estimated in fifty years or by the end of this century, could be a country of six (hundred million), seven hundred million people.

LONG: It’s incredible.

HAASS: So this—so what happens in Africa is, in demographic terms, the single-most significant part of the world.

Second of all, to do what you want to do—if we’re going to compete, we have to have the technologies and we have to make them available—two separate issues. Solar obviously is one; wind is another. There’s other areas.

One thing that should worry you in the budget that was just announced a few days ago, the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Energy Department, which is their laboratory for innovation, got zeroed out in the administration’s budget. This to me makes absolutely no sense if we are going to—companies can do certain things. What we’ve learned, though—companies, by and large, don’t do basic research; they do applied research and they do development. It’s very hard, given bottom lines, for companies to do basic things. That’s where the government has to step in. And if governments do basic research, companies then can run with it, and do the development, and do the application.

So if we’re going to be—we have to—in a position to help people in Africa, I think we’ve got to do a lot more, and then—almost like the drug business, I mean prescription drugs—we’re going to have to think about how we make things available, and we are going to have to—so if we have innovation here, and America has, you know, this great tradition of innovation, we’re then going to think about how do we take things which companies have invested in—they’ve obviously got to recoup their investment—but then we’re going to have to find ways to make it available, and export it, and provide protection for companies with their intellectual property, get them a return, yet still make it available.

And just like it was a big issue with HIV/AIDS and other drugs, I think that’s going to happen—needs to happen in green technologies where first we promote the development of these new technologies and then we promote their availability for the rest of the world. And Africa will be the most important part of the world to do that.

TALEV: Mary Beth?

LONG: Three quick points: I happened to be at the Munich Security Conference in Doha and Cairo a couple weeks ago and somehow ended up being one of very few Americans there. And the Chinese were there, and during one of the plenary sessions—the Africans were there at the presidential leadership level, ministers of defense—the Chinese proposed a Belt and Road initiative not only for enhancement for Africa but for Central Asia. And the room was ecstatic.

So it’s—frankly, it’s not just energy; it’s rare earth elements, as well, that are even more dangerous because they are locking in the very limited supplies—or known supplies—of those with huge implication for our developing tech industries—number one.

Number two, it has worked so well in Africa. They know there is criticism, but they really could give a crap about whether local villager X in country Y really is enjoying the Chinese presence and get anything out of it. They are very happy to pay off the local leadership and to make it a productive and economically feasible project for them, and then disappear. And I know that’s crass and unpopular, but that’s the truth. And it’s not going to change. There may be a nod toward getting the international community off their back, but that will be about it. So if we don’t get more aggressive and make some decisions—in the energy sector it is critical, but I think the rare earth is probably even more critical—we are going to find ourselves squeezed out of key portions of resources—natural resources and industries, and then we’re going to look around and say, oh, my gosh, what are we going to do. And it’s happening fast.


Q: Thank you. Yes, I have a(n) important subject that no one is talking about.

HAASS: Could you introduce yourself?

Q: Yes. My name is Reshmey Tharakan, Reshmey Medical Clinic. I’ve had a medical clinic for over twenty years. I’m a UTSA student; I’m studying neuroscience here. I’m back after twenty-five years to do criminal justice because I fight human trafficking and sexual violence in our state with Governor Abbott.

The reason I’m here—(applause)—the biggest issue that we have in homeland security—and it definitely affects foreign policy and trade—is actually human trafficking. I spoke to one of the multi-millionaires that I know who owns a company called Leidos, and they actually scan—the equipment—their equipment actually scans the crates that come in and out of our country.

There are women in those crates. We’re not just exporting and importing belts and bags anymore; there are human beings—children, women—and there are daughters, good citizens, and boys, as well. Twenty-five percent of the cases that I see are boys.

So we’re very concerned. I would like to, you know, definitely speak a little bit more, and we would like to go—I’m a Republican, my husband is a Democrat, so if we can get along I know the world can get along. (Laughter, applause.) So—

TALEV: What would you like to ask the panel?

Q: Yes, but I’m very, very much—I’ve never heard of the Council of Foreign Relations before so I’m very happy that we have this segue, that we can talk with, you know, our national security advisors. I actually—we’re called Our Empowering Women of America, and we work with—

TALEV: OK, I just want to stop you before you go on any further. I’m just hoping—because we want to get to a few more questions—

Q: Sure.

TALEV: Do you have a question for the panel?

Q: Yes, I do.

TALEV: Could you—could you share the question?

Q: This is the question I have. How will we be tackling—and we’re the first coalition in Texas—but how—do you have any plan in tackling human trafficking, and what steps are we to do as citizens and universities—because it’s happening in our universities as well—to combat this?

TALEV: Thank you. Thank you for your question.

JOHNSON: So when we hear the words homeland security everybody looks at me.

TALEV: Right. (Laughter.)

JOHNSON: But the answer is yes. There is a plan for dealing with human trafficking. The only question is, will our leaders adopt it? And the reality of the southern border—when you talk to border security experts—who are focused not just on the land borders between the ports of entry but the whole border—they will tell you—when you ask them, what more do we need—what more do we need to deal with the full range of border security, which is not just people crossing the border, it’s human trafficking, it’s drugs, it’s guns, it’s everything—more technology. More technology at the ports of entry in Laredo, in El Paso, to detect human trafficking, people in large vehicles stowed away.

The worst things that can happen on a border—the most harmful, the most tragic occurrences on our southern border occur at ports of entry. People being smuggled, people being trafficked, but large volumes of drugs, as well, and weapons occur at ports of entry. So you ask anybody in border security, what more do we need? They will tell you more surveillance, more scanning equipment.

Many of you may not know this from today’s political rhetoric, but there already is a wall on our southern border in the places where it makes sense to have a wall. Can you fortify the wall? Can you add additional barriers in places where it makes sense to do so? Yes. But you cannot have a wall from sea to shining sea. It’s physically impossible. And you can’t take from ranchers on the border away their property. You’ll spend years in condemnation proceedings trying to do that.

And so the smart—there is a smart approach to dealing with the full range of problems we have on our southern border, and that’s more—simply more technology, more wall in places where it makes sense, but more technology, more surveillance, more land sensors, more aerial surveillance, more mobile surveillance to deal with exactly this problem and many, many others.

It is a solvable problem if we could figure out a way to depoliticize it. It is a very, very solvable problem.

HAASS: Margaret, can I say two quick things? (Applause.)

TALEV: Sure.

HAASS: On human—just very quickly on human trafficking, there’s the domestic side then there’s the international side. There are international protocols and arrangements; the problem is compliance. And the issue is certain countries tend not to enforce it. To what extent then do we introduce sanctions? How do we basically increase international effort? We can’t do it all here.

Second of all, since you said you hadn’t heard of the Council on Foreign Relations, I’m internalizing that comment and—(laughter)—and I’m working through it. I’m in the second stage of grief on it, but—(laughter)—we do have a large project on just this: on human trafficking. And over the next 18 months, we are coming forward with what we think are a bunch of recommendations for the world, for, quote, unquote, “the international community,” to make it more of a community, and for the country in terms of what rules are needed, laws, and then what mechanisms are needed to enforce them. And we have made this a priority for our institution.

TALEV: OK, I—you guys are going to kill me. I think we probably have time for one more question, maybe two if we’re super concise. And I’d like to reward—

JOHNSON: There’s one—there’s one more thing I want to say—

TALEV: OK, then we only time for one more question. (Laughter.) Just kidding, go ahead. No, I’m just joking. Please.

JOHNSON: OK, you’re calling on me. OK.

TALEV: Yes. Calling on you.

JOHNSON: There’s one more thing I have to say, and this is—the question that overhangs this whole program is to what extent should national security, foreign policy play in this year’s election, and what should you be looking to hear from the candidates about foreign policy, national security.

People ask me, what’s the number one national security threat? What’s the number one homeland security threat to the United States? I say, I’ll tell you the number one, two and three threats: climate change, climate change, climate change—(applause)—and the threat of severe weather systems on aging infrastructure in this country, in particular. And we are failing to address it. As Barack Obama used to say, it is a slow-motion emergency, and we do not have the political will to deal with this.

I think it has been—I think it has been a disaster that the United States has retreated from a leadership role on the world stage in addressing climate change, which makes it a foreign policy issue. And for those of you who are going to inherit this planet—those of you students in this room who are going to inherit this planet for another seventy, seventy-five years, you should be looking to all of us to say, what are you doing to save my planet before it is too late? And this has a national security component to it.

For example, the Hudson River railroad tunnel through which, you know, hundreds of thousands of people pass every day—under the Hudson River in the Northeast Corridor—is going to collapse sooner or later, in large part because of severe weather systems, but we cannot find the political will to invest the thirty billion dollars to build a new one. And so this is—this is a—this is a problem that we are failing to address which makes it, in my view, problem number one.

But the reality is, when it comes to national security, what do you look for in the candidates? It’s what Richard said. So often you’ve got to deal with what lands in the inbox, and having a president who has the temperament and the advisors—like some of the people on this stage—around them to give levelheaded advice, and knowing what you don’t know about foreign policy, whenever you hear somebody say, I know more about this than anybody—

TALEV: Yeah, time to get worried.

JOHNSON: Run the other way.

TALEV: Yeah, right. (Laughter.)

JOHNSON: But having levelheaded people around you, if you don’t know a lot, is key.

I’ll shut up.

TALEV: I promised one question in the back. Where did you go? Yes! You’re holding something up—wow, up in the nosebleed seats. (Laughter.) But make it as concise as possible.

Q: I’ll make it very short and simple for you.

TALEV: Awesome.

Q: So this is related to the twelve questions that were in the questionnaire for the presidential candidates, and it was relating to Hong Kong and China. So for me, I pay attention to the news. I know the coronavirus is kind of a big deal right now.

So, for me, what is your opinion, what’s your stance on how America and the Council on Foreign Relations should address the kind of issues that are happening in Hong Kong? Suddenly the streets have cleared so those problems are not gone. What is the way forward? How does America address that? Or CFR for that matter?

HAASS: Well, let me say one thing about CFR. We don’t take CFR positions. The whole idea is we want to be a non-partisan, independent resource. We put out analysis from individuals who work there, and then we publish the leading magazine in the world called Foreign Affairs. And you have these different points of view just like you’ve heard four different points of view here. And then hopefully you find it useful and you reach your own decision.

In terms of Hong Kong, because of the coronavirus you’ve had a—it’s almost a pause, like China pressed the pause button.

TALEV: Yep. Yep, yep.

HAASS: But it’s not more than that. And the relationship between the mainland and Hong Kong—this will be, once again, a source of massive friction. It will have implications not just for Hong Kong but obviously the mainland is worried about—ironic given what’s going on, but—the, quote, unquote, “the political virus spreading to the mainland.”

There also were—it’s obviously had tremendous implications for Taiwan because the entire concept of one country, two systems, I believe, has been irretrievably delegitimized and undermined. So I think that this issue will come back. There is no modus vivendi that has been established, and this is—you know, we like to think of things solved. Lots of things, at best, can be managed. But if this can’t be managed, I think—and Mary Beth may disagree with me—but I think the Chinese want to avoid using force—

LONG: I agree.

HAASS: —unless they believe they have to.

LONG: I agree.

HAASS: So it is their—it is their last option, but it remains an option because they are not in a position, I believe, from their own point of view—I’m not agreeing with them; I’m describing it—where things can happen on Hong Kong that they believe would set in motion trends—

LONG: Yes.

HAASS: —that would affect the permanent status of either Taiwan or would affect the politics on the mainland in ways that would potentially threaten the role of the Communist Party.

TALEV: Yeah, Mary Beth.

LONG: Super quick. It’s funny that you raised that. I was just thinking in my head—we’ve been talking about democracy and people wanting their rights, and they don’t want corruption, and they want a choice—how little we are talking about and how little dialogue you hear about the people in the streets in Hong Kong, the people in the streets in Iran, the people in the streets in Iraq, and arguably in Lebanon, doing exactly what—a little while ago—we would have said, wow, if we only could have made this happen, and yet you can hear the crickets. And I wonder what that means about us—and the world for that matter.

TALEV: Well, on that extremely uplifting note—(laughter)—as we—no, I’m just kidding. No, look, like let that hang for a minute. That’s something to think about.

As we wrap up here tonight, I do want to give Dr. Haass one more plug for his book. It’s coming out in May, and if you are really interested in understanding, The World: A Brief Introduction should get you started.

I’d like to thank the panelists: Steve Hadley, Jeh Johnson, Mary Beth Long, Dr. Haass. (Applause.) I would like to thank UTSA—University of Texas at San Antonio. (Applause.) And I would like to thank all of you in the audience. (Applause.)

Thank you for joining us tonight, and we hope you stay in touch and vote.

HAASS: Thank you, Margaret.

HADLEY: Thanks—let’s thank the moderator. (Applause.)

TALEV: Thanks. (Laughs.)


Top Stories on CFR



The closely watched elections on July 28 will determine whether incumbent President Nicolás Maduro wins a third term or allows a democratic transition.

International Law

The high court’s decision could allow future U.S. presidents to commit grave abuses of power with impunity, with serious implications for U.S. foreign policy and national security.