Presented by the Council on Foreign Relations and Wayne State University
About this Event
How can business, labor, and government collaborate to reduce poverty on regional and global bases? Will the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement benefit U.S. workers? How will the trade war with China affect the automotive industry?
Watch an in-depth, nonpartisan conversation on critical foreign policy challenges facing the winner of the 2020 presidential election. Former government officials from Republican and Democratic administrations will discuss issues central to our national security and answer questions about U.S. policy and America’s role in the world.
This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
WILSON: Well, good evening, ladies and gentlemen. If we can all take our seats. Appreciate it.
I’m M. Roy Wilson, president here of Wayne State University, and it’s my privilege to welcome you to this important forum. I’m not sure if I saw her, but I do think one of our board of governors is here. Dana Thompson, if you are here, can you just raise your hand? She’s probably not here yet. I do know my wife is here, Jacqueline, and I need to acknowledge her. (Applause.)
I know everyone here is eagerly anticipating a robust discussion on U.S. foreign policy, and we have a very distinguished panel of experts who have joined us. And I would say that the timing for this conversation just couldn’t be better. As a leading authority on U.S. foreign relations, the Council on Foreign Relations is the—is the right organization to help Americans reach a better understanding of international affairs that affect us all.
Now, Wayne State is one of only four institutions to host these Council on Foreign Relations forums, and we certainly feel very privileged to be able to do so. The University of New Hampshire and the University of Texas at San Antonio hosted forums as well, and in a few weeks there will be another forum in Miami at Florida International University.
So we might reasonably ask, why Detroit and why Wayne State? And I think the answer to those questions lies I our city’s storied history and role in our country. Detroit has long embodied the great American melting pot and has welcomed generations of minorities and immigrants. Situated on an international border and serving as a global hub of manufacturing activity, Detroit is very much in tune with global affairs, making it an excellent location for this forum on U.S. foreign policy.
And much like the city we were founded in 152 years ago, Wayne State University has a rich history of welcoming Detroit’s diverse population. In our mission statement we pledge to positively impact local and global communities, and we are proud to accomplish both in so many different ways. We welcome students and scholars from down the street and from more than seventy countries. Our research activities improve and save lives of both Detroiters and Michiganders, as well as those living around the globe.
I want to thank the Council on Foreign Relations president, Richard Haass, for bringing this opportunity to host this forum to my attention and for selecting us. And I would like to thank each of our esteemed panelists for visiting our campus and sharing their perspectives.
And finally, in closing, I want to thank each of you for your presence here tonight. I think we’re all going to leave here a little, maybe a lot, more informed about U.S. foreign policy.
And it’s now pleasure to introduce our program’s moderator, Bianna Golodryga. Thank you. (Applause.)
GOLODRYGA: Hi. (Applause.) Hi, everyone. It’s so great to be back in the city of Detroit. I haven’t been here in a couple of years. And I’m so honored and delighted to be with you on this special evening, where we can focus more time and attention on foreign policy and talk about some of the issues that are affecting you as students, you as Americans, and the world in particular.
First, some housekeeping. I want to thank President Wilson for having us here and for that wonderful introduction, and welcome you all to “Election 2020: The U.S. Foreign Policy Forum” sponsored by, of course, the Council on Foreign Relations. Tonight’s event is the third of four—maybe even more—public, nonpartisan forums that the Council on Foreign Relations is co-hosting with universities across the country in pivotal states, and they’re timed to precede their primaries as well. We’ll be discussing the foreign policy challenges that will face the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
A reminder that as an independent membership organization, think tank, and publisher, CFR serves as a nonpartisan source of information and analysis to advance the understanding of global affairs and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.
I want to thank Wayne State University for hosting this event and the Carnegie Corporation of New York for their generous support of CFR’s Election 2020 Series.
I’m going to now introduce this distinguished panel here with me, and we’re going to have a conversation until about 6:45, and then we’ll open it up for questions from the audience.
Let me introduce first Richard Haass. He’s the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, and the author of one of my favorite books, The World in Disarray. Well, he has another book following up on that, The World: A Brief Introduction. That’s coming out in May 2020.
I’d also like to introduce Stephen Hadley. He’s the principal Rice—principal at Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel, and the former national security adviser to President George W. Bush.
Jeh Charles Johnson is a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. He’s the former secretary of homeland security to President Barack Obama.
And Penny Pritzker, founder and chairman of PSP Partners, former U.S. secretary of commerce to President Barack Obama.
Welcome, all of you. So much to discuss tonight. (Applause.) Yes, round of applause. I’m going to start—
JOHNSON: We could have a Cabinet meeting right here.
GOLODRYGA: (Laughs.) Exactly. The Situation Room.
I’m going to start with you, Jeh, and ask about the coronavirus. The World Health Organization says that it’s becoming increasingly clear that this will be a pandemic—a global pandemic within a matter of days. We’ve seen a number of outbreaks in other countries, in the Middle East, and Italy, cases here in the United States as well of some of those who were on that cruise ship coming back here. And so the question to you, in response to a massive selloff on Wall Street today—the S&P was down, I believe, 3 percent, the Dow was down 1,000 points—is the U.S. prepared for an outbreak here in the United States? And I say this as the president’s asking Congress for an additional billion dollars in funding. There have been cuts at the NIH. There have been cuts at the CDC. Are we prepared?
JOHNSON: I was told to keep my answers short and crisp. It depends. (Laughter.)
GOLODRYGA: (Laughs.) Elaborate.
JOHNSON: So I’m going to base my answer entirely on the experience we had when I was secretary of Homeland Security in the fall of 2014 with the Ebola virus. And first thing I’ll offer is lethal viruses are really scary. They create a lot of anxiety because the public doesn’t know how far it’s going to spread, when it’s going to stop, when we’re going to turn the corner. So there can be a lot of anxiety. And the first reactions to a lethal virus are not always the best reactions. If we believe the information from China, at least a week ago, they had sort of turned the corner in that the spread had begun to slow. I don’t know whether that’s true.
I think the answers in the United States are, one, what we did with the Ebola virus, which is not suspend travel from China—you can’t suspend travel from the entire nation of China—but to funnel air travel from the affected region into a handful of airports. In our case five, and I think I’ve heard that it’s five airports now dealing with the coronavirus, where there is heightened health screening. And hospitals around the nation simply being vigilant when it comes to detection of the symptoms for the virus. But I’m confident that sooner or later, hopefully sooner, we’ll turn the corner. The spread of the virus will slow.
I think the Chinese government has been slow to acknowledge the full extent of the problem, which means that the world community doesn’t appreciate the full extent of the problem. But hopefully we’ll turn the corner soon. And I think the key is for those of us domestically who recognize the symptoms and to not create too much alarm and anxiety, because when you do create a lot of anxiety about a lethal virus, a lot of innocent people do get hurt. And I recall during the fall of 2014 any time somebody on a commercial aircraft bound for the United States—whether it was from Africa or not—got sick on the plane, in the restroom, it became a matter for the personal attention of the secretary of Homeland Security.
And so a lot of—there was a lot—my daughter got a head cold at her college campus in California, and her roommate put her out, even though she had never been on the continent of Africa in the fall of 2014. So we have to be careful not to panic. This will be contained at some point, as long as our health experts in this country and our Homeland Security experts are vigilant.
GOLODRYGA: And the somewhat reassuring thing, at least, at this point is the mortality rate is still relatively, obviously, compared to Ebola and even SARS.
Penny, let me turn to you and take a look back as to what happened in 2016 and what’s taking place, I would argue, in 2020 as well. And that’s an issue of those who feel left behind and aggrieved in the U.S. economy looking for a voice that can advocate on their behalf. Some of the issues from 2016, whether it be technology, whether it be automation, there were people in this country who said they did not feel that this country was looking out for them and for their best interests, and they weren’t trained for the jobs of the future. In many respects, we seem to be finding ourselves in that place as well now. The economy is doing much better, but as far as how people are feeling secure in their pay, income, and the job quality, that’s to be questioned.
This is a big issue for you. And I know that you’re focused on state partnerships, public-private partnerships. What are some of the things that you are focusing on that aren’t being addressed currently to alleviate some of these concerns?
PRITZKER: Well, the question’s a really important one because I think a lot of the economic anxiety that’s being felt in this country, even though—
HAASS: Your microphone is not—
GOLODRYGA: Can you hear her?
PRITZKER: Can you hear me?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: No.
GOLODRYGA: Do you want to borrow Richard’s?
PRITZKER: Now can you hear me?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Yes.
GOLODRYGA: OK, great.
PRITZKER: OK, good. Whatever I did. I’m the technologist. (Laughter.)
Anyway, you know, look, there’s real anxiety out there. And that’s something that first you have to begin to acknowledge. There’s real economic anxiety, even though wages are rising and unemployment is at historic lows. And for me, the issue of making sure that Americans are able to adjust, and adapt, and thrive in the changing economy that we have not just domestically but around the world is—first of all, I’m passionate about the issue. Richard Haass was good enough to ask me to lead a taskforce for the Council on Foreign Relations on this topic, where we put together—it’s going in and out. Where we put together a list or a menu of things to be done locally.
And the solutions are local. And I think the thing we have to remember is, if you’re not feeling confident about your economic future and you’re experiencing that anxiety, then you don’t really have a lot of confidence in terms of the other aspects of your life. And so this is fundamental. And it also goes to fundamental confidence in the role of government. Is government helping me get trained? Are local businesses helping me be prepared for the opportunities as we’re going through this massive technological transformation. I mean, as you can tell, I’m not a technologist, but we’re all struggling to learn how to deal in a far more mobile society.
And so it’s really important that we invest in our community colleges. And we’re not putting enough capital into the community colleges. It’s important that we create many more internships and apprenticeships, so that every person has the opportunity not only to access education through high school and community college, but also has the opportunity to experience work before they’re put out into the workforce to try and fend for themselves. It’s important that we invest in our digital and physical infrastructure so that we’re able to deliver the goods and services that we’re creating.
It’s important that we’re—we create—and I’m going to steal your line, Richard. I think it’s the best one. We’ve had a historical structure of you fill up your gas tank once and get your education—and I’m plagiarizing from my good friend over here—and then you go about your career. That’s no longer sustainable. You have to be able—to be able to have a lifelong learning. So people need access to continuing education, to additional certification. There ought to be tax benefits available to individuals or to companies that are investing in people. We create tax benefits if you invest in a thing. Why shouldn’t we do that for investing in people?
So there’s many, many opportunities. And what we did at the Council on Foreign Relations is put together—it’s a taskforce report. Really what it is, it’s a menu for governors and mayors of things and polices they can implement locally. Because the solutions are not national, or very few are. The solutions exist right here for you and your community.
GOLODRYGA: And, Richard, this isn’t all happening in a vacuum. It’s happening as China—we were talking about the coronavirus, but a different discussion we had on China is that it’s soon to surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy. What does America not in the economic driver’s seat look like, especially when you’re talking to college students? What impact, if any, will that have as they’re entering the workforce?
HAASS: Let me challenge the premise of the question for two reasons. We’re still 20-odd percent of the world economy. And even if China reaches a point where it has a larger economy than us, China has something called the denominator. And the denominator is four times ours. So the output per capita in China will still be only a fourth or a third of what it is in the United States.
Secondly, the question—yeah, we still have the world’s greatest universities. We still have, I think, an ability to innovate second to none.
So to take a step back, I think we have to do two things. One is make sure we can compete with China. And too much of the debate about U.S.-China competition is about things we do to China. We actually need a much more basic debate: things we do for ourselves. Some of the things Penny was just talking about, to make sure that workers are reskilled, educated, we have mobile/portable safety nets, and so forth.
But let’s expand the amount that we devote in the federal government to basic research. Companies can’t be expected to do basic research. They tend to do applied development. The government ought to be the engine of basic research. The National Institutes of Health—rather than cutting what they get, we ought to be expanding what it is they get.
Infrastructure. It’s not enough to tell the world you can’t use Huawei, you can’t go with the Chinese 5G system. It’d be a lot better if we said here’s a better one. Right now we can’t do that. We don’t have an alternative. You can’t beat something with nothing. So there’s many areas, I think, that we’ve got to—we’ve got to be more competitive.
And then I think with—you know, with China, we have to look at what it is they’re doing to emerge. And I would be quite vigilant on those aspects of their emergence which aren’t because of their strength, but because they are appropriating American and other technologies. And I think our trade policy has to take that into account. The recent trade deal that was signed with China did not take that, I believe, in a meaningful way into account.
One last thing, and I think the coronavirus is interesting here, where we began the conversation. We all assume that China—which has grown fantastically for three, four decades now and even before the virus was still growing roughly 5, 6 or so percent—that China’s rise is inexorable. I actually don’t think that. And I think that China, just like it’s experiencing troubles with the coronavirus, there’s tensions between its desire for political control and keeping individuals down and not allowing communication to take place and running a modern, efficient society. So I don’t take China’s rise as inevitable.
I think it’s quite possible that at future forums about foreign policy we’ll be—we’ll possibly be discussing where China hits very difficult moments. It’s a brittle society. And I think that it’s just as possible, or at least possible, that it will hit major speedbumps, and the tension between its political control and the need to be an open society in many ways to deal with the global world.
GOLODRYGA: Yeah, there’s no doubt that this is one of the biggest factors impacting President Xi and one of the biggest challenges that he’s experiencing thus far, and I think it’s questionable as to how he’s handled it.
Stephen, let me bring you into this conversation because whoever is going to be president, whether President Trump gets another term or there’s a Democrat in the White House, the issue of China is still going to be front and center. And there seems to be a disconnect within the current administration as to how to prioritize dealing with China, whether it’s on trade, whether it’s on IP theft, whether it’s their military buildup. What is the appropriate approach in maintaining a relationship with China? Unless you disagree that there should be a disconnect. Most people don’t think that we could decouple, given the relationship that we’ve developed with China at this point.
HADLEY: Well, I think I would subscribe to what Richard said. It’s not clear that China is going to emerge as the dominant country and that some of the predictions are going to come true. But it is true that China now is the second-largest economy, it is really building and investing in its military, and it is much more assertive in terms of its policies. The Belt and Road Initiative is an example where it’s—they’re building infrastructure almost globally in a way—in part to extend its own influence.
In light of this, I think it’s clear we’re going to have a more competitive relationship with China. And the real question is, can we bound that competition so there is still space for us to cooperate with China? Because if you look at the major global challenge you face—we face, whether it’s pandemics, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s maintaining a robust economy, these are all things that both China and the United States need solved if either or us are going to achieve the objectives we have for our people, and neither of us can do them all.
So the question is, can we be both strategic competitors and strategic cooperators at the same time? Can we come up with a set of rules that in some sense puts some guardrails on the competition so that the competition, particularly in high-tech, particularly in global infrastructure, doesn’t force us to become adversaries and therefore make cooperation impossible. That’s a hard prescription. I’m not sure there are any historical precedents. But I do think is the challenge for our diplomacy.
GOLODRYGA: And whether we can have other allies come with us as we enter this new phase, right? There seems to be a split, at least in terms of Huawei and 5G right now, we’re seeing with our Western allies, the U.K. and Germany.
HADLEY: Yeah. If we are going to manage this with China, the only way we’re going to be able to do it is if we rally our friends and allies not in the form of saying you’re either with us or against us—it’s China or the United States—because those countries won’t choose. But what we have to explain to them is that there are Chinese practices that affect us, but affect them, and it’s in their interest to work with us to try to see what we can do to affect China’s international behavior and put some guardrails on what they’re doing.
GOLODRYGA: So from China let’s move to Russia, because I don’t know if you’ve heard but Russia’s back in the news—I don’t know that they’ve ever left the news—in terms of U.S. elections, Jeh. But let me ask you this question, because over the past few days we have heard that U.S. intelligence has alerted the House Intelligence Committee and, obviously, the president that the Russians are at it again and they are trying to interfere in the 2020 election. It’s debatable as to who they prefer and whether or not they also are trying to help Bernie Sanders get the Democratic nomination. But from everything you know and what we’ve seen over the past few days as to what Russia’s up to, are we better prepared for another infiltration?
JOHNSON: Well, the way I see the Russian threat from our experience in 2016 is you have to divide it into three buckets.
Bucket one, which is what I was most concerned about in 2016, is the potential for a cyberattack on our election infrastructure itself—voting machines, voter registration lists. And so in 2016 we encouraged state secretaries of state to seek our assistance to harden their own cybersecurity, and something in excess of I think thirty states actually sought out DHS help. Just as I was leaving office I declared election infrastructure to be critical infrastructure, which prioritizes the assistance DHS gives. And over the last three years it seems as though the states have done a lot of good work—state by state it differs—to harden their own cybersecurity, with DHS’s help.
Bucket two is attacks on campaigns, the DNC, Hillary Clinton’s campaign, John Podesta’s emails, to expose them and weaponize them in a way that works to the political advantage or disadvantage of someone else. There I think presidential campaigns, it varies. Some are good at protecting their own cybersecurity; some are not.
Bucket three, which is where I think we are most challenged, is when there is a foreign actor—specifically, the Russian government—that is putting out extremist views to try to divide us along cultural, racial, political lines, fake news and the like. And though I don’t read intelligence reports anymore, if I believe what we are reading it suggests that what the Russians are doing now—and this is not a surprise—is to—is bucket three. They are putting out and pushing fake news and extremist views to try to influence our democracy one way or another.
And that’s the most difficult aspect of this to get our arms around. There is no foolproof answer to dealing with that problem because it’s so widespread. And the answer, therefore, must be to create sufficient deterrence on the bad actor to make the behavior cost-prohibitive. And I fear that we have yet to do that with the Russian government.
I think it is vital that the Trump administration declassify what we know so it can be described by our intelligence community publicly so the voters are armed with this information, that voters will understand that there is a foreign actor trying to put his thumb on the scale of our democracy while our campaign is ongoing. That’s what we did in the prior administration on October 7, 2016, when the director of national intelligence and I put out the statement.
GOLODRYGA: And something else came out about—a few hours later, the tape—
JOHNSON: Yes, that did not get—
GOLODRYGA: The Access Hollywood tape that took the attention away.
JOHNSON: That did not get the attention that I thought it deserved because the Access Hollywood video came out the same day.
GOLODRYGA: It was a busy Friday night, yeah.
JOHNSON: John Podesta’s emails came out the same day. It was a very busy Friday. And our statement was literally—literally—below-the-fold news the next day. And it wasn’t until December, after the election, that the mainstream media came back to this to say, oh, wow, the Russians interfered in our democracy. Yes, we told you. And so it’s clear that the Trump administration has not provided sufficient deterrence to make this behavior stop.
GOLODRYGA: And just from my own background I would argue that it has less to do with where a certain candidate honeymooned and more about sowing discord and causing chaos internally within the United States.
JOHNSON: Well, you can have a debate about what the Russian motive is. Some would argue that, you know, if you—if we believe the reports that they’re trying to help Bernie Sanders and it’s all—by the way, they’re very often—as everyone here knows, there’s very often a wide disparity between public reporting and reality of what’s actually in intelligence reports, which is why I think the intelligence community owes the public an explanation for what’s going on so we hear directly from them rather than through David Sanger in the New York Times. But—
GOLODRYGA: Who’s a great reporter, by the way. But yes, you’re right. (Laughs.)
JOHNSON: With all due respect to the media.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, yes. (Laughs.)
JOHNSON: So sometimes the media can get it a little wrong. But I just think it’s vital that our government tell us what this foreign actor is trying to do.
But you could have a debate about whether they’re trying to help Bernie Sanders because Bernie Sanders is the preferred candidate to run against Donald Trump or whether they’re trying to sow discord generally. I happen to believe that in 2016, when the Russians launched their initial effort, their initial effort was to sow discord generally, but then when Putin saw that he could actually affect the outcome of the election he tried to push it in favor of Donald Trump.
GOLODRYGA: And perhaps sanctions haven’t been enough.
JOHNSON: Which President Trump will not to this day acknowledge.
GOLODRYGA: Right. Let me move on to another topic, and that is that of trade. And Penny, let me ask you because we talk about some of those who feel left behind. That’s happening as there’s an economic boom that we’ve seen over the past ten, eleven years, and whoever wants to take credit for it—there’s a big debate as to whether it’s the Obama boom or the Trump boom—notwithstanding, the unemployment rate is at decade—years low and the economy continues to chug along. That having been said, the major issue about trade and what this president has tried to focus on in jobs and the blue-collar boom that he’s taking credit for is what I want to get your take on, and whether USMCA, whether the China deal, whether that is addressing some of those jobs that the president said he wants to go out and save and create.
PRITZKER: Well, I have a couple of reactions to the question.
First of all, you know, do I think it’s good that we’ve come—we’ve created certain trade agreements, both with China and with Mexico and Canada? Yes. I wouldn’t call what we’ve done with China a trade agreement. I think—
GOLODRYGA: Phase one.
PRITZKER: I think we’ve done, actually, more harm than good if you think about—for sure if you’re a farmer you’ve been in trouble. And we spent $30 billion over the last couple of years trying to protect the farmer while we’re carrying out this trade war with China. And it’s a huge amount of effort, but they didn’t address the major issues. We didn’t address the fact that China still has massive industrial subsidies. We didn’t address the issue that China still has enormous support of its state-owned enterprises. We haven’t addressed the issue that was just talked about, cybertheft and cybersecurity. And we haven’t talked about—we haven’t addressed the issue of forced tech transfer. So whatever phase one means, it didn’t get at the major issues that need to be addressed as it relates to trade.
And I think in some way the trade war kind of misses the boat. And it goes back to I think what Richard was talking about, which is fundamentally the other major issue that we’re facing with China is its rise as a technology giant and what are we doing about that. And that’s not something that you can necessarily prevent as much as it is something that we need to do, is invest in ourselves strengthening our American innovation system, investing in R&D, you know, having an AI strategy, having a 5G strategy, none of which we have.
And so I think that—you know, I look at that—with China it’s a very frustrating engagement, creates enormous volatility. The farmer in America, the manufacturer in America is—has really been buffeted about.
And then you look at—you know, I think USMCA is a much better outcome. This is the new NAFTA or trade agreement that’s been reached with Mexico and Canada. And I think, you know, this is one where I fundamentally believe having an agreement—trade agreements with Mexico and Canada is as much about economic security as it is about national security. We want the countries on our borders to thrive. We do not want them to be unstable. That only creates more instability here. And I could talk about Canada benefitting from our immigration policy, but I’m not going to go there right now.
I think the USMCA is good. It added to NAFTA the digital trade issues that were part of TPP but we didn’t have TPP. So that’s good that we’ve added that. They’ve very much strengthened the labor and environmental provisions. And thank you, Speaker Pelosi, who really came in and took what were superficial provisions and dug deep into the fact that a labor union in Mexico is very different than a labor union in the United States. That was good. That was—and basically said you have to restructure the way your unions work because unions in Mexico are basically part of the—they work for the employer, not the employee, sort of a fundamental structural difference. And so I think that—you know, that that’s a good outcome.
But the problem I have is the way that we’re getting to these outcomes is really damaging to our credibility. We’ve bullied our allies. You know, we threatened to walk away from NAFTA. We make these very broad and damaging statements as a way to try and force an agreement, and at the end of the day that’s just not the way to end up ultimately on good paper with your allies.
GOLODRYGA: Yeah. And especially when people are looking, whether it’s companies who are looking to hire, other governments, stability is what they are yearning for, and that doesn’t seem to be what we’re getting at this point. As Richard would say, a world in disarray.
PRITZKER: And I’m not against change. We need, you know, to negotiate change. But the way one goes about that is important.
And I think the point that both Jeh and Stephen made about, you know, we need our allies. And if we want to have global change, I mean, you’ve got to do it with our allies. And it doesn’t matter what it is we’re trying to do. And so being able to work with our allies, that’s the power of the United States, is our ability to bring coalitions together. Our power is not alone.
GOLODRYGA: Richard, let me bring in a phrase that you use constantly which I like, and that is the president’s inbox. And whoever is going to be president after November, whether it’s another term of President Trump or a Democrat, they’re inheriting a lot of issues around the world, hotspots around the world. What are some of the areas that you think should be focused on the most and maybe aren’t getting enough attention?
HAASS: I hope everybody’s comfortable. (Laughter.) Let me—someone used the word “baskets” or “buckets.” Let me just look at a couple of things.
One is—I’ll probably surprise you—is beginning here at home. This is the basis of all we do in the world. So I actually think a big part—a big challenge for the next president is to explain to the American people why the world matters, why foreign policy matters, why resources committed to the world are not wasted, but our fate in many way(s) hinges on what goes on out there. The coronavirus brings that home. Climate change brings that home. So it’s all sorts of things we need to do domestically. We talked about research and development, infrastructure, improve our K through twelve education, reduce our debt—which has now created tremendous vulnerability. So one bucket is domestic, to explain that.
The second we’ve talked about here is the China relationship. It is the defining relationship of the twenty-first century. And the way Steve put it is exactly right. It’s diplomatically an incredibly difficult challenge. We need to have—we understand we’re going to be competitive. We want to bound the competition. And we don’t want the competition to preclude limited areas of cooperation, whether it’s on climate, North Korea, or other issues where we actually have a degree of common interest. But managing that diplomatically is no mean feat.
I think there are the two nuclear issues of Iran and North Korea. One has nuclear weapons, increasing number, increasingly can marry them with delivery systems, that’s North Korea. The other is Iran, which doesn’t but is moving in that direction. And the question is, how do we limit and reduce the North Korean capability and how do we prevent an Iranian nuclear capability. And I think that has to be high on both—on any president’s list. And I would say on both of them, we need some diplomacy. And it can’t be the kind of diplomacy where we say you can’t have anything, because that’s not real diplomacy. That’s diktats. I think what we have to have is with both of them we will relieve some of the pressure on you only in exchange for tangible, measurable, verifiable constraints on your programs. So we would bring down the North Korean capability and, again, we would prevent an Iranian capability.
Now last, but far from least, I would say we’ve got to tackle the global issues. Every era of history has its defining issues. The first half of the twentieth century say it was Germany. The second half of the twentieth century it was the Soviet communist challenge. For this century, it’s going to be global issues, how to deal with cyber, how to deal with pandemic disease, how to deal with terrorism, how to deal with proliferation, and how to deal with climate change. And I think this set of issues needs to come to the forefront. Globalization is—it’s a reality. It’s not a choice for the next president. It is a reality. And the question is, how are we going to try to take advantage of some of the positive aspects and how are we going to protect ourselves and limit the obvious negative sides of globalization?
GOLODRYGA: Final two questions before I open it up to the audience. And, Stephen, we are on the precipice of a potential breakthrough in peace negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban. The country’s longest war. We’ve got 3,500 American soldiers, countless Afghanis. We’ve been here before, last fall. This deal that they’re now negotiating—and I think it may be signed by the end of this week in Doha—seems to be a bit more secure. And it’s talking about a reduction in violence in exchange for the Taliban cutting ties with al-Qaida, U.S. troop withdrawal—bringing it from 12,000 to a little over 8,000. Are you positive and do you think that your view about this deal—do you think that it’s a promising deal, and do you think that we should be looking at it from a positive perspective?
HADLEY: Bottom line up front, it’s a promising deal. It’s still less than 50/50. But we don’t have great alternatives. It’s a better deal than September, because it starts by requiring the Taliban to demonstrate the will and capability to bring violence down before we sign anything. That’s good. And secondly, once the deal between the United States and the Taliban is signed, which as you say commits them to cooperate against—(inaudible)—and commits us to, over time, reduce our forces. It is then supposed to move very quickly to an inter-Afghan negotiation about the peace for that country.
So people would say, well, why would you trust the Taliban? And the answer is: We don’t, and we shouldn’t. But the way the agreement is structured, as I understand it, is that it is conditions based. That is to say, the first reduction of U.S. troops from about 13,000 to 8,600 wouldn’t happen until 135 days after signing. So we’ll know whether the reduction in violence has been maintained, whether the Taliban is going after ISIS and al-Qaida in its territory, whether the inter-Afghan negotiations have started and are making progress. And beyond that, further reductions, ultimately to zero, can also be conditions-based on the progress towards a political settlement.
The real question is, what is the alternative? You know, we have been fighting with the Afghans against the Taliban now for nineteen years. We haven’t defeated them. They have not defeated us. This is now a forty-year war for the Afghans. And they are clearly tired. And this peace deal is an effort to test whether the Taliban are also tired and ready to make a peace, whether exhaustion on both sides is—actually opens an opportunity for peace. It’s clearly less than 50/50 proposition. It’s the best horse to ride.
GOLODRYGA: And what makes this, if any, a bit more promising is that the Taliban appears to be willing to negotiate with the Afghan government as well.
HADLEY: Right. Right.
GOLODRYGA: Jeh, let me—
JOHNSON: Could I—could I just—
JOHNSON: So but—as Stephen knows, the Taliban says: You guys have the watches, but I have the time. And they’ll be there long after we’re gone. And so success for us depends upon what we want the end state to be. If we’re there to try to make peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government, that’s one thing. If we’re simply there to maintain a counterterrorism force sufficient to protect the homeland, that is a more modest, and I believe sustainable, objective.
HADLEY: Well, that’s, of course, what we hope to get out of this, a stable Afghanistan that is not a safe haven for terrorists, and therefore is not a threat to the United States. That’s what you hope. If this whole thing melts down and there is chaos in Afghanistan, that, of course, is the best place for the—for the terrorists.
So why would—why would we think the Taliban might be interested in peace? Well, one is, it’s been nineteen years for them. Two, we know from a ceasefire two years ago there’s a lot of appetite among their fighters to come home. There, the Taliban actually know and will tell you, they know they can’t control this government and run the country by themselves. And they know that any Afghanistan post-peace is going to need a lot of external assistance. And we’re going to be critical for them. So the question is whether the sum of those things gives them an incentive for peace. We’ll see. Testing the proposition. It’s the right thing to do.
GOLODRYGA: And in your opinion we’ve got nothing else to lose at this point. It’s worth trying.
HADLEY: We don’t have any good options. You know, Scotty Miller, who’s our commander out there, has ratcheted up the pressure on the Taliban, like we have not seen in years. It’s the right thing to do. Puts a lot of pressure on them. We’ll see. We’re testing the proposition that they might be ready for peace.
HAASS: But, Steve—can I say one thing? Steve, I know, I think, will agree with this, we have got to be disciplined here. And our desire for peace, and even more our desire to bring American troops back home, cannot get ahead of conditions. The Taliban are not being asked to give up capabilities here. They’re changing their behavior, in the first instance, for, you know, basically four or five months. And then we’ll do our first phase of withdrawals. We’ll then have dialogues. We just have to be very disciplined because once our troops come home, let’s be honest, they’re not going to go back, probably.
So we just have to—and I think the alternative to a peace agreement is a version of the status quo where we have a small American force, which may be required even as part of a peace agreement, and we provide military and economic help to the Afghan government. So it’s not peace, but at least it’s something of a standoff. And that might be enough to make sure that Afghanistan can’t again be used as a launching pad for global terrorism. And that to me, is not—peace would be better. But that’s second best to a situation where the Taliban would control the entire country again, and then we would be, once again, essentially vulnerable to whatever it was they were prepared to permit.
HADLEY: And the problem for Zal Khalilzad, who’s negotiating all of this, is that both President Trump and Bernie Sanders, who now leads for the Democratic nomination, have taken the position that the Afghan War was stupid, should never have been fought, and we ought to bring home the forces as soon as we can. Which would preclude the kind of option Richard is talking about and reduces our leverage on the Taliban.
GOLODRYGA: And I’d also argue that the Taliban is well-aware that this is something that President Trump wants to make happen by next—by November.
HADLEY: Exactly right. It’s one of the reasons why, though, on Richard’s point, they’ve been very smart to put the ceasefire—a permanent ceasefire as an early item, if not the first item, on the agenda when the inter-Afghan negotiations go. Because the problem for the Taliban is once there’s a permanent ceasefire, they’re worried that their troops then dissolve and go home. And that, of course, does begin to undermine their capability. So it’s exquisitely difficult. I think they framed it up pretty good. I just hope the president, and if we have a President Sanders, they have the patience to let this play out.
HAASS: One of the lessons in the Middle East and more broadly is, when you negotiate reluctance can be an asset. People who want agreements too much—look at when you go and buy your car. If you want an agreement too much, the other side can smell it. And you will get your agreement; you just won’t get what it is you want.
HADLEY: As they say, if you want it bad, you’ll get it bad. (Laughter.)
GOLODRYGA: We’ll see if we have a Camp David photo op or not before the election.
Jeh, let me end with you, because President Trump, a platform he ran on, he initially ran on from the get-go, and one of the issues that got him into the presidency, is that of immigration and border security. A lot of policies have thrown the border into disarray over the past couple of years. We remember what happened last summer. You said that Mexico has not done enough to maintain its deal with refugees at the border and the current situation is not sustainable.
As we approach summer months again, are you worried that we’ll see a repeat of what we saw last summer and—
JOHNSON: I gather you—if you know I said that, it must mean you watch Fox & Friends.
GOLODRYGA: (Laughs.) I read the transcript.
JOHNSON: There’s a transcript. OK.
So in order to address the problem of illegal migration on our southern border, we simply have to address the push factors, the underlying causes for the reasons why families in Central America are making the very basic decision to leave Central America, leave this very, very violent region, and take their chances in Mexico and the United States.
There’s no—lesson learned for me, having wrestled with this problem for three years, there’s no amount of border security you can throw at this problem and deter people who are fleeing—making the very basic human calculation to flee a burning building, which is why a lot of people, Republicans and Democrats, believe that in order to address the problem at our southern border, you have to invest in eradicating the poverty, violence, and corruption in the three countries in Central America from which this is all starting.
And our Congress began that investment in 2016 with a very modest investment of $750 million. It’s been going in the wrong direction since. The Trump administration cut it off entirely. But even that small amount of money was beginning to make a difference. If you talk to people in DHS today, if you talk to people in consulates in those countries, in embassies in those countries, they will say that that money was beginning to make a difference. It was giving people hope. It was enabling the coffee grower to get his coffee to the market. And we simply have to sustain that effort through multiple administrations. Otherwise we’re going to be banging our head against the wall.
Part of the solution very clearly is encouraging, supporting the Mexican government to do more, because Central American migrants are transiting all the way through Mexico. They could do more on their southern border with Central America. The Mexican border security is actually very small. Last time I looked it was just a few hundred people. So they could do more themselves.
The Trump administration reached these agreements with the government of Mexico to keep them in Mexico. I don’t know whether that is sustainable or not. And what I said on Fox, which I’ll repeat here, is March, the month of March, is always the telltale for what kind of year you’re going to have in terms of illegal migration.
GOLODRYGA: So we’re just weeks away.
JOHNSON: So we will see.
Well, with that, we’ll open it up for questions from the audience. I believe there are microphones or—no. Yeah, they’re passing around a microphone.
OK, how about here in the front row?
Q: Thank you for your—is this on? Yeah. Thank you for your question.
With the election coming up, we see a rising tide around the world, from the Philippines, India, Turkey, Hungary, Austria, in part Britain, and here in the United States, of populism, perhaps as a rejoinder to globalization, and the prospect, as Mr. Hadley indicated, of maybe both major-party nominees being populists.
If this is a normalization of populism around the world when it comes to the political landscape, what are the consequences of that? If it’s a momentary blip, then what are the metrics for its reversal?
PRITZKER: Well, let me start. I think that, you know, you have to start with the economic security and insecurity that people are feeling. And I—the word populism to me—the word populism to me—sorry—is a—has been attached to the phenomenon, except to me I think what people are crying out for is how do I get economic security? And it goes back then to fundamentally what are the metrics.
If the metrics are people feeling a sense of—OK, I’m—there we go—feeling a sense of confidence that their employment—that their situation will continue to improve, that they can support their families, that they are preparing for the continuing change that’s going to go on in terms of technology and the ways technology is applied and how it will affect their employment and the prospects for themselves and their families.
And one of the big challenges is our education system is not lined up and our workforce training system is not lined up with jobs of the future. This is where you have an enormous opportunity here and in other institutions that are doing the good work of educating tens of thousands of people, not a couple of thousand people, and really working to understand where is employment going, because there are new jobs and new needs occurring all the time.
But we’re not creating—we’re not training people. We use the word training. We’re not giving people the skills they need to do those jobs. And so, as a result, what’s happening? What’s happening is I think another metric is Canada and Canada’s population growth. Why is Canada—why is Toronto rather than Detroit or Chicago growing at 1 percent a year?
Why is that happening? It’s because, if you’re a foreign person with technological skills, you can get into that country with a visa in two weeks. And if I’m Microsoft or Amazon or Facebook or any of the large or even growing smaller technology companies, you’re putting your facilities in Toronto—thank you—you’re putting your facilities in Toronto or in Calgary, because you want to be proximate to the United States, but I can’t get those people in. So those are some of the metrics I would be looking for.
HAASS: I’ll just quickly say two other things on populism in the United States. One is I do think we’re still paying a price for what’s seen as a foreign policy that costs far outweigh the benefits, including Iraq and Afghanistan. And I also think—and it’s related to what Penny said—opportunity in our society is not nearly as real or as distributed as it needs to be. K-through-twelve education, you tell me the zip code and I can tell you a lot about whether the opportunity is real; things like legacy admissions, inheritance taxes, and so forth.
We have got a point now in our society where the playing field isn’t level. And if people feel that the game is rigged, they are going to become populists and they’re going to be attracted to populist appeals. And I think we’ve reached a point in this country right now where a lot of people feel the playing field isn’t level. And as a result, they’re more susceptible to populism.
Q: Good evening. I’m Edward Hightower from Motoring Ventures and the author of Motoring Africa.
To Secretary Pritzker, now that the African Union is in the process of rolling out the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement that will enable trade between the fifty-five member states of the African Union and a potentially $3 trillion trading bloc, what should the United States do with AGOA in 2025 as that expires?
PRITZKER: First of all, I applaud the African Union for creating a free-trade zone, if you will, because, as a trading bloc, it’s far more powerful than any one or two or smaller group of countries.
What the United States ought to do is be looking for much greater ways to increase trade rather than aid to Africa and that we ought to be looking at using AGOA to make—
HAASS: (Just explain ?) what AGOA is.
PRITZKER: AGOA is an agreement that—where the tariffs and trade barriers are addressed as it relates to trade with Africa. And we ought to make that much more liberal so that we’re doing more; we have a much deeper commercial relationship with Africa.
What’s happening—and this would go to—you know, this becomes more and more why I think it’s so interesting the Council on Foreign Relations is bringing in economic conversations. If you think about what’s going on with One Belt, One Road, which Stephen talked about, China is very aggressively working with the African Union and with different African countries to provide infrastructure, whether it’s 5G, whether it’s roads, whether it’s ports, et cetera. And they’re basically creating a relationship.
Now, you could say, well—some will say, well, that’s not so great. They tend—the countries will default and they’ll repossess these assets, et cetera. But they’re creating a positive influence in an effort—with relationships throughout Africa.
The United States needs to counterbalance that with its own economic strategy. And AGOA ought to be at the center of it.
GOLODRYGA: You want to come over on this side?
Q: Good evening. Thank you for traveling to Detroit for this opportunity. My name is T.J. and I spent the better half—or better part, rather—of a decade working with asylum seekers here in Detroit.
And so, that being said, I just have a very broad question. But it’s not something I’ve heard tonight in this conversation is anything about human rights. I know it’s related to a lot of the work and the issues that have been discussed, but it’s a very broad question.
I’d like to ask each of you, if you will, how do you see human rights and the importance of human rights, the lack of the recognition of human rights, and our domestic and foreign policy impacting not only where we are today but where you can see us going as a country in the future to arguably resume our role as a global leader?
GOLODRYGA: Who wants to pick that up?
HAASS: I can start and then others can either contradict me or not.
I think implicit in your question is that human rights have value and they ought to be part of American foreign policy. And I think we’d all agree with that. Part of it is what we say. We ought to become an advocate for it. Part of it is the example we set. It’s hard to talk the talk if you don’t walk the walk here at home. At times we can help promote respect for human rights. In extreme circumstances we may have to think about working with others to keep—to fight genocides and things like that.
I think the challenge for foreign policy is how do you balance human-rights concerns against other concerns? You have economic concerns. You have strategic concerns. You also in some cases have limited influence. You may, for example, decry the state of human rights in China right now, for good reason. If there was a barometer of human rights, it would have—they’ve gotten much worse in China over the last couple of years. They’ve gotten worse in Russia. They’ve gotten worse in Turkey. One can go around the world.
The question in many instances are if we push for human rights, what likely impact are we to have? How much influence, how much leverage do we have? And second of all, what other interests are at play? And if we push for human rights, how might those other interests be affected?
And so it seems to me the principle is human rights ought to be part and parcel of American foreign policy. But how we promote them in individual circumstances, I think that has to be tailored for the realities of the full range of American interests and the nature of the relationship that we’re up against.
GOLODRYGA: Stephen, can I ask you a question related to the broader topic, and that is, as a foreign national-security adviser, how would you have advised President Trump or President Bush traveling to India, where he currently is, on the issue of Kashmir, on the issue of the immigration laws? Would you advise the president to address this nationally, or is this a discussion that should happen in private?
HADLEY: I would have supported them going. India is a friend, hopefully an ally. And generally, you know, with allies you praise in public and criticize in private. And it would be in private that you would raise these issues. Now, that doesn’t mean you always do it in private, and there are times when you’re going to add a public element to it. But in terms of this trip, it seems to me, that would have been my advice.
GOLODRYGA: OK. Let’s go—let’s stay over here for one more.
Q: Thank you for this very interesting discussion.
I wanted to ask a question about the Iran deal. I don’t know whether it is still in existence or not. But if there were a president after 2020 who was inclined to try to resurrect the Iran deal, I wonder if members of the panel could tell us whether you think that’s possible, given the degree of acrimony that now exists between the two countries.
HAASS: Let me just brag for the CFR for a second. We asked all the candidates exactly that question. And if you go to our website, CFR.org, you will see the answers.
I would say most of the Democratic candidates would say that they favored reentering the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Speaking personally, the problem with that is that some of the ceilings of that, the limits on centrifuges enrichment, will begin to expire relatively soon. In 2025 are the first expirations, 2030 the others. So it kicks the can down the road a little bit. Plus if you were to eliminate all the sanctions, you would give Iran greater capacity and you would forfeit the leverage.
So I think the real choice for the new president is whether to go into the existing agreement or basically begin a negotiation with Iran essentially on a follow-on agreement, where we would say we would be open to sanction selective relaxation in exchange for your signing up to longer-term, potentially more meaningful commitments.
And I actually think there’s a chance that such a negotiation could succeed. But that will be one of the issues for the next president. It could be an issue for this president. Already in the Israeli press, in Haaretz, one of the leading Israeli newspapers, there have been reports that Iran will have assembled and produced many of the prerequisites for a nuclear weapon by the end of this calendar year, by the end of 2020, because what they are beginning to do is begin to gradually break out of the constraints of the 2015 agreement.
And even if that’s wrong by six months or whatever, the point is that this issue is—has its own dynamics. And the—if the alternatives to diplomacy are either potential use of military force or almost a North Korean answer, allowing Iran to reach certain capabilities, and I do not find either one of those options wildly attractive, to say the least.
So almost coming back to something Steve said before, I think there’s a powerful argument for testing diplomacy here to see if it might work, because the alternatives to me are truly unattractive.
GOLODRYGA: There’s no doubt that Iran has been squeezed by sanctions and hurt economically. And the question is—they’ve even acknowledged that they’d be willing to come to some sort of negotiating table if it was palatable enough for them.
HAASS: Yeah. And that’s why I don’t understand why people would forfeit—whether you agree with the administration’s policy or not, we are where we are. There is—the sanctions have had tremendous impact. And the real question is, but they’re not—they’re never going to have enough impact, I would argue, to bring the regime down. So the question is, do we trade some of the impact for a diplomatic arrangement that would be preferable to the alternatives? And that’s what foreign policy is about.
GOLODRYGA: Let’s come over on this end.
Q: Could the United States do what it needs to do in the world and what it wants to do in the world with a lower military budget?
JOHNSON: Yes. In any $700 billion defense budget, there has to be some inefficiencies built into it, both in terms of the bureaucracy—and before I was secretary of homeland security, I was general counsel of the Department of Defense. So you know all the dark secrets when you’re the lawyer. And in terms of our procurement, in terms of our weapon systems, in terms of our bureaucracy, there are always greater efficiencies that can be achieved.
One of the problems we face—and the people up here know this—for every dollar that is committed to the Department of Defense, there is a member of Congress who views that dollar as his constituent. Every dollar has a constituency in Congress. So for a lot of years, for example—twenty years ago, when I was general counsel of the Air Force, every year the chief of staff of the Air Force would say we only need—I don’t know what the number was—fifty B-52s. And every year Congress would say, no, you don’t; you need sixty B-52s. You don’t need just fifty because the congressional interest in the places where B-52s are based would insist that we’d have to have more. And it became a game after a while where we’d budget for fifty, they’d give us sixty, and then we would try to decommission the extra ten, and the Congress would say, no, you can’t.
And so the answer to your question is yes, without a doubt.
HADLEY: So I would give a little different answer. I would accept everything that Jeh said including the fact that there is a lot of inefficiency and fat in it. But you have to recognize that it’s a requirements-driven process, and we have not yet solved all the problems we have in the Middle East in terms of the threats of terrorism, and the Russians and the Chinese have been investing in state-of-the-art capabilities.
And people have said to me that in some sense it’s not that China a near-peer competitor of us; we’re a near-peer competitor of China in some areas. So the dilemma is, if you are the United States, you know, the requirements are great.
And I guess the thing I would caution is there is, I think, a lot of people that think, well, if we only cut the defense budget, we’d have the money to do all the things Richard and Penny talked about. And it’s not the case. And if you look at the budget, it is really entitlement programs that are really killing us: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the like. And they are—they are putting enormous pressure on domestic discretionary spending, which is where we have to be making the investments if we’re going to put ourselves in a position to compete internationally, whether it’s against China, Russia, or anybody else.
So there’s no easy fix here, and the old thing of cutting the defense budget and all will be fine, that’s just not—that’s not how it’s going to work.
PRITZKER: And yet our own administration is acknowledging that we’re going to be seeing record deficits in the foreseeable future as well.
HAASS: Can I just also chime in on that? I know we don’t want to all answer it, but please say two other points about defense. It’s high—seven hundred (billion dollars), seventy hundred fifty billion dollars is a lot of money no matter how you measure it. But it—it is a but—as a percentage of our economy, it’s a much smaller share than we averaged during the Cold War. So the answer is we can afford this. It’s roughly half, 60 percent of what we averaged during the Cold War, so we can do this in the world and still do what we need to do at home.
Two, there’s a lot of things we have to do in the world that Steve said. Over the last twenty, thirty years we’ve been doing a lot of these counterterrorism-type things about the Middle East, but now we have to also prepare for bigger things—in Europe with Russia, in Asia with China—so a lot of different geographies, a lot of different contingencies, so you need different kinds of forces that can reach different places.
Lastly, I think it’s important to move away from the idea that if we only spent more on domestic challenges we would have better results. Take health care. We spend, what, 18, 19 percent—18 or 19 percent of our GDP on health care. That is twice the average of the other wealthy countries in the world—twice.
Now tell me if I’m wrong, but Americans do not live twice as long—(laughter). We are not twice as healthy. If anything, we actually don’t live as long. We probably have three or four years less of an average lifespan as the average Japanese person or the Northern Europeans.
So how you spend the money—and that gets to Jeh’s point on defense—is often more important than how much you spend.
HAASS: And how you spend the money domestically matters more than the actual level of the money. But the idea that if we only did less out there we would be in a much better position here at home. If things go to hell in a handbasket out there, we will not be able to insulate ourselves from that. That’s the lesson of coronaviruses; that’s the lesson of 9/11.
And, again, we shouldn’t think any more that spending more on defense necessarily gives you better defense. Spending more on things at home doesn’t necessarily give you better things here at home.
GOLODRYGA: So we’ll go to another question here, and then we’ll just do two and two.
Q: Thank you. Good evening. We’re here talking about U.S. foreign policy and what do we want to do about, you know, some of the things we do. And I know you’ve talked about some of the problems that we have in this world that we have to deal with.
But something you haven’t talked about is what about the military? What about these ongoing multiple deployments that put pressure on us as we continue to deploy after deploy after deploy, and then we find out we have this problem where this constant suicide of our military personnel. Now we’re going to have to deal with that subject when you start talking about foreign policy, and issues with China, maybe issues with Taiwan or something, so what are your thoughts on that because that is something that is huge, that not just affects the military, but also affects us at home, especially those of us that are veterans, and those of us that employ veterans. So I’d like to know your thoughts on that.
HADLEY: I’ll say a word and then Jeh should because he was closer to it.
It is absolutely clear that we have put enormous demands on our military over the last fifteen, twenty years, and particularly on those Special Forces and some of those who have been—had multiple deployments. And they need to be attended to, and we have an enormous debt to these people for doing what we ask them to do in order to protect the country.
That said, there is this notion out there that we are involved in these endless wars, and in one sense, I can understand that. But remember these are not the same wars that we were fighting ten years ago. We have five thousand troops in Iraq. We were able to help the Iraqis over a two-year period kick ISIS out of Iraq. Most of that fighting was done by Iraqis; not by our people.
We have about thirteen thousand in Afghanistan. Again, a lot of it is training in counterterrorism. We lost about two dozen—deaths, combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2019. That’s two dozen too many, no question. But the Afghans are fighting that war. For us it’s not a forever war; it’s largely done.
So we have adopted a different strategy in trying to protect our interests overseas and deal with the problem of terror, which is small footprint, relying on local people to take the fight to the enemy, doing training and support, and giving them those unique capabilities that we can provide in terms of planning, intelligence, some air support, things like this. It’s a better formula, and I don’t think you are going to see any time soon the kind of operation we mounted in Iraq, for example. We’ve got a much better way of dealing with it.
JOHNSON: I agree with everything Steve said. I think that the future will be small-scale deployments in places where it makes sense for our own national security to have small-scale deployments of Special Forces or otherwise. Look, the reality is that 1 percent of Americans protect all the rest of us by putting on the uniform of this country, and we owe them a tremendous amount.
When I was at the Pentagon, I was constantly impressed by the character and courage of people who enlisted in our nation’s military. And when you go to a—one of the things that is most striking about them is when you go to a military hospital in Germany, and you encounter somebody who was wounded just 48 hours before in Afghanistan or Iraq, their first impulse, as soon as they can talk again, in their hospital bed, is I’ve got to get back to my unit. I’ve got to get back to my unit. I’ve abandoned my unit. They have lost a limb, and their first impulse is I’ve got to get back to my unit because their sense of unit cohesion and being part of a larger team effort is so powerful that they are willing to rejoin the team even at the cost of themselves. And so I think that there is no limit to which we should go to support our veterans, to support those who have put on the uniform of our country.
When I was at DHS, I used to do naturalization ceremonies—that’s part of my job, naturalization ceremonies. And very often there would be somebody who we naturalized to become a citizen who was already wearing the uniform of this country as a lawful, permanent resident. And that kind of patriotism, I don’t—you cannot get enough of, and I think we should be eternally grateful for it.
GOLODRYGA: So what’s the consequence of the president equating a traumatic brain injury with a headache then?
JOHNSON: Well, that’s—you cannot equate that. Traumatic brain injury is serious.
And I think at some point—
GOLODRYGA: From a morale standpoint, I mean, what message does that send?
JOHNSON: It’s not a good message, and at some point, the president ought to correct the impression he has created that he did not regard what happened to those soldiers on the base in Iraq as not being consequential. It is consequential.
GOLODRYGA: Yeah. Let’s go over on this side.
Q: Good evening, and thank you for your insights.
We’ve heard about the ascendancy of China, some of the nuclear threats, Afghanistan, and yet Russia was only talked about in the context of election interference. And I guess conventional wisdom is that it’s a declining power, and yet it seems to be becoming more dangerous. It continues its war with Ukraine, it weakens the European Union. It is testing new weapons, rebuilding its military.
To what extent should the next president be concerned, and then in what way would the United States need to engage with Russia? We know that the reset button didn’t work, and perhaps there needs to be a better approach than there is now.
GOLODRYGA: Has the stick not been hard enough, Richard?
HAASS: Has what?
GOLODRYGA: Has the stick not been hard enough—of repercussions Russia’s facing?
HAASS: Well, this administration has done two things towards Russia which I think are to be applauded. One is we gave lethal defense articles to Ukraine. I think that was a step in the right direction. And I think some of the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia have been properly robust given what Russia has done.
I think going back to your question, I think it’s possible that Russia is in long-term secular decline and is still very dangerous. Those to me are not mutually inconsistent possibilities. Russia has the ability and the will to use military force. We’ve seen it in Ukraine, we’ve seen it in Georgia, we’ve seen it in Syria. Its respect for international law, shall we say, is—modest does not begin to capture it—what they are prepared to do.
At the same time, this is a country without a modern economy. The scale of the economy is modest, it’s heavily reliant on oil and gas. This is characteristic of a developing country, not of a modern, advanced country. The population is, what, 145 million max. Large parts of the territory are underpopulated.
I do think, though, it’s increasingly of concern, so I would revive the arms control dimension. I would touch on one of the big issues for the next president—Steve is the real expert on this; I’ll just allude to it—but the principal nuclear arms control agreement is up against its limit. I do not understand why we would want to have a new round of nuclear competition given the costs and the risks inherent in it.
The other thing—and it goes back to something that was said here, I think, by everybody—whether it’s dealing with China or Russia, our biggest strategic advantage is called alliances, so whether dealing with Asia—to me that was one of the principal arguments for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, principal argument for a strong U.S.-Japan, U.S.-Korea relationship. But with Russia, it’s NATO. And what we need to do is reestablish the reliability, reestablish the intimacy of U.S.-European relations. That is the best basis or context from which to have a good relationship with Russia.
And I think, again, almost—I think Steve said about China—with Russia, even though it’s a strategically competitive relationship in many ways, we still ought to have a dialogue. We had it during the Cold War, despite everything, and we ought to not preclude areas of limited cooperation. It could be on North Korea. It could be on Iran. It could be on Afghanistan. So we ought not to preclude that. At the same time, though, we have a realistic relationship where we push back.
GOLODRYGA: Stephen, would it be worth renewing an arms deal with Russia even if it excludes China?
HADLEY: I trashed my lapel microphone by accident—(laughter)—so I borrowed this from Penny. She thinks she’s technologically not sophisticated. She’s got nothing on me. (Laughter.)
The China piece, I think—China needs to be engaged on the issue of strategic stability of which nuclear weapons is a piece, and we ought to begin that conversation with China. But this notion of bringing China in so we would have a trilateral negotiation between China, Russia, and the United States doesn’t really, I think, work.
You know, U.S.- and Russian-deployed nuclear weapons under the START—new START agreement are about 1,550 deployed warheads. The Chinese have about two hundred. You don’t want to invite them into a negotiation where we get to come down to 1,300 and they get to build up to 1,300.
GOLODRYGA: Right. (Laughs.)
HADLEY: That’s not really what we want.
So I think we’ve got to have the U.S.-Russia conversation. We’ve got to deal with some problems that Russia has deployed a lot of new systems, some of which they say are covered by the existing new START agreement, some they say aren’t. We have to have a conversation about that.
There are things like tactical, small, short-range nuclear weapons—a lot of them in Europe—you know, Russia has over ten thousand; we have a couple hundred. What do you do about that and that asymmetry which is a threat to our European allies?
So there are issues we need to talk about with Russia. We ought to begin that conversation. We ought to have a conversation with China, but it ought to be separate.
GOLODRYGA: OK, why don’t we have three more questions? We have about four minutes left, but I want to get as many people as we can—so we’ll do another one here, and then one and one.
Q: Hello, panel. My name is Jason Walker, and this question is actually for Penny.
Penny, I work for a company that facilitates entrepreneurship, and I am an entrepreneur as well, and I’ll be interested in your opinion to what you think could be a catalyst to get what I call the general entrepreneur into those new economy businesses where there is a perception that there is a high barrier entry in terms of education, skill set, and finances.
PRITZKER: Well, I think—you know, first of all, I applaud you being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is what this country has been built on, and it’s something that we desperately need.
I think one of the great things that’s going on is technology is making entrepreneurship easier. What cities need to do and states need to do is make it easier for an entrepreneur to get licensed or the required approvals. And those things need to be online, they need to be transparent.
And I will just tell you one quick story. I went to Rwanda. In Rwanda, they promise you in one hour you will be licensed and registered for whatever business you want to start. We ought to be having that kind of standard in our cities in the United States.
Q: Thank you.
Q: In just the last few months, the United States assassinated a world leader on a diplomatic mission in a third country. The United States hosted the ringleader of several violent, abortive coup attempts in Venezuela at the State of the Union address to bipartisan applause. And it refused to recognize the democratic vote of the Iraqi parliament that we created post-invasion when they voted for us to leave and end our seventeen-year occupation. So how can anybody in the United States have the reasonable expectation that other countries would deny their stake in our politics when we continue to interfere in the politics, democracies, and societies of other countries?
GOLODRYGA: Who wants to take that? (Laughter.)
HADLEY: Want to take it? (Laughter.) It’s an easy question, Richard. That’s—
HAASS: I’ll take it then.
In the case—let’s see if I got the three—I would take real exception to the use of the word “occupation” in Iraq. This has been a partnership. And this conversation continues about the presence of the United States in Iraq. And I think it would be a tragedy for Iraq if we were to leave, for two reasons. One is it would pave the way to greater Iranian influence, and second of all, it would pave the way for return of terrorism that threatened the integrity of Iraq. That said, at the end of the day, the Iraqis are going to decide, but my own view is this is on its way to being worked out, which I think is in the interests of the United States and Iraq.
In the case of Venezuela, we just see things differently. This government committed what’s called an alto golpe—a coup itself—by bypassing the existing parliamentary institutions and creating new ones. This, to me, is an illegitimate government. On the other hand, I don’t support a violent regime change. I don’t think that would work. I think our emphasis in Venezuela ought to be on doing more for the, what, four or five million refugees that are overwhelming the neighbors, and seeing whether we can somehow facilitate a return to democracy, a revival of independent institutions. This is a government that survives, in no small part, because of twenty thousand Cuban intelligence and military personnel on the ground. If things were so good, you wouldn’t have five million Venezuelans voting with their feet, leaving the country.
The first one, with Iran, I think we can have a debate about the wisdom of what we did. I testified, actually, with Steve Hadley. The two of us testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and I raised questions about the wisdom of what was done against Mr. Soleimani, even though he had the blood of hundreds of Americans and many others on his hands. I am just concerned, I don’t particularly want to lower the threshold of that kind of violence between states. But I think Iran has been carrying out a war against us and against its neighbors for years, and I think we need to have a serious debate in this country about how we respond to what Iran is doing.
You heard my views before about what I think we ought to do more broadly in terms of the sanctions and the nuclear issue, and I think that ought to be one of the priorities for the new president.
Q: Good evening.
It is concerning but not surprising that our conversation today has not included any discussion of civilian casualties abroad caused by the United States. So what is your suggestion on how this conversation of the United States’ role in innocent civilian casualties should be elevated during this election cycle?
HAASS: No, civilian—U.S. causing civilian casualties.
HADLEY: Casualties where—sorry?
HAASS: I assume when we’re using military—
GOLODRYGA: Military force.
HADLEY: The U.S. military goes out of its way to try to minimize, avoid civilian casualties. We’ve developed exquisitely precise weapons to try to do that. We’ve developed intelligence to try to do that, but we do not always succeed. There’s no doubt about it. And when we fail, it is very important for us to take responsibility for it and to compensate and do whatever we can to make it right.
It is also the case that there is always a lot of publicity about civilian casualties that result from American operations and not nearly the same kind of focus and outrage about civilian casualties that are inflicted by others. You look at what the Russians have done in Syria, for example. It’s terrible; if you look at what the Taliban has done in Afghanistan, for example.
But that’s the way it is. We’re the United States. We’re held to a higher standard. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. We’re right to do so. We need to go out of our way to minimize casualties. When they happen—civilian casualties, when they happen, we have to step up, take responsibility, compensate, and investigate our processes, reform the processes in order to make them better. And where people screw up, hold them accountable. That’s what we try to do when we’re at our best.
JOHNSON: The reality is that the United States, because of the precision of our weaponry, is in a position to insist upon close to zero tolerance for collateral casualties. This is a cold way of looking at it, but for example, if you look at the images of the Soleimani strike, the vehicle is demolished, but the cement wall—just a few feet away—is still intact because of the precision of our targeted lethal force and how it has evolved.
But as Steve said, even one mistake, even on innocent death is, by our standards, far too many. And it was a—in the midst of the—in 2012 when we still had a fairly high level of casualties in Afghanistan and a fairly high level of occupation in—troop presence in Afghanistan, the commanding general in Afghanistan said to me, if by our actions we recruit more than we can kill or capture, we’re losing the war. And so we have to always be mindful of that in everything we do abroad in our military engagements.
GOLODRYGA: And I would just argue that the media also plays a role in covering all of this and focusing on it where it needs to be. And sometimes we do better jobs than others.
Do you want to do one more? Is there—yeah, right over here.
HAASS: Yeah, we need a little bit of diversity here.
Q: Hi. In May 2017, Donald Trump is accused of disclosing confidential Israeli intelligence regarding ISIS to the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, as well as various other Russian officials in the Oval Office.
In terms of long-term cooperation and intelligence agencies understanding and being able to access said probably very dangerous and very likely to get people killed information, and then being able to just disclose it, how can the, you know, international community rely on the United States long term to keep their secrets and their intelligence safe when the president can just kind of declassify it at any moment and face no repercussions for doing so?
JOHNSON: I can tell you that—from firsthand experience that one of the vital ways in which we protect the American homeland is through intelligence sharing with other governments. And very often, even when the leaders of those governments are engaged in high-profile disagreements with our government, the intelligence communities are cooperating 24/7. And there have been a number of bad things that could have happened in this country, on this homeland, that were prevented because of our intelligence sharing agreements and our level of cooperation with other intelligence agencies. So in my view, that is vital, and if we start compromising each other, we are compromising our own safety.
GOLODRYGA: OK, I think we’ll leave it there.
JOHNSON: And by the way, could I just add—
JOHNSON: —one more sentence to that?
I hope everybody here appreciates that up here on this stage are two Republicans and two Democrats—(applause)—and you didn’t hear anybody make a personal insult toward anybody else. Nobody commented on anybody else’s height—(laughter)—or how many stents somebody has. We are in this democracy able to disagree without being disagreeable, which is why I personally have a lot of hope for the future of our democracy.
GOLODRYGA: And as an immigrant, I second that. (Applause.)
Thank you. Thank you to Wayne State. Thank you to all of you for coming, and thank you to the panel. It has been a wonderful conversation.
HAASS: Thank you.
HADLEY: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Thank you.
JOHNSON: Thank you. (Applause.)
GOLODRYGA: Have a good night.