Stephen Hadley on America's Place in the World

Stephen J. Hadley, former national security advisor to President George W. Bush, joins James M. Lindsay to discuss the U.S. role in today's world order.

February 1, 2018 — 42:30 min
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Stephen J. Hadley

Principal, Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel LLC Full Bio

James M. Lindsay

Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair Full Bio

Show Notes

Stephen J. Hadley, former national security advisor to President George W. Bush, joins James M. Lindsay to discuss the U.S. role in today's world order.



LINDSAY: Welcome to The President’s Inbox, a CFR podcast about the foreign policy challenges facing the United States. I’m Jim Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This week, we’re discussing America’s role in the world.


Joining me to examine this topic is Stephen Hadley. He was national security adviser for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009, and deputy national security adviser from 2001 to 2005. From 1989 to 1993, Mr. Hadley served as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy for President George H. W. Bush. And from 1974 to 1977, he served on the National Security Council staff of President Gerald Ford. Mr. Hadley is a principal at RiceHadleyGates, LLC, an international strategic consulting firm founded with Condoleezza Rice, Robert Gates, and Anja Manuel. And I should say, for full disclosure, Steve is a member of the Board of the Council on Foreign Relations.


Steve, thanks for joining me.


HADLEY: Nice to be here.


LINDSAY: Steve, I want to talk about the issue of America’s role in the world. And where I’d like to begin is with a statement you co-wrote with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last year about America’s role in the world. You began by talking about the international order the United States created after the end of World War II. And I want to read just a little bit from what you wrote. You say: America constructed a system of international institutions and security alliances after World War II that provided a framework for advancing economic openness and political freedom in the years that followed. The international order America build and led has not been perfect, but it has coincided with a period of security and prosperity unmatched in human history. And while many nations benefitted from the investments America made in global security and prosperity, none benefitted more than the United States. Does that international order still work for America?


HADLEY: I think it still works for America. But what we learned, I think, in the last campaign—presidential campaign of 2016, is that it does not work for all Americans. That there were a group of Americans who have grievances against that international order and believe that globalization victimized them, took away their jobs, reduced—they did not share in the prosperity that was generated by globalization. They faced a period of stagnant wages and a perception that for the first time in American history maybe their children would not leave—lead better lives and more productive and prosperous lives than they did.


That’s a problem. And this group of people felt victimized by globalization, threatened by immigration—which is the flipside of that—abandoned by politicians, and betrayed by the elites. And they express themselves in the United States in the election of Donald Trump, in Europe in terms of the Brexit vote in the U.K., and support for right-wing parties on the continent. So this was—you know, globalization worked for countries and for many, but it did not work for all. This whole set of election cycles has been a reminder of that. And one of the things that needs to be done now is to relook at those institutions, relook at the international system, and make the prosperity and security it provides more inclusive.


LINDSAY: So your argument is essentially to reform, not reject.


HADLEY: The international system needs to be adapted and revised and revitalized. And it needs to be for really—for two reasons. One, at the international level it needs to be revised and adapted to the emergence of new economic power centers that did not really exist at the end of World War II, or even at the end of the Cold War. The emergence of Japan, of South Korea, of China, of India. People say this is an era of the emergence of a new great power, China. It’s really the emergence of a two new great powers, China and India. So the international system, these institutions and relationships, need to take into account the changes at the geopolitical level internationally. It also—they also need to be adapted and revised to take into account those who have been left behind by the globalization and the international system that supported it. And so it needs to be really revised and adapted at two levels.


But to throw it out is a mistake, because there will always been an international system. The question will be, is it based on the kinds of principles of freedom, democracy, free markets that the international order that emerged after World War II and that we have championed, or is it going to be based on principles of a zero-sum competition, authoritarian political systems, and closed economic systems? That, I would argue, is a system less congenial to the United States, and is going to produce not the prosperity and peace that we’ve seen for the last 70 years, but a much more Hobbesian world that is sort of brutish and short.


LINDSAY: How do you build public support for that kind of restructuring given what would seem to be several challenges? One obvious one is that in some ways the world order the United States created after World War II became a victim of its own success. In essence, the promise Americans made to the rest of the world—join us in, open markets, settling issues through rule of law and what have you, and you will prosper—lo and behold, they did. But one of the consequences of that is global power dispersed. There are more countries that can have—that want to have a greater say. We have obviously the free rider problem, which you obviously dealt with numerous times in government. How do you get a system to work which in some sense is taking power away from the country that was pivotal to making the order work?


HADLEY: Well, there, again, it’s got to work on two levels. First, America’s role in the world needs the support of the American people if it’s going to be sustainable. And that starts with addressing the grievances that people have who feel they’ve been victimized by globalization. And that means a number of things, but it means things like we need to make sure our economic growth here at home is inclusive. And that means for people who can be—as our economy transitions for those people who can be trained in 21st century skills, much more apprenticeship and jobs training than we have. For those who cannot be trained at 21st century skills, that then we need things like an infrastructure program that will give them the dignity of work until they reach retirement age.


So the first thing we need to do is address the grievances at home. And my concern about our current politics is that we don’t seem to be focusing enough on the grievances that emerged after the presidential election. And that’s the first step. Secondly, we need to then explain—we have—you’re right, we’ve taken for granted the international system and the peace and prosperity that it produced. So we have to explain to the American population, as we fix the domestic problems at home, make clear to them that there is an advantage to America’s engagement in the world and that America benefits from an international system based on freedom, democracy, and free markets. And that the alternatives will be worse for Americans. Only in that way will you get the American people to be willing to support an engagement abroad, even as we fix the problems here at home. And that’s going to require leadership and making that case to the American people. And at this point, that’s not happening.


LINDSAY: OK, you need leadership both at home and abroad. I want to pick up the theme about American leadership abroad. My historian friends would tell me that the decades following World War II were unique, that the United States possessed upward of 50 percent of world economic output. It really was, to borrow the political side’s jargon, the hegemon. And that by virtue of that position it could enforce and cajole people to follow a set of orders. And even then, the international system never lived up to the aspirations of American politicians.


But now, with the United States claiming maybe one-fifth of world output, the United States no longer has the wherewithal, the capacity to be able to lead in the way it once did. Well, but the flipside of it is, it’s going to have fewer followers because people will be looking in other directions or wanting to exercise their own power. Can American leadership exist in a world in which we’re not, quite clearly, the hyperpower?


HADLEY: I think it can. I would—you know, I’ve been involved in foreign policy, you know, for the last 40 years or so. And I would reject the characterization that we imposed and coerced. I would say we used our influence, but it was much more. We led and inspired. And if you look at what we did after World War II in terms of helping the construction of a Europe whole, free, and at peace for the first time in centuries, what we did in terms of supporting the emergence of Japan and South Korea, this was not the activity of hegemon. This was a much more enlightened sense of American self-interest than simply imposing our will on our neighbors.


But we had a lot more leverage to bring to the table as we led and inspired than we do now. So we’re going to have to change our model of leadership. It is going to be one where we are going to have to be—we’re going to have to let others have a role and a more prominent seat at the table. I think that is key, for example, to keeping China in the international system. I think China wants to be a player in the international system. We need to give it a seat at the table in an inclusive way, consistent with our principles, standing for our principles, but giving it a role at the table. If we try to exclude China and keep it outside the system, that’s when China may try to construct a competitor.


So I think we have to have an inclusive approach to leadership, bringing everyone to the table, giving them a voice, giving them a role. But it is still the case that the engine of innovation in the international system is the United States. I mean, one of the reasons—


LINDSAY: We’re still the indispensable nation?


HADLEY: We are still the indispensable nation. And I’ll give you the example in Asia. For the last several decades, and continuing to be the case now, we have better relations with each of the major countries in Asia—China, Russia—less so on Russia. (Laughs.) But certainly China, South Korea, and Japan. We have better relationships with each of them than any of them have with each other. And that makes us an essential balancer for the region. We’ve in some sense played the same role in Europe in terms of helping to construct the EU and the European institutions—political, security, and economic. And we have an important role in helping a Europe that speaks with many voices deal with Russia, which is speaking with one voice these days—and a pretty harsh voice to boot.


So I think, regrettably, there’s not going to be any dearth of roles for America to play as we adapt, revise, and revitalize that international system. And I think one of the good things about it is that we can now ask other countries to do more, because they have the wherewithal to do more, particularly economically. And that’s something I think Donald Trump has right. The allies should do more. There has been an overdependence on the United States. They should be taking more responsibility for their future. Angela Merkel said that, and she’s absolutely right. So I think we should be both encouraging our allies and friends to do more, but as we do I think running an inclusive process to adapt and revitalize the international system, that’s still going to have the United States in the driver’s seat.


LINDSAY: Let’s talk a little bit about trying to get others to do more, and then I want—then we’ll talk about China and Russia and other major powers and what they want in the world. But I’m sort of struck, in terms of getting others to do more, is that Donald Trump is not the first president who’s asked others to do more. He may have been more vocal about it and used less diplomatic language, but he’s not the first. I just happened to be reading the other night John J. Kennedy’s first State of the Union address way back in 1961. And smack in the middle of his State of the Union address was a complaint that our allies weren’t carrying their fair share.


So this has been around for a long time, and it raises the question of whether we’re ever going to get it right, or whether we’re sort of perpetually doomed to feel that our allies aren’t doing enough? Or, conversely, if they do more, they’ll want to have a greater say in decisions that are made. And you served in an administration which found itself at odds with some of America’s closest allies about the war in Iraq and how to proceed. How do you balance sort of the need to get others to do more with the desire for the United States to want to be able to do what it sees is in its best interests?


HADLEY: Well, I think, you know, that’s—particularly the second half of that is pretty easy. We want people to have—they will want a greater voice. Have at it. We’d love to have them have a greater voice. In the end of the day, though, that doesn’t give them a veto. And, you know, I don’t know how many presidents have said things like we will—we will go to war with allies if possible, alone if necessary. I mean, that’s a framework we’ve had in our policy for a long time. I think the reason Donald Trump has had some success with our allies is he’s been willing to do something that really we have been reluctant to do in the past. He’s not only said: You need to do more. But he’s also said: If you don’t, we will do less. And he said that in a credible way, because he ran on what many people viewed as an isolationist platform for president. So I think that gave him more credibility. And when he said, if you don’t do more we will do less, people believed him and it got people, in a way, motivated in a way that prior administrations had been unable to do. So I give him credit for that.


LINDSAY: Well, let’s talk about countries that haven’t traditionally been our friends and allies. And let’s begin with China. Let’s sort of read the history written of the Clinton administration, the George W. Bush administration, certainly also, I think, in the Obama administration. There was for many years a hope that the United States, by bringing China into this international order, bringing it into the WTO, World Trade Organization, that that was going to lead China to want to—to have a stake in that order and to want to support it. I think the phrase came out of your administration: The desire to get China to be a responsible stakeholder in the system. I would say, in the last several years I’m seeing a lot more concern from people who follow China that China didn’t opt into the order because it believed in the order. It opted into the order because it saw an opportunity to get wealthier, so it could change the order to its own interests.


HADLEY: I think it’s a little more nuanced than that. First of all, I think a lot of the—everybody’s saying that Donald Trump has now said that China is a competitor of the United States. Well, George W. Bush in 2000, when he was running for president, said sort of off-handedly at a press event, I think some people talk about China as a strategic partner. I see China as a strategic competitor. The truth is, it is both. There are areas where we can and must cooperate with China. Because, quite frankly, on a lot of the problems—whether it’s terrorism, whether it’s proliferation as we’ve seen with Iran and with North Korea, if it’s the dealing with environment and climate change, the stability of the financial system—you can’t do it without China. China can’t do it alone. The United States can’t do it alone. We even together can’t do it alone. We can only do it if we work together with the rest of the international community. So we’re fated to have a relationship that has competitive aspects and cooperative aspects.


LINDSAY: So you don’t think we’re fated, in some sense, in a zero-sum game with the Chinese—either they emerge on top or we stay on top?


HADLEY: I don’t. I think we could end up there, but I do not think we are—we are fated for that outcome. I think there is a lot of interest. And I think, as I said earlier, China actually wants to be part of the international system. But they want a seat at the table and they want to be able to help write the rules, which they were not able to do at the end of World War II. And I think that is a legitimate thing. The problem really is this: I think in a way you didn’t have any alternative but to bring China into these international institutions as it increased its diplomatic and economic heft.


But I think the thing that was wrong—I think we probably made two miscalculations. One, we thought that if you brought China into the WTO, which was after all a system built by and founded upon democratic states with open economies, it would make China over time a more open economy. And as it became a more open economy and more free economy, it would become a more open and free political system. China has been able to manage economic rise using reform and opening up, but still controlling its politics.


LINDSAY: Open economy, closed polity.


HADLEY: And we didn’t really think that was possible. So the political opening that we thought would follow economic opening did not happen. And secondly, because it did not become an open market-oriented economy, like the rest of the countries that founded the WTO, you now have a system that assumes transparency in market economies with a major member in it who has a much more mixed economy, with a lot of non-transparency and state control.


LINDSAY: And some of its policies are downright predatory, I mean, in terms of trying to—


HADLEY: And some of its policies—exactly right.


LINDSAY: —certainly get technology from Western firms.


HADLEY: And the question is, what do we do about that? It did not work exactly the way we thought. I don’t think the solution for that was we should have kept China out of all these institutions, because that would have really invited it to join Russia, Iran, North Korea, and all the renegades of the international system, and to construct their own order, which would have been a safe haven for rogue states, thugs, organized crime, drug traffickers, terrorism, and all the rest. I don’t think we had a choice. But we do have a problem. There are imbalances. China has exploited the system to its advantage and to our detriment. That’s the point Donald Trump has made. He’s right about that.


But it’s not just Donald Trump. If you talk about Republicans and Democrats, all are concerned about these imbalances. And they would have been—had to have been addressed, even if Hillary Clinton had been elected president in November of 2016.


LINDSAY: Oh, I suspect she would have been facing the exact same problems. She may have used different rhetoric to talk about it, but the problems were there.


HADLEY: So they’re going to have to be addressed. And the real dilemma is, can we address it with a series of half-measures of sanctions of one sort or another without having a global trade war, which all the world economy—including the United States—will suffer from? Can you address it? Or is it a more fundamental problem that really it can’t be solved until China finally decides it needs to move in a real reform and opening up, and really decides that it is going to become an open and market-based economy? That, we don’t know. That’s the dilemma.


LINDSAY: Well, I think that’s the $64,000 question. Do you have any sense as to which line of argument is more likely to bear out?


HADLEY: You know, this is where I have to go to my economist friends. But I think that is the question that really needs to be addressed. Can we fix this problem of the disconnect between the Chinese economy today and the assumptions of the WTO system? Can you—can you fix it within the contours of that system, and what you can do in terms of sanctions, like, or is it a more fundamental problem? If it’s a more fundamental problem, I don’t know how you fix it until China learns, as I think it will learn, that it can’t close down on its economy like it is on its politics and still maintain the kind of growth that the people of China expect. And that will be a crisis for the regime, and may force the regime to decide it’s got to double down again on the reform and opening up, even at the risks it would pose to the political control that the party exercises.


LINDSAY: But I would think even if it isn’t the fundamental problem, as you laid out, and it’s just the lesser one of getting the Chinese to play by the rules, you may have to go a pretty long way in terms of threatening the Chinese to get a change of behavior, because if there are no consequences to their exploiting the system, why would they change what they do?


HADLEY: I think that’s right. And there are—there’s two ways to do it. And if it is going to be successful—if it’s going to be successful, it’s got to not just be the United States. It’s got to be the United States working with Europe, working with countries in the region—Japan, South Korea, India, and all the rest. Because China really is dependent for its economic prosperity on trade and investment with its neighbors, with the United States, and Europe. And that gives us leverage. If we work together, that gives us leverage that I think can cause a change in Chinese behavior. But if it’s only the United States and we alienate all those countries and allies, and allow China to divide us from them, we will not work. We will end up isolating ourselves rather than putting pressure on China.


LINDSAY: Well, I fear that that’s the direction that we’re going, I mean, that we haven’t done the necessary diplomatic spadework so that our leadership has followership and you can band people together.


But let’s talk about the other great power, Russia. A moment ago you mentioned that, I think most everyone would agree, U.S.-Russia relations are not doing terribly well. How does the role of Russia fit into sort of your vision of how to revitalize the international order? Is the U.S.-Russia relationship irretrievable, or are we in a situation in which there are ways to sort of deny the Russians the ability to continue with what seems to be their efforts to be a spoiler in the international system?


HADLEY: I think that’s where they are at the moment. I think they’re a spoiler, almost, you know, taking some delight in frustrating the United States wherever they can, on any contingency. I hope that is not a strategic choice that they have made. They certainly have—in some sense, they are a more extreme threat because they’re willing to be so active on the ground in places like Ukraine, in Syria, in a way that’s inimical to our interests in a way that China does not. On the other hand, they are not the heavyweight China is in terms of their economic power and the like.


I think the way to try to get China—to try to get Russia back into the international system is to move out initially without them. And if we start taking initiatives that involve the Europeans and other countries in Asia and China to develop institutions for a revised and adapted international system, Russia is going to want it. Russia, particularly Putin as an individual and Russia as a people, have this sense of Russian greatness. And first, above everything, they want a front seat at every international table. And if there’s an important table where they are not participating, I think it will bring them around because they will want to participate.


Second of all, we’re really not going to unstick this relationship with Russia until two things happen. One, domestically, we’ve got to find out, in the end of the day, what was done in connection with the interference of the election. Mueller needs to do his work with his special counsel investigation. The committees in the Congress need to complete that work. And we need to get that through the American political system, imposing whatever sanctions—additional sanctions on Russia we need to do, safeguarding our election system so that nobody can do that to us again. That’s step one.


Step two, we’re going to have to find a way to resolve the Ukraine crisis in a way that is acceptable to the Ukrainians, reestablishes some order in Europe, and allows the sanctions to begin to come off. I don’t see how you get to a more fundamentally positive relationship with Russia until we get the election interference behind us politically and the Ukraine crisis behind us strategically.


LINDSAY: How do you get the Ukraine crisis behind us strategically? Because it seems like that almost requires the Russians to withdraw, which by all accounts they’re not inclined to do.


HADLEY: Well, there’s some interesting straws in the wind there. Vladimir Putin last fall picked up on something that actually Ukrainian President Poroshenko had proposed two years earlier, a U.N. peacekeeping force to take security responsibility and, in some sense, impose order on those areas of the Donbas that have been occupied. That’s very interesting. The Russians urge the Trump administration to appoint a special envoy for Ukraine, which the administration did—appointed Kurt Volker, former ambassador to NATO. No shrinking violet in terms of being critical of Russian behavior in Georgia, and the Ukraine, and the like. But they have welcomed his appointment. And there is now a dialogue between Kurt Volker and his counterpart to try to see whether Putin’s peacekeeping proposal is an opening wedge for a resolution.


Now, those consultations—those conversations have to be set in the context of close consultations with Ukraine and with the Europeans who established the Minsk framework under which these are proceeding. So this can’t be a bilateral deal behind the backs of the Ukrainians. But I think it’s an example, again, where the Europeans took the lead in the Ukrainian crisis, came up with Minsk I and Minsk II agreements to try to settle the crisis. They’re stuck. They’ve not been implemented. And it is American diplomacy that now is trying to find a way to revitalize those agreements, put some momentum in the direction of peace. So we’ll have to see.


But the question in the end of the day will be whether President Putin has decided that he’s gotten all he can out of his adventure in Ukraine, and that the cost is now too high—from a budgetary standpoint, diplomatically, and in terms of sanctions. We’ll have to see. But we should test. And that’s what the administration is doing. And they’re right to do so.


LINDSAY: What is your sense of where Europe is today?


HADLEY: I worry about it. I think it can hold together. Again, whether it will will depend on policies. But there are clearly in countries—sadly, in countries like Poland, in Hungary, in the Czech Republic, in Turkey—not an EU member but an important player so far as Europe is concerned—there has been a movement away from democracy. A Europe, whole, free, and at peace, which was our objective, it looks a little less peaceful, a little less whole, and a little less free. Trendlines are not good.


Secondly, there is, again, a revolt in Europe to globalization, immigration, and to the kinds of institutions that are reflected in the EU—big, bureaucratic institutions where decisions are made far from people. And I think you saw that reflected in the Brexit vote. I think Europe breathed a bit of—a sigh of relief when Macron was elected in France, where the rightists did not do so well in the Dutch elections, or even in the German elections—as well as some people feared. But that does not mean the crisis is over. And my concern is that Europe will think that now that the U.K. is moving out of the EU, the solution is just more of the same—more integration, more power to Brussels. And I think that would be a profound miscalculation. I think every time the EU project has come up for a referendum in Europe, it has usually lost on the first round. (Laughs.)


LINDSAY: That’s true.


HADLEY: And it’s a wake-up call. And I would hope that Macron and Merkel, who I hope will get a government and continue as chancellor, will take the lead together to renovate the international union—sorry, the European Union. If we need to renovate the European Union, if we need a revised, adapted and revitalized international order, we also need a revised and adapted and revitalized European Union, where they renationalize some of the responsibilities for borders, for some of those things that really are culturally important to the individual countries. Get some of that power away from Brussels back to the people, back to local institutions. It can be saved. But it does not mean that it will be saved. It will be a decision for the European people to make and for their leaders to make. And I hope they will make it along the lines we’ve just discussed.


LINDSAY: Leaders matter. Choices matter. I want to ask you a personal question. You served for four years as national security adviser. Can you give people a sense of what it’s like to be national security adviser? What does a typical day look like?


HADLEY: So I’ll tell you two things about it. When I was national security adviser I got up at 4:30 in the morning and was in the office by 5:30, and I started to think of leaving at 8:30. And that was mostly six days a week. And on Saturday I took—on Sunday, I took Sunday morning off. But about noon, I didn’t go into the office, but I started working the phone and working the paper. I remember I talked to the late Sandy Berger, who was national security adviser in the second Clinton administration—a wonderful man. A couple months after he left office I talked to him on the phone. I said: Sandy, what is the thing that you remember most or sticks out in your mind most for your time as national security adviser? And he said: The relentlessness of it all.


You’re never off duty. I used to think that, you know, when you’d go to sleep there was a little part of your brain that would stay awake so that if you got that 3:00 in the morning phone call that something was happening, and should we wake the president, there is a part of your brain that was already awake and could waken up the rest. But it’s an all-encompassing relentless job. Very rewarding. But it requires you to, you know, think at the highest strategic level, but at the same time do the paperwork and dot the I’s and cross the T’s so that when the president of the United States is asked to sign something and he says: Have you really looked at this and is this going to work, you can tell him with some confidence: Yes, Mr. President, I’ve looked at it and it’ll work. Pretty demanding job.


LINDSAY: There’s a word that’s very popular in Washington, D.C., it’s more a phrase, “the interagency process.” Obviously national security advisers matter when it comes to the interagency process. Can you give people just some sense of what the interagency process is and why it’s not an easy thing to make work?


HADLEY: The U.S. government, as people know, is organized with a lot of different departments and agencies and offices. And all have their own people, their own budgets, their own missions, and their own sense of what they should do. And the challenge of making policy and pursuing strategy in today’s world is that most problems, the hardest problems, require you to integrate the efforts and activities of a good chunk of those agencies on a common agenda, with a single objective, and a common strategy for how to get there. As people say, it requires integrating political, economic, diplomatic, security, development communications—all elements of our national power and influence.


And yet, the government is stove piped, with each of those departments, agencies, and offices working in their own lane. The interagency process just means very simply getting somebody from each of those stovepipes in a room and talking them through and developing options for the president, so we can come up in any particular situation with what is our objective? In simple terms, what’s our strategy for getting there? And what are each of those departments and agencies going to do in order to allow us to execute that strategy and achieve that objective? That’s what the interagency process is.


If you ever did student council when you were in high school or junior high school—


LINDSAY: You were the president of your student council in high school, weren’t you?


HADLEY: I tell everybody, I learned everything I needed to know for being national security adviser and running the interagency process from junior high school and high school student council.


LINDSAY: OK, so I take it that sometimes agencies and departments don’t do what they’re asked to do first time through. It takes some effort to corral them, to get them to all sort of sing from the same page of the songbook.


HADLEY: And that’s why you have a president of the United States. And I remember when I became national security adviser, I was meeting with the press folks who follow the NSC. And you know, I followed Condi Rice, who was legendary for her close relationship with the president. And one of the reporters said: You know, well, with all due respect, Mr. Hadley, if Condi Rice couldn’t knock heads and get Colin Powell and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld on the page, how are you going to do it? And I—


LINDSAY: Softball question, I take.


HADLEY: And I said, I’m not even going to try. I’m not even going to try. Yeah, those are 600-pound gorillas and it’s tough to get them on the same page. But if they don’t agree, we’re going to go down the hall, because in the Oval Office is a 1,200-pound gorilla who really likes to make decisions. And we’re all going to go in there, and they’re going to explain their views. President is going to make his decision. And they are all going to follow it, because they’re professionals. That’s what they’ve been trained to do.


So that’s what the president does. You run this interagency process, you have the meetings with all the Cabinet secretaries. And if there’s a disagreement or if there’s an issue that’s so important that even if there’s consensus you need the president’s input, your job as the national security adviser is to take that group to the president of the United States, frame up the issue, and ensure that the president has everything that he needs—


LINDSAY: This is the honest broker role that people always talk about.


HADLEY: This is—making sure he or she has everything they need, has heard all the views from their Cabinet secretaries, then is able to make a decision, and then make sure that decision is carried out by the various departments and agencies. And under our system, if everybody has had an opportunity to participate, to have their say, my experience is once the president’s made a decision, even if an agency has lost—quote, quote—people will salute, and they will do their best to carry out the decision made by the president.


LINDSAY: I want to close on one final note. You’ve had a very distinguished career. You’ve had a lot of very interesting positions in the U.S. government, obviously reaching the pinnacle being national security adviser. What advice do you give to young people who are thinking about going into government service, thinking about working for the federal government in national security or in other sort of lines of work for the U.S. government?


HADLEY: I sort of tell them five things in terms of being prepared. One I say to them is travel. Get outside the United States. If you have a chance to live abroad, do it. You’ve got to live with people to really understand their perspective.


LINDSAY: But take good records of where you’ve been so when you go through your security clearance, it’s easy.


HADLEY: (Laughs.) Exactly right. So travel. Get outside. See the world. Have—take some risks, have a range of experiences. Second, read history. Read history. That’s the one regret I have, that I was not as steeped in history as much as I should. Political science is a great major. It was mine. We called it government where I went, at Cornell University. Read a lot of history.


Third, in the jobs that you get as a young person, take the time to get to know and develop relationships with your colleagues, because once you get in your field these are people with whom you are going to be dealing for the next 20, 30, 40 years. I was not promising enough to have one of these heavyweights as a mentor. Every job I ever got in this—in my career was because of someone I worked with who knew me and thought I could do the job. So—


LINDSAY: You want people who can vouch for you.


HADLEY: Cultivate friends among your peers, and get to know these people. It’ll make it much more rewarding for you.


Fourth, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Aretha Franklin had it right. It is all about respect—treating other countries with respect, treating those above you with respect, treating those below you with respect, answering your phone calls, writing notes when people have sent you notes, treating—listening to other people and treating them with respect. It is the most important element, I think, of all of this.


And finally is don’t be shy about accepting responsibilities when you make a mistake, because you will. At some point you will make a mistake. And the natural instinct is to fly or deny. And don’t do it. Step forward, take responsibility. If you have to resign, resign. Most people in Washington get in trouble not for what they do, it’s what they do when it becomes public. And if they do the lie and hide or the deny and hide, they get into trouble. Most folks who step forward and take responsibility do OK. It’s the right thing to do. It’s also, I would argue, the smart thing to do. But you need to start instilling that instinct with you, you know, early on, because in the moment the pressures are all in the other direction.


LINDSAY: Excellent advice. Steve, thank you very much for joining me on The President’s Inbox.


HADLEY: Delighted to be here. Thanks very much.


LINDSAY: On that note, we’ll close out The President’s Inbox for this week. Please subscribe to The President’s Inbox on iTunes and leave us a review. It really helps. Opinions expressed on The President Inbox are solely those of the host’s or our guest’s, not of CFR, which takes not institutional positions. Today’s episode was produced by Kevin Lizarazo with Senior Producer Jeremy Sherlick. Our recording engineer was Dan Mudd. Special thanks go out to Audrey Bowler, Gabrielle Sierra, Corey Cooper, and Patrice Narasimhan for their research assistance. This is Jim Lindsay. Thanks for listening.




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