“The world does not want an America that imposes, that dictates, that lectures, that preaches, that invades, nor occupies. I think the world does want a clear-thinking America that will lead with a consensus of purpose. That’s what we’ve done most of the time since World War II … and we can do that again,” Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) told a packed crowd at the Center for American Progress this morning. Hagel, who will retire from the Senate next year at the end of his second term, discussed his new book, America: Our Next Chapter, and the tough choices that America will have to make in the coming years as it defines and redefines its place in the world.
“Reintroducing America to the world will be as important as any one thing this next president has to do,” Hagel asserted. In order to do this, he said, “we need to reverse the optics,” concentrating less on how we see the world, and more on how the world sees us.
Hagel described the current moment as “one of the most transformational times in the history of man,” citing the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attacks of September 11 as two events that have redefined the way we see the world. The great challenges that we face today such as energy, security, and the economy, are interconnected, Hagel argued, adding that “each year we become more dependent; we’re dependent on the world.” The United States must therefore begin to address these issues by “developing a consensus of governance of this country, in the world.”
Hagel called on the United States to renew international institutions and diplomacy, returning to a model built after World War II, when “we defined our relationships not by our differences, but by our common interests.” The United Nations, in particular, Hagel said, “will be more relevant today, in the next 25 years, than it has ever been,” because it is the one full “world institution where people can bring issues.”
If there’s one thing that Iraq has taught us, Hagel emphasized, quoting General David Petraeus, it’s that, “There is no military solution in Iraq.” What’s more, he said, “military power alone will not achieve the great objectives that are going to be required to meet these 21st-century challenges.” Rather, we need to “employ all instruments of a great nation’s power,” he argued, and that will “require a 21st-century framework of thinking, of policy making, of structuring.”
These new frameworks will have to be global, and they will have to focus on making a better life for all people, Hagel explained, saying, “When people have higher standards of living, when they’re making progress, when there is more hope, when there is more opportunity, that means more stability, that means more security.”
“We’ll eventually have to make some tough choices,” Hagel said, but “I don’t think that any of these problems are so big, so overpowering, that we can’t deal with them.” His optimism stems from a belief that “each generation of Americans has left the country better, has left it stronger, has left the world stronger” and if we “keep asking tough questions and … challenging our society to do better,” we can make progress.
John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress
Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress