|New American Strategies
for Security and Peace
John D. Podesta
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Good afternoon, everyone. I’m John Podesta, from
the Center for American Progress. First, let me join Dick
and Bob in welcoming you here for what promises to be
two days of important discussion and debate.
Let me thank in advance all the speakers and panelists
who are participating. I also want to recognize Strobe
Talbott, Jim Steinberg and the Brookings Institution
and John Hamre, Kurt Campbell and the Center for Strategic
and International Studies for generously allowing so
many of their scholars to join us. I want also to recognize
Ambassador Marc Ginsberg and the many members of the
Alliance for American Leadership who are here. I would
also call your attention to a fine set of papers on
terrorism, control of weapons of mass destruction, and
other key topics put together by a national security
working group under the leadership of Secretary Bill
Perry included in your conference materials.
As you look around, you’ll also notice that there
are some young faces in our audience – students
studying national security affairs and international
relations at American University, Georgetown, George
Washington, Howard and Johns Hopkins.
One of the missions of the Center for American Progress
is to draw more young people into the national debate
on critical issues and we’re glad that they’re
here with us today.
As many of you know, this conference is something of
a debut for the Center for American Progress and we
are pleased to have been able to work with the American
Prospect and the Century Foundation to put together
such a distinguished list of scholars and thinkers in
the national security arena. As a nonpartisan research
and educational institute, our mission is to find progressive
and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and
Over the next two days, you’re going to hear
a lot about the state of our nation’s security
and the course of our foreign policy. You’ll hear
from Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike.
You’re going to hear some agreement and, I assume,
some disagreement. And what we hope you’ll take
away from here is a strong sense that there are serious
people who have concrete, and we believe, better ideas
about how to protect Americans and advance our national
interests than the ideology which propels our foreign
policy today. As Dick mentioned in his opening remarks,
in the aftermath of the tragedy of September 11, the
whole nation and nearly the entire civilized world rallied
behind our President and our country. And the first
results – in Afghanistan and in taking on terrorists
across the globe – were promising.
But a little more than two years later, having pursued
a course of unprecedented unilateralism, our fight to
rid the world of terrorism is stalling, our young men
and women in Iraq are in grave danger every day, our
allies are frustrated, and our enemies are more determined
I am not one who subscribes to the John Ashcroft theory
of political dialogue. I do not question the patriotism
of Administration officials, nor their commitment to
protecting the American people. I believe that we are
right to target the deadly combination of terrorists
armed with weapons of mass destruction. But when I examine
the record of those now in power, I cannot help but
question the assumptions that guide their decisions.
It has become abundantly clear that while we had a
brilliant plan to win a war against Saddam Hussein and
the Iraqi army, we do not know how to win the peace.
Everyday in Iraq, we are incurring the costs –
both human and financial – of a policy built on
deception in Iraq and myth about the imminence of the
threat and the cost and scope of rebuilding.
First, we were told mission accomplished. Then we were
told that the media was missing the good news. Now we
are told that the bad news is the good news.
The singular focus on Iraq and lack of planning for
winning the peace has damaged other critical U.S. foreign
policy goals. It has diverted attention from serious
threats, including proliferation of nuclear and other
weapons of mass destruction, and has led the Administration
to downplay very real dangers in Korea, Iran, and inside
Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan is still dangerously unstable.
Osama bin Laden is still at large. And two years after
9/11, we remain too vulnerable at home to those who
seek to do us harm.
That is, in brief, where we stand. Now where should
we go? What should the elements of a new and different
First, America has to make clear its diplomatic and
military priorities. Even with the mightiest army, our
influence is built on collaboration and consent, not
just on arms. We need to make strategic choices. If
we are serious about spreading the ideals of free, market-based
democracy, we cannot unilaterally remake other nations
nor disrespect a pluralistic world.
Second, it’s time to re-focus our attention to
the war on global terrorism, rebuilding the coalition
that we started to assemble after 9/11 and then all
but abandoned, and increasing the number and effectiveness
of the tools at our disposal.
Third, we need to enlist the world’s other nations
to end proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as chemical
and biological arsenals. Instead, the Administration
is flirting with dangerous doctrine and developing new
weapons that threaten to spark a new arms race.
Fourth, we must rebuild alliances and collaboration
with international institutions. Dismissing our NATO
allies as “Old Europe” does not help us
confront the transnational challenges that we cannot
take on singlehandedly. We must remember that the U.N.
was the product of U.S. leadership and can be an effective
instrument for our foreign policy.
Finally, we must set the right priorities for domestic
preparedness. Police and fire units in adjoining towns
still cannot communicate. Airport and port security
and improved chemical plant security are off track or
behind schedule. Furthermore, we are sacrificing our
own civil liberties by harassing broad groups of citizens
without finding ways to better identify targets and
Overall, the test of our policy is not whether a nation
as powerful as the United States can eventually impose
its will. The test is whether the result is durable,
and whether the cost makes sense relative to the gain.
In a democracy, open debate is the best route to smart
and sustainable policies. This conference will challenge
the present strategy, and offer pragmatic alternatives
to protect Americans and advance our national interests.
We thank you for being here. After lunch, we’ll
here from Ted Sorenson and General Wesley Clark.