Yesterday afternoon, Georgetown University played host to a panel discussion with former presidential military advisors Brent Scowcroft, Stephen J. Hadley and James L. Jones. The President and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlantic Council, Fred Kempe, moderated the event.
Opening remarks made by President John J. DeGioia, Scowcroft, Hadley and Jones focused on the future of the field of national security at the onset of the 21st century and the implications for the United States as a world power.
The former military advisors began by on the evolution of the national security and their insights into their roles as former presidential advisors. Scowcroft (1975-1977 and 1989-1993 ) reflected on his time in office:
When I first became National Security Advisor, the Cold War was still on, and that was the strategy. We had the strategy laid out for us, and that was to put our arms around the Soviet Union to keep it from breaking out until it disintegrated; that was a given. We argued a lot about the tactics of how you do this and how you do that, but the strategy was given. Now the strategy is not a given, as a matter of fact, there is probably not a strategy right now that is all-encompassing the world around.
Jones (2009-2010) and Hadley (2005-2009) reaffirmed Scowcroft’s statement, calling the world “asymmetrical.” They agreed that the United States is currently grappling with the task of situating itself in the new world order of the 21st century.
Following their reflections on the changing nature of national security, the discussion shifted toward United State’s role on the world stage and the impact of the current economic recession on national defense policy. “My observation about how they [great nations] decline is that the world has changed, the environment has changed and they try to cling on to the old model,” Jones said.
“We are in a position right now of potentially great historical consequences. I really believe that this is a historical moment for the United States because so goes the economy so goes everything else when a nation can no longer bring itself to do the things it knows it must do. Then you have the first steps of a decline.” Jones went on to stress the importance of the private sector growth in securing the United States influence on the world stage not just economically, but in all aspects of our foreign policy. “We have always risen to the occasion, so I don’t subscribe to the idea of America’s decline, but we must do the things we know we must do in order to be as influential as our citizens expect us to be.”
Scowcroft, Hadley and Jones have had a unique position in our nation’s history. Not only do they create policy, but they serve as the direct line of communication between the military and the White House.
We focused a lot about challenges, the trick for a president is to let him know there is a problem without sending him through the overhead. So I would come in and say ‘ hey Mr. President there have been a couple challenges, which is code word for crises. Challenges are also opportunities for us to put policies in place to shape events and the problem that the modern national security advisor has is there are so many challenges that you could spend too much time reacting to events and not enough time creating policies that shape events and therefore avoid crises.
The discussion culminated with the former advisor’s thoughts on the ongoing violence in Syria. Scowcroft, Jones and Hadley agreed that the outcome of the situation in Syria would not only have serious implications for Syrians, but for the entire Middle East. Mr. Hadley opened the discussion by expressing his contention that U.S. military intervention in Syria has become non negotiable.
“It is very fashionable for people to say the United States doesn’t have much influence, its in a way an excuse not to handle it. It is a struggle that is becoming increasingly violent, increasingly sectarian and increasingly opening the door to Al Qaeda.” For Hadley, the question is not whether or not the U.S. should intervene in Syria, the question is how to do it. Hadley went on to say: “The mindset that any president needs to have is this is not just a single crisis situation this one runs the risk of a meltdown in the Middle East and therefore is a strategic challenge, but it is also a strategic opportunity.”
Scowcroft affirmed Hadley’s position, however, he went on to point out that “military intervention in Syria would put another country in our basket, we already have Iraq we have Afghanistan we do not need another.” In Scowcroft’s view, the longer the U.S. delays intervention in Syria, the worse the outcome will be for the region in the long run.
Although the issue of Syria has gained a large of international attention, all three former military advisors are unsatisfied with the lack of uniform action from the international community, in particular, the United Nation Security Council, which has yet to pass a resolution addressing the violence. As for now, the situation in Syria remains unclear. However, as the violence continues to unfold, the role the United States chooses to play will define not only the fate of Syria, but will play a hand in determining the role of the United States as a military power in the 21st century.
Hadley suggested that there will come a point where the United States must forgo the Security Council, and set an example for its allies by dealing with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad directly. Jones echoed this sentiment: “I do think that when the UN has proved itself to be ineffective…the United States has a moral obligation to find another solution.”