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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2003

American Diplomacy: Meeting the Challenges Ahead

Chuck Hagel, U.S. Senator, (R-NE)
Washington, DC
April 30, 2003

Opening Remarks and Introduction

Thank you. Secretary Armitage, thank you. I know I am not worthy of such an introduction, but being the shameless politician that I am, I shall accept it. (Laughter.) I am grateful that he did not mention my medical condition--(laughter)--I thought that would get a better actual response--(laughter)--I'll try that at the Pentagon. Now we're warming up here. I mean, this is a pinstripe crowd, no sense of humor around here.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share some thoughts with you this afternoon, and I hope we'll have an opportunity to exchange questions and answers, responses from you--thoughts, advice, counsel, which I get daily from Armitage--filtered, of course, fortunately for Armitage. But I never disagree or argue with Rich Armitage--I know none of you do--(laughter)--and he's--it's always healthier that way.

I want to thank you and add my personal thanks to what Secretary Armitage has already stated. Personal, first, because I am the father of a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old, who like all of your children and grandchildren will someday inherit our country and the burdens of leadership. And what you are doing--not just for this country but for the world, as Secretary Armitage, I think, accurately stated, at a very historic time--should not go unrecognized. And any parent in this country owes you all and your colleagues around the world who are serving today a great debt of gratitude. I thank you as a Senator, one who has the privilege of serving this country in the United States Senate.

Your job is--"interesting" is probably too much of an understatement or a word that doesn't fully describe what you all do. Your job is not a showy job. Your job, as I have occasionally said, is a job that is on the front line of diplomacy. And what that means is if you are doing your job, and you do it well, no one ever knows what you do. That means you have not much of a constituency around the country- you don't represent any great corporate interests; you don't represent really any interests except the future of our country. And I know it is difficult more than occasionally to accept that, but you all accepted that long ago and understood that when you signed up for this outfit. And what you represent to all of us, not just in the jobs that you do but in the way you do it, is very important and serves as not just a role model but a great deal of inspiration to an awful lot of us.

I mentioned to Secretary Powell yesterday when he was up before our committee, and again he did another shoddy job--(laughter)--hardly articulating any point of view with any lucid, comprehensive established sense of order. But, beyond that, we overlooked it, and it's charm and personality like Armitage that we really fall prey to all the time. (Laughter.)

But we talked with Secretary Powell about this wider issue, this wider-lens issue of the job you're doing now and the challenges that you have before us, and before all of us. And I say "before us," because just as Secretary Armitage said in his introduction, it is all of us working together. Occasionally, it doesn't appear that way, but we are. And it is because of you being there on that front line of diplomacy that we are able to accomplish the great things that we have been able to accomplish in this country, especially over the last 55 years.

And I want to break at that 55-year period and move on, because I think it is a good, legitimate, natural historical breaking point to put some things into perspective. It's difficult to live in a world of perspective. It is more difficult today, because we are bombarded with an immediacy that we have never had to deal with--constantly, every minute of every day, not just senators, congressmen, the White House, but the State Department, television cameras, the immediacy of telecommunications. We now see war not just in videogames but in real terms, in real time. The impact that has on policymaking, on thinking--actually thinking through something--I believe has been understated and underappreciated. And I think it's very dangerous. I'm not for going back to a time when we had no television, but we have to understand the framing of the policy process and your jobs and the immediacy and the accountability that goes with that.

I was last night reviewing the material that Bill had sent over regarding this Forum, and it struck me as I read through the information he had sent this Forum was set up in 1967 by then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk. And, if my understanding is correct, it was set up to try to stimulate creative thinking and debate about the great issues of our day; obviously, brought on by our involvement in Vietnam. Well, I am not qualified to say anything creative or profound, so I won't measure up in that regard.

But, as I read further I thought, as we all must and don't enough think about, personal situations, lives--what led you to this career? What grounded you? How were you grounded? What framed you? What drove you? What inspired you? Who inspired you? And I thought where I was in 1967. In 1967, when the first Forum was held--and I don't know if it was in this room or not--but I was preparing to go to Vietnam in the United States Army, and I was finishing my training as a private, and I had just been promoted to an E-3, private first class, and I was about as happy as anybody could be that I could actually put one stripe on my shoulder, and I felt good about that. I felt good about it because I felt I had accomplished something. I felt good about it because I felt I had accomplished something in a noble and great cause, a cause that was much greater than my own self-interest. I didn't understand it all, and I confess I was not thinking grand, global geopolitical thoughts preparing to go to Vietnam in 1967. So here I am today standing before you. This room, as Rich Armitage has stated, represents some of the finest, most able public policy/foreign policy thinkers in the world today. So when I said I am not worthy of Armitage's introduction, it was not just a Jay Leno line; it was a line that I meant in that way. I cannot tell you anything about your jobs, but I can offer you some perspectives that we all occasionally need to think about--not because they are mine, I am the author of them, but because we don't often take time to think about them.

Earlier this week the former President of the Federal Republic of Germany that many of you know, Richard von Weisaecker, who was in town. Many of you worked with him over the years; if you look at his background--he's 83 years old--as a matter of fact turned 83 years old this month; served as the President of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1984 to 1994; was in World War II as a soldier, and you think of his 83 years and what this man has seen and what he has lived through. So he came to see me on Monday. We spent an hour and a half--and I was most interested in his perspective on what is happening in the world today, the obvious issues, transatlantic questions, nicks in the outer armor--is NATO relevant? What is NATO's mission? Is UN relevant? What's the UN mission? What should be the role of America, Germany, our allies in the world? Where do we go in the next 20 years? The great new threats of the 21st century.

And one of the things he reminded me of, going back almost 55 years after World War II, was what happened after World War II: What was the leadership of the world, which was essentially the United States, confronted with? We won a war with our Allies; we needed to rebuild the world--how do we do it? And just like how this great country was formed, having this amazing body of men gathered together at one time, at a certain moment in history, that produced a document in Philadelphia, so, too, we lived at such a time after World War II. And when you think of one of the great Secretaries of State, George Marshall, what he did in that 1947-49 period with Truman, Eisenhower, Adenauer, Churchill, others leaders of the world--they came together with a conception based on a clear understanding that we had just been through probably the bloodiest 50 years in the history of man, and how do we ensure that that would not happen again in the second half of the bloodiest century, so far. They seized upon something that is just as critical today, and maybe more so than it's ever been, and that is coalitions of common interests, those common interests protected by security arrangements, alliances, bringing people together through those alliances and forums--in forums and structures, institutions. And even 55 years ago, as brilliant as those men and women were, they still could not have projected, I don't believe, to where we are today with the threats and challenges that are common to the people of the world--all six billion people--terrorism, weapons of mass destruction. Those are not unique threats to the United States or Great Britain. They are threats to mankind.

So just as after World War II, we face another similar set of challenges. Arnold Toynbee wrote in that big, big, big book that I am sure all of you have read three or four times, The History of the World, essentially recounting the history of the 24 civilizations of the world, the one common denominator that every civilization has had to deal with, and so it is in very simple terms today: challenge-response, challenge-response. And so 55 years later we are not faced with anything relatively new. Every generation has been faced with challenges. Of course, if there is magic to America--there is much magic in America- it has been that each generation of Americans has accepted those challenges, and they have found answers to those challenges through their own selfless service to something far greater than their own self-interests. And so each generation of Americans has left this country and the world better than they found it. That's what America has been about for 225 years. And so we live at such a time that today its historical. And so when we hear questions about the relevancy of the United Nations or NATO, or whether we should have allies in Iraq, or should we punish allies because that great prize Iraq is ours now--everyone certainly has as an opinion in this business, but that is not how Harry Truman and George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower and Konrad Adenauer and others, Winston Churchill, great leaders at the time, saw the world after World War II. They were far wiser than that.

And what they also understood was that the world needed to see a steady, wise, judicious, trusted America, a leadership that they could trust. They could trust us because they had confidence in our decisions that we were wise, we were benevolent, we were judicious with our power. And we have been. Other than Vietnam, we've had a pretty remarkable record the last 55 years. A lot of lessons from Vietnam. Maybe one is that we essentially did that unilaterally. And we're not going to turn the clock back. We are where we are, and we should seize the moment--seize the moment to fulfill the destiny of this great country--not a Pax Americana, not to impose an America on the rest of the world, whether it's the Middle East or anywhere in the world. That's never been our design. That's not been America's destiny. It's to work with others. It's to cooperate. It's to strengthen the fibers of each region of the world, not just because we may be benevolent but because it is in our interests; it is in our common interests.

The President's meeting yesterday at the White House on AIDS--certainly the great power on Earth today has a responsibility to help these great scourges that now plague mankind. But it is clearly in our interests to do something about that, as it is in all the corners of the world where there are problems and there's instability. So it is an investment in our future. You understand that. You live that. That is your life. Those of us in my business sometimes do not articulate that well enough, clear enough to America. We don't talk enough about as imperfect as these institutions are, the United Nations and NATO, the IMF and the World Bank, and now the World Trade Organization that began as GATT. We understand they are imperfect. The action taken by the United Nations yesterday regarding Cuba and the human rights -- there's not a breathing American who doesn't think that's obscene. But do we walk away from the world? I don't think so. We haven't done that in 55 years.

And so today, this morning, in the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate, we passed unanimously the protocol to the 1949 NATO agreement, which we will take to the Senate floor next week. I suspect we will get a unanimous vote, ratifying this country's commitment to bringing seven new nations into NATO. Is that a gift to Romania, Bulgaria, the Baltics? No. It's in the interests of what started out 55 years ago: a more stable, peaceful, prosperous, just world.

So our lens that we view our world through, our optics, need to be redialed and recalibrated--not because we're wrong or right, but because we have new threats and new challenges and new times and new interests. And so the wider-lens perspective that we now must incorporate in our policymaking is critical to our future. There is no such thing today in the United States Congress on our agenda as domestic policy, and then next week we'll do international policy. Those days are gone. Those days are gone. I can give you an example of any domestic issue you want, whether it's tax cuts, which we're debating now, how do we continue to pay for entitlement programs, which I think is the darkest, most dangerous cloud hanging over this country, for its future, as to how we are going to pay for it--and we are going to add a new prescription drug bill under Medicare, which I think we need to do. How is that tied to international relations? Well, it's tied in every way. How are we going to sustain an economy and grow that economy to pay for the commitments that we have made for generations to come? You think by shutting off immigration and shutting the borders down is going to do it? Or American military, as great as it is and as powerful as it is, and as good and professional people in that military as we have ever had, that's going to do it? No. What will do it is opening up new markets for our products, so that we can sustain a grow economies, and that means world stability. That means security.

So you take any version, any piece, any agenda item, and you can connect it to the large framework of foreign relations. I said in an interview that just came out, I think, in the Hill magazine this morning; it's a very, very, I think, good piece, because I'm a great fan of Dick Lugar. It's a very, very positive piece about Dick Lugar but, more importantly, Dick Lugar's moment--not because he's Dick Lugar, but here is a man who has devoted almost his entire life to public service, who is considered, I believe, both parties, around the world, as a thoughtful and wise a foreign policy analyst, practitioner, spokesman as there is. And we have the good fortune--not just in America, not just the State Department, but in the world, to have Dick Lugar as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at this time and Joe Biden on the other side, more years experience, 30 years on the Foreign Relations Committee--both expansive, wide-lens thinkers understand what we are about.

But, more importantly, understand the opportunities that we have to make a better world. You are living that, just as Secretary Armitage said, every day. Hardly a day goes by that I do not remind my young staff--and you know in this business you need smart young people to keep mediocre, weak-minded senators like me propped up--because they work all day and all night. And I remind them that they are living in this incredible historic, unique time. Every morning they come into work, whether they ever do anything with it or not, in the sense they go on to be President of the United States, Secretary of State, ambassador, whatever you want to do. But what's happening to them, what's happening to you, what's happening to your children, your grandchildren, all the people tható[short audio break for tape flipover]--your family, your friends, your coworkers--you are giving them something they will never be able to replace, and that is watching you--being part of you in some way--live through this historic time and how you handle yourselves, how Armitage and Powell, and all the out-front guys, how the world watches them, and they key off of them.

I reminded--not by accident yesterday, but, nonetheless, I reminded the committee and those watching that the Secretary of State continually has a 85% to 90% job approval rating--most trusted, admired leader in America. Why is that? Why is that? Well, lots of reasons. But one reason that Powell has been able to maintain that kind of confidence by the American people--and I suspect if you go to Europe or anywhere in the world you'd find maybe higher numbers--is because he has been true to himself, he has been honest, he has been steady, he has been wise, he has been judicious day in and day out with every job he ever had. That's how you make a mark in life. That's how George Marshall did, that's how Eisenhower did--you know the stories of these great men. Eisenhower was what, a lieutenant colonel for 14 years--thought he was done. You never know when history taps you on the shoulder.

Well, I, of course, as I warned you have said nothing profound or wise, because I am incapable. But I am a United States Senator, so that's--(laughter)--we're not charged with much. But let me leave you with this, and I'd be very happy to entertain your thoughts, questions.

I go back to something I said earlier, and that is we have this remarkable opportunity with our friends, with our allies, and with all the peoples of the world to shape the world for the better in ways that history rarely affords a nation an opportunity like this. And we must be wise enough to know this is not an American opportunity--this is bigger than America--because without the rest of the world America shrinks, too--America shrinks, too. And this is a grand moment, and we should be humble about this moment. And just as I said about Dick Lugar and Joe Biden--and, by the way, I can't get ahead here by saying nice things about those guys--it's strictly seniority. Now, if Lugar dies, I become chairman, but I-- (laughter)-- just a joke, Dick, if you're listening--(laughter)-- I do inquire about his health, which he said recently--and he's in good shape, he looks good. He's tanned. And I know you're happy to hear that. But actually there are others, too.

But this remarkable State Department, filled with so many remarkable people, also is fortunate to have the kind of leadership that Colin Powell and Rich Armitage and others have brought, and they will be the first to tell you, as Secretary Powell did yesterday at the committee, that he is just--or considers himself--just a small part at a brief time, at a brief moment, in your lives and what you have prepared yourselves for all your career. That's partly why Powell is so highly regarded--he understands that. He understands there's no magic in Colin Powell--or he doesn't believe there is.

So, with all of that, we will work together. We will use this opportunity to frame a more just and better world for mankind. And I think we have this opportunity to maybe do more for more people in more ways than the world has ever known. And that is much because you have built a structure--those of you hear today around the world, and those who proceeded you--for us to work off of that platform and your leadership. And I can tell you we are immensely grateful, and we are immensely proud of what you do every day. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much. I'd be very happy to answer questions or--Hi, Patty--Patty ran the whole Foreign Relations operation over there for years and years. Oh, I'm sorry -- yes?

Q: Senator Hagel, thank you very much for your lucid and insightful and very common-sense comments today. I'd be very interested in your assessment of the North Korean nuclear problem, the potential role of diplomacy, the prospects for resolving that problem.

SEN. HAGEL: Secretary Kelly just happens to be down here in front- (laughter)--and he might want to answer that. I--well, fortunately again, I have no responsibility for anything, so I can say about anything I want--not anything, but as you know the Secretary was asked yesterday about this, and we start, most of us do--I know Secretary Kelly and Secretary Powell and others do--with a very clear understanding that this is a very, very complicated problem. And, I think, the course that we have followed has been appropriate. What does that mean?

I've said, and some others on the Foreign Relations Committee, that it would be in the interests of this country--and I've said this months ago--at the appropriate time to bring this issue to a narrower point, meaning the United States and the North Koreans should talk. This is an imperfect process. There is no blueprint for this. We are making this up as we go along. Everything since September 11--everything in this country since September 11 has been in effect of, a result of, a consequence of, or related indirectly or directly somehow, to that event. And that has obviously forced changes, decisions in ways maybe we would not have wanted on a timeframe we would not have wanted. But I think it's very important that what was started in Beijing continues to be worked. I think the real dangerous part of this is if we in any way give an impression or, in fact, allow the North Koreans to become more isolated.

I happen to also sit on the Senate Committee on Intelligence. This is not a guessing game, as Secretary Kelly knows so well, and most everybody else, about how dangerous North Korea is. And all the other dynamics that are woven into the fabric of that problem are dangerous. This has to be handled just right, and I think with dialogue, I think moving ahead every morning, as slow as it is--and sometimes it's a couple of steps back and to the side--you keep moving forward. You keep moving forward on this, and you keep bringing them in. Itís easy for people on the outside to second-guess this--for a lot of reasons, as it always is. But the fact is that this needs to stay contained, and I believe we are doing it through the process we are working right now.

I said the other day when I was asked by the media to give Secretary Powell and Secretary Kelly and others, and the President, some running room here. I think it's very important that we give you all the flexibility that you need to try to work this through--not unlike when Senator Lugar asked a bit of a leading question to Secretary Powell yesterday on, would it be helpful, Mr. Secretary, if the Congress came up with a bash Syria resolution while you're over in Syria? I mean, probably not thought about that, Secretary Powell, but would that be helpful? Secretary Powell responded in the appropriate manner, and I think it's the same kind of thing in North Korea. We need to give these people who are closest to it, who we have confidence in, some running room, quietly talk about it, and not do it in the press. Of course, that's not an answer, but--yes, you have a question back there. Yes?

Q:  You raise an interesting point with that last comment, and we in this room, and more so our colleagues overseas, are responsible to be a bridge to the President to his policy goals, and to also convey back the opinions overseas. But that effort is much stronger for America when it's a unified position--not only the executive, but the legislative. And how do we work better to ensure that is a unified position?

SEN. HAGEL:  That's a very good point, partly because it gets to a broader point, and that's a little bit of what I was referring to when I talked about a wider lens of understanding foreign policy and our interests and America's role in the world. First, a fundamentally understanding that you don't make any foreign policy decisions in vacuums. You don't do Iraq this month, and then we'll do Korea next month, and then by the time we get to December we'll see who is left, what time we have. It doesn't work that way. You all know that. And so your point is a very broad, big one, because it's right. The Congress has a constitutional responsibility--everyone understands that. Article I of the Constitution is rather clear on that. And it's always a balance business of first, I think, assuring that we don't get in the way of the President and his team who are charged with implementing policy, but at the same time trying to work it so that all views are aired, respected, and then make some decisions and go forward. It will always be imperfect. There will always be grinding. But I think in that grinding process we come out with a better product normally. That's why I said in my remarks to have Dick Lugar and Joe Biden where they are at this time is very important for the exact reason you just mentioned. And to stay focused on your point for both sides is very important so that we do have some unity and some clarity of that position. And if we can accomplish that, then we have accomplished something very significant. I am confident we can do that--not just with Korea, but the other areas that are now in front of us. They are all over the globe, as you know, but they are not, any of them, unrelated in any one instance.

Today the President, I understand, is going to move forward on the road map. The British were announcing it this morning. I am one senator who has pushed for that for a long time, and I am one senator who has said it is connected to how we are seen in the world, the United States. It is connected to stability in the Middle East. It is connected to everything. It doesn't mean that it is the one thing--of course not. But it is woven into the fabric of the entire Arab Islamic world, and we have to deal with it. We must deal with it. So those kinds of issues that the President does need support from the Congress on, we do need to work together on these issues. We'll be far more forceful, as history has shown, when we can do exactly what you just said. And Armitage is getting nervous, and when he's nervous I'm nervous. So one more question--is that what you're telling me?

MR. ARMITAGE:  Yes, sir.

SEN. HAGEL:  Okay. Yes?

Q:  Thank you for coming. I think it's a demonstration of your willingness to work with us, and I know you work closely with our leadership. Can you, however, perhaps provide some advice to the rest of us down in the trenches about how we might work best and most effectively with the Congress and help you to understand the issues on which we work? Thank you.

SEN. HAGEL:  You just do everything we tell you. (Laughter.) I think--Patty, is that right? I mean, you were on both sides--you got it. I think it comes down, to a great extent, to what was referred to by the way yesterday in the hearings by Senator Biden and Senator Dodd and others. Interestingly enough, this issue was brought up by the Democrats, not by the Republicans. And that's communications, being aware, being informed. I can't speak for any other senator, but I can speak for this senator. The communications, the information--Assistant Secretary Kelly and Grossman--I see a lot of them here--are always available, take the initiative, get out in front. When we call and ask for some help--we may not always agree on everything, but it's there, and that's where it starts, because that fundamentally develops a trust and a confidence in each other. We don't expect to agree with each other on everything. But that's where it begins. I was interested by-- again it was the Democrats in the Foreign Relations Committee who were applauding Powell and the State Department for keeping them informed. Now other committees and other departments-- that may be a different situation. But that's where it begins. And then I think you just--you just work it. Those of you who have fairly regular contact with Capitol Hill and the committees understand we are both tethered to a process, and that means we are tethered to each other, whether you like it or not, because we do control the money. And I see Christine here as well, who was on the committee before she came over here--this back and forth of exchanging talent and leadership is another part of that. I think the more that happens, when you get people like Patty and Christine and others, my former chief of staff Lou Ann Linehan was -- had the responsibility for Senate congressional relations for the last year and a half before she felt that Powell had no future and came back with me. (Laughter.) But that's a joke, too, you know. (Laughter.) Not ready to break my leg. But that is all part of it as well. And it's just common sense, too.

But we are all in it together, and we must understand that. And the nobility of the purpose of which you are about and what we are trying to do is the same. The objective is the same: It's to make a better world for our children. Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. ARMITAGE:  Senator, you honor us with your presence, and you inspire us with your words. But what you've really done, I think, is yet again infuse into a very willing audience a correct amount of confidence and the proper self-esteem and the proper understanding that what we do, what you all have chosen to do matters. Now you can see why Secretary Powell and Rich Armitage and others here so value the counsel and friendship of Chuck Hagel. Thank you, sir. (Applause.)

Released on May 30, 2003

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