Reflecting on a Historic Year
Dean Joel Hellman moderated the discussion, promising that the event would be a “masterclass” in foreign policy.
He began by asking the panelists how the United States’ international role had changed in the year since the group met.
Albright believes that the U.S. will have much to do to regain the global standing it has lost during what she characterized as a poor response to the pandemic, which saw the U.S. retreat from many multilateral organizations attempting to combat COVID-19.
“Things have gotten harder in the last year, our reputation has sunken lower,” she said.
Casey echoed Albright’s sentiments and warned that the United States may never regain its reputation overseas. “We kind of turned inward and I think the world moved on,” he said.
Tenet expanded his answer to include the past four years of international relations. In addition to the impact of Trump’s foreign policy, he argued that external global trends should inform the way the incoming administration devises its international approach.
“Freedom House reports that there are fewer democracies in the world than there have been at any time in the past 25 years,” he explained. “This is a different world.”
Diplomacy During a Global Pandemic
The conversation turned to the pressing moment of our time: the coronavirus pandemic. Hellman asked his guests what their policy recommendations would be for dealing with the crisis.
Tenet emphasized the importance of working with allies and recognizing their ability to lead globally on the issue. “[The U.S.] is still the essential country but we have lots of partners who have great capabilities who just want to be our partners again,” he said.
Casey stressed that the relationship between the national security community and the White House needed to improve to meet the challenge of COVID-19. He argued that Trump’s erratic “Twitter” security strategy alienated national security leaders from important decisions, which jeopardized the country’s ability to effectively respond.
“We have to restore a level of stability,” he remarked. “[In the relationship between the President and the military] we have to move it back to a thoughtful, predictable and private conversation.”
A New White House
The panel then addressed the results of the recent election and offered their recommendations for what the incoming Biden administration should focus on when he takes office.
Albright signaled her approval of Biden’s foreign policy approach saying, “There couldn’t be a better candidate [than Biden], who has spent his life in foreign policy.” She added that she expects a foreign policy reset with a president “who knows where all the countries are.”
However, she cautioned against completely re-embracing pre-Trump ideas and procedures, arguing that the major challenges of today’s world required a new approach.
“We’re in a very different period, in terms of technology, the rise of China. One has to be realistic about where the world is today,” she said. “We don’t want the status quo ante.”
In the wake of a close election, Tenet stressed the need for Biden to work across the aisle and reach out to the members of the American public who didn’t vote for him, whose buy-in he must win before enacting major foreign policy changes.
While Tenet described himself as more moderate than Biden, he believes that the President-elect has the ability to gain the trust of this demographic.
“I think President-elect Biden gets that there are 70 million people [who didn’t vote for him] that he can win over by the way he speaks to them,” he said.
Casey warned of the vulnerability that comes with power transitions and said that other countries may seek to take more aggressive action while they believe the United States is looking the other way.
“It should be a time of increased vigilance because our opponents look at us and see us as preoccupied. It’s a time to keep our powder dry,” he stressed.
A Call for Public Service
The three panelists received an audience question about the importance of diversity in public service. All three were emphatic that making sure that public servants represent the country they serve makes for a better government.
Casey highlighted the impact of diversity by sharing his experience of promoting the first woman to be a four-star General in the United States, General Ann E. Dunwoody. “She had an instantaneous impact because she thought about things differently,” he said. “If you don’t have diversity, you’re never going to succeed.”
Tenet and Albright appealed to talented young people of all backgrounds to pursue a career in public service.
“To be a public servant and to be around men and women who are dedicated to making our country better and keeping it safe is the highest calling anybody can have,” Tenet said. “And the next generation of talent that comes in — they’re much smarter than we ever were, they have many more experiences than we ever had — will make this a better government.”
Albright said she was optimistic about the future of the U.S. and the world because of the SFS students she teaches.
She said, “We are depending on the next generation. I think they are an extraordinary group of young people who are living in a very different world than they were expecting to and they are showing flexibility, curiosity and, I think, a sense of community service.”