Chuck Hagel, the retired Senator of Nebraska and 24th US Secretary of Defense under former President Barack Obama, gave a talk to the students of Creighton University. Seeing his perspective on the United States (U.S.) and the world gives us keen insight into the current thoughts of the movers and shakers of Washington. Mr. Hagel gave a short history of the modern US.
He said that "there have been three years which have had the greatest impact on the United States". In 1968, there were the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, the Vietnam war, and President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he wasn’t going to run. In 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2001, 9/11 happened and the non-state militant actors rose.
These events built the U.S. on the common interests of freedom, mutual prosperity, and security right after WWII. The UN, World Bank, NATO, and more were created to ensure these values. Now, we would talk instead of fight through trade, which became the anchor of the post-WWII era. Trade created opportunities which promoted international understanding, respect, education, and civic cooperation. All countries had new opportunities.
So far, it has generally worked well. There have been no nukes, no world wars, economic prosperity, and just a few problem spots. Today, the global order is breaking down and trust between the global members is quite low. The media can reinforce any belief you have and seems to be doing exactly that. Paralysis and mistrust are everywhere in the United States. The greatest external threat to the U.S. is a cyber-attack since we won’t know where or when it will happen.
Nationalism and populism are on the rise in the U.S., Italy, and the UK. Authoritarianism is on the rise in Poland, Austria, and Hungary. The Middle East is the worst it has ever been. There will be another two billion more people on the planet by 2050. A fractured world is dangerous.
This fracturing requires us to adapt and the U.S. didn’t get it right the first time. We are all about self-correction which is why there are 27 amendments. The military can’t fix any of these problems. As we can see from Afghanistan and Vietnam, there are cultural, diplomatic, and societal problems that guns and bombs just can’t fix.
But, we can help other countries and ourselves manage and provide change. Institutions are a fundamental part of this. They provide structure. Hollow institutions are prosperity without goodness and power without purpose.
We need to focus on our nation, but we must remember that we can’t survive without the other nations. Hope is the most important part of leadership. Within the U.S., there are many new candidates filling up important positions. The youth are an important part of this change since they are idealistic.
We need good people, not just the smartest people. On a national level, the nation should be less focused on the military. Just look at China which is building infrastructure for many nations. On an individual level, people should get educated on civics and government to figure out where their impact can be greatest.