Summary of the town hall luncheon “Is Washington Broken? The Future of American Global Leadership” at the 2011 Annual Members’ Conference.


A conversation with Senator Chuck Hagel,** Chairman, Atlantic Council
Moderated by Frederick Kempe,** President and CEO, Atlantic Council

During the lunchtime discussion with Senator Hagel, with moderation by Atlantic Council President and CEO Fred Kempe, several difficult subjects were addressed, from the dysfunction on Capitol Hill, to the discouraging state of the world economy. One recurring theme was the general optimism for a continued role of US and transatlantic leadership in an increasingly globalized world. Despite the heavy topics and difficult challenges, the United States has an opportunity to provide purposeful leadership, if it responds with agility and flexibility to rapidly changing global dynamics. Some of the key topics addressed included:

The Polarization of Congress. Congress may be more polarized (and thus paralyzed) than ever before, but in a democracy, the only way to move forward is with true consensus. Unlike previous generations, we live in a world of constant change—from the immediacy of media coverage to the global ramifications of a single state’s actions—creating the need for purposeful leadership, now more than ever before. The American system of democracy is not broken, but Congress must work with the goal to purposefully resolve issues together, instead of focusing on personal or political party agendas.

Honing in on a sense of American purpose. The American people, not Congress, are ultimately the shapers and definers of the United States. Today, the world is undergoing a new restructuring of geopolitical relationships, and the United States must remain flexible, agile and smart in the face of significant global change. The discussion highlighted the need and freedom of American democracy to self-correct and advance with the best ideas and policies. For the United States to truly move forward, it must focus on defining a national purpose, while fully understanding the constraints today—in terms of financial means and global leadership. Because of the unsurpassed opportunity, values, security, and legal system, the United States is fully able to re-adjust and regain a global leadership role.

Optimism of the Alliance. Values, connectivity, and economic cooperation are integral ways in which the alliance is only increasing in relevance—not decreasing. As the two largest economies in the world, the United States and the European Union must continue to cooperate for the benefit of the world. Because we face a rapidly evolving strategic environment, with different constraints and security challenges, the United States and its allies should be prepared to adjust accordingly.

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