Atlantic Council
2015 Global Strategy Forum:
New Approaches to a Changing World
Debate: America’s Role in the World
Daniel Y. Chiu,
Deputy Director, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security,
Atlantic Council
Hisham Melhem,
Washington Bureau Chief,
Al Arabiya News Channel
Xenia Wickett,
Project Director, U.S. and Dean, The Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs,
Chatham House
Christopher A. Preble,
Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies,
Cato Institute
Location: Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.
Time: 8:30 a.m. EDT
Date: Thursday, April 30, 2015
Transcript By
Superior Transcriptions LLC

DANIEL Y. CHIU: So good morning, everybody. Welcome back to the first annual – hopefully – (chuckles) – Global Strategy Forum here at the Atlantic Council. Again, my name is Daniel Chiu, deputy director of the Scowcroft Center on International Security, and I’m leading the Strategy Initiative that is behind this Global Strategy Forum. I’m going to tell you some more about that later this afternoon. Hopefully you can stick with us.

This morning, as we assemble here, I think you can see we’ve got a very exciting format for you. We’re going to have a formal debate on America’s role in the world, and why don’t we have the participants come on up and get settled in. And I’m going to let them actually tell you more about the format and so forth, but you can already spot some polling ballots on your seats, so you can get a sense of what we’re going to be trying to do today, and I think you’ll find this particularly interesting. After that we’ll have a short break and then go into our final talk session.

As you know, yesterday we started with an enhancing foresight piece that really talked about big changes in the world and had a couple of really exciting presentations there. We talked about preventing failures as we see some disconnects between the way the world is changing and the way we currently think and operate in that world. And so, after this session and the break, we’re going to be talking about imagining solutions, which is, given those changes and given those disconnects, can we start to think about some new ways forward and some new ideas for how to think about strategy and policy development.

Immediately following that, we’ll have a wrap-up session with a really interesting group of participants, moderated by our CEO, Fred Kempe, to really try and pull all of these threats together. I think really my impression of particularly the first day, and I think what you’ll see today, is we’ve got a lot of interesting pieces on the table, and the question is how do we pull these together and what do we want to do next with the ideas that hopefully we’ve seeded in your brains.

So with that, I’m going to turn over to our moderator, who will tell you a little bit more about the session you’re about to see. And I look forward to hearing from all of you later on how you feel about this particular format, which we’re very excited about. Hisham, over to you.


Good morning. My name is Hisham Melhem. I’m the bureau chief of Al Arabiya Television and the correspondent for An-Nahar newspaper. And first let me thank Chairman Huntsman and President Kempe for including me in this wonderful event.

We have a different session today. We promise you that sparks will fly. We promise you a vigorous, spirited debate. We will not be just giving you stale conversations and assessment of the world, but really a serious debate about a – about a central question. We will ask you to participate – that is, to do what Americans love to do, vote. So we will be voting on a resolution at the beginning of the session and then we will vote on the same resolution at the end of the session, just to see which of these two gladiators is going to convince you to change your mind as to whether America is or supposed to be or should remain the indispensable nation, or not.

Now, the phrase “indispensable nation” is a new phrase. It’s barely 20 years old. And it was coined by a Clinton aide, Sidney Blumenthal, with the historian James Chace. And the phrase was given to Bill Clinton, who used it in 1996 in his speech justifying and explaining America’s military intervention in Bosnia. It was a Democrat who introduced this. Later on, Madeleine Albright, being the smart academic that she was – she is, I guess – grabbed it and used it and popularized it, and most people think that she coined the phrase. Sorry, Madeleine.

So Democrats have this affinity with the, quote/unquote, “indispensable nation.” The Republicans, on the other hand, love the more muscular “American exceptionalism.” Don’t tell the Republicans that this – it was Josef Stalin who coined “American exceptionalism” when he said we should stop this nefarious claim – or the heresy, I’m sorry – the exact quote is the “heresy of American exceptionalism.” But the Republicans need not notice.

Today the way – the phrase was coined here – we were going to vote on the United States – quote, this is quote – “The United States is the indispensable nation. Global stability and growth depends on an assertive U.S. foreign policy and a strong, active U.S. military presence around the world.”

Now, we will – so the format will be that Xenia will start first to give the case for the affirmative, that the United States is or should be or should remain the indispensable power. And the Chris will try to, as we say in philosophy, deconstruct her argument, and let’s see if –

CHRISTOPHER A. PREBLE: (Laughs.) Don’t use that.

MR. MELHEM: Don’t use it. (Laughs, laughter.)

MR. PREBLE: I’m not good at deconstructing. (Laughs.)

MR. MELHEM: Me neither. (Laughs, laughter.) You know what it is? I mean, I spent seven years in college studying philosophy, European, you know, so we talk about the deconstruction and all that stuff. So, OK.

All right. So before I introduce the panelists – excuse me, I’m a formal academic so I shuffle papers a lot. And so let’s – shall we start voting now? OK. Shall I – shall I remind you again of the – or you have it in front of you? OK. So let’s begin the process of democracy and vote. Let’s think of us as citizens of the old Greek polis and exercise our rights of voting.

XENIA WICKETT: Are we allowed to vote?


MS. WICKETT: I said, are we allowed to vote?

MR. MELHEM: Well, Xenia is asking, are we allowed to vote? (Laughter.) We can – we’re allowed to rig the whole thing. (Laughter, laughs.)

MR. PREBLE: We only – we only get one vote.

MR. MELHEM: (Laughs.) Well, not where I come from. (Laughter, laughs.)

MR. MELHEM: Rachel, was this supposed to happen in total silence? I mean, can they collaborate? I mean, what is this? (Laughter.)

(Pause for voting.)

MR. MELHEM: Are we sure nobody will rig the votes? OK. All right.

As I said, we promise you a spirited debate, and in the Marxian tradition – you remember your Marx in college years? Marx used to say – used to prefer – talk about and said hand-to-hand criticism, so fists are allowed as long as they spare the moderator.

First let me introduce Xenia Wickett. Xenia sounds and speaks in a beautiful English accent because she is, but more importantly she’s also an American citizen like me. So we’ll forgive her for the beautiful accent. Xenia is the project director of the U.S. Project and the dean of the Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs at Chatham House. Prior to this, she was the executive director of the PeaceNexus Foundation, based just outside Geneva. She served – I’m not going to read the whole thing because you have it, and let’s not waste our time because we need to listen to them. She served prior to that at the Belfer Center at Harvard University. She did her stint at the State Department and national security adviser. She knows India, she knows the Middle East, she knows Europe, she knows the United States. She’s really brilliant. That’s enough.

Christopher Preble. (Chuckles.) Mr. Preble is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He is the author of three books, including – and I’ll read the titles, and that really exposes him –

MR. PREBLE: Kind of tips my hand.

MR. MELHEM: Yes, exactly. “The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous and Less Free.” I think the title says it all. We know where he comes from. OK, if you’re not convinced – if you’re not convinced, another title: “A Dangerous World? Threat Perceptions and U.S. National Security.” If you’re not even convinced, take this one: “Terrorizing Ourselves: Why U.S. Counterterrorism Policy Is Failing and How to Fix It.” He’s known to most of you here. He’s been all over the place.

MR. PREBLE: All over.

MR. MELHEM: And he’s equally brilliant, too.

So after that –

MS. : We’re going to wait for the poll results.

MR. MELHEM: Ah, we’re going to wait for the poll results. Hanging chads?

(Pause for vote tabulation.)

MR. MELHEM: OK. The green. The green has it. We have 32 green, which means agree. Red, disagree, 14. Yellow – yellow, undecided, 11. So the green, affirmative, won. The percentage is 56 percent. Red, disagree, 24.5 percent. The yellow ones – I’m reprimanding you – are 19 percent. The total is 57 percent agree. No applause? (Laughter.) OK.

All right. Now that the majority agrees with your position, Xenia, take it easy. The floor is yours – (laughter) – 10 minutes and 10 minutes only.

MS. WICKETT: Thank you. I feel a bit like Hillary Clinton must feel: I’m kind of a fait accompli. You know, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a good, thing, but putting that aside.

I support this proposition. Why do I support this proposition? Let me break it down into three parts.

Let me start with the first part, the U.S. is the indispensable nation. Let’s just take a look at some of the global challenges that we’re facing: terrorism; pandemics – SARS, Ebola, bird flu; climate change; natural resource constraints – food, water, energy – and we heard about that yesterday a little bit; traditional security challenges, among others Russia; cyberattacks, whether it’s denial of service or it’s IP theft; internal unrest in the Middle East and Africa, too many countries to mention; humanitarian disasters – the earthquake in Nepal, the tsunami about a decade ago now, the floods that reappear every year in Bangladesh and Pakistan and elsewhere; economic uncertainty and slow growth; and the use of WMD. This is not all the threats that we’re facing, but certainly this is some of them. Most, if not all of these, are of vital interest to the United States. And all will, to varying degrees, to require a U.S. response, U.S. role in the response.

Pandemics. Just look back a couple of weeks ago to the earthquake in Nepal: a response by the U.S. military, a response by American pharmaceutical companies, a response by American NGOs – be it CARE, American Red Cross, IRC and others.

Climate change. A significant role for America’s diplomats to come to an agreement with China, for example, as we did last year; for American car companies, when the government doesn’t act; from American cities; and again, from American NGOs.

Energy. America provides 20.6 percent of global gas. Response from American oil companies, again American government, entrepreneurs.

Cybersecurity. Can you imagine a response to the cyber threats that we face without American business, without American companies, without the role of DARPA and others?

WMD, weapons of mass destruction. Can you imagine a solution to the challenges of Iran’s WMD, of North Korea’s WMD, without American diplomats, without America’s military might backing up American diplomats?

And just traditional security. Let’s go back to the Libya operation in 2011. Whether or not America was in the lead or not, American assets and capabilities are required to respond.

The U.S. is the only nation that is truly global. And it isn’t just about the world needing the U.S., but it’s also this is about America’s vital national interests. This is about America needing to act.

Thus, to the first clause, the U.S. is necessary. The U.S. is indispensable. But let me be clear: it is not sufficient. And I’ll come back to that idea later.

Let’s look at the second part of the clause: global stability and growth depends on an assertive U.S. foreign policy. Let’s break that down a little bit.

Assertive does not mean aggressive. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, assertive is of the nature of or characterized by assertion, declaratory, affirmative, positive, dogmatic. Should the U.S. have an affirmative and positive foreign policy? I don’t think there’s anybody in the room who would say no. Should it be based on our values and our morals? Absolutely, yes. Our dogma? No question.

Ambiguity and uncertainty are dangerous both for the U.S. – if we don’t know our objectives, how on Earth are we going to fulfill them and how will others know them? And if others, if they can’t predict American actions, if they can’t predict American red lines, that is a dangerous state.

Let’s look at the first part of that clause, then. So there’s no question we need an assertive U.S. foreign policy.

Global stability and growth depends on it – let’s look at global growth. The U.S. remains responsible for 16.1 percent of global GDP, 8.4 percent of global trade and 25 percent of global outflow investment. Given those numbers, can you imagine a world in which global growth does not – economic growth does not depend on the United States? And on stability, let’s just look at the events in Yemen over the last month or so, where the Gulf States, uncertain of what America is going to do or wants to do, have acted unilaterally, and it is hard to imagine that that puts us in a better place. So the second part of the clause – global stability and growth depends on an assertive U.S. foreign policy – undeniable.

And finally, let’s look at the third part of this clause: and a strong, active U.S. military presence around the world. The U.S. continues to provide global security and public goods. We participate in piracy operations. We maintain open sea lanes. We provide humanitarian and disaster assistance globally. We provide security umbrellas in Europe, Asia and the Middle East that allow others to spend less and focus on other developmental goals. All of this is provided, in part, by the U.S. military, very importantly in conjunction with other forms of U.S. power, be it diplomacy, be it economic assistance, be it soft power; and again, very important, with the support of other nations around the world.

Thus, a strong, active U.S. military presence is necessary. Think of the counter. Where would we be if there wasn’t a strong, active U.S. military presence? What would be going on today in the Middle East, in Asia, and even with Russia in Europe’s – on Europe’s doorstep?

Let me take a brief moment now to say what this does not mean. This does not mean that the – that the U.S. should act alone. This does not mean that the only instrument of power that the U.S. should be using is the U.S. military. And it does not mean that the U.S. is always right, either in its objectives or how it goes about meeting those objectives.

There is absolutely no question – and I’m sure we will get into it – that the U.S. has made mistakes, both in police choice, timing and mechanism of action. However, at the same time as America – as we make mistakes, it is also not possible to think about addressing any of the global challenges that I started with without the participation of the United States.

And if not the United States, then who? The EU? China? Brazil? Russia? Japan? They’re all powerful actors, but none of them have the scope to take on the mantle of stability that America provides globally, even if they acted in concert – which, let’s face it, is far from likely. On the other hand, the U.S. is able – if it does it right, the U.S. is able to bring many of these actors to the table and to work in conjunction with them.

Were the U.S. to withdraw from the world to within its borders, were it to have a timid or uncertain foreign policy, and were it not to use its military – among other instruments – to help provide global stability and security, then the world would be a less safe and a more unpredictable place, and that would not be good for global stability and growth.

Thus, let me conclude. It is undeniably true that the U.S. is the indispensable nation, and that global stability and growth depends on an assertive U.S. foreign policy – not aggressive, assertive U.S. foreign policy – and a strong, active military presence around the world. Thank you.

MR. MELHEM: Thank you, Xenia. Wonderful. (Applause.)


MR. PREBLE: Great. Thank you.

Excellent opening statement by Xenia, as I expected. But I’ll say on the one hand I don’t envy her task, because I think her claim on substance is far more difficult to prove. After all, the suggestion to prove – we can suppose, but to prove it’s very hard. I mean, the suggestion that a single country possessing 5 percent of the world’s population, perhaps 20 percent of the world’s GDP – Xenia actually cited 16.1 percent, but it’s in the low 20s and going down, in relative terms – is indispensable to the world’s well-being, both its physical security and its economic prosperity, I think is simply hard to believe. And yet, on the other hand, many Americans do believe it, and nearly everyone here in Washington believes it – as was revealed by the poll results, which did not surprise me at all. In fact, I’m not very good at math, but it’s clear to me that if I convince every single person who was undecided that I was right I still lose this debate. So that’s where I start from, OK? I think it’s hard to prove the case, and yet it’s widely believed.

The idea that the United States is the world’s indispensable nation represents something close to the reigning orthodoxy in Washington today and for the past two decades. Broad, bipartisan consensus. I could quote so many different examples. Robert Kaplan in 1994 warned of the coming chaos if the United States returned to its pre-Cold War roots. Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol in 1996, quote: “American hegemony is the only reliable defense against a breakdown of peace and international order.” Fast forward to 2012, when the Kagan wrote “there can be no world order without power to preserve it, to shape its norms, uphold its institutions, defend the sinews of the economic system and keep the peace.” If we – “if the United States begins to look like a less reliable defender of the present order, that order will begin to unravel.” And on top of all of that, if that wasn’t enough, I found in this fine report – which I encourage you all to read – on page 29 it says: “For the current international system to remain viable, the United States must remain its ultimate security guarantor. If postwar history has taught anything, it is that the judicious use of American military power is central to system maintenance.” So is the reigning orthodoxy in Washington, D.C.

And yet it’s – you know, we have this vision that the world is sitting atop this combustible log pile and every incipient conflict can become the spark that engulfs the whole planet – and not merely that, but the United States is the only country in the entire world with a bucket to extinguish the flame before it becomes a raging inferno, only the United States. And Xenia said that in her – in her opening remarks. Madeleine Albright said: “We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.” We see it better than they do.

In fact, if you think about it, to read what amounts to serious discussion in foreign policy circles today, one might conclude the United States isn’t simply the world’s indispensable nation, it’s the world’s only nation – or at least the only nation with the sense and the foresight to even have a foreign policy in the first place. This is Michael Mandelbaum’s view. He talks about the United States providing global governance, global public goods, like Xenia says. “For better or worse, the world has, in the first decade of the 21st century,” he wrote, “no substitute for the United States as a provider of governmental defense services to the international system.” So there you have it.

In fact, I’m going to argue there’s little reason to believe the world will descend into chaos if the United States used a restrained foreign policy focused on preserving its national security and advancing its vital interests. That is because there are, in fact, other countries in the world, other governments in the world, pursuing similar policies, aimed at preserving their security. And regional, much less global, chaos is hardly in their interests.

So why is it that this idea that other countries have security interests and economic interests, and thus the world is not, in fact, poised for collapse absent U.S. military dominance, why is that not more widely believed in the United States? Well, one reason is because the United States and the world has enjoyed an unprecedented stretch of security and prosperity, and this period – this long peace – has coincided with U.S. global dominance. Fair point. But of course, correlation doesn’t prove causation. There are many factors that could explain the relative peace of the past half-century. If you survey them all honestly, from economic interdependence to evolving norms governing the use of force to the existence of nuclear weapons and other international institutions, the question should be at least, how can we know that the U.S. power is the only decisive factor to all of those things and will remain the only one for the foreseeable future? I don’t think we can.

Interestingly, Xenia posed a hypothetical. She asked, where would we be without U.S. power, question mark. She didn’t answer her own question, right? So much of this hinges on a hypothetical. It hinges on the hypothetical that everything that was created up to this point is really all about U.S. power; all of those other things I mentioned are essentially irrelevant, or at least secondary to U.S. power; and in the absence of U.S. power – and again, we have to be very clear here: the particular exercise of U.S. power and the particular way that it has been exercised – without that forward-deployed global military dominance that we have maintained for decades, the entire enterprise collapses, crashing down.

Now, in fairness, not everyone in the United States is enamored of this idea. I was struck by when then-Senator John Kerry heard President Clinton utter the words in his Second Inaugural Address, he turned to an aide reportedly and said, “Why are we adopting such an arrogant, obnoxious tone?” And I quote.

Now, I’ll just say one thing. As a – you know, proudly as an American, I find this particular arrogance endearing to a point. It’s a mark of this can-do spirit that we have in this country we’ve allowed to tackle so many seemingly impossible challenges. And yet it isn’t true. It can’t be true. For the United States to be the indispensable nation, we must be the engine behind every economic success story. Is that the case? No. If we are indispensable to peace, does that mean that our presence ensures it? No. Xenia already anticipated this. She said our presence is necessary, but not sufficient to peace and global prosperity.

But I think there’s a bigger problem here, because I think that by holding ourselves out as the indispensable nation we clearly have discouraged other countries from spending more on defense and doing more to defend themselves. And I think this made perfect sense after World War II, when these countries were shattered and broken and broke, OK, but I think we have created a system – if it’s true, if the affirmative case is true, we have created a system that is overly dependent upon a single country to exercise that power and no reasonable plan to transition to something else, OK? We are going to lock ourselves into this system forever, or at least for a very, very long time. And I think that’s a mistake.

I think it’s a mistake mainly because it is not supported by the American people, OK? It never has been. And I’ll close with two of my favorite quotes on this point.

(Laughs.) “The problem with benevolent hegemony,” Francis Fukuyama explained in his book “America at the Crossroads,” “is that it rests on a belief in American exceptionalism that most non-Americans simply find not credible. The idea that the United States behaves disinterestedly in the world stage is not widely believed because it is, for the most part, not true, and indeed could not be true if American leaders fulfill their responsibilities to the American people.”

And even strong advocates of our current posture – of the indispensability thesis, as I call it – concede that it probably isn’t realistic to expect Americans to bear these burdens of global governance indefinitely. For Americans, Michael Mandelbaum grudgingly admitted in his book “The Case for Goliath,” “our own nation’s interests have priority. This does not bespeak unusual financial stinginess or moral callousness: Americans approach the world much as other people do.” “For the American public, foreign policy, like charity, begins at home.” And for that reason above all others, Mandelbaum predicted, “the American role in the world may depend in part on Americans not scrutinizing it too closely.”

Let me suggest that’s not a very durable framework to sustain a public policy or foreign policy in a democratic republic. And I think that the weaknesses of that strategy have been revealed dramatically since the financial crisis in 2008. Strategy is guided, if not dictated, by the resources that can be made available to execute it. And if we as a nation, if we Americans, have grown tired of waging wars on others’ behalf – in short, if we are unwilling to pay the costs of being the world’s policeman – then a logical decision would be to reconsider that role, encourage other countries to defend themselves and their interests, and bring the object of our foreign policy in line with the public’s wishes. Thank you.

MR. MELHEM: Thank you, Chris. (Applause.)

Xenia, two minutes of rebuttal.

MS. WICKETT: Thank you.

We were promised fistfights. You’re not going to get fistfights – (laughter) – because I agree with most – not all, but most – of what Chris just said. But Chris isn’t defending the proposition here. Chris is suggesting that – he is taking the proposition further than it does in the statement. He is suggesting that the way America acts today is a given, is a necessary. He is suggesting that, as he said at the beginning of his comments, the U.S. must be hegemonic. He is stating that the U.S. must act alone. He is also suggesting that this is indefinite, that we are taking on this unilateral role today and tomorrow and the next day ad infinitum. And he’s also suggesting that the U.S. must lead. This statement doesn’t say any of those things.

This statement says very clearly: The U.S. is an indispensable nation. The U.S. IS an indispensable nation. Just look at what has been going on around the world for the last – well, since World War I. The U.S. is indispensable. It has the resources unlike any other power today. That does not mean that the U.S. needs to wield those resources the way it always has, does not mean that the U.S. needs to act alone. So I think we must be very, very clear about what the proposition suggests.

America has not always done it right, absolutely. We need to get better at the way we act, absolutely. But are we, today, indispensable? Yes, absolutely.

MR. MELHEM: Thank you, Xenia.

A rebuttal of the rebuttal?

MR. PREBLE: As I – as I expected, we have – we have changed, suddenly, the proposition from “is” to “ought.” Fair. I did that. She caught me, OK?

So the question is – so I – so I put a question back to Xenia, because I explained the dominant mindset here in Washington as being both “is” and “ought,” that we are the indispensable nation and that we ought to remain the indispensable nation. Is Xenia suggesting that we are now the indispensable nation but we should not be in the future? If she – if she is, then we truly are in agreement. Of course, transitioning from one to the other is quite difficult because no one will want to transition, absolutely no one – virtually no one, other than the American people, who have already decided, OK, who have never really been enamored of this mission in the first place.

So I will – I will freely concede having lost this debate today if, at the same time, I come away with Xenia endorsing the “ought” of my opening remarks – the “ought” that we ought move away from the current model to something more durable, more resilient, and not based on this single point of failure which we have today, the single point of failure being the will of the American people to sustain it indefinitely.

MR. MELHEM: Thank you, Chris.

It’s my turn now for try to provoke them for hand-to-hand criticism. Let me start with Chris. If the world is full of liberal democracies, maybe we would do away with one country or a group of countries being indispensable. But the world is not. I mean, Francis Fukuyama was a bit off about the end of history and the ascendancy of liberal democracy, and Mr. Putin just reminded us of that with the first major land grab on European soil since the Second World War. Can the United States be an economic empire – and it is, given its influence and its interests throughout the world, its incredible soft power, the soft power that attracted me as a young boy growing up in faraway Beirut – can it defend these interests in a world dominated by the likes of Mr. Putin, the Chinese government, Khamenei, Hugo Chavez and his successor? If the world is going to be dominated by one political culture – and my reading of history is that the world is always dominated by either a great empire or a group of empires, from the great Roman Empire – and I’m a big fan of the great Roman Empire, which created a universal language, which created universal law, built 50,000 miles of roads. The United States is an empire in that sense, I think. Many people believe that. And if the world is going to be dominated by one political culture, would you rather have the United States, warts and all, with all the problems and the mistakes and the crazy invasion of Iraq and whatnot, or dominated by Russia’s Putin, the Communist Party in China, India, Iran, or even the great European powers that are diminishing today? Or the United States, warts and all?

MR. PREBLE: I do not accept the dichotomy. I do not accept it was an either/or proposition. If it were true that the world was likely to be dominated by – and these are your – the likes of Vladimir Putin, Beijing, Khamenei, Chavez – there might have been another one or two mixed in there. If I thought it likely that the world would be dominated by those four or five or six poor, weak countries – one exception, China’s neither poor – is poor, but not – but less so, of course – but those other countries are remarkably poor and weak, the trend – (audio break) – against them. And the trends are running decisively against them not primarily because of U.S. power and U.S. influence primarily, but because there are a number of other Western, liberal nations in the world that are poised even today to block that rise, to stop the world from being taken over by illiberal regimes. And so I think that premise is flawed. I don’t think that’s accurate.

But I – but again, I will – I will stress there are a number of people – I think Bob Kagan is probably the most prominent among them – who argues precisely the opposite, who says that all of the things that we value in the liberal world order are for nothing – these ideas mean nothing. The success of liberal economic, political and liberal political systems would all collapse were it not for American power. I don’t believe that’s true, and in fact I think it betrays a curious lack of regard or faith in the power of ideas, which are what really has allowed the United States to extend its influence over the world – not the power of our weapons, but the power of our ideas, most of which, of course, were not projected by military power but rather by the mere attractiveness of our success.

MR. MELHEM: Xenia, did we defeat fascism and Nazism and then – by the power of ideas, although the power of ideas were very important, or also by the force of arms?

MS. WICKETT: Actually, I’d kind of like to move it to we defeated them by leadership. You know, all of these things are necessary.

MR. MELHEM: With some guns, too.

MS. WICKETT: It is not – all of these things are necessary.

The error that we make so often is to think that one tool will do it all, be that the military tool or be that the power of an idea. And the reality is is that we need the combination of all of these tools and that we need the combination of many different actors. So this proposition isn’t about that. What is the – what is – if you will, the precious ingredient is leadership.

Now, it remains a fact that America has been an incredible leader for decades now. So often America has been in front, has been leading. And does – to pick up one of Chris’ points – is that a resilient environment? Probably not. You do actually need alternatives. And America is looking for alternatives, and some of those alternatives are not going to be in the guise of a state. Some of those leaders are not going to be coming from states. They’re going to be coming from non-state actors: businesses, NGOs and the like.

But that idea of leadership, that is absolutely integral to coming up with the solutions. Does that mean, to change slightly a phrase, that you will all know well leading from behind, leading from in front? I don’t know, actually, the answer to that. But what I do know is that America has been the leader for the last many decades. Should there be other leaders? Are other leaders coming to the forefront? Absolutely.

Again, I go back to the Libya operation, which was not led by the United States. It was led by a number of European powers. We talk about environmental issues, and the change in environmental policy here in the United States is not being led by the federal government; it is being led by cities, it’s being led by companies.

So you know, who takes that leadership is in question, but that idea of leadership – which is oh so necessary – is different from debating whether America is today the indispensable power when there’s absolutely no question it is, and it today is and has been for many decades the leader which we have all followed. Does that need to change? Yeah, on this I probably agree with Chris, there needs to be alternatives.

MR. PREBLE: Can I say this? Leaders need followers, and ideally followers with capabilities, not just liabilities, OK? And yet, again, the explicit purpose – the premise underlying the indispensability thesis is to discourage other countries – this is a direct quote from the – from President Bush 41’s early draft of the Defense Planning Guidance – the object of U.S. foreign policy was to “prevent the re-emergence of a new rival capable of challenging U.S. power in any vital area,” to deter potential competitors but also longtime allies such as Germany and Japan from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role. That was the object in 1992, and even today. The leading advocates of our current grand strategy, Kagan and Kristol, called it benevolent global hegemony. The new – the new version is deep engagement, that’s what they call it. They measure the success of U.S. foreign policy by the fact that it has, in fact, discouraged other countries in developing capabilities that might actually be useful in their region to defend this world from the likes of Vladimir Putin and the rest, OK? This is not inadvertent. This is by design. And I think that design was flawed.

We also do have to acknowledge – we’ve sort of skipped past it – we also have to acknowledge that the exercises of American power that are specifically connected to this strategy of global dominance have – some of them have had horrific, tragic effects, right? We’ve skipped past the Iraq War, right, which has given rise to ISIS most recently. We’ve skipped past the Libyan intervention, leading by – leading from behind, which has just unleashed chaos in its wake. So we have to be honest that the current system certainly isn’t perfect, either. And so, again, I think that the – that the burden of proof is not merely on those of us like myself, who are trying to shift the status quo to this alternative vision, but to acknowledge that the current vision has some current flaws and some – in the near future, some real underlying weaknesses – again, as I’ve said, the lack of public support here in the United States.

MR. MELHEM: You make a good case that the United States should not discourage other liberal democracies from maintaining their military strength to help the United States to stand up to the likes of Mr. Putin and others, but people would argue that the idea that the United States should remain indispensable, especially now, at a time when Europe is essentially disarming – I mean, there was a – I remember two weeks into the Libya operation the Brits ran out of ammunition. They’re going to decommission their aircraft carriers. It seems to me now, watching Europe, probably the French are the only people in Europe who are willing to put up a fight. Sometimes they go overboard and play the (bourgeoisie ?) game, but they do fight.

Let me give you another example. In the 1990s, to the eternal shame of Europe, for the first time on European soil, in the Balkans, there were people who were being killed en masse because of their ethnic and religious backgrounds for the first time since the Holocaust. What did the Europeans do, other than this? The Germans said, our Constitution, come on, and the Brits were, no, we’re far away. The French didn’t want to do it. The Russians and the Greeks were helping the people who were doing the – committing the mass murders. And it took the American government – I mean, Bill Clinton was dragged shouting and fighting to stop it, and then they provided some leadership and, through NATO, we stopped the mass killing of people.

And the interesting thing about – talk about benevolent power, I come from the Middle East, where everybody doesn’t believe anything the United States does. This is one incident where the United States did intervene, paid money, put its prestige on the line in an area where there isn’t a single discernible economic/strategic interest. This is not Iraq. This is not Kuwait. And we’ve done it with the victims with the tsunami, we’ve done – I mean, the benevolent thing – recently the Ebola, all of these things.

What would you have done if the – if the United States did not intervene and fund this chaotic situation in the southern region of Europe? Not to mention, if the United States was not very active, what Putin would have done, not only to Crimea but to other former Soviet republics?

MR. PREBLE: Right, so all of those things occurred under the rubric of American indispensable power. All of them occurred in a system that we deliberately constructed to discourage other countries from having capacity to deal with these problems on their own. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that the Brits ran out of bullets and – or bombs in Libya. It shouldn’t surprise us that the lack both the capability and the will to act even in their own backyard, in the Balkans, in the late 1990s.

Xenia said it best: uncertainty about what America will do has caused problems. I think that’s absolutely correct, right? There is uncertainty about what the United States will do.

Now, you could argue that the way to solve that problem is for us to be more certain, right, for the American leadership to just be more emphatic, to carry through all of the commitments that they make around the world. But let me be clear: those are many. If they all come due at the same time, we are in deep trouble. We do not have an alternative. We have created a system that is overly dependent upon the military power of a single country. It is harder for that single country to sustain that military power over time, and – because of the political context here in the United States. So the – it’s precisely the uncertainty about what the United States will do that has discouraged other countries to act in a – in a responsible way in their own neighborhoods, and I think that we should be more clear that we would like to see the alternative.

Again, the United States hasn’t adopted that position. The National Security Strategy just issued invokes the word “leadership” 35 times – 35 times. So the message that we are sending to every other country in the world, again, is both “is” and “ought” – we are the indispensable nation and we shall forever be the indispensable nation. So that creates the problems that you’re – that you’re describing.

MR. MELHEM: I’m interested in a brief answer before we open it to the questions. I mean, is –

MS. WICKETT: You’re in an uncomfortable position because, actually, Chris and I agree on many of these things. (Laughter.) You know, should America be acting alone? I think, if you ask Chris and me, we will both say no, America should not be acting alone. If you ask either of us – of us, should America just act with military force, both Chris and I will say no, no. If you ask the question, should our allies have more capabilities – you know, I live in London and I am heavily in the NATO debate. Should, you know, Britain reach the 2 percent spending on defense that NATO – that everybody agreed and, in fact, the U.K. pushed very heavily at the summit last year? Absolutely. Should we get better at wielding our military? Should we get better at providing development assistance? Absolutely. So Chris and I agree on all of this.

None of that – none of that actually takes away from the idea that, today, the United States, because of its resources, because for all of its faults, the political system that we have created, because of the strength of the entrepreneurial spirit in the United States, because of all these things and so many more, because of where we sit geographically, because of the resources we have available to ourselves – energy, water, food – because of the kind of relationships we have around the world, because of all of these reasons America is, today, the indispensable nation. Do we need to build more resilience? Do we need to find stronger partners? Do we need to work more effectively with those partners? Do those partners need to have more resources? Absolutely yes to all of those questions. But none of that moves away from the fact that, today, America is an indispensable – and actually is an indispensable nation, an indispensable power.

MR. MELHEM: I’m not convinced, but let – (laughter) – let me – I’m going to open the debate – the questions from the floor, but just say a couple of things from someone who’s a convert to the principle of the indispensability, maybe even American exceptionalism.

This country used to do great things on its own: the Marshall Plan, Peace Corps, a lot of things. And I would even argue, when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, and even if we did not have an international coalition, I would have justified the American intervention there. I would have justified the American intervention solely – as a sole player even in the Balkans to stop the mass killing of people. Benevolent hegemony, call it whatever you will, but there are – there were times when the United States would do certain things on its own. Call it the burden of leadership. Call it the burden of empire. I don’t think – you know, I’m a student of history. I don’t think anytime soon we are going to have a world dominated or full of liberal democracies.

But that’s my views. The floor is open to questions. Please be provocative and brief. The lady in red.

MR. PREBLE: Because we haven’t been provocative enough yet. (Laughter.)

Q: Good morning. Thank you for a stimulating discussion. Esther Brimmer, George Washington University, McLarty Associates, and a member of the Board of the Atlantic Council.

So two points. The first one is to say that part of American leadership has also been a system of interlocking institutions, and that those institutions since the Second World War, whether it’s NATO, the United Nations, a variety of other global and regional institutions in which the United States participates, or in which it does not participate but its allies do, are part of the international system, and that’s – a part of American leadership is leading in those institutions. And the beauty of that is that there’s a flexibility that’s an organic flexibility that allows leadership by others, and I think that is an important part of ongoing international leadership. The United States will be the important watchmaker – my phrase – that will keep the system running, but where others have leadership roles. And given that in just the past 24 hours we saw the Japanese prime minister here talking about the additional, heightened role that Japan will take in terms of strategy, I think that’s important.

The second point is to say that our debate is actually not in this room, but with people outside this room – that the speaker suggested that there was a consensus in Washington, and I think we need to be concerned that there are those who do not share the view that the United States’ role is important, who support a sequestration, which means that we randomly cut our defense spending and our foreign affairs spending without thinking strategically, who actually could not get around to expanding the voting structure in the IMF. The U.S. needs to be involved in careful leadership and maintaining appropriate international affairs commitment in spending to have that leadership role. Thank you.

Q: Can I just yell?

MR. MELHEM: Yeah. Yeah, you can belt it out, it’s OK. (Laughter.)

MR. PREBLE: You won’t be able to hear him online, though, so.

Q: It’s always Christmas.

Q: I’m Harlan Ullman with the Atlantic Council. I’d first like to congratulate the two speakers for eloquent performances.

But as Charles de Gaulle said, cemeteries are filled with indispensable people, and I think you are operating under a false flag operation about it. “An indispensable power,” that’s an oxymoronic term. So let me cut to the chase: What do you think the United States should be doing today that it’s not, or what should it stop doing that it is already doing? Give us some specifics.

MR. PREBLE: Sure. I think that the system of alliances that was created during the Cold War, including NATO and some of the bilateral security relationships in Asia – East Asia, should evolve. The current model, again, is predicated on the idea that U.S. military power and, crucially, presence discourages these countries from engaging in behavior that in the past caused crises, OK? I believe that the political order that’s been created in Europe is more important today than American military presence. I think that the idea of Germany and France going to war with one another are about as likely as Kentucky and Tennessee going to war with one another, right? I think it is absurd. It was not absurd to think that in 1947 or 1948 or 1949, OK? The world has evolved.

Asia is a little more complicated. Actually, Xenia has written quite eloquently on the – you know, on the need for an evolution in East Asia.

But I think we start with recrafting the U.S. alliance relationship in Europe and communicate to our European partners very clearly that this model cannot be sustained over time, that the Article 5 commitment must evolve into a mutual – (audio break) – a mutual – to cooperate/coordinate, but not an attack on one is an attack on all. I think that’s essential.

Ultimately, it can’t happen overnight. For the reasons we’ve already talked about, these countries do not have the capabilities in order to deal with these problems in the near term, OK? And again, I argue – and I think there’s a lot of evidence to support this – that the reason why they do not have these capabilities is precisely because the United States has signaled to them that they should not have these capabilities by our actions, not by our words.

MR. MELHEM: Go ahead.

MS. WICKETT: Just a couple of quick points, because I’ve been agreeing with Chris too much or he’s been agreeing with me, I’m not quite sure.

Where I will disagree with Chris is on his last point, that we have been discouraging our allies to build resources. I just – I don’t think it’s true. I don’t think, you know, the amount of pressure – I mean, let’s go back, you know, talk about something very tangible, the military. Let’s go back to Bob Gates’ statements to NATO member states back in – 2012?

MR. PREBLE: ’12.

MS. WICKETT: ’11, ’12? ’12. Very, very clearly, publicly – which, of course, is quite undiplomatic, Bob Gates stated you – paraphrasing – you guys need to step up. Panetta did it rather more diplomatically, rather more privately. But essentially that’s been a very, very clear message. There’s been a very clear message with the Asian partners and allies, too, and not just on military assistance but on other instruments of power.

I mean, let me – let me make my second point, though, quickly, because the question that Harlan said is, you know, what are we doing wrong, what are we doing right. And to pick up one of Esther’s – what Esther said, Chris is absolutely right that we need to become more resilient. And when – resilience means we need to have alternatives, so it needs to be more than just American leadership. And you are beginning to see that. I mean, again, I go back to Libya as being kind of a very obvious case, but you look at the Ebola response. It wasn’t just an American response; that was a global response. Many – and again, not a military one, in many cases. You look at the response to Nepalese earthquake. Again, there’s been a military response, but there’s been a broader humanitarian response, a global response.

Where I think that we are getting it wrong is in not explaining this broader transition that’s happening, moving from a place where it really was American leadership all the time to a place that is a more compound form of leadership. And we haven’t explained that adequately, and without explaining that then you do have this danger of getting to this uncertain world that I was talking about earlier, which is more problematic. And so if there’s an error that’s been taking place, I think it’s that. It’s the fact that we aren’t explaining that we are in a transition, that we need to be in a transition; that it isn’t going to make American not indispensable, it isn’t going to make America weaker, but it is a new form of leadership that we need to move to.

And there’s one – you know, if I can sit here and critique America for one second – I certainly don’t think America is perfect – you know, it’s the response to the AIIB. A couple of – I mean, just illogical. You know, I’m still trying to find the logic of the American response to the AIIB. The fact that there are other nations out there that are willing, including China – which, by the way, we have spent a lot of time trying to tell them to be in, Zoellick’s words, you know, a responsible international stakeholder. We may not like the way they’re doing it. We may not trust the way they’re doing it. But the idea that we should condemn this new structure where people are willing or countries are willing to spend serious amounts of money on building infrastructure just seems to me a little crazy. So we’re not getting it right all the time, that’s for sure.

MR. PREBLE: Can I just follow up on one thing? Because –

MR. MELHEM: Quickly, because we have many hands.

MR. PREBLE: Very quickly, very quickly.

I would encourage you all to focus not merely on what American officials say about their desire for greater military capabilities on the part of our allies, but what they do. And there’s a – you know, it’s basic common sense. You’re not inclined to pay for things that someone else will buy for you. The United States has been buying security for our European and Asian allies for decades, and they, understandably – I’m not blaming them at all; if I were in their position I’d do exactly the same thing – they are following what we do, not what we say.

MR. MELHEM: Sir? The gentleman there.

Q: Hi. Bob Hormats, Kissinger Associates.

Hisham made I thought a very interesting point that I’d be interested in the other two panelists following up on. You mentioned the Marshall Plan as an example of American leadership, and I think there’s a dimension to the Marshall Plan that plays into this very well. The genius of the Marshall Plan was not American money, essential as it was. It was that the United States told these other countries, the Europeans, you have to figure out collectively among yourselves how to use that money. In effect, it forced them to form sort of an economic alliance to take responsibility for figuring out how that money was to be utilized. So it built into the concept the Marshall Plan the notion that these countries had to assume a greater degree of collective responsibility on the economic front, which in turn underpinned the NATO alliance down the road.

What I think has come out of this discussion – and I’d be interested in hearing more about it – is that we’re – we need to figure out ways now of, in effect, creating – as we, I think, are in the TPP and TTIP – economic alliances that underpin the security relationship, because without economic strength these countries are not going to be able to play a strong security role. Europe will not spend money unless it has a prosperous economy – and it doesn’t – and better governance, a whole series of reasons. But I’d be interested in what we can do proactively today in that same spirit to get other countries to take a much greater role in sort of forming economic alliances with the United States so that, over time, they’re better able to assume greater responsibility for the global economy and not just rely so heavily on the U.S., but also as an underpinning to taking a much more assertive security role down the road.

MR. PREBLE: I’ll –

MR. MELHEM: Quickly, how are we doing with time? I mean, we’re fine?

MR. PREBLE: Yeah, how are we doing on time?

MS. : Yeah, we’ve got about 10 minutes.

MR. MELHEM: OK, thanks.

MR. PREBLE: OK. Very quickly – it’s a great question, and let me – let me first of all endorse wholeheartedly the move to try to conclude both the TPP and TTIP. As many of you probably know, the Cato Institute is a strong advocate of global free trade, be it multilateral, bilateral, unilateral – we don’t really care, OK? And the reason why is very simple, OK: because greater trade leads in the aggregate to greater prosperity, growing economies, which then creates the ability to sustain a military capability that in the past has not existed, OK? So I want to be very clear on this point.

But I also want to emphasize how different that model is from the Marshall Plan model, OK? The Marshall Plan model was aid, right? Now, I think the particular – I think you are correct that the way in which it was parceled out – you know, empowering the Europeans to do it themselves – was crucial, but I also believe that the circumstances surrounding the Marshall Plan were so unique as to almost be unprecedented, right? We’re –

Q: (Off mic) – for new money.

MR. PREBLE: Right. No, but you see what I’m saying. And so I think – so I often hear the Marshall Plan invoked, for example, in the case of Afghanistan or other places like that. It’s not appropriate. It’s not a – it’s not the right fit. So while the Marshall Plan, I think, was important in the immediate aftermath of World War II, that sort of model is not going to work in 2015 and in the future. We need greater economic integration, trade, and that’s where we should –

Q: That’s my point. It wasn’t the money, it was the integration.

MR. PREBLE: Yes, yes. Yes, completely agree. Completely agree.


Q: I’m Naadiya from South Africa. I’m a Millennium Fellow.

My question to the panel is, is how does the U.S. remain credible in terms of being this indispensable nation when it’s so inconsistent in its foreign policy? For example, U.N. put sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine, but you want to sell weapons to Israel over Palestine. You want to not communicate with Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, but you want to have negotiations with Sisi in Egypt.

MR. PREBLE: I think that’s for you. (Laughs, laughter.)

MS. WICKETT: Yeah, I was afraid you were going to pass that one to me.

MR. PREBLE: Why don’t you take that one, Xenia?

MS. WICKETT: Can I answer the – what Bob just – (inaudible). (Laughter.)

You’re absolutely right. Let me say kind of a couple of things. Let me say three things.

The first is, I want to reiterate, again, America does not always get it right. So I mean, let’s just put out that on the table, and I’m happy to sit here and debate anybody who wants to say America does.

The second point I would make is I find it fascinating to – you know, I sit in the U.K. now and I – my job is to look at the United States. I find it a lot easier looking at the U.S. from the U.K. than looking at the U.S. from within the U.S. And one of the rhetoric devices, if you will, that I find absolutely fascinating is this tendency to condemn anybody who changes their mind. You know, the idea that we have a one-size-fits-all policy and we can take what we did in one country and we can reapply it to another country is just a false dichotomy. The third thing – and that plays to why do we do one thing in one place.

The third thing I would say is policy is inevitably full of tensions. I was in the White House when then-National Security Adviser Rice was in Egypt and gave a speech that was widely liked, approved of, where she said no longer will – and I’m paraphrasing – no longer will America sacrifice immediate – essentially, we will risk immediate instability for long-term security; i.e., we are going to no longer ensure that there is stability in, say, Egypt, even if there’s not democracy, because we believe that democracy over the long term is going to be – is going to be a more stable world. And I applauded that sentiment, at the same time as recognizing that it was wholly unrealistic. And so we do, we struggle with these tensions.

MR. MELHEM: That’s why they dropped it later.

MS. WICKETT: That’s – (chuckles).

MR. MELHEM: After the Islamists won the elections everywhere.

MS. WICKETT: Yeah, you know.

And so we do, we struggle with these tensions. We make statements that fulfill our values, our morals, our dogma, as I mentioned earlier. You know, we said yes, there should be voting in Palestine, and then we said yes, but we don’t like who you voted for so we’re going to ignore it. These dichotomies happen all – and they are going to continue to happen. It would be false to think otherwise. So I certainly don’t want to suggest that there is a right and a wrong choice. There just isn’t. And each case is different, and sometimes we do make those wrong choices.

But I do think that the idea that the democratic system in which – you know, for all of the faults that the current system here in the United States has, the debate internationally being about a broken American system – you know, yes, it is quite dysfunctional here in Washington at the moment, and this is one more reason why I like living in the U.K. rather than living out here at the moment. But it’s a system of checks and balances. It’s a system that actually has flexibility to change. And that, I think, is extraordinarily important, and that is something that we should grasp for very strongly.

MR. MELHEM: Thank you, Xenia.

The gentleman there?

Q: Thank you. Randall Fort with Raytheon.

You’ve touched a little bit, both of you, on economic, but no one has talked about financial: global financial markets that the U.S. makes, the amount of capital that the U.S. moves around the world, that the dollar is the international currency, that we make markets, that the U.S. financial model is the predominant model for creating and allocating capital. So just wondered, does that fact of U.S. predominance in global financial markets not underscore Xenia’s point about the indispensability of the United States?

MR. PREBLE: I’ll take that.

I think there is a widespread belief that U.S. economic dominance hinges on our military dominance, right? That’s the two go together. I don’t think that’s accurate, and I especially don’t think it’s accurate today, right? I think that the size of the U.S. economy, just sheerly by the size of the U.S. economy, ensures that we will be an important financial player globally. And I believe –

MS. WICKETT: Indispensable, perhaps.

MR. PREBLE: Maybe, yes. (Laughter.) But yes, indeed.

MR. MELHEM: Good one.

MR. PREBLE: Well, again, because indispensable is necessary but not sufficient. But I’m not convinced that we are necessary to every single economic activity in every single part of the world. I think that’s a little too much of a stretch, even for this proud American.

So I would – I mean, I think there – this belief that U.S. economic dominance is a – is a function or heavily dependent upon U.S. military dominance I think is badly flawed. There’s been some good work that’s done recently. Dan Drezner’s work on this is quite good. So I encourage you to look at that.

MR. MELHEM: Thank you.

The gentleman there? Yeah. I’ll yield back to you.

Q: My name is Peter Biar Ajak from South Sudan, one of the Millennium Fellows.

My question is to you, Chris. You mentioned that people in Washington believe in this indispensable role that America should play, but the American people do not see themselves playing that role.

MR. PREBLE: Correct.

Q: What explain(s) the mismatch? And what do – what do American people think is the role?

MR. PREBLE: Sure –

Q: And then a second question to it. Can we flip this debate around and say: Is China indispensable to global security?

MR. PREBLE: I’ll answer that second question first. No, absolutely not. They’re not even yet indispensable to Asian security, although perhaps someday they will be.

To the first question, it’s an excellent one. I’ve written about it a fair amount. It is not a new phenomenon. There is a gap between what the American people expect of our foreign policy and what the elites give them, and this gap has existed for quite some time. The way it has been sustained in the past is mainly through threat inflation. My favorite quote to this effect is Senator Vandenberg said to Dean Acheson, “You need to paint a picture of the situation” – this was in 1947 – “that was clearer than the truth” – OK? – “about the threat posed by the Soviet Union.” “Clearer than the truth.” So there’s been a certain amount of obfuscation, shall we say, OK? I’ll put the heavy – the gloss on it.

There is an information asymmetry, right? The people who know the truth about particular threats know more about them than those who don’t, and so, you know, the elites communicate to the American people what the threats are and to a certain extent the American people have to take them at their word, right? And so I think ultimately this strategy was built on the premise that our global presence was actually contributing to global security, to our – and to – and crucially, to our security. But if you poll the American people and ask them, do you think the United States should be spending more or less to assist other – even assist. I mean, no matter how you phrase the question, to assist other countries, especially our allies, in defending themselves, overwhelmingly the polls say no, that that’s not what Americans think that our military is for – it should be used for.

But there is – there is a gap. It’s longstanding. And at the end of the day – I have to be very honest about this – foreign policy is not the most salient issue for most Americans, and it probably never will be. So you just sort of are going to accept that as this gap, except at the times when the gap just becomes too wide.

My favorite example of this is I actually believe that President Obama intended – we talked about this before – I actually think that President Obama intended to make good on his commitment to enforce the red line in Syria, and he was shocked that the American people were suddenly roused to action by this incredibly small strike that Secretary Kerry was talking about.

So those moments are important, but rare, right, when a particular foreign policy issue becomes so salient that the American people will rise up and say all this other stuff – the economics, the, you know, unemployment rate – all that other stuff doesn’t matter; let’s focus for this moment on the foreign policy issue of the day. Those instances are quite rare.

MR. MELHEM: Lady there?

Q: Thank you. My name is Aarya. I’m one of the Fellows.

What I sense is that the panel is using the terms “American power” and “American leadership” interchangeably. To me, these two are different concepts. But I would like to know what the panel thinks. Do you think there’s a difference between having power and wielding it and doing whatever – (audio break) – it in the world and exercising real leadership in a world that needs it so much? So the difference between American power and American leadership.

MS. WICKETT: Let me answer that.

I mean, I think, again, there’s a joy of not being in the U.S. when many of these debates are going on in the U.S. I mentioned earlier the Ryan Lizza, you know, America “leading from behind,” and I found it absolutely fascinating that there was this response – this kind of visceral response here in the United States that was shocked and disgusted at the idea of America leading from behind. And yet it seemed to me that this idea of leading from behind or leading – an expression I use quite often, leading from within, is a very positive one. The idea that America continues to lead but it leads in coalition, it leads with others, it brings others along, I mean, that, to me, is exactly the kind of leadership that we want to show and exactly the kind of leadership that I would – I would talk about and that I think the world needs today.

That is absolutely a different idea from the idea of American power. The reality is today, for the reasons that Randy mentioned in the financial space, or in the economic space I gave you some statistics, or in the military space, where, you know, we continue to spend as much as the next 10 countries combined, America still has the preponderance of power, be it military power, economic power, financial power, soft power. I did a study last year on elite views of the United States in Asia and Europe, and one of the things that really stood out is that in Asia there’s a real desire – excuse me, in Asia there’s a real desire for American military power, and in Europe there continues to be this incredible desire for the power of American values, the power of what America has always stood for. So America has a preponderance of power, and that’s what makes it indispensable.

The way – (audio break) – that power, the kind of leadership that America uses, that is a different question. And I think that is where, you know, maybe to Harlan’s point and to Esther’s point, we need to find a new way of leading because we’re not necessarily getting it right. Which takes me back to my first point, that I always find quite ironic that this idea of leading from behind is so condemned in this country when actually it doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me.

MR. MELHEM: OK, I’m sorry, we have to go now to the wrap-up.

But just quickly, Chris is right: You cannot lead unless you have followers. You cannot lead from behind. You cannot lead from within. You have to lead from the front. That’s the whole – you cannot have a bunch of – a community or a committee leading. There has to be a leader. I’ll now go to you. (Laughter.)

MR. PREBLE: No, I actually agreed with Xenia’s last point, so –

MR. MELHEM: I give up. I give up. (Laughter.)

MR. PREBLE: So I actually agree with your last point.

MR. MELHEM: I give up. OK. I’m going to give you – I’m sorry –

MR. PREBLE: Yes, thank you.

MR. MELHEM: – the two-minute summation.

MR. PREBLE: Two minutes.

This has been a lot of fun, and it was – it’s great to be here with Xenia and Hisham.

MR. MELHEM: We should take this show on the road. (Laughter.)

MR. PREBLE: We should. That would be great.

I just want to close with this, because I – and I didn’t intend do, but it’s sort of evolved this way – is I’d be happy to lose this debate decisively, maybe have every single one of you vote for the affirmative, if I also obtained an agreement that “is” is not the same as “ought,” right? Is that if we are today the world’s indispensable nation, we should not expect to be or aspire to be 10 or 20 or 30 years from now, that we need a transition; that when resilience, which is emphasized in this document – and it was mentioned also yesterday – we have today, if we are – if it is truly an indispensable nation, if the United States is essential to everything – like light, like air and water and food for living beings, everything, necessary but not sufficient – then we have created a single point of failure. This is not a resilient system, OK? It is heavily dependent upon a single country.

So I would be pleased to lose if I won the broader point. Because I’ve been arguing this point for a long time, that we need to transition to something else: a situation in which the United States is the indisputable most important country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, with the largest military in the world, but not the indispensable country in the world, that we are one of many countries/actors who are empowered to act and to use their power in ways that advance primarily, firstly, their security and interests, the security and interests in their region, and in the end global security. That’s where I would like to see. That’s where I would like to see us go.

I know this transition cannot happen overnight, but it starts by admitting that there should be such a transition. And I – and I tell you today that is not the mindset of most people in Washington, D.C., so we have a lot of work to do. Thank you.

MR. MELHEM: Thank you, Chris.

Last word.

MS. WICKETT: I don’t know that I need to wrap up – (laughter) – because, I mean, Chris just wrapped up for me, I feel. You know, the proposition we have in front of us – the U.S. is the indispensable nation. Global stability and growth depends on an assertive U.S. foreign policy and a strong, active U.S. military presence around the world – it does. I mean, we agree upon that.

Does that mean – and this is where we shouldn’t get confused – does that mean that we need to continue the act – to act the way we always did? Does that mean that we shouldn’t encourage others to lead, others to gather the resources, the power – be it military or soft power or economic power – to also play a vital role, and in fact possibly even be indispensable themselves? Absolutely. And I think that both Chris and I agree upon that.

So I feel like – I mean, I feel like I should almost just stop talking now. (Laughter.) In fact, I will stop talking now. (Laughter, applause.)

MR. MELHEM: OK. (Applause.)

This is too happy a conversation. (Laughter.) I mean, I didn’t see fundamental differences, really. I mean, we were – we were quibbling over concepts and words and phrases, but I think both our great panelists believe that this country in many ways is special. I don’t know if Chris will accept that.

MR. PREBLE: Special. Special.

MR. MELHEM: Yeah, special. And I always look at it from my own narrow perspective, growing up in a different society and being almost infatuated with the soft power, before I knew the term, of the United States: America’s creativity, its vibrancy, its great literature, its great cinema, its great music. And I learned all that before I learned English. And to me, when I talk about the United States as an indispensable power, it’s – part of it is that soft power, that appeal of the United States. Instinctively I knew, before I could conceptualize it in my mind, that the Soviet Union has no chance – not because of the military power of the United States, but they don’t have – I mean, everybody in the world, you know, knew Elvis Presley, everybody knew Marilyn Monroe, everybody knew American cinema. Even the Japanese, when they were fighting us, they were watching American movies. Even Stalin loved American movies. I mean, the – instinctively, you know that this country is unique because of the vibrancy, because of the – because of the creativity, because of the – it’s a – it’s a melting pot. You can have a big name that I still don’t know how to spell, like Zbigniew Brzezinski – (laughter) – who speaks with a thick accent and becomes one of the most powerful men in the United States. You cannot have that anywhere else. And that, to me, is the appeal of America the indispensable: again, you know, the soft power.

And I’m frightened to see that the United States, you know, is going to lead from behind or is going to lead from the sideways, and European not knowing how to deal with Putin. I mean, you know, I’m the product of Western culture. I grew up in Beirut, but I’m the – you know, I’m a Mediterranean. I’m proud of my, you know, Middle Eastern heritage, but also European culture. But Europe is becoming fat and old. They want five, six weeks of vacation and they’re not willing to defend themselves. And I remember what happened with the Madrid bombing. You know, whether you agree with the war in Iraq – it was an adventure, it was a calamity – but I mean, for a bunch of terrorists to force a Western democracy just to – you know, to withdraw from Iraq – and that was the purpose of the bombing, and it worked, and terrorism works. And so – and you need the United States in a – in a dangerous world.

So I’m thrilled to be in the middle. I’m not that thrilled because I didn’t cause more sparks. But I’m grateful for the Atlantic Council and I’m eternally grateful to these two wonderful panelists. So we’ll applaud them, but we need to know first what is the poll results and see who is the brilliant one here who managed to convince more people or, you know. So do we have – do we have the – do we have the –

MR. CHIU: So let’s please –

MR. PREBLE: Do it after the break? Are we going to do that after the break, Dan?

MR. CHIU: We are going to do the polling right now. We’ll have some very nice people coming around taking your current opinions on this. In the meantime, please, let’s thank not only our debaters, but our moderator Hisham, even though Hisham failed in his duty – (laughter) – to get the debaters to come to blows with each other. Thank you very much. Enjoyed the debate. (Applause.)

So please be sure to vote one more time and pass in your ballots. As soon as you’ve done that, we’re going to take a little bit of break. Those of you who come to these events know that during the breaks people often drift off. Let me give you three reasons to please stay with us and come back after the break promptly at 10:30.

First of all, as Hisham just alluded to, you will get the results of this poll. So it’s a cliffhanger. You should definitely want to come back to hear the results of the poll and see if there’s been any shifting based on the discussion that we’ve had here.

MR. PREBLE: (Off mic.)

MR. CHIU: Yeah, that’s right. You can to come up to Chris during the break and see what odds he’s giving.

Second, unlike yesterday, it’s not nearly as nice out. So you should definitely stay here with us.

But third is we’ve got a great group of speakers coming up after this. We’ve got speakers that you will already know, like David Rothkopf; speakers that you should know, like Alessandra Orofino; and speakers that I think you will soon get to know, like Josh Marcuse and Zyika Krieger. They all have some really fascinating ideas for thinking about the future differently and tackling some of the problems, including some of them that you’ve heard here in this debate, in some new ways. I think you will find it very interesting. I think they will find your comments very, very helpful as we pull this together into the last panel, where we’ll try and take all of these great threads and knit them into something that we all can take away from this session.

So we’ll break until 10:30. Please, please, please come back right afterwards so you can hear the results of the poll and the next great group. Thanks again.