Democracy is under threat, and the University of Virginia has a role to play in strengthening democracies everywhere, UVA President James Ryan told a packed house at Old Cabell Hall to kick off the Presidential Ideas Festival. Ryan took the opportunity to announce plans for a new “Democracy Institute” at the University, the details of which are forthcoming.
Foreign policy giants Madeleine Albright (secretary of state during the Clinton administration) and Stephen Hadley (George W. Bush’s national security adviser) then took to the stage with PrezFest emcee and UVA alum John Dickerson for the festival’s opening conversation covering national security and the president’s role in the world.
In examining tensions between the United States and China, Iran, and North Korea, Dickerson, who is a correspondent for 60 Minutes and contributing editor to The Atlantic, queried Albright and Hadley on advice they might offer the current president and what they might look for in presidential candidates.
It didn’t take long before China became the focus of the discussion, pinpointed as the most pressing international dilemma facing the United States today. “Almost every issue you think about and care about, whether it’s climate change or the soundness of the financial systems, all of that is going to be driven by the U.S.-China relationship,” Hadley said. “If we don’t get that relationship right, almost every other problem gets harder.”
“It is everything,” Albright agreed.
While competing with China is inevitable, Hadley added, we must become “strategic cooperators.”
The United States’ relationship with Iran is also of concern. Albright recalled that in the days of President Dwight Eisenhower, Washington sold Tehran technology for the peaceful use of nuclear energy; now, however, “we’re in deep trouble with Iran,” she warned. Hadley credited President Trump for recently backing down on inflammatory rhetoric, stressing that the Iranian regime is too resilient for the United States to fail to return to the negotiating table.
On diplomacy with North Korea, Dickerson wondered, “Is it Lucy with the football—the same thing over and over?” Hadley responded with measured optimism, conceding that while Trump’s approach to Kim Jong-un earned points for defying conventional wisdom, it did not work. In trying to block North Korea from becoming a nuclear-weapons state, we must “give it a shot, but prepare for the worst.”
What advice would these two former advisers offer Trump if he asked? “It’s a very complicated time,” Albright said. “People are confused about who we are and why we’re acting the way we are.”
“Every president has their own style,” Hadley said. “This president has a style like no president I think we’ve ever seen. He doesn’t want to be constrained by the process. He does not want to be constrained by policies and, in some sense, he doesn’t want to be constrained by what he’s said the day before. He’s a real disrupter in every sense of the word, and that’s what a lot of people voted for.” That said, unpredictability may work with adversaries but it’s a liability with friends and allies.
How might Albright and Hadley go about interviewing other candidates for president? They each said they’d seek a clear vision for America’s role in the world. “Then,” Hadley added, “Character. Values. Can they communicate? Can they lead? Do you trust them?”
Albright added that she’d want to know if a candidate were willing to stand for helping others, to make sacrifices without claiming victimhood. “I don’t think America should be a country where fear is the governing factor,” she said. “Hope is the American factor.”
Born in Czechoslovakia and a refugee, the first female secretary of state explained her unique perspective on what it means to be American. One of her favorite experiences has been issuing naturalization certificates to new citizens, she said. One such citizen, at a ceremony at Monticello in 2000, marveled at how he, a refugee, could be fortunate enough to receive his certificate from the U.S. secretary of state.
“I went up to him and said, ‘Can you believe that a refugee is the secretary of state? That is what America is.’”