For those of us who don’t work in Washington every day, it’s honestly awe-inspiring to participate in events held on Capitol Hill, and even more so when it’s in such an honored space as the Russell Senate Building’s Kennedy Caucus Room. This is where John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, who both served as senators, announced their presidential bids, and after the passing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 2009, Sen. Chris Dodd proposed naming the room for the three brothers, “not just as a monument to the things these three brothers did as Senators and as colleagues of ours here, but in the spirit of compassion and compromise, the fierce advocacy and tender friendship that Teddy and his brothers brought to this body.”
In that same spirit, the Truman National Security Project kicked off this year’s–and my first–annual conference with talks by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, and former NATO International Security Assistance Force commander Gen. John Allen (USMC, Retired) on Friday, May 3rd, in the Kennedy Caucus Room.
I’m a new member of the Truman Project’s Defense Council, and it has been a tremendous honor to talk at length with such an excellent and impressive group of current and future leaders. The unifying idea of Truman is that our national security can’t come from the military alone–in addition to maintaining a strong military, the United States must also lead by forging strong alliances through a sensible balance of diplomacy, open trade, foreign aid, and encouraging human rights and democratic ambitions across the globe. And we must also seek sensible, sustainable policies here at home to keep our citizens safe and our society strong and prosperous. A more eloquent explanation of Truman’s ideals can be found HERE.
Madeleine Albright gave the keynote address, which can be viewed in full HERE, giving a powerful overview of the current challenges in foreign policy faced by the U.S. She talked about how President Obama’s second administration faces many challenges, but not nearly as many as at the outset of his first administration: “Every new american president inherits headaches, but in Mr. Obama’s case, he was being asked to deal with the entire emergency room–in the form of an international economic crisis, two hot wars, Al Qaeda, and the steepest decline in American international standing since Vietnam.” Since then, she believes that the U.S. has made steady progress on many fronts, to include ending dictatorship in Libya, bringing troops home from Iraq, and solidifying trade agreements with vital allies. Amid the challenges we face in seeming no-win situations, she applauds President Obama for his balanced approach, projecting “confidence but not arrogance,” using a strategy to “lecture less without leading less,” and taking a civil tone that “makes it easier for others to stand with us.”
She says that many of the president’s critics are easily dismissed, saying they “seek simple solutions for complex problems” or are overtly biased: “During the recent campaign, the president was accused of apologizing for America, which he never did; of betraying Israel, which is an outright lie; and of believing in climate change, which really can’t be helped.” There were plenty of liberal applause lines, but regardless of your political persuasion, it is well worth listening to Albright’s comments in full to hear this seasoned stateswoman’s truly comprehensive assessment of where the U.S. stands in the world today. The question & answer session allowed her wit to shine, and it was amazing to share a room with such a distinguished shaper of history.
It is also well worth watching Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus talk about the Navy’s efforts to implement alternative energy solutions. If you care about reducing America’s reliance on foreign/fossil fuels, reducing the costs of military operations, and even reducing the loads carried by Marines on patrols in Afghanistan, please take some time to watch his comments in their entirety HERE.
Our ability to acquire energy and use it to move our forces around the globe are a critical matter of national security. Sec. Mabus points out that the U.S. Department of Defense is the largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet. Oil, he says, is the “ultimate global commodity.” Even if the U.S. could pump 100% of our own oil, we would still be subject to the “price shocks” of the global open market for oil: “Every time the price of a barrel of oil goes up one dollar, it costs the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps a sum of $30 million in additional fuel costs.” This is a huge budgeting problem (in the billions of dollars) as well as a national security problem.
By 2020, at least half of the fuel used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps will come from alternative fuels, from advanced biofuels that can be used in existing platforms (ships, aircraft, vehicles), to solar packs that have already replaced heavy conventional batteries carried by Marines on long patrols in Afghanistan. The Navy has historically innovated new and more efficiencies in fuel use, and this goal will be yet another vital achievement in that history. Watch it.
Gen. John Allen gave an amazingly frank, off-the-record talk about where he sees the military today, particularly with respect to challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I had a front-row seat for this one. I’ve long had tremendous respect for Gen. Allen, and I wish he’d had an opportunity of much greater length to lead ISAF in Afghanistan.
It was a long, but amazing day in the Kennedy Caucus Room. I look forward to many great things to come from the seeds planted at this conference.