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The Washington Quarterly 24.2 (2001) 93-97



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History's Lessons

Charles Hagel


The challenges before us are monumental. But it is not every generation that is given the opportunity to shape a new international order. If the opportunity is missed, we shall live in a world of chaos and danger. If it is realized, we will have entered an era of peace, progress, and justice. But we can realize our hopes only as a united people. Our challenge--and its solution--lies in ourselves. Our greatest foreign policy problem is our divisions at home. Our greatest foreign policy need is national cohesion and a return to the awareness that in foreign policy we are all engaged in a common national endeavor.

This passage is not a campaign statement from 2000, but a quote from Henry Kissinger in 1976. As we enter the twenty-first century, the United States stands astride the world at an interesting but not unprecedented time in history. This era will require a clear eye, courageous U.S. leadership, and an administration and Congress that put partisanship aside to help define the U.S. role in a complicated new world.

In many ways, we face a time similar to one encountered by the United States after World War II. In 1945, this country emerged as a dominant force on the world stage. The leadership of President Harry Truman, Secretaries of State George Marshall and Dean Acheson, Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) and others laid the foundation for democratic institutions that provided the framework for the Western world during the Cold War. Now, just as then, U.S. leadership is indispensable to the world.

Today, more than a decade after the demise of the Iron Curtain, we face new global challenges. The rate of change in the world in all disciplines is almost incalculable. This change will overtake us unless we take the lead in shaping it.

As we proceed in this hopeful new century, we should be mindful of the words of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1911: "The United States of America has not the option as to whether it will or will not play a great part [End Page 94] in the world. It must play a great part. All that it can decide is whether to play that part well or badly." These words ring true today. We are the world's dominant power, which provides us with immense opportunity and awesome responsibility. The diffusion of geopolitical, economic, and military power that will develop over the next few years will form the world's power structure well into the next century. Of this we can be certain: the United States must engage this natural development, welcome it, help frame it, and lead it.

It will be incumbent on President George W. Bush and his foreign policy and national security advisers to define U.S. interests and the terms for our engagement in this very complicated world. History has shown that a country most effectively speaks with one voice. To achieve this, Bush will need to form a close relationship with a divided Congress to build consensus on the critical foreign policy and national security issues facing our nation. It will be incumbent on congressional leaders of both parties to demonstrate a willingness to work with the new president in the country's interest. Vandenberg provided instruction on this subject. In his private papers published in 1952, he wrote

To me "bipartisan foreign policy" means a mutual effort, under our indispensable two-party system, to unite our official voice at the water's edge so that America speaks with maximum authority against those who would divide and conquer the free world and us. It does not involve the remotest surrender of free debate in determining our position. On the contrary, frank cooperation and free debate are indispensable to ultimate unity. In a word, it simply seeks national security ahead of partisan advantage.

Bipartisan cooperation need not mean the lack of spirited debate. All voices should be heard and points of view represented. Ultimately, however, we in Congress need to find...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9177
Print ISSN
0163-660X
Pages
pp. 93-97
Launched on MUSE
2001-03-01
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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