Lee: Good morning. Thank you for joining us. I’m Jennifer Lee, director of events at The Washington Post. This morning we’ll be talking about the future of democracy, both here at home and around the world. As President Trump begins a week of meetings with world leaders in Europe, we have gathered key voices from government and diplomacy to discuss the places where democracy is showing resilience and where authoritarianism is gaining ground. Our experts will also talk about how Americans view the health of our nearly 250-year-old political system.
Before we begin, I’d like to thank our presenting sponsor, the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, for their support of today’s program. And now, please welcome Joe Goldman, president of Democracy Fund, to the stage for some remarks.
Goldman: Good morning. It’s really an honor to be able to support this important conversation that we’re having today. For those of you who are not familiar with the Democracy Fund, let me just say a few words about our work. The Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation. We were created about four years ago by the founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar. Since our inception, we have given away about $100 million in grants. These funds have gone to organizations working on a wide array of issues from reviving our public square, to strengthening our system of elections, to working with our governing institutions in the United States to ensure that they’re able to fulfill their governing obligations to the American public.
Unfortunately, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum, the last few years have raised pretty profound questions about the health of the American republic. Questions that we, as Americans, are not used to having to ask about our own country. At the Democracy Fund, we’ve responded to his moment by dramatically expanding our commitment to strengthening American democracy and defending the United States Constitution.
But in addition to that, we found it really important to think about what we can do to expand and improve our understanding about how the American public is changing and what that means for the future of the American political system.
To help us do that we’ve created something that we call the “Democracy Fund Voter Study Group.” The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group is a group of about two dozen public opinion experts from across the political spectrum. On the right, it includes scholars from places like the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute. On the left, it includes scholars from think tanks like the Center for American Progress and the Brookings Institution.
This diverse group of scholars will never agree on everything about what is best for the American public. But they have committed to study together what is going on with our political system, how the American public is changing, and what leaders in Washington need to understand about the public.
Today’s program focuses on trends in authoritarianism, a subject of the Voter Study Group has focused on quite a bit over the last few months. Some of what we found has been quite disturbing. In a recent survey we found that one in four Americans said that a political system in which a strong leader wouldn’t have to bother with Congress or election would be a good thing. More concerning, we found that those kinds of authoritarian views are increasingly polarized within our political system, a trend that could be very dangerous for the future.
The good news is that when given a direct choice, the vast majority of Americans choose democracy. People believe in the rule of law. They believe in checks and balances. They believe that Congress and the courts should be a check on executive branch authority. This kind of support for the pillars of democracy should give us some hope, but we can’t be complacent. Leaders of both parties need to stand up for the rule of law. They need to stand against abuses of power. We need to support free and secure elections and independent media. And we need to support the protection of the very dignity and rights of every individual that our founders envisioned for this country.
At the Democracy Fund we’re committed to work with you and other partners around the country to make sure that our democracy remains strong. We’re grateful to each of you for joining this conversation that we’re having today and look forward to continuing at VoterStudyGroup.org and on Twitter at the Twitter handle @DemocracyFund. So thank you. I’m looking forward to today’s conversation. Really appreciate your being here.
Lee: Thank you, Joe. And now I’d like to introduce the Washington Post’s Mary Jordan who will lead our first discussion.
Ambassadors discuss challenges facing democracies around the world:
Jordan: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming out for such a light topic. [LAUGHTER] I’m Mary Jordan. And I am the national correspondent, cover politics, run around the country, try to figure out what’s happening here in America. And I want to welcome our distinguished guests today. Gerard Araud has been France’s ambassador to the United States since 2014. An important figure here in Washington that everybody knows. Before that, he was France’s permanent representative to the U.N., director general for political affairs and security. And he was the ambassador to Israel.
We also have Ambassador Ron Dermer of Israel. Before becoming ambassador in 2013, he was senior advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and as Israel’s minister of economic affairs to the United States. He is the coauthor of the book The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.
And we have Ambassador Sergio Silva Do Amaral, who became ambassador in 2016. He was previously the country’s vice minister for the environment and held many other jobs, including industry and foreign trade, which is topical right now. Welcome. What a powerhouse. We’re lucky to have you here today.
Before we begin, I’d like to tell you here in the audience and those who are joining us online to send in your questions. They’ll pop up here on my iPad and I’ll to get to them. So let’s just begin.
We’re going to talk about the state of democracy in each of the regions that you know so well. But we can’t sit in The Washington Post and not talk about the news. A lot’s happening today over in Europe. The president of the United States is over for a meeting at NATO. He just called the NATO alliance and he said our allies—”delinquent” was the word he used. He said pretty strong, extraordinary statements. He said Germany is totally controlled by Russia. [LAUGHTER]
Another tweet that he just made, he said NATO countries must pay more, and “more” was in all caps. The United States must pay less, “less” in all caps. And then he said, “Very unfair.” The tone at the beginning of this pretty important summit has gotten off to an interesting start. So I just wanted to hear some reaction to it. [LAUGHTER] Ambassador?
Araud: You’d be surprised, but I’m a diplomat up to a point. [LAUGHTER] I think we need robust debate, you know, in a democratic alliance. And I think robust debate has started. More importantly, I think we have to wait for the summit itself. You know, that’s the foreplays, if I may say, of the summit. So very seriously, there is a legitimate debate about burden sharing. There is legitimate debate about the future of this alliance that we have created in 1949 in very different circumstances.
So let’s wait for the summit itself. Let’s wait, what really the president of the United States is going to say, but also to ask. It’s a debate that we should have. And I think we will have it.
Jordan: Well, let’s be a little more undiplomatic and just say what you really think here.
Araud: No way. [LAUGHTER]
Jordan: But how does the style—does it matter then? I mean, does the opening tone matter?
Araud: The foreplays matter always. [LAUGHTER] I’m French. So really it’s—[LAUGHTER] No, again, in a sense, you have an unusual president, so [LAUGHTER] it’s leading to an unusual way of debating between allies. But let’s go back to the substance. What are the substance of the proposals, of the requests of the president, and the other allies will respond, will tell what they want or what they don’t want to do.
Jordan: What do you think?
Dermer: Well, first of all, I’m glad to see another ambassador in the hot seat. That always gives me a great deal [LAUGHTER] of pleasure.
Dermer: I think, as the ambassador said, the issue of burden sharing is a real issue for my country, Israel. We spend 6% of our GDP on our defense. So the United States is around four, Europe is somewhere between—most of the countries between one and two, which is why there’s this debate. Israel is 6% without U.S. assistance. Now, we also receive military assistance from the United States, which we are very grateful for, that helps us bear this enormous burden that we have on our economy. And that takes us over 8%.
So I think it’s a real issue. I guess how this is going to work out in Europe remains to be seen. It seems to me that many countries are starting actually to address this, various degrees and at various speeds. But from the discussions I’ve had, most people think this is a real legitimate issue that the president is raising. And so I expect that he will achieve something in that summit. We’ll see how much and how fast.
Jordan: Is there any effect of calling our allies—particularly Germany, who he seems to have a particularly contentious relationship—is there any effect of the words he’s using or the tone?
Dermer: We’ll have to see how it affects the policy. I mean, at the end of the day, I think, as the ambassador said, you’re going to want to wait to see what comes out of the summit and what the policy are going to be. And I think it’s hard to judge these things in the moment. You have to look a year, two years, three years and see if Europe is on a trajectory of a greater share of their GDP being devoted to defense.
And just to understand how dramatic 1 or 2% can be, there’s a formula—I went to the Wharton School of Business—there’s a formula they do of how long it takes your money to double. It’s called “72 over N” where N’s the interest rate. So if the interest rate is 10%, your money doubles in about seven years. If it’s 7%, it will double in 10 years. If there’s a 3% gap between what the United States is spending, at around 4%, and let’s say a European country at 1%, every 24 years it means that Europe has double the money to spend on other issues—on healthcare, on education, on the social welfare, and social safety net, and everything else.
So you’re now over 75 years since World War II. You’re doubling and then doubling and then doubling in that time. So it’s an eight-time difference. And I remember 25 years ago, Europe would, of course, a lot of times look at the United States and say, “Well, you don’t offer your people healthcare. And you don’t offer your people enough of a social safety net.” Well, one of the reasons why the U.S. has not had those monies to do it is because they’ve also spent an enormous amount of money defending the world, defending not just Europe, I should say, also Israel.
Jordan: Right. But do you think NATO will exist in 24 years with President Trump—and you both went to Wharton. You’re both good with numbers. [LAUGHTER] But I think people are very concerned about these historical alliances. We’ll come back to that.
Dermer: I think, yes, it will exist.
Jordan: You do?
Jordan: You don’t think that there’s any danger of this whole thing blowing up, as some worried about?
Dermer: I don’t think so. I think that they have to focus on the mission defining the coalition, rather than the coalition defining the mission.
Jordan: From Brazil’s point of view, what do you make of what’s going on? [LAUGHTER]
Amaral: In NATO or in the region?
Jordan: In NATO. Let’s start there and then we’re going to back to the region. But just now, there’s a big focus in the world. And so from a huge country, a hugely important country, what’s the view from Brazil?
Amaral: We see that from a distant perspective because we’re not associated, we’re not members of NATO. We don’t face similar challenges as NATO does. So I am an observer, not a participant. And as an observer, the only comment I make is similar to the one that the French ambassador made. I think a discussion is needed as to the assumptions. Is NATO as needed as before? At the point to when the U.S. president goes along, apparently, quite well with Russia, does Russia represent the danger it was expected to represent some years ago?
Jordan: What do you think?
Amaral: In other words—
Jordan: What do you think about that?
Amaral: I don’t know. That’s a very distant subject for me.
Jordan: What do you think?
Araud: Of course, you know, it’s really—there is a real question about NATO. NATO was created against an existential threat to the free world, which was USSR. USSR has disappeared, has vanished. Russia, of course, is raising some questions, but Russia is not USSR. Russia is not a unifying threat that USSR was. So there is a legitimate question about the transatlantic relationship, which was based largely on NATO.
I do think that we have to create a positive agenda between the Europeans and the Americans beyond a military alliance. And we have a lot of issues where we could work together.
Jordan: Are you worried at all, any of you, about what many people in the United States are, that this president, President Trump, is too close to Putin?
Amaral: Just to follow up on what I was saying, if we discuss the assumptions and that we agree that the danger is not the same, why should countries have to reach 2% if we want to be more provocative?
Jordan: That they don’t necessarily have to—[OVERLAPPING]
Amaral: No. I’m not part of this game. But as an outside observer, that’s the question I raise.
Araud: The Europeans are spending their military budget, it’s several times the Russian military budget. And Russian military budget is slightly superior to the French military budget.
Jordan: Just back to this question about Russia and the personal alliance between Putin and President Trump, is that anything to be concerned about? A lot of people in the United States are. They feel that he’s giving a cold shoulder to some of our allies while being very cozy to Putin. Does that raise any—
Araud: I think it’s a very good thing, actually, that the president of the United States has a working relationship with the president of Russia. Really, because especially in the Russian system, if you want to work with Russia you have to work with the president of the Russia. No, I think it’s a very positive development.
Jordan: Anybody else?
Dermer: Yeah. I mean, we, in Israel, definitely think it’s a positive development because a lot of the problems that we have in our region, I think, would be alleviated if you had the U.S. and Russia working together. Obviously, the most acute issue that we’re dealing with now is what’s going on in Syria. And if the U.S. and Russia could come together—and I suspect that this will be one of the issues at the upcoming summit—could come together on a political process for Syria, that they could both agree on, which would ultimately make sure, ensure from our point of view, that Iran leaves Syria. I think that could be very good and very positive for the region.
I think there’s other places where U.S.-Russia cooperation could be very good.
Jordan: British officials have been particularly unhappy with Putin lately, especially because of some problems with nerve agents and things going on, people dying, for instance, in England. How do you square kind of the autocratic actions and some of the really dangerous things that the president of Russia has done, or many people believe he’s done, with this cozy relationship with Donald Trump?
Amaral: I think this is a worrisome development, but I think it has to be further checked and verified. We have many assumptions, but I haven’t seen any really documented assessment of what happened.
Dermer: Look, obviously, in international relations you’re making agreements with parties and countries that you don’t fully agree with their policies. But I’ll look at it from Israel’s point of view, the leading powers of the world made an agreement a few years ago, we’re the greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, that the State Department of the United States said it’s the greatest state sponsor of terrorism. And there were people who thought that that would be good for peace and security around the world.
So when you look at the threats that you’re facing, I’d be much more concerned with the world lining up with the worst regimes on the planet, that represent and existential threat to Israel, and now you’re seeing also throughout the region the danger of giving such a regime hundreds of billions of dollars flowing into its coffers. We’re dealing with that reality.
Actually today, a few minutes ago before I walked in, there was a red alert, which is when we had to respond to, apparently, a projectile—we’re not sure exactly what it is—that came through the Golan area that was sent from Syria once again. So we’re dealing with the repercussions of the leading powers of the world, many of them who were upset with the relationship between the president and President Putin.
But a few years ago, they made an agreement with the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world. I don’t have any issue with the president trying to have a better relationship with Putin. I don’t think they’re going to agree on everything. I’m pretty sure they won’t agree on everything. And I don’t think it’s going to change necessary President Putin. But if that relationship can lead to a better situation on the ground in Syria, that’s certainly good for Israel. I think it’s good for our Arab neighbors. And I also think it’s good for Europe because a lot of refugee problems have happened because of the neglect of the situation in Syria.
Jordan: But let me say, Dan Shapiro, who was the U.S. ambassador or Israel under Obama, said something on Twitter this morning that’s getting a huge amount of attention. He said, “I don’t think we are fully grappling with the possibility that we could be on the cusp of a completely new era, a fundamental reshaping of the international order. And I don’t mean over the course of the Trump administration. I mean by next week.” [LAUGHTER] This is in response to what’s going on right now in Belgium and then onto NATO.
What do you think of that?
Araud: I think he’s right but, unfortunately, you know, really he is focusing only on the presidency of President Trump. He should have also focused on the presidency of President Obama. Actually, I used to shock a lot of my American friends by saying that the foreign policy of President Trump is not that different from the foreign policy of President Obama. Which means, for instance, on Syria, but also on Ukraine, you have seen the Obama administration basically, you know, really refusing any active American policy.
I think we are really—now, what is happening is, in this country, there is a fatigue towards foreign intervention. I’m not speaking about Washington, D.C., the rest of the country. And I think President Obama and President Trump have felt it, you know, really, and have decided in their own way that the United States should be anymore the gendarme of the world. And I think that’s a fact. And I think that’s a long trend that we, the non-Americans, we have to face.
Again, not only in Europe, in Syria. You know, I don’t see any major crisis of this importance since 1945, where the United States have so adamantly refusing to intervene. And whatever we think of it, that’s, I think, a reality. And that’s a major shift, you know, really. So especially European countries, but not only the European countries, I think we have to adapt to this new reality.
Jordan: The changing and reshaping of the world order, the topic today was about democracy, and so I’d like to start here, in Brazil. Like just give a very quick kind of summation about the health of democracy in your region, where the person leading in the polls is called the “Donald Trump of the tropics.” Is that fair, by the way? [LAUGHTER]
Amaral: I would like to compare the situation of democracy in Brazil and Latin America with what’s going on in the world. I think we’re all under a quite different time. And the changes which are going on all over the world represent a real revolution. And we have to just do it. And this revolution means globalization. This means an information revolution, which brought about a sense of nationalism and populism.
In our region I think it’s different because we never had so many democracies. If you take the OAS, it has 34 members; out of them, the exceptions are Venezuela and Cuba. The other countries are democracies. In our case, we don’t have an excess of globalization. We have a deficit. We don’t have the fear from the foreigner as an immigrant or goods, we can cope with that. And our institutions showed to be quite resilient. We went through three very important crisis: an impeachment, a recession of 7% in two years, and an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign. And the press was free and the institutions are working well.
Jordan: But the polls in Brazil show that the result of the corruption scandals and the result of the current very Trump-like character—or candidate who’s running means that people are kind of—they want law and order. The military is the most revered institution there, right? What is the health, would you say, going forward, for democracy as we have known it?
Amaral: I think democracy will go out of this difficult transition stronger. Why? Because people are fed up with politicians, with corrupt politicians and business people. And they want more democracy, not less democracy. I think this is a general feeling in Latin America. I think we should not misunderstand the reaction to politicians with the lack of commitment to democracy. People are very much against some politicians. And we should not misunderstand something which is different, which is ideology and democracy.
You might have—now you have a leftist government in Mexico, but you had a very conservative government in Colombia, and a very conservative government in Chile. It doesn’t matter, the ideology. What matters is that people would like the institutions of democracy strengthened.
Jordan: And what about the Middle East?
Dermer: The Middle East has a huge problem with democracy. I mean, Israel is the only democracy, true democracy, in the Middle East. So we’d like to have neighbors who would be democratic because democracies—non-democratic states tend to fight others, external enemies, in order to justify their internal repression. But when it comes to Israel’s democracy, I think it is a tremendous model for the world because democracies are tested under crisis. That’s actually when it counts, not when you’re at peace.
And Israel is the most beleaguered democracy on earth. We’ve never known a day of full peace. Fortunately, we have peace with our Egyptian and Jordanian neighbors now. But in our 70-year history, we’ve had to deal with security threats faced by no other democracy, and yet we’ve maintained our democratic institutions and democratic values. I was born and raised in this country, so as a former American, I marvel that Israel was able to do that because I remember the situation in this country—and people will remember this—on September 12th, 2001, and the fear that there would be another imminent attack. And how at that point people were willing to trade certain civil liberties for their security. And then over time, as the danger recedes, you, of course, cherish those civil liberties. So the pendulum swings back.
But Israel has been in September 12th for 70 years. Because we don’t know, there could always be another attack. And the fact that we’ve been able to keep our democratic institutions strong and vibrant, and all our branches of government strong and vibrant, and to maintain free press, to maintain free speech—
Jordan: So you don’t see it changing any time soon?
Dermer: No, I don’t see it changing. But I think other countries who are dealing with these security challenges can look to Israel as a model. And I agree with the ambassador, to what he said. I think a lot of this is the effects of globalization, changes in the workforce, and different movements come about. But it’s important, also, to not say the sky is falling when it comes to democracies. I think just because—
Jordan: What would you say instead of “the sky is falling,” what’s happening with democracy?
Dermer: I just think it’s a natural course that democracies, there are always fights between branches of government. Montesquieu pointed that out a long time ago. There are always fights between branches of government, and if you—
Jordan: I mean, is it raining? If the sky isn’t falling, what—
Dermer: No, but you could have—for instance, in Israel, we have an issue of sort of the Supreme Court and the role the Supreme Court should play in our society. And sometimes that is cast as democracy is Israel is falling because of that. And I totally disagree. You had a battle in your country about the role of the Supreme Court. The person who fought that battle was actually Thomas Jefferson in a case 200 years ago, and said, “Hey, the Supreme Court in the United States should not have the power to actually knock out a legislation in Congress.” And this was the person who came up with the Bill of Rights. So what I’m saying—
Jordan: Just a second, only because have a few minutes left and I want to go to—
Dermer: Just 10 seconds.
Dermer: I think it’s important not to cry wolf on there’s the natural process and the give and take within democracies and say, “Well, this is a sign of fascism. This is a sign of totalitarianism.” Because when you do then have a real threat to democracy, people won’t be able to see it clearly.
Jordan: So Europe. There’s a lot going on in Hungry, Brexit, a lot of worry about immigration. Now all eyes on about the alliance with NATO. How do you see the world order? We started talking about this changing world order. How are things changing?
Araud: I think, first, it’s the first time in my life where political life in Europe and political life in America are so comparable. We are facing, basically, the rebellion of some of the voters who are telling us, the elite, tell us, the political power, “You are not delivering.” And instead of crying wolf, I think we should respond to their concerns. We should listen to what they are telling us and respond to their concerns. And that’s what my president is trying to do.
I think a substantial number of our citizens have been hurt by the economic policies which have been followed in the last 30 years or last 40 years, what we call the lowered horizon. You know, never the inequalities have been so high. For the last 30 years, I think half of the Americans have seen their income stagnating. When people say, “Why? Why your crisis,” you give this figure and you understand it. Basically, you say, “There is a crisis of the middle class.” And any democracy is based on the health, the well-being of the middle class. So we need to have policies addressing these concerns.
We are a democracy, so you have right-wing response, left-wing response. The right-wing response, we see it. We see it in this country, but also in Europe, which is, you know, really protectionism, which is anti-immigration, which is really responding to the crisis of identity of our society. You can believe it’s a good or a bad answer, but I think that’s something which is coherent.
So the question now is on the progressive side of the political spectrum, what is the answer? What the leftist side is telling to the voters? And that’s democracy. You know, really, we need to have this debate because the citizens are asking us a fundamental question. And if we ignore this question, if we despise these concerns, the crisis could be very serious.
Jordan: How do you respond? How do we respond? How does Europe respond to what the voters are saying?
Araud: Really, there is a lot of different question. First, free trade. I think President Trump is perfectly right to say, “What matters is fair trade.” You know, it has been for the last 30 years, people are saying, “Free trade is globally good.” But globally, nobody is globally good or bad. It means that some of our citizens have suffered from free trade, from trade which actually has been unbalanced. So we have to look at it. We have to define what means “fair trade,” in our relationship with China, for instance. You know, that’s a very good question.
Automation and artificial intelligence. They are going to destroy millions of job in the decade or more that is coming. What does it mean? Really, do you think that these people—you know, the first profession in the U.S., truck drivers. You have 4.5 millions of truck drivers in this country. You know, in 10 years, 15 years, what does it mean knowing, you know, what now with the driverless trucks? What are you going to do with the truck drivers? So that’s the fundamental questions that we have to address.
Jordan: Let me ask you about the first one of your—talking about fair trade, do you think what the Trump administration has proposed in terms of trade and tariffs is positive?
Araud: Of course, no, since the Europeans are the victims. [LAUGHTER] Again, a lot of questions. In this debate, in this political debate, which is very, very polarized in this country, I think we should also wonder whether, first, the answer is a good answer, but whether the question is a good question. And as I’ve said, I do think that the question about fair trade is a good question. My president went to Davos—you know, Davos is the Vatican of free trade—and said, “Actually, no. There is a problem of fair trade.” You know, we have to think about the consequences on our citizens, on our territories.
You know, it’s not by chance that our Rust Belt in France has elected far-right members of Parliament. We have seven far-right members of the Parliament, six of them were elected by our Rust Belt, which was voting communist 30 years ago. Because this Rust Belt has been devastated by globalization.
Jordan: It’s a stunning change. Your president said recently—Macron said that populism is spreading, quote, “Like a leprosy all over Europe.” Let’s just talk about populism.
Amaral: I’d like to make a comment on that and also on trade. I have sympathy for President Trump idea of reciprocal trade. We have been running a deficit with the U.S. for 10 years. We’d like to balance that. [LAUGHTER] Second point on populism, I think that the case of Italy is a very interesting one because you have two populist movements. One on the right, in the north; one in the south, of the left. And they are forced to adjust. And I think that the overcoming populism will be an imposition when these movements come to power they will have to become political parties and not outside movements.
This may take some time, but it is the only way. Because as ambassador of France said, people are not happy with the political system. It’s not working. It doesn’t provide the answers society is waiting for. Then they are looking for an outside response.
Jordan: You have written a lot about democracy. And just from where you were born in the United States, you have a great perspective about the world. Where do you see populism moving?
Dermer: Well, look, I think we have to understand and always keep in mind the fundamental moral difference between democracies and non-democracies. NATO, to me, is not just about a common struggle against the Soviet Union. And I agree with the ambassador, Russia is completely different than the Soviet Union. With all its issues and concerns, it’s not the Soviet Union. But NATO is alliance of democracies. There is one country there that should be of some concern, which is Turkey. Is it going to remain a democracy or is it moving in a different direction? It is moving in a different direction and that should be a concern.
But we have to keep this moral difference. And populism and different ideologies, and right and left, that’s part of the democratic game.
Jordan: Are you worried about what’s going on around the world with populism now?
Dermer: I think within democracies, I think it’s a natural response to what happens and change within democracies.
Jordan: But dying is a natural response. I just wonder if you’re worried about it? [LAUGHTER]
Dermer: I’m not overly worried about it, but I just think that the failure to distinguish between democratic societies and non-democratic societies, between free societies and fear societies, this is an ongoing problem as people follow this. So when people attack this or that thing that will happen in a democracy and cast it as fascism, cast it as if it’s some authoritarian regime, what it does is it blurs the line. Natan Sharansky, who I wrote the book with, he said, “The worst day of human rights violations in a free society is better than the best day in a fear society.” And if you don’t keep that distinction clear, and if you don’t—then you won’t understand why democracies need each other so much.
The reason why I have faith in the alliance of NATO is because they’re all democracies. And ultimately, I think that they will stand together. Sometimes we lose sight of what keeps us together and what separates us from non-democratic regimes that don’t give their people any rights, the rights to vote or the right to have basic freedoms that we often take for granted.
Jordan: Thank you. I’m just so concerned because we have to keep the program going. But as we wrap up here, and the big meeting in NATO is ahead of us, just in a word or two [LAUGHTER], could each of you talk about what—do you want NATO to stay strong and basically as it is? If you could just really quickly say about the importance of NATO and that you do or want to keep it?
Amaral: I think NATO has been very important in the past. And I don’t know whether taking into account the present circumstances of the world order, it could or should play the same role.
Jordan: You don’t know whether it should or could?
Amaral: I don’t know. I think a discussion on the assumptions of NATO is what I think is a crucial issue. From that discussion, you may develop and indication of how much each country should invest in the defense. But if you keep seeing NATO as what NATO was during the Cold War, I think we are misleading the discussion.
Jordan: Do we need NATO, more or less, as is it now?
Dermer: I think that NATO should be expanded to include all democracies. You know, there’s not a body internationally that can unite all democracies and that they can act together to defend freedom and protect other democracies. The United Nations can’t do it because it’s an amalgam of democracy and dictatorship.
Jordan: Who should be added?
Dermer: A country like Japan, that’s a strong democracy. A country like Israel, India. I think there is—you have to take NATO and, a little bit, redefine its mission. I think expand it, redefine its mission, and democratic societies should stand together against non-democratic societies.
Jordan: And redefine its mission to be?
Dermer: To defend democracy and to defend freedom. And look, I said this whole issue of what percentage of the GDP. Look, Israel has been blessed by the fact that the United States has devoted these resources for the last 75 years to defending democracy around the world and protecting it. If it’s not for the United States, all democracies around the world will suffer. I think Europeans understand that and I know that countries and democracies in Asia understand that. Israel certainly understands that.
Araud: Of course, NATO has to survive. But to survive, I think there are two conditions. The first one is that the Europeans, too, should be able to handle their own affairs by themselves without calling the Americans as soon as there is a shotgun somewhere. So that’s why France has really has pushed the European Union to be more active in defense issues.
And the second one is to reinforce, to have a real—as I have said in the beginning—to have a real strong transatlantic relationship, we have to expand them beyond, really, the military side of an alliance. And to work on a lot, as I have said, a positive agenda. We need to define a positive agenda and we have a lot of issues on which we can work together.
Jordan: And the last and crucial question, the World Cup. [LAUGHTER] Congratulations to France. Big, big game today. Would you rather go up against Croatia or England?
Araud: England, of course. [LAUGHTER] You know, for three centuries we have been fighting, so.
Jordan: Do you think have a better chance of beating them?
Araud: Of course. You know, really, who doubt it? [LAUGHTER]
Jordan: Thank you so much.
Amaral: You’re welcome.
Jordan: Really appreciate this.
John Negroponte and Steve Hilton on the state of democracy worldwide:
Attiah: Okay. All right, so good morning. My name is Karen Attiah and I’m the Global Opinions editor here at The Washington Post and I would like to welcome my guests for today. So we have Steve Hilton, who is the host of The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton on Fox News. He’s also a former senior advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron and the author of the forthcoming book Positive Populism: Revolutionary Ideas to Rebuild Economic Security, Family, and Community in America. And sitting next to him is John Negroponte, currently the vice chairman of McLarty Associates. He served as the first director of National Intelligence under President George W. Bush. And previously as ambassador to Honduras, Iraq, Mexico, the Philippines, and the United Nations. And so before we begin, I’d like to remind the audience that they can tweet their questions to us using the #PostLive.
All right, so we’ll just jump into it. We’ve had a really robust discussion with the ambassadors previously, so we will get into some of the discussions about NATO and about democracy, but first of all, I want to start with this question about—are we, with everything that’s happening with populism, with the current administration, with the rise of populist forces around the world, are we in a revolutionary moment for democracy? And I want to start off with you, actually, Mr. Negroponte, because you’ve had such a long career in international relations and diplomacy, over 40 years of experience. So giving the long-view and what you’ve seen, where are we right now? Are we in a certain revolutionary moment?
Negroponte: Okay, well, I’m not the one who is about to publish a book on this.
Attiah: I’m getting to him. [LAUGHS]
Negroponte: No, no, I look forward to what Steve has to say about this. But what I would say is first of all, regarding the state of democracy in the world, if you look back, when I started my foreign service career, I was an appointee, one of the last appointees into the foreign service of the Eisenhower administration. So it’s during that span of time, I think that the march of democracy has been nothing short of impressive. If you look at Latin America, the picture has changed completely. Everything is looking much, much better there. The ambassador of Brazil mentioned that with the exception of Cuba and Venezuela, the rest of the map is pretty much colored green if you use the color scheme of some of the NGOs that cover these issues.
Africa has become—when I got into the State Department, Africa was becoming independent. Now, they’re moving towards more responsible government, although admittedly with greater difficulty and, of course, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe has been liberated so I think the overall trend has been basically positive and to try to make generalizations about one ism or another spreading like wildfire around the world, I think would be perhaps going a little bit too far. I believe—and this comes from years of doing political analysis in the nine different foreign service postings that I had—you have to look at the particular circumstances of each country that you’re in; the historic, geographic, economic, cultural, linguistic, and so forth to really be able to grasp what’s happening in these countries. So that would be the first thing I’d have to say.
Attiah: And so again, with that backdrop of your experience, what is happening right now in the realm of democracy and perhaps even democracy promotion that does give you hope sort of at this moment and I would also ask what perhaps gives you the most anxiety or fear about the state of democracy today?
Negroponte: Right, and there are examples on both sides of that ledger. In our own hemisphere, I think I would worry most about what’s happening in Venezuela, which has been a failed state for some time now. The economy is plummeting. Here’s a country with the largest oil reserves in the world that has managed to mismanage itself practically into oblivion. Refugees are fleeing to neighboring countries and so forth. And the international community, and particularly the community in the hemisphere is a little bit, I think, at a loss as to what to do about this because no one wants to see us go back into some kind of interventionist mode as we might have done back in the 19th century and there’s serious doubts as to whether that would even work.
But there’s also hopeful developments in this region and elsewhere in the world. I would just say two recent examples. One is Colombia, right there neighboring Venezuela, which has made tremendous advances. And thanks, in fact, in part at least to some nation-building support from the United States. I would have called it “nation-building lite.” I think when we get into regime change or occupations or sort of heavy-duty nation building, I think the opportunities to make mistakes are much greater. But I think we supported Colombia in a very effective way but what was important in the end was their willingness to defend and develop themselves. And let’s not forget this. If there’s sort of a bottom line here, democracy promotion can be helpful in facilitating a number of different things. But in the end, what it really depends on is the political will and the desire on the part of the local citizenry itself to accomplish democratic objectives.
Attiah: So off of that idea of the local citizens themselves and encouraging them to sort of play greater roles in their democracy, I want to turn to this question of populism. And this word, we hear it so much more now in the last, I would say, two years or so. Steve, you’ve written about this concept of positive populism and you literally are talking about revolution. Can you explain a little bit more about positive populism? I think the word has gotten—it has a negative connotation and we can go into those reasons why later. But are we in a revolutionary moment and what is positive populism in your view and how could it play a role in this climate and atmosphere we are in globally?
Hilton: Thank you, happy to get into all that.
Attiah: Small question. [LAUGHS]
Hilton: Thank you so much for allowing me to participate today. What a great event and it’s a great pleasure to be here. And then one really unexpected pleasure from this morning looking the previous session was to welcome the French ambassador into the fold of populism. I thought he did a great job of explaining the populist sentiment and seemed to agree with it. So that is an unexpected treat. Welcome, ambassador.
Attiah: We’ll get into the World Cup later.
Hilton: Exactly right, yes. Let’s not get into that. The way I’d put it is this: we have seen an expression of revolutionary sentiment over the past few years. And you’ve seen that first of all, with Brexit and then, of course, the 2016 election here. Not just Donald Trump, remember, but also Bernie Sanders and then across Europe and Germany and Austria and Italy, more recently in Mexico. So you’re seeing this expression of a desire for big change. But I wouldn’t say that that has translated yet into the actual changes that will deal with the problems that have given rise to that sentiment. And that’s why I’ve tried to set out an agenda for populism that is positive, that actually brings into play the kind of policies actually, that the French ambassador was talking about.
Policies to actually deal with the issues that have caused this and I think that’s how I would describe that. I think the important point when we bring that conversation back to the theme of today, which is democracy is to challenge the notion that the status quo represents democracy and somehow, this populist revolutionary challenge, whatever you want to call it is a threat to democracy. I think for a lot of people, there hasn’t been democracy at all and their experience here in America, in the U.K., across the world is for the last 40 years or so, it doesn’t matter who you voted for in actual elections, you get the same result. And the same result is that the rich got richer and as the ambassador said, half the country—that’s true in America, it’s true in the U.K, true in a lot of places—got poorer. Actually, the data shows that incomes—we use this word “income stagnation.” Actually, if you go back and look at the income data here in America, it’s actually a fall in real terms. For most workers in America, incomes have fallen and that fall is not just in the last few years. Actually, the measurement is since 1972.
This is a really big, long-term trend that has hurt working people and they want change and I think that the characteristics of the regime that has been in place, regardless of whether Democrats have won or Republicans or have won, or in the U.K, with Conservative Labor, whoever has been in charge, you have the same policy agenda, which is positive about globalization. Positive about automation in the economy, unlimited immigration, and above all, I think, centralization. I think that’s the defining characteristic of the last few decades. You’ve seen a concentration of power. You’ve seen centralization take place, both in government where power has been taken from local elected officials and got further and further away from people, moving to multilateral organizations like the E.U. and so on, but also, in the economy, where you’ve seen businesses get bigger and bigger mergers and these giant corporations.
And on the government side, what that’s left people feeling is that they have this big centralized authoritarian governments that treat citizens with contempt and on the economic side, people get a sense that you’ve got these giant corporations that treat their workers with contempt. That’s what people have had enough of. What we need now is a real structural change in government and in the economy so that we can make this populist revolution really positive for working people.
Attiah: So I want to come to this exact topic because we have Brexit that never left the news—
Hilton: Well, we don’t have. That’s the problem. [LAUGHS]
Attiah: But I want to talk about Brexit. So no your themes, right, of taking power away from the E.U. and you, in particular, you made headlines by breaking with David Cameron over the issue of Brexit. You publicly supported Brexit and you’ve said, “Membership in the E.U. makes Britain literally ungovernable in the sense that no administration elected by the people can govern the country.” How do you comment on the resignations this week of David Davis, of Boris Johnson, and what do you say to critics who would say that those who backed Brexit never gave any sort of coherent alternative to membership in the E.U.?
Hilton: Great questions. I think just to put the context there, a lot of when I talk to American friends about the E.U. and Brexit, there’s been this assumption that the E.U. is basically a European version of NAFTA and therefore, people are mystified by Brexit. What’s wrong with that? Why this great fuss? The truth is the equivalent of the E.U. in an American context is not NAFTA, but the federal government. The E.U. is actually a federal government for Europe. The difference is at least in America with all its problems, the president is elected, Congress is elected. The decision-making and policymaking part of the E.U., the European Commission is not elected and they drive policy in the E.U. and the result of that is, as I experienced, working in 10 Downing Street, at the heart of power, trying to implement an agenda that we were elected to do, a manifesto document. It turned out that most of the time, most of the policy work that we did in government, most of the administrative and legislative implementation that we did was implementing E.U. policy that nobody in the UK voted for and mostly, we disagreed with. That’s the reason that I argued that we should leave the E.U. and had that position for a long time.
Now, coming back to where we are today, it’s not correct to say that those who argued for Brexit didn’t have a positive vision. It’s just that what you ended up with was a prime minister who actually opposed Brexit and therefore, was in a mindset that Brexit was actually a threat to be handled and managed rather than an opportunity to be seized. And my basic point is that the real truth about Brexit is that what will help Britain succeed in the years ahead deal with some of those economic and social issues that gave rise to Brexit is not the deal you reached with the E.U.. It’s actually U.K. government policy on taxes, on employment, on investing in infrastructure and education and skills. Those things should be within the control of the U.K. government. That’s what really matters and they’ve been so bogged down in this bureaucratic negotiation with the E.U., they haven’t focused on doing something positive about the British economy.
Attiah: Yeah, I’d like to get, John, your thoughts about the Brexit situation. [LAUGHTER] Small question.
Negroponte: Well, I’m married to an English lady who devoted considerable effort to keeping Britain in Europe back in 1974 and working on the referendum and so forth and I’ve always felt that the European Union was a positive thing. I think you very eloquently described some of the problems that people have. I’m not sure that getting out of the E.U. is what’s going to solve the problem and I also ask you—you mentioned Britain afterward dealing with these problems on its own. I would ask you, “Will Britain remain Britain?” So I think there’s an added element of risk involved there. But ultimately, Britain and the Europeans are going to have to decide this and I’m not saying America doesn’t have any dog in this fight because I think we’ve been very comfortable working with the E.U. as an institution over the years and I recall and Mr. Obama, perhaps mistakenly, by speaking out publicly before the referendum may have actually contributed to the Brexit vote. He may have helped make that a reality, which was the opposite of his intention, of course. So I think we’re better off just waiting to see what happens.
Attiah: What do you think Theresa May should do now?
Negroponte: Well, I really am sincere when I say I think they’ve got to work it out themselves. This is about democracy. They’ve got a democracy that is devised to deal with these problems. They’ve got a wonderful parliamentary system. What I like about Steve’s comments is that when you talk about populism, you talk about populism but with an agenda.
Negroponte: Whereas, I think a lot of people think of populism as just some sort indiscriminate yelling and screaming. And that’s not what you’re talking about.
Hilton: That’s right, no.
Negroponte: I assume you mean Bernie Sanders, for example. Do you consider him a populist?
Hilton: I do and I happen to agree with some of the—[OVERLAPPING]
Negroponte: Well, surprising—
Negroponte: Well, surprisingly, for a Republican, I happen to agree with a lot of the stuff he says, too, particularly on domestic policy.
Hilton: Yeah, I think that’s exactly—you touched on the fact that populism is seen as negative. I would absolutely agree with that. That’s actually why I somewhat provocatively chose to call my book Positive Populism because I know that’s not what people think. They think it’s kind of angry, screaming, rejection of everything that can turn very dark and stray into territory that I would completely reject in terms of xenophobia and pulling up the drawbridge and all that stuff. And I think the real answer is to give a coherent, an intellectually coherent positive agenda for policy and I think at the heart of it is decentralization of power. That’s why I focused in my remarks on the fact that you’ve seen this concentration of power in the economy and in government. I think decentralizing power is going to be at the heart of how we solve some of these problems.
Negroponte: But just an example of populism that I had in mind: the father of French populism was Pierre Poujade. I went to university in Paris at the time that he was holding forth. But he was focused on only one issue: the question of taxes if I remember correctly.
Hilton: Yes, yes.
Negroponte: And I think you’re talking about something much broader than that.
Hilton: Definitely, I mean, one thing I really want to add into the mix if I may—the impact of these changes, the centralization of power. We talk a lot about the economy in the previous session again. I don’t want to repeat that in terms of jobs and incomes and so on. And also in government in terms of people are more aware of issues of corruption in big business and donors and lobbying, all of that. Very important. There’s another piece, which is the social piece. The piece relating to society. I think one of the things that has been the consequence of this centralization of power over the years has been the ripping apart of our social fabric, specifically in terms of those core building blocks of a strong society: family and community.
That aspect, I think, is a really important part of it. So for me, a positive populist agenda has to have answers to the problems of family breakdown, the problems of community disempowerment. And you’ll see in the book, I don’t want to be too much of a tease, but when it’s published in September I’ve got very specific ideas about how to—that’s why the subtitle is “Rebuilding Economic Security, Family, and Community in America.” That aspect of populism that relates to our society and strengthening that I think is really important.
Attiah: So Trump is going to be in the U.K. this week and he’ll be met with protests and apparently, a large—
Hilton: The balloon, yes.
Attiah: Balloon, yes. What do you make of that and I also have this question and we spoke about this, John. About the U.S. as a democracy promoter. Under this administration, should we consider—are we a populism exporter in this day and age? Should we consider ourselves that and I’m just curious about those two questions?
Negroponte: If you’re asking, for example, does the example of President Trump sort of have some effect on the way other leaders believe? I’m not entirely certain that is the case. Because as I said earlier, I think each country is driven by its own—mostly by its own internal political dynamic. As far as his trip, if I could just broaden the question a bit. As far as his trip to England and to Europe is concerned, I think what we’re all hoping for is that despite some of the rhetoric in the run-up to these events, that he reaffirms our commitment to Article 5 of the NATO alliance, which provides that an attack on one is an attack on all. And I do think to look back at the conversation that just took place with the ambassadors, that we are committed to the defense of Western Europe and we’ve done a lot to bolster defenses there, deploying people to the Baltic States, giving lethal aid to the country of Ukraine, so on and sort and I think it would be a pity if NATO started to erode in some kind of a way.
And so at least I want to believe that the outcome will sufficiently positive that NATO isn’t in some way threatened by these developments.
Attiah: And Steve, what would you hope for out of Trump’s visit to the U.K.?
Hilton: What I would hope for around Trump’s visit to the U.K. is that England wins the World Cup. [LAUGHTER] Let me say that because whatever else happens, you can be sure that if England beat Croatia today, no one will care really about Trump or May or Brexit, whatever. [LAUGHTER] It’s all about the World Cup final, that’s absolutely true. But to be serious, the really important point, actually, is something that was highlighted, but you’ve also got Boris Johnson’s resignation and so on. One of the fundamental reasons that he resigned is that the deal on Brexit that Theresa May finally published as it were internally to her own government and asked her government to sign up to last Friday; that deal specifically prevents the U.K. from signing, in the president’s words “a big beautiful trade deal with the U.S..” There’s nothing that could be more helpful to the British government than a really warm relationship with the president and the president actually putting—to the opposite of what President Obama said. Not at the back of the line, but at the front of the line in terms of trade deals.
That’s what President Trump has promised. He’s kind of a fan of Brexit. He wants to help but they’ve now actually put forward a plan that stops them from doing that because the rules would have meant that they can’t negotiate trade deals and that, to me, is an example of why frankly, Boris and the other misters who resigned were right to resign. He used the phrase “semi-Brexit.” It’s worse than that. This is not really Brexit at all.
Attiah: Do you think Brexit will still happen?
Hilton: It’s very hard to see. The real problem is that although everybody agrees—when I say everybody, both the country at large, but also the conservative members of Parliament and obviously, the opposition. They all agree that Theresa May is completely useless and hopeless and making a complete mess of it. But they can’t agree on what comes instead so she’s left there kind of stumbling along in this incredibly depressing way because nobody can agree on an alternative. Therefore, sadly, I think we can expect more of this slightly shambolic performance.
Attiah: So I want to move onto Trump’s next stop, which will be meeting with Vladimir Putin in Russia. John, I wanted to get your thoughts on this summit and what could he get out of this meeting that would serve America’s interests?
Negroponte: Well, first of all, I think the meeting’s a good idea. I think great power leaders—after all, Russia is part of the permanent five members of the United Nation’s Security Council. It’s a nuclear weapon state. It has been a big player on the international scene. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Obviously, in the time of Mr. Putin, the Russian role in the world has expanded somewhat from the doldrum days, if you will, of the 1990s, when Russia was really pretty much flat on its back because of all of the changes that had taken place. So they’re a power, they’re a force to be reckoned with and they’re proactive. And I think a very good example of their proactivity has been the role they played in the Middle East, especially in Syria. So I think there are constructive conversations to be had between the two leaders on Syria, on Iran. I think on what to do about Iran, which I’m sure the Russians will have some views about our having withdrawn from that agreement.
And, of course, the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Let’s not forget, North Korea borders on a part of Russia. So they have a direct and immediate stake in that situation as well. So it could be a broad agenda and I don’t think one wants to either exaggerate or underestimate the importance of this meeting.
Attiah: And Steve?
Hilton: I really don’t want that. I completely agree. That’s what I would have said that if you went to me first, which is the most helpful thing would be a more constructive attitude on the Middle East and in Syria and in North Korea. I completely agree.
Attiah: Very, very, very quickly, I want to touch on the roles of technology. You’re coming from the West Coast. You’ve been involved in Silicon Valley. The role of technology in our changing society and what role that can play in either—some would say maybe fighting populism or promoting what you would call “positive populism” and also, John, maybe very quickly, what role technology and social media could play in democracies today.
Hilton: It’s a great question. I think one thing that’s happening is a dawning realization on the part of a lot of the technology leaders that, as you mentioned, I know either directly or indirectly because we’re based out in California. The tools that they created, which sincerely were motivated by a desire to empower people, also empowering all people, including the bad as well as the good aspects of human nature and I think that that’s something that they are very conscious of and reckoning with. I should just make sure for full disclosure, everyone understands that my wife is a senior executive at Facebook. Just so that everyone’s clear about that.
I, as you say, started a tech company myself called Crowdpac and I would argue that that was an example of the positive intent here. The mission of Crowdpac is to really put democracy directly in people’s hands by allowing people to run for office. It’s a crowdfunding platform for politics.
Attiah: But that makes you the centralized power, right?
Hilton: No, it’s the opposite because it’s actually undermining the control of the party systems and the idea is that people can run for office and raise money without relying on the big donors. So just to say, I’m not pitching because I actually no longer am the CEO because ironically enough, Crowdpac, which started as a nonpartisan platform for all-comers has succeeded greatly amongst the resistance to Donald Trump. So you have a Fox News host having started a platform that is really funding a lot of the resistance.
Attiah: I just wondered because as we talk about democracy and as you talk about sort of traditional political parties and institutions, technology is becoming—as the previous panel mentioned. Technology, you have driverless cars that are replacing—perhaps maybe replacing truck drivers, eliminating jobs. You have the news about Uber and putting taxi drivers out of work. The tech sector is becoming extremely powerful with not necessarily the same sort of accountability that we would have in an elected system. So I just wonder, again, the power of the algorithm, like we talked about, how does that—it seems like we’re replacing sometimes one sort of centralized power to another.
Hilton: Totally agree. I know we’re short of time. As a TV, I’m very conscious of time. You always have to finish on time, but I want to just make two points, if I may. On the centralization of power, completely right and I argue in the book, and I have for many years, including in ways that definitely conflict—if I could put it that way, with the agenda of the companies that my wife has worked for. That we need to have a much tougher approach on antitrust. We need to aggressively go after this concentration of economic power. I’ve got some very radical ideas that will be published in September. But I completely agree. And it’s not just tech, it’s in every sector. If you look at what’s going on in health—one of the big problems in healthcare is the concentration of power there.
The insurance companies, the giant insurance companies, they basically wrote the Obamacare law to suit themselves. You see it in insurance, you see it right across the economy. So we need a much more aggressive antitrust position. On the jobs and automation finally, I should say, the answer to that is not to try and stop these things, which actually do bring convenience to some people and do create jobs on their own. It’s actually to equip the people who are going to be the victims of those changes with the skills and the training and the education to really increase their productivity so that they can get jobs that are really going to pay well. And that means a complete revolution in how we think about education. From the beginning of life right the way through. And again, I’ve got very specific ideas about how to do that, but that’s the answer. It’s not try and stop the technology.
Attiah: I want to get John in on this. Will technology save us or save democracy?
Negroponte: I think ultimately, it’s going to be a wash as far as saving us, but I do think it’s contributed in many, many different ways to our well-being. You mentioned healthcare. I just think growing life expectancies around the world would be one example. There is the dark side of globalization that you were talking about. I think it’s not so much that all of these technologies are inherently positive. I think it somewhat depends on who is at the controls. And also, I think that the tech sector is going to have to face up to the fact that although it’s made a big mantra of not being regulated because that impedes the freedom of the internet, there’s going to have to be much more regulation than there has been up until now.
And then lastly, and I think this is perhaps the most significant point from the point of view of populism and the discussion we’ve been having and Ambassador Araud mentioned it also. What impact is it having on the nature of work what policies need to be adopted to address that? And at this point, I think we’re sort of just standing there watching a lot of people losing their jobs and not completely—we haven’t got a complete program with how to deal with that fact.
And I think this is a very serious social problem in this country and I’m sure it’s true in many, many other countries as well.
Attiah: Well, unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for today. This could have gone on for much, much longer. I would like to thank Steve Hilton and John Negroponte for joining me today and thank you all for joining us today. And now, I would like to hand things off to my colleague, David Ignatius, who will lead the final discussion. Thank you all.
Leon Panetta on Trump and the future of democracy in the U.S. and around the world:
Ignatius: Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to offer this last session in our discussion of The Future of Democracy. Can’t think of anybody who’s a more appropriate cleanup hitter if you will than my guest, Secretary Leon Panetta. He has served in so many different capacities—helping our country as a member of Congress, committee chairman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, White House chief of staff, CIA director, and secretary of defense; now runs the Panetta Institute, which is doing good in all sorts of bipartisan, nonpartisan ways.
Mr. Secretary, I want to get started by talking about the thing that’s on all of our minds. I’m going to repeat the injunction—ask us questions from the audience or from the livestream audience. Send them to hashtag #PostLive, and we will process them and put them to Secretary Panetta.
So Mr. Secretary, this morning, we watched President Trump arrive in Brussels, just, you know, practically smoke coming out of his ears—sat down to breakfast with the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, and talked about how Germany was a captive of Russia and all of the familiar lines about how the Europeans aren’t paying their way. I always remember hearing when I was growing up that when we thought about the future of democracy, we should think about NATO and our European allies and that structure of friendships and alliances that was about the future of democracy and keeping it going.
What did you think as you listened to President Trump’s rhetoric yesterday on his way to Brussels, this morning? What’s your reaction to that, and how do you think our allies will react?
Panetta: Well, first of all, it’s good to be with you, David. David’s tracked me for a long time here in Washington, and we’ve always had a great relationship, and I thank you for doing this.
You know, I worry a great deal about where this is all headed. In many ways, it fits a pattern for the president. I think this president who’s not steeped in history or steeped in foreign policy, is someone who likes to react, obviously, based on his gut instincts. But his reaction is always to create disruption and to operate with chaos. And part of that I think goes back to something you mentioned in your column in The Washington Post, which is this kind of New York developer mentality, because that’s been most of his life, which is to operate on the basis of challenging people, criticizing people, demanding things, and knowing that ultimately, the more he can antagonize and create disruption, that ultimately people will come around and come back to the table because there’s money on the table and try to work out some deal.
The problem I see is that he creates this chaos—which by the way, I mean tactically, I understand that chaos can be helpful. But what concerns me is strategic chaos, where there is no strategy as to where it’s going. So you get rid of TTP, but where’s the strategy to deal with that? You get rid of NAFTA, but where’s the strategy to repair that? You create a trade war and increase tariffs, but where is that taking us? You move away from climate change, but where is the strategy to deal with that? You get rid of the Iran agreement, but where is the strategy to deal with that?
And I have a sense that he’s applying that same kind of approach when it comes to NATO, which is to create a lot of disruption, to kind of challenge these countries to—and look, I do believe that these countries obviously have to meet their responsibility to NATO. I think he actually deserves some credit for getting some of these countries to come forward and begin to respond with their 2% requirement.
But what he’s missing is that, you know, this isn’t just a country club where people have to pay their dues. This is an alliance of allies that has a 70-year history that is critical to the security not only of the United States, but the security of Europe and the world. And he’s got to keep coming back to that fundamental point. He’s not doing that. He’s basically criticizing, he’s pushing them, he’s making the kind of statements that he made this morning, and what concerns me, as I said, is where the hell are we going with this? What is the long-term strategy? Is he trying to undermine NATO? Is he trying to weaken NATO? Or deep down, is he trying to use this as a tactic to hopefully strengthen NATO for the future?
Ignatius: So Mr. Secretary, let me ask you the question I was puzzling over this morning. I’ve traveled to NATO summits with you in the past if memory serves, and I wondered this morning whether we were getting near the tipping point, where at some point, people say, you know, he’s been banging on us now for a year and a half—I’m beginning to believe it—I believe that he doesn’t really believe in NATO. And so at that moment, if you’re a European, you say, we need to think about other ways to guarantee our security. The American commitment to defend us with nuclear weapons if necessary is no longer—how close are we to that tipping point, where people say, we’ve got to make other plans?
Panetta: Well, I think one thing that could very well happen in these next few days is that it may very well define Trump foreign policy for the duration of his term as president. And it can go one of two ways. If he takes advantage of the fact that the European countries are coming forward, tries to take steps to strengthen the NATO alliance to provide the kind of military assistance and deployments that are important to keeping that alliance strong, he could use that as a strong point in going to the summit with Putin. I think it could strengthen his hand in dealing with Putin. And then obviously deal with Putin on some of the critical issues that we confront with Russia. That is something we should hope for as the path that he will take.
On the other hand, it could be a disaster, and he could very well wind up in NATO continuing his criticism, demanding that if they don’t pay, that the United States will somehow withdraw in terms of the numbers of military personnel and equipment that we provide to NATO. So he could really send a torpedo into the strength of NATO, weaken NATO, and then go trotting off to Russia and have a great reality TV meeting with Putin, similar to what happened with the G-7 and then going to Kim. If that repeats itself, then I think Europe and our allies will have a very clear message that this president is not interested in trying to strengthen the alliance, but rather weaken it.
Ignatius: And not to push you too hard, but after this first morning, as we watched it, it looks to me like the latter scenario. The torpedo scenario [LAUGHTER] seems a lot more likely than the former.
Panetta: You know, I don’t know. This guy is totally unpredictable and erratic, and [LAUGHTER] I have no damn idea what the hell [LAUGHTER] is going to happen here. I mean, you know, I watched the president with the Supreme Court announcement. He followed his lines. He behaved himself. He did well. [LAUGHS] You know, as a former chief of staff, that’s what you want presidents to do. [LAUGHTER] And so, you know, he does seem to have at least the ability to adhere to that kind of big moment.
Now, on the other hand, by virtue of his tweeting and the way he behaves in other areas and the criticisms that he makes and the personal attacks that he engages in, that’s the other side here. Look, the most encouraging thing is that he’s surrounded by Pompeo, Mattis, and John Kelly happens to be there, who is somebody I worked with.
Ignatius: Worked with Secretary Panetta.
Panetta: And particularly Mattis and Kelly, who are two marines, ultimately, I think they’re trying to keep him on the right track. And whether they’re successful or not, we’ll see. But at least I’m somewhat encouraged that he has the right people at the table beside him. But obviously, he’s still not following their lines. [LAUGHS]
Ignatius: So you may just have given the kiss of death to poor General Kelly and General Mattis. [LAUGHTER] I don’t know. But let me ask you what’s in some ways an awkward question, but it’s an appropriate question for a former CIA director. It’s written often that Donald Trump’s behavior towards Putin—support, encouragement, being friends is a good thing—and his behavior toward our traditional allies—Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Theresa May—is consistent with someone who is acting on behalf of Russia’s interests. Obviously these are questions that in the end will be left to Robert Mueller and his investigation, but if you could just speak from your perspective as a former CIA director about ways in which people sometimes, wittingly or unwittingly, end up acting in ways that help foreign powers. I think that would be an interesting way to look at this question.
Panetta: Well, look, you know, I’ve been in public life over 50 years, and I served in one way or another with nine presidents. And every one of those presidents recognized Russia for what it is and understood that they were an adversary and that we had to defend our interests in dealing with Russia because from all of the intelligence that we gather on Russia, there is no question that they continue to make efforts to undermine our democracy—to undermine Western democracies. That’s pretty clear. This president doesn’t like to read his PDBs, but I’m sure that every briefing that is provided to him mentions the fact that Russia is engaged in efforts to undermine our democracy.
And so the fact that this president kind of goes out of his way to try to, in many ways, defend Putin when Putin says that Russia was not involved in something that all of our intelligence agencies agree that they were involved with, which was to try to undermine our election institution in this country. And Putin says, “No, no, we weren’t involved,” and the president of the United States says, “Well, you know, I kind of take his word that they weren’t involved,” when all of the evidence and all of the intelligence and all of the evidence is that in fact they were involved, then obviously that raises concerns.
What those concerns are, you know, I don’t know. Bob Mueller obviously will determine whether there’s a money connection or whether there’s anything else that truly is influencing him. But I think the bigger issue is this, that Donald Trump is president of the United States. He has sworn an oath not only to defend our constitution, but to protect this country. And I think for that reason alone, the president of the United States has to protect our country from our adversaries. I always felt as CIA director and as secretary of defense, my primary mission was to keep America safe, to protect our country, and that’s what presidents of the United States are responsible to do. And I worry that this president, for whatever reason, is not operating with the awareness of how much an adversary Russia is to the stability of the United States.
Ignatius: That’s a powerful answer, and I’ll leave that there and turn to a related question. You’re experienced in the process of bringing order out of chaos. And I’m thinking back to when a talented, but somewhat disorganized president named Bill Clinton was in a lot of trouble after his first couple years of office and you came in as his chief of staff in a situation, an environment which a lot of people though, there’s no way—even Leon Panetta’s not going to be able to discipline this. And you had some success. And I think it’d be interesting for this audience just to hear a little bit about how you did that, and what rules you laid down to impose some discipline on a talented but undisciplined man. How’d you do that?
Panetta: It wasn’t easy. [LAUGHTER] And frankly, I didn’t want to do it. I was OMB director, and we had just passed a very significant budget for the president that, by the way, provided 500 billion in deficit reduction over five years.
Ignatius: What’s deficit reduction? [LAUGHTER] We don’t remember that.
Panetta: And the combination of that plus the Bush agreement is what produced a balanced budget. So I was very pleased with the opportunity to work on the budget and work on appropriations bills. And actually, Vice President Gore, who was a classmate of mine in Congress, said, “I think the president wants you to be chief of staff.” And I said, “Al, I’m much more valuable as OMB director.” Besides that, I kind of knew the chaos in the White House.
And so the next thing I knew, I was being invited up to Camp David. And so I flew up to Camp David, and I walked into the presidential cabin, and it was President Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and Tipper Gore, and me. I knew I was screwed at that point. [LAUGHTER] And so at the end of that conversation, I said, “Okay, I’ll take the job.” And I had some conditions, but the most important was that I had to establish a chain of command. I remember asking my predecessor, Mack McLarty, “Give me your organization chart for the White House.” And he said, “You know, I don’t believe we have one of those.” [LAUGHTER] And I knew I was in trouble at that point.
So I took my Army experience, developed a chain of command where you have chief of staff, deputy chiefs of staff—people responsible to people, not having people wander around into the Oval Office—these kind of people that carry a broad title and can walk into any meeting, have no responsibility and walk out. That’s a lousy way to run the White House. So I developed that kind of approach, along with trying to control obviously access to the president.
They key difference was that this president wanted that discipline to happen. He knew that, in many ways, his reelection would depend on that. And so he was very cooperative in the effort to try to put those changes in place. And it was not always easy. You know, he is somebody who just instinctively wants to reach out to people, wants everybody to come into the Oval Office and talk and be a part of it, and so you had to discipline that. And I think he was willing to accept that discipline, and as a result, I think we were able to really put it in a better place.
I remember talking to John Kelly who called me before he took his job, and I went through the whole thing. I said you’ve got to put a chain of command in place, you’ve to limit access, you have to have a policy process that you put in place for the president. I said, “The big difference, John, is your principal, and whether or not in the end, he’s going to accept that kind of discipline. That will be the difference between success or failure.”
Ignatius: So we keep hearing reports of friction between General Kelly and the president, and yet he stays on. And I’ve wondered what would be the consequence if one day General Kelly decided, “This just isn’t working. Sir, with the greatest respect”—you know, and walked out the door. Or the president fired him, and decided that he didn’t want to operate with a chief of staff. I mean let’s face it, that’s not working out very well, the chief of staff process. What would that be like? What would a White House without a chief of staff for this very headstrong president—can you just give a word picture of what that would be like? [LAUGHS]
Panetta: Well, you know, it would again be chaos. [LAUGHS] But the president likes that kind of approach, and I think he basically—he may very well have arrived at a point where he thinks, “I really don’t need a chief of staff. I know this job now, and I can basically handle it without a chief of staff.”
Ignatius: And the Leon Panetta who’s sitting on his shoulder, who has been given an opportunity to whisper something in President Trump’s ear would say, “Mr. President”—?
Panetta: Mr. President, no matter how you’ve operated in the private sector, no matter how you’ve operated as president of the United States, you absolutely need to have a chief of staff that can implement the things that you want to do, can organize the staff and make it respond to you and to what you need done. You can’t operate without some discipline. [LAUGHS] I don’t care who you are. You need to have an organized approach to dealing with these issues.
And yeah, you know, the president of the United States is the elected individual in this country, and he determines what policies are. But the reality is that no president can operate without a support foundation in which you have advisors and key people that know these issues, that present options to the president, that allow him to look at issues, understand those issues, and try to make the right decisions. That’s the process you need to have in place.
I’m hopeful that the president will stick with John Kelly in that job. This president is not somebody who, obviously fires people the way others do, despite his background on reality TV. The way he undermines people is by tweeting and criticizing them. He did that with Sessions, he’s done that with others. He basically embarrasses them, criticizes them, and ultimately pushes them out that way. What I’ve noticed with John Kelly, and I thank god for this, is that he has now kind of pulled back on those kinds of tweets, which may send a signal that that relationship has gotten better rather than worse.
Ignatius: So I want to ask you about the broad topic of our gathering this morning, which is the future of democracy, and ask you not about how difficult it is now—we see that—but about how we’d go about putting this country and its political system, its process of governance, back on track. And you’re somebody who has special standing in that debate in my book, because as I’ve written, you’re part of what I’ve described as the great chain of being in our government—of people who came through Congress into OMB, and who basically made this system work, made things run, made the dollars and cents add up at the end of the day.
So as you think about an agenda for restoring the health of our democracy, what are two or three starting points, Mr. Secretary, that you think we should think about as we head toward the midterms, as we think about 2020?
Panetta: Look, the most critical thing in our democracy is the ability to govern. I tell the students at the Panetta Institute that in a democracy we operate either by leadership or by crisis. If leadership is there and willing to take the risks associated with leadership—and make no mistake about it, if you’re going to lead in this country, you’ve got to take risks. You’ve got to take risks. If you’re a businessman, you’ve got to take risks. That’s what leadership’s all about. But if that leadership is not there, for whatever reason, then we will govern by crisis.
And we have largely been a country in recent years that has governed by crisis. You have to have a shutdown of the federal government in order for Congress to try to figure out what to do about the budget. You have to have crisis in other areas in order to drive policy. And the problem with that is you can operate that way—as an elected official, it’s easy to wait for crisis and not have to do anything to anger your constituents. But ultimately, there is a price to be paid, and the price is you lose the trust of the American people in our system of governing. And I think that’s what the 2016 election was all about, was the lack of trust in Washington and the failure of Washington to deal with the issues that were confronting the American people. I haven’t seen that improve.
In my history, I’ve seen Washington at its best and Washington at its worst. The good news is, I have seen Washington work. When I came back, worked as a legislative assistant to Tom Kuchel, who was a minority whip to Everett Dirksen in the Senate. There were a number of moderate Republicans—they worked with Democrats like Humphrey and Jackson and Dick Russell. They worked together on issues. Yes, they had their political differences, but they worked together when it came to issues confronting this country. When I got elected to Congress, Tip O’Neill was the speaker. He’s a Democrat’s Democrat. But he got along with Bob Michel who was the minority leader. And did they have their political differences? Of course. But when it came to major issues, they worked together. They were willing to sit down, to negotiate, to respect each other, to develop trust between each other, and to govern the country.
That’s broken down. That process has broken down. There is no trust. They can’t even agree on the facts regarding issues. So there’s an unwillingness to sit down and to negotiate and to find compromise and to find consensus. And so you have dysfunction. And it’s a dangerous dysfunction. You can’t deal with the budget, you can’t deal with the debt that’s going to become almost over 100% of GDP within these next few years. They’re not dealing with immigration. They’re not dealing with energy issues. They’re not dealing with the whole issue of infrastructure and how to improve infrastructure in this country. They’re not dealing with the fundamental issues facing our country.
So the concern I have is if that dysfunction continues, then I think along with a president who’s beginning to withdraw from our leadership role in the world—I think that spells a weak America. And that could undermine our democracy for the future. Now I have great faith in our system. I have great faith in the fact that there are communities and states out there and institutions that want to make our democracy strong. But I will tell you this—I do not think that our democracy is going to solve its problems from the top down. It’s only going to solve its problems from the bottom up, which means the election of new individuals who are willing to get back to governing.
Ignatius: So let me take that issue head-on. There are a lot of people in your party, in the Democratic Party, who say, “We are facing a mortal threat to our institutions, our values.” They point from immigration to various human rights issues—the whole agenda that you went through. And they say, “You know, all this centrist talk about, you know, a compromise and all that, that’s getting us nowhere. We need to be an angry, motivated party, and we need to be more prepared to confront the other side. So if Sarah Huckabee Sanders goes to dinner in Lexington, Virginia, well, you know, if the folks there get angry, send her away without her dinner. If Mitch McConnell’s trying to leave his house in the morning, go remind him about immigration issues,” and a whole series of things like that, that are illustrations of this argument that to be successful, Democrats need to be an angry, militant party to rally the country.
There’s obviously an alternative argument—that Democrats should try to be a governing party with a broad tent that lots of folks feel comfortable under. But you’ve heard the argument from those motivated young Democrats—I’m sure you hear it in California. What’s your answer to those folks who’ll say, “We’ve tried that centrist stuff. It doesn’t work. Let’s try being angry”?
Panetta: Well, if you’re angry and you lose, it doesn’t mean a damn bit of difference. The objective has to be about winning. You know, for all of the concern about Kavanaugh, or the new justice to the Supreme Court, look, the bottom line is that’s a result of losing an election. And the Democrats have lost a major election in this country. And the issue is whether Democrats can win an election. And they can’t win if they fight Republican extremism with Democratic extremism. The only way you win in this country is by reflecting what America’s all about.
And America, the America I know, is a country that obviously has vast differences, but at the same time, in terms of values, represents very much the same belief in what this country is all about, in the importance of a job for their families, in the importance of decent healthcare for their families, in the importance of educating your children, in the importance of being able to pull together as a community, in the importance of caring for one another in this country, in the importance of welcoming those who come to this country. I’m the son of Italian immigrants. This is a land of immigrants.
So it is those kind of fundamental values that the Democrats have to speak to. It isn’t about tearing people up. It isn’t about playing the same tactics. It’s about providing a message to this country about what we really can be, which is to return to the important values that make our democracy what it is. That’s what’s at the heart and soul of our country.
Look, our forefathers came up with this saying, reflecting what America should have as its motto, and it’s E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one. Out of many, one. The fact is, our differences are not our weakness. Our differences are our strength. That’s what America’s all about. But to be able to deal with that, this clash of ideas, which I think is healthy—I think that’s what America needs to be. But out of that, we have to be one nation.
And that means, yes, that we do have to sit down, we have to listen to one another, and we have to work through and find consensus and compromise and govern this country. That’s the message that Democrats are going to have to provide this country. Otherwise, yeah, they can play the same games that Republicans have played. They’ve now become a one-man party. They’ve given up on basic principles that the Republicans are all about, whether it’s free trade, whether it’s foreign policy, whether it’s remaining strong against Russia. They’ve given up on a lot of those principles.
We can’t play the same game. We’ve got to represent something very different. And it’s not that different. It is what America really is. Go out in this country. Go to the Midwest, go to the South, go to the Northeast, go to the West. The fact is that deep down there are some fundamental beliefs that pull us together as a society, and that’s what you have to appeal to.
Ignatius: Again, a powerful answer. I want to take a question that came in from our Twitter feed. And it’s an interesting question. As I read it, it’s really asking how sound is this structure that we want to rebuild? How bad is the rot? And the way the person phrases this is to ask your view of “the stability of our system of checks and balances, the rule of law, and other cornerstones of democracy.” Are you worried that those have been weakened by these many years of bitter, bitter partisanship?
Panetta: Well, look, there’s no question that, as I said, pointing to the dysfunction, that it’s been weakened by virtue of the inability of presidents and Congresses to work together. Just happen with Trump. This goes back a ways. Probably the last 15 years, presidents have found it difficult to work with Congress; Congress has become more partisan, they’ve engaged in trench warfare. There has been this inability to sit down and really be able to work through those issues. And we’re seeing that today.
At the same time, our forefathers did design a system in which they did not want to locate power in any one branch of government. They didn’t want a king, they did want a king-in-parliament, they didn’t want a Star Chamber court. And that’s the reason they created these three separate but equal branches of government. And those checks and balances are there. Are they always working the way we want? No. You know, we see what Congress is unable to do. We don’t always agree with the courts, although I have to say that courts are continuing to make decisions that do try to keep us in the path of the rule of law.
But what I really see that I think is the great strength of America today is that our institutions of democracy that count today are the free press and the fact that the press continues to present the news to the people. There’s obviously, with social media and all the other things involved, there’s a real competition for just exactly where the truth is, but the fact that we have a free press is extremely important to the debate that needs to take place in this country.
We have states that have taken up their responsibility to deal with issues that the federal government for one reason or another is not trying to deal with. So we have a number of states dealing with environmental issues, dealing with immigration, dealing with other challenges that the federal government has not been helpful on, but they’re doing it.
I see communities—we’ve seen comments about communities across this country where, yeah, there are Democrats and Republicans. There are people that support Trump, there are people that support Bernie Sanders. But the fact is, in these communities, they’re able to sit down and to develop approaches to try to improve what’s going on in these communities, whether it’s in housing, whether it’s in transportation, whether it’s in healthcare.
And there are other institutions in our democracy that are working as well. So I think because of those institutions—and look, we’re all being tested. All of us, as citizens, are being tested. And in many ways, the question is whether we’re willing to step up and do what we have to do in order to try to make sure that our country stays on the right path. So we’re all being tested, but I have fundamental confidence in the underlying strength of this country, because I really do believe that deep down, Americans share a common spirit, common sense, dedication to what this country’s all about.
And the reason is, because as secretary of defense, I saw those values in the men and women that served this country. I looked them in the eye. These are young people that are willing to fight and die for this country. Understand that. They’re willing to fight and die for this country. And if they’re willing to do that—if they’re willing to do everything necessary to protect this country, then I don’t see why we, as citizens, can’t reflect the same courage in terms of our democracy.
Ignatius: Are you sure you’re not ready to run again? [LAUGHTER]
Panetta: I like being 3,000 miles from Washington.
Ignatius: So I want to stick with this question of damage to our institutions. Maybe this is a last question, but it goes to an area that you came to know and love, I think, and that’s our intelligence agencies. You said nobody was more surprised than you when you were asked to be CIA director, but I remember when you came in, that agency, you know, acted as if it had a little sign on its backside that said, “Kick me.” And you gave them some protection and cover, and that was a period of rebuilding.
And we’ve been in a period where the president, in an extraordinary way, has publicly attacked our intelligence and law enforcement agencies—talked about the FBI in ways I could never imagine an American president speaking, talked about the NSA similarly, as engaged in massive abuse, for a time was attacking the CIA and its professionals.
So I want to ask you, since you were part of that world and I’m sure stay connected with it, what damage has all that done? As people listen to these comments coming from the president of the United States week after week, what effect does that have, and again, how do we think about repairing that so that we get what we want, which is independent, professional, self-confident, law-abiding intelligence and law enforcement?
Panetta: Well, look, I mean let’s just establish the basic premise. This country cannot protect itself, cannot defend the interests of the American people without the rule of law, and without a strong national security, a strong defense force that can help protect this country from our adversaries. And critical to that is the ability to get the best intelligence possible on what our adversaries and others are up to. Knowledge is critical to the ability to protect our country. That’s what intelligence is all about. That’s what the CIA and all of the intelligence agencies are all about. That’s what NSA is all about. It’s the importance of being able to determine what others are doing that can impact on our national security interests.
And that doesn’t just happen. That isn’t something where you can just pick up, you know, The Washington Post or The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal and figure out what’s happening in the rest of the world. That means you’re going to have to put people in dangerous places in order to be able to determine what really is happening. You’ve got to be able to deploy agents. You’ve got to be able to conduct operations that can provide the best kind of information possible.
And so people are putting their lives on the line in order to be able to gather that kind of intelligence. That’s what it’s all about. I talked about our men and women in uniform. The fact is that the men and women who serve in our intelligence agencies, and for that matter, our law enforcement agencies, put their lives on the line.
And when a president criticizes our intelligence and our intelligence operations, then clearly, it impacts on the morale of those people that are out there putting their lives on the line. I mean they’re basically asking the question, “Wait a minute. I’m out here, I’m taking risks every day, I’m providing valuable information, and now I hear president of the United States basically criticizing the importance of that information and criticizing what I do.” It makes it that much tougher to try to attract people who are willing then to go out into those tough positions and be able to do what is necessary to do.
Now, look, I have tremendous confidence in the people that are part of our intelligence agencies. I know they’re continuing to put their lives on the line. They’re continuing to gather than information. They’re continuing to provide that kind of important intelligence.
The reality is, after 9/11, we recognized that intelligence in many ways failed to be able to determine what our enemies were up to. And the result of that is that we really did improve the intelligence operations in this country. We put them together, they’re willing to share information, they’re willing to work together. And I think in many ways because of those operations, we’ve been able to protect this country since 9/11.
But it is a continuing challenge, and so my hope is that the president now understands that whatever problems he may have had with intelligence in the past, the reality is he cannot do his job without the men and women in the intelligence operations who are putting their lives on the line in order to make sure that they provide the information that’s critical to our national security.
Ignatius: So when I talk with Secretary Panetta, I think of, as they say in church on Sunday, the law and the prophets. [LAUGHTER] And, you know, you take us back to fundamentals about how our country works. We’re really grateful that you were willing to take this time this morning to be with us and share such honest thoughts really worth thinking about. So thank you, Mr. Secretary, for coming with us.
Panetta: Thank you very much. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, David.