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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

National Security and Foreign Policy

Rose Jackson, Open Society Foundation; Josh Weinberg, Truman National Security Project; and Jim Arkedis, 4dpac
Philadelphia, PA
July 28, 2016

Date: 07/28/2016 Location: Philadelphia, PA Description: Foreign Press Center briefing withRose Jackson, Open Society Foundation; Josh Weinberg, Truman National Security Project; and Jim Arkedis, 4dpac on National Security and Foreign Policy. - State Dept Image

3:45 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Hopefully you are dry; some of our briefers are not. So this is the 3:45 briefing on national security and foreign policy. We have three experts from the national – the Truman National Security Project. Two out of the three are here now. Our third one will join us shortly. So we have Rose Jackson and Josh Weinberg, and they will give opening comments and then we’ll open it up for Q&A. Again, as always, these – the comments from our briefers are their own and not of the U.S. Government. But after our quick engagement, then we’ll open it up for Q&A. Thank you so much. When Jim joins us, I’ll introduce him as well.

MS JACKSON: Hello. By way of very brief introduction, as she mentioned, we are both members of the Truman National Security Project. Professionally, I am most recently from the State Department, currently at the Open Society Foundations, and for many, many years in the past in and out of East and North Africa with various international organizations and U.S. political campaigns here at home.

I will speak extremely briefly, with the intention of taking as many questions as possible. I would just say I think it’s an extremely interesting time to have a conversation about U.S. foreign policy in the context of domestic elections. I don’t know that at any other moment in recent history the two were more closely linked, and it is perhaps something foreign to most Americans to consider their own domestic political whims in the context of global trends, but I see it as very much as closely tied together.

I think there are two major global trends that are colliding around the world today and are impacting the domestic politics in places like Europe, throughout much of the African continent, as well as here in the United States of America. The way that I perceive that, there are trends of growing inequality not just in the United States but all around the world, a growing divide between the extreme rich and the extreme poor, and an ever-shrinking middle class. In that context, it’s not surprising to see a rise of populism and populist politics that leads to othering, identity politics, and of course, concerns over the perception of scarce resources and scarce jobs and concerns over refugees and immigrants coming to seek work at home.

Which leads me to the second trend that is colliding with growing inequality globally, which is the continued extreme insecurity and conflict in places like Syria and Afghanistan that is leading to this global migration crisis. Hundreds of thousands of people taking the extremely risky step of leaving their homes after sustaining in some cases up to three years of aerial bombardments in places like Syria, and flooding into Europe, seeking access to the United States, and even some of their neighboring countries for the opportunity to be safe and find work.

What that does, though, when it meets the growing inequality is, of course, it exacerbates those schisms. And so a population that is feeling increasingly left behind, is feeling concerned about a lack of economic opportunity and access, begins to fear that those who are coming in are stealing their opportunities. And for political individuals who are seeking the opportunity to divide and to gain political power through that division, it’s a very useful option. And we’ve seen that in Europe. We saw it with the Brexit vote. And I do think there are trends of that that we’re witnessing in the United States. A very legitimate part of the United States public believes and feels very strongly that they’ve gotten a raw deal – that after the bailouts of 2008 they didn’t feel that their lives were getting better, and particularly, people who worked in manufacturing across the United States aren’t quite sure what their future holds.

And so if you view it in that global context, the American election seems pretty familiar to some other things that we’re seeing globally. I’ll leave it at that, just to say if you believe those two trends to be true, then that means figuring out what the global answer, the international community’s answer is to the crisis in Syria and the crisis to Iraq. That is essential to any sort of solution of bringing a little bit more stability to the global order; at the very least, not bringing additional instability into that order. And with that, I’ll leave the rest for my colleague Josh.

MR WEINBERG: Thanks, Rose. So I’m Josh Weinberg. I’m a member of the Truman National Security Project. By way of background, I’ve been in the Army for a number of years. Deployments include Afghanistan, and most recently in Yemen. I was working with a Special Operations team there. And I worked quite a bit in the Pentagon and in D.C. coordinating interagency activities with regard to countering the Islamic State. I’ve covered policy and national security issues across the Middle East and Central Asia, Egypt, and Afghanistan and Pakistan. So happy to answer or try to answer questions across those topics.

And I’ll just say – so Truman, a little bit of background as well on that. So we’re an organization founded on progressive national security – progressive values to lead on foreign policy and national security. And really what we focus on is the combination of defense, diplomacy, and development as a combined approach to American foreign policy and national security. And as you’ve heard in the speeches this week and Hillary Clinton’s statements and everyone else involved, that is really her approach. She’s one of the founders of using soft power combined with strength around the world to secure the United States, secure their allies for a safer world and prosperity.

So that’s some background on me, and happy to take any questions from both us.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Namo Abdullah, a journalist with Rudaw, which is Kurdistan’s news agency. So you talked about ISIS. My question is: Who – which of the two candidates – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump’s – foreign policy will be more favorable to the Kurdish forces who are fighting the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq? So as you talked about Brexit – now a lot of Kurds in Iraq are talking about Kurd-exit. They want to separate from Iraq. Do you believe any of the candidates will support Kurdish independence? Thank you.

MR WEINBERG: So I can’t speak – I don’t – I’m – I don’t think Donald Trump has a published view on that matter, and I don’t know if Hillary Clinton has a specific approach on that. I can say that as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was very involved in pursuing the peace process between Turkey and the Kurds, and then also the negotiations between the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish Government as well.

And I think as far as the countering Islamic State activities in the region, I believe that Hillary Clinton lines up very closely with what President Obama’s current approach is. We have – it’s going to take all the partners and allies in the region to defeat this enemy. That includes the Kurds; that includes Turkey; that includes all the countries around that area – that alliance. And that includes work – and that’s working together.

So how that then affects Kurdish independence, I think, is a broader question. But I think in – specifically in the counter-Islamic State context, the Kurds are a very important part of that fight in Syria. So --

QUESTION: Just one more. Hillary Clinton at some point supported the notion of creating a no-fly zone or a safe haven in Syria. Do you think she’ll be able to do that given the changing circumstances in the country with Russia being involved? How can you prevent Russian airplanes from flying over a so-called no-fly zone?

MS JACKSON: I mean, none of us are going to stand up here and guess exactly what will be happening after November and after an inauguration to a new president in late January. I think there are options that have been considered. The word “no-fly zone” has been used to mean a lot of different things, and some people get hyper-focused on the idea of shooting airplanes out of the sky. There have been proposals such as simply declaring that there are no strikes on civilians in an area and there would be a cost to anyone that would drop munitions on civilians in that area. I think those options still are on the table. Hillary Clinton is going to have to decide, if she’s president, and likewise whomever wins this election is going to have to figure out what options they still have. But I don’t think that there is no other way to proceed. I also don’t think it’s useful right now to surmise where we’ll be as things tend to change daily.

MODERATOR: And folks, I just want to introduce Jim Arkedis from the team as well. He’ll be involved in the conversation.

MR ARKEDIS: Hi, everybody. I’m very, very sorry for being late. I abhor being late. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves, and then it happened to me. So anyway, just to lead off and sort of see the conversation from my perspective with a couple things – I don’t know what my colleagues have said, obviously. One of the things that I’m really looking forward to most in a Hillary Clinton administration is the idea that we’re going to really get back to what I like to call a values-based foreign policy. And with Hillary Clinton this goes all the way back to 1995 when she said women’s rights are human rights, in Beijing.

I think that in the post-Cold War era and in the post-9/11 era, the United States has had to make a lot of short-term tradeoffs to do – to accomplish things when it comes to national security and foreign policy. And what I’m really interested to see, and what I would really advocate for in a Hillary Clinton administration, is the idea that a progressive foreign policy in the 21st century is one that – where human rights and the very foundational ideas of what it means to be America – equality of opportunity, freedom of expression, economic prosperity – are baked into every decision we make.

One, because it’s a moral imperative – what we do at home, the values that we stand for in this country should be the bedrock of how we operate abroad. And that goes all the way back to Harry Truman’s 1948 State of the Union address when he said quite literally – you could look up the quote – he said, “Our domestic policies are the basis of our foreign policies.” And he was talking about civil rights legislation and the idea that everybody was equal and that we had to pass civil rights legislation because the Soviet Union at that point was using Jim Crow laws and discriminatory practices in the United States against the U.S. in their own propaganda and painting the United States as hypocrites in certain circumstances. Of course, that was a valid point.

But secondly, the idea that we have a values-based foreign policy goes to the heart of a strategic imperative as well. When we stand for inclusive rights, when we stand for democratic institutions, and we stand for freedom of – the free press, and when we stand for economic prosperity, that helps erase the zones throughout the world in which hate-based ideologies, like those followed by ISIS and al-Qaida and other places, grow and they grow in ungoverned places.

And so I like to say all the time, our values are our interests when it comes to national security and foreign policy, and I look forward to that when Hillary Clinton is inaugurated. And so thanks very much.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Gretel Johnston with German Press Agency. Just like to ask a question about terrorism in the U.S. and the struggle against it. I’ve read, and I think people in the country, the voters in the country, one of their decisions will be whether the next president is going to keep them safe from some of the terrorism that we’ve seen in Europe. And I’m just wondering if there’s going to be a strong enough message to those voters who will perhaps vote on that very issue.

MR ARKEDIS: So I was a counterterrorism analyst at the Department of Defense for five years when I was starting my career off. Donald Trump has tapped into something very real, and that is the basic fear amongst your average American who’s going shopping that a bunch of guys in masks are going to pull up and start shooting, right? Now, the gloomy, horrible, inaccurate, fraudulent picture of doom and gloom that he painted at the Republican Convention is of course nowhere near the reality, but there is an underlying of truth, which is why he chose to extrapolate and exploit it.

I like to think that 2016 is the authenticity election, right, where if Donald Trump, especially during the first part of the primary, rose to the top of the Republican Party because he was the guy who could tell it like it is, I think that there’s a very powerful progressive message on the other side of that coin. And as someone who worked in the intelligence community and fought terrorism for several years, I can attest that we are – we can pound the table and say, yes, we’re going to have more analysts and yes, we’re going to have more surveillance and all this stuff, but as – getting back to the values point, we have chosen not to live in a police state in this country. We have inherently chosen, as Americans, to accept a level of risk because we believe so strongly in our own personal freedoms.

And so if there is an authentic message, I think it could be a very powerful one where you say to the voters, we’ve decided to accept some risk here in our country, we don’t want to be a police state, we are going to fight as strong as we can, we have to use our military against ISIS because they’re a horrible group of thuggish killers who deserve to be wiped off the face of the Earth. But when you come to – when we start considering individuals in their own basements who are reading things on the internet and decide to go out and purchase an easily accessible firearm and go to a mall or go somewhere else and start indiscriminately killing people, the fact of the matter is we are at the point of diminishing marginal returns for what we have chosen to spend in our intelligence and our defense forces. So let’s be cognizant of the fact that we have decided to accept some risk, and as Americans we can never be 100 percent safe. It’s a fallacy.

So that, I think, actually could be a very powerful message where – that can level with voters and say, look, I’m going to shoot it to you straight.

MODERATOR: Last call for questions. Okay. Well, that concludes this briefing. Thank you so much. The transcript will be available momentarily. Thank you.

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