Hey everybody, John Donvan here as ever, your host and moderator for our upcoming debate where the resolution is America is Retreating from Global Leadership. Important, interesting, very timely topic. And I just want to make sure you know that you're in the right place for this. I'm just about to set to go. I know that our debaters are settling themselves in, and they're about to set to go. So, I hope it's the same for you. So, get ready, get your minds open, get ready to listen, to listen critically, to learn, to judge, to weigh the evidence and the arguments, and be part of this upcoming debate where again, the resolution is America is Retreating from Global Leadership. We're going to be getting started in just a couple of minutes, so I will see you then.
The year is 1989 the Berlin Wall is coming down. America is both powerful and ascendant. Fast forward to the present, China's rise, a revanchist Russia, American retrenchment in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria all make that sense of leadership less clear.
Some say American power and even the will to lead are receding. Others argue that American influence not only remains, but Washington is looking to reassert itself as the preeminent influencer of world events. In light of this emerging divide, we debate the question, is America Retreating from Global Leadership? Yes, that is the question. One year after the election of President Joe Biden, who promised to "restore the soul of America," we are going to look at the standing of America globally, America, as a leader, as often has been claimed, or said, leader of the free world. It always had a certain ring to it. But does it still apply as it once did? Are we leading? Do we want to? Can we? The verdict is uncertain, but you are voting audience can help to bring it in. Thank you so much for joining us. This is Intelligence Squared.
Okay, everybody, now you have a duty to perform in this debate. And that is to act as the judge; we want you to tell us which side you feel argued most persuasively, we're going to ask you to cast a vote on our resolution, America is Retreating from Global Leadership before you've even heard any of the arguments. And then we're going to ask you to cast a second vote after you have heard what everyone has had to say. And how that works here at Intelligence Squared is that we name as the winner of the debate the team whose numbers move up the most in percentage point terms between the first and the second vote. Got it?
So, it's time for the first vote, actually, and it's right now. Here's what we want you to do. Go to the tab that's located on the right of your screen that says voting, click on it, and scroll downward. The other way to do this is to go to a browser and go to IQ2vote.org. That's IQ2vote.org in a web browser. And either way, you will get to a multiple-choice field, where you will tell us whether you are for, against, or undecided on the statement that America is Retreating from Global Leadership. So, again, it's the voting tab or IQ2vote.org.
And one more thing, we're going to be keeping this vote and the debate open to a broader audience for seven days so that we can see what more people across the nation think about this issue. They're going to watch; they're going to vote. They're going to join you in the voting and the watching. All right? So now, with all of that explained, it is time to meet our debaters.
Arguing for the motion America is Retreating from Global Leadership is Mary Beth Long, former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs and Chair of NATO's high-level group responsible for NATO's nuclear policy. She also served more than a decade at the CIA. Her partner, Bill Kristol, founder and editor at large of the Weekly Standard, and former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle.
Opposing them and arguing against the motion, Kori Schake, Director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and a former senior official at the U.S. State and Defense Department's as well as the National Security Council. Her partner, Vikram Singh, is a senior advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace and former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.
Okay, now so here we are ready to begin, we have all four of us together, all five of us together, I'm counting the four debaters, all of whom have debated with us before, so this is a rarity to have four returning debaters. And also, a pleasure. I want to thank all of you for joining us here for this debate on Intelligence Squared.
And now we move on to round one, and round one is comprised of opening statements from each debater in turn. Those statements will be four minutes each. Our motion again is America is Retreating from Global Leadership, speaking first in support of the motion, William Kristol. Bill, the screen is all yours.
Thanks, John. And Mary Beth and I will explain that, alas, America is Retreating from Global Leadership and has been for a while. This is a bad thing. I make this argument, and Mary Beth does too with regret and sadness, honestly. And I hope that we can all come back in five or 10 years, and I'd be more than happy, thrilled to make the argument that America has resumed global leadership and is advancing, not retreating. But we need to be honest about the current situation. In fact, if we want to reverse it, we need to have a clear-eyed appreciation of it. Kori and Vikram will do an excellent job of trying to make things seem better than they are.
But we need to not, I think, succumb to wishful thinking. We need to really look at the world as it is and America as it is in order to be able to reverse course. So, we are retreating; we've been retreating. What's the evidence? It's pretty simple, honestly. And let's look back 20 years. Was Putin, who was clearly an adversary of ours, stronger or weaker then? He had not yet invaded neighboring countries like Georgia or Ukraine. He hadn't consolidated and nearly as ruthless away his power internally, and he hadn't murdered people in other countries and capitals of other countries. Putin is now more of a threat than he was 20 years ago, and he's a real threat. People can say, oh, Russia is still a small economy, and it's not, you know, a threat the way it was under the Soviet Union. But they've done a lot of damage and can do a lot of damage.
And right now, China. 20 years ago, it was reasonable to hope that economic globalization was going to lead to political liberalization, that we would have a kind of collaborative relationship going forward with China. And that wouldn't be everything we wanted, but more of what we wanted.
Now, Xi has consolidated power in a pretty brutal and ruthless way. He's built up his military and threatening to use it nearby, obviously terrible abuses of human rights against the Uyghurs, the crackdown in Hong Kong, threatening of Taiwan, intimidating other countries with their economic power. No one really thinks that China is less of a threat or that we're stronger vis-a-vis China than we were 20 -- 10 or 20 years ago. Some of that China's advance was, of course, inevitable. And some of it's a good thing. Chinese are living better lives. That's good. They're wealthier, but still, it's clearly a threat and clearly a more hostile, more dictatorial, more totalitarian, even regime. Iran is closer to nuclear weapons than they were 20 years ago. Whatever you think of the invasion of Iraq, it did cause Iran to pause its nuclear program. We now know that's started up again. The Obama administration tried to deal with it one way, the Trump administration another way, I think people, veterans of both administrations would say, for whatever reasons, it hasn't worked too well.
And now the Biden administration is struggling with that. Iraq and Afghanistan, people can differ a lot about the wisdom of what we did there over these two decades. But it hasn't ended terribly well. And I say this with genuine sadness, knowing many people who fought there and who were involved in the policy and in all the administrations that have had to deal with those difficult areas of the world. And the pullout from Afghanistan was pretty catastrophic, I think, for U.S. credibility. And, of course, afraid for the Afghan people.
And even Assad in Syria 10 years ago, he was supposed to be gone. And eight years ago, the president -- nine years ago, I guess President Obama said the use of chemical weapons are a red line. We haven't enforced that red line. Venezuela, a dictator's in charge there who allegedly was going to be gone in the last several years, and there was bipartisan support for that.
So, we haven't been able to do, then what we hope to do that what we said we were going to do. As I say, if we come back in 10 years, and we can say that things have changed, that would be great. But for now, I'm afraid American global leadership is in decline.
Thank you, Bill Kristol. And our next speaker will be arguing against the resolution that America is Retreating from Global Leadership. That speaker is Vikram Singh, Vikram, the screen is yours.
Well, thank you, John. And it's so great to be here with all my friends, and I agree that we'll have a really robust debate. Mary Beth and Bill are well-positioned to argue their views. But Kori Schake and I are going to make it really clear that, if anything, American leadership is in a period of pivoting to recovery and consolidation in a world that is full of challenges, which Bill Kristol has just expanded on in some great detail. And those are all real challenges. But the measure of leadership is not that you have a difficult mountain to climb, it's how you handle getting over that mountain.
So, the fact that we have challenges ahead of us, the fact that we've been struggling with a dynamically changing world, is not evidence of a lack of leadership. And in fact, I think we're at a point right now in 2021, as we come out of a global pandemic, in which arguably the United States has performed better than any other country, that it's important to think about our leadership in terms of our fundamentals. So, where are we right now? I want to talk briefly about leadership in just four realms, economic, military, technological, and what I would call ideational. The idea of America; how we're striving for and being an example to the world. In economic terms, the United States is doing shockingly well, considering two years ago, we had the most calamitous economic crisis since the Great Depression, really. We've come out strong, we lead the recovery, unemployment is at 3.9 percent, our GDP is $21 trillion, significantly more than China's still, and yes, China is rising.
But don't forget, China has 1.5 billion people. You know, when China's GDP is getting to be six times ours, well, then I'll be starting to worry. If you take our next -- if you take the next nine -- the next eight top countries by GDP, they're all-American allies and partners. That's half the global economy. In terms of military strength, the same goes. The United States, our partners, and allies are still the undisputed global leaders. Kori will talk more about our hard power and more about the resilience of our system. But we are not at risk of losing even if we do face challenges. Because of the horrible authoritarian nature of some of these adversarial states, our leadership is not going to always lead to complete successes, but it is going to help lead the world in a positive direction.
When it comes to technology, the five top American technology companies have a market capitalization of $8.5 trillion. We are the leaders in innovation. Where do young people want to go to study? Where do they want to study and then continue in their field and set down roots and have a family? It's here. You don't want to go to China, even if China has great computer science programs, and then settle down with your family and start a new life in a one-party authoritarian state. So, across all of those areas, the United States is probably in a strong position as it's ever been. Others are rising. But we have the friends; we have the allies. And we have that last area, the idea of freedom, free markets, free people that is really what we built our country on. And it's why we continue to be an inspiration to the world. And it's why even though difficult things like the war in Afghanistan that Bill Kristol rightly pointed out ended in a disaster, we had allies by our side, some 50 countries.
Who else could marshal that? And I believe as we refocus on common challenges globally, we will be able to lead in this next decade.
Thank you, Vikram Singh. Now you've heard the first two opening statements. And here's where we move on to the third. Next up on the screen is making a statement in support of the resolution that America is Retreating from Global Leadership, Mary Beth Long. Mary Beth, it's your turn.
Mary Beth Long:
Well, thank you so much for this opportunity. And I can't say that I could disagree with anything that Mr. Vikram raised, except he's just wrong in his analysis. He's exactly right in that Americans in every country is judged as to how it handles the mountains. And whether or not we feel that we were well-positioned to handle the pandemic and well-positioned to handle Afghanistan, the rest of the world perceives us as having stumbled and, quite frankly, done astonishingly poorly.
In foreign affairs, perception is reality. And you don't have to take my word for it if there is Pew Research and Pew polling that says frankly that 57 percent of the country's polled said that the United States used to be a good partner, used to be. 67 percent said very much on that somewhat side, somewhat the United States is a good partner. That's a catastrophic decline from previous years. And in fact, after the debacle, what many would describe as the abrupt and haphazard departure from Afghanistan, Biden's external polling across the world went down approximately 10 percent. They did not view that as handled well; yes, we had partners, but our partners were there in part to get their own people out.
And I can tell you, as a matter of personal experience, our partners tried to intervene on several occasions and help us get our folk out. One of our colleagues from the Atlantic actually was overseas and interviewed dozens of foreign ministers, diplomats, journalists, and foreign policy practitioners. And he was overwhelmed by the pessimism. And the decry that America is stepping away, that America is no longer willing and able to project power. And part of that is, and I think Mr. Vikram raised it, you know, in relativity to other powers, they're rising. And that has resulted in a decline in our ability to, for example, control economic and military realms that we used to be the sole real practitioner in. I think there's a big argument, by the way, Vikram, that we have really slid a bit away from our uncontested lead militarily when you look at what China has done in a number of venues.
But more importantly, they look at what happened on January 6; they look at successive presidents, really, since the late-200s, and even our president now. And they look at what is ambiguous policy. They look at eternal divisiveness, not only socially but politically, that prohibits our Congress from having a hard edge cutting clear foreign policy, but also prohibits us from really implementing it. So, at the end of the day, we have in matters of our ability to implement a hard foreign policy abroad, we have declined significantly, and that has terrified our allies and emboldened our adversaries.
Thank you, Mary Beth Long. Our final speaker will be arguing against the resolution that America is Retreating from Global Leadership. Kori Schake, your turn.
So, I agree with much of what Bill and Mary Beth had to say. Bill is right that the world's becoming a more dangerous place there are greater challenges for the United States, its allies, and its friends to manage. China is more aggressive and more repressive. Russia is seeking to overturn the European security order and is flowing mercenaries into Syria, Mali, and other places. So, Bill is absolutely right that things are becoming more challenging. But that's different from saying that the United States isn't helping manage those challenges -- isn't leading the international order to manage those challenges and isn't sustaining an international order that best protects the safety and the prosperity of the United States and allied countries.
Mary Beth is also right that it's not just the structural factors of dangers we face, that it is also the policy choices that we're making. And she's right; we have made some bad policy choices. We have not invested enough in our military strength. We have for too long hoped that China would choose to be a responsible stakeholder in the international order. And we have never found a way to persuade Vladimir Putin that Russia is safest and most prosperous if it is surrounded by safe and prosperous countries rather than by countries Russia can subjugate.
All of those things are true. None of them mean that the United States is retreating from leadership in the world. And we have been slow to focus on the threats that China poses but the United States, first under President Bush, continuing under President Obama, then under President Trump, and now under President Biden, is increasingly prioritizing American diplomacy and American national security policies to reverse that.
And they -- one of the things President Biden said, again, the embarrassing debacle of writing off Afghanistan, I agree with Mary Beth and Bill about, and yet one of the justifications President Biden offered is that we need to be able to focus more attention, more of our national security resources on managing China. That is a higher priority.
And there is widespread and increasing support, not just among our allies, but among countries not allied to the United States, across Asia and beyond about the nature of the threat China poses.
If you look at the way the United States-led international recognition, that allowing the Chinese firm Huawei to be the backbone of 5G telecommunications systems that is a great example of American global leadership, even when so clumsily started by the Trump administration. And I think you see the convergence of NATO allies and dealing with Russia. So, we are stepping up to the leadership challenges of our time.
Thank you, Kori Schake. And that concludes round one of our Intelligence Squared U.S. Debate. And now we move on to the second round, which is a much more freewheeling conversation where the four debaters when we'll take questions for me and can also ask questions of one another. It's more of a conversation.
And I want to take that conversation first to Bill Kristol. We just heard Kori Schake say the United States is stepping up; we heard your partner, Mary Beth, say America stepping away from that if, Bill, if America is leading, then others would be following.
Now, we just got an example from Kori from the Huawei situation, for example. I think the argument could also be made to some degree in terms of response to COVID. But I want you to take on that question of whether America is deliberately giving up its attempt to lead to persuade, to cajole, to guide to build coalitions, to get things done that way.
And I'm glad the Biden administration is trying to restore some of our ability to cajole and guide and lead and is doing -- I support some of what they're trying to do, but they are trying to do it because we have been in decline because the leadership hasn't been there. And I think a lot of the instances, in a way that Vikram and Kori mentioned, actually show that why we -- I'm all for Wendy Sherman being in Europe, and I don't mean to belittle her by talking about her scuttling around; but why are we there?
We're there because Putin, having invaded Ukraine and gotten away with it, himself inspired incidentally, pretty clearly by the fact that Assad got away with a redline that using chemical weapons that allegedly we were not permitted to cross, and he got away with crossing that. But Afghanistan really is the biggest story of the first year of the Biden administration. And that represents the continued retreat from leadership.
Vikram, you're response.
I mean, I think on the fundamentals of the alliance structure, it's not only it hasn't fallen apart, it's actually held together exceedingly well, you know, if you think about it, there was a pretty cogent argument saying post-cold war, you know, you don't need a NATO anymore, you know, we won the Cold War, but we realize that the benefits of this kind of institutionalized alliance structure are so significant that we continue to invest and expand it. And if you look right now, there are incredibly interesting and promising developments in that exact realm.
So, for example, the quad is that agreement between India, the United States, Japan, and Australia to cooperate in a whole range of areas was really juiced up by the Trump administration and then taken to a whole new level by the Biden administration. There's also the so-called AUKUS, which is the Australia-U.K.-United States agreement that's, you know, starts with nuclear submarines but is a major defense pact and a major step forward on building and deepening agreements and partnerships. And there are a lot of examples of this kind of accelerating and dynamically changing cooperation, which in part are a product of getting past the difficult challenges that Iraq and Afghanistan pose to our leadership. So, rather than stepping away, I would say we're stepping up, as Kori had said.
Mary Beth looks like you want to get in there. Go ahead.
Mary Beth Long:
Oh, I do. You know, I can't disagree with a lot of the points that are raised. But I think it's missing the point that you alluded to, which is its leadership.
And if you're leading, you have followers, and I think it's very difficult to deny that our allies, as well as our enemies, the world looks at us as having a real credibility problem. And that credibility problem started easily, at least after the Soviet Union. You know, one thing about the Soviet Union as we faced it both militarily and economically. For the first time in history, certainly recent history, we now have China, that is basically a country that had a tool that the Soviet Union really never did have. And that is the ability to annihilate us economically.
But the credibility issue is, is something that even with COVID, if you -- I spent a lot of time in, even during COVID, abroad, the Gulf and with leaders of European countries, and when they look at Afghanistan, they look at the Syria Red Line issue, they look at -- they don't even know what our articulated policy is for Iraq, they feel our policy with Iran has been adrift at best. And then they look at COVID, and they say, you know, for a country that's supposed to be leading the world in dealing with global crises, you didn't exactly lead. And I think there's an argument that some countries did as well or better, but we didn't lead. In fact, they looked at a lot of internal debate, a lot of internal, divisive, and aggressive nature. And what they're getting is this is not a country that's capable of leading. We shouldn't confuse activity with leading.
May I respond to that?
Please, Kori. That's where I was going next.
Because I think we actually have metrics for assessing this. You know, as long as the United States has had allies, it has had allies that are disappointed in American leadership. They always want us to do more, they always think we can do better.
They always want us to protect them more. But if the United States really had such crippling credibility problems, you wouldn't have countries clamoring to get into NATO, you wouldn't have countries willing to station U.S. forces to be engaged in military operations with the United States. You have NATO countries and others willing to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan with the United States for respectively 10 and 20 years. That's an amazing measure of just how much credibility The United States has. And it's certainly true that we've made lots of mistakes. But that's also not a new phenomenon in American global leadership. Even in post-World War Two leadership, people were disappointed in Harry Truman, they were disappointed in Dwight Eisenhower, they were even disappointed in Ronald Reagan after the Lebanon bombings for pulling out of the Middle East.
And that was a huge crisis and alliances credibility. So, it is the nature of security relationships that allies worry about; the right metric for assessing just how severe the worries are is whether they are making alternative arrangements. And one of the most striking things, one of the best measures of American leadership, is that you don't see many countries going to China for protection instead of aligning with the United States or going to Russia --
All right, let me take that point to Bill Kristol because I think he made it quite persuasively. What about all of that, Bill?
Look, it's great that we are a great country, we remain a free country, a liberal democracy, and a relatively free economy, and people want to come here, and countries want to be allied with us. That is great. It's one of our greatest strengths. And it's a very good thing that that has not gone away, and that whatever our mistakes, whatever our failures of leadership, which is what we're debating, which I believe, are real, that the basic contours of the international liberal order remain pretty much what they have been.
And we are at the core of it. So, I'm very happy about that; I think another 10 to 20 years of Afghanistan type pull outs and Syria type red lines and inability to get Germany, our most important NATO ally, to work with us on not letting Russia develop a gas pipeline that would give them all kinds of power in Europe, and all kinds of other -- if we could have 10 to 20 years without those kinds of failures of leadership, we would strengthen the world that we're in. The fact that countries want to be with us is a testimony to our attractiveness and to Russia and China's unattractiveness. And that is great, and I would -- I don't minimize that at all.
It's not -- unfortunately, though, it's not a reflection of great American leadership. And in fact, they are clamoring for more leadership. Every foreign leader I've spoken to in the last 10 years has been -- has wished that the U.S. was doing more, were making its case better, were more coherent, and they're very worried about our domestic situation.
Vikram mentioned immigration as an American strength, and I couldn't agree more. We barely let in any immigrants the last few years, not just because of the pandemic; we're not taking advantage of our strengths; taking advantage of our strengths is leadership. We have the strengths, they will keep us going for quite a while, even with mediocre or poor leadership, but we need to restore competent leadership soon.
Bill, just very briefly, do you feel that -- are you arguing, and Mary Beth, you can get in on this as well, and I'd like your opponents than to respond, do you feel that the United States has lost the will to lead? Or is it a matter of incompetence and bumbling? Let me go to you, Mary Beth because Bill just had a crack at it.
Mary Beth Long:
I think the U.S. has demonstrated internal issues that, for Americans, for many Americans, are equally or more important.
We've got infrastructure problems; we've got politicization problems. And we've got in places we didn't anticipate it previously, we have a Congress with one of the historic lows in its credibility, and in its view as being effective. So, we've got some internal problems, I think, that have made Americans more interested in focusing on internal situations and less interested in being the policeman of the world, or always being the one who saves another. And unfortunately, that sort of collides a bit with the traditional views of us leading the way. And we're going to have to sort it, frankly, and a lot of it will be a deep internal discussion is, what kind of leadership we want to restore and how we do that while looking internally to some of our own domestic challenges.
Kori Schake, the same question for you from the other side. I wanted you to respond. And my question to Mary Beth, which she addressed, was whether the United States is losing the will to lead. I'm sure you're going to argue no because that's your position. But I want to hear why.
So, two reasons. First, it is certainly true that the United States is a problematic example of a democratic society now. And but it's also true that this isn't the first time. I mean, just to take the decade of the 1960s, you had an American president assassinated and killed, you had a major civil rights leader assassinated and killed. You had enormous social protests, as America was becoming a fairer and more inclusive place. So, we were also a pretty bad example of democracy at that time and in other times in America's past. So, our struggle is actually important, not just whether we are a good example at the moment.
And I think what you have seen in the last several years is an amazing mobilization of American civil society, the holding of the guardrails of American democracy against enormous challenges. And that's a good thing, and that's a positive thing. And as to whether Americans are still willing to lead, I think I would use two examples. One is that in a recent Reagan Defense forum poll, 52 percent of Americans were willing to go to war with China in order to protect democracy in Taiwan. That's a huge increase, just over the last few years, as Americans became much more concerned about the behavior of China. The second example of America willing to lead is that Congress just added $24 billion on top of the $740 billion that the Biden administration requested for the Department of Defense and for American national security.
So, there is a willingness to make sacrifices to fund what needs to be done for America to be safe at home and a leader of the international order that keeps us safe and prosperous. I'm sorry, one more example. The Secretary of the Treasury is producing an international agreement for a minimum corporate tax rate. That's a huge accomplishment of American national security policy, and Secretary Yellen delivered it.
Okay, so we've been talking for about 15-18 minutes now, and you've all heard where each other is on this. But two things I want to say is one is you're free to jump in on each other. And as I said at the beginning, it doesn't have to -- that doesn't have to be rude, so go for that. But I just want to get to sort of a -- I'll take this to you, Bill. You've heard what your opponents have had to say. And we've heard what you and Mary Beth have had to say. But what fundamentally do you think it is your opponents don't get in arguing that America is not retreating from global leadership?
And what's their fundamental, the fundamental error you think they're making?
I mean, I think if they, or all four of us, were actually making American foreign policy, I'm not sure we would differ that much on what should happen. So, I think they're looking at the country. It's a great country, liberal democracy, the guardrails have held, though the damage that's been done is pretty considerable, both at home and abroad, in terms of the effects of the challenges to those guardrails, especially January 6, and the polarization that underlies that and the radicalization of part of the country. But they're looking at the country and saying it remains strong, the alliance structure remains in place, people want to be Americans, we can still do things, as Janet Yellen, we're still -- the American Secretary of the Treasury's still powerful. They're -- it's sort of like looking at a giant company and saying, look, it's still a giant company, and it's still okay. It still has more market share than anyone else. But they're not looking at the actual trend line of the last 10-20 years, and they're not looking at what would happen if that trend line continues.
They're hoping that trend line changes as I do. And if they would, well, please join the Biden administration and help make it change faster, I would be the happiest person on earth. But for now, I think it's wishful thinking and a sort of a glass half full, when in fact, the glass is only a third full, saying the glass is half full thinking about the country but especially have to say they're missing the trend. They're saying, well, look, at the end of the day, it's better to be America than to be Russia. Absolutely. It's better to be an ally of America than to be an ally of China. Absolutely. But the look was better -- that doesn't prove what direction things are going and how much we have failed to both take advantage of opportunities and also make some real mistakes.
I think, John if I just jump in. I think the fundamental difference here is I mean, if they were -- if the motion were that American leadership faces unprecedented challenges or significant challenges, I think our opponents would carry the day, but it's that American leadership is in retreat, and America retreating from global leadership.
And that's where I think it just doesn't -- you can't get to that dismal projection. We are not retreating from global leadership; we are facing multifaceted challenges. And whether it's the new, you know, burgeoning Alliance agreements that I was talking about, whether it's what Kori was just talking about, whether it's the fact that we see, after years of almost no progress on things like trade or cooperation on technology, and you know, global -- new global norms for regulating technology. We see progress both with the Europeans even with India, they had some -- we had some, just this week, some actual progress on trade, which is almost unheard of. I think you see that we are moving into a recovery of American leadership rather than experiencing a retreat of American leadership.
Mary Beth Long:
Oh. I mean, I love that you said that. But I have to tell you, even Tony Blair said, the fact that we elected an [unintelligible] -- oh, I massacred that word.
But anyway, the basic point that we elected a 70-plus-year-old man doesn't mean that we're moving ahead, it doesn't mean that we're dealing with the changes of powers in the world, that in fact, we are not positioning ourselves to regain leadership in the world --
Well, I'm glad Tony Blair doesn't want to run to be Prime Minister again and recognizes that would be a bad idea.
Mary Beth Long:
Well, I think he spoke for a fair amount of foreign leaders. But don't let me interrupt you. Go ahead.
No, I think that that it was -- it is self-evident that we are still the technological leader. What is also happening is we have competition. That could be bad if we don't face it, but it could be good. It's, you know, a Sputnik moment is not a failure or a calamity of leadership. It's an opportunity for leadership. And if the Chinese are going to give us one or two or three Sputnik moments, hyper-sonics in AI and quantum computing, I can see all of those being places where we really say, oh, my gosh, we better get on the ball. I believe we will get on that ball.
Well, we will. That's a little different from saying we are. I mean, do you believe that in terms of our educational system, we're doing what we did in the '50s when Sputnik actually happened? Do you believe in terms of our government that we've reorganized the way we did in the late '40s and '50s, under Truman, with a whole new governmental structure to deal with a Cold War? We may do that. I hope we do that. All three of you have written about how to do this, but we're not yet doing it.
Mary Beth Long:
I actually think it's more fundamental than that, bute I agree. But at the end of the day, and Kori, you said a lot of things that I wish I had said, but at the end of the day, even our allies are hedging our bets. And the international community of the globe is pretty sure that China is going to be either the world leader or a world leader in ways that impact their lives like it never has before, like we used to impact their lives, and they're hedging their bets. Europe says it. The Middle East has said it. It's caused big problems in the military and technology space. We have, for example, overcome the Huawei issue.
But the rest of the globe looks at our track record, particularly in the last 20 years, and says, at a minimum, it's inconsistent. It's pretty incomprehensible and not credible in the latest years, and we don't see big changes, the changes that Bill's talking about. In fact, America did what we were shocked by the fact that this guy Trump was elected. And we thought, okay, we're going to recover from that, America's going to push back. And we elected a guy and put into place an administration that frankly already had their shot. In a recent meeting at the Qatari Global Forum to a man the African countries led by the Chinese, led by the Qataris applauded by the Iranian said, the America that we used to depend on that many of you thought was going to pull you out of a crisis is no more.
You need to start looking around for other partners. That means we are no longer the global leader that we wish we were. Not saying we can't recover. But we aren't any longer where we were, even as recently as 15 years ago.
I'm going to let you guys keep going. Kori, it sounded to me like --
I think Mary Beth said it all, and I think Kori and Vikram just want to concede, and we'll just -- we can end this and let everyone vote, you know, and you, of course, know how you should vote.
You're going to concede, Kori?
No, I'm not prepared to concede [laughs].
Mary Beth Long:
Kori, I wish I were as articulate as you are. Please give me a punch.
So, you know, my favorite article ever written about American foreign policy was by James Fallows and The Atlantic in 2008 or 2009. It was titled "How America Can Rise Again." And he uses the example of the Jeremiad in American foreign policy.
Namely that the way Americans get things right is once we realize we have things wrong, and that that motivates us, it motivated us to counter Japan's economic prowess in the 1970s. It cut and right now what we are seeing is an enormous realization on the part of the American government, American businesses, American civil society about the nature of the challenge that a rising China is posing, not just to American leadership, security, and prosperity, but to the international order that the United States and its partners and allies created in the aftermath of World War Two.
But Kori, since Jim Fallows wrote that article, A, I bet we haven't done most of what he called on us to do, though, I don't remember the article at all --
Actually, the main argument he made --
-- and B -- what fix our education system? That's a big Jim Fallows thing. But B, what's happened since 2008-2009? You leave aside Afghanistan, what's happened in Hong Kong?
What's happened in Ukraine? What's -- I mean, it just obvious the authoritarians are stronger. They're stronger internally, they're more brutal internally, and they're stronger externally. And the ones who were supposed to go away haven't gone away, Assad, et cetera. So, there've been some victories and some good things, but they are dwarfed by this fundamental fact that things have been moving in the wrong direction. Thank God, not decisively in the wrong direction. It can be reversed. But I think it's wishful thinking to say that, you know, we've sort of got this under control, and American leadership is back.
Well, American leadership is not in retreat. That is what I'm saying. We're not. And that, I think, is self-evidently true. We are still pushing the limits on confronting what has become more strong authoritarian opponents. There is no doubt that their strength has grown. And, you know, I mean, there is a limit to what can be done, if Russia is unfortunate enough to have to suffer under the rule of an authoritarian strongman like Putin or if China is stuck with a one-party totalitarian state, you know, we're not going to free Tibet.
I under -- we have to accept that part of leadership is a little bit of a serenity prayer and understanding where and what we can do, how we protect what we can protect, where we marshal our resources, where we rally our allies. And I think we are really looking at a period of American leadership that's going to be full of challenges. But I sincerely believe it's going to be us rising to those challenges. We're certainly not shrinking or retreating from them.
The other thing I would add to what Vikram has just said is the standard that Mary Beth and Bill are setting, almost no American administration would pass. Right? Authoritarians got stronger when Harry Truman was president. They got stronger when Richard Nixon was president.
China got stronger when Ronald Reagan was president. And so, the nature of the challenges, I think, actually isn't the right way to measure American leadership. It's the fortitude and creativity we bring to pushing back against them. And I think if you look at American economic leadership at the United States' willingness and ability to organize other countries in order to counter these challenges, I actually think Dwight Eisenhower would think we weren't doing half badly at the moment.
Under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, the Soviet Union crumbled, China liberalized politically and economically, and things were moving elsewhere in the world as well, in the right direction, other countries democratized in Latin America and in Asia. One can't have -- now you can say, well, that's unrealistic, that can't happen every 20 years, every two decades isn't going to look as good as 1980 to 2000. I take that point.
And I take Vikram's point that we don't have wonderful control over everything. And some of these things perhaps were inevitably going to go in the wrong direction though we didn't think so. If you would -- if we were meeting in 2000, we would be very unhappy with the state of China, we would be very unhappy with the state of Putin's Russia, we wouldn't be thrilled with the State of Iran, it would be very unhappy with a lot of other things. Now, you can tell me, well, we just couldn't do anything about all that. And we should have the Serenity Prayer. I respect the Serenity Prayer, but it's not a good guideline for American foreign policy. Churchill has some quip, I think, and that, you know, the Quakers are wonderful, everyone loves the Quakers, but you don't want the Quakers running your foreign policy.
If China is the major challenge and America -- and therefore the major test of American leadership, what should we be doing that we're not --
Do you think the U.S. government is really organized? Well, A, do you think the policies of the last 10-15 years have been very sound in terms of China? And B, do you think we're well organized to deal with militarily?
I believe, Kori, you've written things, saying, whoa, we need to really reshape the military and refocus it to deal with China, and we've been behind in doing that.
Sure. It's absolutely true that I think we need to do better. And that part of American leadership is all of us always trying to help our government to do better than they're doing. But I do think American policy on China is largely successful. We have shifted over the course over the last 10 or 15 years from anticipating that including China in the international institutions and processes of the order would make China more liberal. We have acknowledged that mistake. We have shifted our policy. We are building up our military forces in the Pacific, deepening our alliance relationships, we have come up with creative new initiatives like AUKUS and the Quad that Vikram talked about, and allies are binding together with us in these policies in order to counter and increasingly maligned China.
I do think that is what constitutes successful American leadership.
Mary Beth Long:
I actually couldn't disagree more. Ask any Latin American leader about us retreating from leadership in that entire hemisphere, an entire region, where we basically had no policy for a number of years, and China is filling the vacuum becoming the most important trade partner, doing military exercises, for goodness sakes. You've China's so emboldened that is looking to build these Island platforms all the way into areas in which they here to forehead, no presence whatsoever. Ask Hong Kong whether we've been leading on China, and we've had a great policy on China. Ask Taiwan whether they're clear, even from this White House in the last couple of months, what exactly the United States is willing and able to do vis-à-vis China.
The place of our biggest failure has been China. China has adapted, adopted, and opened up. I lived in China in the '80s, spoke Chinese, lived with Chinese girlfriends and boyfriends. And I can tell you what they predicted in the '80s is exactly what's happening. They've had a gradual opening up of their market. They've had a gradual recognition that they needed a middle class, that they needed to have freedom of expression, that the culture war and the malice movements and the post-Deng Xiaoping sort of opening up of China in part was responsive to the United States and the rest of the world. But it was much more domestically driven, I think, than we'd like to admit.
And what it doesn't do is align with the liberal principles and the liberal world order foundational principles that would design for American leadership and, in fact, contemplated America leading those organizations and processes, and those are under threat now of China.
It's not that we're being abandoned by our allies, but our allies are hedging their bets. And they know they have to deal with China. And they're in a dilemma about how to make that happen because they're not sure how much they can rely on us. That's a leadership vacuum.
The irony of our China policy is that it was actually successful leadership, but it was based on a faulty, underlying assumption. So, from Richard Nixon through Xi Jinping, you know, essentially the position was, and I think the big warning sign that was ignored by the West was Tiananmen Square. But the position was, liberalize the economy, they'll liberalize their politics.
And I think Kori's point about where the leadership comes in is that, however belatedly, after however many decades of doing that, after really helping China become the economic powerhouse that it is today, we finally accepted that they weren't going to do the political liberalization that we had hoped.
But what we have seen since that moment is bipartisan unity, on standing up and addressing that challenge that, unfortunately, 40 years of American policy did help bring about, and I do think that is a sign of American leadership and American leadership not retreating but adapting.
Before we wrap -- before we wrap this section, which we're going to do shortly, I want to bring it to the point that came up in the beginning. And I think it came from Mary Beth, that -- and the point being we're talking about America leading by virtue of foreign policy decisions, we're talking about America leading by virtue of its economic power, its innovative power, its innovative edge. But there's also just been the case that we have led maybe passively by example, we were functioning democracy that the people more or less, you know, there was always corruption. There were always the bad politicians.
There were always scandals, but more or less, when American, you know, organizers went to emerging democracies, I saw this happen when I was based in Russia covering Russia, I saw this happen in the Middle East in Iraq. For a time period of time, it was true that when American experts, democracy experts came in to talk about how to do it, people took them seriously. And I'm wondering now, the moment that we're in where our own democratic institutions are proving to be frighteningly fragile. Where are we in terms of leading by example, an example of the kind of nation that kind of system that others would want to be? And I would like to hear from you briefly on each of that, from each of you on your take on that. I'll start with you, Bill.
I mean, I wish we could be reassured, but I mean if you talk to people who work in the democracy field, and we all know many people at the different endowments for democracy and the Republican and Democratic Institutes who try to help with democratic elections and democratizing abroad.
They all say their job was much harder because of our failures at home. And that's also a failure of many things, but partly a failure of domestic leadership, which has really international, obviously, implications. Kori mentioned the '60s and '70s, which had their challenges, God knows assassinations and turmoil and failures and Watergate. But actually, the story, if you step back from that, is the turmoil was part of a civil rights revolution, which was a good thing and which made us more compelling. It was the right thing to do at home, obviously, but it also helped us be messengers for democracy and freedom abroad. And we fixed the system after Watergate and made it much harder to have those kinds of abuses. And I just saw the other day on YouTube, Richard Nixon in 1961, presiding over the transfer of power in the election he had lost to John F. Kennedy graciously as Vice President on January 6, actually, interestingly, 1961, there's a good YouTube of him making eloquent remarks about how this is what America stands for.
So, we came out of the '60s and '70s stronger, I'd say in terms of our model for the world, our image in the world, our ability to lead in that respect, which as Vikram said, is so important, the ideas, the values. And I think it's very hard to say that we've had a good last five years in that regard.
I agree with Bill and everything he just said; I do think the biggest challenge for the United States on its role in the world is strengthening democracy at home. And we aren't a good example at the moment. And even though the institutions and the distribution of power and the vibrancy of American civil society have held they have -- there have been extraordinary and extremely dangerous challenges. And we need to -- we deserve to be a questionable example because we got to fix these problems at home.
Mary Beth Long:
You know, a little while ago, when Kori was making her points, I was thinking, oh my gosh, she's saying everything right, what am I going to say in response? And I agree, actually, with both of their comments. But I think the difference this time is -- and actually even what [unintelligible] said was exactly right. This time, it's different because -- and I think Michelle Dulay [spelled phonetically], who's in The Atlantic article, but it's also on a five-year-old track two with me. We have Chinese, Indian, Russians, Germans, U.K., it's a very interesting group, and to a man, that what they see, you know, foreigners always thought they sort of had a vested interest in what was happening in the United States.
Some foreigners will even say, you know, we should be able to vote, you guys have so much impact on us. And for the first time -- and they love us, and they want to be more, and they want us to lead, but for the first time, they've seen a crack in our inability to rebound like we rebounded before.
They saw what happened, for good or for ill, ending the 2000s, ending with some really tumultuous domestic times during the Trump administration. And then they saw a stumble internationally and stumble more than one would have hoped, domestically with this administration. And for the first time, Michelle Dulay actually said it, we always thought that America was invincible, and she could recover no matter what her mistakes or what the world threw at her. And we now have doubts. And that's the problem with our credibility and inability to lead at this point.
And Vikram, for you, again, the question about whether our domestic political turmoil is compromising our ability to claim to be leaders internationally?
Well, I think it is, and I think it always has, I think it did in the '60s and '70s, whenever you have -- just remember, democracy is not like an on-off switch, a state that you're in, or a state you're not in, it's a journey, which moves forward and moves backwards. And the U.S. democracy has been in, you know, potentially near its demise multiple times, going back to the dawn of the Republic, through the Civil War, and through the 20th century, multiple times. And so, we are at one of those moments, and if it goes badly, it certainly will hurt American leadership. There's no doubt about that. But as I said in the beginning, it's one element of American leadership. And I think it bears remembering that, while the state of our democracy really matters, and we need it to move further and further towards justice, we need Civil Rights Movement-type periods to bring us to a better democracy, a more perfect union. I mean, it was a much less democratic America that won -- that led and won World War Two and defeated Nazism and fascism; objectively speaking, that was a much less democratic country.
And so, we have to recognize that our leadership and the challenges we face on the world stage and at home are all a piece. But then, if the question is, are we retreating from our leadership, not are we challenged but are we retreating, then I think it's no, and I see Americans every day all across this country who are part of the fight. And American leadership has never been just a government thing. It's government. It's business. It's thought leaders and civil society. It's across the board. And I think I see a lot of leadership and a lot of hope for this battle. And am I worried? Of course. But I'm feeling like we as a nation will probably -- we shouldn't be underestimated.
All right, thank you, Vikram. And that concludes round two of our Intelligence Squared U.S. Debate where once again, our resolution is America is Retreating from Global Leadership.
And now we move on to round three, and round three is comprised of closing statements by each debater, in turn. They will be two minutes each, and this is their last chance to try to change your minds. Because remember, right after this round, you will be asked to vote for a second time, and your votes will decide who is the winning team in this debate. So, first, making his closing statement in support of the motion that America is Retreating from Global Leadership, here is Bill Kristol. Bill?
Thanks. And thank you for -- I've very much enjoyed this debate actually. It's been thought-provoking and stimulating.
I want to just begin where Vikram left off. America should not be underestimated. Why not? One reason why not is because we fix our mistakes. We recover -- we do change course when we've made mistakes. We've made big mistakes and recovered from them. But we've made big mistakes in these last 10-20 years. Our leadership has been wanting; we have been retreating from leadership.
We've had two presidents in a row, President Obama and President Trump, both saying nation-building must begin at home, as they, in different ways, very different ways, retreated from our obligations abroad. That's -- think about -- of course, we all are in favor of nation-building at home. But when you say in a nationally televised speech and both use the exact same phrase, nation-building must begin at home, you're basically telling the world, you're kind of too much for us right now, we're kind of pulling back. And that's what we've done. It can be fixed, it must be fixed, it will be fixed. I hope everyone on this -- in this debate is back in government fixing it sooner rather than later. But I think it's a mistake to engage in wishful thinking. One reason we have been able to recover from previous lapses of leadership, previous retreats of leadership, retreats from the world, is that we saw that we had been wrong to do so, we saw that we had been both ineffective as John, as you said at times at carrying out policies, but also mistaken in some of the things we thought, as Vikram said, about China that we thought would happen, and been willing to correct course. So, we need to correct the course, which means no wishful thinking. That means understanding that we have, unfortunately, been retreating from global leadership, but it needn't continue to be that way.
Thank you, Bill Kristol. Our next statement is a statement, closing statement, against the resolution. It comes from Vikram Singh. Vikram, your turn.
Well, thanks, John. And thanks to my great -- these great debating partners, this has been a really, really thought-provoking discussion. I know that you, in the audience, believe in America and that American leadership is not only, you know, vital, but is going to be what leads you to better lives in the next 10-plus years. And I believe that my partner, Kori, and I have hopefully shown that the fundamentals are with America, that we are still the place that people want to be, and we are still the partner of choice for countries all around the world. And that, if anything, our leadership is facing challenges, but it is not something that we as Americans, be it citizens or leaders, are going to shirk from.
We absolutely have major challenges; our opponents outline them extremely well. And there's more that we hardly touched on, climate change and other issues that demand global leadership, that probably I believe can only come from the United States. But the beauty of American leadership is we don't have to do everything alone. We lead with a global network of allies and partners, we comprise well over half the global economy, well over half global defense capabilities. But more important than that, we're the kind of -- we portray the kind of world in which people want to live, the kind of societies that most of humanity would rather be in. And yes, China is out there competing for influence and for access, and we are going to stand up to that. So, I know you won't underestimate America, just as we don't. I know you know that our leadership may be challenged, but it is not in retreat. And I know you will vote "no," and stand with us for strong American leadership in the coming decade.
Thanks, Vikram Singh. Our third speaker in this closing round is Mary Beth Long. Mary Beth, the floor is yours. You are arguing in support of the resolution that America is Retreating from Global Leadership.
Mary Beth Long:
Well, I have incredible colleagues for whom I have tremendous respect, and thank you for inviting us all to participate in this debate. The fundamental issue here is whether the United States has retreated from leadership. And leadership, as we've talked about, requires that we're looking at it from the perspective of everybody else, not our own perspective. Are we leading, or are we just playing? It pains me to say that the United States is no longer viewed as the unequivocal leader in global leadership in many of the important areas that actually count as far as the international community is concerned.
I think you'd be hard-pressed not to pick up any paper in any country anywhere that doesn't say that the United States is and has been for some time retreating from leadership rules. It's retreating in preference of multilateral organizations. We certainly participate, we may lead within that organization, some of those organizations, one would debate whether they're effective at all. But as an effective leader, we do rely more on organizations. But more importantly, we are not leading vis-à-vis other ascending powers and the rest of the world when it looks at its own situation, it wants American leadership. It's not there. And yes, they've complained in the past, but they're all complaining now. Why? Because they believe we're flat-footed when it comes to China. And they're hedging their bets. And they've seen examples that insinuate to them and suggest to them that we're not interested in leading the world in the ways we have in the past any longer.
We're shifting forces, we're retreating from our physical locations, we've ceded ground technologically, economically in and other ways to Putin, who doesn't deserve it, to China.
I wish we could get back to where we were. And perhaps, maybe we should think hard about what kind of global leader we want to be. But to say that we're still the global leader and that we haven't retreated is not looking at the rest of the world and the way they perceive us. And that's the only thing that counts when it comes to global leadership.
Thank you, Mary Beth Long. And the last word goes to a debater who is making an argument against the resolution; here is Kori Schake. Kori?
You know, one of the things that haven't actually come up yet in this debate is what a time of tumultuous change we are living through technologically, economically, politically.
And those changes create a sort of febrile sense of the moment. Right? On social media, everybody can get their opinions out everywhere. Gatekeepers are reduced in stature and reach. And so, one of the real challenges of our time is governing over diversity. And I think a lot of the anxiety we have about American leadership is because times are changing. We're in the midst of a fast-rushing stream and trying to make judgments about what our leadership is, still the leadership that used to be? When in fact, we need different kinds of leadership because we have different kinds of circumstances. Theodore Roosevelt said, of coming to my native land of California, that when I am in California, I do not think I am in the West, California is the West of the West.
And what we are experiencing as a country right now is that the circumstances are so new. America is sort of the West of the West at the moment. We are trying to figure out how to govern over so much diversity on so much change. And so, it's very messy. And we have concerns about the ability of our government to do that. There's a great book called "Fears of a Setting Sun," that's America's Founding Fathers worried that our democracy was failing. We always worry that we're failing. And as Bill Kristol said, that's part of why we succeed, as he himself is such a great example of civil society strengthening democracy in America.
Thank you, Kori. And thank you to all of our debaters. That concludes the third round of our Intelligence Squared debate, which means that the debate itself is included -- is concluded. And now it is time to go to our second vote. And we're going to ask you to do that the same way as before.
And remember, it's going to be the side that changes the most minds between the first and the second vote that will be declared our winner. We'd like you to go again to the voting tab and scroll down or go back on a browser to the URL, IQ2vote.org. And you do exactly what you did to cast your vote at the start of the debate. It's the same URL; you can do it from any web page, you can do it on your phone. And when you get there, you will once again be asked to vote for, against, or undecided on the resolution that America is Retreating from Global Leadership. I want to point out that, unlike past debates, we're going to be leaving this one open for seven days so that more people can watch the debate online, vote twice, and we will be registering their votes. And at the end of the seven days, we will be announcing the winner on our website, IQ2US.org.
Now the competition is over at this point. This has really been an interesting debate. And the topic is an interesting and important one.
And I wanted to say this about our debaters, all of whom are returning debaters. And I hope that you saw the reason why. I particularly want to point out the enormous amount of common ground among all four of them their ability to complement and respect one another, their amazing ability in the midst of a heated debate to actually concede that the other side had made some great points. That's why this is not cable news. That's what we do and what we try to bring to our debates, which is nuance and intelligence and respect. And to all four of you, Mary Beth, Kori, Bill, and Vikram, I just want to say for the way that you did this, and for living up to our ideals, thank you very, very much for joining us for such an excellent debate.
Been a great pleasure.
And I want to thank all of you who tuned into this debate. We appreciate your support and your commitment to the kind of discourse that we do. I want to remind people -- you've heard me do the commercial before, but we are a nonprofit. We put these programs out there for free.
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