Stanford University Home

Stanford News Archive

Stanford Report, October 15, 2003

U.S. foreign policy needs an overhaul, more compassion, experts say


If the Bush administration really wants to win the war on terrorism, it should stop relying so much on U.S. military might and focus instead on repairing relations with its allies and the United Nations, foreign policy experts agreed during an Oct. 7 panel discussion at the Arrillaga Alumni Center.

The Tuesday evening program was part of a national series, "The People Speak: America Debates Its Role in the World," organized by the Ted Turner-funded United Nations Foundation. The discussion was moderated by former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor with a joint appointment in the Management Science and Engineering Department and the Stanford Institute for International Studies. Speaking briefly at the outset, Perry asserted that the greatest threat to world peace is the continuing development and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by rogue states and terrorists.

Michael McFaul, an associate professor of political science and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, agreed. "But in my mind," he added, "the only way we'll really make our world safer is when we eliminate the motivations for acquiring those weapons of mass destruction -- when we eliminate the things that motivate people to get into planes and fly them into the World Trade Center." Security "is not simply a matter of defending ourselves against weapons that might harm us," McFaul said. "It's about making the outside world a better, more prosperous and free place."

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a senior research scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, said the United States should seek as much international support as possible in Iraq and elsewhere, "not because of sentimentality or altruism, but to protect and advance our core national security interests." The Bush administration "has largely taken the view that we don't need alliances because we can count on a coalition of the willing -- essentially a pickup team we can put together when we need it." Yet when the United States is isolated, "it emboldens our enemies," Sherwood-Randall said. "International support provides us with legitimacy, limits resentment against American power and deprives anti-American extremists of cannon fodder."

In Iraq, she added, "the United States should make it clear that it welcomes international assistance and that it is willing to share authority and control in exchange for such help." Beyond that, America should work toward strengthening the United Nations rather than blaming the organization for its failures. "We should stand back and let others step forward when they have the interest and competence," she said. "We should vote for more capital to enhance the United Nations -- to make it more competent and effective and more capable of responding. And we need to help the U.N. improve its capability in peacekeeping, policing and establishing viable civil institutions."

Gloria Duffy, deputy assistant secretary of defense under Bill Clinton and current chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Club, agreed that the United States must build "a true coalition to pacify and rebuild Iraq." To do this, "the United States will have to have the maturity to admit what it has done less than well, ... such as not planning intelligently for the aftermath of the war," she said. "That type of mea culpa is probably necessary in order to gain the support of a wide range of countries we need to help now."

Such frank dialogue also could be useful in engaging the American people, suggested Jane Wales, president and chief executive officer of the World Affairs Council of Northern California. In the future, she said, "our government must be very clear about the nature of the dangers we face, the nature of the choices before us, the tradeoffs involved and the costs involved, so we can make these decisions together, knowingly, with our eyes open, so that we can sustain policy over time." That level of candor and engagement, she said, "is what our security ultimately depends on, as does our democracy."

In an effort to engage American citizens in discussions about U.S. foreign policy, the United Nations Foundation is promoting more than 1,000 "The People Speak" debates nationwide this month. The debate at the Alumni Center was co-sponsored by the Commonwealth Club, the Center for International Security and Cooperation, and the World Affairs Council of Northern California.


Michael McFaul

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall

William Perry