The former national security advisors of former President Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush appeared to have few divergent views on foreign policy until they were confronted with two topics: military spending and their choice for president in the upcoming election.
Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger ’67, former national security advisor to Clinton, and Stephen J. Hadley ’69, former national security advisor to Bush, were reunited at Cornell Thursday evening for a discussion entitled, “The World the Day After the Election of 2012.”
The two were joined by Kathay C. Feng ’91, executive director of lobbying organization California Common Cause, and Mayor Svante Myrick ’09.
After agreeing on many areas of foreign policy — such as the role of the U.S. in Syria, Iran and China — Berger and Hadley disagreed about the upcoming elections.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Berger chose President Barack Obama, saying that he has “done a good job” despite the difficult economic conditions he has faced.
Hadley, remarking that “we finally identified an area of difference,” said that he would be voting for former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) because he is better equipped to fix the most pressing problems “of [economic] growth, the deficit and the debt.”
The two also split on their views of the military. When asked whether or not the U.S. military is large enough that it could be shrunk without undermining security, Berger said that the U.S. military could be effective without expanding more.
“Our military is larger than the next 10 militaries [in the world] put together,” he said.
However, Hadley said that the military’s budget has grown because “we’ve been fighting wars against terrorists beginning from 9/11, and that’s expensive — both in terms of money and more importantly, in terms of lives lost.” He also added that in the past 10 years, there have already been cuts to the military by about half a trillion dollars.
Additionally, Hadley argued that scaling down the military would not solve the country’s deficit problem.
“You can zero out our defense budget, zero it out. And you could confiscate all of the income of the top one percent, and you would not have solved the deficit and debt problem of the United States,” he said.
Instead of cutting back from military spending, the government should scale down programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Hadley said.
Despite their divergent views on military spending and pick for president, their views on some crucial foreign policy topics were similar.
When discussing the relationship of the U.S. with Syria, Berger and Hadley agreed that the U.S. should be more involved in monitoring Syria’s current regime, which has implemented a severe crackdown of the country’s uprising.
Berger added that it is important that the U.S. assist the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, because if the current Syrian government falls, the “U.S. would be able to have a say in how the country will be built again.”
The two found another point of similarity in Iran. When Myrick asked what can be done to prevent war with Iran, Hadley — echoing Berger’s views — said that there should be “sophisticated debate” around the issue, as well as a “robust proposal” to reward Iran if it gives up aspects of the nuclear program that the U.S. is most worried about.
Perhaps it is not surprising that the two former advisors had few points of differences. Both Berger and Hadley said that they had to be effective mediators in order to be effective national security advisors.
Looking back to his role as national security advisor in 1997, Berger said that a large part of his job was to act as an “honest broker” who tried to ensure that the National Security Team — including the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and the head of the CIA — “work with cohesion.”
Likewise, Hadley described his role as national security advisor as being someone who ensured that “a full range of views are heard” and “to ensure execution [of plans].”
Closing the panel, Hadley said that despite the country’s dim economic outlook, the next president has the potential to make the country better for future generations by fixing the economy and reforming education, health care legislation and entitlements.