Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bill Bradley on Foreign Policy

Former Senator Bill Bradley spoke this morning at the Carnegie Council about his new book The New American Story. This talk was the first we broadcast on multiple radio stations. We also filmed it for video clips that will be coming out later.

Bradley’s main point was that an old American story has taken root in the U.S. national conversation that is obscuring the original American story that values two things: a can-do attitude and telling the truth. As he says in his book, we have to embrace an “ethic of connectedness:” collective action and individual responsibility.

He gave numerous examples. Jody Williams, for example, got a few average Americans together to launch a global movement to ban landmines. She won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.

The former Senator also suggested that the United States needs a fairer energy policy. If the United States were able to reach the fuel efficiency of cars driven in Europe, we would be able to eliminate oil imported from OPEC countries. He also recommended more accountability: people who buy fuel inefficient cars, such as Hummers, should be taxed and those who buy fuel efficient cars should get rebates. It’s not a tax on the rich. It's simply an incentive for efficiency.

The final question from the audience focused on foreign policy: How should the United States approach Iran and Russia? Bradley suggested more talk with Iran—after all talking to your enemies is the definition of diplomacy.

Russia seemed to be a topic close to the Senator’s heart. He slammed the expansion of NATO after the fall of the Soviet Union. Bradley recently spoke with Mikhail Gorbachev, who said U.S. officials had promised an expansion would not happen. Moreover, as Bradley put it, the key to diplomacy is not to kick a man when he is down. My professor at SAIS Michael Mandelbaum was a sharp critic of NATO expansion. You can read a transcript of him talking about it with Jim Lehrer in 1996 on NewsHour here. Here is an excerpt:

I think it [expansion] will re-divide Europe where Europe is now not divided. Second, it will poison our relations with the Russians, perhaps not irrevocably. The Russians are not going to refuse to speak to us. But already, the kind of close cooperation that we enjoyed during the Gulf War and made it possible for President Clinton to pick up the phone, ask President Yeltsin to remove Russian troops from the Baltic states, and have him exceed to his request, that kind of close cooperation is gone.

And that was how Bradley ended the talk: Think about the kind of mutual benefit we could be sharing with Russia given the world’s problems today: energy, climate change, oil. If there were more trust between these two big countries, the cooperation would benefit from their complementarities.

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