For Trump, Focus on Transition, Wait on Foreign Policy Plans

NOVEMBER 22, 2016
By: Justin Chapman, Pacific Council

President-elect Donald J. Trump should focus on his administration’s transition rather than rushing to get everything on his foreign policy agenda done in the first 100 days, Dr. Elizabeth N. Saunders and Dr. Kori Schake told Pacific Council members in two teleconferences on the foreign policy challenges facing the incoming administration.

Saunders is an assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. Schake is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. The two teleconferences were moderated by Dr. Jerrold D. Green, president and CEO of the Pacific Council, and Mr. Robert C. O’Brien, managing partner at Larson O’Brien LLP.

The 45th president of the United States faces a wide array of challenges as soon as he takes the Oath of Office on January 20, 2017. From the ongoing war in Syria to tensions in the South China Sea and the reality of a nuclear North Korea to an increasingly aggressive Russia, the next administration will be tasked with developing and implementing a plan for the country’s future global engagement. But first things first, Saunders and Schake said: Trump needs to focus on his administration’s transition.

"The basic structural problem facing any president-elect is that there are approximately 4,000 jobs to fill," said Saunders. "That doesn’t seem like a lot to standards of some industries, but it’s a lot. What normally happens is the president-elect would plan to draw from the foreign policy bench of his party. If we had any other Republican nominee, there would be a relatively orderly transition in which a lot of policy papers would have been generated, people would have already been slated for particular jobs, and they’d be drawing on a well-established network."

"Encouraging Trump to make fast decisions may not make them the best decisions. It’s a mistake to put pressure [on Trump] for big changes in the first 100 days."

- Dr. Kori Schake

Schake downplayed the need for Trump to move fast during his first 100 days, and instead suggested that he take his time.

"Encouraging Trump to make fast decisions may not make them the best decisions," she said. "It’s a mistake to put pressure for big changes in the first 100 days, especially since Republicans control both houses of Congress. He has two full years. He doesn’t need to rely on the honeymoon of a recent election result to persuade Republicans in Congress on the pieces of his agenda that Republicans already agree with. On those things that Republicans don’t agree with, rushing will not help him either."

Saunders explained that there was an unprecedented split between the establishment Republican foreign policy group and the Republican nominee, leading many to wonder who is going to fill all those jobs.

"The early signs of a reconciliation between the ‘never-Trumpers’ on the foreign policy side and the Trump inner circle are not promising," she said. "That’s going to present problems."

Saunders added that the appearance that the transition is behind schedule and poorly managed is worrisome.

"Policy papers and transition papers are boring, but they are the bread and butter of transitions," she said. "Small matters of protocol are typically highly managed. In a government of this size and a country of this importance, those sorts of details can be very helpful in ensuring a smooth transition. As it is, the smoothness of the transition will have to fall to every day bureaucrats."

"Foreign policy typically doesn’t play a big role in elections, but elections certainly play a big role in foreign policy."

- Dr. Elizabeth N. Saunders

Saunders pointed out that Trump’s campaign focused on the idea of changing the status quo in Washington.

"Even if you want to change the status quo, you don’t want to do it in a haphazard way, but a deliberate way," said Saunders. "Also, it’s not so easy for one person’s knowledge in one domain to transfer to another. This idea that business acumen translates readily into governance acumen does not really hold much water."

Saunders said that it will fall to elites, especially Republicans, to hold the Trump administration accountable.

"The Republican Congress will, for better or worse, be a source of oversight," she said. "If things get too out of hand, it will be politically difficult for some Republicans to support his foreign policy. Foreign policy is an area that calls for special attention in the coming years because of Trump’s power and lack of expertise. The president can do a lot on foreign policy out of public view. Foreign policy typically doesn’t play a big role in elections, but elections certainly play a big role in foreign policy."

"If he tears up the Iran deal, Europe is not going to go back to enforcing sanctions on Iran. Instead, the Trump administration should strongly enforce the existing conditions of the Iran deal."

- Dr. Kori Schake

Schake emphasized the importance of Trump focusing on strengthening the United States’ alliance relationships in his first 100 days.

"I know that’s not his natural inclination, but if I were advising the president, I would strongly encourage him that the strength of our alliance relationships makes easier and more cost effective anything else we want to do in the world," she said.

She added that Trump should start in Asia because his campaign rhetoric about those countries was alarming to them. She said that the Middle East should be his second priority and Europe his third.

"The things he said about America’s Asian allies are particularly alarming to those countries because they rely so heavily on the United States," she said. "He should conduct a series of quiet, private conversations with foreign leaders, send the Secretary of State around to America’s closest allies to hear what they’re worried about, reassure them where they’re mistaken, and begin to chart a common course where the president wants to do things differently. Helping make predictable for our closest friends and most reliable allies any changes we’re going to make will be really important and it will buy him a lot of goodwill."

"This idea that business acumen translates readily into governance acumen does not really hold much water."

- Dr. Elizabeth N. Saunders

On the Iran nuclear deal, Schake listed two reasons for why she thinks the agreement will be harder for Trump to deal with than his campaign rhetoric suggested.

"He has been all over the map about where and how he would use military force, and it is a multilateral agreement," said Schake. "If he tears up the Iran deal, Europe is not going to go back to enforcing sanctions on Iran. Instead, the Trump administration should strongly enforce the existing conditions of the Iran deal."

On Syria, Schake said Trump’s policy should focus on taking the humanitarian crisis seriously because "it is the right thing to do."

On North Korea, Schake said the most powerful threat Trump can make is regime change. "The threat to Kim Jong-un’s government should be, ‘If you attack South Korea, we will force the end of North Korea’s government.’"

"Trump will come to see that some of his rhetoric during the campaign is actually quite costly for the United States," she said. "Fortunately, allies will help the United States because they don’t want a United States stampeding around making the world less safe for them."

Read interviews with Pacific Council experts on the Trump administration’s First 100 Days, and listen to the full conversations below.

Featuring Dr. Elizabeth N. Saunders, moderated by Dr. Jerrold D. Green:

Featuring Dr. Kori Schake, moderated by Mr. Robert C. O'Brien:


Justin Chapman is the Communications Associate at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.

After Liberating Mosul from ISIL, the Hardest Part Begins

NOVEMBER 13, 2016
By: Justin Chapman, Pacific Council

The hardest part of the battle to retake Mosul will come after ISIL is driven out, Dr. Jessica Ashooh and Dr. Renad Mansour told Pacific Council members during a Situation Briefing teleconference on November 10, 2016. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Mietek Boduszynski, assistant professor of politics at Pomona College.

Ashooh is deputy director of the Middle East Strategy Task Force at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. Mansour is an academy fellow at the Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

"There have been some signs of hope in the military battle," said Mansour, who has been traveling around Iraq the last few weeks. "There will be complications, but in the end ISIL will be removed from Mosul. The issue is, we don’t have any sense of what type of political agreement or compromise has been reached between these different groups for what comes next, because once ISIL is removed there will be a security vacuum. To some extent the military battle is the easiest part and being done quite effectively, but unfortunately we’re all wary of what might come next."

Mansour said that the Iraqi army and police are leading the frontlines of the fight by moving into the city of Mosul and clearing it of ISIL fighters. Supporting them are Shia militias known as popular mobilization forces, who have pledged not to get directly involved because of certain sectarian fears that Sunni residents in and outside of Mosul have. ISIL, on the other hand, is using suicide car bombers and human shields in their urban warfare campaign to hold the city.

"Once ISIL is removed there will be a security vacuum."

Dr. Renad Mansour

"In general, the spirit amongst Iraqis who I’ve met, from the political elite to the people on the street, is very high," said Mansour. "There is this general sense of mood that 'finally we’re combating ISIL.' There is also collaboration and cooperation between the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army and police, something that just a few years ago would have been seen as impossible because these are two antagonistic forces."

Ashooh agreed that regional players need to start thinking about what will happen after ISIL is removed from the city.

"The goal going forward after the liberation of Mosul has to be to restore the conversation to political matters and to make the population of Mosul feel like they have a stake and a say in the future of their own governance and the future of the Iraqi state," said Ashooh.

She added there has been a divide between Mosul and Baghdad since 2003.

"The problem of Iraq that we’re facing today is that sectarian issues have been laid upon governance issues," she said. "So instead of people fighting over political parties and matters of policy, they’ve reduced their political dialogue to sectarian identities. That’s really a problem because if something is a policy issue you can negotiate it, but it becomes much more difficult if it’s sectarian or religious."

"Lots of people will be eager to counsel President Trump on Iraq. I hope he’s open to listening to their experience."

Dr. Jessica Ashooh

Ashooh said she disagreed with the notion that Iraq is a different case than other countries in the region because it did not experience an Arab Spring event.

"I would say that the ISIL takeover of Mosul was Iraq’s version of an Arab Spring uprising because there had to have been a certain level of acquiescence and of people being fed up with the federal government and wanting to burn the place down," she said, adding that this was aided by an incredibly savvy social media campaign by ISIL.

Ashooh also discussed the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq, which further complicates operations like the Mosul battle.

"Turkey right now has 2,000 troops stationed in northern Iraq – which the Iraqi government considers invading forces – to guard against the possibility of Kurdish forces they consider terrorist groups from being able to establish their reach near the Turkish or Syrian borders," she said. "Turkey is looking to make sure that Kurdish factions do not make territorial gains in this battle as well."

Ashooh added that there needs to be a process of negotiation between these regional powers if the situation is to be stabilized after ISIL is cleared from Mosul. Among those players is the United States.

"Lots of people will be eager to counsel President Trump on Iraq," she said. "I hope he’s open to listening to their experience."

Listen to the full conversation below:


Justin Chapman is the Communications Associate at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.

'Beauty' Fights Back

Author and activist Ellen Snortland’s documentary on women’s self-defense screens Friday at Laemmle Playhouse 7

By Justin Chapman, 11/10/2016, Pasadena Weekly

Ellen Snortland first published her book “Beauty Bites Beast: Awakening the Warrior Within Women and Girls” in 1999. A powerful treatise calling for women to take charge of their own self-defense both verbally and physically when being attacked, she has spent the past 10 years turning the book into a documentary of the same name.

The film just finished a weeklong run in New York City and begins a second weeklong run starting tomorrow at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. The film will air four times a day until Nov. 17 as part of a campaign to make the documentary eligible for the Academy Awards and Independent Spirit Awards.

“I primarily identified as a writer and author, not a filmmaker,” said Snortland, a longtime Pasadena Weekly columnist. “But I thought, ‘You know what? There are a whole bunch of idiots that make movies all the time. I’m an idiot, I can do this.’ I’m a little bit of a poster girl for ‘it can be done.’”

Taking Action, Saving Lives

The documentary is a natural extension of Snortland’s lifelong work around women’s self-defense. She serves on the board of IMPACT Personal Safety, a nonprofit started in 1985 that trains women, men and children in full-force, full-impact self-defense and boundary-setting techniques. She grew up in Colorado and South Dakota, received a juris doctorate from Loyola Law School, founded the first all-female theater company in the early 1970s, acted in and directed several TV shows during the 1980s, attended United Nations world conferences and annual UN meetings as an nongovernmental organization (NGO) delegate and journalist and wrote and performs a one-woman show about growing up as a Norwegian American. She is also the co-author of “The Safety Godmothers: The ABCs of Awareness, Boundaries and Confidence for Teens” with Lisa Gaeta.

The documentary was funded entirely by individual contributions as small as $5 all the way up to $100,000. The project has cost about $250,000 as well as another $250,000 with in-kind contributions. In partnership with Providence Entertainment Group and El HaLev, “Beauty Bites Beast” screened in Israel earlier this year and has been accepted into the Nova Scotia Sunrise and Delhi International film festivals.

The documentary was scheduled to play at the 40th Montreal World Film Festival in September, but managerial and financial problems led to last-minute resignations of many staff members and cancellations of two-thirds of screenings. “Beauty Bites Beast” played for 12 minutes before the projector broke down. One of the festival jurors was found dead in his hotel room. (Read Snortland’s column “When ‘Best’ Isn’t Good Enough” in the Oct. 6 issue of the Weekly for the full story).

Undeterred, Snortland is aiming high by applying for the Academy Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards because she believes the film’s message is so important that it saves lives.

“I made it for people to take action,” she said. “To make sure they get their children trained in what we call empowerment self-defense. I want them to come away with the understanding that the drive to defend oneself is not a gendered attribute. And I’m out to impact at a policy level. We want to get DVDs to legislators, to the people who make decisions about grants.”

The documentary points out that the Violence Against Women Act of 1993, its reauthorization in 2013 and the White House Task Force on Ending Sexual Assaults Against Students in 2014 include no mentions of self-defense.

“It’s all oriented toward before and after being attacked. There’s nothing about what to do during an attack,” said Snortland. “My movie is the ‘during’ part. In the surveys we hand out at screenings we ask, ‘Has your view of violence against women shifted after seeing this documentary?’ Our ‘yes’ rate is 90 percent.”

Ending Violence Against Women

The documentary came about after Snortland met an American in 2006 who owned a factory in Tijuana. At the time, hundreds of women were being kidnapped, raped and killed in Juarez. The factory owner read the “Beauty Bites Beast” book and asked Snortland to train his female workers in Tijuana on how to defend themselves. She agreed, as long as she could film the sessions. Those scenes are among the most powerful in the film, showing impoverished women undergoing a remarkable transformation in realizing that they are not powerless to defend themselves. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers, delivered their graduation speech at the end of the sessions.

Nagin Cox, an assistant at IMPACT and spacecraft systems engineer at JPL, also traveled to Tijuana with Snortland to help train the women. Cox called the experience “amazing and rewarding.”

“The themes of empowering women and women’s self-defense are universal,” said Cox. “It’s not just about women learning to physically defend themselves; it’s about women learning that they have a right to their voice, that they have a right to be heard.”

Dr. Munazza Yaqoob of the International Islamic University invited Snortland and her husband Ken Gruberman, who serves as co-producer of the film, to screen “Beauty Bites Beast” to a group of 300 Islamic female scholars and researchers at the Critical Thinking Forum in the Pakistani cities of Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore early next month.

“We are blown away by the prospect of sharing the liberating message of ‘Beauty Bites Beast’ with young female Islamic scholars who are ready, willing and able to take on shifting the conversation about ending violence against women,” Snortland wrote on the Indiegogo campaign she created to help fund the trip.

“Female elephants, lions — all are just as fierce in self-defense as males,” feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem said about the documentary. “Only our species is taught to be ‘feminine’ and defenseless.  ‘Beauty Bites Beast’ shows how women around the world are taking back our strengths and lives.”

For more information, visit

'Together Again'

Comedy legends Eric Idle and John Cleese of Monty Python reunite for a two-man show at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium

By Justin Chapman, 11/03/2016, Pasadena Weekly

On Nov. 18, 2014, Eric Idle interviewed fellow Monty Python member John Cleese at the Alex Theatre in Glendale about his memoir, “So, Anyway …” The video was viewed more than a half-million times on YouTube, proving to Idle and Cleese that there is still a healthy appetite for everything Monty Python-related. Cleese got the idea to take their two-man show on the road.

Following a successful run last fall on the East Coast as well as a sold-out run in Australia and New Zealand in February, “Together Again at Last ... For the Very First Time” has embarked on a third tour on the West Coast and Canada through at least Dec. 3, including a show at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Nov. 11.

“It was just something rather wonderful, two old people getting together after 50 years,” Idle, 73, told the Pasadena Weekly in a recent phone interview. “It wasn’t something I planned, but it turned into a very pleasant evening with an old friend talking about old times. It’s become more like a double autobiography in an odd way now.”

Silliness Required

The show is partly scripted and partly improv, combining storytelling, sketches, musical numbers, exclusive footage and aquatic juggling.

“We gave it a shape but we don’t lock it down,” said Idle. “So we can go anywhere we want to, which is great at our age because we forget the words to sketches and we can just own up. And then the audience laughs even more if we’ve forgotten it. But we don’t go anywhere that we’ve been; we don’t do Python sketches that they know. We do stuff from other things we’ve done that we like and make us laugh still.”

Although they haven’t performed the show since the Brexit vote, Idle said the topic will likely come up during the new tour because he was against the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and Cleese was in favor of it.

“I’m sure Brexit will come up and we’ll abuse each other,” Idle said. “John will say how wonderful it is and I’ll point to how many pounds I’ve lost. It’s amazing to me that something as stupid as a referendum did this, which is the wrong way to deal with something so complex. It was an opinion poll; there’s no legal basis requiring the government to act on it. If they had any balls they’d say, ‘We think this is a bad move.’ You want people deciding these things who know what they’re dealing with, not people who are frightened of immigrants by endless headlines in the Daily Express. It is insane.”

Fun Science

The comedy icons have created a whole new act two for this tour that focuses on how Monty Python remained popular for more than a half-century and where they stand now.

“There’s sort of a nice banter that is established very early on when [Cleese] is complaining about how much he’s paid in divorces and then he attacks me for being with my wife for nearly 40 years and says it’s for lack of imagination, and I say, ‘Well, yeah, but [one woman] is a lot cheaper.’ There’s a nice level of affectionate banter and memories. It’s a very sweet, unusual show.”

Cleese told the Weekly last year that “Together Again” is “the most enjoyable project I’ve ever had.”

“We came off stage after [the original Alex Theatre show] and all we knew was that the audience had laughed a great deal and we couldn’t quite remember what we’d said,” Cleese said.

Idle’s latest project is a musical Christmas special for the BBC called “The Entire Universe.” The show covers the entire history of the universe with “real science that’s interrupted by real silliness,” Idle said.

“Everybody watches TV at Christmas because they get together with their relatives and they can’t stand each other so they get drunk and watch television,” he said.

At the end Stephen Hawking sings “The Galaxy Song,” which Idle wrote for the 1983 film “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.” Tim Peake, an astronaut who spent the summer on the International Space Station, also makes an appearance.

“When we got the idea we just thought, ‘This is just such a great subject. We have to do something really silly with it,’” said Idle. “As you must.”

Carry On

Although well known as an actor and singer-songwriter, Idle said he prefers writing to performing. He is the author of the novels “Hello Sailor” and “The Road to Mars,” as well as the musicals “Spamalot” and “Not the Messiah,” a parody of the 1979 film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”

“I get to stay home here in LA and hunker down and write, and bit by bit you try to isolate what you might want to be interested in and what’s worth doing in the short amount of time left, and what you don’t want to do,” said Idle. “It’s been fun ever since ‘Spamalot’ to be able to say, ‘What do I actually want to write?’ I try to keep myself interested and honest.”

“Spamalot,” which premiered in 2005, is a critically acclaimed and Tony Award-winning Broadway musical based on the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

“We wrote ‘Spamalot’ as a series of little sketches, and then we crammed it together,” said Idle. “It was a very fun show to put together and rehearse and change [from the film], because you have to change things from what they are if you change the medium. Although there was almost nothing we couldn’t do on stage because they’re just pretending to ride horses.”

After “Spamalot” premiered, the Pythons lost a lawsuit by Mark Forstater, a producer of the original film. The court ordered the Pythons to pay £800,000 in fees and back royalties to Forstater in 2013 because “Spamalot” was so similar to the film.

To pay the settlement, the surviving members of Monty Python performed a reunion show in 2014 called “Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go” at the 20,000-seat O2 Arena in London that sold out in 43.5 seconds. Founding Python members Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Idle and Cleese all participated. The sixth founding member, Graham Chapman (no relation to the reporter), died in 1989 at the age of 48.

Cleese infamously delivered a brilliant, oddball eulogy at Chapman’s funeral, saying, “I guess we’re all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, such capability and kindness, of such intelligence should now be so suddenly spirited away at the age of only 48, before he’d achieved many of the things of which he was capable, and before he’d had enough fun. Well, I feel that I should say, ‘Nonsense. Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard! I hope he fries.’”

Idle performed his fan-favorite song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” at the funeral.

‘Let’s Do It’

Following the 2014 reunion show, Palin made it clear to the rest of the group that he was no longer interested in doing Python shows. A few years ago, Jones began developing dementia, which was publicly announced in September. With Gilliam busy directing films, that left Idle and Cleese to carry on the Python banner.

“We got a very generous offer to do a show in Australia, and Michael, who’s always polite, just didn’t want to do it,” said Cleese. “Eric and I said, ‘Well, if Michael doesn’t want to do it, is there any reason why we can’t do something like we did in Glendale?’ We thought about it for a while and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Idle pointed out that the upcoming performance of “Together Again” in Pasadena is practically a homecoming for the show that was born next door in Glendale.

“I love Pasadena,” said Idle, who lives in Los Angeles. “It’s where I go for my day off. I get all my tea from Chado [Tea Room] and I go to Vroman’s [Bookstore] all the time. It’s kind of normal. It’s not like Beverly Hills, it’s a real place, a lovely little small town.”

For tickets and more information, visit

Should U.S. Step Back from the World? Most Members Say No

NOVEMBER 2, 2016
By: Justin Chapman, Pacific Council

The U.S. public has long been wary of international engagement: roughly six in 10 believe the country should focus on solving its own problems and let other countries deal with theirs. Still, the next administration will have a smorgasbord of complex international issues on their plate when they take office in January 2017. From the ongoing war in Syria to growing tensions in the South China Sea and the reality of a nuclear North Korea to an increasingly aggressive Russia, the next administration will be tasked with developing and implementing a plan for the country’s future global engagement. 

Panelists of the penultimate plenary debate session of Members Weekend 2016 sought to answer the question, "Should the United States take a step back from the world?" The debate was moderated by Mr. Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

Mr. Benjamin H. Friedman, research fellow on defense and homeland security issues at the Cato Institute, and Mr. John Mueller, the Ralph D. Mershon senior research scientist and Woody Hayes chair of national security studies emeritus at Ohio State University, argued that the United States should take a step back from the world.

Dr. Lori Esposito Murray, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Dr. Carla Robbins, clinical professor of national security studies and faculty director of the MIA Program at the Baruch College CUNY Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, argued that the United States should not take a step back from the world.

Members Weekend attendees voted on the debate question in both a pre- and post-debate poll on the Pacific Council mobile app. Before the debate, 14 percent voted "yes," 80 percent voted "no," and four percent voted "not sure" out of 84 votes total.

"Taking a step back from the world does not mean isolation from it. It means military restraint."

- Mr. Benjamin H. Friedman

Friedman opened the debate by arguing that taking a step back from the world means fighting fewer wars and having fewer allies.

"Taking a step back from the world does not mean isolation from it," said Friedman. "It doesn’t mean protectionism, nativism, and it definitely doesn’t mean Trumpism. Nor does it mean abandoning U.S. power or entail a U.S. foreign policy that’s devoid of moral responsibility. It means military restraint. It means a more humble and peaceful foreign policy that dispenses with the myth that U.S. military forces are the key to the world’s stability and liberalization."

Murray argued that taking a step back from the world would be taking a step backwards as a nation.

"The answer is clearly ‘no,’ the United States should not take a step back," said Murray. "Withdrawal is not an option. Our leadership role in the 20th century has led to greater security and unprecedented prosperity and growth. Even if we wanted to take a step back, we couldn’t. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the information technology revolution that we led, the world has changed so rapidly in the past 20 years. We have rapidly globalized trade, commerce, markets, labor, and perhaps most importantly, information. Rolling this back is impossible. U.S. leadership is absolutely necessary to ensure that the rules are open, free, fair, and respected."

"The United States has not been a force for global security or stability but quite the reverse."

- Mr. John Mueller

Mueller said that the United States has a lot to be humble about over the last 15 years in terms of its international engagement.

"The United States has not been a force for global security or stability but quite the reverse," said Mueller. "I don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into a country and say, ‘We do it this way and so should you.’ Look at the Middle East. The United States gives Pakistan $1-2 billion in aid and yet 74 percent of Pakistanis consider the United States to be an enemy. The destabilization in Afghanistan is very obvious, of course. In Iraq, the United States’ $4-5 trillion war has brought total chaos to that country and the region and has been an abject failure. And there’s destabilization in Yemen, Libya, and Syria. Stepping back from the world would not be stepping back into oblivion, but rather from overextension and from using military force to carry out goals."

Robbins agreed with Mueller’s warning about overextending the military, but disagreed with the cause of instability in the world.

"I agree we shouldn’t fight dumb, immoral wars," she said. "We certainly haven’t argued for the Iraq War. But I do not accept the premise that our alliances, values, and presence in the world are the cause of dumb wars, instability, or bad actions by bad actors. Quite the opposite. If we retreat it would send precisely the wrong message."

"U.S. leadership is absolutely necessary to ensure that the rules are open, free, fair, and respected."

- Dr. Lori Esposito Murray

Mueller made the case that if the United States hadn’t existed, Europe would have developed "pretty much the same way" after World War II as an example of why the United States can and should take a step back from the world. 

"I just want to remind everyone of the Marshall Plan and of all the money that we put into Japan, South Korea, Germany, and Europe after the war," replied Murray. "You can’t separate what the U.S. has done in terms of military policy leadership as well as economic policy leadership. They are inextricably linked."

Robbins argued that without U.S. leadership, the world would be a disaster.

"U.S. engagement abroad is not binary," said Robbins. "The issue isn’t whether to engage or not to engage, it is to do it in a skeptical and critical way, to be cognizant of the cost, to have a realistic definition of success, and to have confidence in our own moral strength."

"The issue isn’t whether to engage or not to engage, it is to do it in a skeptical and critical way, to be cognizant of the cost, to have a realistic definition of success, and to have confidence in our own moral strength."

- Dr. Carla Robbins

Friedman argued that taking a step back from the world specifically means limiting the military’s engagement around the world.

"We should take a step back from the world not by disassociating with it, but by stopping this effort to try to run it with the U.S. military," he said. "If that view seems radical, it’s because decades of efforts to justify our foreign presence around the world have dramatically shifted our sense of normalicy [sic] to the point that a foreign policy that sees no limit to our interests or powers has become kind of a bipartisan religion, at least in Washington."

Answering the same question after the debate, "Should the United States take a step back from the world?" 22 percent voted "yes," 72 percent voted "no," and five percent voted "not sure" out of 77 votes total.


Justin Chapman is the Communications Associate at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Members Weekend highlights the work and expertise of the Pacific Council community of members and partners. Take a closer look at this year’s event, and read all Members Weekend analysis now in our Newsroom.

Diplomacy, Not China, Will Solve North Korea Nuclear Problem

NOVEMBER 1, 2016
By: Justin Chapman, Pacific Council

The United States cannot rely on China to intervene in North Korea’s nuclear programDr. David Kang and Dr. James Person told Pacific Council members during a discussion on security issues and tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The panel was moderated by Dr. Booseung Chang, Stanton nuclear fellow at the RAND Corporation, and introduced by the Honorable Jane Harman, director and president of the Wilson Center. The event was presented in partnership with the Wilson Center.

Kang is a professor of international relations and business at the University of Southern California. Person is the deputy director of the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program.

"We keep saying we need China to step in, but China is doing what it does in its own national interest," said Kang. "We keep thinking if we pressure China enough, then they’ll pressure North Korea. China balances stability with denuclearization. China doesn’t want a crazy North Korea running around with nukes any more than we do, but I don’t think they’re going to put immense pressure on North Korea."

Person pointed out that during the Korean War, Kim Il-Sung and the North Korean government thought China was interfering in their affairs too much. During the Cultural Revolution, North Koreans also felt they were mistreated by China.

"There’s a limit to what China can do in changing North Korea’s behavior. It’s up to the United States."

- Dr. Booseung Chang

"Today, by asking China to exert political influence over North Korea, we are essentially asking them to do precisely what North Korea has most resented over the past seven plus decades," said Person. "We are asking them to interfere in North Korean policies. I can’t emphasize enough just how deeply misguided this policy is. We need to find a better way."

Chang agreed, adding, "There’s a limit to what China can do in changing North Korea’s behavior. It’s up to the United States."

In early September, North Korea set off its fifth – and most powerful – nuclear bomb test, and South Korea says they’re ready to test a sixth at any time. Experts are now saying that North Korea could have enough uranium for 20 nuclear bombs by the end of the year and a self-sufficient nuclear program that is capable of producing around six nuclear bombs a year.

"I’m bored talking about North Korea because we’re having the same debate today that we were having 20 years ago when I started writing about North Korea," said Kang. "Identical debates: ‘Is he crazy?’ ‘Are they going to attack?’ ‘Should we hit him with a stick or give him a carrot?’"

"There needs to be an element of diplomatic engagement with North Korea, otherwise we’re not going to get anywhere."

- Dr. James Person

Fortunately, Kang said, the deterrence policy still works.

"The proliferation of weapons systems is scary, but it doesn’t mean the minute they have the capability to attack the United States they’re going to do so," he said. "Kim Jong-un really values being the leader of North Korea. He knows starting a war means the end of his regime. The reason we’re deterred is we don’t want to risk 20 million lives in Seoul. We’re both deterred."

Some things, however, are changing in ways observers didn’t anticipate, Kang said. 

"The government has lost a lot of control over its people than it used to have," he said. "There are three million cell phones in North Korea right now. It’s no longer just the ruling elites. It’s really beginning to trickle down."

Person argued for reengaging with North Korea diplomatically in order to arrive at a resolution in the region. In July, North Korea cut off its only official channel of diplomatic communications with the United States in retaliation for sanctions against Kim Jong-un over human rights abuses.

"There needs to be an element of diplomatic engagement with North Korea, otherwise we’re not going to get anywhere," said Person. "We need to rethink our policy of strategic patience. North Korea won’t come to the table if denuclearization is required."

"We’ve always prioritized nuclear weapons first. Maybe the way to solve the North Korea nuclear issue is by focusing on human rights and the economy first."

- Dr. David Kang

Kang said U.S. sanctions against North Korea do not work, but Washington continues to utilize them for domestic political purposes.

"It’s mostly political theater, because it hasn’t stopped North Korea," he said. "Capitalism is the American way. Why don’t we saturate them with capitalism?"

Kang also argued for a reversal of current U.S. policy as an attempt to solve the security situation on the Korean Peninsula from a different perspective.

"We’ve always prioritized nuclear weapons first, and a distant second has been the economy and human rights," he said. "We’ll talk about these things, but we don’t really care. We care about nuclear weapons. But we’re doing the same thing and we’ve made no progress. Maybe we should switch it around. Maybe the way to solve the North Korea nuclear issue is by focusing on human rights and the economy first."


Justin Chapman is the Communications Associate at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the panelists and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.