Chuck Hagel, former Republican Senator from Nebraska, spoke at the Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) yesterday evening. Hagel was the first speaker in this year’s series, the theme of which was global citizenship. Discussing a wide variety of international events, from the civic unrest in Egypt to the financial crisis, Hagel emphasized the important role of the individual in shaping our increasingly globalized world.
Hagel’s presentation was largely in keeping with the FAS theme of global citizenship. “[The presentation discussed] how individuals will react to the responsibilities of a more intertwined community,” FAS Executive Director Caroline Berger stated.
Hagel started off by discussing how quickly the world is changing. “We are living in a world that is essentially redefining itself. We are rebuilding a world order.”
This new world for Hagel is largely characterized by the diminishing role of government in the national and international spheres and the consequent importance of NGOs, small organizations and individuals. Hagel, who beyond his two terms as a senator is among other things co-chairman of the President’s Advisory Board, a professor of foreign policy at Georgetown University and author of the book America: Our Next Chapter, discussed in particular the individual’s ability to create change.
“It is the human being that changes the world. Institutions don’t change the world; they give you opportunities, boundaries, systems,” Hagel said. “But throughout history, it’s always been the individual. The involvement, the leadership, the capacity, the strength, the courage, the brains — these are the things that change the world.”
Hagel’s presentation was met largely with positive student response.
“I found [Mr. Hagel’s] stance on the global individual quite interesting,” freshman Maha Hussain said. “I especially liked how he managed to point out the faults of both Democrats and Republicans and basically the American institutions in general.”
Hagel’s lack of partisanship was in fact one of the reasons he was invited to speak at the Foreign Affairs Symposium.
“His reputation as a moderate Republican appeals to and lets him represent both sides of the aisle,” FAS Executive Director Isaac Jilbert said. “Now that he’s out of office he can talk clearly about his opinions, and frankly it’s nice to have the kind of perspective. It’s nice to actually hear an opinion from someone who’s been there, who’s done that. He recognizes the reality behind all the smoke [and] mirrors in politics.”
“I’ve always liked the way he’s represented the party, that he wasn’t super far right. And I’ve really liked that he’s able to criticize the party — he’s not partisan,” freshman Talene Bilazarian said.
Throughout his presentation, Hagel largely emphasized the failings of American institutions rather than a particular person or party.
“What’s happened in America . . . is that the American people have lost confidence in their institutions,” he said. “They feel like their institutions have let them down — especially government, especially Wall Street. This was never an Obama thing or a Democrat and Republican thing.”
Hagel similarly discussed the limitations of government in the international realm, particularly in relation to the occurrences in Egypt.
“It’s up to the Egyptian people. It’s not up to us,” he said. “Countries run into a lot of trouble when we try to influence the outcomes in other countries. In the transparent world we live in today, it’s going to be very difficult to do that.”
“[Military power] isn’t going to make a difference in the influence of nations. The point is, it is economic power; it is social power. It’s the human condition that always wins in the end . . . The limitation of great powers such as America is becoming very clear,” he said.
He also believes that the civil unrest spilling throughout the Middle East today rather reflects the manifestation of the individual.
“You cannot chain up human endeavors; you cannot chain up ideas,” said Hagel.
“You’re entering a world where NGOs and independent entities are going to have a bigger impact . . . I don’t think it’s going to be government . . . They’re going to fill that gap, that vacuum.”
Thus, ironically, as the world becomes more globalized — bigger and more involved — the central players become smaller; power, according to Hagel, has been and continues to be in the hands of the individual.
“Because the world has gotten so big, so complicated, the only way people, governments, societies can govern themselves is . . . to define it back down to the more local level,” said Hagel.
“No matter what your location and vocation . . . you’re going to be subjected to everything going on in the world.”
While Hagel’s presentation largely explored many of the conflicts occurring in the international world, it was also infused with optimism towards our capabilities to enact change, fitting with the overall message for the Symposium.
“The one thing [the directors of the Symposium] really do believe is that whatever you’re passionate about, whatever you really want to do, you need to get involved and do that. Don’t live on the couch for the rest of your life,” Jilber said. “Whatever it is you’re passionate about, that’s what you should pursue because when everyone does that something transformative can happen.”