Meeting in the majestic chambers of the U.S. Library of Congress, the WMF and Chief Executive reassembled the organization and CEOs who served in the military during the Vietnam War to continue the dialogue begun when CE first brought Vietnam Vet CEOs together in our pages (CE: Dec. ’97, “No Trumpets, No Drums”). In this and subsequent gatherings, CEOs who served in the military found a forum in which to share leadership lessons learned.
Business leaders who served in the military during this divisive conflict are quick to point out that the value of the memorial and the organization which seeks to educate the public is not in the glorification of war but in the reminder not to neglect the lessons that follow from it.
Chief among these lessons is teamwork born out of a development of mutual trust. “I saw that over and over again,” says New York Life’s Mike Nocera. “The team leader, by developing trust, builds a team of leaders, making it possible for everyone to succeed.” Held in partnership with Universal Express, whose CEO, Richard Altomare, is a former Marine Vietnam vet, this year’s gathering called upon another Vietnam veteran, Sen. John McCain, who was shot down over North Vietnam and spent five and a half years as a POW, to discuss current leadership challenges in foreign policy, including the conflict arising over the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
I, along with many of my Republican colleagues, have on dozens of occasions proved that the old adage that politics should stop at the water’s edge still holds some relevance in the Clinton era. On Kosovo, Bosnia, Vietnam, NAFTA, the WTO, and many other serious international questions, I’ve sided in large part with the Administration over the opposition of some Republicans, as have any number of Republican members of Congress. I cannot say that partisanship does not influence some of our opposition to Administration policies. However, to the extent that national security issues have been overly politicized in recent months, the President, who too often has conducted a poll-tested, photo-op foreign policy, deserves much, if not most, of the blame. And that is most certainly the explanation for the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Let’s be clear. This treaty was bad for the U.S. The fact that it would have prevented us from ever testing the safety and reliability of our nuclear defenses was reason enough to insist that the treaty at least be reviewed and reratified every several years. Moreover, we lack the technological capability at the present time to verify a compliance for the test ban. That’s another argument for delaying this treaty at least until technology catches up to the treaty’s purpose.
Indeed, none of these countries had joined the CTBT nor are they likely to. But even if they had, their word is worth virtually nothing. North Korea was busy building nuclear weapons even though it was a signatory to the nonproliferation treaty. Other nuclear states, Pakistan and India, have not signed the CTBT and can also be expected to act in what their leaders perceive as their national interest. The Administration was caught flat-footed when India tested but strongly warned Pakistan not to follow suit-but to no avail.
Equally absurd is the suggestion that the most recent military coup in Pakistan is an example that things might happen in the absence of Senate ratification of an arms control agreement. The military has ruled Pakistan for half its history. As the world’s leading democracy, we should support the restoration of civilian rule in Pakistan but we should not automatically assume that the new regime will engage in nuclear brinksmanship with India. And the idea that the CTBT would have somehow affected tensions in the subcontinent is laughable. We surely have an interest in helping prevent a fourth Indian- Pakistani war. It is conceivable that such a war could go nuclear. The CTBT would have done precisely nothing to prevent that.
We should, as we have only in recent months, encourage a relaxation of tensions, especially with regard to the Kashmir flashpoint. The Administration ignored this problem until India and Pakistan tested. And as we urge the early restoration of democracy in Pakistan, we should do what we can to ensure the current military regime be moderate in its approach to its neighbor. Early indications are that it might be more moderate than its democratic predecessor. Already they have announced troop pullbacks from the border. We should not isolate Pakistan but encourage it to be pro-Western and reject Iran-style fundamentalism or Afghani chaos.
Let’s not repeat the mistake of imposing the same kind of counterproductive sanctions we did after Pakistan tested. Again, the CTBT has nothing to do with developments in the Asian subcontinent and the Administration’s hints that it does threaten the formulation of a serious policy to address instability there. The CT-BT was a flawed arms control agreement, not a referendum on the U.S. role in the world. Internationalism is not just about U.N. debts, foreign aid, and multilateral arms agreements. Internationalism is recognizing that our interests and values are at stake globally and acting to secure them.
The CTBT would not have done a thing to protect our interests or advance our values. Indeed, it would have placed them at greatest risk. That’s the reason that committed Republican internationalists from Henry Kissinger to Jean Kirkpatrick to Richard Luger opposed it. Faced with the choice of rejecting or accepting it, Senate Republicans chose a politically difficult course of rejecting it and by so doing put the national interest over our immediate political interest. I am proud we did. I admit I would have preferred that we spare the President the international embarrassment of rejecting the centerpiece of his second-term foreign policy. I would have preferred that we not vote at all on the treaty.
John Woods (Woods Peacock Engineering Consultants): Could you address briefly the circumstances in which the U.S. should be deploying forces overseas and have we diluted our effect by being in too many places at once?
McCain: That’s the No. 1 question and challenge that faces us in the next century. Obviously, if we were any other nation in the world, realpolitik would rule and therefore it would be incredibly easy for us to make our decisions based on U.S. interests.
But we are also driven, as we should be, by Wilsonian principles, so the answer has to be, where our interest and our values are at risk. But there also has to be an important corollary to that, which is where we can beneficially affect the outcome of the situation.
I think all of us in this room grieved when we heard of hundreds of thousands of people being slaughtered in Rwanda. We as a Judeo-Christian principled nation would have liked to have stopped that and prevent it from ever happening again. But I’ve yet to meet a single expert who can tell me how we could have been officially affected by that situation. We had an experience in Haiti in the 1920s, as you might remember; we sent the Marines there for a long time. But we didn’t do any good for Haiti when we sent the Marines there before, and then we decided to send them again, 20,0O0 of them. We spent a couple of billion dollars of the taxpayer’s money and arguably Haiti is worse off from the experience than they were before we went there. So this corollary I was talking about is of utmost importance.
Now, what about Kosovo? We stumbled into Kosovo; there’s no way that Milosevic could have signed a Rambouillet agreement because it called for U.N. and NATO presence in his country. Politically, he couldn’t have stood. Then, on the night that the bombing began, our Secretary of State said on the “Lehrer News Hour,” “We’ll only be there for a few days,” misinterpreting the results of the Bosnia experience, which was not just because of U.S. bombing but because the Croatians had just beaten the daylights out of the Serbs on the ground.
So we stumbled into a conflict where, because the decisions were driven by polls rather than principles, we ended up flying our pilots around at 15,000 feet so we could be absolutely assured that none would be shot down, because the pollsters told the President that we couldn’t take American casualties, thereby causing the pilots to drop bombs inaccurately, killing innocent civilians. I don’t get that morality. I soundly reject the morality or standard that says we’re willing to sacrifice innocent civilian lives, no matter whose they may be, in return for the protection of American lives.
A lot of us in this room served professionally. We know our job is, from time to time, to put it on the line. That’s the nature of the profession. So in Kosovo, once the conflict began, our values and our interests were at risk. I don’t think that you can make a case-by-case basis but you certainly can have a concept of what you want the world to look like, where the threats are, where our interests and our values lie, and have a proactive foreign policy and national security policy so that you’re not constantly surprised by events that take place in various parts of the world.
I would also add, those of us in this room know what happens when you neglect, when you don’t pay attention, when you have misguided policies. God knows, those of us in this room can’t allow that experience to be repeated. That’s our obligation. It is the challenge for the next century to try to determine this framework, and how we can act within it and make sure we are proactive rather than reactive when the crises which are inevitable spring up all around the world.
Vietnam Vet CEOs & Reflect
Phillip P. Rooney (ServiceMaster): lf we’re going to have national leadership and we’re going to have vested ownership in this country, I think we’re going to have to have some method to get everybody to buy in, and ownership is a big discussion today. I think national service is certainly something that addresses the moral aspect of it. Also, recruiting is key to how the military is going to survive in the future, and so is the idea of volunteerism with in the military. I was in for three years, and it changed my life dramatically and certainly can changes other peoples’ lives