The National Security Leadership Alliance

Press Call Transcript, June 29, 2016

Operator: Good day and welcome to the Center for American Progress Action Fund, launching the National Security Leadership Alliance conference call. Today’s conference is being recorded. At this time, I would like to turn the conference to Vikram Singh. Please go ahead sir.

Singh: Thank you, thank you everybody for joining us. Great to have you this afternoon. I’m Vikram Singh, I’m Vice President for national security and international policy here at CAP Action. Today’s press call is going to introduce the National Security Leadership Alliance, which is a new initiative to promote smart, strong, progressive national security policies in this election season. The call will feature Neera Tanden, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress and Center for American Progress Action Fund and two of our distinguished co-chairs: Secretary Madeleine Albright, who served as Secretary of State under President Clinton, and currently chairs the Albright Stonebridge Group; and Admiral James Stavridis, who served as the 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and is currently the Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Our time is short, I’m going to hand it over to Neera right now to talk a little bit about the concept behind the National Security Leadership Alliance.

Tanden: Great, thanks Vikram, and I will be brief because I know people really want to hear from Madeleine Albright and General Stavridis. So really briefly, the concept of the National Security Leadership Alliance is to really focus on the national security issues in the debate we’re having in the country today, particularly during this election cycle. You know, we really have two competing visions about America’s role and what it means to show leadership in the country. One vision is advocating a strong, competent, and engaged America with reliable leadership and smart policy rooted in our values. And the other vision is of a withdrawn and really deeply pessimistic about America and its role, but most importantly demonstrates a kind of erratic leadership with reckless policies that would throw fundamental American values out the window. We are launching the National Security Leadership alliance in order to aggressively engage this debate. At the end of the day, these issues are ones in which progressives and people of good can really win. We can succeed in defeating terrorism, managing aggression, and building a more inclusive and prosperous future for our country. These values are not in opposition to each other. They are actually reinforced by each other. So, we know we will have a rich and robust debate over the next couple of months. Obviously the candidacy of Donald Trump put a huge — like — stability and strength in stark relief. And so we think it is vital that we engage in this debate on really important terms. We will engage at all levels, mobilize resources at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and establish a robust rapid response effort to deal with the moving targets we see every day and what the Republican Party says. And with that, I will turn it back to Vikram.

Singh: Thank you Neera, we’re going to hear from our two co-chairs, each will speak for about three or four minutes. First, I’d like to introduce Admiral Stavridis, who will talk about the key principles at the heart of the alliance, and our vision for strong and pragmatic US leadership in the world. Over to you, Admiral Stavridis.

Admiral Stavridis: Thanks, Vikram, and thanks, Neera. I want to begin, as I’m sure we all would, by offering condolences to those in Turkey who have lost their lives at the Istanbul airport in the face of yet another terrorist attack. And, you know, it obviously echoes what we’ve seen in the wake of Orlando with the attack on the Pulse club, in Paris and Brussels, and I suppose the reason for something like the NSLA is to deal with these kinds of challenges. And my own approach falls out of the four years I spent as a NATO commander, where I saw 28 nations working together to try and create security and to create a sense of collective action. And I think, you know, in a sense NATO is a bridge, a big, complex, important bridge that connects allies. And I think that if I have a fundamental view about this, it is that we are not going to create security in this 21st century by building walls. We’re going to do it by building bridges. And in addition to my time at NATO, I think just living in Europe, you kind of walk in the shadow of the Maginot Line and the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, you sort of think back to the time of the 20th century and you think about all those walls in the 20th century — how’d that work out? Not real well. We had World War I, World War II, probably 80 million people die. And in the middle of those two we had, let’s face it, a global depression brought on by a different kind of wall, by huge tariff barriers. I think that is a failed approach. When I think about the challenges we face today, you know, the Islamic State, cyber-security, the challenges of working with Russia in a complex international system, the rise of China…. we have a plethora of challenges. The keys for us are our values. Our international collaboration, like NATO. Our inter-agency cooperation. We are most effective, not when we reach for the hard power instruments solely, but when we combine defense and diplomacy and development, the so-called 3 Ds. And really, public-private cooperation in counter-piracy and cyber, it’s that kind of bridge building in the international world, in the inter-agency world, and between private and public entities that I think are going to succeed. We’re not going to succeed by reckless policies like banning all Muslims from the United States, like building walls between our country and the world to the South, by erecting huge tariff barriers, by advocating the return of torture to how we treat people who we capture. None of those things will succeed, and in the end we have examples today of where we are succeeding in this kind of international, inter-agency private public approach. Colombia, a nation to our south, a big country, has been in the heart of an insurgency for fifty years and is about to conclude an agreement and move forward. The Balkans, where Secretary Albright knows so well and where she did so much brilliant work as Secretary of State, today are largely peaceful. Why? Not because we built walls in between all those countries. It’s because we’re building bridges, connecting them to the transatlantic world. So I’ll conclude by saying I think this NSLA is a fine gathering of people who serve their country. I think the principles and ideas we’re talking about are the right ones to create security in the 21st century, and I’m very proud to be part of it as a co-chair with an iconic Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Back to you, Vikram.

Singh: Thank you, Admiral Stavridis, really appreciate that. I’d like to next introduce Sec of State Madeleine Albright, who will build out Admiral Stavridis remarks and discuss the importance of the alliance, especially with regard to the election season we’re in right now. Over to you, Madam Secretary.

Secretary Albright: Thank you very much, Vikram, and I’m so proud to be associated with this effort of the NSLA and to be working with this distinguished group. And I must say I’m thrilled to work with Admiral Stavridis. We got to know each other when he was back here and Secretary Clinton had asked me to work on a new strategic concept for NATO, So I know how he works, how he operates, and what a dedicated citizen he is. This is a group of people that are part of this alliance that know a thing or two about keeping America safe, and although we’ve got different political backgrounds, we’re all disturbed by the reckless ideas being thrown around in this election, because we know that the stakes couldn’t be higher. Whether it’s the crisis from Syria, or the plight of refugees, or the acts of terror that Admiral Stavridis described, America needs to be competent and to lead the fight. I have always said that America is the indispensable nation, but there is nothing in that word that says “alone”. We have to work with our partners. We have to be involved, but we have to operate in a partnership. But unfortunately, most of the ideas being advanced right now, especially by Donald Trump, would not only fail to keep us safe, they could rip us apart — and frankly, his reaction to what happened in Istanbul is hysterical. My family and I were forced from our home twice, and as Adm. Stavridis described some of the issues of the 20th century, I can speak to them personally. Because first we were driven out by the Nazis and next by the Communists, and we found a permanent home in the US and a chance not only to survive, but to thrive in this country. And when people ask me, “What’s the most important thing that ever happened to me?” Becoming an American for sure. And I will always be grateful for that, and many of those who resettle here feel the same way. And instead of infusing the debate around immigration with hysterical nationalist rhetoric, we should consider the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty, because that’s who we really are. I do know that when America makes the choice to lead, we have a huge role and a huge impact, and I’ve seen that over and over again. But we can’t lead if we alienate our critical allies in NATO, in Asia, or in the Muslim world, and we have won every major war with powerful coalitions, not by going it alone. And I think that nothing is clearer than when you hear Hillary Clinton speak about the importance of a steady hand, and partnership and working with others, and the importance of engagement and respect for other countries. What a contrast to the kinds of things Donald Trump said in terms of that torture should be used to fight fire with fire, and we need to be just like the terrorists in order to beat them. Frankly, it’s not only immoral, it’s not going to work. So we need to lead with our values and we need to remind and educate the American people of what our values really mean. So the purpose of this group to articulate and build support for what is the right vision for America, where we lead with confidence, strength, and purpose. And America where there really is no place for fear or bigotry and where, once again, we can lead the world through a period of turmoil to a more hopeful destination. So I look forward very much to sharing this message in the months ahead. This is a critical election. I know people have said that in the past, but all you have to do is look around what’s going on in the world today, and we need a steady hand of an experienced person, not somebody who has no idea about the impact of the crazy words he uses. Vikram, back to you.

Singh: Thank you, Madam Secretary, really appreciate that. We have time for a few questions, so I’ll turn it back to all of you to fire away.

Operator: If you would like to ask a question, please press star and then the digit 1. If you are using a speakerphone, please make sure your mute selection is turned off to allow your signal to reach our equipment. Once again, star-1 to ask a question and we’ll pause for a moment…And as a reminder, it’s star-1 to ask a question.

Singh: We’ll hear from Eric Geller with Politico.

Geller: Hi, thanks for doing this call. I’m curious, yesterday Secretary Clinton released her tech agenda and part of this is cybersecurity; she supported this commission to study encryption. I’m just curious if anyone on this call has a stance there, whether they would have liked to see her take a more definitive position on law enforcement access there, since there is a national security angle.

Tanden: This is Neera Tanden. We don’t have really strong views on her encryption calls over here, but I’ll see if there are any other comments, or we can just move to the next question…Next question.

Operator: There are no further questions

Tanden: Ok great!

Singh: Great! Thank you everybody for joining. Thank you Madam Secretary, thank you Admiral Seritas for visiting. Thank you Neera, and thank you everyone for organizing.

Admiral Seritas: Pleasure. Thank you very much everyone, thank you Madam Secretary.

Secretary Albright: Thank you, goodbye Jim.

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