Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) today delivered the third in a series of speeches in the U.S. House of Representatives concerning the need for a comprehensive strategy to advance U.S. interests:
“I rise once again to discuss the need for a comprehensive strategy to advance U.S. interests in the world. Last week I delivered two addresses on this topic. In the second speech I argued that our understanding of the role the U.S. should play in the world is the foundation for our strategy. It will define our vital interests and will condition the means we use for advancing those interests.
“Today, the United States is the world’s dominant economic, political, and military power. There is no peer or near-peer competitor to us nor does one appear likely to emerge in the near future. Some have characterized the U.S. as a hegemonic power or as the world’s policeman, both those who approve and those who disapprove of such a state of affairs. President Clinton, echoing Winston Churchill, eloquently described a vision of the U.S. as “the indispensable nation,” not a world hegemon but a consistent and ever present ally and arbiter acting around the world. Still others advocate that the U.S. withdraw from a place of central prominence on the world stage to avoid the costs and implicit responsibilities of that role. I believe the U.S. should remain the world’s indispensable nation and in a later speech I’ll discuss the ways in which this role should inform the formulation of our comprehensive strategy, but first let me discuss the other options.
“Those who would have us significantly reduce our role on the world stage cannot provide a credible description of whom or what would replace the U.S. in the role of world leadership. The U.N. is not up to the task nor is any other international organization. As already mentioned, there is no other country in a position to fill the role of world leadership. To embrace such an approach we would have to accept that significant portions of the world would simply be left to their own devices. Yet we know that places as remote as the Hindu Kush are home to those who would attack us and our allies. What other corner of the world then do we judge to be so distant and so remote as to be beyond our interest? And how would world fault lines such as the Taiwan Strait, the India/Pakistan Line of Control, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict respond to a world leadership vacuum? The answer is, not well. In short, for the U.S. to abdicate its position of world leadership would be highly detrimental to our national interest.
“What then does accepting a role of world leadership entail? And if it is a current necessity, is it an inherent good to be indefinitely maintained? In other words, should the U.S. view our position as world leader as so necessary to our security that we act largely to maintain this position, which is the primary characteristic of a hegemonic power or empire? Again, the answer is no. To do so is to put our national interest in opposition to the national interests of much of the rest of the world. It is inconsistent with the desires of the American people, with the extent of the costs they are willing to bear for world leadership, and I would argue with our sense of morality and fair play.
“Our vital interests should instead be defined, as suggested by President Clinton, by our role as the world’s indispensable nation: taking a leadership role in advancing and protecting our interests around the world in concert with our friends and allies as part of an open and evolving international system that is fair to all nations. To do so, we must restore the prestige and credibility of the United States, and repair and rebuild our relationships with our major international partners. With this role as our goal, we can define those interests critical to achieving it, and develop and adopt an appropriate strategy.”