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Pivot Point: New Directions for American Security

Jun 11, 2008
8:00am to 6:00pm ET

The Willard Intercontinental
Washington, DC

Pivot Point: New Directions for American Security was a one-day CNAS conference highlighting the major foreign policy and national security challenges facing our nation in the critical time ahead. 

Introduction & Opening Remarks | Session 1 | Session 2 | Luncheon Keynote | Session 3Session 4 | Session 5 | Afternoon Keynote




The Honorable Dr. William J. Perry 
Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor, Stanford
Chairman, CNAS Board of Directors

The Honorable Madeleine K. Albright
Principal, Albright Group LLC
CNAS Board of Directors

The Honorable Richard L. Armitage
President, Armitage International
CNAS Board of Directors

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Summary | The first conference panel explored American grand strategy. Chaired by Joseph Nye, panelists included Michèle Flournoy and Derek Chollet from CNAS, Mitchell Reiss from the College of William and Mary, William Kristol from The Weekly Standard, and G. John Ikenberry from Princeton University. 

Michèle Flournoy presented key ideas from CNAS’ new report, “Making America Grand Again,” and spoke both of the need for policymakers to widen the strategic aperture and take a new look at the essence of America’s core global interests. Derek Chollet gave a brief summary of his new book America Between the Wars (co-authored with James Goldgeier), which explores the era between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 attacks. 

The panelists then engaged in a lively exchange over America’s purpose and place in the world. Mitchell Reis questioned whether in the complex modern era it is truly possible to articulate a compelling grand strategy. William Kristol argued that while grand strategy and foreign policy doctrines are important, “deeds matter most.” G. John Ikenberry endorsed the theme of the CNAS report and the need for policymakers to develop a grand strategy that centers on the need for America to positively shape the international system. Joseph Nye concluded the panel by arguing that America needs a strategy that can help policymakers “create opportunities and meet a diffuse set of challenges.”

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Download Finding Our Way: Debating American Grand Strategy

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Summary | CNAS’s “Pivot Point” conference on June 11, 2008, featured a panel on Iraq chaired by Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, USMC (ret.) with CNAS fellow and Georgetown University professor Colin Kahl, GEN Jack Keane, USA (ret.), and Center for American Progress fellow Brian Katulis. 

Dr. Kahl presented the findings of CNAS’s new report, “Shaping the Iraq Inheritance.”  He argued that the causes recent security progress in Iraq are complex and reversible. Accordingly, a new strategy of “conditional engagement” is necessary to preserve current gains and make the Iraqi government take further steps toward stability and self-reliance.  Under a conditional engagement policy, the U.S. military would begin a phased withdrawal of combat forces to signal its intent to leave and use its remaining presence as bargaining leverage to compel the Iraqi government to take further steps toward political reconciliation. 

GEN Keane asserted that the United States is close to achieving victory in the Iraq war, thanks in large part to the strategy shift in 2007 and the Iraqi people’s rejection of al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army.  Mr. Katulis argued that “conditional engagement” in practice may not be different from the Bush administration’s behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Iraqi government and called for a broader regional strategic reassessment of American Middle East policy.

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Summary | The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) was honored to have Richard Danzig, former Secretary of the Navy and a national security advisor to Senator Obama (D-IL), provide a speech which complemented the annual event on national security strategy. Speaking from a non-partisan position, Mr. Danzig laid out a thesis offering a shift in perspective on how policy planners, senior advisors, and defense analysts approach their work. 

Mr. Danzig explained how bioterrorism is one of the greatest threats to the United States and how a myopic focus on al Qaeda and the Iraq War could be disastrous. He provided a schoolhouse lecture to posit a refreshed way of thinking about this two-headed problem, bioterrorism and Islamic terrorism. Both issues are linked, however, one must cognitively isolate these threats to best defend against them.  Danzig suggested security analysts require a form of “competitive thinking” to find real results.

The former Secretary encouraged those in the room to question existing assumptions and norms of our enemies and our own institutions. Knowing one’s shortcomings is paramount when improving a culture of defense analysts who must challenge pedagogy and look to new outlets for gathering intelligence. Solving national security problems will be difficult for the next administration, but Mr. Danzig says problems are best attained with a comprehensive and introspective approach. The government must work collaboratively with non-government institutions, academics, and practitioners to overcome our own strengths and weaknesses and create a winnable strategy for the future. Senior government officials must open the national security establishment to criticism. If we know ourSELFs and encourage oversight, we will invite new thinking and better prepare the war fighter and strategist for blurring battlefield.

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Summary | Dealing with Iran and its nuclear program will be an urgent priority for the next president. In order to evaluate U.S. policy options, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) convened a bipartisan group of experts on foreign policy and national security, retired military personnel, former diplomats and other government officials, and specialists on Iran and the region. 

Ambassador Dennis Ross presented a paper on diplomatic strategies for dealing with Iran, and Dr. Suzanne Maloney wrote on potential Iranian responses. Dr. Ashton Carter evaluated various U.S. military options, and Dr. Vali Nasr described likely Iranian reactions and other potential impacts. Ambassador Richard Haass considered the challenges of living with a nuclear Iran. Each of these papers represents an important contribution to a much-needed national discussion on U.S. policy toward Iran. 

Based on these papers and expert group discussion, as well as additional research and analysis, three CNAS authors (Dr. James Miller, Christine Parthemore, and Dr. Kurt Campbell) proposed that the next administration pursue “game-changing diplomacy” with Iran. This proposal, which represents solely the views of the three CNAS authors, would involve de-emphasizing military threats, offering direct U.S.-Iranian discussions without preconditions on a wide range of issues, and inviting Iran to participate as a more responsible member of the international community. It would accept Iran’s right to enrich uranium despite its past transgressions, while insisting on immediate comprehensive verification, and encouraging Iran to give up its enrichment activities voluntarily. The plan gives high priority to gaining broad international support and building leverage; the United States would engage its friends and allies before engaging Iran, and would appeal to Iran’s people as well as its leadership. Iranian leaders would feel significant pressure both internally and internationally to accept such a reasonable diplomatic initiative. But if they rejected it, the United States and the international community would be much better positioned to put in place economic and political sanctions with real bite, or as a last resort, to build a strong international coalition for the possible use of military force. 

While both Iran and the international community would be better off if Iran plays ball, game-changing diplomacy is designed to improve prospects for the United States and the international community irrespective of how Iran responds.

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Download Iran: U.S. Strategic Options

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The Honorable Carol M. Browner 
Principal, The Albright Group LLC 

Sharon Burke 
CNAS Senior Fellow 

John Podesta
President and CEO, Center for American Progress 

Gen. Charles F. “Chuck” Wald 
(Ret.) Vice President, International Programs, L-3 Communication 

Jay Gulledge
Senior Scientist, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

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Download A Strategy for American Power: Energy, Climate, and National Security

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Summary | In session five of the conference,  Dr. Campbell presented on CNAS’s new publication iAsia: the Power of Balance, followed by comments from the distinguished panelists:

Robert D. Kaplan, CNAS Senior Fellow and writer for the Atlantic

Dr. Victor Cha, D.S. Song-Korea Foundation Chair and Associate Professor at Georgetown University, Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council 2004-7

LTG Karl Eikenberry, Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, formerly the Commander of Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan (CFC-A)

Moderator: David Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent, the New York Times, CNAS Writer-in Residence

Mr. Campbell, as the presenter, began by laying out the four insights that form the basis of the report.

Bob Kaplan followed, noting in particular that the report was right in calling for a shift of American strategic focus towards Asia, as both economic and military global power are moving east.  

Professor Cha elucidated what he sees as the three strategic imperatives for the next administration, imperatives he feels are “consonant” with the CNAS iAsia report.  

Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry arrived fresh from Brussels to contribute both his deep expertise on China and his wealth of experience pertaining to America’s role in Asia.  As the last panelist, LTG Eikenberry expressed his appreciation for the report and its emphasis on the U.S.’s enduring interests in the region.  

David Sanger closed the panel by positing an intriguing question for Asia going forward.  We have seen recently that, often at the behest of American leadership, Asian powers can work fairly well on issues of common interest outside of Asia.  What remains to be seen is whether the major players “can start to work as well ‘in-area’” in the Asian Century  and what role the U.S. will play in this. 

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Download The Power of Balance: America in iAsia
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Senator Lindsey Graham gave the afternoon keynote speech at the Center for a New American Security’s Pivot Point event.  Senator Graham’s remarks focused on the security challenges the next president will inherit and the opportunity that America will have to lead the world in the years ahead.  The presidential election every four years offers America a new chance with the world, an opportunity we must seize.  Senator Graham gave a positive assessment of the recent developments in Iraq, arguing that Iran and Al Qaeda have been the two biggest losers of the surge.  The next president must follow through on recent success and convince the world that Iraq is not an American problem but the entire world’s problem.  To succeed in the future, the next president must fight for the moral high ground and empower moderates around the world.  Senator Graham suggested that global leadership must start at home with the recognition that we make mistakes but that America will succeed because it fights for the rule of law.  Senator Graham concluded his remarks by noting that although America’s challenges are daunting, America has on its side the greatest force of all, our value system.

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