Wednesday Q+A With Stephen Hadley

George W. Bush’s national security adviser on the Trump administration’s foreign policy.

Stephen Hadley
LBJ Library photo by Jay Godwin
May 16, 2017, 8 p.m.

After serving in three administrations, including as national security adviser during President George W. Bush’s second term, Stephen Hadley is now the chairman of the United States Institute of Peace. Hadley spoke with Adam Wollner about North Korea, Afghanistan, and President Trump’s first foreign trip.

What should the U.S. response be to North Korea’s latest missile test?

I think the administration has done a good job of setting the table for developing a policy on North Korea. It has made clear we are going to break from the policies of the past. … The activities we have done in terms of ship movements and moving the THAAD [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense] radar into South Korea have been useful signals to North Korea that we are prepared to deter and protect against their emerging capabilities. But I think they’ve also gotten the Chinese’s attention that this is a real national security priority for us.

What should the next steps be?

There needs to be a conversation with the governments in Seoul and Japan, so that the three countries can get on the same page. And then of course we need to enlist the Chinese and the Russians in whatever policy we come up with. … But the kinds of things we need to do to prepare to deter and defend against North Korea are exactly the things the Chinese will not like. They will increase the American military profile in the region. So I think that actually puts pressure on the Chinese to pressure the North Koreans. … They certainly have more leverage than they have been willing to use. … The Chinese, I think, have been increasingly concerned about this regime.

The Trump administration is weighing whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. Is that the answer for the U.S. in that region?

We have always started talking about a security strategy without talking enough about the political strategy. We need a strategy that is going to help the Afghan government enhance its legitimacy and win the support of its own people. … There needs to be a political strategy for the broad reconciliation among all aspects of Afghan society, including the Taliban. In order to stabilize this situation and give the Taliban some incentive to be willing to participate in some kind of political settlement, we need help stabilize the security situation. We need to enhance our train-and-equip mission to help the Afghan forces stabilize the situation and begin to change the dynamic. … I think that is doable with a very modest increase in the U.S. military presence there. … It needs to be an integrated strategy, with political and economic elements, but I think there is a security piece that is important.

Trump is set to embark on his first foreign trip as president this week. What does he need to accomplish?

I think it is important that he make a good impression. … He needs to kind of stick to the script, have a dignified, organized, and focused trip, and try to avoid the kind of incidents that would detract from the trip. Show a little spontaneity in terms of who he is, but pretty much stick to the script, be presidential, deal with the business at hand, and recognize that the whole world is watching.

Trump isn’t known for sticking to the script. Can he actually do that for the entire trip?

Sure. If he wants to do it, he clearly can.

What do you make of the proposed budget cuts to the State Department and foreign-aid programs?

These are important programs to the country. Government generally, and that would include those programs, can be made more effective and more efficient. So reorganization, steps to enhance the effectiveness of our nonmilitary aspects of our power, our diplomacy, our development, our democracy promotion—that’s all fine. The kind of across-the-board, seemingly arbitrary, deep cuts risk really throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Are you concerned by the slow pace at which Trump is producing nominees for the positions at the State and Defense departments?

There normally is a transition period of six to eight months for a new administration to come in. Because of how this administration came to power, that transition period is going to be longer. It will probably take a year before they’re going to have their people, their processes, and their policies in place.

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