Progressive Players: Part II with Kelly Magsamen and Mira Rapp-Hooper

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Ben Rimland: In part two, Kelly, Mira, and Mike turn their focus to the likely approaches a future Democratic administration would take towards trade issues, defense policy, and democratic values in the creation of an Asia grand strategy. What elements of the Trump-era National Defense Strategy if any might a future Democratic president continue in their own Asia grand strategy? The group also touches on polling from the Center for American Progress that identifies the policy priorities of the young voters who make up a large part of the progressive electorate. Finally, Mike asks Kelly and Mira about the means by which young progressive grand strategists can find their footing within the Asia policy community.

Mike Green: Mira, what about democratic administration, to be determined, and defense spending, but also let me throw in trade, which is another area where traditionally democratic administrations have not been seen as pro-trade. I think that high ground has been ceded by the Trump administration.

Mike Green: I think it's a free for all now. I don't think either party can claim high ground on that one, but for our Asian allies, those are two of the things they really look at. I mean, if you ask most Asian allies what their ideal administration would be, it would be a Republican defense, budget, and trade policy, traditional, not Trump, with a Democratic administration's commitment to diplomacy and multilateral institution building.

Mike Green: Our poor allies never get the whole package. They got us for say one or the other, but things are topsy-turvy now. So Mira, what do you think? Is there a good news story to tell about defense, but also trade for a Democratic administration if we get one?

Mira Rapp-Hooper: Yeah, so I'll take the defense piece first and just embroider a little bit on Kelly's great answer, which is to say, that I think there is a lot that a Democratic president can do in terms of the way we're thinking about defense qualitatively and some other ways too. In particular, I think it's really likely that a democratic president could rethink the way that we do R&D, could focus in on the relationship between Washington and Silicon Valley, and could really invest in trying to harness American existing and potential technological competitiveness to national advantage.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: That's a place where without necessarily spending much more, we lead the world, or we do lead the world in cutting edge technologies and many of the technologies of the future, but there are a number of things about the relationship between Washington and Silicon Valley in the way that we harness that potential more broadly that could be vastly improved, especially in a world where we're thinking more about competition with China.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: And so, not only does that include improving the relationship with Silicon Valley, but it includes doing things like making very targeted investments in universities and researchers who are developing the technologies of the future that we're going to need to rely upon.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: But I would also note that there is another qualitative area of emphasis that a Democrat has a lot of room to improve upon, and that is in thinking about gray zone competition, in particular with competitors like China. We of course had a national defense strategy under this administration which highlighted gray zone competition as a key element and domain of competition and of course it's not just one domain.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: Gray zone is a catch-all term that we use to refer to anything that occurs sub-conventionally, but it can include cyber. It can include maritime. It can include economic coercion. But one fundamental feature of this type of competition is that it tends not to occur in the high-end defense domain. If it did, it wouldn't be gray zone by definition, and as a result, it can be really vexing to try to coordinate resources, bureaucratically, to aggress gray zone challenges in a really proactive way.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: So to embroider again upon Kelly's answer, without making radical cuts to the defense budget, a new Democratic administration can and should absolutely be prioritizing the types of foreign policy tools that are necessary to engage in a really serious way in gray zone competition, many of which come through the State Department, which could certainly have a coordinating role in the NSC, which probably involved more elements of Treasury, but are not just about how much we're spending in the defense top line, and indeed could withstand very modest defense cuts if they majorly increase the United States' ability to compete in the gray zone with countries like China.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: On the trade space, I'll just say briefly, that while I think we would certainly agree with you that this administration has ceded the high ground, when it comes to trade, I do think there are a variety of perspectives on the Democratic side of the aisle, various tolerances for keeping some forms of tariff in place, but a strong consensus that leveling tariffs against our allies is woefully counterproductive, and not the way we want to be engaged economically in the world.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: But also a strong belief that a completely unalloyed embrace of globalization, without consideration of its differential effects has not necessarily benefited the United States politically, or its allies and partners across the globe politically. And so, I do think there's a lot of room for trade policy in a Democratic administration. That very much continues to emphasize economic interdependence, that is certainly pro-trade, but the things of trade from a lens that fundamentally seeks to protect the American people, not in America first hyper-nationalist way, but in a way that calls for sound trade policy that does not just simply embrace all aspects of globalization without serious scrutiny.

Kelly Magsamen: I think that's right. I would add a couple of more points on the defense side, as I was listening to Mira, thinking. Another big area is how we approach our alliances, I think, will be really, really important in terms of our defense strategy and networking this alliance. We have allies who are highly capable, Australia, Japan, etc. who can play a different kind of role, frankly, in the region than they have been playing in the past 70 years, so really thinking about how we use our allies, how we partner with our allies, how we ensure that their comparative advantage is also coming through in that relationship.

Kelly Magsamen: And then the other piece is the how. It's not just the what and the how much, but the how. And so, how we operate to build on the gray zone issue, what are the operating concepts of competition going to actually be? What are the effective ones going to be? I think that is where the Department of Defense needs to do more work and more thinking about how to adjust its operating concepts to the new environment.

Mike Green: Yeah on trade, I guess, relative silence about trade from the Democratic candidates is a good thing. Because the normal pattern is the Democratic candidates run against trade because the republicans are for it, and now that we have a republican president who's the most protectionist in a generation, it's interesting how the democratic candidates, they're saying his approach is stupid, but nobody's giving a full-throated statement of support for protectionism.

Mike Green: So maybe, ironically, whoever runs against Donald Trump may have a little more of a playing field to invent and create a trade policy that bridges the different views in the democratic party. I mean I'm part of a Bush-McCain group of foreign policy experts who give full-throated endorsements for free trade, but of course we don't have a candidate. I guess silence is the second best, or hedging is the second best choice.

Kelly Magsamen: No, but I do think to Mira's point, I think we think differently about how to approach the China issue on trade and economics and part of it is that we think a collective approach is a better way to do this, rather than taking on China by ourselves, but doing it with our friends. There's some fundamentals of economic state craft that we think are missing in the current approach that we would certainly have tried to pursuit.

Mike Green: Yeah, I think four years of Donald Trump, if he's replaced by a Democrat, would be an extended teachable moment about how you approach competition, including on economics, where we're, as you say, fighting our posse, our friends, while we're going after the main violator.

Mike Green: You mentioned it, both of you earlier, but democratic values. I mean these are fundamental to American foreign policy strategy in my view, and as I've written, have been so from the beginning. But, they're also political and situational, so Jimmy Carter championed human rights in part because of the Vietnam War. And then Ronald Reagan championed democratic values in part because Jimmy Carter had been hard on democratic allies.

Mike Green: It's always a bit situational, and after Iraq, the Democratic Party, I thought, turned a little bit against human rights and democracy. Kurt [Campbell] and Michael Hamlet had that hard power book which was basically an endorsement of seizing the realist mantel from Republicans after the Iraq War, but then 2016 happened and then the Russians interfered with our election and it sure seemed to animate democratic foreign policy intellectuals. And so I guess the question is-

Kelly Magsamen: We came out of the woodwork is what you're saying?

Mike Green: Yeah. Are democratic values important on our foreign policy because the Russians took the election away from you? Or do you think there's a broader understanding which you guys both obviously have, among the foreign policy establishment on the Democratic side, that this is actually really critical for how we approach China and Asia.

Kelly Magsamen: Yeah. From where I sit, first of all, democratic values have always been important to me. In the conduct of American foreign policy, I think it's what makes us essentially different from the Chinas and the Russias in the world, but also I think it, especially in Asia, I actually think our democratic values are a comparative advantage for us.

Kelly Magsamen: And I think we don't think about it that way. We see values and human rights as a hindrance to execution of American foreign policy interests, but I actually think we should be thinking about it totally differently in the context of U.S.-China dynamic. And I think the thing that we offer that China doesn't offer, is that we want an Asia-Pacific that allows for countries to make their choices both economic choices and security choices free of coercion. And undergirding all of that is a democratic values approach, and if you don't have that as a ballast to what the Chinese are pursuing, then you're going to have a fait-accompli world in the Asia-Pacific.

Mike Green: Mira?

Mira Rapp-Hooper: Yeah. I tend to agree very much with Kelly. I will say that the reaction to Iraq that you talk about, I think, does linger in the Democratic Party to some degree, but that is different than saying that we can't have democratic values as a touchstone of American foreign policy. I think the place for that blowback still rings true, is in the idea of democracy promotion when it is synonymous with regime change and wars of choice to change regimes.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: And that is something that, I think, you will see all Democratic candidates shy away from, and indeed we already have, but that is a far cry from saying that our values shouldn't stand at the center of our foreign policy, and indeed I think because of what the current president has represented in his embrace for autocrats, in his obvious distaste for emphasizing human rights and American values, there's a clear contrast to be drawn, that really suggests that most candidates should be embracing American values, human rights, and democracy support, if not active promotion as centerpieces of their foreign policy as well.

Mike Green: It's always interesting to me, as a veteran of the Bush administration, whose remit ended at the Durand line in Pakistan. I did not work on the Middle East, but it's always interesting to me that the left portrays the Iraq War and Afghanistan as wars for regime change in democracy, but so does the right now. The Koch Brothers, restrainer group also is against military intervention for democratic purposes.

Mike Green: Actually that's fine, because we did not go into Iraq for democratic regime change purposes. That became the mission over time, and if the bottom line everyone draws is, we don't want to go into major wars to promote democracy, that's fine, because that's actually not what most, all of our conflicts have been, including Iraq.

Mike Green: It's a bit of strawman and I'm happy to accept if what it means that there's a mainstream Republican and Democratic view that we care about human rights and democracy, that it should be a priority, we're just not going to fight wars over it. That, I can live with that. Fair? Unfair? Mira?

Mira Rapp-Hooper: Yeah. I think that is fair. And I think that's basically where the American people are now. And that is something that you see on both sides of the aisle frankly. You know exactly as you mentioned, and not just amongst Libertarian Restrainers, is there is actually a huge appetite reflected in various public opinion polls, for the United States to remain in a global leadership position, to be a leading power, to be deeply involved in multilateral institutions, to have alliances, to be setting the world agenda, but there is a strong antipathy for military interventions, unless are absolute overwhelming by interests are at stake.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: That of course is something that could change. We've seen the pendulum swing back and forth many times over the course of the last several decades, but at least for now I think that you're seeing the Democratic candidates across the board pretty much abhor the idea of intervention with regime change in mind, in response certainly to Iraq, but also to this very strong public sentiment that is by no means just a democratic feature. Mike Green: It's interesting in the Chicago Council polling that the percentage of Americans who say we should fight to defend Japan or Korea is high. It's pretty much at a historic high, but on the Middle East, there's a real hesitation, opposition, to any kind of military intervention. So it's good for all of us Asia hands. Speaking of public opinion, Kelly, your team did a really interesting national survey on what millennials and younger Americans think, all generations. Kelly Magsamen: It was actually a nationwide poll.

Mike Green: The most interesting findings were about-

Kelly Magsamen: We broke it out, yeah.

Mike Green: ... the next generation, which is relevant to this discussion because the Democratic Party has the youth folk, and for the Republicans, so what the younger voters think is going to have a big impact on what a Democratic administration might look like. Tell us a little bit about some of the findings from that survey, what were you, what's encouraging.

Kelly Magsamen: So I would say for a Progressive Internationalist like me, it was a mixed bag, frankly, on this front. I think, for example, on democracy itself, people's views of democracy being important as a concept in American foreign policy, there was a significant generational difference between say baby boomers and millennials. Millennials were 57%, think democracy is important, and 75% of baby boomers do. So you just see, even though it's still majority of millennials that view it that way, certainly boomers have a much different perspective.

Mike Green: How old are millennials now? In their 20s?

Kelly Magsamen: So millennials, oh God, now they go up to, like, early 30s I think now. It's constantly shifting. I am not a millennial, I am a GenX-er.

Mike Green: Gen-X, right. 'Cause I am the-

Kelly Magsamen: I am the lost generation of Gen-X. Easy to get skipped over.

Mike Green: I am the bottom rung, I am the last part of the baby boomers, so we forgot about you GenX-ers. So millennials are different.

Kelly Magsamen: Just democracy is a concept, even capitalism, their attachment to some of the traditional grounding of American politics and foreign policy are just not as tight as they were for older generations. The other thing though that was interesting is, so baby boomers and silent generation, which is really, really older folks, their top five foreign policy issues are terrorism was number one, still, which was interesting, jobs for Americans, illegal immigration, nuclear threats, and relationships with allies. So that was their top five ranking.

Kelly Magsamen: For millennials and Gen-Z, it was a different list. It was climate change, jobs, allies, which is still good, that's good for us, Asia people, poverty, and human rights, which I think is an interesting dimension given the cross seeing on the democracy piece and terrorism. So that was their top five list.

Mike Green: Why allies? Why do younger Americans, is it because Trump's attacking them? Kelly Magsamen: I think it might be a Trump effect.

Mike Green: Yeah.

Kelly Magsamen: I think part of it is a Trump effect. It's just seeing him out there embracing the autocrats, and also just dumping on allies. And so I think part of it's probably an effect ratio, but I find that as an Asia policy hand in a broader strategy person to be a very comforting thing to see that there is some consistency across generations on these issues which is why I think you'll see a lot of candidates in the primaries stress importance of our relationships with democratic allies in this election.

Mike Green: This is a one-time poll, right? You don't have a baseline to compare it to?

Kelly Magsamen: So we ran the poll in March. We just finished a second round which will be coming out in the near future, as soon as we finish. We actually got the data today. So, we'll be putting out something, and that was much more focused on what are some of the affirmative messages on foreign policy that resonate with American voters.

Mike Green: Well that will be interesting and important. You can't say for sure whether it's intergenerational change or maturation, in other words, people who are older care about these issues because they're older, but I suspect it's intergenerational. It's what they experienced in their own lives.

Kelly Magsamen: Yeah. I think younger generations don't have memories of successful American foreign policy projects.

Mike Green: Or 9/11.

Kelly Magsamen: Yeah, or even 9/11. But they have 20 years of war that just don't seem to really be going anywhere and there's not a lot of talk about how to really do anything about it. They've got climate change, which is a really animating issue for younger voters, and I think that is their top big priority. And I think you see it, and there's a level of activism around some of this as well, that I think it makes me feel good about the future because you have this activist spirit coming out, particular among the GenZ folks.

Mike Green: And they see Xinjiang, and they see things that if you have a justice, social justice- Kelly Magsamen: Yes, absolutely.

Mike Green: ... predisposition, would get you interested in Asia. And they speak more Chinese and Japanese than Gen-X.

Kelly Magsamen: That's right. They're also more open to the world. Some of the data shows they're just more open to the idea of the United States not necessarily being the prime power in the world. They're more open to that changing power dynamic which is also interesting. I think issues like Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the youth movements there, I think all of this is interconnected.

Kelly Magsamen: I think people are focusing differently on different things than our generations. We focus on hard power and relationships and they're just looking at it through a totally different global generational lens. Mike Green: Because they use that Internet machine.

Kelly Magsamen: The Interwebs.

Mike Green: Last question along those lines, somebody once said to me that within the Republican Asia foreign policy world, there's a good amount of mentoring. Rich Armitage especially has brought up a lot of people. Is that happening on the Democratic side? Are you guys pulling up people below you? Are there people you look to? Do you think there's a nurturing building the next generation? Mira?

Mira Rapp-Hooper: I absolutely do. I would say, I've certainly found myself to have been mentored by a number of folks from both sides of the aisle, definitely not just exclusively democrats, but who are committed to the idea of their being a cadre of scholar practitioners who wanted to make smart foreign policy. And once again, that obviously includes you, first and foremost, Mike, but a number of folks in the field who have helped younger folks coming up chart their way. Others include Kurt Campbell, Jim Steinberg, even just on Asia.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: I've been so grateful to have that kind of support. But I also think there is an increasing sense, just in the last few years, that the Democratic foreign policy and national security establishment needs to fill out its ranks, needs to think more seriously about what it means to have a progressive foreign policy and needs to develop the next generation of talent who can bring that to pass.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: And indeed there's been a pretty strong embrace, I would say, of relatively younger folks in the quest to envision what that progressive foreign policy might look like. So I would certainly point to the work that Kelly is doing as embodying that, and CAP employing just an incredible cadre of young people, but I would also point to organizations like National Security Action and just general conversations being, written round tables, conferences, workshops, that are taking place all the time, that are really trying to wrestle with the question of what it means to have a progressive post-Trump foreign policy, and through those networks, absolutely it is the case that scholars and practitioners are trying to help seed the thinking of younger folks who will hopefully put those ideas into practice.

Mike Green: It may be that precisely because Asia strategy is not that partisan, these are non-partisan, bipartisan efforts. We have been involved in a number of foreign policy task forces and so forth in Asia. They're almost always bipartisan. There's not a lot of utility in having a partisan taskforce these days, so it's not just about the Democratic Party.

Mike Green: Last question. What would you tell younger Progressives, maybe in grad school now, to do, to become the younger Kelly Magsamen and Mira Rapp-Hooper of the millennial generation?

Kelly Magsamen: Gosh. I would say, one is, A, find a mentor, we just talked a lot about that and how important that is. B, know your brief, just if you really want to be an expert, you have to show that you can do it and just deliver on that, and just really work hard on it. Part of it is just putting your nose to the grindstone and showing people that you have substance and can deliver.

Kelly Magsamen: And the other is just find your squad. Find the people who are your people, your friends. I was going to add to Mira's comments. There's a small network of female national security folks that is emerging, especially younger generations, and even on the Asia policy side, that we collectively get together, we talk, we exchange ideas and emails. We have conferences, and things like that. So there is also a network I think of young female Asia policy hands which I think is a very nice shift.

Mike Green: That's great. Mira?

Mira Rapp-Hooper: Yeah, so technically I am answering this question as someone who is herself a millennial.

Mike Green: Oh, sorry.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: I will say that I am an old crotchety millennial, by any definition of the term and probably I'm much closer to a GenX-er in my sentiments, but I would absolutely say, as Kelly suggested, keep your eyes out for mentors, but the way to do that, is not just to walk up to someone and ask them to be your mentor, but to spend time in graduate school thinking about the career that you want to have, and keep your eyes open for the folks who have it.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: When you get the chance to meet Mike Green or Kurt Campbell for the first time, ask them questions about how they got to be where they are and hope that those lead to follow-on conversations. A second thing that I would emphasize, which Kelly also pointed to, is the basic fact that in D.C. we tend to maybe emphasize or overemphasize networking, but the best form of networking comes from just being a substantively thoughtful person, and having really good conversations with folks who are working in the fields about their work and the big questions that are animating them.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: You don't need to be trading business cards all the time, or bending over backwards to get your name out there. You need the right people to figure out that you are thinking smart thoughts about the current problems of the day, and the problems of the future. That comes exactly from knowing your brief, from getting yourself into a room with other smart people who are thinking big, and for getting a couple of really smart ideas out there when you have the opportunity to speak with them.

Mike Green: You do sound like a crotchety old millennial, but you're right. Substance matters, do your homework, learn your languages, study your briefs, understand the theory, great advice. So when you're both Secretaries of Defense and State for the next democratic administration, I hope you come back, but this has been terrific. Thank you.

Kelly Magsamen: Thank you, Mike.

Mira Rapp-Hooper: Thank you, Mike.

Mike Green: Thanks for listening. For more on strategy and the Asia programs work, visit the CSIS website, and and click on the Asia Program page.