Boston, MA Governor Bill Weld will deliver an important foreign policy address at the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire titled “What Role Should America Play in the World Today?” Governor Weld will lay out a vision for a positive, unifying approach to America’s relationship with nations around the World.
Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
What role should the United States play in the world today? That is a question whose significance is hard to overstate.
Since we entered World War II, Americans of every party have fought for a world that was less fractious, less nationalistic, less xenophobic than the world that brought us the World Wars and the Cold War.
Since 1941, Americans of both parties have endorsed, through thick and thin, foreign policies that created institutions to help everyone, that built alliances that helped prevent nuclear war, and deepened friendships around the world that added to our security and prosperity in incalculable ways. That fact was of benefit to the world.
We need to recall this reality because so many seem to have forgotten it, or think it is irrelevant. One result has been a rejection of precisely those policies and institutions that brought us successfully through the Cold War, and since then brought globally dispersed wealth and new political freedom to many millions. It is as if we decided that we no longer need to worry about foreign relations—only about terrorists, and more recently about immigrants seeking to work in the United States.
What we need is to restore our reputation for a reasoned, realistic, and, yes, idealistic foreign policy. Alliances and friendships are foreign policy. Trade is foreign policy. Counter-terrorism is foreign policy. Cybersecurity is foreign policy. Countering narcotics and human trafficking is foreign policy. Preserving the planet is foreign policy.
Our foreign policy has to be rooted in our ideals as well as our sense of self-preservation. Only then will it deserve broad and bi-partisan support.
World peace has been the lodestar of American foreign policy for more than 100 years. In a world of nuclear and other ghastly weapons, it remains the touchstone. If we are to be a beacon on a hill, if we are to preserve and strengthen our democracy and economy, we cannot isolate ourselves and treat our friends and allies as if they were our enemies.
As Secretary of Defense James Mattis put it in his recent letter of resignation: “Our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships.” By definition, we need to make common cause with our democratic allies and strategic partners—not go out of our way to insult them and even weaken them. Nor should we have a default position of standing with dictators, as seems to be the case at present.
China and Russia are not democracies, though they pretend to be. Each pursues a model of authoritarian rule and dictating to its neighbors that is ultimately inimical to the cause of international law and order. They seek veto power over other nations’ decisions: about security, diplomacy, and trade. Their motto is “We’re big, you’re small. What don’t you understand?” This view belongs in the dustbin of history. But we face it today.
Restoring our foreign relations means reaffirming that our word is our bond, and that it can be counted on for more than weeks or months at a time—or else we will forfeit influence. No one should doubt for a minute our commitment to our NATO allies and our alliance partners in Asia and Latin America. No one should doubt for a minute our commitment to Israel.
Restoring our foreign relations means strategic partnerships with like-minded states that appreciate and uphold the rule of law.
Most of the world prefers to do business with America. Why not let them? Free and fair trade benefits all Americans. We must restore this age-old American consensus that has served us so well.
It is worth pausing on this point. Why do you suppose most of the world prefers to do business with America, rather than any other country? Why do you suppose America is the dream of the vast majority of the world, where they want to come, where they would happily live if they could?
It is because they know that our economic relations are protected by the rule of law. They know also that we enjoy a Constitutional democracy, which rests entirely on a government of laws and not of personal caprice or a cult of personality. In other words, they know that their property will be safe, and that their liberty will be safe! All this depends on devotion to the rule of law.
Restoring our foreign relations with allies and partners means working to develop hard-headed common positions on the great transnational issues of our time. Nuclear proliferation. Ethnic violence. Terrorism. Narcotics trafficking. Human trafficking. A changing climate.
We must not be the proverbial ostrich on this latter issue. Remember that the Republican Party was the first to make conservation a national policy. We must not abandon that commitment. We can see, we can touch, the consequences of carbon pollution. As a land between two great oceans, we have a palpable stake in reducing the impact of global warming.
We also must face some unpleasant truths at home. Trillion-dollar deficits make our own people doubt their ability to govern themselves and shape their destiny. Self-respect and national security in the most fundamental sense require that we develop pragmatic, non-partisan ways of controlling spending and taxes.
We are the friend of liberty everywhere, and in a nuclear age, inescapably its champion. With our friends and allies, together we fought and won the Cold War to create a global society of diffused and diverse power. We need to defend and extend that achievement.
For our adversaries—and no one should doubt that we have them—Theodore Roosevelt’s motto, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” remains practical and wise. But as the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We must also make use of our “soft power” assets, including aid and diplomacy. It is worth analyzing the patterns and causes of migration. Immigration policy is not just about borders.
Threats and sanctions may make some people feel good but they do not stop China and Russia from endeavoring to extend their global reach. Those countries do not act out of goodwill. They are hindered when we strengthen our international partnerships.
Trump’s America First has historical resonance. It is a slogan with meaning. In the 1930s, those who called for “America First” flirted with dictatorship and more than flirted with racism. It is a slogan that does appeals to our worst demons, not our better angels. That is not a place we should be.
In foreign policy terms, the slogan raises barriers to international cooperation where we need it most: in this hemisphere on security, trade, immigration, and migration. In the world, tamping down the desire for nuclear weapons and corralling dangerous states that have them. In trade terms, working with others to reform the system so that it is fair, sustainable, and leaves no one out. In terms of human dignity, seeking ways to continue the post-Cold War spread of economic development and democracy while mindful of the need to protect the environment in which we live.
No single state can fight terrorists alone. Or narco-traffickers. Or human-traffickers. We are in these struggles together. Pretending we aren’t is to be an ostrich with our head in the sand. Again, we have tried that posture before and paid the highest price in blood and treasure for it.
America is truly an extraordinary nation, but we do not fulfill her promise, her exceptionalism, by trampling on the needs and dreams of others. We don’t need to repeat our mistakes and go down the wrong paths again. Yet this Administration too often bullies its way down that well-trodden road.
Enough is enough.
And so, my friends, it is time to refocus on our foreign policy and root it again in those ideals that were proved in fire and blood. Embracing them again today will enhance both our security and our prosperity, and that of the world as well.
About Governor Bill Weld
Governor Weld has an unblemished record of public service. In addition to seven years in the Department of Justice, he served two terms as Governor in Massachusetts, where he was reelected by the largest margin in state history. He cut taxes 21 times, never raised them, balanced the budget, and oversaw six upgrades in the state’s bond rating. He signed landmark welfare reform, established public education standards, and was a trailblazer as an early proponent for LGBT civil rights. Governor Weld was ranked the most fiscally conservative Governor in the country by the Cato Institute and the Wall Street Journal.
He and his wife, Leslie, live in Canton, MA. Between them, they have eight children and eight grandchildren.
Contact: Jennifer Horn