Global Threats Facing the Next President

photo Jane Harman

Jane Harman

On February 21, 2016, the Matsui Center for Politics & Public Service held a lecture at UC Berkeley titled, “Global Threats Facing the Next President”. The speaker was Congresswoman Jane Harman, the current director, president, and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Harman served nine terms in Congress where she represented the Aerospace Center of California and served on all the major national security committees: 6 years on Armed Services, 8 years on Intelligence, and 8 years on Homeland Security. She was speaking on global threats, so as expected, Harman spoke about North Korea, China, Russia, and the Middle East. Surprisingly, issues with these countries were not on the list of four topics that she focused on as threats for the next president.

  1. Miscalculations: she spoke about how America is in a precarious place, and that miscalculations could lead to war.
  2. Toxic Partisanship: she spoke about how we need to have a functional and informed Congress. Congress needs to stop playing the blame game and focus on crossing party lines to solve problems. At the Woodrow Wilson Center, a nonpartisan institution, they hold events where staffers are invited to attend lectures on issues. Afterwards, they are randomly placed in groups to discuss solutions, and one person presents their findings. They are able to work together, despite their party allegiances and solve real world problems. It helps build relationships and allows staffers to see each other as individuals and not just part of a party.
  3. Ignorance: Harmon mentioned ignorance about the issues and the people involved, giving the example that some people do not know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Since foreign policy is not a priority for voters, and many politicians are concerned with reelection, ignorance on foreign policy issues are common. However she discussed how the next president should remedy any gaps in knowledge with a strong team of advisors who understand different issues and situations.
  4. Big Money: Harmon discussed how we won’t have politicians who are representing us if “big money” buys their interests. She also discussed how Citizens United needs to be reversed or adjusted.
Photo of Ethan Rarick and Jane Harmon

Ethan Rarick and Jane Harmon in conversation.

After giving the address, Ethan Rarick, the Associate Director of Institute of Governmental Studies at the Matsui Center asked Harman questions from the audience. Harman pointed out to the audience that the US doesn’t seem to have a real strategy for the Middle East. So far, the decisions have been tactical. She gave the example that  President Obama said we would get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and we did, but now we’re back in limited numbers. She called for a complete strategy that is tactical and diplomatic,  but also keeps in mind development and a narrative. We need to think about the story we are telling as Americans going into other countries. One piece of advice that was especially relevant to the League of Women Voters was that she encourages people to, “be sure to vote and pick people (representatives) to be problem solvers.” At the League we encourage people to be educated voters, and it’s good to see that we have politicians and educators who share our same message.

Byline  Adena Ishii

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