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Dr. Kiron Skinner, Director of Policy and Planning Department at State, on the “Trump Doctrine”

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Dr. Kiron Skinner, director of Policy and Planning at the State Department joined me this AM. Last week she wrote about the centrality of the nation-state in the ongoing international order.




HH: There is a rule on the Hugh Hewitt Show – keep Steelers fans off of it. But it is the season of forgiveness and greeting and warmth and hospitality. And Dr. Kiron Skinner is really interesting and fun, although she is a Steelers fan. She was at Carnegie, she is at Carnegie Mellon. She’s on leave right now, and a fellow at the Hoover Institution. She’s all-around wonderful and smart and fun. She is, however, a Steelers fan, so we’re going to have to look past that, Dr. Skinner. Welcome and Merry Christmas to you.

KS: Merry Christmas to you, and I will forgive you for the fact that the Browns just had a big win against the Broncos, which I’m sure makes Condi Rice happy. But the Steelers did very well against the Patriots, so our two cities have a lot to be happy about this week.

HH: And we can still both be in the playoffs. It appears as though the Steelers are definitely in, but the Browns have a, they have a living, fighting shot. Let me go to the important stuff, Dr. Skinner. First of all, you are, thank you for being willing to serve the country. You are the director of the office of policy planning. You left Stanford and Carnegie Mellon to come and help Mike Pompeo and the President out. What is the office of policy planning? Go slow for the Steelers fans out there.

KS: The office of policy planning is the in house think tank at the State Department. It started in 1947 by Secretary George Marshall with George Kennan, the author of the containment doctrine which guided us throughout the entire Cold War. George Kennan was the first director. Much of containment was penned in the office of policy planning along with ideas surrounding the Marshall plan and nuclear deterrence. So it’s a big think place at State. And in fact, it’s the only foreign policy think tank within the federal government. So it supports the National Security Council, at the White House. It supports the Defense Department. It supports State, and above all, it supports the president and secretary of State.

HH: So it’s got a long-range view as well as some short-term imperatives. Last week in the Wall Street Journal, you published a piece, Trump Defends The International Order, the subtitle of which is His Administration Is Reasserting The Nation-States’ Role In A Free And Open Multilateral System. I have tweeted out this piece, and I think everyone should read it, because it begins, it tees off with Secretary Pompeo’s speech in Europe last week, a lot of which was not well-reported because of the George H.W. Bush funeral. What was the Secretary attempting to accomplish with that speech, Dr. Skinner?

KS: The Secretary was attempting to discuss the international system and all of its dimensions and how in fact they’ve been challenged by inattention, by mission creep over the years. Let me just go through what I think he was attempting to say. One, the international system consists of a number of components – the nation-state, international institutions, regional institutions, international norms, rules and laws. And Secretary Pompeo believes that all of these components of what we call the international system have been challenged over the decades. Forged in the period after World War II, the system that we know for the past 70 years has the nation-state as a lesser institution than it’s been in the past. The nation-state is the core unit of analysis in international relations. It provides political and territorial sovereignty for people. But over the decades, in the international institutions, transnational actors have attempted to kind of usurp the sovereignty of states. However, the nation-state is closest to people. It’s, in a way, it’s the grassroots level of the international world. And it…

HH: And it’s the one indissoluble, you can’t get rid of it, I don’t think, Dr. Skinner. I think we are going to have nation-states as long as we have a planet.

KS: Absolutely. And even in regions of the world where they were carved up after a colonial period and nation-states formed that are exactly in line with the cultures and customs of people. There’s an emerging central core. So what the Secretary would like to see, and President Trump has asserted this repeatedly during his UN General Assembly speeches and rallies and other statements that the nation-state as you just said, Hugh, is here to stay. Given that, we need to make it strong and durable, because it protects people more than international institutions do. It provides for prosperity, for health, security.

HH: Let me underscore when it’s not around. When we trust the multinational order, we end up with genocides in Cambodia, in Rwanda, in Syria, in Burma. We end up with genocide when the international order takes over and tries to lead as opposed to nation-states.

KS: And so absolutely. Another component of what he’s talked about is having international institutions and multilateral forums do the work that states themselves should do. They don’t do the work, because they can’t do the work. They’re actually designed to be places to reduce transaction costs among states to be sometimes debating forums to help think through problems. But they really have the governance structures of states. And there’s no evidence that they will work.

HH: Now when Secretary Pompeo was my guest last week, he was, as he always is, blunt. I love the fact that we are blunt and plain-speaking and transparent in the Trump era. He was blunt about the E.U. He was blunt mostly about China. I want to talk to you about those two organizations. It seems to me that the Eurocrats on the top of the E.U., Mr. Tusk and Mr. Juncker, are intent on punishing our oldest ally, the United Kingdom, not in negotiating a smart Brexit, but in punishing them. What does the United States think of the E.U. right now, Dr. Skinner?

KS: I think the United States has the view that the European Union is a decision among European nation-states to pull part of their sovereignty. That’s their right. At the same time, the United, U.S. leaders, including me, are noticing that the E.U. elites are not in line necessarily with the publics of the European nation-states that are part of the E.U, that the publics are going in a very different way. We see Brexit not just as a wake up call, although it is, but also an expression of a democratic impulse that should be taken seriously. And so while we aren’t attempting to dictate what the E.U. should do, we are trying to underscore the fact that the people that the E.U. should serve have a voice, and their voice must be listened to.

HH: And they include the listening when they want to leave. Now let me turn to China. This morning’s Wall Street Journal has a piece on how Mexico intends to deal with President Trump by leveraging the potential of a belt and road investment by China into Mexico to force the United States to take more seriously the threat of China in our hemisphere. How robust remains the Monroe Doctrine vis-à-vis the PRC, because it seems to me they will come to Central and South America if we aren’t watching ourselves.

KS: Well, that’s an important point that you mention, and perhaps the most important of all. China’s not just coming to the Western Hemisphere. China is everywhere. Just a few days ago, National Security Advisor John Bolton rolled out our new Africa strategy at the Heritage Foundation. And I was there, and what was striking about his comment was the fact that China is so involved in the continent, and unfairly so to the nations where it offers loans and infrastructure projects. It gets to the point for many African nations like Zambia, where in fact they can’t pay their bills. Then they have to turn over part of the state to the Chinese just to get out of debt. So the Chinese don’t give a fair deal. It’s not the Marshall Plan that they’re offering to rebuild nations that are fragile states. Rather, it is an attempt to redesign these states around Chinese power. So we have to watch them not just in our backyard, but everywhere. And they will destroy the international system, because they really are not attempting to save peoples, societies and nations.

HH: I call belt and road initiative by the PRC loan sharking on a geopolitical level. They are basically indenturing countries to the Beijing foreign policy view. How do we combat that, Dr. Skinner? It would seem to me that the office of policy planning’s got to be spending time on thinking 10, 15, 30 years out concerning the PRC.

KS: Absolutely. And so I think the best way to combat China’s growing presence around the globe is through the best ideas and the best examples. And that’s when the United States tends to be very, very strong and we surge together. In the period after World War II, we put forth the best ideas, and we attracted others. We were able to combat communism mainly through our economy, our ideas, our infrastructure, the model that we provided in the world. And we’re having to do it again. And when people look at the Chinese model and the American and Western model, I think there’s no competition.

HH: I agree with that. Dr. Kiron Skinner from the State Department, director of the Office of Policy and Planning, thank you for joining me this morning, great piece in the Wall Street Journal last week. I’ve tweeted it out, and I encourage everyone to go and read it.

End of interview.


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