WASHINGTON—In a hearing before the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, former national security officials called for a return to post-World War II ideals of U.S. foreign policy: transatlantic Democratic alliances, taking a stand against Russia and China and fighting the rise of xenophobic nationalism.
“An example of something that should not be going on is turning immigrants into an emergency,” said Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. “But I’m prejudiced. I’m an immigrant, and I came here when I was 11 years old after escaping two authoritarian regimes.”
Without saying his name, Albright criticized the Trump administration’s handling of domestic and foreign policy.
“I believed in U.S. power in the world,” she said. “I think we are not paying enough attention to the Chinese role. We have stepped back, and they have filled the vacuum, there’s no question about it.”
Director of Transatlantic Security at the Center for New American Security Andrea Kendall-Taylor, expressed concern about the “populist backslide” into authoritarianism.
Kendall-Taylor said this process follows a similar “playbook”: rises in economic inequality followed by disenchantment with mainstream parties and then a strong leader who creates an “us vs. them” divide in society.
“I have come to view the rise of authoritarianism as the biggest threat to national security and the American way of life,” she said.
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., asked Kendall-Taylor about election security and Russian interference, worried that such efforts undermine the democratic process within the U.S.
Kendall-Taylor said that despite those efforts, much of the focus on bolstering democracy remains to be done domestically.
“We don’t want to let Russia’s malign actions distract from the hard work we have to do at home,” she said.
Some of that “hard work,” according to Kendall-Taylor, would include greater sharing between U.S intelligence communities and investments by Congress that would help the country succeed domestically.
Hungary, Poland, Turkey and Venezuela were mentioned by representatives and witnesses as countries that have demonstrated this to varying degrees.
Still, there was broad agreement that the primary threats to democracy and U.S. power are Russia, China and the growing “synergy,” between the two as Kendall-Taylor put it.
“Russia and China” she said, “are more aligned than we’ve seen in a long time.”
Representatives on both sides of the aisle and the panelists also agreed that the international community had “underestimated” Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
“I personally owe an apology to now-Senator Mitt Romney,” Albright said. During his 2012 campaign against President Barack Obama, Albright criticized his stance that Russia was the United States’ most important enemy.
Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen argued the best way to fight Russia and China’s influence is for the United States and other Democratic nations to invest in NATO, fight the spread of disinformation online and generally reclaim the mantle of democracy’s biggest supporter on the global stage.
“NATO is nothing without U.S. leadership. Let’s face it,” he said.
Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash. challenged the panel to connect matters of foreign policy to their constituents.
“Help me talk with the body shop owner in Castlewood, Washington,” he said. “Why should it matter to them?”
“I don’t want our democracy to operate on the basis of fear,” Albright said. “Democracies operate on the basis of hope, but people need to understand these things are not far away. We are not an island country.”