Disruption marks a shift in global U.S. role, former CIA chief says

Gen. Michael Hayden

There is a grand debate about America’s global role as a post-industrial society, according to Gen. Michael Hayden.

Michael Mercier | UAH

The Jacksonian style presidency of Donald Trump and a year of disruption of the United States’ traditional global roles prompts questions domestically and globally about the future U.S. role in world affairs, said retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President George W. Bush, recently at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

"That structure we have used to sustain world order since World War II is dying because the structure we used to establish it – the industrial society – is going away," said Hayden, who categorized the U.S. as a post-industrial society. "What do the Americans now view to be their role? That’s the grand debate."

A retired U.S. Air Force four-star general with 40 years of service who is a cable TV news national security analyst and author, Hayden was speaking to Redstone Arsenal officials, defense industry executives and local economic and political leaders at UAH’s Student Services Building during the inaugural event of UAH Distinguished Lecture Series.

The series brings nationally recognized guest speakers to Huntsville to enhance community collaboration and assist the development of Redstone Arsenal. It fosters better understanding of current events and future trends, how they impact the federal organizations at Redstone and how they could influence U.S. reaction to world events and the nation’s future exploration, discovery and technological development.

"A lot of Americans have pulled back from the long-established international consensus," said Hayden, who is also a former director of the National Security Agency and former principal deputy director of National Intelligence. "How much more should we be involved? By the way, the rest of the world is really nervous about this."

As signs of the year of disruption following Trump’s election, Hayden cited the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the pullout from the Iran nuclear pact known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), new U.S. demands on NATO and the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

"The most disruptive force in the world today is the United States of America," he said. "A nation that has pushed free trade is now getting protectionist – and over 19th and 20th century industries."

He cited the U.S.’s current turn from a welcoming nation to a restrictive one in immigration and increased levels of political drama as further evidence of a major shift.

"We are disrupting the fundamentals of the American approach to foreign affairs," Hayden said, listing what he called five consequences of that disruption.

  • North Korea – "Kim Jong Un is not crazy," Hayden said. "The American intelligence community estimates that he is coldly, calculatingly rational."

    A student of what other leaders like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi experienced after making concessions to the U.S., Kim will be unwilling to give up nuclear weapons without major concessions from the U.S. in eliminating its arsenal on the Korean Peninsula and a significant revision of America’s relationship with South Korea, Hayden said.

    "The lens Kim is using is, see what they do to you when you give up this stuff." A coming meeting between Trump and Kim is "a high-stakes" event, Hayden said. "A good meeting will be where they are not yelling, they smile afterward, and they agree to a long-term arc toward denuclearization." Iran – U.S. withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear pact does not mean it is dead, Hayden said. "In essence, we have pulled back from the deal but the rest of the countries involved are still in."

    While he did not favor the deal when it was made, he said Iran is not cheating, and the deal offered verifiable means to assure that and to know in detail about Iranian nuclear operations. On the other hand, Iran is expanding its destabilizing regional influence.

    "I have no question that Iran is a problem, but I question whether pulling out of the deal was the right move. But the president made a decision."
  • Terrorism – In Hayden’s view, the threat of a large-scale 9/11-stykle terrorist attack is greatly diminished because of stepped-up efforts to prevent that. "We have actually done very well against this enemy in America," he said. "Our enemies would love to pull off what they did 17 years ago, but the odds of that are very low."

    The risk in terror now is the lone-wolf style attack, and there are limited avenues to preventing that, he said. "We may have reached our limits in terms of our ability to stop that kind of attack."

    In the Middle East, ISIS has lost most of its territory and is destroyed physically, but the U.S. must destroy the remnants of ISIS in the Syrian region and remain afterward to establish stability, Hayden said. "We’ve got a lot of Americans, including the president, who don’t want to hang around. If you don’t do that, you will come back again."
  • Russia – "What you’ve got is Putin, in his earlier version, saying ‘I’m going to be autocratic but you’re going to be rich.’ Now with Putin 2.0, you have Putin saying, ‘I’m going to be autocratic but you’re going to be proud.’"

    With a gross domestic product about $1 billion below that of California alone, Putin has to act from a position of weakness, Hayden said. "That’s where we get the attack on European unity, pouring fuel on the fire of Brexit and attacking United States democracy."

    It is part of Putin’s aim to pull the world down to his level, he said. As far as the 2016 election, "there is no question Russia was fooling with our heads." He cited spikes in the activity of Russian Internet bots in fueling social media outrage after major hot-button issues as examples. "They didn’t care who won or lost, they just wanted us to argue."
  • China – The brewing situation in China is that its population is aging while at the same time, its economic boom is flattening, Hayden said. Moving 400 million Chinese into the middle class is commendable, he said, but China’s population will be older than the U.S. in a few years as a result of the one-child policy. "A Chinese demographer said China will be the first nation to get old before it gets rich," he said.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping will then be left with the Putin promise and the Russian solution, Hayden said. "If he can’t make you rich, he can make you proud." Once a strategic, nuanced, patient country in its thought and approach to world affairs, China has "not been acting that way recently," Hayden said, and apparently expansionist moves may have major effects. "The Sino-American relationship is the critical issue of the 21st century."

Overall, America finds itself awash in information freely available on the Internet, but minus the newsroom curators for it that once existed, Hayden said.

"We’re being overwhelmed with a tsunami of information every day, and it’s hard to sort it out," he said. Yet because of its major heft in the world, he said U.S. allies are hoping the questions about America’s new role are answered.

"They are constantly asking now, ‘Where are you now? What will be your role?"



Ray Garner