Some of the sharpest minds in politics and national security convened at Irvine Auditorium on Tuesday afternoon to discuss issues of national security, the refugee crisis, and the state of American democracy.
The event, titled "Competing Visions for the Global Order,” was organized by the Perry World House and hosted back-to-back conversations featuring former National Security Advisors Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Susan Rice, both of whom are among the 13 PWH fellows for the 2018-19 academic school year.
The opening Keynote Conversation featured Susan Rice, who served in the Obama administration, and Edward Luce, a Washington columnist and chief U.S. commentator for the Financial Times. Lasting from 12 p.m. to 1:20 p.m., the talk centered on American diplomacy with hostile states.
The conversation began with a discussion of the role of the United States in the world order amid escalating tensions with China and Russia and strained relationships with traditional European allies.
Luce quickly asked the former National Security Advisor and Ambassador to the United Nations if she agreed with the idea that the post-World War II American-led world order has diminished.
“There are many who say that America is in decline; I don’t agree with that,” Rice said. “I think America in the last several years under the current administration had been in self-imposed retreat.”
The Trump administration inevitably became a focal point of the conversation, and specifically its choice to distance itself from Obama-era agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran Nuclear Deal.
“We need to be very sober and serious in understanding that we may have inflicted lasting damage on the global trading system, on the methods and means of international cooperation, and on our alliances,” Rice said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City where he said that his administration had “accomplished more than almost any other administration in the history of our country,” which drew audible laughter by members of the Assembly.
The conversation shifted to the meteoric rise of China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Rice said that since Chinese President Xi Jinping took power in 2013, the nation has moved away from its conservative global politics to become more aggressive. According to Rice, China has started to initiate massive international infrastructure projects in addition to violating international law in the South China Sea.
“The question is whether we are positioning ourselves domestically as well as internationally to maximize our strength as a global leader," Rice said. "I worry about that."
The Rice event was followed at 1:40 p.m. with an hour and twenty minute conversation between H.R. McMaster, who was President Trump's second National Security Advisor from Feb. 2017 to April 2018, and CBS Foreign Affairs Correspondent Lara Logan.
Throughout the conversation, McMaster stressed the foreign policy failings of the previous presidencies, particularly criticizing the Obama administration's stances on Iran and Syria.
McMaster strongly disagreed with the 2015 nuclear deal made between Iran and other nations, including the U.S. He called the policy "naive" and lambasted the economic benefits it would provide to Iran.
"The deal was egregious, but more dangerous was the money it would make Iran in the future," McMaster said. "How can you have the privileges of a nation state, while also funding terrorist organizations?"
Trump's former National Security Advisor later turned his criticism to the current situation in Syria, attributing the ongoing violence to mismanagement by the Obama administration.
At the start of the conflict, McMaster said, there were options to deal with the civil war, but none were desirable. Due to a misguided policy of containment, the options are even more diminished now, McMaster said.
One such option is a peace deal offered by Russia, which McMaster scoffed at as a "bait and switch."
"If Putin's speaking, you know he's lying," McMaster said.
McMaster said the current issues with America's traditional allies are not a result of Trump's presidency, as popular opinion says. He traced the origin of these issues to mismanagement during Obama's administration.
McMaster also touched on some issues facing the current administration — namely the recent New York Times op-ed and the leaks from within the White House.
"That person [who wrote the op-ed] was undermining the Constitution of the United States," McMaster said, while stopping just short of calling the action illegal.
He ended his conversation highlighting the benefits of military service and briefly touching on his experience in the Iraq War.
"I believe American soldiers are also humanitarians," McMaster said. "I would encourage young people to serve their country, it's very rewarding."