ADA — Former U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham delivered a message that while it is important to carry a big stick, it is still important for the new presidential administration to speak softly.
Cunningham delivered the annual Kormendy Lecture Thursday at Ohio Northern University. He said it is simply still too early to judge President Donald Trump’s performance on helping other countries to achieve stronger, more democratic states, but he did offer some opinion on the direction it is going. Cunningham is a former ambassador to Afghanistan, Israel and the United Nations. His speech focused on strengthening governance and rule of law in an era of crisis.
“More than fifty years ago, one of America’s most prominent political leaders, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, said ‘Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one,’” Cunningham said. “Rayburn’s remark speaks volumes about the difficulties facing us today in the search for sound policy and in our political discourse.”
Cunningham said that being the biggest kid on the block did not in itself remove threats to U.S. interests.
“President Trump is emphasizing hard power and ‘winning’ while proposing huge cuts in the civilian instruments of American influence and power embodied principally in the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development,” Cunningham said. “Going down this path would be a huge mistake, and make it impossible for the United States to lead the international, multifaceted effort required to respond to our era of crisis, including the need to contain and defeat the violent extremist ideology which threatens the values to which most of the world — what we might call the ‘civilized world’ — aspires.”
Cunningham said a shortened use of diplomacy would have ill effects.
“ISIS will eventually be defeated militarily,” Cunningham said. “The concern is with what happens after. Once they are defeated, there has to be diplomacy to keeping them out. There has to be rebuilding of a government.”
Cunningham said military force without diplomacy would have its ill effects, quoting former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz.
“Diplomacy, building relationships, negotiating solutions to tough problems, bringing expertise and persuasion and power to bear is like tending a garden,” Cunningham said, quoting Shultz. “If you plant a garden and go away for six months, what have you got when you come back? Weeds.”
Cunningham said efforts cannot be sustained without the political support of Americans and international partners. If it is not sustained, he said our way of life and values will come under growing assault.
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