House Armed Services Committee
Ike Skelton, Chairman
For Immediate Release: July 24, 2008
Skelton on Our Role as the Indispensable Nation
Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) today delivered the fourth in a series of speeches in the U.S. House of Representatives concerning the need for a comprehensive strategy to advance U.S. interests:
“Tonight, I rise to continue my series of discussions about the future of American grand strategy. Last week, I suggested that we strive to remain and even bolster our role as the world’s indispensable nation, and that should guide our thinking as we consider the imperatives that define our national interest.
“‘Indispensable nation’ is a term with significant potential for misunderstanding, particularly in this time when our global credibility has ebbed. We must be careful how we explain our intent, and more importantly, we must ensure that our actions meet our words. Just as a person cannot demand respect – only earn it - so it is for nations, too. And so, we should define “indispensable” to mean that we inspire by our standards, not coerce with our demands. We should strive to be indispensable not because our wrath is feared, but because our strength is valued. The point is – and it is a fine one, but essential nonetheless – that our role as the world’s indispensable nation cannot come by internal proclamation, but rather by external validation.
“The engines of our claim to leadership in the future are the engines that made this country great in the first place: our robust economy that provides opportunity while connecting us with the rest of the world; in productive partnerships; and our unceasing pursuit of what is right, fair, and just, even when we fall short of those ideals. To the extent we’ve veered off course in those areas, whether because of crippling energy dependence, unprecedented levels of foreign debt, our departure from sound constitutional practices, or even when and how we marshal our forces for war, we must refocus internally to address those challenges and master them once again.
“If we redouble our efforts, we can recapture the international prestige that more than anything else translates our unmatched power into the ability to alter the course of world events. As part of this course correction, we must recall the essential truths about war and international relations that were stated so well by Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. I mentioned several of these to our current President in 2002, but we lost sight of these truths in Iraq.
“As we do that, there is no reason why we cannot gain the confidence to understand that the term ‘challenge,’ even in the international context, need not always have an adversarial meaning. In our daily life, we are challenged by those around us and we come out the better for it. We are challenged by our professors to be better students. We are challenged by our coaches to be better athletes. We are challenged by our clergy to be better people and we are challenged by our spouses to be better partners. All of these relationships help refine us, and in so doing, enrich our lives so that all benefit.
“We might regard many of our international challenges in much the same way. In the free market place of ideas, are those ideas that the United States exemplify clearly superior? Do we remain the guarantor of liberty and the natural ally against tyranny? Do we provide the best economic and social opportunities for all people with whom we interact? We need not see that as solely an external challenge – it’s also a challenge within ourselves and we should not miss the opportunity to refine the good things about America so that we remain the obvious – the indispensable – choice for a continued global leadership role.”