Mattis and Tillerson Have a Chance to Strengthen U.S. Global Leadership
By VEGA Member Land O’Lakes, Inc. President and CEO Chris Policinski and CARE CEO Michelle Nunn and originally posted on “The Hill” here.
In July of 2008, Condoleezza Rice made her way to a Washington dinner. She wasn’t being honored that night — she was there to pay tribute to the man who was: Secretary Bob Gates. In her remarks, she joked that for the first time in history the Secretary of Defense was being honored for being one of the most effective advocates for the State Department. Gates noted, “For significant periods since I entered government 42 years ago, the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense were not on speaking terms.”
Yet, the two of them had forged an important partnership and friendship. They understood that the world no longer faced what Gates described as “neat categories of war and peace.” Together, they advocated for why development alongside diplomacy and defense was so integral to strengthening American global leadership – first enshrined in the 2002 National Security Strategy.
Given the scope of threats and challenges we face overseas – from ISIS to North Korea to the global refugee crisis – we’ll be watching with hope and interest as another unusual couple makes their debut on Capitol Hill this week.
If confirmed, General James Mattis and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson have an opportunity to forge a meaningful working relationship – just as Secretaries Rice and Gates did – to double down on the importance of America’s civilian tools. Our complex world demands nothing less. Effective U.S. leadership in the 21st century requires all the tools in America’s arsenal, to properly coordinate civilian and military strengths, support American values, and pilot our nation’s leadership to new heights.
As a general who understands civilian strength and a CEO who has invested in the fight against malaria, Mattis and Tillerson have already amassed records that suggest they understand this.
His fellow Marines nicknamed General Mattis “Mad Dog” – but his decades as a strategic thinker, championing the use of America’s civilian tools alongside the military to keep our nation safe, including strong investments in development and diplomacy, highlight why he’s also known as the “Warrior Monk.” As the head of U.S. Central Command, Mattis testified before the Armed Services Committee: “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.” He calls the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development “essential” to promoting America’s interests abroad along with “preventing conflict and countering extremism.”
As a CEO of the third largest company in the world, Tillerson has seen firsthand the connections between American global leadership, the bottom line for America’s businesses, and the Main Street impact of diplomacy and development work, delivered through State and USAID thousands of miles from our shores. He has underscored the importance of global development by promoting access to electricity for “billions of people living in abject poverty.” He linked the need for electricity to meeting “basic needs like clean water, cooking, sanitation, light, or for the safe storage of food and medicine” calling it a “humanitarian imperative.” Tillerson has called global health and poverty “obstacles that must be overcome to achieve future progress” and ExxonMobil’s foundation has invested in efforts focused on eradicating malaria and empowering women – working in over 90 countries to advance female entrepreneurship and fight disease.
As the confirmation process moves forward and the next administration takes shape, leaders on both sides of aisle must recognize just how enormous the challenges are that our nation faces overseas – and evaluate the nominees on their ability to move American global leadership forward.
A decade ago, most humanitarian aid went to natural disaster response. Today, 80 percent of assistance provides relief and promotes stability in conflict zones and fragile states. As Ebola was spreading in West Africa and to the U.S., American engagement was vital to stopping the spread of this deadly disease and saving tens of thousands of lives. We need to be ready for the next epidemic. And with more than 65 million people displaced throughout the world, American leadership is critical to addressing this growing crisis. In order to meet America’s security and economic interests, our nation must invest in our civilian tools alongside defense – and ensure they work together.
As the leaders of a non-profit and a for-profit corporation, what we’ve seen and experienced in our careers has made both of us deeply committed to American leadership in the world – because when it comes to our national security, jobs, public health, safety and values, strengthening American development and diplomacy isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.
Michelle Nunn is the president and CEO of CARE USA. Chris Policinski is president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc. Both are members of the board of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.