Chuck Hagel: From Senator to SFS Professor, Enriching and Being Enriched
By Wei Wang, MSFS'14
One of the greatest strengths of the MSFS program is its highly professional and prestigious faculty, which is composed of practitioners from the public and private sectors as well as scholarly academics. Senator Chuck Hagel is one of the names that shine on this list.
Professor Hagel joined Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (SFS) in 2009 as a Distinguished Professor in the Practice of National Governance after his 12 years of experience as a United States Republican Senator from Nebraska. With expertise in a wide range of affairs, he served on a number of Senate committees, including Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. In addition, he chaired both the Senate Global Climate Change Observer Group and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Currently, he is also the Chairman of the Atlantic Council, a preeminent and nonpartisan institution devoted to promoting transatlantic cooperation and international security.
As an Army veteran well-versed in politics, he leverages his expertise, especially in national defense and foreign relations, to guide MSFS students in learning how to evaluate America’s past and future and how to understand the security challenges that the United States is facing now.
Obama’s solid first term and foreseeable stronger second term
In an interview with MSFS reporters, Professor Hagel said that any evaluation of the Obama administration’s performance has to take into consideration what he inherited when he came to the White House.
“You have to go back to Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln to find such a big inventory of problems that Obama got [when he came into office],” he said. “He inherited two wars and the largest global financial crisis since the Great Depression as well as a deficit. He started with that.”
Despite the president’s limits when shaping his policies, Professor Hagel thinks President Obama’s first term has been good and solid due to his wise and careful leadership. “He got the United States out of one war and he is unwinding another war. He has not gotten into new wars or into new conflicts, but at the same time also recognizes that America must play a very important role in the world with our leadership.”
“The United States should not attempt to dictate or invade or occupy, but find common interests and go along working with allies across the world,” he said.
Looking ahead, Professor Hagel believes the second administration will present new challenges and issues, but the president should be in a stronger position in foreign policy and others aspects. The president has helped stabilize the country from where he began, and should have more latitude in making policies and carrying those policies out this upcoming term.
America facing common security threats with rest of world
Although the U.S. is wrapping up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Professor Hagel believes the country is still facing many security threats, starting with cyber security. “Cyber warfare is a very unpredictable, unknown, dangerous and powerful form of warfare. It can cause tremendous damage in many countries,” he said.
Other countries will face the same threat, but because the U.S. is the biggest power and has the largest economy, it is more likely to be a target of cyber attacks. Terrorism remains a threat to the national security in the U.S. as well. He believes global warming is also a common challenge, as an additional two billion people are being added to the world that need far more water, more energy, more food and more resources. “We have to all, all people and nations, work together to try to avert the catastrophe,” he said.
In terms of one of the U.S. biggest security concerns, Iran, Professor Hagel noted that the Iran nuclear issue cannot be disconnected from the region itself, where there are many factors contributing to its situation today. Therefore, the smart way for the United States to handle this issue is through its alliances and coalitions.
Rewarding experiences in the Senate and SFS
Professor Hagel’s course, “21st Century Geopolitical Realities”, has attracted a large number of students from different programs who have applauded his class as a unique learning opportunity.
Hagel hopes his class, “21st Century Geopolitical Realities”, can help students gain a better sense of complexities of geopolitics. “Technology and globalization has driven complication into any form of relation scenario, such as trade, economics and the environment. All of these are now part of foreign policy.”
At the same time, despite the changes to the foreign policy, Professor Hagel believes America must always be a nation that presents a strong model for freedom, democracy and human rights. “We, as a nation, aren’t perfect. We made mistakes. We don’t do everything right. I think most people in the world look up to America for the kind of leadership of being on the side of human dignity,” he said.
This is the reason why he invites different speakers to his class with various perspectives, hoping they can reflect multiple aspects of foreign policy so students can gain a better understanding.
When asked to compare his career as a Senator to his career as a teacher, he said that both jobs present different challenges, but each of them is “a great privilege.”
“In each capacity, you are able to contribute, able to serve, hopefully able to enhance and enrich individuals, countries, societies by your efforts,” he said. “There is not a day that goes by that I did not learn something. I learn so much from students as a teacher as [well as when] I was in the Senate. That is for me wonderful because it is a constant learning process.”
His students feel the same way. Michael Podberezin, a first-year MSFSer from Israel who sat in his class during the 2012 Fall semester, said it really puts him “behind the scenes of decision making” and makes him “think about issues several steps ahead.”
“The fact that Senator Hagel was in the room when many of the decisions were made really creates a unique learning opportunity, and I also had a chance to talk to some very high-profiled guests he brought in the class, including journalists, ambassadors and others, which seemed impossible to me before.”