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Journalist David R. Ignatius ’72 said the United States “must fix its broken political system” in order to remain a global leader at a forum hosted Monday by the Harvard Institute of Politics.
The forum, which was co-sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, was moderated by former Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78. The pair discussed threats to American democracy and their effect on the world order.
“If we can’t get our act together to make decisions and keep the country solid and cohesive, no way we’re going to be able to compete with the Chinese,” said Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist and novelist.
Ignatius discussed the behavior of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Orderly life among nations, as among people, depends on living up to expected behavior and there being sanctions that are quick and certain if you violate that,” Ignatius said. “Those norms are being ignored.”
Ignatius said previous foreign policy norms are being replaced by “gangsterism” — behavior that differs from typical leadership of the past.
“Often, President Biden will say, ‘What we’re fighting for is the rules-based order.’ And, it does sound empty, but I do think that we’re entering a world where a kind of ‘gangsterism’ is taking over,” Ignatius said.
Ignatius criticized Putin for his threats to use nuclear weapons in Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
“What surprised me most has been the recklessness and brutality of President Putin,” Ignatius said. “[The war in Ukraine] was an unprovoked assault in violation of any kind of legality, and Putin is now, in effect, exerting nuclear blackmail.”
Patrick asked Ignatius about unrest in Iran over the government’s strict limits on behavior and social freedoms.
“People in private will tell you, passionately, how much they want ‘normal’ life,” he said. “This regime is way past its prime, people are sick of it, and I hope the people protesting it can get stronger and strong enough to make change.”
American leaders should be careful about “lecturing” other countries on the importance of democracy at a time when “we don’t give much of an example of how democratic systems should work,” Ignatius said.
“You cannot force political change at the point of a gun,” Ignatius said. “That’s what the United States should look for more in the world: supportive people whose interests align with ours and who want our help.”
“There’s no enemy or adversary that the United States has that’s as dangerous as our own political breakdown,” he added. “Nothing is going to harm us as much as that.”
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