Some of the biggest issues facing the American public were discussed Wednesday (Oct. 19) in Bentonville at the first Idea Summit organized by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his political action organization “America Strong and Free.”
Hutchinson said he wanted to convene thought leaders to discuss key areas on the minds of Americans. He said at first, he considered having the event in Washington D.C., but when someone said to consider the center of the country, he knew Bentonville would be the perfect location for the day-long event. He said he could see the event being replicated in other towns among those who want to have open discussions about ideas needed to endure the ongoing challenges the world faces. Event officials said about 300 people attended the conference held at The Momentary near downtown Bentonville.
Most of the panel participants were Republicans, and when asked why he didn’t seek out a more bipartisan group, Hutchinson said there would be a diverse audience, and there would be diversity of thoughts discussed by the panelists.
Former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice spoke about the importance of diplomacy and nuance in a sometimes impetuous and trigger-happy world.
Rice served in the President George Bush administration as the 66th Secretary of State. She is the Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution and the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy. She also is a founding partner of Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel LLC, an international strategic consulting firm
Rice said China’s authoritative leadership under President Xi Jinping is narcissistic but does not mean the U.S. can’t work toward diplomacy at some level. She said China is a trading partner but also an adversary, and the U.S. needs to continue to work to reshore those industries once outsourced to China, like semiconductor and chip manufacturing. With respect to Taiwan, she said the U.S. must be ready to help that democracy should China try to take back control. She said China’s aggressive actions toward Taiwan are problematic, and the U.S. should work to try and prevent that from happening.
“Taiwan needs to look at Ukraine and the help they are getting to fend off Russia and know we could do the same for them if they have the will to fight,” Rice said.
With respect to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Rice said he is a Russian nationalist and believes he must reunite Ukraine with the mother country. Rice said the Ukrainians have their own history and deserve to have their democracy preserved. Rice praised the Biden Administration for assembling more unity among allies to help in Ukraine’s defense.
“President Biden managed to reverse German passiveness and Swiss neutrality in a matter of months,” Rice said.
Rice said when she hears Americans griping about the support of the Ukrainians, she tells them to look at how far some people will go to have the liberties we all take for granted.
“Foreign diplomacy is crucial to the future of this country. You only have to look at three dates in history to know our shores don’t protect us from aggressors: 1914, 1941 and 2001,” Rice said.
LEADERSHIP, RACE RELATIONS
Rice said leadership starts with character and integrity, followed up by being visionary and finding others to help you lead because no one leads alone.
“I consider Nelson Mandela one of the most impactful leaders in history. After being imprisoned for 27 years, he didn’t come out saying I am now going to oppress whites. He sought to show the world how it should be,” Rice said.
When asked about critical race theory now debated in education, Rice said schools should teach race history, but she is not for selectively editing out the parts of history that are offensive because that serves no one.
“My grandfather was a sharecropper in Alabama and wanted to go to college. He saved from his cotton crop and attended Stillman College. He didn’t have the money when it came to paying for the second year. He found out there were scholarships for those who wanted to become a Presbyterian minister. So that’s what he did,” Rice said.
She said his decision began the long lineage of Ph.D.’s in her family.
“We have to be honest about our history that also includes recognizing slavery and laws that deemed a black man worth three-fifths of the value of a white man,” Rice said.
When asked if she might ever consider a run at politics, Rice said it is not in her DNA. She said educating young minds in her work as the director of the Hoover Institute at Harvard University is where she belongs. Rice sees tremendous potential in today’s college generation, saying they are the most public-minded cohort in decades. Rice added they just need to slow down, listen more and learn something before giving advice on how to change the world.
“We don’t need fast-food solutions, we need thought leaders who will work together to find areas of accord, rather than continually focusing on discord,” she said.
NATIONAL SECURITY CONCERNS
National security and border protection were also discussed in the event’s first half. Dr. Kori Schake, a senior fellow and director of foreign and defense policy studies at American Enterprise Institute, said the threat to national security involves world powers. She said the U.S. must consider ways to be strong against China, Russia and North Korea.
“We should play team sports, and the present administration is getting that part right. We need more allies, not less,” Schake said, adding that much of Asia is pleading with the U.S. for an international economic strategy “that helps us all reduce our reliance on China.”
Klon Kitchen, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said China believes its model is superior with managed capitalism and totalitarianism. He said focusing on areas like semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S. is a great place to start, as it will be essential for U.S. economic expansion to be more self-sufficient in the future.
The panelist agreed border control has been lacking under the Biden administration but also agreed it will also likely be tough to get Congress to pass meaningful legislation because Republicans won’t budge on automatic citizenship for immigrants already here, and Democrats are set on giving immigrants a path to citizenship.
Hutchinson, also on the panel, said the country needs a free border security plan independent of immigration reform. He said unless the two are separated, nothing will get done.
All the panelists agreed more should be spent on the military if the nation is going to retain its leadership and its role as a democracy police around the world.