Former ambassador is hopeful that U.S. will soon “cover much more of the field”

Former ambassador is hopeful that U.S. will soon “cover much more of the field”

Burkle Center Director Kal Raustiala, left, and former U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill

Christopher Hill predicts that America will soon return to a fuller, more traditional approach to foreign policy.

As the United States begins to wind down its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are many urgent matters that must start receiving the attention they deserve, says a former American ambassador.

Christopher Hill, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from April 2009 to August 2010, was invited by the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations to share his personal experience and discuss his views about American foreign policy in the Middle East and East Asia.

A career member of the Foreign Service, Hill was assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 2005 to 2009 and was an ambassador to Korea, Poland and Macedonia. He also served as special assistant to the president and was senior director for Southeast European Affairs in the National Security Council.

Hill, who is currently dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, said that the threat of terrorism has been top priority for the American government since 9/11. Subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed the lion’s share of the government’s attention and resources, while other issues in the Middle East and East Asia have gone unattended. He used an analogy of a soccer field where all the players gather around one ball and leaving the rest of the field wide open.

“As we’ve come to the end of these wars, and we’re not there yet, I think we will begin to see a return to a more traditional foreign policy where, I think, we’ll be able to cover much more of the field.”

Hill said that civilian casualties are higher in Iraq today than they were a year ago, but that these deaths cannot be blamed entirely on U.S. deployment. He said Iraq’s deeply rooted history of internal conflict, which spans more than a millennium, is the key contributor to this severe loss of life. “The notion that we could replace this 1,300 year fault line with a 20 year fault line of dictatorship and democracy was a very naïve concept of what was going on there,” he said.

Hill spoke about lessons learned during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the Arab Spring, Iran and the Kutz Force, economic gains from oil agreements, the ability of America to maintain its sphere of influence in the world, the capture of Saddam Hussein the importance of diplomacy and foreign assistance.

He also spoke of the efforts needed to halt the creation of nuclear technology.

He says attention must be turned to the issue of “portability and capacity to unlock secrets of how to produce nuclear weapons,” specifically in regards to Iran and North Korea. “Any chance of getting Iran off this nuclear track will depend on whether Iran can have a different government.” Even then, he adds, the opposition finds the nuclear programs of great interest. This will prove to be a great challenge for the United States and its allies. North Korea also has a great desire to build nuclear weapons, adding to the complexity of the issue, he said.

“I would say more broadly the United States needs to be covering other areas of the world where, I think, there’s a concern that the United States really lacks a commitment.” He says it’s clear that the countries in Southeast Asia want the United States to be present, and that he believes that the United States should be present. “I think we need to make sure we do a better job of that.”

A complete podcast of the talk is available.

Founded in 1979, the Burkle Center is the primary forum for the interdisciplinary study of international affairs at UCLA. Upcoming speakers include Nobel Laureate Jody Williams on Nov. 16 and General James Matthis, top commander of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who will have a one-on-one conversation with NPR’s Mike Shuster on Nov. 18.


Published: Monday, October 17, 2011