The United States cannot divorce itself from the “disruptive forces” of the global world, Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, told an audience of Brown and Providence community members Sunday during a lecture that was part of the Watson Distinguished Speaker Series.
Reed encouraged audience members to “align our present culture with a need for capacity.” He described culture as the “amount of history, language and traditions that define people,” while he defined capacity as relative to the institutions and political capabilities of a nation.
In his opening remarks, Provost Richard Locke P’17 said the talk was particularly relevant in light of the recent attacks in Paris and events around the globe.
The interplay between culture and capacity served as an underlying theme for Reed’s lecture. To illustrate this interplay, Reed drew a comparison between Operation Desert Storm led by President George H. W. Bush and Operation Iraqi Freedom under President George W. Bush. He said an understanding of the cultures and capacities of the United States and Iraq has been important to whether an operation succeeds.
In Operation Desert Storm, President George H. W. Bush “did balance our culture and capacity with an understanding of the culture and capacity of Iraq,” which led to a “stunning and rapid victory,” Reed said. But in Operation Iraqi Freedom, President George W. Bush used rhetoric that tried to “dance democracy around the world, beginning with Iraq” and impose “our culture of democracy,” creating a “cultural dissonance that was amplified by lack of capacity,” he said.
In light of the disruptions in our world, we need to understand the “cultural forces of ourselves and those we seek to change,” Reed added.
Reed gave examples of numerous “forces of disorder,” such as globalization, which has become “a catchphrase for many forces,” he said.
Technological innovation is an extremely powerful force that has both benefits and liabilities, Reed said. “This type of technology — it makes good things better and bad things worse,” he said.
Reed also highlighted the disruptive force of climate change, citing the civil war in Syria — caused in part by a severe drought — as an example of this force at work.
Reed contrasted the past Industrial Age with the current Information Age to show how throughout history, humans have witnessed “shifts from order to disorder.”
The question-and-answer session following the talk focused on foreign policy issues, many of which pertained to the implications of the conflict in Syria.
Michael Kennedy, professor of sociology and international and public affairs, asked how Vladimir Putin’s actions in Syria “might lead us to think about Ukraine in a new way.”
In response, Reed said Ukraine should strive to maintain autonomy as Putin attempts to “pull it back into orbit.”
Locke asked what role universities can play in addressing the challenges highlighted in Reed’s lecture.
Reed replied that universities could foster “intellectual insight” to “understand the interaction of forces,” in addition to providing technological advancement.
Locke said he sought to “bridge the divide” between the government and universities by encouraging discourse through events like this lecture and creating relationships such as the University’s partnership with the U.S. Naval War College.
Kennedy told The Herald he thought Reed’s lecture “put challenges into meaningful frameworks,” adding that he appreciated Reed’s effort to show the “mismatch between our own political capacity and recognizing challenges before us.”
Reed is “someone himself of great capacity,” Kennedy said.
The talk, which took place at the John Carter Brown Library, was sponsored by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.