Chas Freeman Jr., a long-time bureaucrat serving as a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, presented his opinions on the fall of American superiority on the international stage in his talk, “The Crumbling of the Pax Americana,” Thursday night in the Salomon Center.
A prevailing idea throughout the talk was Freeman’s belief that such weaknesses stemmed out of institutionalized sociopolitical ideas, such as inefficiency in the healthcare system, overfunding of the military, lack of education and poor technological advances.
Freeman had a thorough career in the public field, and his former roles include Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense and primary translator during President Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, said Edward Steinfeld, director of Watson, in his introduction to the talk.
Citing a variety of statistics and quoting international politicians, as well as drawing from his personal experience, Freeman led the audience of about 150 through the complex variables that he believes led to America’s stagnation. Chief among them was what he called “fiscal anorexia” — the defunding of the public sector with exception to the armed forces.
Freeman argued that American priorities in the armed forces led to major destabilization in areas of the world, from the current refugee crisis in Europe to the prevalence of terror groups in the Middle East and beyond. “Terrorists are over here because we are over there,” he said.
Aaron Mayer ’18 said he found Freeman’s material “very pointed, very easy to grasp, but not that easy to digest.” Mayer was impressed with Freeman’s controversial stance on the topic, especially considering Freeman’s lifelong career.
“Pax Americana,” Latin for “American Peace,” serves as an overarching term describing a U.S.-instated model of international stability, he said. Freeman covered what he believes to be the rise and fall of this U.S. influence in the global sphere. “From the end of the Cold War in 1989, the (United States) has ironically become less geopolitically dominant, less faithful to its core values as a republic and less looked-up-to internationally,” he said.
Freeman stated that the United States has not had a major victory leading to peace since 1945, and American involvement in foreign areas has done more harm than good. Yet foreign policy continues to be overly eager to satisfy the American obsession with “the shock and awe of war,” he added.
The talk was “accurate, kind of depressing but overall dope,” said Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19. “I kind of wish he focused more on what America had going for it, but the first step to solving any problem is recognizing that we have one,” he added.
The lecture ended on a positive note as Freeman argued that America has fixed its past weaknesses and is capable of fixing itself and its policies in the future. Mentioning its geographical location and its natural resources ripe for processing, Freeman briefly focused on the U.S. and its internal issues that he believes deserve attention, such as the income gap and technological progress. But Freeman warns that with countries like China developing unprecedented wealth and power, military prowess and competition will not solve issues.
Though his lecture drew large applause, Freeman received some criticism, especially during the question-and-answer session afterwards. Greg Gerritt, a Providence community member, said that Freeman’s emphasis on the “deregulation game (in order to return America’s strength) played on the ecological and environmental aspects would be harmful for public health, the community and the environment.”
Freeman will speak next Thursday, continuing the three-part Chong Wook Lee and Vartan Gregorian Distinguished Lecture Series. Run by Watson, the series serves to “have discussions in problems of global concern, especially those involving the United States and Asia,” Steinfeld said.