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Robert D. Hormats is the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs. He was formerly vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International) and managing director of Goldman,[…]

We lack political vision, Hormats says.

Question: What are the major issues confronting the U.S.?

Robert Hormats: Well of course currently the mess in Iraq stands out. You can’t avoid reading about that. That is, I think, so debilitating to our country internally, and so harmful to our image abroad, so harmful to the respect that we would like to be held in abroad. And we’re simply not because that’s been done so badly and messed up so badly. And instead of making us more secure, I think it has certainly made us less secure in the sense that it’s trained a whole new generation of jihadists.

Now obviously there were threats to the United States before, and there would have been threats without the Iraq War; but it has not made us any more secure in itself.

And second, it’s caused us to loose an enormous amount of our prestige and our aura of being a constructive participant in the global system.

When I was in Africa, I was in Kenya, and there was a picture of the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, in every little hut; and a picture of John F. Kenney next to him. You don’t see in a hut in Kenya today, a picture of the current president and a picture of George W. Bush.

America’s image in the world I think has suffered very badly, and that obviously is of considerable concern to me.

The second is that in the broader war on terrorism, we’re going to have to deal with that not only by Homeland Security, but by helping other countries address the kind of issues that are important to them. This won’t make us 100 percent secure, but at least it improves our ability to deal with the man or the woman on the street in some of these societies where there’s a great deal of bitterness toward the United States. It will help.

Third, I look around and I am worried about the future of our country because I don’t see in the political system a great deal of vision. I don’t see people who are willing to address the tough issues that our country is going to have to deal with. I see a lot of people looking at the polls, a lot of people trying to come up with solutions that are popular at the moment, or at least are not unpopular at the moment; but not willing to educate Americans to the kind of tough issues that our country is going to have to deal with in the future. In fact, almost consciously avoiding those. And that troubles me when I read the paper and watch television.

And then in our society, when you see things like celebrated actors and actress who were acting up, they get huge amounts of time on TV. If we diverted the same amount of time to encouraging kids to study mathematics or physics; or if we devoted the same amount of time to celebrating people who are successful – kids who are successful in the sciences, for instance, as we do celebrating a few rock stars who misbehave, we would create a better image. We’re good at what we celebrate.

And in fact if you celebrate dysfunctional behavior, which you see on TV all the time, instead of celebrating people who’ve made real accomplishments in medicine, and in science, and in various parts of the productive economy, we’d be a lot better off if we did the latter. We would be a lot better off.

But that doesn’t sell on TV, and therefore people like scandal. They like salacious stuff, and that’s on TV a lot. The positive, the people who really make major contributions are very few and far between on television. They’re certainly there in our society, but they don’t get the same visibility that these rock stars or people who exhibit the sort of deviate behavior gets.


Recorded On: July 25, 2007