Christian Whiton, a former U.S. State Department official and author of the book Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War, spoke at a luncheon on Wednesday at the Montecito Country Club as part of the Channel City Club and Committee on Foreign Relations speaker series.
Whiton served in the U.S. State Department under President George W. Bush as a special advisor to the undersecretary of state for global affairs and later as a deputy special envoy.
During his presentation in Santa Barbara, he discussed the three main threats that he believes the United States is facing.
Among these is China’s recent military buildup, which has increased significantly in the past 20 years. Whiton sees this as a potential threat to the United States and its interests. Despite the opportunities for low-cost manufacturing and other financial incentives for American businesses to relocate operations to China, Whiton believes that the threat from China to the U.S. is not only from more traditional military tactics but could also potentially come in the form of a cyber-attack.
He cited the recent proliferation of intellectual property piracy, including the theft and redistribution of copyrighted American software, movies, television and music in China as an example of how the Chinese government is lax on enforcement of digital affronts to the U.S.
Whiton’s views on China and its impending threat on the United States are not views that have been widely considered by the majority of Americans. The reason for this, he says, is that it is assumed that China is of economic benefit to the United States, and the thought of getting into an altercation that could possibly stop trade is one that many in power try to avoid.
The second threat Whiton touched upon was the danger the government of Iran poses to U.S. national security. Iran’s potential development of nuclear weapons has been a prominent topic for debate in Washington. Whiton is also skeptical of Iran’s trying to spread its political ideologies to other countries, citing a plot by Iran to influence DEA agents posing as Mexican drug cartel members to carry out the assassination of a diplomat in Washington, D.C.
The final major threat to U.S. diplomacy and security that Whiton presented was that of radical Islam. Drawing parallels between Islam and communism, Whiton urged support for U.S. policy to control Islamic states by spreading U.S. democratic ideals to other countries by separating “mosque from state.”
One young audience member challenged Whiton’s hardline stance on Islamic nations by asking if he had considered that there are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, most of whom are not violent extremists. Whiton responded that he respects the fact that most Muslims are not extremists, and he would like to see U.S. peacekeeping measures encourage Islamic nations to separate religion from government.
In Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War, Whiton articulates new solutions to the many threats the United States faces around the globe. As Whiton stated at the end of his presentation, “We do have the capacity to right things.” With good ideas and effective diplomats, the United States has the potential to live up to Whiton’s hopes.
— Grace Strelich and Lia Millar are 11th-grade students at Anacapa School.