Gen. John R. Allen, president of the Brookings Institution and former commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force, spoke at Kansas State University on Thursday evening as part of the Political, Diplomatic and Military Lecture Series.
The Brookings Institution is a non-partisan think tank focused on public policy research. Allen’s address centered around his thoughts on American leadership in the 21st century, particularly with regards to digital media.
Prior to the lecture, Allen held a luncheon at the Little Apple Brewing Company to open the floor for discussion about the Brookings Institution’s research on international relations, emerging technologies and the media’s role in facilitating political discussion.
Allen said the spectrum of research done at Brookings all comes back to three letters: “Q-I-I. Quality, independence, impact. … What I want Brookings to do is be positioned to be helpful to the debate conversation as it unfolds so that we can have some hope that it is based on fact.”
Allen said his goal for Brookings is to help politicians in Washington do their jobs with complete access to accurate information.
“I want Brookings to be an institution that helps the president to govern and the Congress to legislate,” Allen said. “I don’t care who the president is. I don’t care what the composition of the legislature is. I want what we do to help America by helping the president and helping the legislature. So, to that point, we are non-partisan.”
The Brookings Institution has been alternately described as conservative, centrist and liberal by reputable media outlets, and Allen said he is fine with this.
“I am not interested in taking a political position on anything, but I’m happy to take a policy position on everything,” Allen said. “There’s a difference between the politics and the policy. The politics will produce a policy, and the policy might be awful. I’m not interesting into getting into a debate about whether this is a Republican issue or a Democrat issue.”
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Allen then went on to discuss emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, and the impact these things could have on the American people.
“We worry about ethics, because of the people that we are, but there are countries in the world that are very happy to implement artificial intelligence, and they’re not the least bit worried as we are,” Allen said. “Our value system is different.”
When asked about universal basic income as a possible solution to future issues related to technology replacing human workers, Allen said it may be part of the solution.
“I think we should study it,” Allen said. “I don’t think we know enough right now about it. Universal basic income has to be a component of something bigger in how you think about the future. We’re in the leading edge of this thing called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The question becomes, as we do the analysis necessary to see what is coming at us in the context of the digital environment, what are the implications for that? The implications are enormous.
“I don’t know whether universal basic income is the solution,” Allen continued, “but I do know if we go to that as a principle public policy objective, we probably haven’t done the full analysis necessary in what we ought to be doing in other areas to prevent that from being the sole solution. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but I don’t think we’ve studied it entirely.”
Throughout the luncheon, Allen discussed the importance of factual and unbiased media with the audience.
“This is so delicate for us,” Allen said. “The whole idea of preserving freedom of speech, preserving the impartial media is one of the most important things about our republic, about who we are as a people. I really worry when I hear things like ‘fake news’ and when I hear things like ‘the media is the enemy of the people.’ That’s what authoritarian states say about the few journalists that are not behind bars.”
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Allen went on to say he has great respect for K-State president Richard Myers, a retired four-star general who was serving as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff— the highest ranking officer in the U.S. military — when the two worked together in the past.
“Watching Chairman Myers in action, he had a long career in the Air Force, but how we viewed him was in his capacity to speak truth to power,” Allen said. “In that case, it’s all about moral courage, and I think in that case I can say with full confidence that he was one of the great exemplars of moral courage.”
Allen said he can recall Myers’ bravery in speaking his mind to both the Secretary of Defense and the president himself. Allen said he thinks Myers will go down in history as one of the great chairmen.
Throughout the discussion of politics, media and the future of America, Allen continually emphasized the importance of the nation’s young people. He said representation of America’s youth in politics is becoming more prevalent and more important.
For prospective politicians, Allen said studies centered in law, international relations and economics can teach the skills necessary to excel in that field. He especially recommended studying law to develop an understanding of the legislative process and ordinance of law.
“If we are a democracy that values above all other things the rule of law and compliance with the law, being a lawyer, I think, is very important,” Allen said.