America's Global Challenges

Stephen Hadley, former national security advisor to George W. Bush, says the crisis in the Middle East demands more U.S. attention

Stephen Hadley speaking at Tufts University

The Middle East is in a state of meltdown, and it will take an international effort to get on the road to fixing it, former national security advisor Stephen Hadley said during a lecture at Tufts. “In our lifetime, there has rarely been a time when there seemed to be as many challenges in the world,” he said.

Hadley proposed three steps for resolving the conflict. First, the international community needs to address the civil wars raging in Syria and Iraq, then it needs to develop a coalition to combat ISIS, and lastly, it must do no harm.

In delivering the Dr. Maurice S. Segal Lecture at the Fletcher School on Nov. 30, Hadley said the rise of the Islamic State is threatening the liberal international economic order that the United States helped establish at the end of World War II. That’s in part because the U.S. and its allies ignored turmoil in the Middle East until it escalated beyond control.

“In many ways, we took a bit of a vacation in the ’90s,” he said. “We had a wake-up call on 9/11. And in that period of time, we learned that the struggle wasn’t over and that alternative models have emerged.

“This is a time when America needs to assert itself,” Hadley said. To restore stability in the Middle East, he recommended stepping up air campaigns and putting more U.S. special forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria to empower those citizens in their fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Hadley has held a number of key foreign policy roles since he entered public service as a staffer on the National Security Council in 1974. He served as deputy national security advisor from 2001 to 2005, when he became President George W. Bush’s national security advisor, a position he held until 2009.

Now he is a principal at the consulting firm RiceHadleyGates, which he cofounded with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In addition, Hadley chairs the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, a think tank focused on conflict resolution and peace studies, and serves on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank that has partnered with the Fletcher School to address global challenges.

Hadley also spoke at length about China and Russia. He said those two nations operate on an authoritarian capitalist model that challenges the U.S. and European liberal model, in which the social role of government is limited, while the influence of the private sector is relatively substantial.

“China is interconnected with the world as a whole, and if we are not careful, we could force China to opt out” of the liberal model, he said. Instead, the U.S. should encourage China to move toward our approach by agreeing to some of their terms, such as having the Chinese renminbi becoming a world reserve currency, he said. If we refuse to negotiate with China, its leaders might sour on the liberal model, and that would have a negative effect on our economy, he said.

Hadley also offered some career advice to the Fletcher students. “You are going to have a big impact on the future of this world,” he said. He urged them to read the autobiographies of world leaders to learn how they dealt with challenges and to take advantage of public service opportunities. “If your government is the United States of America, then representing it on the world stage is one of the most satisfying and highest honors you can achieve,” he said.

Divya Amladi can be reached at

Back to Top