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The Inaugural Brzezinski Initiative Lecture: Subtle Dimensions of National Power – The U.S. in a Post-Pandemic World

April 28, 2021


  • Secretary Leon Panetta, Chairman of The Panetta Institute for Public Policy 
  • Eliot A. Cohen, Dean of the Johns Hopkins SAIS
  • Introductory remarks by Carla P. Freeman, Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins SAIS Foreign Policy Institute

The school welcomed former US Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta as the featured guest speaker for the Johns Hopkins SAIS Foreign Policy Institute Brzezinski Initiative Lecture.

The conversation began with Panetta recalling his early career as an army intelligence officer, before becoming involved with California politics. He noted how during that time bipartisan support was both possible and robust, while lamenting thus at the current domestic political divisions. Consequentially, he stated that President Biden is the best chance for the US to get back on track post-pandemic, as he believes strongly in cooperation.

On US foreign policy, Panetta said he believed that the greatest challenge arises from a China who America needs to show its strength to by defending Taiwan, weaning Hong Kong from Beijing, and holding Xi Jinping accountable for his treatment of the Uighurs. The second major threat was Russia, which he believed should be deterred in Ukraine, and Putin held accountable for his malignant activity in Europe and America. Panetta additionally noted that Iran and North Korea continue to subvert and confront America’s regional interests, and thus must be deterred and challenged. Finally, he noted that the final major challenges arise from failed states within the Middle East and North Africa, as well as cyber warfare which is America’s “Achille’s heel.” Panetta thus called for greater cooperation and coordination with US allies, starting with medical supplies to India, and assurances in Asia and Europe. He remained a proponent of the “forever war” in Afghanistan and argued that China must be demonstrably shown that America is neither crumbling nor weak.