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Washington, DC—Today, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the senior member and President Pro Tempore of the US Senate, gave the following remarks at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. The Senator reflected on his 42 years of service in the foreign policy arena, providing commentary on lessons learned and how to apply them going forward. 


Via YouTube

“We need to look back in order to move forward. Only by looking to the past can we bring clarity to the challenges of the present. One can and should ask sincere questions of why we pursue certain policies and what immediate and enduring outcomes they might produce. Often this line of reasoning brings us outside of our ideological comfort zones. But it is precisely in those zones of discomfort that honest conversations can take place. And it is those conversations that can produce the most breathtaking results.”

The full remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

Thank you. It’s an honor to be with you today. I wish to express my deep gratitude to the Hoover Institution—to its esteemed director Thomas Gilligan, Michael Franc, and to the distinguished members of the Institution’s board of overseers and research community. In a little over a month, I will retire from the Senate after 42 years of service. Among the countless unforgettable experiences I’ve had as a Senator, few compare to the opportunities I had to shape our nation’s foreign policy. As many of you know, I have been on the front lines of some of the biggest moments in international politics of the last half century. Today, I want to share with you some of the lessons I learned along the way. 

Just last month I visited Croatia – a country whose independence I worked hard to realize and a region I worked to secure in the leadup to the Dayton Accords. It was also my third visit to Europe over the past year to advance our bilateral relations with our European allies. Indeed, even in the final year of my career, my commitment to America’s standing in the world is no less intense than it was during my early years, when I helped transfer Stinger missiles to Afghans when the Soviets advanced in Central Asia or when I fought alongside President Reagan to establish the National Endowment for Democracy.

These milestones took place during historic turns in world history: the height of the Cold War; our efforts to continue protecting the liberal international order, and our efforts to secure America and the free world during the War on Terror. It spanned seven presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat, and the transformation of the media and information landscapes.

I mention these highlights to underscore just how much our history impacts who we are and where I believe we’re headed. Through our actions in the present, we create our history. So we must recognize opportunities for doing good when we see them and confidently pursue the correct course. We have a duty to learn about our past – about the sacrifices made; the decisions taken; the costs and rewards at stake. The study of history is not a mere academic exercise; it is foundational to understanding who we are. 

Our history does not remain in the past; it lives in the present, offering endless lessons for the challenges we have before us. If we ignore history, we risk forgetting a fundamental truth: that freedom is fatefully fragile, and we must defend it at every turn.

In my 42 years of service, I have gained an appreciation for the fact that our history is so much more than memorizing statistics such as names, dates, and places. Rather, it is about the stories told, the lives lived, and the sacrifices made to preserve the principles we stand for. The most important lesson of world history in the 20th century is that if America does not rise to the task, no one else will.

After World War II, America’s grace in the wake of victory was unprecedented. That America and its allies chose to embrace and even salvage the country we had recently fought was an ironic turn. It was not only a diplomatic challenge but a moral one. None captured the moral sentiment better than Chancellor Adenauer, who responded to President Kennedy’s remarks concerning the bonds between the United States and Germany with the following words:

“I feel you should try to imagine what it means for a vanquished nation after such a murderous fight and war to see the victor extend the helpful hand to the vanquished. It was not only the material aid and assistance, but it was, above all, the human attitude, the human aspect, the human spirit in which this was done which established these inseparable bonds between our two countries.”

These words describe not only a particular history, but also the visceral sentiment within which that history was made. That America and Germany share such history comes from our understanding of lessons learned from what a generation experienced, their realization of the lowest depths that humanity can reach, and the collective commitment to protecting the world from ever repeating such horrors.

Chancellor Adenauer’s remarks point to the ways in which historical moments can define how we appreciate our principles. The principles that Americans hold dear, including the protection of basic human liberties, democratic institutions, open elections, and free-market competition, have endured the test of time not merely because they are noble in their own right, but rather because they are strong and resilient enough to survive. 

A key feature of international relations is the challenge of working with states and actors that do not always share the same principles. Indeed, the most trying of cases require finding a way forward with those who overtly oppose the principles you stand for—in some cases, having nothing but hostility towards you. Statesmanship is tested precisely within these settings. It begins with a historical appreciation of the principles we stand for, and how best to apply these principles in overcoming today’s challenges. 

Properly applying our past requires a deliberate focus on parsing out how our nation came to be. Without US leadership, post-war European reconstruction never would have taken place, Soviet communism never would have been defeated, and the economic growth and prosperity that our country has come to expect never would have occurred. The existing American-led global order certainly did not ensue from a reluctance to engage internationally or commercially. It also did not come from a single moment of engagement. 

Rather, the fact that we have had a stable and open global order for more than 70 years is largely because America has remained critically present and involved in advancing its leadership responsibilities abroad, which ultimately helps the nation flourish at home.

I am concerned that US disengagement from the world—particularly when it comes to security and trade—could result in a more unstable and less open world. On the homefront, protectionism and economic nationalism will lead to a less robust economy and fray international relationships – especially with our allies – that jeopardize American security. The risks of American retreat from global leadership must not be ignored. This requires moving away from excessively ideological, tribal, or partisan postures – a task that is not always comfortable to accept.

Two observations here become immediately clear: first, rarely has the road been a straight one in achieving a set objective. Local conditions and realities confront us, and we naturally cannot operate effectively without working through them. The second is that rarely are parallels precise between the challenges of the past and those of today. The past, in other words, cannot predict how we should behave in the face of new challenges, but it should prepare us with the knowledge of where the potential for results might lie. 

From these two observations there is a universal lesson that comes to all who build a relationship with history. In the end, even the best of historians cannot know every last detail of how a story unfolded, every turn of the dime, every exact cause and effect.

But this is not cause for despair. Rather, it is an invitation to honesty and hard work. While we may not always know precisely how or when our actions might lead to particular results, we cannot shirk the responsibility of doing everything we can to achieve what is right.

The first step in this honest approach is knowing when to leave ideology, tribalism, and partisanship at the door, inviting partners when they present themselves, and committing to a principled pragmatism. Standing by principles is necessary, but insufficient. Only an approach that is both collaborative and creative can yield the desired outcome. Much as with the episodes of the Berlin Airlift and the Marshall Plan, we win over more partners to our ideas when we convince them through what those ideas achieve.

Unfortunately, the caliber of creativity and courage required to learn from our past is in rare supply today. Domestically, we have become far too comfortable in our political bubbles and media digests. In the process, we have forgotten that those of different political persuasions can be our intellectual sparring partners and collaborators, not our enemies. The root cause is our ahistorical view of our principles – detached from the stories within which they were tested, trapped in hyperboles and ideological boxes. This prevents political leaders from doing meaningful work, just as it prevents the public from fully understanding the work their representatives do on their behalf.

Sometimes, issues cannot and should not belong neatly into any one political category. Sometimes, getting it right simply means doing what’s right.

This lesson should be applied to our foreign policy as well. When the objective of doing the right thing is in plain sight, we as leaders need to be extra careful not to blind ourselves by ideological or partisan persuasions. I was able to get the right thing done recently when I helped secure the freedom of my constituent and his wife, Josh and Thamy Holt, from a jail in Venezuela where they had been held captive for nearly two years. The key was a clear focus on the objective, freeing one of our own, and being open to exploring opportunities that would lead us to that objective. 

My goal was to leave no stone unturned. This meant reaching out to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, corresponding with him, speaking with him, and meeting with his representatives in Washington when few of my colleagues were ready to do so. My objective was not to argue that one or another policy on Venezuela was right or wrong. Rather, it was to look squarely at where there might be possibilities. It was not the offer of a promise, but an acknowledgment of a potential. I believe it was this tone of principled but open outreach that encouraged an opportunity originally disguised as an intractable problem.

Similarly, getting it right sometimes means disagreeing with one’s own leadership. It is no secret that I staunchly support President Trump. I not only supported him as a candidate, but as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I led the charge in passing tax reform, arguably the president’s signature legislative accomplishment to date. America’s tax system was in desperate need of repair and sensible reform, and I was grateful to work with the president to get the job done.     

But I also support free markets and free trade, and will passionately continue to do so. Whether it was leading the fight in Congress to enact bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority, which helps open markets for US exports, or authoring legislation to strengthen intellectual property rights in trade agreements, I have been at the forefront of advancing a pro-market strategy.

History makes clear that protectionism corrodes our economy and global standing. Our nation has long maintained an open market to foreign imports and foreign capital while promoting freer trade and capital flows abroad. America did not become the world’s leading economy by chance: much of the reason was the deliberate result of an economic agenda that embraced freer markets and freer trade, setting the stage for the expansion of individual freedom, shared prosperity, and global peace. 

Our nation must never lose sight of the values, policies, and institutions which have wrought our people such immense progress. America can ill afford a lurch back to protectionism, deglobalization, and economic decline. I am confident that our nation’s leaders will ultimately do the right thing by resisting protectionism and promoting free markets and free trade.

Even though I will be retiring from the Senate, I will not stop fighting for the issues and country I care about. I know well that the need for American leadership in the world has never been greater. In my regular meetings with world leaders, I am regularly moved by the sentiment that other nations want closer, deeper ties with the United States.

Much, I believe, has to do with the fact that America offers a unique spark to cultivate a human spirit in engaging with the world. We need to look back in order to move forward. Only by looking to the past can we bring clarity to the challenges of the present. One can and should ask sincere questions of why we pursue certain policies and what immediate and enduring outcomes they might produce. Often this line of reasoning brings us outside of our ideological comfort zones. But it is precisely in those zones of discomfort that honest conversations can take place. And it is those conversations that can produce the most breathtaking results.

My message to the American people, as well as to my colleagues in public service, is simple and comes from my own habits that have benefitted me: always learn from history – not merely from the facts, but from the stories, lives, and emotions that produced them. Cultivate an understanding of the principles and values that have come to shape our course through those events. Use these lessons to guide the future. And in commiting to preserve the lessons of history, never fear stepping outside of your comfort zone when you have the opportunity to do the right thing.

These steps do not guarantee success. Indeed all of us, just as our predecessors, face a brave new world with real and shifting challenges. But we can steer our general path towards the greater good if we accept the dual responsibility of protecting a shared history and working hard with whomever extends a helping hand to build a better world through it. Our nation’s fate and our human spirit depend on it.