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Richard Allen on U.S. Presidents and Shaping Public Policy


Allen served in the National Security Council for Nixon and advised other subsequent Presidents.

Posted:  2012-05-03  

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For multi-media visit his Distinguished Speakers Series page

STEUBENVILLE, OHIO— "The difference between politics and policy is critically important," said the Honorable Richard V. Allen, former advisor for four United States presidents, leading foreign policy analyst, and final speaker for Franciscan University of Steubenville's Spring 2012 Distinguished Speakers Series.

"Everybody's interested in politics," he said. "Whatever it is, making a contribution to preserve what we believe that we have today, or have inherited from our forefathers, is extremely important. That kind of contribution allows one to go to crises with a certain amount of aplomb and confidence."

Allen spoke to a sizeable audience on Tuesday, April 17, in the Tony and Nina Gentile Gallery. His topic, "Ending the Cold War (If, Indeed, It Has Ended)," addressed the current issues of public policy and partisanship, but also took the audience on a walk through days gone by.

"There isn't any real way to discuss threats with you today without 'boring' you with what you might think is just a dry history lesson," said Allen, former chief coordinator of Foreign Policy and principal of the National Security Council staff in the Nixon administration. "But having lived through that period, I can tell you it's not very dry."

Allen said that his awakening to foreign events came to him when he was five years old, and World War II broke out.

"It was December 7, 1941, an extraordinary event which is indelible in my mind," he said. "I remember exactly where I was standing in the living room in our house in Merchantville, New Jersey, when war was declared."

Allen's father, who had worked in Washington, knew someone who knew the secretary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Allen recalled visiting the White House as a small child. Allen was 9 years old; his brother, who came with him, was 13.

"The valet—a kindly old gentleman, he was dressed in a tuxedo, I was very impressed, I think it was the first tux I had ever seen—said, 'Do you want to sit in the president's chair?'" said Allen. "And my brother was allowed to sit in the president's chair, twirl it around, open the desk drawer and take out a pencil. And so was I. I was a Roosevelt fan for the rest of my life. Six days later, he died."

After that experience, Allen became "something of a junkie on public policy." He said he is often asked today how he got into politics.

"My first response to the question is: I never got into politics, I despise politics," he said. But he explained that in order to enter public policy, you must be willing to get involved with politics, too.

"I became more and more interested in shaping policy, but you had to go through this nasty political process," said Allen. "Once you make the fateful decision that you want to determine policy, make a contribution to your country, to your community, you know that you're going to be put through the wringer."

Allen drew wisdom from the many presidents for whom he had worked throughout his career. Appointed National Security Advisor by President-elect Ronald Reagan, he was also appointed senior policy advisor for the election campaigns of George Herbert Walker Bush, George W. Bush, and John McCain.

"Do what is right," said Allen, explaining that this lesson came home to him when President Reagan first entered the White House. "President Reagan said, 'I know that I am called president, and they've called me Mr. President now since noon, but I want you people to understand that we are here for precisely four years. I want every decision made here to be for the good of the American people.'"

Allen also touched on the title of his talk, asking, "The Cold War: when did it begin, when did it end, or, as I put it, has it in fact ended?"

He explained that he believes it continues today in another form.

"What motivated the East were ideological considerations," said Allen. "When you speak of the word ideology you don't mean just a theory—it's not a way of life or a way of looking at the world. It represents a system of thought which professes to own the truth."

Allen said an "ideologue" is someone who won't allow you to ask certain questions of his closed theory of thought. Illustrating the crucial need for strong security against such ideologist situations, he used the example of the Transportation Security Administration's rigorous use of scanners before passengers board an airplane.

He said, "Imagine the screener who doesn't find something. They can't afford to miss anything. So it is when you analyze intelligence. How do you make a decision under these circumstances? That's what policy-makers confront."

Allen emphasized the problem of partisanship in today's world, calling it an "ongoing crisis," comparing it to the nation's view of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930's.

"There was a feeling of hostility," he said. "Then, during the war we came together, and in the post-war period it was amazing what was done by Republican presidents with Democratic legislatures and vice versa."

Full audio and video of Allen's talk can be found at www.franciscan.edu/DistinguishedSpeakersSeries.

Allen's presentation was sponsored by Franciscan University's Distinguished Speakers Series, which hosts leaders who integrate their faith and public life, and inspire the next generation to be a transforming presence in the Church and society. The series is sponsored by the Offices of Academic Affairs, Student Life, and Advancement.

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