Democrat or Republican, American or foreign — none of these differences interfered with a portrayal of the world in the throes of a threat of historic proportions.
That was the frightening consensus of former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, former NATO supreme allied commander (and former Democratic presidential candidate) Wesley Clark, U.S. senator and presumptive GOP presidential candidate Lindsey Graham and Japanese state minister for foreign affairs Yasuhide Nakayama — all of whom shared the stage Monday morning at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California.
Clark cut to the historic nature of today’s “global risk,” the title of the Monday morning session, when he told an audience heavily drawn from the financial services industry:
“Putin has crossed the greatest red line in post-World War II international diplomacy. He has invaded another country and seized it by force … We in the business community are not understanding geopolitical risk.”
Blair too spoke in stark terms, at one point rattling off a long list of terrorist groups such as Islamic State, Al-Nusra and Boko Haram and saying:
“None is capable of being negotiated with; all have to be defeated. We’ve got to have the will and commitment to defeat them.
Graham asked the large audience how many people thought Iran was developing strategic nuclear weaponry as opposed to a mere nuclear power plant, adding rhetorically that “those who didn’t raise their hands shouldn’t have a driver’s license.”
And Nakayama conveyed today’s level of global risk, at first, wordlessly: humming the modulating sound of World War II fighter aircraft dropping their bombs and contrasting that with what it takes today to inflict mass destruction: one click.
The Japanese diplomat was engaged in ultimately fruitless efforts to gain the release of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and military contractor Haruna Yukawa, held hostage by Islamic State. The terrorist group beheaded both men in January after Japan failed to meet the kidnappers’ $200 million ransom demand within 72 hours.
Nakayama pointed out that 70 years ago, as World War II ended, global conflict meant nation against nation. Today, he said, “even one terrorist can fight against a nation.”
The diplomat said he and fellow G8 members “decided never to pay ransom, never to negotiate with terrorists directly,” adding:
“It’s difficult to negotiate with people with no rules,” citing chess as an analogy.
“I have rules; they have no rules; [they] can take king and queen immediately.”
Given the unreasoning nature of this enemy, Blair affirmed the need to fight terrorists without negotiation, but added:
“The problem is not simply countering violent extremism, but countering extremism … represented by Iran on the Shia side and al-Qaida and ISIS on the Sunni side. That ideology must be defeated … Even in Europe, that ideology of extremism is taught day in day out.”