Hauenstein Fellowship presented to former Secretary of Defense Cohen

John Kennedy, William Cohen, Thomas Haas, Gleaves Whitney (left to right)
John Kennedy, William Cohen, Thomas Haas, Gleaves Whitney (left to right)

The Col. Ralph W. Hauenstein Fellowship medal was presented to former Secretary of Defense William Cohen on January 19 by Grand Valley President Thomas Haas, Hauenstein Center director Gleaves Whitney, and Board of Trustees Vice Chair John Kennedy.

Cohen was given the award following a presentation by Cohen to the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. 

The fellowship is one of the university’s most prestigious awards, and is periodically awarded to a distinguished public servant whose achievements are consistent with the ethical leadership and public service of Col. Ralph W. Hauenstein, the namesake of the university’s center for presidential studies. 

The award has previously been given to Secretary of State James Baker, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and President Gerald R. Ford, posthumously. 

During his presentation, Cohen focused on the role of the United States in an increasingly interconnected and regularly unstable global political environment. He said that instead of a clash of societies that many experts used to expect between the global East and the global West, more clashes in current times are coming from within civilizations, specifically the Middle East.

Cohen said that an example is the success of certain Middle Eastern states succeeding in the global economy, including Qatar, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates while citing the instability of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

Cohen also addressed the changing role of the United States as a world power, and changing perceptions of the United States as a reliable partner to foreign states. 

“When I was in the Pentagon, we acted very much as the reluctant sheriff; we had our boots up on our desk and weren’t going looking for trouble,” Cohen said. “Then 9/11 happened. Then, we were the Texas Terminator, going out and getting the people responsible. It was a shift in the perception of the American people. But it was challenging to learn the lesson that you can’t take democracy and transplant it to a foreign country without regard for their culture, their environment and making sure that they have a system in place to allow that system of government to work.”

Cohen also said that the trust foreign nations have in the United States is waning, largely in part due to the failure of our own government to reach consensus agreements on many hot-button American political issues.

“We’re pulling back to America,” Cohen said. “It makes other states question who our real allies are. There is far less certainty in U.S. action.”