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Mark Green, new executive director of ASU's McCain Institute, wants to help restore American leadership

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 5/27/2020 Katie Surma, Arizona Republic
Mark Andrew Green wearing a suit and tie: Mark Green © Courtesy of USAID Mark Green

Mark Green, the former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, has taken over as executive director of Arizona State University's McCain Institute for International Leadership after predecessor Kurt Volker's controversial departure last year.

Volker, who had been the institute's executive director since its creation, had become embroiled in the Ukraine scandal at the center of President Donald Trump's impeachment proceedings.

Green, a former diplomat and Republican congressman from Wisconsin, ran the U.S. government's multibillion-dollar international development agency for nearly three years under Trump. During that time, Green threaded the needle between an administration skeptical of foreign aid and a development community critical of Trump's America-first agenda. 

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As the new leader of the McCain Institute, Green will work to develop the next generation of what the institute calls character-driven leaders, something about which Green says he cares deeply. 

"The world will be looking to American leadership like never before. I’m a believer that America is a force for good in the world and America needs to be a force for good in the world," Green told The Arizona Republic in a recent interview. "That’s something I want to be a part of. This is a challenging and turbulent world. American leadership is essential. The world doesn’t get better if America steps back."

John McCain wearing a suit and tie: The late Sen. John McCain was born on Aug. 29, 1936, in Coco Solo, Panama, where his father was stationed with the U.S. Navy. © Mark Wilson/Getty Images The late Sen. John McCain was born on Aug. 29, 1936, in Coco Solo, Panama, where his father was stationed with the U.S. Navy.

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Volker resigned in October 2019 during the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. That inquiry involved whether President Donald Trump improperly withheld security assistance to Ukraine. Volker had served as Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine and was a key witness in the ensuing investigation.

Cindy McCain, the McCain Institute's chairwoman and the widow of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told CNN she had asked Volker to resign because the Ukraine controversy "was overshadowing the institute and it was overshadowing what we do and what we work for." 

Nick Rasmussen, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, had filled in as the institute's acting director after Volker's departure. Rasmussen will stay on as the institute's senior director for National Security & Counterterrorism programs.

Green, who was recruited by Cindy McCain and ASU President Michael Crow, said John McCain's public service legacy and ASU's capacity are what sold him on the executive director position. 

McCain and Green had worked together at the International Republican Institute, a pro-democracy organization, before Green's nomination as USAID administrator. 

Green said he and McCain shared a similar brand of politics, one that is based on a commitment to certain principles. He recalled that McCain had profound differences with many of his closest friends, yet he never shied away from those differences nor let those differences impact his friendships. 

"I feel that if, after a debate, you couldn't sit down and have a beer with the man or woman with whom you just debated, you had done something wrong," Green said. "The other part is being honest with people. ... As long as you're honest with people, and they know where you are, that should be the basis for putting together solutions." 

Green praised McCain's work ethic while remembering the last trip the two took to the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany.

"He (McCain) was getting on in years, but I remember he did 17 bilateral meetings in one day with foreign leaders," Green said. "You had men and women 30 years his junior who were trying to figure out a way to get some rest. And here was John McCain. He was an extraordinary leader and an extraordinary human specimen in so many ways." 

McCain, 81, who had been elected to six terms as senator from Arizona, died Aug. 25, 2018.

Fighting for aid under a skeptical White House 

Green also brings to the McCain Institute his experience as USAID's administrator in the Trump era.

The Trump administration made no secret of its doubts about the efficacy of development policy and foreign assistance. Trump hastily withdrew from international agreements, restricted migration, and sought to cut funding to U.S. aid programs. 

Green kept making the case that foreign aid is a key part of America's economic and national security repertoire.

In Green's view, American strength comes not just from military hardware, but also from American entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth. 

America doesn't have much of a choice when it comes to caring about what happens overseas, Green added.

"When I was elected to Congress in 1998, and shortly after my first reelection, we had 9/11," Green said. "I remember in the weeks after 9/11 thinking to myself, that if you would have told me that an attack that would devastate America would come from a remote part of a remote country, I would have said 'You're crazy.'

"Similarly, we are battling a (COVID-19) pandemic that originated from part of the world that most Americans couldn't find on a map."

Green maintains that engagement with multilateral organizations such as the World Health Organization is necessary and helpful to the U.S. because those organizations work in regions of the world that are unsafe and where the administration may not want to risk American lives.

"It's important to me that we engage in multilateral institutions, in some cases that we engage in reforming multilateral institutions," Green said. "Having allies, that's a good thing. Having partners, that's a good thing. Being able to work with others to lift the human condition, that's a good thing."

One area where Green has found common ground with Trump is on the need to have tough conversations about reforming international institutions such as the WHO. Green says China's influence on those organizations is misaligned with American values. 

"We seek to help countries become self-reliant and help them undertake reforms and capacity building so they can lead themselves. We want countries to go from being recipients to partners to hopefully one day becoming fellow donors," Green said. "The Chinese model is different. They seek to create dependency. Countries don't liberate themselves from China, they become more dependent through debt and reliance on Chinese IT systems." 

Green's record as USAID administrator earned kudos from both Republicans and Democrats when he stepped down from the post in March.

"He has shown American leadership and heart by responding to natural disasters and public health emergencies around the world, such as earthquakes in Mexico, cyclones in Mozambique, Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas, the outbreak of Ebola in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the plague of locusts in East Africa, and now COVID-19," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a March 16 written statement.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's ranking Democrat, also praised the outgoing Green's USAID tenure.

"Faced by an Administration that has relentlessly sought to cut foreign development and humanitarian relief programs it incorrectly views as charity, I sincerely appreciated Administrator Green's commitment to defending programs and funds that are proven to advance US national security, help lift up the world's most impoverished, and build resilient and prosperous communities that in turn promote global stability," Menendez said in a March 16 written statement.

For Green, his 32 months at USAID left a lasting mark. He recalled two particular moments that stuck out to him. 

One is a conversation he had with a Rohingya man while visiting a camp for internally displaced people in Myanmar.

The man, a father, had been in the prison-like camp for six years. The man told Green he had no mosque where he and his children could worship, no available jobs, no teachers so his children could learn, and no ability to leave the camp without permission which he could not obtain.

The man asked Green what he should tell his son. 

"I had no answer. There is no answer to that. That rocked me," Green said. 

Another story Green shared came from a visit he took to the Bolivar bridge, which runs across the Venezuela–Colombia border. At the time, about 5,000 Venezuelans crossed the bridge each day, fleeing the country's economic collapse. 

"Seeing those young Venezuelan mothers, with their children, and they've been walking for days to cross the border. On one hand, there is absolutely despair for what was going on in Venezuela," Green said. "But they're looking at me, as a representative of the United States, and are filled with optimism for the belief of what America stands for." 

Looking ahead, Green said his biggest concern is for the more than 71 million displaced people around the world. 

"I worry, like that Rohingya father, about children who have never known anything other than displacement. I worry they’re not connected to the world around them," Green said. "I worry that we have a generation that’s going to grow up vulnerable. If we can't find ways to address that, then 20 years from now we're going to have more problems of instability and violence."

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Mark Green, new executive director of ASU's McCain Institute, wants to help restore American leadership

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