During every presidential election year, as the top of the ticket takes shape, a dance begins between the national-security establishment and the politicians, who heretofore have been focused more on fashioning sweeping rhetorical appeals than worrying about the nitty-gritty details of governing.

So when two exponents of the neoconservative school — favoring aggressive, interventionist foreign policy — surface in Greensboro, of all places, it’s probably worth hearing what they have to say. James Woolsey, director of the CIA from 1993 to 1995, was a signatory to a 1998 letter urging President Bill Clinton to use military force to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — a view that eventually prevailed under President George W. Bush in 2003. John Lenczowski is the former director of European and Soviet affairs at the National Security Council, and founder and president of the Institute of World Politics in Washington, where Woolsey now serves as chancellor.

Considering the current political climate, we might yet mercifully be spared of their influence in Washington. Lenczowski indicated he’s not much of a fan of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, calling the Obama administration’s decision to provide lethal aid to the rebels in Libya a “promiscuous military intervention.” The New York Times recently described the Libya intervention as arguably Clinton’s “moment of greatest influence as secretary of state.”

“You’d think that this president who was skeptical about our intervention in Iraq in 2003 would have learned the lesson, but he didn’t,” Lenczowski sniffed during a luncheon attended by 800 people at Grandover Resort & Conference Center.

For his part, Woolsey all but accused President Obama of appeasement, referencing recent tensions between the United States and Russia in the Baltic Sea.

“And I guess I would have to be candid in saying — in having a sense that we’re being led by Neville Chamberlain,” Woolsey said, referring to prime minister of Great Britain in the late 1930s. “If you are a really powerful country and you have a number of allies, you can speak softly and carry a big stick. As Teddy Roosevelt put it, you do not have to yak about it. If you send a couple of aircraft carriers and a bunch of destroyers into the Baltic when the Russians behave the way they did, the Russians will take note and, one would hope, back off. But they aren’t going to back off if they don’t think you have the will to do anything. And that is the problem. We face a situation in which we have lost a good chunk of our credibility, and we need to regain it.”

Asked by a senior at Salisbury High School which presidential candidate is likely to have the best strategic plan to confront threats from Russia and the Middle East, Woolsey didn’t name a preference, but called for a leader who projects strength — someone like Ronald Reagan, whom the former CIA director credited with ending the Iran hostage crisis.

“I’m not real enthusiastic frankly about either of the finalist candidates,” he said, “but I think one important criterion that everyone ought to think about is, is this person someone that is going to be able to exert that kind of Reagan-esque influence from reputation and ability?”

The convener of the luncheon was Dr. Aldona Wos, Greensboro resident, former ambassador to Estonia and, until Aug. 4, 2015, the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. A prominent Republican fundraiser and wife of shipping and logistics impresario Louis DeJoy, Wos appears to be making her own pivot as the political winds shift. Wos presided over a health and human services department in Raleigh that was plagued by chronic disruptions to food-stamp benefits across the state and the disastrous implementation of a new Medicaid billing system. Wos abruptly resigned during a tearful announcement with Gov. Pat McCrory only days after federal prosecutors served subpoenas on her agency as part of a grand jury investigation into the hiring of high-priced consultants, according to a report by the News & Observer. A spokesperson for the office of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina told Triad City Beat he could neither confirm nor deny whether any investigation is currently taking place.

Wos gives the impression she wouldn’t mind another high-profile appointment in the federal government.

“We’ll have to do our homework and see how between all this intellectual power in the room — see how we in our professional capacities can move this along,” she said, after listening to a sobering warning from Woolsey and Lenczowski about the danger of North Korea exploding a nuclear weapon in space and dismantling the US power grid.

“Jim said, ‘If it ever comes down to having to go to war with North Korea, he would appoint you to be the four-star general,’” Lenczowski quipped, prompting uproarious laughter.

At one point, Wos summarized Lenczowski’s response to a high school student’s question by saying, “If you know history and you study history you are less likely to repeat mistakes.”

About that fact there is no dispute.

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