Sen. Bill Brock, RIP

Remembering Senator Bill Brock: A Conservative Internationalist who was in the Arena

I’m going to miss Senator Bill Brock.  The former Tennessee Senator Bill Brock passed away at age 90 on Thursday, March 25th, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Senator Brock was a major statesman of the 20th century, but few under the age of 50 know him. He dedicated his life to public service and worked tirelessly to revitalize the Republican party in the late 1970s after Watergate. Mr. Brock was long associated with CSIS and worked closely with CSIS’s co-founder, Dr. David M. Abshire, also from Tennessee. He contributed immensely to CSIS, both as a Counselor and as a Trustee.

I first met Senator Brock when he was campaigning for the Senate in Maryland in 1994. I voted for him, but he lost that year against Senator Paul Sarbanes. 

Born a Democrat, Senator Brock began his career as a Republican in the late 1950’s. His family owned The Brock Candy Company. The company was founded by Brock’s grandfather, William E. Brock Sr., who served as a Democratic senator from 1929 to 1931. In 1962, Bill Brock was elected to Congress from Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional district, the first Republican to win the seat in over 40 years. Mr. Brock would go on to serve four terms as a representative before running against Senator Al Gore Sr. in 1970. Senator Brock defeated Senator Gore and served one term as a senator where he sponsored and co-sponsored a series of significant pieces of legislation. While in the Senate, he advocated for the Equal Rights Amendment. He was a senator in the tradition of other conservative internationalists from Tennessee such as Howard Baker, Bill Frist, and Lamar Alexander. Mr. Brock lost his bid for re-election in 1976 to Democrat Jim Sasser.  Jimmy Carter, a Southern Democrat, easily carried Tennessee that year, and Jimmy Carter had “coattails.”

After leaving the Senate, Mr. Brock was named chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). His leadership came at a time when the party was recovering from the Watergate scandal. Between 1977 and 1981, he worked to bolster the image of the Republican party. Mr. Brock was widened the reach of the Republican party and made significant efforts to get Republicans elected to local and state offices.  He was called the “architect of the Republican revival” in 1980, playing a major role in Ronald Reagan’s victory and GOP control of the Senate, winning 12 seats.

President Reagan asked Senator Brock to be the U.S. Trade Representative. During his tenure from 1981 to 1985, trade tensions with Japan were very high. And he worked to incentivize the first voluntary quotas of Japanese automobile sales in the U.S.  He played key roles in the US-Canada FTA and what became NAFTA.  He advocated the ‘group of the willing’ negotiating style whereby bilateral or limited country agreements set the stage for precedent-setting multilateral deals.  He also stood firm against trade deals he judged not to be in the United States’ interest.

In 1985, President Reagan asked Mr. Brock to lead the Department of Labor. As Secretary of Labor from 1985 to 1987, he focused on various aspects of job training and productivity. He also actively promoted non-confrontational labor-management cooperation and focused on improving the health and safety of U.S. workers.

He ran Senator Bob Dole’s 1988 Presidential campaign in the primary against George HW Bush.  Bush won the primary against Dole.

After leaving the government, he worked on commissions to reform American education. In 1990, Mr. Brock was invited to chair the Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, which significantly reformed elementary and secondary education. In addition, he would also lead the Commission of Skills of the American Workforce.

Senator Brock competed as a partisan and reached across the aisle when he could strike bipartisan agreement to solve a problem.

He had a long-time and very active association with CSIS.  No matter his busy schedule, he always made time to advise and assist “younger people” like me. When my colleagues or I needed someone of “stature” to help convene a group, he never failed to make himself available.  He always stood ready to contribute his vast experience to help tackle current issues. He will be greatly missed.

How to Turbocharge the Peace Process in Afghanistan

Author: Mark Ward, Afghanistan Country Director, International Medical Corps

I am the country director for a large American humanitarian organization working in Afghanistan that has been providing emergency and other lifesaving assistance to Afghan communities in remote and settled areas since 1984. Because we care deeply about the future of Afghanistan, my colleagues and I read the final report by the Afghanistan Study Group (ASG) with great interest. The findings and recommendations are mostly very sound.

Humanitarian organizations are, by their nature, very operational. Consequently, I have a very operational recommendation for the authors and those who care about and support Afghanistan.

The authors wisely observe that “a peace agreement [for Afghanistan] will be sustainable only if it is supported by the Afghan people.” The history of conflict resolution around the world proves this. Peace talks are usually long and full of ups and downs. The parties on both sides are more likely to keep trying to find peace during long and often-difficult negotiations if they know that the people back home are behind them.

The authors go on to urge USAID “to prepare a package of support that will visibly and quickly reach the Afghan people.” Sadly, my experience as someone who has worked both inside and outside USAID has shown that this is not realistic. U.S. government procurement rules and requirements imposed by the Congress on foreign aid make it impossible for USAID to design and launch any new projects quickly. Beyond constraints on the U.S. side, it would take months to begin mobilizing a team in Afghanistan to execute such projects—given the enormous security challenges facing any contractor hoping to work here and the imperative to patiently build Afghan buy-in for any project to be executed. Realistically, it would take up to two years before new development projects could actually start in support of a peace agreement. Even if that process started today, results on the ground would begin far too late to help build support for the ongoing peace talks and any future agreement.

This is a problem. But there is a solution.

To build resilience and self-reliance in Afghan communities, International Medical Corps is providing week-long training sessions to volunteers on how to provide basic psychological first aid to people in Balkh province, an area hit hard by COVID-19.

Humanitarian organizations like mine are already working all over Afghanistan, wherever people are in need. We don’t need lead time to hire staff and build offices. We already have both, all over the country. Communities know us, trust us, and turn to us for help because they know we listen to them. More help from us now would show them that the peace process is having a positive impact on their lives in the present, rather than months from now. With greater funding, support, and access now, we could assist more people in need while building support for the peace talks and provide a bridge to the longer-term development projects envisaged in the ASG’s report.

But we must do more than provide emergency aid. We must help communities take the first steps to a more stable future by increasing access to education and improving livelihoods in rural areas, thereby generating more prosperity for Afghan households. More funding for humanitarian organizations would also mean more jobs for Afghans and more revenue for the Afghan companies from which we buy food, medical supplies, and other commodities. Longer-term projects to grow the Afghan economy could dovetail with early humanitarian efforts, creating long-term—and, ultimately, self-sustaining—growth and prosperity.

Recently, USAID approved additional funding for a consortium of six large humanitarian organizations with extensive experience in Afghanistan, including mine, with a goal of providing additional assistance in areas where our organizations are likely to gain more access if the peace talks move forward. Kudos to USAID for thinking strategically, planning for success, and using its funding to build support for the peace process now, instead of waiting to see what happens. We encourage the other donor governments and UN agencies to adopt this same short-term approach, so that their aid budgets can support the peace process now—when support for peace from the Afghan people is most critical.

Mark Ward currently works for International Medical Corps as its Country Director for Afghanistan. During a long career as a committed humanitarian, he has served in a number of positions at the U.S. Department of State, served as a senior advisor at the United Nations and, among a number of positions held during a 31-year career in the Foreign Service with USAID, was director of the Office of Procurement and led the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). He holds a BA and JD from the University of California at Berkeley.