Bill Burns defines U.S. role in the world

During the presidential election campaign, Mitt Romney and his supporters repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for "leading from behind." But this morning at the Newseum, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns offered an alternative description of the mission driving America's conduct of foreign policy.

We're no longer living in a unipolar world, he conceded, but America will continue to play a leading geopolitical role as a "stabilizer, balancer, and global architect." It's a vision to keep in mind as we watch the Obama administration respond to international crises and craft foreign policy over the next four years.

When asked what global threat keeps him up at night, Burns cited the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction among state and non-state actors. On balancing strategic moves like the Asia pivot with turmoil in the Middle East, he noted that the "Middle East has a nasty habit of reminding us of its relevance."

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Where did State's Policy Planning Staff get its "avoid trivia" slogan?

We noticed something odd as we settled in for today's event: The seal for the State Department's Policy Planning Staff includes the slogan, "Avoid Trivia." What gives?

Apparently the phrase originated with former Secretary of State George Marshall, who instructed George Kennan to "avoid trivia" when he asked Kennan to create the Policy Planning Staff in 1947.

What Kennan meant was that the strategic arm of the State Department should see the big picture and not get bogged down in day-to-day minutia. This morning, Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan referenced the slogan but added that former Secretary of State Dean Acheson also summed up Policy Planning's mission well: "To look ahead, not into the distant future, but beyond the vision of the operating officers caught in the smoke and crises of current battle; far enough ahead to see the emerging form of things to come and outline what should be done to meet or anticipate them."

A compelling perspective as we kick off today's Transformational Trends" discussion.