Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE, the two-term, retiring Republican senator from Nebraska, recently came to the IFE/INFO Public Policy Round Table. He was charming, funny and thoughtful.

Surprisingly, he didn't talk much about election-year drama. In fact, he emphasized that he hasn't spoken to John McCain or Barack Obama about a role in either’s administration — they haven't even asked him to be their driver!

Instead, he hit on three big ideas: global citizenship, civility and foreign policy.

Here's what he had to say about global citizenship: "If our young people are not prepared to understand the structure of their country and their responsibilities as citizens, we will have a breakdown somewhere." Sen. Hagel believes that we're "failing" in our duty to make them "global citizens."

What does he mean?

The senator stressed that America, like any other country, should work to advance its self-interest — but what, exactly, is our self-interest? In a globalizing world, it's harder to say because our problems are so intertwined with other countries' problems. Whether you talk about climate change or terrorism, any issue that matters today involves the world community.

Even on America-centric issues — for example, the Iraq war — we can't win unless we understand other countries' concerns. We need to know the languages of the world, like Mandarin and Arabic. We need to understand that while America's going to be No. 1 through the foreseeable future, other countries are getting stronger. Being a citizen of the world means that we embrace these new realities.

This is a tall order for our kids, especially because the problems that we face are getting more and more complex. In fact, Sen. Hagel believes that the next president will confront "the largest inventory of problems and challenges" since FDR.

Tomorrow's leaders will never be able to address these challenges if they don't understand the basics of our country — the separation of powers, our institutions, laws and the marketplace. As a father of two high school students, the senator fundamentally understands this reality.

Let's hope that his colleagues do as well.


Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.