Look beyond Clements’ legacy

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On Jan. 9, University officials announced the creation of the William P. Clements Jr. Center on History, Strategy and Statecraft. The center, named for former Texas Gov. Bill Clements, will primarily teach the history of national security and diplomacy.

Ideally, the new center’s multidisciplinary focus on the historical aspect of policy issues will be its biggest advantage. A collaborative approach is intuitive, and the new center will complement the existing Strauss Center for International Security and Law within the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Promoting the study of national security and international diplomacy is highly relevant in the post-9/11 era that has already seen two wars in the Middle East and a 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. George Seay, the chairman of the board of advisers for the center, said that Clements would be “humbled and honored” by the naming. The Clements family donated a $2.5 million initial gift to fund the new center.

Bill Clements served as the 42nd and 44th governor of Texas and was the state’s first Republican governor after Reconstruction. He had previously served as Deputy Secretary of Defense during the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Clements made his fortune in the oil and gas industry. He and two partners purchased two oil rigs in 1947, a venture that would later become SEDCO, which at one time was the world’s largest offshore drilling company. His financial success bolstered his political career, allowing him to spend heavily out of pocket in his campaign against Democrat John Hill Jr. in the 1978 gubernatorial election. John Whitmire, a state senator and former colleague of Clements fondly remembered him as a man who “ran the state like you would expect a CEO to do.”

But Clements’ business relationship with the oil and gas industry was at times controversial. His first term as governor was plagued by the 1979 Ixtoc I oil spill, in which a SEDCO well in the Gulf of Mexico suffered a blowout, resulting in an estimated 476,000 tons of spillage, over 10 times that of the 1989 Exxon Valdez debacle.

Clements also served as campaign chairman for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton during his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1993. Barton, who is currently a member of the Tea Party Caucus, was listed on the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s “Most Corrupt” Report in 2011. The Dallas Morning News reported in 2010 that Barton made over $100,000 on an investment in natural gas whose source he inaccurately reported. Clements had no connection to the investment, but support of a public figure who engages in such petroleum-related malpractice seems questionable, especially because Clements’ eponymous center will teach “strategy and statecraft.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States depends on net imports for about 45 percent of petroleum consumption. So long as such a dependency exists, international diplomacy and the petroleum industry will share an implicit connection.

The center that bears Clements’ name will produce a new generation of diplomats and national security experts. Like Clements, many of these students will have their own financial interests. As stated in the official UT press release, the center’s “efforts, including executive education programs, will be designed to train private-sector leaders.” These private-sector leaders’ ability to make good decisions will have real market value. But ideally they will also learn the more intrinsic (if less tangible) value of a solid historical understanding in helping them make not just good decisions, but the right decisions.

The center’s formation is, in part, the University’s answer to how we might learn from history and apply those lessons to the present. But in order for the center’s students to not just change the world, but change it for the better, they must move beyond Clements’ legacy.