Bill Clements

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.

When government officials plan for the future, they look to the past. To fill this need in the area of national security policy the University is launching the William P. Clements Jr. Center on History, Strategy and Statecraft.

William Inboden, an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and former senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council, will be the center’s director.

“When I worked for a decade in Washington, D.C., I saw over and over again how the president and secretary of state and other senior officials really sought out the lessons of history when they were wrestling with foreign policy questions,” Inboden said. “The policy community is very hungry for more history.”

The center is the result of cooperation between faculty of several UT departments, including the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, housed in the LBJ School. The Clements Center will focus on the study of history as it pertains to national security policy and will be funded in large part by the Clements family’s initial donation of $2.5 million.

Clements served two terms as governor of Texas and served in the Nixon and Ford administrations as acting and deputy secretary of defense. He died in May 2011.

George Seay, the chairman of the board of advisers for the new center and Clements’ grandson, said he and his grandfather both shared a passion for national security.

“My favorite subject matter, as was my grandfather’s, was national security policy,” Seay said. “If our position in the world isn’t pre-eminent, then we put into jeopardy the stability and security of our country, and I think it all starts with this subject.”

Seay said the collaborative nature of the project is what convinced his family to become involved.

“Most universities either teach history or national security policy, but teach them in isolation and don’t try to integrate them into one course of study,” Seay said. “The quality of the people at UT and the quality of the idea were just so clear that they won everybody over.”

The center will use the bulk of its initial funding for research grants, to sponsor forums and to create study abroad opportunities. Inboden said it will not be used to hire additional faculty.

“When we approached the Clements and Seay families to talk about setting up the center, I think one thing they were attracted to was the strength of the faculty resources we already had,” Inboden said. “There wasn’t a need for more money to hire more faculty because UT had already shown strong commitment to diplomatic and military history by having professors like Bill Brands, Francis Gavin, Jeremi Suri, Mark Lawrence and Bobby Chesney.”

He said he does not believe anything similar to the Clements Center currently exists in the United States.

“When you look across the country at different universities who have programs focusing on international security and security studies, most of the faculty working on those issues are in political science departments or in government,” Inboden said. “We realized that there were very few, if any, history programs that were developing specialties in national security.”

History professor Jeremi Suri said that much of the importance of the center will stem from its interdisciplinary nature.

“The problems we’re interested in studying and the challenges we want to prepare for don’t fall into one department or another,” Suri said. “We need to find ways to bring together our knowledge and bring our students into an environment where they can see the interconnections between these issues.”

Published on January 14, 2013 as "UT opens national security policy center named after former Texas governor".