US Global Leadership and the Next President

The 2016 Young Future of Diplomacy Series concluded by welcoming Ambassador Nicholas Burns to Occidental College to deliver a speech in Choi Auditorium on March 31, 2016. Ambassador Burns is the Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. One year ago, Ambassador Burns visited Oxy, where he delivered a lecture at the 2015 Craft of Diplomacy Conference. He spent twenty-seven years as a career Foreign Service Officer, featuring his service as Ambassador to Greece and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. The Ambassador’s talk was titled US Global Leadership and the Next President.

Ambassador Burns began by providing context and stating that today is not the most dangerous time, but that “we” sit in the most complex political environment since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency (1933-1945). For the future administration the three most-prominent issues are (1) “Putin & Europe,” (2) the “burning Middle East,” and (3) “China and Asia.”

Relations between Putin and Europe are divided and  “reminiscent” of Cold War times, the Ambassador said. No longer are Britain and France dominant leaders in Europe, Merkel and Germany have overtaken those countries’ receding powers. Noting that Russia is creeping a “dotted-line division” between NATO countries and Russia, Ambassador Burns suggested that future leaders build figurative bridges while Putin remains President—that engagement is the only remedy to Russia’s encroachment.

“The Middle East is burning,” stated Ambassador Burns. And as the embers continue to fuel what the Ambassador believes will be 10-15 years of sustained conflict, the fire spreads outside of the region. Refugees fleeing war-torn areas present a crisis for the world, and the inhumane response by most of the Western world today only perpetuates the issue. Anti-refugee sentiments plague European and American politics. Quickly, Ambassador Burns provided data: among the 750,000 total refugees in the United States today, the number of individuals who create any form of social problem—the alleged kinds that incite hateful political speech—is limited to a single digit number. At a maximum, that is 0.0012% of the entire refugee population in the United States. In other words, the most prominent excuse to close borders is flawed. The refugee issue is just one of many for the Middle East, forcing policymakers and government officials to address two questions: which problems are priority, and when should the United States intervene? Ambassador Burns believes that diplomacy is effective and that diplomatic power can help to remedy global conundrums like these.

The third and most difficult task for the future of United States global power is going to be balancing China as the United States’s most important partner and competitor. For this, Ambassador Burns argues that the U.S. must “keep pace without being dominated.”

Concluding, Ambassador Burns was optimistic. A few hopeful trends encourage this mindset: in recent history, the world has observed a “massive alleviation of poverty,” especially in China, Brazil, India, and Indonesia; the world has “progressed on global public health,” notably, on polio, malaria, and river blindness; ideas and capital have revolutionized the American economy creating “sustained technological innovation;” and the US has an often over-looked ability to “self-correct,” which is one of the many reasons why it is a “great country” and will continue to be one. Moreover, the United States has an opportunity to be a coalition builder; multilateral diplomacy is the future.

Ambassador Nicholas Burns commanded the iconic Choi Auditorium, flashing his diplomatic disposition in the most humble of ways. Ambassador Burns only excited Occidental students for the future prospects in tomorrow’s diplomacy.

--William Butenschoen

Dr Geoffrey Wiseman visits to discuss isolation and engagement

Dr Geoffrey Wiseman is Professor of Practice of International Relations at University of Southern California. Oxy was grateful to welcome Dr Wiseman and his perspective to the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs on March 23, 2016 to discuss a new book he edited, Isolate or Engage: Adversarial States, US Foreign Policy, and Public Diplomacy.

Dr Wiseman’s lecture in Johnson Hall’s Atrium began by explaining that short of war, governments have two behavioral choices with adversarial states, to either isolate or engage. Generally, in the United States this partisan decision is divided among conservatives who favor isolation and liberals who prefer to engage. Arranging the scholarship to create “inductive” case studies, Dr Wiseman concludes that according to historical results, it is better for states to engage with their adversaries than it is to isolate them. Moreover, public diplomacy to Dr Wiseman is an adjunct tool, but not a solution. Of course, engagement is not a rule, for there are pros and cons. By engaging, the state in question rewards the adversary’s bad behavior, implies legitimacy, and offers negative propaganda for the adversarial state’s government. Not to mention the engaging state becomes a target for attack, whether that be in the form of terrorism or merely protest. On the contrary, states that engage are able to counter the propaganda of their adversaries. In addition, diplomatic reporting and intelligence is improved, diplomatic cover is provided, and a state can better protect its citizens internationally when states have formal ties abroad. According to Dr Wiseman, these positive elements most often outweigh the negatives.

Given the benefits and detriments of engaging, Dr Wiseman stated that there is no universal rule for when to engage or isolate adversarial states. However, lines cannot be crossed. Engagement is important, always, but removing diplomats for “consultation” can be used as a powerful tool. One of many examples of crossing the line is when Russia annexed Crimea. Dr Wiseman believes that temporarily removing US diplomats from Russia would have been a great use of soft power to denounce Russia’s actions that conflicted with US interests. Such a maneuver would have informed the Russian government that the United States was not pleased with their adversary’s behavior and that that behavior needed to change if Russia desired normalized relations. The line that demarcates isolation and engagement is a viable bargaining chip in the theatre of international relations. Once engagement is established, the tool can be used by the engaging country to its advantage. Without engagement, this soft power is not a resource.

An article on Cuba, Obama, and isolation, featuring an interview with Dr Wiseman was recently published in The Atlantic. Interested readers can find it here.

--William Butenschoen

America's Challenges in the Pacific

Our next speaker of the 2016 Young Future of Diplomacy Series is Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, the U.S. Ambassador the Philippines. On March 22, 2016, Occidental College welcomed Ambassador Goldberg, who is also a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service and has served as Ambassador to Bolivia, and for the State Department in Kosovo, Chile, Colombia and South Africa. His talk “America’s Challenges in the Pacific” explored the U.S. ties, mainly with the Philippines and China, as well as the nature and future of the U.S. military and economic presence in the region.

Disclaimer: This lecture is “not for attribution.” No direct quotes have been used.

Ambassador Goldberg began with a brief history of the U.S. relationship with the Philippines, which dates back to former president William H. Taft’s (then head of the Taft Commission) role in aiding with the establishment of a Philippine civilian government (in the early 1900s). Interestingly enough, as the U.S. enters another election year this 2016, the Philippines enters its own amidst a backdrop of growing challenges in East Asia.

A recurring idea in his talk was that of a U.S.rebalancing in the Pacific. While conventional discourse has been referring to recent U.S. involvement in the region as a “pivot,” this is an inaccurate image as it suggests a sharp turn, when the U.S. has been maintaining its alliances in the Pacific for decades since their formation through the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. The 21st century is an Asian Century, and with the growing, mutually beneficial economic ties between the U.S. and Asian countries in Southeast and East Asia comes greater involvement in the region. In returning specifically to the state of affairs in the Philippines, the democratic government has since worked hard to overcome historical problems such as corruption, and in many ways the country has left behind its label as the “sickman of Asia.”

As is the case with the economic advancement in the Philippines, increased militarization and collaboration are two key aspects in rebalancing the region. It is important to note that the U.S. welcomes it’s “rise,” and efforts are being made to resolve existing tensions such as those surrounding the South China Sea dispute. One way is through transnational economic partnerships (i.e. the Trans-Pacific Partnership), which could create an environment conducive for the formation or strengthening of existing alliances in the Pacific. Today, there is pushback for such agreements not just in the region, but also in the U.S. That said, there is a need to emphasize that the benefits of the partnership go beyond economic incentives. 

Another way the U.S. is helping alleviate tensions in the region is by supporting the Philippines in legal and humanitarian settings. The country is aided in conflict prevention measures, governmental modernization, and disaster preparedness in the face of climate change vulnerability. In many ways, the Philippines is at a critical stage in its growth as a democracy and market economy: it faces a demand for further economic growth that is sustainable and inclusive, it is largely a remittance based-economy dependent on the remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), and the private sector is bustling as businesses emerge and companies innovate and outsource. This is perhaps why it can be viewed as a center-piece of [the] rebalance. Further evidence of the strong ties between the U.S. and the Philippine governments is present within this country’s borders. Majority of those in attendance were surprised to learn that Filipinos make up the second largest immigrant group in the U.S., and more students from Southeast Asia are flying to the country to pursue their tertiary education in American universities and liberal arts colleges.

Finally, there was a brief discussion on the prospect of peace in the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao, the southern region of the country. Some U.S. peace initiatives have engaged directly with communities in the south and have brought high school students to the U.S. to help establish peaceful relations between the two countries on both a governmental and a societal level. Peace initiatives are more relevant now than ever with rumors that ISIS is establishing franchises in Southeast Asia. 

Ambassador Goldberg ended his talk with a belief that the U.S.-China relationship is important not only for either country, or for those in the region, but for the world as a whole. It is up to the next president of the U.S. (and the Philippines) to ensure that peaceful, economic cooperation prevails in the Pacific.

-Gaea Morales

2016 Young Future of Diplomacy Series Kicks Off with Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow

Former U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow visited Occidental College early in the spring semester, kicking off the 2016 Young Future of Diplomacy Series, coordinated by Oxy’s Director of Global Affairs Ambassador Derek Shearer. The series is funded by the John Parke Young Initiative on the Global Economy and hosts leading diplomats and scholars at the college to discuss diplomatic challenges facing the United States’s next president, as Obama’s second term comes to a close. As President, Mr Obama has publicly advocated for diplomacy as opposed to war in international relations, which makes the 2016 Young Future of Diplomacy Series discussions timely as the election season approaches. Mr Obama has been diplomatically successful with Cuba and Iran, two relationships that will take effort by the next Chief Executive to uphold, and has had difficulty with nations like China and Russia. The future of diplomacy is yet to be written and the 2016 Series at Occidental College will provide students, faculty, and community members insight into the future of diplomacy in the U.S. and beyond. 

Ambassador Davidow is a career diplomat and joined the Foreign Service in 1969 first serving as a junior officer at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City. Since then, he has served under President Ronald Reagan and President George H. W. Bush as U.S. Ambassador to Zambia from 1988-90, under President Bill Clinton as U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela from 1993-96, and under President Clinton and President George W. Bush as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 1998-2002 during the time in which Mexico’s ruling political party, the PRI, was edged out by President Vicente Fox. 

After introductions, Ambassador Davidow answered prompts by Ambassador Shearer in a casual back-and-forth with the audience in Oxy’s Choi Auditorium. Ambassador Davidow spoke of the current U.S. and Mexico relationship, as well as the U.S. and Venezuela relationship. While the relationship with Mexico is complex and psychologically and physically complicated, the reciprocal, but often ignored, engagements are important, Mr Davidow suggested. The state of Mexico is strong and Mexico is in a “good place.” On the other hand, Venezuela, Mr Davidow predicts, will continue to crumble. Chavez and Maduro have run the economy “into the ground in the name of socialist progress,” he attests, and as history demonstrates, such a situation “usually doesn’t end well.” 

Immigration issues were discussed and as promised, Ambassador Davidow mentioned  presidential candidate and Republican front-runner Donald Trump. In his book, Mr Davidow writes about how immigration from Mexico into the States was a serious issue at the turn of the century, but in the lecture on Tuesday, the Ambassador explained that the net-negative immigration (because of emigration back to Mexico) quelled the immigration issues. That is, until Trump exploded into the picture. Calling Mr Trump a “jerk,” Mr Davidow said that immigration issues “died down” before “Trump decided once again to make it a big deal.” Mr Davidow continued, “Trump’s words fell on dry tinder.”

Diplomacy is changing and it is not necessarily limited to conventional State dinners and expensive galas. Even post-Foreign Service, the former Ambassador now is working to develop a minor league baseball team in Havana, as the U.S. normalizes its ties with Cuba. Though Mr Davidow has doubts about the operation because of economic limitations imposed by the Cuban government, exploiting the island’s shared national pastime and proximity to the continental United States, Mr Davidow thinks that a symbiotic relationship may be possible. 

Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow is a humorous colleague of Ambassador Derek Shearer. He comes across as an intelligent, charismatic, and diplomatic friend whose unlimited knowledge on Latin American politics is invaluable to the Occidental community. Mr Davidow’s insights on the U.S. relationships with Mexico, Venezuela, and Cuba suggest that the future of diplomacy is complex, confusing, yet bright. There is a lot to look forward to in the volatile future. 

For those interested, his book The US and Mexico: The Bear and the Porcupine, is an acclaimed memoir of of Latin American and U.S. diplomatic history.

-William Butenschoen

Harnessing the Global Data Revolution to Achieve the Global Sustainable Development Goals

Every two days, we create enough data to equal the total amount created prior to 2003, according to Professor Sanjeev Khagram, who spoke Tuesday night in a talk titled “Harnessing the Data Revolution to Achieve the Global Sustainable Development Goals.” As part of the Sustainable Development Speaker Series, Professor Khagram explained his research and role in creating the Global Data Partnership.

    The problem, he said, is that there is not enough high quality data that are usable or used. For example, over a third of children under the age of five have not had their births registered, meaning there are well over 230 million children whose needs are not counted in any metric. 

    Data on gender and poverty are especially scarce, with 77 countries that lack accurate poverty data. However, Professor Khagram explains that there is now a huge opportunity in harnessing the data revolution. Already, there are numerous sources and types of data, from official government statistics, to geospatial data collected by private companies like Planet Labs, to big data such as that gathered about food consumption in Mexican grocery stores, to crowdsourced data such as Datashift’s map of sexual harassment in Egypt. 

    The Global Data Partnership, run through the UN, aims to create a norm for governments to share data and make them open-sourced by default. They partner with cities and countries to fill data gaps and create a global platform for accessing data in a way that makes it easier to develop and implement plans to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. At the end of 2030, these data will also make it easier to tell how effectively the SDG’s were achieved. 

    Data is both an opportunity for and a challenge posed to global governance, what Khagram calls “the oil of the 21st century.” As a tool, data has the power to carefully direct and inform the implementation of the SDGs, but is also raises questions about how (and if) to regulate or cooperate with the private sector in data collection. The Global Data Partnership is part of a larger 21st century theme of discovering how best to leverage the power of data to achieve global progress. 

Andrea Tuemmler

Not all rights have Norms: Blame Diffusion in International Anti-Hunger Advocacy at the U.N. and Elsewhere

Michelle Jurkovich’s talk “Not all rights have Norms: Blame Diffusion in International Anti-Hunger Advocacy at the U.N. and Elsewhere” began in an unconventional way. Rather than speaking on the topic before ceding to questions, Jurkovich began by confronting the audience with deceptively simple questions. What are the causes of chronic hunger? Who is to blame? What is the solution?

    Student answers varied, blaming causes as disparate as climate change, intellectual property laws, American food subsidies, and low wages. Corrupt governments, developed countries, multinational corporations, domestic business, and consumers (in essence, everyone) carried the blame, demonstrating Jurkovich’s main point: advocacy to reduce global hunger has failed because there is no clear target.

    There are several schools of thought explaining the theory behind international action, the most prevalent being iterations of the ‘boomerang effect.’ Local NGOs and advocacy groups recognize a problem and coordinate with international NGOs, which then urge foreign governments to exert pressure on the abusive government. However, anti-hunger advocacy breaks this model due to the fact that there is no targeted actor to which to assign blame and there is less need for cooperation with local NGOs since the information about the problem is widely available. Instead, this issue falls more closely into the buckshot model, characterized by a fragmentation of activism and a lack of focused pressure on governments, which allows for evasion. While the application of the buckshot model is frequently explained by a lack of NGO resources (which is not the case in anti-hunger activism given the vast resources of groups like the Gates Foundation) and the difficulty of pressuring for positive rights (the distinction between positive and negative rights is contentious given that ‘negative’ rights like political freedom still require a lot of investment on the part of the state), Jurkovich contends that the lack of action on global hunger is actually a question of norms. 

    Norms, defined as “a standard of appropriate behavior for actors with a given identity,” require both actors and actions. Social pressure cannot work if it is unclear who is violating a norm. In order to demonstrate that anti-hunger advocacy relies on moral principles rather than norms, Jurkovich interviewed the heads of twelve of the largest NGOs working on hunger such as Oxfam and the Gates Foundation. Not only did she find disagreement about where to place blame and how to resolve the problem between different organizations, she also found disagreement within each organization. It is this fragmentation, she claims, which demonstrates that although it is universally agreed upon that hunger is wrong, there is no norm and thus international advocacy will continue to fail. 

United Nations Week: The UN and the US After Obama

    With his encyclopedic knowledge of the United Nations, Stephen Schlesinger was an informative speaker whose talk, “The UN and the US after Obama,” concluded United Nations Week by reflecting back on the history of the UN and predicted its future trajectory. Stephen Schlesinger, a historian and foreign policy expert who literally wrote the book on the UN, Act of Creation, began by reviewing the 70-year history of the institution. In the spring of 1945, the nations that had gathered in San Francisco at the close of the Second World War signed the United Nations Charter, pledging to work to avoid the ‘scourge of war’ and create a forum for the discussion and settlement of international crises. 

    Several decades later, Obama assumed the presidency in a time when the general climate towards the UN was less favorable. President Bush had famously acted without the Security Council when he invaded Iraq, and to add insult to injury had appointed John Bolton, an outspoken critic of the institution, as ambassador to the UN in 2005. In contrast, since 2008, President Obama has worked to strengthen US-UN ties. Schlesinger detailed the ways in which the Obama administration has interacted with the United Nations on a plethora of issues. First, Obama appointed two of his closest advisors, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, as UN ambassadors, demonstrating his commitment to the organization. Obama worked with the Security Council to tighten multilateral sanctions on Iran, which Schlesinger claimed were partly responsible for the new Iranian nuclear deal. The Security Council enabled Obama to organize a coalition in Libya, and in turn Obama supported UN peacekeeping efforts and participated in UN-brokered disarmament conferences. From a human security perspective, Obama has pledged aid to support refugees, helped start UN Women, committed to the Sustainable Development Goals, supported LGBT rights, and participated in the Paris Climate Conference (COP21). Moving forward, Obama is seeking to increase sanctions against North Korea, as well as respond to yearly UN Resolutions condemning the US sanctions on Cuba by continuing to thaw relations with the island. 

    However, despite these successes,many problems still faced the UN during Obama’s presidency, many of which will inform the next US president’s agenda. Libya, where the coalition withdrew too early and created a power vacuum, was one incident which reflected poorly on the organization. Another was the failure to take meaningful action in Syria. Additionally, conflict still runs rampant in Yemen, and North Korea is a growing threat to international stability. 

    In addition to these five countries, Schlesinger emphasizes that the next US president must also work with the UN to address current conflict in Afghanistan and in Ukraine. The growth of stateless terror networks such as ISIS is paramount to international security, as is the continuing need to monitor nuclear nonproliferation, especially in light of Iran’s new commitments. The UN itself is facing organizational issues and changes, such as pressure to improve peacekeeping after reports of sexual assault have surfaced. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will step down at the end of this year, and a woman is expected to be named as the new head of the UN. 2015 marks the beginning of 15 years of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, and as always there is talk of the need for Security Council reform and the creation of a UN rapid reaction force. 

    These issues will shape the ways in which international governance is carried out moving forward, both for the next American president and beyond. 

-Andrea Tuemmler

United Nations Week: Lloyd Axworthy

United Nations Week has served as a focal point for bringing together speakers, presentations and visual media to summarize and analyze issues surrounding international governance. On February 16th, the Honorary Lloyd Axworthy, former Foreign Minister of Canada gave a talk titled: “Resetting the Narrative: Peace, Security, and the UN's Responsibility to Protect.”

Axworthy began on the upbeat note, telling the audience that “I do believe there is hope. I do believe that there is a way of making the world better.” After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold war, global politics took a turn to focus on human security, the protection of people, rather than on more traditional national security. Conflict became less of a “cosmic clash of ideologies. Instead, war became both local and transitional, independent of sovereign states and rigid borders. Given this changing political landscape, Axworthy claims, it is critical that sovereignty ceases to become an end in itself for national governments. Instead, there must be an institution which engages everyone, not simply government ministers, in order to break down the idea that there is always an ‘other’ and to give real meaning to the words “never again.”

As foreign minister at this transformative time in international politics, Axworthy spoke about how he had the opportunity to help write the rules of this new focus on human security. He began by spearheading the campaign to ban antipersonnel land mines. Although this campaign was initiated by Vets for Vietnam, it became a civic-political partnership organized by the Canadian government. By challenging the members of the initial conference to return in a year with a treaty to be signed, Axworthy took an unconventional approach to diplomacy in the Ottowa Process. On December 2, 1997, he was ultimately successful and the treaty was signed by 160 nations, marking a critical point in the trajectory of human security as a matter of state interest. 

Despite this, Axworthy says that doctrines of human rights are often doubted by supporters of the idea that state sovereignty must be a primary interest and that international action typically fails. In response, Axworthy points to the intervention in Kosovo as an example of how an internationally agreed upon coalition can the conflict and bring an abusive regime to justice. 

The Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, is critical in this new worldview. The idea started in the the early 90’s in regards to displaced persons, but was officially adopted by the UN in 2005 after the publication of a Canadian-led investigatory report. This doctrine states that a government that either cannot or will not protect its people cedes its sovereignty to the international community. R2P was used to garner support for intervention in Libya, but it was poorly executed. The international coalition left too soon, creating a power vacuum, and discourse about R2P became mixed up in discourse about regime change, which frightened China and Russia away from supporting other R2P motions. Thus, Axworthy argues, Syria has become the Rwanda of our generation with no hope for international action despite the initial promise of R2P. However, R2P is not necessarily a failure. Axworthy hopefully points to successful interventions in the Central African Republic, the Kosovar, and Mali.

Furthermore, Axworthy argues, R2P presents a framework that can be used to address other humanitarian crises, such as refugees or climate change, where governments are unable to help their own people. In looking at an international landscape that values human security, R2P provides the theoretical justification for saving human lives while still adhering to states’ protectiveness of their sovereignty. In R2P, there is hope for the peaceful world order which Axworthy worked to create. 

-Andrea Tuemmler

Dr. Warigia Bowman: Censorship or Self-control?

As a scholar with close personal ties to Occidental College, Dr. Warigia Bowman was excited to be on campus on Monday, Jan. 25. A professor of African politics at the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service, Dr. Bowman spoke about her recent research regarding hate speech and the use of text messaging in the 2013 Kenyan elections. 


In 1963, Kenya declared independence from the UK, but they remained an undemocratic one-party state under the Kenyan African National Union until the end of the Cold War, which served as an impetus for a push towards multi-party elections. It wasn’t until 2002 that the opposition finally united under Mwai Kibaki and the National Rainbow Coalition, winning peaceful elections. 


Five years later, however, Kibaki narrowly won reelection, and suspicions of election-rigging were rampant. This turn of events sparked ethnic violence that ominously echoed patterns of the Rwanda Genocide in the 1990s; ultimately, over 1000 people were killed and 300,000 were displaced. The violence was political, bought and paid for by politicians, and was fueled by competition for land. 


On the eve of the 2013 elections, then, it became critical to monitor the dissemination of hate speech and propaganda in order to prevent or understand renewed violence. Dr. Bowman, as an official election observer and researcher, examined government and media efforts to control the violence. She also conducted exit polls to collect data on text messages that had been sent on election day. While only 41% of Kenyans have access to internet, over 80% have cell phones, making text messages a primary means of sharing information. In her research, Dr. Bowman found that the vast majority of election-related text messages were positive, with many encouraging voting and some even specifying peaceful voting. A much smaller percentage of the text messages were negative, and most of these used ambiguous language that was up to interpretation. Very few actual violent threats were issued. 


Dr. Bowman attributes this peaceful atmosphere in part to government actions, such as the criminalization of hate speech and the establishment of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission that banned certain vernacular keywords that served as codes during the 2007 election. The media was also critical, carrying out a “media blitz of peace” that involved songs, art, and even the military singing songs about cooperation and peace. 


The 2013 elections were largely successful and peaceful. Uhuru Kenyatta was elected, and there was no repeat of the 2007 massacre. Still, says Dr. Bowman, current efforts to regulate hate speech must be much more specific in order to be effective in curtailing violence. The current constitution is so vague as to what constitutes hate speech that it serves no practical purpose. More stringent and detailed definitions are necessary. Still, the 2013 elections were an important step in creating a stable democracy. 

-Andrea Tuemmler

Stephen Walt: Follies, Foibles, and Fiascos

On November 19, students filled the Johnson Atrium to see Stephen Walt, preeminent international relations scholar at Harvard’s Kennedy School, give his talk “Follies, Foibles, and Fiascoes: Why American Foreign Policy keeps Failing.”

Walt began the talk by placing the United States in the international order. The enormously strong military, nuclear weapons, set of allies, and isolated geographical position make the United States extremely secure which, Walt argues, makes it difficult to conduct good foreign policy. Instead, American diplomacy rests on the idea of “liberal hegemony,” characterized by the need to maintain military primacy, take the lead in addressing global problems, and spread core values such as democracy and human rights. This mindset leads to an overcrowded foreign policy agenda where no one initiative is deemed important enough to be granted sufficient resources or attention. 

Next, Walt described the institutions that shape American foreign policy. There are thousands of agencies, civil society organizations, and companies working with and around the State Defense Departments, all characterized by two features. First is the strength of community, where everyone at the high levels knows one another, and job turnover frequently just means the reshuffling of the same people from one institution to another. Second is the emphasis on professional success gained by achieving a positive reputation and keeping it. These two factors lead to a huge imbalance of power between those who favor the liberal hegemony framework and those who do not; it is very difficult to circulate new or contradictory ideas.

After describing the institutions, Walt went on to examine four ways in which the establishment slows the process of change and reform. The ‘inflation’ of perceived threats, as evidenced by the dramatic response to 9/11 and, more poignantly given the timing of the talk, the nonstop news coverage of the Paris attacks. Walt stressed that the real threat of terror attacks is minuscule, and that “terrorist attacks don’t threaten us unless we overreact.” Next, distorting public debate by controlling what information gets reales and/or releasing false information is a tactic used in order to sell foreign policy decisions to the public. A lack of accountability for failure, seen in a litany of high level officials who kept their jobs or transferred to equally prestige jobs at other agencies after serious blunders, is another factor in the slow pace of change within the liberal hegemonic institutions. Finally, a bad way of staffing, seen in the inefficient election process and even longer confirmation hearing process, leads to unfilled positions within the departments. 

Given all of these problems, the question no longer seems to be “Why does American foreign policy keep failing?” but rather “Why does it ever succeed?” Walt left us on the ironically optimistic note that America’s strong position internationally and militarily is somewhat immune to these numerous blunders. Since America is so powerful, “our mistakes don’t matter very much.”

-Andrea Tuemmler

A Conversation with Tarja Halonen

I have found that one of the most important resources that every student can and should take advantage of here at Oxy is the wide assortment of guests that the department will bring in. It never ceases to amaze me the number of famous well-known figures that come. Speakers like Howard Dean and Strobe Talbot. Last Monday, October 19th, I was struck again when Tarja Halonen, Conan O’Brien lookalike and Finlands 11th President visited Choi auditorium. For over an hour, Ms. Halonen explained professional history starting first as one of the first woman lawyers in her home of Helsinki, through her tenure as president till today as a political activist in the UN.

Much was covered over that short hour in Choi but a few specifics stuck out to me. First, it was clear President Halonen's visit was, at least in part, due to a more personal relationship cultivated by the College's own Ambassador Derek Shearer, who oversaw the talk and her visit. Amb. Shearer was an appointed ambassador to Halonen's Finland in the 90s under US President Clinton and during his time there he explained how he and Halonen, then Foreign Minister, built a strong working relationship. That same relationship 15 years later showed no signs of weakness.

Throughout her talk, Halonen also made important distinctions between Finland and other European countries to that of the United States. Halonen joked and sniped at the US’s problem of money in its politics and elections as well as the declining power of labor movements in the US. Finland, of course, have shorter and cheaper elections and a labor movement consisting of over 80% of the country’s workforce. Having started her career as a labor lawyer in Helsinki, Halonen explained just how significant this difference was and how it played into the effectiveness of the country’s economy. 

Focus was also drawn to Halonen’s after-presidential ambitions mainly in the UN regarding sustainable development and the role of women in global governance and politics (her calling made especially strong for being the first woman to hold the highest office in Finland). She stressed the importance of private individuals with regard to sustainable social and economic development – how truly sustainable development must be aided by businesses, citizens and NGOs. But perhaps the best part of it all was Halonen’s love of humor and wit. Whether it was her response to the everyday sexism she experienced in society or the personality of Vladimir Putin, the former Finnish President cracked more jokes about her experience than anything else. To see someone with such serious responsibilities have a strong sense of humor gave usual stressful topics made the afternoon with Tarja Halonen not only enlightening, but also enjoyable.

Keep an eye open on the McKinnon Center & DWAMA website to see when other interesting speakers come to campus!

Venturing outside...

Being a DWA student isn't all about constant reading and writing. On Oct. 17, several students voluntarily woke up early(ish) on a Saturday morning to join the first of what will hopefully become monthly student/faculty hikes. We met at the fountain at 9am and were greeted with fruit and granola bars (courtesy of Will Butenschoen, via ResEd), then drove to Simi Valley to hike up to Rocky Peak.

In all, 14 students came on the hike, including four freshmen. Some students were new to hiking while others have a lot of experience, and this was a good hike for all levels. Only Professor Hebert was able to come from the faculty side, but she she helped create a fun atmosphere where students could really talk to her honestly about classwork, the major, and outside interests such as running trails in LA. She also brought her husband Tim and her daughter Aiden, who was adamant about escaping the child carrier and walking as much of the hike as she could.

The hike was six miles round trip, beginning with a long ascent through rocky terrain. The trail, Rocky Peak, is aptly named, taking us through huge sandstone formations and showing us a part of LA completely different from the vast stretches of concrete we normally inhabit. We had plenty of rock climbing opportunities, from the small cave we all crammed into for a photo op at the beginning to the steep scramble to the peak at the turnaround point.

Part of the hike turned into a quest to find the elusive marker that pinpoints the border between Los Angeles County and Ventura County. This search involved some cross-country hiking, scrambling over rocks and exploring all of the likely-looking peaks. We finally found it at the top of one large rock formation, but even the students who stayed at one of the lower peaks got to enjoy sweeping views of Simi Valley and the geological formations that we hiked through.

At the end, Professor Hebert surprised us with snacks (including mini cinnamon rolls) and cold drinks. We arrived back on campus at around 1:30, feeling tired but grateful for the opportunity to get off campus, explore the outdoors, and meet interesting people from the major. We're excited for our hike next month!


Why have a DWA blog + An example story

by Danny Tobin

The idea of this blog is to add narrative and depth to the DWA experience for curious prospective students looking in and to create a platform where peers can engage with one another outside of the classroom. Hopefully, there will be active submissions from current students and alumni, in which students will give editorials about what they have learned and alumni will reconnect with the community by writing about where DWA took them after graduation.

To start things off, I thought I would share one of my DWA experiences that was educational in an out of the classroom sort of way. The following story is an account of an experience I had during a weekend trip when I was working an internship with the Ministry of Agriculture in Ecuador (funded generously by the Young Initiative). I entitled it "The Downside of Spontaneity (Dodging a Bullet)" in an email home to friends and family.

Some back story before I begin: I'm a planner and I am definitely risk-averse despite being an avid traveler. On this particular weekend, I had challenged myself to be as spontaneous as possible and break out of my old ways. On the bus ride to the town I had decided to visit (Vilcabamba), I met a retired ex-pat from the US, named Yagi, who generously invited me to join her and her friends for dinner at an upscale hotel on the city's outskirts. I accepted her invitation and ended up meeting some incredibly interesting (mostly retired) folks from different places around the world.  I also met an Ecuadoran college student from the city who was also visiting from the city I was based in (Cuenca). I later accompanied him on a water sampling expedition in Cajas National Park and he became one of my close friends. However, that is a story for another time. This story begins as we (the retired folks and I) are making our way from the hotel to a bar on the other side of town:


Vilcabamba, Ecuador

"What I did not mention about first getting to Vilcabamba is that the hostel my organization recommended turned out to be way out of my price range and so I had found a cheap hostel near the town center and dropped my sleeping bag and pillow on my bed before heading out to dinner. That was at 4pm.

As we were driving down to the bar I had seen the gate being shut at my hostel, but I was assured by the jubilados that there would be a security guard posted who could let me in if I stayed out with them. I was still unsure and so they told me that I could just sleep in one of their extra beds at one of their houses if I was, in fact, locked out. Even though I was slightly uneasy, I decided I was being too paranoid and went out. 

What I didn’t anticipate is that I would be so engrossed with a conversation that I would not even see them leaving. Thus, when I left the bar at 1:00am I no longer had a fall back plan. Uh oh. Again, I swallowed back my anxiety and began walking up to the town center on the not very well-lit road and hoped for the best. 

I got to the town center without too much trouble, but unlike past weekends in other places, the town was completely dead. All the store fronts were closed and shuttered, very few people were walking around, no bars or clubs were in sight, and suddenly everything looked the same. 

I started walking in the direction I thought my hostel was in and I quickly realized that the dark roads with dogs fighting were not where I wanted to be. I retraced my steps to the town square and I asked one of the very drunk teenagers still there which way I should go to get to el Valle Sagrado (my hostel). Helpfully, he gestured vaguely to a road I hadn’t tried yet before quickly returning to his debauchery. I wandered that way, again finding myself in a vacant, shady road and I began going through mentally what I would say to my would be mugger or murderer: "Yo soy un estudiante y por eso no tengo mucho dinero. No somos muy diferente, quiero ser tu amigo..." Needless to say, my pitch probably wouldn't have dissuaded anybody.

Luckily, I soon came to a little restaurant with two younger, less obviously inebriated Ecuadorians sitting out front. They assured me I was very close and that I just had to go up a few blocks more. Again, I hit a dead end and, pathetically, I went back to ask them. Seeing my gringo desperation, they were nice enough to show me exactly where I needed to go and I finally found my hostel.

Now I just had to deal with the fact that the front gate was locked without any kindly security guard in sight. At that point I decided I didn’t care if I was being rude by waking people up and that I just needed to get into the courtyard and out of the darkness. After about 10 minutes of shaking the gate in the pitch dark and calling in Spanish to be let in, the very drowsy, disheveled owner came out of her room and let me in. 

“Finally!”, I thought, “that was bad enough, but at least I came out unscathed”. Then I tried to get into my room. Locked! Again I decided I would be that guy and I knocked decisively on the door. After a couple of moments, I was greeted by a middle-aged gentlemen in a night gown who assured me that there was no space in this room and my bag was definitely not there. The door was shut resoundingly in my face.

Downcast, I stood outside the door for a couple minutes and I actually contemplated sleeping on the patio. Eventually, I decided against it and once again called out to the owner who came out irritably and showed me to the room where my bag had been moved. Whew! I lay down, set my alarm for 6 hours later, and fell asleep with all my clothes on. 

The next morning I got up early, paid, and got out of there as fast as I could. With the ruckus I had caused the night before I wanted to avoid as many awkward/apologetic conversations as possible.

To my defense, my behavior would have been completely acceptable in the other hostel I had stayed at and I had naïvely assumed that all hostels were the same. Guess not, but lesson learned, and at the price of only my pride and a few people’s good night sleep".