A goal rather than exceptionalism: former White House chief of staff speaks with Nordenberg

Robert Zoellick, former White House deputy chief of staff under President George HW Bush, said that “history may offer ideas of how to do better.

Zoellick sat down on Zoom on Wednesday evening for a conversation with Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg about history and foreign policy and how they interact in his new book, “America in the World: A History of American Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, “as a member of Dick Thornburgh Forum and through the Institute of Politics.

Zoellick was President of the World Bank from 2007 to 2012, US Trade Representative from 2001 to 2005, and Assistant Secretary of State from 2005 to 2006, and he served as Deputy Chief of Staff of the White House from 1992 to 1993.

Nordenberg introduced Zoellick by describing their personal connection. He said their friendship dates back over half a century.

“Our friendship is almost called historic, in the sense that it dates back over 50 years, to a time when he was a teenager going through college and high school in the western suburbs of Chicago and was a very close friend of mine. younger brother, John, says Nordenberg. “Some of my earliest memories are of basketball games on my parents’ alley. Anyone passing by would have quickly concluded that neither of us had a future in the NBA.

Nordenberg’s camera showed his office in the background, where the book was neatly framed, given a prominent position on the screen. Nordenberg said Zoellick has had a long career in many roles.

Zoellick is also linked to Pitt, as his late father-in-law, Glenn W. Ferguson, received his law degree from the University and was a professor of international studies. In addition to this, he helped found the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Zoellick’s book, published in August 2020, is a history of American diplomacy that uses historical anecdotes to examine post-Cold War presidencies. Zoellick said he often uses the story as a focal point for thinking about different issues and wants to share this habit with a younger generation through his book.

“When I was in government, I took inspiration from history as I thought about issues,” Zoellick said. “And one of the reasons I wrote the book was to try to encourage others, especially the next generation, to try to think in those terms.”

Zoellick’s presentation focused on his idea of ​​the five “traditions” of American diplomacy, which his book describes – the importance of North America, of trade, transnationalism and technology, the role of alliances in US politics, the importance of congressional and public support and Purpose.

“Here’s what I want to emphasize is that from 1776 the United States saw trade as more than about economic efficiency,” Zoellick said. “Foreign policy experts will often focus abroad, but not so much at home. And if you think back to the context of that time, the world was ruled by empires and mercantilism, so the American notion was to use commerce to open up the role to private parties.

Zoellick explained why he called the final tradition America’s ‘goal’, not America’s “exceptionalism”, and what the public perception of America’s place in the world means.

“I call it ‘objective’ instead of ‘exceptionalism’ because many countries feel exceptional, but there is no doubt that from an American perspective there is always something bigger at play here.” , Zoellick said. “So since the very beginning of the United States, people thought in big enough terms to shape not only their country but also its effects on the international stage.”

Zoellick said the latest tradition in his book relates to the current US presidential administration and the actions Biden took during his tenure.

“You can see the Biden administration as they try to figure out what the issues are directly related to the interests,” Zoellick said. “What are the values ​​and, in a way, what are the aspirations for freedom that have always been part of America’s goal? “

Zoellick also spoke about his experience working in the White House as Deputy Chief of Staff under Bush and Chief of Staff James Baker, and how in his book he describes Bush as “an alliance leader.”

“In a sense, the United States is most effective when it is the core of a network. If you have a sense of your core issues, then if you listen to your partners and treat them with respect, you can often compromise on side issues that bring people in, ”Zoellick said. “Bush and Baker were in some ways unique in their ability to do this. People spoke in some ways about the relationship between an older brother and a younger brother, and the level of trust and communication was extraordinary.

Melissa Penkrot, executive assistant at Nordenberg, said the Institute for Politics has often had the opportunity to bring in interesting speakers.

“Whenever we prepare for these conferences, or these other series that we have, we look at the current things that are happening in the political climate,” said Penkrot. “The IOP is a non-partisan entity, but we’re also a little bit separated from the University itself, so that really opens the door to sort of looking at all the different people who could be a good speaker.”

Penkrot also shared how the production team reacted to the conference when they subsequently met to follow up.

“As soon as the program is over for everyone, a few of us on the production side have a separate Zoom meeting to follow up on everything. We all said we wished it had been longer, ”said Penkrot.

The conference ended with a question-and-answer session with questions submitted by the audience. Nordenberg said China’s rise as an economic and military power was mentioned more often than any other topic. Zoellick said he believes China has strengths and weaknesses.

“My own belief is that while China has strengths, it is also not 10 feet tall,” Zoellick said. “We have a strange reaction that we see with authoritarian systems, which is that we perceive their strengths without acknowledging their weaknesses. And sometimes we try to follow them and shut down. I think this is a huge mistake. I think there are areas where we can find mutual interest, not only for climate and biosecurity, but even for some economic issues. “

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