CHARLES BLOW


Since George Zimmerman gunned down Trayvon Martin, I have written about nearly every controversial police shooting of an unarmed African-American in this country. It has been wrenching. I have interviewed many of the mothers of these shooting victims, women who now call themselves “Mothers of the Movement.” There is an eerie similarity to their grief. There is the idea of being plucked from obscurity and made famous for the most morbid reason, the infamous deaths of their own children. There is the need to grieve but not the space to do so because you are now more a spokesperson than a mourning person. There is the transformational influence of the event that creates a mission for these families, families who almost always come from poverty and obscurity. These women, their stories and their pain fueled the pain of masses of Americans, particularly young African-American and a movement was born. This talk will explore the origins, impact and effect of the movement, how far it has come and how far it has to go.


Our responses to gun regulations and drug policy are not now, nor have ever been, wholly ideological. They have also been ethnocentric and class-based. The only whole race of people in America to have ever been in legal jeopardy of having their guns confiscated is black people. The KKK began as a gun-control organization to disarm black people in the wake of the Civil War, the first time black people were legally allowed to own guns. This is in part because of the terror white people had of black retribution. However, when black gun violence over the decades turned out to be mostly contained to black communities, attitudes about legalization and confiscation shifted. Something similar happened with drug policy. During previous drug waves, when the problem was thought to be disproportionately confined to minorities in urban areas, policymakers and the public seemed incapable of satisfying their thirst for stricter laws and longer sentencing. The drug use was viewed as criminal and pathological. Now that the newest drug wave disproportionately affects white people in rural areas, the national discussion is about a “kinder, gentler” drug policy that stresses treatment. These drug users are view with sympathy, as victims with a problem, not criminals. This talk will explore how seeing the same behavior through different lenses — legal, or not — depending on race and class influences mass incarceration.
 

MICHÈLE FLOURNOY


President Trump came into office in January 2017 vowing to adopt an “America First” approach to U.S. foreign policy. How has the Trump administration’s foreign actually policy played out in practice? Is there a coherent Trump Doctrine? And what are the implications for the United States over time? This interactive discussion will assess the President’s foreign policy to date, highlight key challenges and opportunities, and explore the longer-term implications of this administration’s foreign policy for U.S. interests, values, and standing in the world.


The invasion of Afghanistan. The war in Iraq. The surge in Afghanistan. The withdrawal from Iraq. The bin Laden raid. The Libya operation. The nuclear deal with Iran. The debate over whether and how to intervene in Syria. The response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Crimea. The lack of response to Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections. The ongoing global counterterrorism campaign against the Islamic State and al Qaeda. What lessons should we draw from these and other seminal decisions since the 9/11 attacks about issues such as: whether and when to use military force, what makes diplomacy effective, the utility of economic sanctions, and how best to counter unconventional forms of warfare like cyber-hacking, fake news, and propaganda? Most importantly, how do we ensure that these lessons inform U.S. policy going forward?


Today, the U.S. military is the most capable fighting force in the world. But with the emergence of new competitors like a resurgent Russia and a rising China, the advent of new technologies and military capabilities, and increased competition in domains like space and cyberspace, we cannot take the U.S. military’s technological edge for granted, nor can we assume that it will be able to deter and, if necessary, defeat more capable future adversaries. So what kind of military do we need to protect and advance American interests in the future? What threats and challenges should drive U.S. defense planning over the next 10–20 years? And how should we prioritize our investments when resources for defense will not be unlimited?


Today, less than one percent of Americans serves in the U.S. armed forces. In addition, there are approximately 18.8 million veterans in the United States, but their demographics and needs are changing as the population of World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War vets declines and the population of post-9/11 vets grows. Recently, we have seen both great successes and terrible failures in supporting our veterans. On the one hand, veterans homelessness has been reduced by more than 40% since 2009, millions more veterans have become eligible for health care, veterans report high satisfaction with the quality of medical care they receive, and the backlog of benefits claims awaiting processing has been dramatically reduced. That said, in some areas veterans experience unacceptably long wait times for care and some VA facilities have been investigated for falsifying records to hide these delays. How do we do better in keeping faith with our veterans in the future? What reforms are needed at the VA? What roles can NGOs, private companies, and universities play? And what more can we do to bridge the gap between our all-volunteer force and our society?
 

GAL LUFT, PH.D.


For most of human history salt was the most strategic commodity due to its monopoly over food preservation. Wars were fought over salt and colonies were built around its reserves. Salt’s strategic importance vanished with the invention of competing means of food preservation like canning and refrigeration. Today through its monopoly over the global transportation sector oil enjoys the same status as salt once did. Wars are fought over oil and countries that would otherwise be insignificant on the world stage enjoy inordinate power due to their control over the world’s oil production (Think Trump’s first country visit as president). How important is oil in shaping our world in the 21 century? Has the shale revolution solved America’s oil dependence problem? How can we reduce the strategic importance of oil? Is renewable energy the answer?


Far from the public’s eye China is embarking today on the most ambitious and game changing project in human history — the rebuilding of the new Silk Road. This multi-trillion dollar initiative called One Belt One Road aims to create the world’s biggest economic block by connecting Asia, Europe and Africa in a web of highways, high speed rail, air and sea ports, energy terminals, telecommunication lines and free trade zones. This grandiose initiative will change the world’s map forever and impact almost every aspect of America’s foreign policy. What’s behind China’s ambition? How will it do it? What will all that mean to America’s interests abroad? For the US dollar? How will it impact US-China relations? What should be America’s response to China’s play?


Over the past half century America has been consumed with the idea of “fixing” the Middle East. Each president with his own idea and style: regime change, peace initiative, regional summit, Democracy agenda etc. The result has been abysmal. The Middle East today is more broken and dysfunctional than ever. Perhaps it is time to ask not only what is wrong with the Middle East but also what is wrong about our understanding of the region? After all, incorrect diagnosis leads to failed treatment. Drawing from his book Beer, Bacon and Bullets Gal Luft will provide a new lens through which Americans can view the Middle East, exposing through a lucid mixture of history, anthropology, culture and policy analysis some realities America’s problem solving culture has chosen to ignore.


The rise of China is one of the biggest stories of our time. Within one generation China has moved from a developing and backward country into one of the world’s most modern and highly functional societies. China is knocking on the West’s door importing not only technologies and services but also culture, norms and ideas. We often hear about China’s rise and its impact on the world but what does this rise mean for ordinary Chinese? What are the changes 1.4 billion Chinese are going through? How does Chinese culture embrace modernity? And what should Americans know about China as the two powers are working toward a new era in their relations? Gal Luft will share his decade-long personal journey in China, both as a scholar and businessman, and provide an insider look into the mind of one fifth of humanity.
 

GIDEON ROSE, PH.D.


What really drives American foreign policy? Some observers focus on the behavior and choices of a few key decisionmakers, primarily the president and his advisers. Other experts say domestic politics drives everything, and still others point to the influence of external threats and opportunities. Join Gideon Rose as he details and weighs the drivers of foreign policy, and learn how all these factors come together to shape events.


From the Founding onwards, the general goals of American foreign policy have remained constant, even as the details of pursuing them have changed. The greatest change occurred with the emergence of the so-called “liberal international order” following World War II, a system that has outlived the Cold War and continues to structure global politics and economics today. Take a look at the foreign policy legacy President Trump inherited and gain a deeper understanding of how he may interpret and act on it.


The Trump administration came into office with plans for a foreign policy radically different than anything seen in generations. Gideon Rose assesses how this policy experiment is progressing. Who has shaped the administrations policies, according to what principles? How has the administration dealt with allies, adversaries, and the world at large? How has it handled crises and regional hotspots and managed the global economy? Dr. Rose looks under the hood of President Trump’s foreign policy so that you get a sense of its current state and consequences.


The early months of the Trump presidency have shaken the pillars of the contemporary global order. The structure could hold, or it could come crashing down. But at this point, the most likely outcome seems to be something in between — an erosion of confidence in American leadership, an erosion and hollowing out of the global order, and a descent into a more turbulent world. Listen in as Dr. Rose lays out the issues that impact the outcome and pick up pointers to sharpen your observation of the unfolding international action.