Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My Experience: Leading America: Foreign Policy Challenges and the 2016 Election

Written By: Stephen Tubman
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, Georgia State University
Published: 1/5/2016

This year I had the pleasure and opportunity of attending the 2015 World Affairs Council of Atlanta National Conference. Among traveling through the notable Metro and making night trips through D.C. government buildings, monuments, and campuses, the WACA National Conference had so much more to offer. Hearing multiple perspectives and ideas from officials, members, and interns that operate or express interest in international issues and solutions was an exceptional experience, one that I definitely won’t forget. In this, I will share my thoughts and experiences in traveling and attending the WACA Conference in pertinent global issues are so much more than international, and issues that affect the Atlanta community.

The Trip
Reaching the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, I made my way to the D.C. Metro and onward to the Conference on Embassy Row. On my trip through the Metro, I made a couple of striking similarities and differences between Atlanta and D.C. One difference is that Hartsfield-Jackson is indeed a very busy airport, a characteristic that one hardly notices when it is the only airport they have known. Among the similarities, the very steep Dupont Circle station escalator strikes a resemblance to a, too, very steep escalator, MARTA’s Peachtree Center, in which I pass on my day-to-day commute. I arrived the Conference at Fairfax Hotel at Embassy Row, and I made it for the Evening Reception to meet other Council representatives and scholarship recipients. After which, I realized there was a diverse representation of interns from various disciplines, international affairs to business to education; and from countries and backgrounds, Ghana to Saudi Arabia. It was truly an “intern-national” experience. 

Conference Day 1
The Opening Dinner began with the Keynote speaker, Anne C. Richard. The Assistant Secretary of State Population, Refugees, and Migration spoke on the current refugee crisis in Syria to Europe and, importantly, the Obama administration's plan to bring about 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States. Ms. Richard went on to explain the numerous NGOs and states roles, such as Germany, Greece, Italy and France, in the refugee crisis, and how active assistance has played a large role in the efficient handling of the large and increasing influx of migrants. Ms. Richard did not stop there. She also mentioned issues of immigration from Central American countries and Mexico. Explaining the concerns and implications of increasing migration for either refugees or migrants, and the state, Ms. Richard emphasizes that refugees and immigrants are, in almost all cases, fleeing for safety or a better life; a reason to which people should be more sympathetic to this issue.

Conference Day 2 
The Conference continued sessions of largely represented issues ranging from geopolitical issues, economic development, and environmental issues. As mentioned in the Ambassador Luncheon Keynote speaker, Robert Zoellick, Chairman of Goldman Sachs’ International Advisors, among other speakers, no issue in the world is wholly or fully independent of neighboring countries to countries overseas. For example in the Syria in Crisis session, in addition to the refugee crisis, ISIS in Syria has had global impact on the national security in countries such as the U.S. and, even more recently Lebanon, Beirut, and France. Moreover, ideas such as economic cooperation and development are concepts that deeply intertwine countries’ prosperity and economic success. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States and seeks to promote multifaceted economic growth, illustrates this. Last but not least, environmental issues were expanded upon in the Artic: Challenges and Opportunities session. This session came in the increasing relevance and urgency of addressing concerns of climate change and the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Reaffirmed by many of the panelists, there are many innovations and technologies that can be acquired and learned by from countries and, even the U.S. with the state of Alaska, where people have created technologies using sustainable energies, such as solar, to withstand and to adapt to extreme climate.

Conference Day 3 
The Conference concluded with a session on China, a think tank and a closing Luncheon Keynote done by R. James Woolsey Jr., appointed Chancellor of the Institute of World Politics and former Director of Central Intelligence. The final session, The China Factor, among many other previously addressed issues: China’s devastating pollution, human rights abuses and educational concerns, clarified to some extent the role of the U.S. as a world power, in the context of its relationship with China. China, as the panel explained, is a responsible stakeholder in the world and, as a result of the complexity of U.S.-China relationship; the relations between the two countries are consequential.  In addition to this session, the Think Tank at Peterson Institute for International Economics and the concluding keynote, in which Mr. Woolsey Jr. gave a speech on his concerns of the Iran Nuclear Deal, left me leaving the conference, not only thinking about the current and inevitable concerns of U.S. foreign policy, but ways that individuals, such as myself, my peers and members can contribute to possible solutions in the near future. How? By further educating communities through a continuous effort to communicate and serve as a convener for understanding international topics through, not only through Council programming but day-to-day conversation and civic engagement.