Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Korbel School has roundtable on international ‘headaches’

On the day Barack Obama officially won the nomination of the Democratic Party, the University of Denver was bringing focus to the international perils that whoever is elected president will quickly face.

It was a long list.

The list began with the need to restore America’s stature in the world, then spread to concern for climate change and oil dependence, poverty and explosive hot spots such as Iraq, Pakistan and Georgia.

Experts who tackled the issues ranged from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw and actor Ben Affleck.

The Aug. 27 discussion at Boettcher Concert Hall was one of 10 Rocky Mountain Roundtable issue-oriented panels set up by the Denver 2008 Convention Executive Committee. The roundtables were designed to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. They addressed topics such as health and wellness, education, transportation, women, climate change and retirement. More than 14,000 people attended the Aug. 25–28 sessions.

Wednesday’s roundtable on international relations was witnessed by a crowd that included 500 diplomats from 100 nations and more than 750 students, teachers and administrators from 12 metro-area high schools. Co-hosts were the National Democratic Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations and DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, whose dean, Tom Farer, was a panelist.

Albright, the daughter of Josef Korbel, who founded the school at DU in 1964, was among the most vocal speakers.

“Our next president will inherit a list of headaches,” she said at a luncheon on foreign policy challenges. “(He’ll) be tested by an assertive Iran, a belligerent Russia, a rising China, a splintered Middle East, an embattled U.N. and such interrelated global perils as climate change, high prices for energy and food, and an increasingly corrosive split between the rich and poor.”

To overcome these problems, she said he’ll need smart ideas, patience and the ability to adapt to a new world that isn’t “sitting around waiting for America to lead.”

“It will take time to get our fiscal house in order, extract ourselves responsibly from Iraq and develop a more effective response to violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

The real enemy, she reminded, is “poverty, ignorance and disease.”

The solution, she offered, is to promote democracy by emphasizing America’s long-held belief in “the fundamental dignity and importance of every human being.” That belief, Albright said, can serve as a “starting point for discussions about every major issue that will confront the next president of the United States.”

Other speakers weren’t so positive.

“It’s hard to be optimistic,” Farer quipped.

“The next president inherits the worse opening day position in American history in international affairs,” said Richard Holbrooke, former ambassador to the U.N.

“The U.S. is not in a position to lead,” said Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. “You can’t lead from the caboose.”

“The world is not Las Vegas,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “What happens there will not stay there.”

The breadth of international problems became evident when moderator Brokaw asked panelists to state the international issue that “keeps you up at night.”

Holbrooke said it was Indonesia’s decision not to share information about avian flu with world health groups.

Matthew answered that it was Pakistan, nuclear non-proliferation and the refusal of Americans to confront energy use.

“Unintended consequences of decisions we make now,” said Albright, citing the decision to employ biofuels against the energy crisis only to worsen the food crisis.

Israel striking Iran, said ex-Congressman Vin Webber of the National Endowment for Democracy.

“This is a sobering moment in International Relations,” Haass intoned. “The 44th president — Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain — is going to face one of the most testing moments in the 200 plus years that this country has been.”

Optimism didn’t improve at a separate session on global poverty. It started with the fact that 2.6 billion people on the planet live on less than $2 per day. It ended with projections from James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, that by 2050, people in the affluent world will live on $90,000 per capita — while in Africa it only will be $1,800 per capita.

Poor people aren’t stupid, he said. That disparity will lead to instability.

Albright added that the growing gap between rich and poor is a national security threat.

“If you argue that marginalized groups are much readier to be recruited for those who hate us,” she said, “it makes a big, practical national security reason to care about poverty beyond caring because it’s good and nice and altruistic.”

Solutions to the poverty problem included opening markets without tariffs to poor countries, improving education, making it easier to transfer technology and information to poor nations, speaking out on behalf of the poor, and providing the poor with a legal system empowered to protect them.

“These people already know how to fish,” Affleck reminded. “They need a pond to fish in.”

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