The speakers were uniformly well versed in history and classical literature, and all could put their comments in the context of that larger historical and literary setting. I’m proud that we have such stellar people in our foreign service and legacy press, and that correspondingly well educated people from other countries want to come and participate in our civic conversation. As proud as I am, I’m that saddened that the ranks of these people who work in our current State Department and Foreign Service are being hollowed out and dismissed under the deeply misguided and woefully shallowTrump administration.
“We build into the environment we have”.
“We often make policy assuming the environment will remain static, and it never does.”
Both of those were observations by the Canadian, Cleo Paskal. Her expertise and viewpoint were fresh, ones that we don’t often hear. Plus she had a funny, abrupt and ironic way of zeroing in on the crux of the matter. Other speakers, like the one who had been Deputy CIA Director, were long practiced in obfuscation and never really said anything right out in the open.
These people were not just policy makers or analysts or reporters, but problem solvers. Most of them were optimistic that the challenges we face are manageable if we ask the right questions, seek input from global partners instead of going it alone, and compromise. Chas Freeman, a longtime diplomat and foreign policy specialist, said outright that if we elect people to Congress who pride themselves on refusing to compromise, we as voters are actively subverting effective governance.
All of the speakers were rigorously data-driven and fact-based, and none were comfortable with the denigration of expertise and experience that characterize the Trump administration. I think they all tried to be optimistic, but felt we are in for a rough few years until the chaos Trump works so hard to foment reorganizes itself into some kind of new order.
A global order based on American hegemony is over. In the best case, we will have regional powers who will negotiate with each other over their spheres of influence. In the worst case, we have no order at all for a prolonged period of time. Human suffering will increase greatly under the latter scenario.
The Camden Conference next year will focus on China. This is a rare experience of civic engagement, with deep dialogue between audience participants and outside speakers. If you have any interesting in that sort of thing, you might want to consider coming. The dates are Feb. 22-24.