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Derek Shearer

Derek Shearer

Posted: May 15, 2008 10:53 PM

Rebranding America: How to Win Friends Abroad and Influence Nations


This year's competitive race for the Democratic nomination for president has sparked renewed interest in politics and public policy on American campuses.

Occidental -- the liberal arts college where I teach and where Barack Obama studied his first two years -- is no exception. Oxy students have turned out for political forums, volunteered in primary campaigns for Edwards, Obama, Clinton, and other candidates, and some students are taking a new fall semester field course in campaigns and elections, working in presidential and Congressional races around the country. Our best students in the Diplomacy and World Affairs major devoted the spring semester to producing a report -- Rebranding America -- which offers innovative foreign policy prescriptions for the next US president. The report is now available free online at the student-run website: www.Oxyworldwide.com.

Occidental College has a long tradition of excellent teaching in international affairs. For over two decades, we have offered an interdisciplinary major in Diplomacy and World Affairs. Many of the college's graduates have gone on to lead accomplished careers as diplomats, journalists, academics, managers and even candidates for president of the US.

Since my return to campus from service as an ambassador in the Clinton administration, I have taught analytical courses on US foreign policy. I endeavor to teach my students to understand how and why decisions are made in the US government and how foreign policy is developed and implemented. I stress the importance of critical thinking and an understanding of reality above ideology. I try not to tell my students what policy ought to be; I leave that to them as informed citizens to decide for themselves.

However, this spring at the urging of many students, I offered a prescriptive course on American Grand Strategy. The course's purview was the future -- what US foreign policy ought to be for the new administration that will come to power in January, 2009. Students first looked at national and global public opinion studies, and concluded that in the years after 9/11, President Bush and his administration had squandered an enormous amount of international goodwill, lost considerable moral authority for the country, and approached the world with an US vs Them mentality. Such a divisive attitude rather than a levelheaded strategy did not make for successful foreign policy.

The students decided that it is vital for the next Presidential administration -- whether headed by a Democrat or a Republican -- to regain the moral high ground and take strategic initiatives: to lead globally rather than to dominate, to be a beacon more than a bull horn. In essence, the students want the US to be the good guys and to be smart about how we go about it.

The students divided up recent books on American foreign policy by authors from the Left, Right and Center of the political spectrum. Each student took a book and presented the seminar with a critical summary of the author's proposed strategy. Students then debated and agreed upon a Top Ten list of key issues that the next president will face in the world.

Breaking into teams, the students produced an analysis of the issues in each category, a definition of US strategic interests, and then proposed actions that the next president might take in his or her first month in office, first six months, and first year and beyond. Writing teams also produced an overall strategy statement, as well as a new Mission Statement for the US, designed to fit on a card that could go in the wallet of every American workings in the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA and other branches of government.

The result of the students' work is the just released report Rebranding America. As a former diplomat and government official, I am impressed with the quality of the students' work and the breadth of their creativity and thoughtfulness in proposing concrete actions for the next president. As I promised my students, I have sent copies of the report to the foreign policy advisors for Senators Clinton, Obama and McCain, and to the chiefs of staff of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committee. It has gone out to the distinguished members of Occidental's Global Affairs Advisory Board, and is posted on our Global Affairs website and on the student-run website: www.Oxyworldwide.com for all interested American and global citizens to read.

No one will agree with all of the students' recommendations -- but the overall thrust of the report is clear: how the US can once again win friends abroad and influence nations. It is a road map for the next president to send a clear message that US is a nation worthy of international trust and capable of leading other nations in complicated and perilous times. I commend it to you for study, for discussion, and for action.