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2016 Tier Talk

TIER Talks explores future of U.S. foreign policy

By Steve Seepersaud

Harpur alum, professor take part in ‘Chaos in the 21st Century’ discussion

With the ascendance of China as a powerful force on the global stage, a political system at home replete with dysfunction and a host of other internal impediments – such as a lagging economy – is a coherent U.S. foreign policy even remotely possible?

“Do you have a few hours to talk about all of this?” Eric Schwartz ’79, LLD ’14 jokingly asked.

The dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Policy at the University of Minnesota had the unenviable task of trying to encapsulate answers to half of a speaking event originally slated for an hour but stretched to 90 minutes.

Schwartz and Ricardo René Larémont, professor of political science and sociology at Binghamton University, were the featured speakers April 5 at TIER Talks presented by M&T Bank. They discussed “Chaos in the 21st Century? The Future of U.S. Foreign Policy” to a group of nearly 60 alumni at the SUNY Global Center in Manhattan. The intent was to deliver a stimulating talk on a topic that is front of mind in a presidential election year. 

Schwartz, a former United Nations and White House official, held a number of high-level positions before entering academia in 2011, and fondly recalled the lessons he learned at Binghamton from faculty members including David Cingranelli and Edward Weisband. In perhaps the largest understatement of the evening, Schwartz said U.S. foreign policy was very different from when he was a student and the Cold War dominated global relations.

“I still have the syllabus from [Weisband’s] class,” said Schwartz, who, in 1999, received the Alumni Association’s distinguished alumnus award named for the former Binghamton faculty member. “I remember that, in the interest of time, he decided to forego the session on non-state actors…such as terrorists, as they weren’t playing an overly systemic role. Oh, how times have changed.” 

Although delivered by two academics, each with an impressive list of publications, the event was anything but a dry policy-oriented conversation. On the evening of the NCAA Women’s Division I basketball championship game, Schwartz used NBA star Tim Duncan as a metaphor. Duncan, who has led the San Antonio Spurs to five NBA championships, is still performing well at 39 – ancient by pro sports standards.

Schwartz noted that online commentators have written, “Duncan benefits by a high basketball IQ, especially as he has to make his movements more efficient because he can’t go as fast anymore.” Comparing Duncan to the United States of America, he said, “When others are relatively stronger, you have less of a margin for error. So, as it is for Tim Duncan, it is for the United States.”

Larémont was direct in saying the Middle East is a pain point for the United States – with much to lose, little to gain by being there. He said the Iraq invasion was ill-advised, and it was a mistake to facilitate a no-fly zone in Libya without following up to create a stable regime afterward.

“Problems [in the Middle East] can’t be solved by engaging our military there,” Larémont said. “Our mere presence in those areas provokes a reaction on the ground that is counter to our interests… I think we need to delegate affairs in this region to Iran and Turkey. These are the two most populated countries in the region, and they’re highly educated and poised for economic growth.”

So, if the U.S. is less focused on the Middle East, where does the attention turn? Larémont says America’s greatest interest lies in Asia, and secondarily in neglected interests we have in Canada, Mexico and Latin America.

“This nonsense of building a wall with Mexico is exactly what we should not be talking about,” Larémont said. “Remember when Ronald Reagan said, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.’ You can imagine what Mexicans think of our discourse, that we are viewing them as uneducated, poorly-funded sons to the south, incapable of managing their affairs.”

The discussion was made available to alumni and current students through a live webcast. A group of nearly 30 students viewed TIER Talks at the Alumni Center as an extension of the Alumni Association and Fleishman Center’s “Cool Connections, Hot Alumni” series. In addition, about 50 students and alumni viewed the live stream on their own in various locations.

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Last Updated: 3/1/17