MEMORANDUM TO PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Setting a New Tone in U.S. Foreign Relations

By Johnson, Victor C. | International Educator, January/February 2009 | Go to article overview

MEMORANDUM TO PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Setting a New Tone in U.S. Foreign Relations


Johnson, Victor C., International Educator


A MAJOR FOCUS OF NAFSA'S PUBLIC POLICY department in 2008 was to bring the association's public policy objectives to the attention of the presidential campaigns and then, once there was a president-elect, to the attention of the transition team. This is extremely difficult to do, because hundreds of others are trying to do the same thing. But you can only be heard if you speak, so we're giving it our best shot.

More than 1,000 of those who attended our sixtieth anniversary conference in Washington last May were able to witness one of our key steps in accomplishing this mission, when we held a candidates forum featuring representatives of what were then the three remaining campaigns. Although we submitted a great deal of material to the campaigns, our signature document was a new paper, released in August, International Education- The Neglected Dimension of Public Diplomacy: Recommendations for the Next President (http://www.nafsa.org/pdpaper08). On November 21, NAFSA sent a memorandum to President-elect Obama's transition team containing our recommendations for actions, drawn from our public diplomacy report, which the new president could take in the first 100 days of his administration. This memorandum is reproduced below.

In addition, in collaboration with several other groups, NAFSA sent a separate letter to the transition team recommending immediate regulatory actions that the new administration could take to restore academic exchange with and family travel to Cuba, which had been curtailed by Bush administration regulations in 2003-04. The letter went on to recommend further action to free up general travel to Cuba. Finally, in collaboration with others, NAFSA in October launched the Immigration and Public Diplomacy Appointments Project to identify, recommend, and support top-notch candidates with global understanding for key decision-making positions in the new administration. This effort has benefited from the input of NGOs working in immigration, public diplomacy, international education, higher education, and foreign policy. We are forwarding resumes to the transition team that are well-matched to key White House and agency positions in those areas.

NAFSA's Advice to the President Elect

During the first 100 days of your administration, you will be focusing on the most urgent problems facing our nation and on the core commitments that you made in your campaign. We write with suggestions that speak to one such urgent problem and one of your core commitments: the necessity of establishing a new tone in U.S. relations with the rest of the world.

Your recognition throughout your campaign of the urgency of this matter gave heart to this association's 10,000 members nationwide and around the world, who have chosen to devote their careers to international education in the belief that international education (in the words of our mission statement) builds understanding and respect among different peoples, enhances constructive leadership in the global community, and is fundamental to fostering peace, security, and well-being. NAFSA: Association of International Educators is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to advancing international education and exchange.

The tone that you establish for U.S. foreign relations in your first 100 days will affect international perceptions of the United States for your entire administration. This, therefore, is one of the matters that urgently demands your attention. However, unlike many of the other issues that will confront you on the day you enter the White House, establishing a new tone will not require a great commitment of your administration's time or of U.S. resources during the first 100 days; rather it will require visible commitments and signals that the United States will henceforth act as a responsible world citizen. In this memorandum, we propose concrete actions that you could take immediately that would constitute such visible commitments and signals, which would be welcomed around the world - and, we believe, would receive bipartisan acclaim in Congress.

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