Author: Morgan Flake
Diplomacy and World Affairs is a popular major here at Occidental. It just might get a little more popular if its students’ ideas show up in bills in Washington D.C.- and it’s possible that this might happen.
Last spring, a few Diplomacy and World Affairs students decided they wanted to do something to improve the United States’ international image and favorability ratings across the globe. They convinced professor and former ambassador Derek Shearer to teach a class not on the state of world affairs, but on the future of foreign policy. His students read experts’ proposals for solutions in response to several key issues and then formulated their own vision for foreign policy. They produced a report entitled “Rebranding America” that lists the top ten challenges facing the U.S. today and how the next president should address them within the first 30 days, six months and four years of his/her administration.
One challenge of the class was to create policies informed by past works that were also original.
“We are not accomplished academics, so it was a challenge to be comfortable with our own ideas, but we had to push to another level,” said current senior Kera Bartlett. “I was shocked when NPR did a story on it,” said Bartlett.
The surprises kept coming; it was even recorded in the Congressional Record.
The students came up with numerous new ideas, including a new policy that would require all foreign ambassadors to use only hybrid cars. Topics covered by the report ranged from the Israel-Palestine conflict to immigration reform.
Students of diverse backgrounds and political ideologies had to come to a consensus on such divisive issues as the Iraq War. The final decision to promote a measured withdrawal with set deadlines was a compromise settled upon by students who were both proponents of troop surges and strong critics of the war.
The report was such a success that Shearer submitted it to both the John McCain and Barack Obama campaigns as well as the Chiefs of Staff at the House and Senate committees for Foreign Relations. “Rebranding America” has been posted online at the Oxy Worldwide website. The response has been overwhelming. About 10,000 hits have been recorded each month at the web site, and multiple news sources have covered the report.
“[Rebranding America] presents a possible path to help repair our standing in the international community,” said senator Byron Dorgan in the report listed in the Congressional Record.
“I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to take a serious look at this and other proposals to see what Congress can do to help ensure that future generations inherit a government that is well respected throughout the world,” said Dorgan.
The report has been recognized by scholars and policy makers and read around the world.
“I have distributed copies at major universities and foreign ministries in Peru, Syria, and Bolivia on recent trips for the U.S. State Department, and I will be taking copies with me on a speaking tour of Australia later in September,” said Shearer.The universities Shearer has visited have been inspired by the work. Some may even start their own web sites. “They realized that they can get younger people involved in transforming the image of their country,” said Shearer.
Students have also been active in getting the word out about their work. Bartlett and collaborating senior Ian Henry have taken “Rebranding America” to Denver for the Democratic National Convention.
Between listening to panels held by think tanks and newspapers, Bartlett and Henry passed out copies of “Rebranding America” and informational flyers at every opportunity. They distributed the report to thousands waiting in line to hear Obama’s nomination acceptance speech. They have handed copies to senators, staff at major newspapers and even to big names like Tom Brokaw.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Bartlett. “We had the chance to stand behind our ideas and show that students have the ability to synthesize information on how to tackle foreign policy issues and create new strategies to better the image of America in the world.”
Bartlett and Henry will continue to promote “Rebranding America” during their internships at the United Nations in New York this fall.
Obama’s campaign advisors have praised the report. Neither Obama himself nor McCain have directly responded to the report, but some policies in “Rebranding America” do align with Obama’s projected course of action, including the strategy of measured withdrawal from Iraq.
“Obama knows about [“Rebranding America”]. He may even pick up the idea of creating a green NASA as part of his pledge to make America independent from foreign oil within ten years,” explained Shearer.
“You’ve got to hope that something like [“Rebranding America”] will make its way up to that level,” said Bartlett.
The Diplomacy and World Affairs program prepared the students to take on such a project. “Being taught by both academics and practitioners gave us the foundation in theory and the connections in the field from professors like Shearer with practical experience,” said Bartlett. “The project made us more confident as writers and thinkers,” he added.
Shearer has said that he will work with students who might produce similar kinds of reports on their senior theses this spring.
“This endeavor says a lot about Oxy because you have the opportunity to do original work as an undergraduate in almost any area of study and that work can have influence in the real world,” said Shearer.
The students who collaborated on this report “have engaged in something that should be telegraphed across the country to other college professors and students,” said Steve Clemons at The Washington Note news blog.
For now, Bartlett, Henry and their fellow students are taking that matter into their own hands.
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