The American Academy of Diplomacy and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy held a virtual convention Wednesday to discuss the future of U.S. Foreign Policy under President-elect Joe Biden’s Administration. The event showcased four U.S. Ambassadors, three representing foreign regions and one moderating the event. 

The virtual conversation began with a brief introduction by Public Policy Professor John Ciorciari. 

Ambassador Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and former deputy assistant secretary of state, was the moderator. He asked each ambassador to address the topics of greatest prominence in their respective regions. 

Ambassador Dawn Liberi is a member of the Senior Foreign Service and served from 2012 to 2016 as the U.S. ambassador to Burundi. She spoke largely about the African continent. She started, speaking about various key issues including the ongoing conflicts arising from jihadist groups and non-state activists in Nigeria and West Africa, the upcoming elections in many sub-Saharan African countries, among other topics. 

“Policies change as administrations change,” Liberi said. She also said that it would be hard to put the trust levels “back to what they were under the Obama administration.”  

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow is a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and from 2012 to 2016 was the deputy secretary general for NATO. Vershbow largely spoke about Russia, Armenia, China and the Middle East. He discussed the adaptation of NATO strategies regarding Chinese and Russian threats and about various transatlantic relations.

“The world has changed, the threats have changed,” Vershbow said. “Trying to do America first has only played into China’s hand.”

Ambassador Hugo Llorens recently retired with over three decades of diplomatic experience, including working under the Clinton administration in Latin America. He spoke about the impact of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, a revised version of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which President Bill Clinton spearheaded in the 1990s. 

He also noted the increasing poverty levels in Latin America caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He believes that an important aspect of Biden’s administration should be the restoration of relationships with our neighboring countries. 

He said Trump has badly damaged relationships with Canada and Mexico.

Llorens added that it will be “very difficult for the U.S. to project power across the Atlantic and Pacific if we are not managing relationships close by.”

After each ambassador shared their insights, Neumann asked questions from attendees. He worked off of the assumption that there will be a Republican-controlled Senate, since all referenced policy changes would be easier with a Democratic majority. 

“If the Republicans control the Senate, they are going to make life difficult for the Biden administration,” Llorens said. “My hope is that the president, as a former senator, will be able to establish a working relationship with the Senate on the core issues for the U.S.”

Most ambassadors agreed that foreign policies in countries other than China and Russia will be hard to get through the Senate. 

“Turkey is a sensitive issue for the Congress,” Vershbow said. “They (the Senate) may squeeze on the administration to handle this which would lead to a downward spiral with Turkey.”

After the discussion about foreign affairs came to a close, Ambassador Neumann redirected the conversation to focus on useful skills for diplomats.

“If you’re going to be a diplomat you have to like people,” Llorens said. “You have got to be a people-person. You have to be comfortable being exposed to different cultures.”

Neumann said diplomacy is all about “how well you understand others to find out how we can shape our approach or find a compromise.”

Business freshman Karan Arora attended the event and wrote in an email to The Daily that Vershbow’s comments made him think about how the upcoming Biden administration will handle foreign policy challenges.

“I think the comment that interested me the most was when Ambassador Vershbow said something along the lines of ‘NATO needs to pivot from the immediate threat of Russia to the looming threat of China,'” Arora wrote. “Although it was clear the Trump administration thought this way, I wasn’t sure how much the foreign policy establishment agreed with it and if Biden would continue with this trend.”

Daily Contributor Nadir Al-Saidi can be reached at alsaidin@umich.edu.

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