The year is 2025. Following almost a decade of lax international involvement, the United States has ceded ground to foreign powers China and Russia in global relations and influence. Now the new president of the U.S. is struggling to play catch-up after a years-long hold on the State Department’s efforts in keeping American interests on the negotiating table.
Of course, this is purely hypothetical. But it showcases the risk that neglecting U.S. diplomacy could have if it continues to go down its current path.
“Diplomacy is going on all around the world all the time,” said Janice Bay, a former diplomat and executive producer of the new television series, “Diplomacy At Risk!” that looks educate Americans on why engaging internationally is imperative to the U.S.’s wellbeing. “The United States can participate or not participate. It’s not going to stop because we stop.”
Since February of last year, President Trump’s administration has shown a disinterest in global diplomacy by freezing the State Department budget and hiring process and leaning towards cuts for FY19. Given that the department itself commands roughly one percent of the entire federal budget, acting against could be seen as reckless for the sake of some unclear vision (though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lifted the department’s hiring freeze a week ago).
That’s why a group of local luminaries consisting of former diplomats and worldly citizens have joined forces to debut “Diplomacy At Risk!” with the intent of informing the average American about why diplomacy matters, particularly to younger Americans.
“A few friends of my daughter didn’t know what the State Department was, and I thought, ‘That’s bad,’” said executive producer Carol Loftur-Thun. “If you have young people who are educated and smart and they don’t know what the State Department is, we clearly have an issue here.”
The series’ braintrust includes Loftur-Thun and her husband, Bob, who serve as media outreach and technicians who edit and shoot the eight, 30-minute episodes in weekly installments. The episodes air each Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on FCCTV.
Along with them is Bay, a former specialist in economic relations with foreign countries, Steve Watkins, one of the chief architects of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and Steve’s wife, Diana. The pro-bono effort sees all five of the organizers regularly putting in double-digit hours each week to produce the show because they believe in its cause that much.
Each episode is structured around a sit-down interview between an ambassador or diplomat either doing a one-on-one interview or a panel discussion with other international experts. The episodes typically involve multiple eight-minute segments and provide overviews on topics from global health to refugee and human rights to the central question of why diplomacy matters at all.
Do you ever wonder why war doesn’t break out more often or why diseases that start in one country aren’t plagues throughout the world in a matter of days? It’s because of diplomacy, with both examples highlighting positive effects of the craft.
“A great success of global diplomacy and the human race is global health. Smallpox doesn’t exist anymore because of international cooperations between Britain, the World Health Organization and others that helped contain and eliminate the disease” Steve Watkins said, before Bay added. “Diplomacy has failed when we go to war. For example, we may not succeed if we talk to the North Korean leader, but if we don’t talk to him, we have no chance of ever reaching a peaceful agreement.”
But to the average American, there’s conflict about what they want the U.S. to be on the international stage. Do we want to continue our role as, essentially, the world’s police? Or do we want to pull back and focus only on our ourselves? It’s a discussion that the show acknowledges while also providing context to how this split came about to begin with.
“I believe our greatest challenge is that the 16 years of ongoing U.S. military conflicts in the Middle East have colored the public’s perception of what ‘American involvement in the world,’ means,” retired rear admiral of the U.S. Navy and show guest Michael Smith said. “The fundamental reason for American involvement in the world is neither about being a global arbitrator nor should it be associated with failed decision making processes [regarding the Iraq War]. What I hope this show demonstrates is that our nation has a broad range of national interests that require us to be involved in the world.
Bob Loftur-Thun added to that point by noting the fall of the Soviet Union ended the bipolar struggle between Russia and America and now multiple countries vie for influence globally. It’s made for a more complex picture to average Americans, who are having more trouble differentiating between friend and foe.
However, the answer is not the current remedy of stalling diplomacy. As former ambassador to Ecuador, Peter Romero, notes on the show’s inaugural episode, Americans are coasting on the success of diplomacy from the past 70 years. To put bring that to a halt would be a failure in judgment that could take 70 years to repair.
“Diplomacy At Risk!” can be viewed on FCCTV, RCN 2, Cox 11, Verizon 35 and Youtube. Each episode airs at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays.