Sunday, March 29, 2020
Great Decisions Course Primed to Increase Understanding of World Affairs
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Sunday, March 1, 2020
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

How will the rapid development of artificial intelligence transform international relations and the prospects for human rights abuses and enhanced authoritarianism? How much influence can Americans have over American foreign policy?

How will China’s exploding global presence affect the relationships the United States once held?  And how can the United States and Iran move forward now that the agreement by which Tehran pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons program has been disbanded?

These are among the myriad of questions that will be asked during a free Great Decisions discussion series that will be offered weekly on Mondays from March 2 through April 20. The group, open to the public, will begin at 6:30 p.m. each Monday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church at Second and Bullion streets in Hailey.

It will start off each evening with a 25-minute DVD provided by Great Decisions followed by a moderated discussion about some of the most critical global issues facing America today.

The program--America’s largest discussion program on world affairs--was made free because of a generous donation. The DVD is produced by Kyle Haddad-Fonda, son of Rod Fonda and Laura Haddad, who moved to the Wood River Valley full-time from Seattle a year ago.

“A lot of discussion groups use the book. We’re using the video because of my son’s involvement,” said Rod Fonda.

Great Decisions is America’s longest running nationwide discussion program about global affairs. Created in 1954, groups have been meeting across the country in community centers, libraries, schools, houses of worship and private homes ever since.

It is organized by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Foreign Policy Association with the idea that a democracy requires ordinary citizens to be informed and engaged. Videos reflect diverse viewpoints. The Great Decisions videos are shown on PBS, as well.

Don Liebich has run a Great Decisions course in Ketchum for several years, using the book. Participants talk about how it has broadened their understanding of world affairs. Last week’s discussion, for instance, looked at the current issues going on in India and Pakistan.

Kyle Haddad-Fonda, who produces the videos, is a Rhodes Scholar now living in Seattle who got a PhD writing about Chinese and Middle Eastern history. He has been involved in various ventures related to global education, including a private foundation focused on global studies that included developing scholarships for students from underprivileged backgrounds.

While with that foundation, he created videos featuring immigrant students to stimulate discussion about assimilation and cultural preservation in American schools.

“One of Kyle’s goals is to take the Great Decisions materials into high school classrooms around the country, and that’s something we would like to promote in the Wood River Valley, as well,” said Fonda. “These students are close to voting age and should be encouraged to voice their opinions about foreign policy. Kyle likes to say that the Great Decisions episodes can be a model how people can discuss foreign policy thoughtfully, and that's really important for high school students to see. There is actually a Great Decisions teacher training program that takes place in New York in July, completely free to teachers, that is about how to use the materials effectively in the classroom.”

 The discussions at Emmanuel Episcopal Church will tackle critical issues, including nuclear security,  trade and the future of global diplomacy:

March 2--WAR POWERS. Article One, Section Eight of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war—a prerogative it has not exercised since World War II. Yet the U.S. has gone to war many times since 1945, and indeed has been at war continuously since 2001. Both Republican and Democratic presidents have exercised broad power to deploy military force, in many cases going far beyond the original intent of the Congressional authorizations they use to justify these actions. Our first Great Decisions session will examine Congress's role in overseeing the war powers of the executive, guided by a short documentary in which we hear from policymakers who have grappled with these issues, including members of Congress of both parties and lawyers who served in the Bush and Obama administrations. No question is more fundamental to American democracy than the question of who holds the ultimate power to make war—but there are no easy answers in an era of terrorism and uncertainty.

March 9—YEMEN. On the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, a devastating war is raging, with scant attention from the American media. In 2015, a coalition of Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the U.S., intervened in Yemen's civil war. After five years of relentless bombing, the prospect for resolution remains distant. Facing a nationwide famine and the largest outbreak of cholera in recorded history, Yemeni civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict. We will begin our discussion by learning about Yemen's fractured history since its unification in 1990. We will hear from Yemeni political activists, American diplomats, and the leaders of some of the biggest humanitarian organizations working on the ground. We will discuss what role the U.S. should play in Yemen and what steps the international community can take to ensure peace.

 March 16--DUTERTE'S PHILIPPINES. For the second week in a row, we will discuss a country in which the U.S. is playing a controversial behind-the-scenes role in a series of multifaceted domestic conflicts. In this case, our focus is on the Philippines, a former U.S. colony and longtime treaty ally. In 2016, Philippine voters elected Rodrigo Duterte, a brash and unconventional political outsider who has bragged about committing murder and joked about raping detainees. Duterte has launched a bloody crackdown on suspected drug users, during which security forces have engaged in extrajudicial killings and encouraged vigilantism. Duterte has threatened to employ similar tactics against leftists and has ramped up the Philippine state's confrontation with Islamist insurgents on the southern island of Mindanao. He has also called for the Philippines to become less dependent on the U.S., a reorientation that has meant closer relations with China. Through it all, Duterte remains broadly popular.

March 23--CHINA AND LATIN AMERICA. Dating back as far as the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, the U.S. has regarded the Western Hemisphere as off limits to foreign influence—a notion that has often frustrated Latin Americans. Beginning in 2017, three Latin American countries abruptly switched their diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, over American objections. Since then, the Trump administration has worked assiduously to convince Latin American countries to turn down Chinese overtures—a tall order when many of those countries are desperate for infrastructure investment.

March 30--NORTHERN TRIANGLE OF CENTRAL AMERICA. Central America's three most populous countries—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—collectively make up a volatile region known as the Northern Triangle. In recent years, this region has experienced a dramatic breakdown of law and order. Honduras and El Salvador have the world's highest murder rates, with Guatemala not far behind. These countries have also become the largest sources of migrants traveling to the American southern border. We will focus our discussion on the situation in the Northern Triangle that has sparked the migration crisis, and especially on the fraught history of U.S. engagement in Central America. We will talk about the legacies of Cold War interventions, the War on Drugs, the Alliance for Prosperity. We will also explore how the Trump administration has tried to decrease the number of asylum seekers who make it to the southern border by labeling Mexico and Guatemala as so-called "safe third countries."

April 6--THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL. In 2015, the U.S. and five other countries joined Iran in signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement by which Tehran pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The deal was supposed to be a hallmark of Barack Obama's legacy. Instead, Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018. We will take a look at the original agreement, asking what it achieved, where it fell short, and why it has proved so divisive. We will hear from several members of the Obama administration who were most intimately involved in negotiating the JCPOA, plus a former Iranian diplomat who was part of nuclear negotiations in the past. We will also hear from members of Congress of both parties who have supported or opposed the deal.

April 13--ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. We ask how the rapid development of artificial intelligence might transform international relations. To do so, we'll start with the fuel that has propelled the revolution in A.I.: the consumer data of ordinary people. The world economy relies on the free flow of data, but the rules that govern international trade were written when the internet was in its infancy. Our focus will be on the role of the international community in establishing norms and regulations for the responsible use of A.I. We will talk about some of the pitfalls of A.I. around the world, including the prospect for human rights abuses and enhanced authoritarianism. We will hear from a range of experts, including the president of Microsoft, as we consider what the U.S. can do now to prepare for a future of dramatic technological change.

April 20--AMERICANS AND THE WORLD. Do ordinary Americans understand how diplomacy is conducted in the twenty-first century? And what can be done to ensure that American voters are well informed about the momentous foreign policy decisions facing them at the ballot box?

 

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