Camden Conference in the World-June 2020
Is the US losing its leadership role in the world? It’s a question that currently preoccupies many of the great foreign policy thinkers and doers who have appeared on the Camden Opera House stage over the years. Ambassador Chas Freeman, a renowned authority on both Saudi Arabia and China and a repeat presence at our conference over the years, expressed regret in a talk last month on deteriorating US-China relations to the Harvard College China Forum that “America has been in retreat from solidarity with allies and participation in multilateral institutions. This is convincing the world that Washington can no longer be relied upon to uphold the international order that it once created.”
Another multi-Camden Conference presence in past years as both speaker and moderator, former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, around the same time told Marco Werman of PRI’s The World that the US focus on national rather than global efforts to combat the coronavirus has “hurt the perception of the United States as the global leader.” In this radio interview, Burns went on to say that this is happening at a time when the world’s 7.7 billion people are “looking for leadership, they’re looking for certainty, they’re looking for help, and at least they think they’re not getting it from the United States.”
Jason Rezaian, a speaker from the 2020 conference who was imprisoned in Iran for his journalist activities and now writes a column for the Washington Post, looks at a practical aspect of the decline in US influence: mutual assistance by Iran and Venezuela in defiance of “maximum pressure” in the form of harsh sanctions that have “so far had little impact on either government’s policies.” Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma who shared the stage with Burns at the 2013 conference, recently traced for Bloomberg the history and importance of a feud within the ruling family of economically crippled Syria, another target of sanctions by Washington that failed to have the effect desired.
Closer to home, native Mainer David Brancaccio, moderator for the recent 2020 conference and host of American Public Media’s Marketplace, recently interviewed David Greene, president of Maine’s own Colby College, on how Colby is aiming to find jobs for 100% of the 2020 graduating class despite the grim economic environment.
Another former Camden Conference moderator, Indira Lakhsmanan, wrote last month of the horrific World War II experiences of her mother, then in Poland, now suffering from Covid-19 in a nursing home in Washington DC. Lakhsmanan wrote in National Geographic, where she is now a senior executive editor.