Tara Sonenshine: A Fulbright Is Not a Political Football

by PSA Staff | October 1st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine sits on the Partnership for a Secure America’s Board of Advisors. She is a former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and currently teaches at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

A Fulbright is Not a Political Football

Every now and then Congress shows wisdom as in the recent decision by the House and Senate to reject a request from the Obama administration to cut funding for the famous Fulbright program from $237 to $204 million.

What’s a Fulbright and why should you care?

The Fulbright is the most competitive and highly sought academic fellowship in the world. Think of it as trade — the trading of great minds in the stead of peace.

The Fulbright premise is tried and true — built on a simple, highly effective concept of international exchanges among scholars to foster better understanding and relations among nations. The Fulbright program provides small grants to help American students and teachers learn and work abroad and foreign students and scholars to visit the United States. As Senator J. William Fulbright, the program’s founder, said in 1945, “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion… increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and fellowship.”

With over 355,000 alumni from over 155 countries, the Fulbright Program is important, symbolically and substantively for the United States at a time when we are trying to win more friends and fight more enemies. The Fulbright program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 US scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. In this exchange of knowledge comes the chance to build stronger civil societies based on common values and interests.

So why would anyone want to cut a program that builds and maintains robust educational, scientific, economic, and political partnerships; knowledge transfer; and competition in the global marketplace?

Well, in a world of economic choices there is always a temptation to save “cents” at the expense of “sense.” Mistakenly, some in the government thought of shifting resources from in-depth exchange programs like Fulbright — which last a full year and extend around the globe — to shorter programs targeted on regions like Africa or Asia. Taking an axe to a government program might sound appealing unless you know the facts:

Firstly, the Fulbright is not exclusively a U.S. government program. It uses cost-sharing and partnership agreements with other countries — some of which are America’s long-standing friends and most important allies in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, and in the Western Hemisphere. In many of the countries engaged in these exchanges, Fulbright Commissions administer the program. Their budgets come from multiple sources — the U.S. Department of State and other governments as well as private charitable donations. In many countries with Fulbright commissions, partner countries spend more funding Fulbright opportunities for U.S. students and scholars to go abroad and more for their own students and scholars to go to the United States than the U.S. government does. We should not undermine their confidence in the U.S. commitment to the program with $ 30 million cut that would jeopardize those revenue flows.

Geography matters. It is also important to keep the reach of Fulbright educational exchanges broad, not narrow. Shifting the diplomatic lens away from Europe, for example, during a period when we are building coalitions of the willing to fight ISIS, deal with the instability in Ukraine, and counter transnational threats makes no sense. This is a time when we need transatlantic cooperation through dialogue and exchange.

The Fulbright program yields some of the greatest peace dividends. Among its alumni are 29 former heads of state or government, 53 Nobel Prize winners, and 80 Pulitzer Prize winners from all regions of the world. Those who invest in the Fulbright program invest a full year because learning about another country takes time. Shorter programs that offer less substantive immersion for foreigners do not necessarily create lasting change. Cutting corners on education never quite works.

Lastly, there is an American economic imperative to invest in international education including bringing scholars from the around the world to the U.S. According to the Association of International Educators, international students contribute over $24 billion to the U.S. economy each year, and the Fulbright Program is one of the most respected programs among international educators in the United States and abroad.

The Fulbright program must stay fully funded. Stay tuned for more budget action as Congress makes final decisions on the FY15 appropriations bills although the way things are going, there may not be a final budget until the end of the year. In the meantime, America has to do it work to strengthen ties with other nations and promote international cooperation. Fulbright is one small way to maintain the world’s largest multilateral investment in public diplomacy.

Cementing Peace in the Middle East

by PSA Staff | August 11th, 2014 | |Subscribe
This original article can be found at the Hill news blog. This article was written by Tara Sonenshine, a former member of PSA’s Advisory Board and former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. She is currently distinguished Fellow at the George Washington University.

Cementing Peace in the Middle East

It’s all about cement. The key to ending the current conflict between Israel and Gaza may lie, literally and figuratively, in the cement trucks that carry building materials across borders.

As cease-fire talks resume in Egypt, one of the big obstacles to a durable agreement will be the embargo (imposed by Israel and Egypt) that restricts goods from coming in and out of the Gaza Strip. A 7-year-old embargo is both a reflection of the lack of confidence between citizens of Gaza and Israel and a potential confidence-building measure depending on which side you are on. (more…)

Bordering on surreal — live images of war

by PSA Staff | July 23rd, 2014 | |Subscribe

Bordering on surreal — live images of war

Sonenshine is a distinguished fellow at George Washington University and former member of PSA’s Board of Directors. This article originally appeared in the The Hill Contributor’s Blog.

A civilian aircraft is shot down over the border between Russia and Ukraine, wreckage burning on the ground. Two hundred ninety-eight innocent souls lost. In another quadrant of your screen, outgoing rockets from Gaza meet incoming missiles from Israel along the border as Israeli ground troops seek to destroy tunnels connecting the areas. Cut to the U.S.-Mexico border, where thousands of people are streaming across to escape life in Latin America, facing uncertain conditions. Pause before watching scenes of insurgents marching toward Baghdad. They came over porous borders with Syria.

Everywhere you look, a boundary is in dispute at a time when we supposedly live in a virtual e-everything world with no borders. The question arises — what role do borders serve? (more…)

A World Hungry for Food and Solutions: Why We Need Food Diplomacy

by PSA Staff | April 28th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine is a former member of PSA’s Board of Directors. She also served as U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and is currently a distinguished fellow at George Washington University. This article was originally published in GW Planet Forward.

A World Hungry for Food and Solutions: Why We Need Food Diplomacy

If there is one truly global issue that unites people and divides them it is food. Food security—or lack thereof, is today on the top of every nation’s priorities including our own. Simply put: There is not enough food to go around in a world that is likely to house 9.6 billion people by 2050. Food insecurity—where someone in the household literally has to reduce food intake—affects people in the United States, Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East.

(more…)

Sochi is Putin’s moment to show true Olympic leadership on Syria

by PSA Staff | February 7th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Madeleine Albright served as United States Secretary of State and is a current member of PSA’s Board of Advisors . This article was co-authored by Lord Malloch-Brown, Sir John Holmes, Mr Javier Solana, Mr George Soros, and others. Originally posted at the Financial Times.

Sochi is Putin’s moment to show true Olympic leadership on Syria

Sir, The Sochi Winter Olympics will deliver a dazzling spectacle, breathtaking athleticism and shimmering winter beauty. We will witness extreme feats of human bravery and see in the faces of the world’s best athletes the sheer tenacity and commitment that has gone into training for the games. Only 1,000 miles away, a very different spectacle unfolds.

(more…)

Face the Assad Reality In Syria

by PSA Staff | January 31st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Frank G. Wisner is a member of PSA’s Board of Advisors as well as a former Under Secretary of State and of Defense and a former Ambassador to Zambia, Egypt, the Philippines, and India. The article was co-authored by Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official. Original article posted at the Daily Beast.

Face the Assad Reality In Syria

U.S. policy is going down the drain in Syria diplomatically and militarily. The choice: deal with Assad or fail.

The Syria conference underway in Geneva to transition from the rule of President Assad will fail, and the Obama team knows it. There is no incentive now in the Assad or rebel camps for diplomatic compromise, and the U.S. knows that. Nothing the U.S. and its allies are doing or planning on the military front will compel President Assad to step aside, and the White House understands that full well. The reality on the ground today is that American-helped moderate rebels continue to flounder, while Assad’s forces and those of the jihadi extremists prosper. Obama officials see this as well and realize that nothing they are doing or are likely to do will alter those facts.

So, if President Obama understands what he is doing will fail, why is he doing it?

(more…)

The Confusing State of the World

by PSA Staff | January 27th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine is former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, a former PSA Board of Directors member, and currently a distinguished fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. This article was originally published in the Washington Times

Pseudo-states and Strange Bedfellows Blur Borderlines

Were it not so deadly serious, it would be satirical. The United States is losing its sense of geospatial positioning. We may be one of the few “countries” left in the world — replaced by a series of pseudo-states, groups and strange bedfellows.

Imagine having to teach geography in 2014, let alone understand it. That spinning globe we used to use, with color-coded countries and bright borders, national flags and easy-to-pronounce places hardly seems useful. We may need a 2014 Guide to Groups within Countries.

(more…)

Diplomatic success always trumps a military victory

by PSA Staff | January 13th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Thomas Pickering is former US ambassador to Venezuela and Czechoslovakia; and former US Under Secretary of State and ambassador to Israel, Russia, India, the UN and Jordan. Mr. Pickering is a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. William Luers, director of the Iran Project, co-authored the article. The article was originally published in the Financial Times.

Diplomatic Success Always Trumps a Military Victory

Diplomatic negotiations with Iran strike many Americans as an oxymoron. How could serious negotiations be conducted with a nation we have distrusted for decades, that has persisted in developing a nuclear programme, has threatened Israel and is involved in terrorist activities?

Yet the same Americans are quick to oppose a military solution. So the conclusion is that diplomacy must be tried. To help Americans understand that diplomacy can be used to manage some of the toughest problems, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz have written an article endorsing diplomacy. It is hard to disagree.

(more…)

When Iran Gets the Bomb

by PSA Staff | December 2nd, 2013 | |Subscribe

The author, Christina Vachon, is a graduate student at George Washington University where she is pursuing her Master’s degree in International Affairs with a concentration in International Security Studies.  She is currently an intern at the Partnership for a Secure America and has a research interest in security policy in the Middle East.

When Iran Gets the Bomb

Even though a short term deal with Iran has been reached, the US should prepare for the chance that Iran will cheat.  As talks continue toward a long term agreement, the US should assess what Iran, the Middle East, and the world will look like if Iran gets the bomb.  There is a lack of consensus on what happens if and when Iran gets the bomb.  Due to the uncertainty that exists about Iran and its program, continued diplomatic efforts are important in order to gain more information about the situation, to better relations, and to prepare for a nuclear Iran.  It is important though that all options remain on the table in order to protect US interests.

(more…)

The Path to a Surprising Victor in the Iranian Presidential Election

by PSA Staff | June 28th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Megan Fantoni is an intern at Partnership for a Secure America. She is a graduate of Tufts University where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and History.

The Path to a Surprising Victor in the Iranian Presidential Election

The Iranian election of Hassan Rouhani catalyzed an international discussion on the implications of the moderate candidate’s victory. As the only moderate candidate on the ticket, Hassan Rouhani’s decisive 51% victory in a six-way presidential race demanded the attention of the international community and highlighted unrest within the Iranian population. More jarring than the fact that Rouhani received the most votes in the election is the fact that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamanei, appears ready to allow the moderate party to officially take hold of the presidency. Only four years ago Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected amidst widespread violence at the poll, vote miscounts, and a generally corrupt presidential election.

Various factors attributed to this surprising result. First, the Principlist Party was unable to unite and rally behind one leader. In the last stages of the campaign, the other moderate candidates dropped out of the race and publicly supported Rouhani. On the other hand, on election day, there were five separate conservative candidates. With the conservative vote split five ways, it would be very hard for one conservative candidate to gain a majority vote.  It would have been possible for Khamanei to alter the election results to secure a conservative victory if there was one Principlist candidate, rather than a compilation of five separate conservative candidates. As we look at the results, it is impressive to see that Rouhani received over half of the country’s vote; however, it is also evident that almost half (49%) of the country still strongly agrees with the conservative ideology and may affect any shifts in future policy.

Some scholars go as far as to say that Rouhani’s victory can largely be attributed to the anti-conservative feelings towards the Iranian government and current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The people of Iran have suffered under the economic strain of international sanctions imposed on Iran because of its nuclear program. In a recent panel, Karim Sadjadpour from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace stated that the election “was a reflection of profound discontent with the status quo, rather than a deep-seated affinity for the candidate himself.” Rouhani’s campaign platform included rhetoric such as ending an “era or extremism” and “hope and prudence” – language in stark contrast to that of the conservatives. The late rush of support from the voters of Iran derives from frustration over the current government and countrywide economic and social hardship.

Another factor contributing to Rouhani’s victory was the televised four-hour-long presidential debate on May 31st. Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institute stated in her testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the presidential debate was one of the most important factors in the election because it included anti-isolationist rhetoric that appealed to the Iranian people who desperately want change in their country. Challenging the official narrative of the Islamic Republic, the debate fueled citizens to vote moderate in the hopes of improving their country’s economic stance and international presence.

As important as Rouhani’s victory was, U.S. policymakers and scholars alike have advised caution towards this new leader.  Members of Congress and scholars from Brookings Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, and the Carnegie Endowment in a recent panel have all made the same point: Rouhani is only a moderate leader when viewed in the context of current politics in Iran. To enter into the presidential race, Rouhani was approved by the Supreme Leader and, in effect, the conservative faction.  Mr. Sadjadpour describes Rouhani’s politics in maintaining the ideals of the Islamic Republic by “moderating its style more than substance.”

Moving forward from Rouhani’s surprise election, critics are re-examining Western policy towards Iran and how this might shift with the new president. Almost universally, experts are stating that U.S. and international sanctions have been successful in adding pressure on the government of Iran. Acknowledging the relative success of the sanctions imposed on Iran, many in Washington have urged for deepening and broadening sanctions against the Iranian nuclear program. In addition to urging continual pressure, Ray Tekeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations warns that Rouhani will be a tougher adversary because he is a skilled negotiator, and his seemingly more reasonable requests may cause fractions in the international coalition opposed to the nuclear program.

Although there remain many questions about what kind of leader Rouhani will be and how his policies will change Iran’s relations with the rest of the world, his election reflects the widespread disapproval of the Supreme Leader and the conservative party by the Iranian people. Rouhani steps into his presidency in August with a small mandate calling for a shift in policy and for an improvement in economic and social climate in the country. Still, one must wonder if the Supreme Leader will permit a genuine deviation from his hard-line position on the nuclear program and relations with the rest of the world. With Rouhani’s election, this may be an opportune time to test how much moderation and flexibility on the nuclear question he brings to his office.

Next Page »

All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.