Monday, December 1, 2008

A conversation with U.S. diplomat Scott Bellard

We had a very interesting and astute American diplomat join us in class today - Mr. Scott Bellard, Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the American embassy in Ottawa. I was impressed with Mr. Bellard's ability to express complex ideas in simple yet informative ways.

Three salient points from our conversation with Mr. Bellard stand out.

1) He talked about continuity in U.S. foreign policy. He pointed out that when it comes to foreign policy, fundamental national interests do not allow incoming administrations to deviate much from the paths set about by their predecessors.

2) He mentioned that U.S. foreign policy decisions are much more reactive than we'd like to
think. For example, Bush did not go looking for 9/11 but had to adjust and respond once it did

3) The U.S. and its allies rarely differ on the goals, but more often on the means by which to
attain those goals. An example is the U.S. and Canada's positions on Cuba policy. Both share
the view that Cuba should liberalize its political and economic system but the U.S. insists on
continuing with sanctions while Canada chooses the path of engagement. To be fair, he did
mention the old adage that 'all politics are local' and alluded to the strong influence of the
Cuban community in Florida on the U.S.'s policy stance against Cuba.

While generally agreeing with much of what Mr. Bellard's had to say, I could not help but question his second point about the degree of U.S. reactionism in international affairs. It is true that 'black swan' events such as 9/11 require unforeseen responses and adjustements to policy priorities. Nonetheless, major controversial positions of the U.S. today - i.e. the Middle East, missile defence and global warming, to name a few - result less from reactivist policymaking than from its polar opposite: the almost rhythmic daily politicking, backdoor deals and mutual back-scratching emanating from Washington.

No comments: