There is a store on U Street that is named “4NX¢” and the first time I noticed it took me a few minutes to figure it out.
Foreign… ex… cent?… Oh! “Exchange!”
I should have figured it out more quickly. Thinking about, promoting, and participating in international exchanges has been a big part of my life, ever since I first wandered into the foreign exchange program office my junior year of college and randomly picked out Tübingen as a place to live for a semester. I guess with so much experience I am predisposed to overemphasize the benefits of exchange programs as a solution to the world’s problems, but I really can’t help but believe that one of the best ways for the world to ever sort out its myriad problems is to allow people to get to know one another across national boundaries.
Yesterday there was a fantastic column in Slate by Fred Kaplan where he synthesized a number of reader responses about how to restore America’s image in the world. It totally fits in with things I have been talking about for years. The readers make the totally true point that people don’t hate Americans once they actually know what Americans are like, so we need to send more Americans out into the world and bring more other people here. I really think anybody remotely interested in America’s place in the world should read Kaplan’s piece.
This is one of those things that has so many positive benefits and seems so obvious to me, but I know most people don’t sit and think about these things. Members of Congress aren’t hearing from their constituencies about this issue, and me, I don’t even have a Member of Congress since I live in DC. I think what the foreign-policy community really needs is to start figuring out ways to get its message across on these kinds of issues — and I don’t mean the community of think tanks and Council on Foreign Relations types, but rather the community of nonprofits and universities and exchange program participants. I know there are some associations that work on this kind of thing but they clearly have not had enough success, or funding.
I also have some other thoughts about ways to restore America’s image. I actually wrote a “policy proposal” paper about it for a class last year, and I think I’ll include it here in case Fred Kaplan happens to see this (or for the benefit of sleazy plagiarizers trolling the internet for essays for their international relations classes). Here’s my policy proposal, “Learning to Lead: Resuscitating America’s Global Image” (in PDF) in which I argue for a renewed emphasis on public diplomacy and a new global energy policy that would complement pd efforts. Maybe somebody can pass this along to the presidential campaigns? Or the media teams that are running the debates? I would love to see even a tiny bit of attention to this issue in the presidential campaign cycle.