One hundred years ago, in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson, with no foreign policy experience yet moved by the horrors of World War I, promoted a new idealism of global engagement that would make the world safe for democracy.
Believing that America had a responsibility and an opportunity to teach the world good governance, Wilson promoted the League of Nations. Sensing the need to rally support for Wilson's vision for a new world order, a distinguished group of academics and journalists came together to establish the Foreign Policy Association. The U.S. never did join the League of Nations, but at the close of WWII served as a founding member of its successor, the United Nations.
In the early 1920s, the FPA decided it should not seek to directly influence foreign policy decisions but to focus instead on public education with the expectation that a well-informed citizenry would push for enlightened policies.
Problems arise when the public is not involved in foreign policy. For example, our government withheld information from the public during the Vietnam War. The recent film "The Post" describes how Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. The Times faced an injunction to stop publication, at which point Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the Washington Post and 15 other newspapers.
The case ultimately went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the people have the right to know and allowed the newspapers to print the Pentagon Papers without risk of censure.
This information strengthened public opposition to the Vietnam War by exposing the deception of our government. With the right to know as determined by the Supreme Court, however, comes responsibility to learn and to act.
Again, we have a president, like Wilson in this regard, with no foreign policy experience. Nor does President Trump have experienced foreign policy experts among his close advisers. Our Department of State is charged with U.S. foreign policy formulation and implementation. At a time when there are hot spots all over the world underlain with complex issues, experienced State Department experts are resigning and some 50 senior-level political appointments remain unfilled.
Furthermore, with all that is happening on the Korean peninsula — nuclear arms in North Korea, the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea with athletes from North Korea participating and offering an opportunity for the two Koreas to at least talk — there is yet no U.S. ambassador in South Korea. How can we understand these issues and make our opinions heard?
Fortunately for us, the FPA still exists — 100 years strong in 2018. Annually, FPA develops for its Great Decisions program a list of eight timely topics and produces a briefing book. There are hundreds of Great Decisions programs across the U.S., including 25 in Pennsylvania alone.
Here in the Lehigh Valley you can participate in the 44th year of our program and submit an opinion ballot that goes to the White House, the departments of State and Defense, and Congress. Among our topics this year are Russia's foreign policy, and media and foreign policy.