One of the exciting parts of working with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council is reacting to world events and planning programs around them – and these past few months have been particularly eventful. The world has been riveted by the drama playing out in Ukraine after the fall of President Yanukovych and the subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the Council we heard in March from Georgetown University’s Angela Stent who has been studying Russia for three decades that “Putin gets what Putin wants,” and a week later John McCain argued forcibly that the US should make sure Putin does NOT get what he wants – even if that means sending weapons to Ukraine. And in April we had former East German foreign minister Markus Meckel tell us at a roundtable that he is “no longer sure that Putin is a rational actor.”
Irrational actions continued in the horrendous war in Syria, and Robert Ford, the former US ambassador in Damascus, told the Council over dinner in April that Syrian President Hafez al Assad was running “the worst dictatorship since the Third Reich”, and the only way to stop the war was to “inflict enough pain on the leadership” to force them back to the negotiating table.
Meanwhile in the Pacific, a carefully calibrated but no less dangerous drama continued to play out between China, Japan and a number of South East Asian nations over territorial control of a series of small islands in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Elizabeth Economy, a Council on Foreign Relations China expert, spoke at a roundtable lunch about the growing danger of inadvertent conflict between China and Japan as the two nations maneuver ships and warplanes close to each other over the disputed islands. She said US naval commanders are concerned that the new breed of younger Chinese naval officers appear to be more aggressive and less cautious in their behavior than in the past.
Meanwhile on the inspirational front we had Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach For America, who told the Council over lunch how after 24 years she is more passionate than ever about her model for enrolling high-performing college graduates into teaching jobs, and how she is now spreading that model to 34 countries around the world.
Education is a central part of our mission at the Council - helping Angelenos understand the outside world. We have been aggressively expanding our high school program under which we bring public school students to our events for free, paid for by generous donations from our members.
We recently launched the “Sponsor a Student” program under which members coming to one of our events can select to sponsor an individual public school students’ ticket at the same time as they pay for their own tickets, and this has been going well. At the John McCain dinner we had 65 high school students, and we had difficulty in getting the Senator from Arizona to leave the pre-dinner student briefing because he was so engrossed with the students’ questions.
LAWAC Cuba Trip
In March we took 35 members and their friends to Cuba on a special tour that was so successful we are now planning our next LAWAC trip – suggestions include Myanmar and Iran. In addition to rum mojitos, 1950s Chevrolets and the occasional Cohiba cigar, our travelers also got to see how ordinary Cubans live (not very well), and how strong the desire is for substantial change on the island. Jessica McCarthy (no relation, as some of you ask!) accompanied the tour, and her report and photos can be found here: LAWAC Travelogue.
Coming up we have a dinner with former Special Forces commander General Stanley McChrystal on Thursday May 15th, and on Tuesday May 27th we have a dinner with Mexico’s Foreign Secretary José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, who will talk about the new success story of our third largest trading partner. On June 4th we will hear from His Excellency João Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador to the US, about the European reaction to – and fear of – Russia’s moves in Ukraine. In July, Chinese Minister for Culture Cai Wu will address the Council.
Finally, in this graduation season, think of giving a gift membership to LAWAC as a graduation present to seniors leaving high school or college – student memberships start at $35 a year, and open doors to a wide world for people starting out in their careers.
As ever, don’t hesitate to contact us with your thoughts or suggestions – we welcome the feedback. I am always reachable on (424) 258-6160, and my email is email@example.com.