The Omaha Ambassadors Forum took place at the Thompson Alumni Center on Wednesday. The forum featured a discussion panel of four former U.S. ambassadors who spoke about the Trump administration’s first year and foreign and trade policy.
The first ambassador to speak was Earl A. Wayne. Wayne has served as an American diplomat for 40 years. He was a U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Afghanistan and Argentina.
Wayne said under the Trump administration, there have been large cuts to the state department. He also talked about potential trade tariffs with China.
Wayne said that although press coverage about the potential trade war with China has been mostly negative, China has some unfair business practices that need to be changed, such as China’s lack of strong intellectual property rights.
“We need a stronger export foundation and an agreed set of rules,” Wayne said.
Next to speak was Ambassador James F. Collins. Collins is a former U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation and an expert on the Soviet Union, its successor states and the Middle East.
Collins spoke about Russia and its interference with the U.S. election. Collins said that after Russia experienced a depression in their economy at the end of the 1900s, they set three main goals. The first goal was to return Russia to power. The second was to save the country’s economy. Lastly, Russia wanted to turn the world toward anti-Americanism.
Collins said that Russia has succeeded at doing all three things. He said a lack of coherent policy regarding how to deal with Russia is to blame.
Collins also drew attention to the question nobody in the room could answer: “What do we want from Russia?”
After a bit of silence, Collins spoke about Russia’s attacks on Ukraine and Crimea and the recent chemical agent attacks in the United Kingdom. Collins said sanctions are not the answer to the Russian conflicts because “when you’re in a hole, why keep digging?”
Collins closed his talking points by saying that the U.S. must accept that Russia is a global power with its own agenda.
The third ambassador to speak at the forum was Deborah A. McCarthy. McCarthy is an international security strategist with over 30 years of experience. She also served as the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania from 2013-2016.
The subject of McCarthy’s speech was the importance of making and keeping strong alliances. McCarthy said that the Trump administration hasn’t pulled out of any traditional alliances, though it has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement and Trans Pacific Partnership, which could have consequences.
“If you’re not at the table, how do you shape it?” McCarthy said.
McCarthy also talked about the growing gap between Republicans and Democrats when discussing the importance of considering the U.S.’s allied interests. McCarthy said 74 percent of democrats believe that allied interests should be considered, while only 41 percent of Republicans feel the same way. McCarthy said the gap between these numbers is still growing.
The final ambassador to speak was Susan L. Ziadeh. Ziadeh served for 23 years at the U.S. Department of State and was also an ambassador to the State of Qatar until 2014.
Ziadeh’s focus was on where the country is one year into the Trump administration in regards to ISIS, Iraq and Al Qaeda. She began by saying, “Terrorism is not specific to a certain group or country.”
Ziadeh talked about the prevalence of oil and gas in the Middle East. She said Asia is currently the biggest oil consumer in the world, which has led to fighting for control of the resource.
Ziadeh also talked about the emergence of ISIS in the last 10 years and said that it can only be defeated militarily. She said the current administration is not doing enough.
“There is yet to be a clear articulated plan to combat this after year one of the Trump presidency,” Ziadeh said.
At the end of the forum, the ambassadors thanked everyone for coming to participate and ask questions. Wayne closed the discussion by telling the audience to “be informed and stay informed on these issues. Express your opinions.”