Nina L. Hachigian, deputy mayor for international affairs for the city of Los Angeles, and Charles A. Kupchan, senior fellow at CFR, will discuss the role domestic issues play in shaping U.S. foreign policy.
FASKIANOS: Thank you and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations State and Local Official Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. We’re delighted to have participants from thirty-six U.S. states and territories with us. Thank you for being with us. This discussion is on the record.
As you know, CFR’s an independent and nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher focusing on U.S. foreign policy. CFR is also the publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine. Through our State and Local Officials Initiative we serve as a resource on international issues affecting the priorities and agendas of state and local governments by providing analysis on a wide range of policy topics.
We are pleased to have with us today Charles Kupchan and Nina Hachigian to talk about foreign policy on the home front. We previously shared their bios with you, so I will just give you a few highlights.
Dr. Charles Kupchan is a senior fellow at CFR and professor of international affairs at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. From 2014 to 2017 he served as special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs on the staff of the National Security Council. And he also served as the director for European affairs on the NSC during the Clinton administration. He’s the author of many books, including Isolationism: A History of America’s Efforts to Shield Itself from the World. And that was released last year.
Nina Hachigian is the deputy mayor of international relations for the city of Los Angeles. From 2014 to 2017, Ambassador Hachigian served as the U.S. ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN. Previously she was the senior fellow and senior vice president at the Center for American Progress, where she focused on U.S.-China relations.
So thank you very much to both of you for being with us. I thought we would first turn to Charlie. You recently published an article in Foreign Affairs, the magazine published by CFR, entitled The Home Front. So I thought you could kick off and tell us about the role that domestic issues play in shaping U.S. foreign policy and the forces that influence public opinion on international affairs.
KUPCHAN: Thank you, Irina. And thanks to you and your colleagues for putting this together. I wish that I had more opportunity to speak to folks in local government and city government and state government. I think it’s a conversation that needs to happen more and more often. And I take my hat off to my friend Nina. She used to be a foreign policy conehead just like me, but she has—she has rolled up her sleeves and she now works in city government. So kudos to you, Nina, for making that transition.
I’m going to take a few minutes just to reflect on where we are as a nation in our engagement abroad, toss it over to Nina to say somethings, and then I look forward to a free-flowing conversation. We are, in my mind, at a historical inflection point in American foreign policy in which we are having a broad national conversation about our role in the world, where we should be engaged, how we should be engaged, and the extent to which we should be engaged. And I think in many respects it’s a debate that has its roots in the 1990s—actually, the 1700s, but let’s say more recently the 1990s—because that’s, in my mind, when we began to engage in what I would call overreach.
The Cold War came to an end. Frank Fukuyama, who is now a Californian, pronounced the end of history. And I think we really did believe that we would fulfill the calling that the founders laid before us, which was to bring ideology, bring ideological competition to an end, and that liberal democracy would work. And I think that led us to take on too much. We overreached strategically. We overreached ideologically. And we overreached, in my mind, economically. That’s really when we threw the doors open to globalization and assumed that the more we traded, the lower the tariffs, the more we lived in an international economy, the better all would be.
And then 9/11 comes along and we overreach even more. It was the combination of the attacks of 9/11, coupled with belief that finally the French Revolution, that finally democracy was coming to the Middle East, that we set about trying to turn Afghanistan and Iraq into Ohio. And guess what? It didn’t work. And we’re now living with the consequences of it not working because we are in the midst of getting out. And the consequence—the aftermath of us getting out, it’s not going to be pretty.
But I do think that what we’ve been living through for the last four or five years is a reaction to this sense of overreach that has pervaded large swaths of the American public—Democrats and Republicans alike. And in many respects, I see the Trump era as a response to a primal scream in the American electorate that was basically: Too much world, not enough America. Stop this globalization train, I want to get off. Too many wars, too much free trade, too many immigrants, too many pacts, too many alliances. It’s enough already.
I think Trump’s response to that impulse was errant. He caused much more damage than good. And in many respects, I see Biden as the person who now needs to find the right kind of response to this reaction in the American electorate of too much world not enough America, what about us. And that brings me to the final things I wanted to say.
And that is, in many respects I think Biden is sensing the same discontent in the American electorate that Trump did. That’s why he’s pursuing what he calls a foreign policy for the middle class. He understands that for many working Americans the quality of life has declined dramatically. That sense of economic insecurity, the sense that globalization has advantaged many Americans. But too many Americans, a small segment of the population, has coupled and been conflated with identity politics, with immigration, with the sense of too many immigrants coming in due to globalization. And economic insecurity and identity politics have led to this sense that we need to rebuild the domestic foundations of American engagement abroad.
In my judgement, and I’d be interested to hear Nina’s judgement, Biden has it more or less right. What we need to do to fix this problem is invest in American workers, invest in health care, in childcare, in infrastructure, in technology, in the manufacturing sector. That’s the lesson that we learned from the early Cold War years. Why did America engagement work abroad? Because everybody’s boat was floating up, because all Americans felt that they benefited from globalization and international engagement. We now need to go back to a brand of engagement that works for all Americans, not just for a select few. And that will require massive domestic investment of the sort that I think Biden is attempting to push forward.
This is a moment no less important and dramatic than the New Deal era, the 1930s, when we need to deal with the country from the inside out. Foreign policy begins at home. If we don’t get it right at home, we’re never going to get it right abroad. Our challenge today is not China, it’s not Russia, it’s not extremist ideology. It’s us. It is the question of, will we get our momentum back? Will we rebuild the nation’s political center? Because that, to me, is the starting point for rebuilding our engagement abroad. I will stop there.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, Charlie.
Nina, over to you to talk about the role of cities and some national government on what you’re doing on the home front.
HACHIGIAN: Thank you. And thanks to CFR for having this conversation. I’m really excited to have it. Great to see Charlie and Irina, my friends.
I’ll just start by saying I really agree with pretty much everything Charlie said. And you know, we—my coauthor and I wrote a book in 2008. And that was sort of our conclusion, was we really need to invest in the United States. And it’s so great that—we started out—we started out by writing about how we respond to rising powers. And that was our conclusion. And it’s just fantastic that we’re having that real policy discussion now.
But let me just start by, you know, at a very high level in talking about cities and states and localities and foreign policy. It might be a topic not familiar to many of you. I apologize for boring the ones that—who know this, or who work in cities. And let me start by also just describing my city a little bit, because it matters. L.A. is the second-largest city in the U.S. Our county is the most populous. We have huge, numerous diaspora populations, the largest population of Mexicans outside of Mexico City, largest Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese populations in the U.S. And altogether we’re about 40 percent foreign born. Third-busiest airport in the world pre-COVID, et cetera.
And I’ve only ever worked in federal government before this role. You know, all three branches, overseas, and in the U.S., but always at the national level. And I have learned a lot by working for a city. Humans, at least so far, are physical creatures, much as that’s annoying to us at some times. But so what we experience happens in discrete places. Many of our needs have to be met where we physically are. And states and cities and localities are charged with meeting those needs, first and foremost for security. In that same book, we concluded that foreign policy ought to prioritize security challenges that could kill Americans where they lived. And we cited, as examples, a pandemic which could come from wet markets in southern China. Not to say that we were especially prescient, but just that the security community was well-aware of that challenge at the time, and since obviously. Climate change, terrorist attacks.
But what I didn’t give any thought to at that time was the role of city government and local government. And in many cases, it is states and cities which create that bridge from national policy to actual Americans. And on a domestic side, these grooves are very well-worn. L.A. gets federal assistance to build metro lines, to fight poverty, and many more kinds of programs. But local government is also active in foreign policy in a number of ways. At the most basic level, cities and towns grow people. So we raise future innovators, development workers, entrepreneurs, diplomats, soldiers. And depending on local decisions and conditions, the results can be better or worse.
And what I think about a lot these days, amid talk of competition with China, is that it has four times the population that we do. Four times the brains, four times the muscle. And so we had better well optimize the chances for each and every American to realize their full potential. We have no time for racism or misogyny. And we better well make sure that every child has access to high-quality, affordable early-childhood education, because that is determinative of so much of the rest of people’s lives. And I really see that as a foreign policy challenge. And it’s almost entirely in the hands of local government and its local partners to implement it well if they are given the resources. And of course, all the other places that Charlie mentioned that we need to invest in.
But there are more direct connections also. So climate change, this transnational security challenge, cannot be solved with the federal government acting alone—even with all the political will in the world and vast agreement that climate change exists. But cities’ willingness and aggressiveness to build public transportation, to install car chargers, to recycle wastewater, to require renewable energy on our grids, will have a major impact in the U.S. reaching its goals. So having a federal partner is essential, but it’s not sufficient. And thank God during the Trump years states and cities kept up the tempo of investing in zero-carbon solutions.
And COVID is another obvious example. So thank God that the Biden administration is working hard on vaccines. But at the end of the day, shots need to go into arms, and that happens in thousands of actual places. Thousands just even within, you know, Southern California and, I don’t know, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions across the country. But vaccines need to find their way, you know, to vulnerable communities who may not speak English, who may not trust the health-care system. So localities have to do this last mile job in partnership with local communities.
So I’ve mostly just described the work of my colleagues in city hall. I’ll just very quickly touch on what my shop does, which is—sounds like more traditional foreign policy. So the only difference being that I need to answer the question of whether my work is really benefitting people of Los Angeles. So not just in terms of stability or in terms of, you know, U.S. influence, but really tangible benefits. So we work to create jobs, we try to solve global problems that affect L.A., we try to give young Angelenos especially global skills and experiences, and then we support domestic and foreign partners.
The jobs piece is pretty straightforward. The only thing that I’ll say is that nonstop flights are an overlooked and underappreciated feature of strong bilateral relationships. And so we would like a U.S.-Vietnam nonstop to come to L.A., not just for its economic benefits but because Vietnam’s an important strategic partner. And then we’re a part of a lot of city networks. I’ll just quickly touch on two. C40 is the megacities around the world who are all trying to reduce their carbon emissions. And Mayor Garcetti chairs that. And then we started one on gender equity with six founding cities—Tokyo, Mexico City, Freetown, and two others, London and Barcelona.
There’s a newer network that I’m interested in on—called the Pact of Free Cities that the four—Visegrad four capital cities have started about transparency and anticorruption. We started a program to send community college students abroad on their first trips, oftentimes their first time on an airplane. And then the final bucket looks just very traditional diplomacy. You know, we have over one hundred consulates here. President—or, Prime Minister—although, he goes by president—Sanchez of Spain is visiting at the end of the week and we’re going to be doing some activities with him. We do have a lot of head of state visits, and we talk with Paris about—and Tokyo—about Paralympic and Olympic games that are coming up for us.
So a final thought, which is that we are really playing catch up. American cities are new to the party. A lot of our European, Asian, African, Latin American counterparts have been up to this city diplomacy stuff a lot longer than we are. Some countries are investing very heavily in it. And then just to say that I think the Biden administration is absolutely right to try to try to break down the foreign and domestic policies silos. And I do think that, to the degree that they are seeking to create a foreign policy for the middle class, that states and cities and localities can be really important partners for them. I think we need a cultural shift. And hopefully that will begin with conversations like this one.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you very much for that. And let’s go to all of you now for your questions. You can either raise your hand by clinking on the “raise hand” icon, or you can type your question in the Q&A box. And if you do type your question, please identify yourself. When I call on you, also do the same, and remember to unmute yourself. And the first question goes—is going to Frank Cobbs, who’s the mayor pro tem from Riverdale, Georgia. So over to you, Mayor Cobbs.
Q: I’m sorry. I do not have a question. I’m not sure why my hand was raised. (Laughs.)
FASKIANOS: That’s OK. Do you have a comment? Or would you like to share what you’re doing in Georgia?
Q: No. I’m enjoying the—other than enjoying the conversation. I’m very pleased with it.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. OK. Sorry to put you on the spot. OK, nobody has raised their hands, so I will ask the next question until somebody else.
HACHIGIAN: Can I ask a question of Charlie?
HACHIGIAN: Why do you think, Charlie, it has taken so long for us to have this conversation about investing in the U.S. in a real way?
KUPCHAN: It’s an excellent question, Nina. And I’ve been conjuring that myself. I think that part of—part of the answer is that there has been a disconnect, and that at least in both parties, Republicans and Democrats alike, were not in sufficient touch with what was going on at the local level, what was going on in heartland America. You know, when I was—when I was in the Obama administration, and you probably have these conversations as well, we knew that there was a problem. We knew that inequality was growing. We knew that Microsoft and Intel and Bank of America had a seat at the table when it came to U.S. trade negotiations and farmers and service workers did not, right? We knew that. But we just didn’t realize the scope of the problem.
And one of the silver linings of the Trump era is that we now realize the problem, right? And that’s because we’ve lived through one of the scariest moments in American history. I don’t know about you, but the last four years spooked me big time. I would go so far as to say that we’ve lived through a near-death experience for American democracy. And anybody who just turns his or her back on that is crazy. What we have to do is learn lessons from that. And one of the lessons I take away is the system hasn’t been working for lots of Americans. And now that the bell has rung, we have no choice but to get out there and address the problem, big time. If we don’t, we do—we behave at our own peril.
And I’m now breathing a little easier. I mean, I have to say had we had this discussion a month ago, and I—and Manchin was saying I’m not going to change the filibuster, and I’m not going to do this, and I’m not going to do that, and the Republicans were saying no infrastructure, I hate—now we at least have a picture. That is to say, a fairly sizable bipartisan infrastructure bill—a trillion (dollars) or so. Then another three-plus trillion (dollars) through what’s called reconciliation. Now there’s—it seems to me that there is a political pathway to going big. And that’s what I think we need to do. You know, in some ways I think it took the Trump era to tell us that we needed to go big.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. We have a raised hand from Brian Andrews, deputy mayor of Cranford Township, New Jersey.
Q: Hi. Thank you. Thank you all for doing this. Can you hear me all right?
FASKIANOS: We can.
Q: Great, thank you. And good to see you, again, Ambassador and Charlie. I don’t know if you remember, I was at State Department during the first Obama administration working specifically on ASEAN issues quite closely, before returning home and getting involved in local government here.
And so I greatly appreciate your comments. And, you know, I’m curious for your thoughts or advice on this. Like, I think if you look at Los Angeles or any large city, kind of the international connectivity is self-evident, I’d argue. Like, the direct flights you mentioned. But, like, there’s more weight—throw weight behind it. And here, you know, we are a town of about twenty-five thousand people. Many people who commute into New York. We do have, like, a number of businesses kind of local, as well as kind of, you know, larger exporters.
But, like, how would you think about or advise kind of the local government to think about the international piece? And, like, we’re exploring kind of like a sister city program with a town about our size in Japan. And that’s one piece of kind of the cultural connectivity. But really curious because I think that’s part of it. Like, we want to build up greater local-level support for the international engagement agenda. Like, is there a play for local government here? Like, what would your advice be on that subject? Thank you.
HACHIGIAN: I can start. I think it’s a great question. I would say, to start with your residents and what their, you know, issues, concerns, connections are. If you have a sizable diaspora population of any kind, to—you know, to try to gather them and celebrate their, you know, cultural heritage. I mean, the sister city stuff, you know, we have a bunch of them as well. And I tend to not think about them. But on the other hand, having that—those really long-standing relationships are kind of great. And, you know, they can morph over time into more kind of robust engagement on policy issues.
Another thing to think about is, like, if you have a particular problem that you’re trying to solve in the city to try to identify a foreign city that is trying to solve that same kind of problem. So to think about, you know, a small commuter city outside of, I don’t—you know, Mexico City, or, you know, any of the big cities. And to think about—you know, to have that conversation with them would be another place, you know, to start. Exchange programs are great. You know, sending students or doing virtual classroom stuff and welcoming students, I think those pay a lot of benefits down the line. You don’t see the benefits right away, but you see them over time.
So those are just a few—you know, a few thoughts. I guess another one would be to work with folks who are exporting to, you know, have them fund these kinds of international programs, because they might have a little bit of a—you know, some skin in the game already.
KUPCHAN: I’d just add a couple quick points. I think your question is very important, because it does underscore the degree to which we now live in a world that is irretrievably interdependent and globalized. And this, for me, was one of Trump’s greatest mistakes. He thought that he could respond to the discontent by pulling away from the world, pulling out of the WHO in the middle of the worst pandemic since 1918. Pulling out of the climate agreement. Pulling out of trade deals. We can’t do that. We can’t go back to a world where we raise these big moats and think that we can be fine.
And that’s why we’ve got to figure out a way to rebuild the country from the inside out and keep us engaged, but in a way that works for average Americans. Two things come immediately to mind. One is, as Nina just said, figure out how to connect local and small businesses to export markets. Because a lot of small companies, a lot of businesses owned by families, they don’t have the bandwidth. They don’t necessarily have the revenue to play the game that the big companies do. And so I think local governments can represent them in trade councils to make sure that their interests are heard at the table in the U.S. trade rep. Because they can get in the game if their voice is heard.
And then a lot of this doesn’t have anything to do with foreign policy. It’s, as we were saying about domestic investment, getting investment in high tech, getting broadband into rural areas, rebuilding roads and infrastructure. I mean, I grew up in Wisconsin. And I don’t go back very often but I talk to friends of mine that I grew up with. And I say, what the hell’s going on there? You know, this—what I read about Wisconsin bears no resemblance to the state that I grew up in, which was very centrist, very harmonious. And the answer is that if you now go to Janesville, or Beloit, or some of the small towns in northern Wisconsin that used to be doing fine, they’re not doing fine. Their schools are closing. Their main streets are falling apart. We need to get domestic investment to those communities so that they can get back on their feet.
HACHIGIAN: Can I just make one other comment that Brian’s question illustrates? Which is that—so I, in Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the United States, feel just—well, feel under-resourced or just about resourced right in terms of our international relations. Which means that every other city—(laughs)—and county and town and probably state in the United States feels even more under-resourced than I do, with the exception maybe of New York City because they have the U.N. and they’re very—you know, pretty U.N.-focused. And Penny has a relatively, you know, generous staff. Or, at least did, you know, like a year ago.
But Shanghai has a hundred people in their international relations department, as one example. And you know, and that’s not unusual in other parts of the world. So we—you know, just to foot-stomp, you know, the idea that we’re kind of slow to the—we’re slow to this table in America.
FASKIANOS: So, Nina, as you—what are you doing in your—in L.A. to help the citizens of L.A. understand the implications of foreign policy on their life? I mean, how do you make that connection—so, to Brian’s question—and, again, I’ll just—for all of you, please also. You don’t need to ask a question. You can share what you’re doing in your community, because we do want this to be a forum for best practices and to cross-fertilize ideas. So please do raise your hand if you want to share something.
HACHIGIAN: You know, we’re lucky that we have a very internationally minded mayor. So he draws these connections, you know, a lot. On the climate work, you know, we’re talking about it all the time because we are trying to bring a thousand cities to the COP, all of whom have made a pledge to be net zero by 2050 and half—(work their share ?) of half by 2030 of the mission. So that’s, you know, something that we talk about frequently. With diaspora populations, like, many of them, they are themselves the links to other places. They are—you know? So, you know, they—and tensions or wars or whatever abroad often spill out—spillover to having tensions between communities in Los Angeles. So, you know, it’s fairly tangible in a lot of ways to folks.
But I do think that—I do think that mayors and governors could be messengers of why foreign policy matters. I mean, this is a conversation we’ve had my entire professional career—(laughs)—is, like, why don’t voters, you know, care more about American foreign policy? And I think that, you know, it does affect us, but we don’t—but, you know, we—someone who is a local politician can make that connection in a way that—you know, that the elites in D.C.—no scorn on you, Charlie—but, like, have a hard time making that case. And I think that it’s just another role that—if empowered—that local officials could have.
FASKIANOS: Thanks. Sorry, I had to unmute myself. We have a written question from Canek Aguirre, who’s a councilperson in Alexandria, Virginia. Are there any resources for localities to utilize to expand some of the foreign relations with other cities besides the sister city programs?
HACHIGIAN: Unfortunately, not that I know of. But, you know, write to your congressperson. So there is legislation right now pending before Congress. Or, maybe—I don’t think it’s been reintroduced yet, but it was in last year’s Congress and I understand that it will be reintroduced. Bipartisan legislation to create an Office of City and State Diplomacy at the State Department. That’s kind of a first step. There was such an office, differently named, under—when Secretary Clinton was there. And then obviously nothing under Trump. So the idea is to create a permanent office and to send foreign service officers to cities and states the way they once were as part of the Pearson Fellowship. And my hope would be that there’d be also some resources that, you know, could be—that, you know, local governments could bid for, on some sort of a competitive process, if they wanted to do projects. So I wish I had better news. (Laughs.)
FASKIANOS: OK. There’s a written question from Mobeen Bhatti, who’s a policy analyst in the New York State Senate Committee on Internet and Technology. Should there be a national, foreign, or trade policy component in the strategy when it comes to procurement and purchasing from foreign companies at state and local levels? And how would that really work? You know, is there any concerted effort to study the relationship of state or local contracts going to foreign companies and federal trade policy, especially when the federal administration is of a different party?
HACHIGIAN: I’m not sure what that question is getting at. I mean, there is the CFIUS process. Maybe that’s—but that’s really for foreign direct investment. So is—I think I don’t understand the question. Or maybe you do, Charlie. But I think the idea is, like, should we be contracting with only some companies from some countries and not other countries, or that we shouldn’t be contracting at all with foreign companies? I’m not sure where that’s headed. We do sometimes—like, sometimes other countries, companies, have the only technology that there is out there, and we do have to sometimes contract with them.
KUPCHAN: I mean, the one thing that comes to my mind is Buy America Act. And to my understanding the Biden administration has put forward regulation—and I don’t know how strict the requirement is—but that federal procurement focus on American companies. To the best of my knowledge, and Nina you might know more, there isn’t such legislation or regulation. That is to say, that state or local governance need to buy American when they procure goods. But that would—that might be one way of proceeding. You know, you could put through the state legislature or you could have a regulation that favors American companies when you—when you engage in public procurement. But to the best of my knowledge, there’s nothing systematic in that—in that respect.
FASKIANOS: Great. So, Mobeen, if you wanted to clarify a little more you can raise your hand. But we’re going to take the next question from Laura Valeria Gonzalez-Murphy with the New York Department of State. So, Laura.
Q: Thank you. Good afternoon., everybody. I’m, yes, Laura Gonzalez-Murphy. I’m the director of immigration policy and research at the department here in New York state, where we host the Office for New Americans.
And I think it’s very interesting some of the questions about how can we participate internationally on our policy. In New York we’re looking at—you know, as you know, immigration policy is very federal. So it’s been very difficult for states to participate. But we now have a network of state offices collaborating and seeing immigration more in the terms of the immigrant policies. And in this role we’ve taken it upon ourselves to join and participate at the United Nations with the Migration Council—the mayor’s Migration Council being represented there. So I think that has been really a very interesting way of doing it.
It’s not that it’s an official channel, but it—we bring together, you know, New York City’s office has been part of that, L.A.’s mayors have been part of that, other countries of course, and then there’s New York state trying to share there in that forum that, you know, it is at the very local level and states have significant incidents, as we’ve seen in the last four years. So we wanted to present that to others as one way. It isn’t a formal channel. It happened because, you know, we are very much engaged in trying to learn the factors, the push-pull, that influence how those immigrants are going to live in New York state. With that perspective, we became part of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, creation of the MMC.
But it is, as I said, very focused on the mayor, but there are now more networks. So I’m hoping that’s something that grows, but it is a channel in terms of immigration for us to not just only communicate with other—our counterparts across the state, but across the country. You know, seeing the flows from, for example, Central America, learning what they’re saying. What the mayors are saying there influences our policies here. So I just wanted to share that and see what you thought perhaps at that channel. It’s very focused, again, migration, but it’s intertwined with development. You know, with the trade and so on. Thank for you’re the opportunity to share.
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. And that’s great to hear that you’re a part of it. When I referenced those many city networks that we belong to, MMC is one of them, the Mayor’s Migration Council, that Mayor Garcetti is a founding member of. And you know, the idea there is to have a conversation with the U.N. as it was negotiating its various compacts on migration and refugees to just give a voice to the places where—you know, where migrants were actually, and the challenges and the opportunities in handling these major migration flows that happen. So the idea is to get, you know, that U.N. sometimes is—well, obviously it’s—you know, it’s made of member states, member nations. And sometimes it misses out on the kind of granular experience in localities. So I think that was the motivation behind creating that council.
And to the question earlier about resources, Bloomberg is pretty amazing—Bloomberg Philanthropies. Like, they do a lot of work in cities and localities. And so I don’t know that they—I think I would know if they did something particularly international, and I don’t think they do, but there may be—there may be a way to approach them about a particular, you know, idea.
KUPCHAN: Just I want to pick up on the immigration agenda. Thanks, Laura, for putting it out on the table, because it’s something that I worry a lot about in the sense that whereas I can see our way through on the domestic investment front, I don’t see our way through right now on the immigration front. And I think the country remains deeply divided on this issue. And it’s an explosive political issue. Last month we had, I believe, 188,000 border crossings. That’s a lot of border crossings in one month. I assume because, Nina, you live in L.A., this is an issue that’s very much on your agenda. But we need immigration reform.
We need Congress to come together to pass legislation because the system is kind of out of control on that. And if it’s out of control, I think we will see nativist sentiments prevail on some level because there’s a sense that we don’t have control over our borders, we don’t know who’s coming and going. On the other hand, we need decency. We need policies that treat people well. We need policies that are consistent with international law when it comes to asylum applications. So we are, I think, in a very awkward place politically right now. I don’t think the status quo is tenable. I think Biden is, to some extent, vulnerable on immigration issues simply because we’ve got 188,000 people coming to the border in a month.
I don’t know what the solution is, but I would invite those of you at the local level to organize, and to say to your members of Congress: We need legislation. We need it to be fair, but we need legislation because the system is broken.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
The next raised hand will go to Jessica. And my computer—there we go. Jessica Finocchiaro—I’m not pronouncing that accurately so please correct me—from Methuen Town, Massachusetts.
Q: Hey. So, yeah, Jessica Finocchiaro, Methuen city councilor at large at the city of Methuen.
I wanted to know what do you believe are the top two to three issues for local officials to impact relative to foreign policy and foreign relations that cities and towns will face in the next ten to twenty years, when typical medium, even large-size local cities, in most municipalities don’t have as much influence on these issues as on the state level but there are things that we can be focused on. What do you think are the few most important?
HACHIGIAN: Climate change would be the first one, I would say. I mean, we’re not getting rid of pandemics anytime soon, so I would say that would be another one. And then I think I’d go with Charlie’s, you know, original point, which is just investing in the foreign policy leaders of tomorrow by bringing, you know, education about global issues to—you know, as young as you possibly can of children in your—in your town.
KUPCHAN: To Nina’s good list I would add one other issue, and that is to focus on the future of work in the digital age. This is an issue that I think we know is going to be a huge challenge, but we don’t yet know what to do about it. But you know, if you asked why was the biggest employer in the country, which was GM, say, thirty, thirty-five years ago—their workers were making $30 an hour. Today the biggest employer in the United States is Walmart. The last time I checked, a Walmart workers was making around $8.50 an hour. And that is, in part, driven by automation, digital economy, the information economy. And this is going to get worse before it gets better. That is to say, we’re still at the beginning of the AI, the artificial intelligence, revolution.
There was an article in the paper yesterday or the day before, in the New York Times that in the city—the German city of Hamburg there are now vans driving, like small buses, and they don’t have any drivers in them. It’s all autonomous control. Well, you know, if ten years from now there aren’t any Uber drivers, or taxi drivers, or Lyft drivers, or truck drivers, what are folks are going to do in your town, Jessica? What are they going to do in production lines? I think we know that we will adjust, but I think we need to get ahead of this curve because the automation era is here and it’s going to cause a lot of displacement.
FASKIANOS: Nina, from your position of having worked in the federal government—you were ambassador and now you’re in L.A.—what do you see as the role that cities can fill in international affairs that the U.S. government cannot? Are there comparative advantages that you have from your vantage point now that you didn’t have when you were in the government—U.S. government?
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. I mean, I tend to think of it more as a partnership than as stuff that we do out on our own. But you know, we do have the luxury of not having to speak for the United States. We can just speak for Los Angeles. So, I mean, during the Trump era we spent a fair amount of time talking about the importance of international relations to us, and the importance of other cities and other countries that we could cooperate with, you know, and just carrying those standard messages of traditional democratic values. And that’s something that we were kind of uniquely positioned to do, because it, you know, was not—those were not the messages that were coming from the federal government. So we had freedom in that sense.
I think we should be thought of as kind of place where you can also experiment with things. So we—I think, you know, it’s more in the practical sense of, let’s say there is a—well, you know, guaranteed basic income is, you know, an idea that is now, you know, percolating. And it was a Finnish idea, originally. And now you have states and localities, you know, doing pilot programs to test it. We’re going to start a large one later this year. So that’s a more—that’s a more domestic policy concept that came from abroad, but that’s a role that we can play that is foreign-linked, I’d say.
And then, you know, we also—you know, we sometimes can just—don’t have the constraints of having—you know, in a lot of our relationships, even with allies, you know, we have the positive messages and the positive cooperation. And then we also have to deliver the kind of slightly more difficult, you know, questions. But, you know, when we’re talking to the Germans, for example, we don’t have to talk about the pipeline. You know, we can just talk about our cooperation. So in some ways that’s, you know, nuanced, because there are times when we’re talking to governments that have, you know, human rights violation where we will absolutely talk about that even though it’s a difficult conversation. But I guess what I‘m saying is that the conversations can be different. They can be, you know, single issue. They can be more talking about the benefits than the difficult issues. That’s just another—you know, that’s more freedom that we have than, you know, your average foreign service officer.
KUPCHAN: Nina, let me ask you a follow up. Just thinking out loud here—and I guess this would be relevant for everyone on the call—one of the things that seems to be afoot in foreign policy is some modest decoupling from China because we want pharmaceuticals, we want semiconductors, we want medical equipment like masks to be produced in the United States because we don’t want to be dependent on China. Does that create opportunities to repatriate jobs or production and create jobs? Are you seeing any tangible ways in which this kind of sense that we need to pull back is creating opportunities for L.A.?
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. It’s a good question. I’m trying to think if I can think of any, like, particular example. I mean, the mask issue is interesting. Like, you know, we spent the first few weeks, like, in a frenzy looking around for masks and, you know, competing with other U.S. cities and states—like, getting undercut on prices with deals that we had. And at the end of the day, our masks from China for one reason or another did not work out and we ended up contracting with Honeywell in Arizona, I believe, for millions of masks. And so I imagine that Honeywell had to hire a bunch more workers—(laughs)—you know, to get those masks. They were not L.A. jobs, but they are—but we do have a very high manufacturing base in Los Angeles. And I’m sure there are examples, I just can’t—I don’t know of any one example of someone saying, you know, this is, like, too volatile. I’m going to, you know, move—I’m going to bring my stuff back to L.A. But I bet there is—I bet there are examples of that.
Charlie, can you talk a little bit about domestic views of the U.S. role in the world today to other times in U.S. history? I mean, you were going back a little bit further than before 9/11, but I mean I think it would be good just to give sort of an overview of the contours of it.
KUPCHAN: Yeah. I mean, as Irina mentioned, I published a book at the end of last year which is the history of isolationism. And I started writing it before Trump was elected—actually, quite a few years before Trump was elected. And I have to say that when he came into office, and he gives an inauguration speech where he says, “From this day forward it’s American first. It’s only America first,” my head kind of exploded because I had spent that—the previous day reading about the America First Committee founded in 1941 to keep the United States out of World War II.
And even though Trump for many was a kind of bolt from the blue, he really wasn’t. He was hearkening back to earlier strains in American history, in American identity, in American strategy. So the neo-isolationism, the unilateralism, the nativism, the protectionism—they were all there from the beginning, 1789 when we began life as a federation, right through until Pearl Harbor, right? We generally wanted to stay out of international affairs. We didn’t want to send our troops and expend blood and treasure abroad. We had a very restrictive immigration policy.
And I’m not just talking about non-whites, I’m talking about Catholics and Jews. I mean, most Americans probably don’t know this, but in 1924 Congress passed legislation that cut immigration by Jews and Catholics by 90 percent. This is from Southern and Eastern Europe. And then we proceeded to deport a million Americans of Mexican heritage. Many of them were American citizens, right? So a lot of stuff that we saw bubbling up during the Trump era was not out of—out of the blue. It really—it did have roots in American history.
And especially in the American heartland, this kind of more traditional American identity has remained reasonably alive and well, which is why I think Trump tried to tap into it. But this is all by way of saying that we are—we are at an inflection point here where a lot of these bigger debates about who we are, what’s America’s role in the world, where’s our domestic population headed in terms of ethnicity and religion—all of these things are very much part of a national conversation that we’ve been having for quite a long time. And I think it’s important for us to keep that history in view as we—as we engage in debates.
And I think it’s partly because I was aware of how tenuous, how fragile our engagement in the world has been across American history that I think it’s so important for people like us to gather—foreign policy coneheads, as I called myself, and local politicians—to have this kind of conversation.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
Nina, I’m going to let you have the final word.
HACHIGIAN: Well, I mean, this has been a great conversation. I would just offer my deep encouragement to all the city, and state, and local officials that are listening in to keep up this work. My office is always happy to kibbitz on anything. You know, we’ve gone through—we’re now—we’re almost four years old now. And this office didn’t exist before us. But we now have a bit of experience and are really happy to—you know, to help in any way we can. I think it really needs to happen, that states and cities become more of a partner on foreign policy than they have been so far. I think it’ll benefit Americans if we do that.
FASKIANOS: I’m going to ask one other question, Nina. Have you seen others—since yours was the first to form—other cities following your example to form an international affairs team?
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. I mean, the only difference in our case is that it’s a deputy mayor level, but there are—there are definitely other American cities that are playing, you know, heavily in international affairs. There’s just not many. There’s sort of a handful. And even they have, like, one or two or three people at most. So, but yeah. We’re not in this alone at all. We got a good team, small team but good team.
FASKIANOS: Great. (Laughs.) We’ll try to—
KUPCHAN: And I would just add, Irina, that what Nina said was right. This is a critical conversation for our country. Let’s keep it going. Irina, unfortunately, knows where to find us. So I invite all of you to stay in touch if you have questions or you just want to chew the fat about these issues. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you, Charlie Kupchan and Nina Hachigian. We really appreciate it. We will send out the link to this conversation. And of course, we are continuing to host these webinars and look forward to all of you to send in your suggestions of other topics we should consider covering in future webinars. You can follow Charlie Kupchan’s work on CFR.org and Nina Hachigian on Twitter, @NinaHachigian. And also follow us, @CFR_Local, and send an email to us at [email protected] for those suggestions.
So we hope everyone is staying safe and well. Thank you for all that you’re doing in your communities. And we look forward to continuing the conversation.