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Ambassador considers U.S. role in the world

| Thursday, January 26, 2017

In a lecture at the Eck Hall of Law, Ambassador David Robinson, assistant secretary and coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations the United States Department of State, discussed American foreign policy and the country’s role in the world under newly inaugurated President Donald Trump.

“About two months ago, I was traveling through East Africa and I got the same question everywhere I went. It was put best by the chief of the military in Uganda: ‘What the heck is happening in the U.S. with the election?’” Robinson said.

Robinson used this story to emphasize that the rest of the world is still deeply interested in political happenings in the United States, also citing the Women’s Marches that took place on all seven continents last weekend in response to President Trump’s inauguration.

“Theories about U.S. losing primacy of position are overblown,” he said.

“We are going through the most divisive and difficult election season since the 1820s,” Robinson said. “But what you’ll end up seeing is the U.S. institutions pull through like always. This is a country that runs on its institutions. People are saying, ‘Oh my God, it’s the end of the world!’ No, it’s not.”

Robinson said he believes American institutions are, and will continue to be the backbone of the government. Noting the turbulent state of affairs the President has inherited, Robinson repeatedly said the “muscle memory” of government institutions are going to be critical to help the new administration in solving these problems.

As a civil servant, Robinson said his opinion of the president does not matter.

“I will try to make what the president wants to happen happen, unless it is illegal or unethical. It doesn’t matter if I don’t like him — that’s none of your business — but if he succeeds it will be through me,” Robinson said.

Much of the lecture centered on United States foreign policy in recent years. Robinson said that since 9/11, American foreign policy has been, in his view mistakenly, geared towards military solutions.

“You can’t bomb people into liking us,” he said.

Robinson said he believes that security cannot be achieved simply with “bombs and bullets,” but through building institutions that will ensure stability and safety across the world.

Robinson used the American experience in Afghanistan to make this point.

“We killed the Taliban’s No. 2 guy something like 15 times. That approach didn’t defeat the Taliban,” Robinson said.

While killing enemies is critical, Robinson said, it is also important to solve the political problems that are the causes of violence.

Robinson said that he believes that the nonmilitary, and particularly diplomatic, wings of the government are “overlooked.”

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About Tom Naatz

Tom is a senior at University of Notre Dame. He is majoring in Political Science and Spanish and is originally from Rockville, Maryland. Formerly The Observer's Notre Dame News Editor, he's now a proud columnist for the paper.

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