Sen. Russ Feingold lobbied for U.S. foreign relations improvements Monday at the Memorial Union Monday as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series, sponsored by Wisconsin Union Directorate and the UW Division of International Studies.
Feingold focused his discussion on how international relations and the worldview of the United States affects and can be affected by UW-Madison students and Wisconsin citizens.
Feingold encouraged students in the audience to join the Peace Corps, volunteer abroad through other programs, study and form relationships with citizens abroad and welcome foreign citizens visitng in the United States.
“UW-Madison has one of the strongest and longest traditions of international service in the country,” said Dean Gilles Bousquet, member of the International Studies Department, who spoke before Feingold.
The UW-Madison campus is consistently one of the top campus generators of Peace Corps volunteers, according to Feingold.
Brian Heegan opened the lecture by relating his own experience teaching in Nairobi, Kenya. He said the experience taught him “not only the value of representing my country abroad but developed a more conscientious appreciation for the principles of liberty, equality and opportunity.”
According to Feingold, U.S. foreign relations have been over-militarized, resulting in lost U.S. allies and a declining view of the country worldwide.
“We cannot simply rely on our troops,” Feingold said. “Our most important diplomatic initiative must be to encourage and support individual citizens to reach out across our borders with their private and personal lives. Our best diplomats in the world today are our private citizens.”
Feingold said studies proved public opinion of the United States goes up in areas where U.S. citizens volunteer their time and money to improve conditions in foreign countries.
“Americans as a people are still consistently more popular than our country,” he said.
According to Feingold, to improve the world standing of the United States the number of foreign service officers in the field and funding for language programs must increase, and communication of our national ideals and goals must improve.
“[Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates has famously said that we had fewer foreign service officers than it would take to man a single aircraft carrier striker. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has noted that there are twice as many lawyers in the Defense Department as there are foreign service officers,” Feingold said.