U.S. role in world scrutinized at forum

A discussion of America’s role in the world came to Charlotte on Wednesday, sparking debate about globalization, outsourcing and the United States’ international reputation.

Several hundred people attended “The People Speak” town hall meeting, a project launched last year by the Washington-based United Nations Foundation to engage Americans in a discussion about global issues. The forum took place at UNC Charlotte.

Five panelists discussed issues and answered questions from the audience. One question centered on how foreign countries have responded to the United States since the war in Iraq began.

Panelist Ann Florini, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said it may be hard to measure, but America’s popularity in the international community has clearly eroded.

“I think it’s really important to understand just how unpopular the United States has made itself … It’s a little frightening,” Florini said.

Panelist Wachovia senior economist Mark Vitner said Florini was being a bit extreme in her belief about America’s unpopularity among foreign countries.

“Leadership sometimes is not popular … we’re exerting our leadership, maybe in the wrong way, but when you exert your leadership sometimes you’re not going to be popular.”

Amreghe Ojaide, a senior political science and international studies major at UNCC, was a bit perturbed with the makeup of the panel.

“If they’re talking about the global community, the panelists were all Caucasian and they were all American,” Ojaide said after the forum. “That doesn’t represent the global community.”

The other panelists were C. Boyden Gray, co-chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy; Timothy Martin, a senior vice president at Bank of America Corp.; and UNCC economist John Connaughton.

Tom Ziemba, executive director of The People Speak, said the forums aim to provoke discussion among citizens.

“We think it’s very important that Americans are engaged in a discussion of foreign affairs because, as we’ve seen in the last few years, these are not abstract issues,” said Ziemba, who did not attend the Charlotte forum.

The People Speak encourages grass-roots, nonpartisan dialogue nationwide. Co-sponsors include the Brookings Institution and the Jesse Helms Center.

In 2003, more than 2,000 community events took place in all 50 states in universities, high schools, church basements, libraries and family living rooms.