By Steve Aoki:
The international reputation of the United States is at a post-World War II low, according to a former senior diplomat. But instead of passively complaining, Tom Countryman is doing something about it – working on voter registration drives to counteract Republican voter suppression efforts.
Countryman, who held the top arms control and nonproliferation job at the State Department until he was dismissed in 2017 by the incoming Trump Administration, gave his assessment at a recent meeting of Virginia Democracy Forward (VADF).
In addressing the McLean-based grassroots group on Jan. 9, he called out the important contributions made by career government employees to advancing our national security, democratic values, and American interests around the world.
The actions and rhetoric of the current president are undermining this core strength, making us all less safe, he said. We’re also facing unprecedented challenges from climate change and allowing the threat of nuclear conflict to reappear by sabotaging existing agreements and undermining the credibility of our alliances around the world.
Tom then talked about a post-retirement project, working with some college classmates to encourage voter registration and turnout in North Carolina and Wisconsin, swing states in this year’s election. While non-partisan in design, these efforts serve to counteract concerted Republican efforts to curb voter participation.
He is planning to lead a group to Wisconsin this spring, and other Northern Virginia grassroots organizations are planning similar efforts in North Carolina in March.
VADF audience members described Tom’s talk as one of the best and most inspirational the organization has hosted. It was punchy and conversational, yet made a compelling argument for why our grassroots efforts matter.
From Tom’s January 31, 2017 State Department retirement speech:
The [State] Department gave me and my family the opportunity to see the world, and not just as tourists. It allowed me to see the reunification of families divided by the Iron Curtain, and to see Israelis and Palestinians negotiate face to face. I saw – and contributed a little to – the restoration of democracy in Serbia. And for the last few years, it’s given me the chance to speak for the United States about a priority shared by eleven successive Presidents: reducing the risk of a nuclear holocaust.
If we wall ourselves off from the world, we will extinguish Liberty’s projection, as surely as if, as the Gospel says, we hid our lamp under a bushel basket. If we do not respect other nations and their citizens, we cannot demand respect for our citizens. If our public statements become indistinguishable from disinformation and propaganda, we will lose our credibility. If we choose to play our cards that way, we will lose that game to the masters in Moscow. If our interaction with other countries is only a business transaction, rather than a partnership with Allies and friends, we will lose that game too. China practically invented transactional diplomacy, and if we choose to play their game, Beijing will run the table.
Main photo: Virginia Democracy Forward, a grassroots organization, hosted the presentation by former Asst. Sec. Countryman
Steve Aoki is a member of the Dranesville District Democratic Committee and a member of Virginia Democracy Forward. Before retiring from the U.S. Department of Energy, Dr. Aoki (Ph.D, physics) served in the State Department and the National Security Council.
Like this story? Share it on social media!