Students filled a small room at the Buffett Institute for Global Studies for the first in a series of events for its Distinguished Visitors Program this Wednesday. Backed by a large world map and brick fireplace sat Strobe Talbott, engrossed in a conversation with a nearby student.
After serving as the deputy secretary of state from 1994-2001, Talbott became president of the Brookings Institute and is now a renowned international relations expert. Prior to working in the government, Talbott was a journalist for TIME magazine.
“I thought journalism would be a terrific way to see the world, help the world and help others understand the world,” Talbott said. He accredits his time in the government to a series of flikes, including being close friends with Bill Clinton during his time as a Rhodes Scholar. “I came into a career I never expected.”
Weinberg junior Carina Kaplan attended the event after Talbott spoke as a guest in her "Politics of Post-Soviet Russia" class. Studying political science and international relations, Kaplan still has burning questions about U.S. relations with Russia, so she said she “had to come.”
Talbott fielded a variety of questions about U.S.-Russia relations, the impact of Trump on America’s global standing and other contemporary foreign affairs issues. After previously serving eight years in Washington as the lead communicator with the former Soviet Union, Talbott had an inside perspective.
“The Russian system is not working,” Talbott said. Talbott said Russia lacks a modern economy and normal relationships with other countries, and that Putin maintains Russia’s isolation by claiming that Russia has enemies everywhere.
“That will work for a while,” Talbott said. “At some point though, that too will crack.”
Weinberg senior Nina Holl avidly attends political science lectures. Holl said she went to the conversation with Talbott because she is “interested in learning about foreign policy from an expert.”
Talbott’s expertise on Russia did not end when he stepped out of the government spotlight. Trump’s close ties with Putin and the emerging scandal of Russian meddling in the recent presidential elections leads Talbott to believe that the state department is in bad shape. “Trump, and therefore the American government, is between a rock and a hard place,” he said.
Despite his expressed concern for the state department, Talbott offered a hopeful and realistic perspective on the future of foreign affairs for the U.S.
“We make mistakes, our allies make mistakes, our enemies make mistakes,” Talbott said. “You have to work with it.”