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Crash course on the world.

If you're like me - and, I'll wager, like most other folks in the editorial writing biz these days - you don't have the money in your travel or training budget to finance a trip to Kosovo to check out the situation for yourself.

Only rarely, if ever, can you make the NCEW-sponsored international tours, like the one this past winter to Eastern Europe.

Closer-to-home editorials, you figure, are what your readers most want and what you can best provide. Immersed in state and local issues, you feel less than comfortable in editorializing about the international scene.

Still, makers of U.S. foreign policy, no less than makers of local zoning policy, are accountable to the public - that is, our readers. The Cold War has ended, but the United States - which is to say again, our readers - continues to have vital interests throughout the world. If anything, those interests are intensifying as the old economic order gives way to the new era of globalization.

Despite our limitations, in other words, many of us have an obligation to comment at least occasionally on the international issues of the day.

One relatively quick, relatively inexpensive way to pick up speed on those issues is to attend NCEW-sponsored briefings by U.S. State Department officials. Nearly two dozen NCEW members did so March 12-13 in Washington, D.C.

No, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright didn't stop by for a frank and candid exchange of views. Nor did Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. But the sessions, admirably organized by Jim Boyd and Dave Hage of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Jim chairs the NCEW International Affairs Committee), did feature talks in an informal setting with several officials whose names, faces, and voices are not infrequently in the news.

The program began with lunch with the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, James Rubin, the State Department's chief spokesman. Particularly timely among the sessions that followed were a briefing on the case for NATO enlargement by Jeremy Rosner, who's heading the administration's ratification effort; a down-to-earth, insider's look at the current situations in Bosnia and Kosovo by special envoy Robert Gelbard; and an insightful if somewhat disheartening summation, by envoy Dennis Ross, of the current state of the Middle East peace process.

There were briefings, too, on simmering issues likely to heat up again in the not-too-distant future. Undersecretary of state Stuart Eizenstat spoke on climate change and the Kyoto protocols; acting undersecretary of state John Holum talked about arms control and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; assistant secretary of state Alan Larson briefed the NCEW group on trade and the global economy.

'Yale, male, and pale'

Perhaps the best line of the two days was delivered by Lula Rodriguez, a political appointee who is the department's deputy assistant secretary for public affairs. Acknowledging her trepidation in accepting the job, she noted State's reputation for being "Yale, male, and pale." (For the record, she went on to say that cultural inbreeding at the department is not as bad as she had feared, and is on the decline.)

The briefings made nobody an expert. They did, however, provide a fast framework for fathoming the essential points of, and rationale behind, U.S. foreign policy in several key areas.

NCEW member Geoff Seamans is associate editor of the editorial page for The Roanoke Times & World-News in Virginia. His e-mail address is
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Title Annotation:how editorial writers can keep abreast of foreign affairs quickly without traveling
Author:Seamans, Geoff
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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