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Panel to address foreign challenges awaiting next president

How will the United States counter rising violence in Afghanistan? Should the U.S. military continue to draw down in Iraq? What should be done about Iran's nuclear ambitions, China's economic might and Russia's reawakened assertiveness?

Tough questions confronting the next American president will be discussed by MIT scholars from 6-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 18, in a roundtable discussion on "Foreign Policy and the Next U.S. Administration: America's Defining Moment" at the Tang Center, E51-315.

The event, sponsored by MIT's Center for International Studies as part of its Starr Forum series, brings together Barry Posen, Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT and director of the CIS Security Studies Program; Carol Saivetz, CIS visiting scholar and research associate at Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies; and Taylor Fravel, MIT associate professor of political science and member of the CIS Security Studies Program.

"Though economic issues loom large in the presidential campaign, and for good reason, foreign policy deserves equal billing," said Posen, who recently testified before Congress about a new grand strategy for the presidency. "The last seven years have not gone well: al Qaida seems almost as strong now as it was when it first attacked the U.S.; significant military resources have been misdirected in Iraq; Afghanistan is a bloody stalemate; Iran's nuclear research and development programs proceed apace; Russia is no longer a weak and malleable remnant of the Soviet Union; China's economy grows rapidly; the tragedy in Darfur persists.

"The menu of foreign policy problems likely to face the next president is long, and the resources to meet them are stretched thin," he said. "Hard choices will need to be made among foreign policy problems, and between foreign policy problems and domestic priorities. The presidential campaign could educate the public about these fundamental issues, but so far it has not."

The forum participants bring a wide range of expertise. Saivetz, an expert on Soviet and now Russian issues, is currently working on a book on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's foreign policy. Fravel, who studies international relations with a focus on international security, examined China security in his recent book, "Strong Borders, Secure Nations."

"In this forum we can illuminate the positions the candidates have too quietly taken, and the questions that we wish the candidates would discuss, and that we hope the press will begin to ask," Posen said.

The discussion is open to the public. For more information, please visit

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 17, 2008 (download PDF).

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