Former Clinton advisor discusses possibility of Cold War 2 at FIU

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Mark Medish, a former security advisor to Bill Clinton, speaks at FIU in October 2016. He will return to campus April 17 to discuss U.S.-Russian relations and the possibility of a second Cold War.

Mark Medish is a former special assistant to President Bill Clinton and senior director on the National Security Council for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs. He also served as assistant secretary to the U.S. Treasury. Now the CEO of The Messina Group, a strategic consulting firm dedicated to global advisory services and investments, Medish will be at FIU on April 17 to discuss “U.S.-Russia Relations: Is this Cold War 2?” We spoke with Medish about his views on current affairs and what to expect from his talk.

The title of your upcoming talk is pretty provocative – “U.S.-Russia Relations: Is this Cold War 2?” Without giving too much away, how serious is the situation between our two countries?

The Cold War 2 reference was meant to be provocative, but it’s also a question. Nothing is inevitable but it is worthwhile to consider the risks of a new, long-term standoff and, more important, to look for pathways to avoid it.

How has the relationship changed (for better or for worse) under the Trump administration?

It’s too early to tell. The new team came into office with an announced intention of rebalancing the bilateral relationship. The early signs both from Washington and Moscow are decidedly mixed and the emerging “Russiagate” scandal has seriously complicated the policy discussion.

The last time you visited FIU, you mentioned that the U.S. might not just be heading toward another Cold War but perhaps something “even more dangerous.” What did you mean?  

One way to think about it is that Cold War 2 would be “better” than World War 3 – and we must strive to avoid both. The main risk is that a new Cold War would be much harder to contain than the first Cold War primarily because of major shifts in the nature of global power over the past 30 years. The days of dual superpower dominance are over, and the rise of other powerful state and non-state actors and of new technologies has complicated the picture.

When you were an advisor to Bill Clinton, how would you describe the U.S. relationship with Russia?

We were trying to build a post-Cold War architecture. It was a time of historic opportunities for cooperation. We kept the peace and made some progress, but collectively we also missed some of the key opportunities. The blame for the failure was broadly shared on both sides.

As a senior director on the National Security Council, you must have faced some tense situations. Can you tell us about a situation where you feared things might be heading in the wrong direction?

The crisis over Serbia and Kosovo was a low point. The pattern of confrontation in that case provided important hints for how future tensions would develop and play out.

What did you like most about your work in foreign policy and national security?

As a foreign policy wonk, I can’t imagine anything more thrilling than working at the White House, State Department, and U.S. Treasury as I was fortunate to do. I pinched myself all the time.

How did you handle the stress and intensity of your work in national security?

It’s like working in an ER. You need to stay in condition. I played tennis whenever I could.

What was it like to work for Bill Clinton? What do you think his legacy in foreign policy is or should be?

Most critics would agree that Bill Clinton was in a league of his own in terms of intellectual rigor and political skill. He was the first president to address the reality and scale of globalization and he was deeply committed to continued U.S. international engagement and normative leadership.

What advice would you have for FIU students looking to go into similar fields?  

Opt for courses that build your analytic and communication skills.  Study history and foreign languages. Any entry job in the foreign policy community can be the first step in your ladder upwards.

What can we expect from your talk next week?

Let’s have some fun. I always look forward to my visits to the Green School at FIU because I learn so much from students’ views and questions.

Mark Medish will join Ralph S. Clem, professor emeritus of geography and former director of the Center for Transnational and Comparative Studies at FIU, and Markus Thiel, director of the Miami-Florida Jean Monnet Center European Center of Excellence and the European and Eurasian Studies Program at FIU, for “U.S.-Russian Relations: Is this Cold War 2?” – a presentation of the Ruth K. and Shepard Broad Distinguished Lecture Series at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs. The talk is scheduled for 2:30 p.m., April 17, in the College of Business Complex (CBC) 233.  Click here to RSVP.

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