Guest Opinions

Why does a foreign policy scholar visit Boise? ‘I came because we are one America.’

Amanda Sloat, a former deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, spoke at Boise State classes during a visit to Idaho earlier this month.
Amanda Sloat, a former deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, spoke at Boise State classes during a visit to Idaho earlier this month. Provided by Amanda Sloat

The first weekend in March, I came to Boise for the first time. I barely escaped Washington, D.C., before strong nor’easter winds shut down a city renowned for its long-windedness. While I wouldn’t admit this to my boss, I came early to explore the city’s sites (including the famous blue turf) and to snowshoe in McCall’s Ponderosa Park.

I came because the Boise Committee on Foreign Relations, a non-profit organization that facilitates dialogue on foreign policy, invited me to speak to its members about U.S. relations with Turkey. After a decade in Congress and the State Department, I am now writing about European policy in a think tank. As Washington is an echo chamber, it is refreshing to discuss ideas in a new environment where people from different backgrounds bring a fresh perspective — and usually ask the hardest questions.

I came because I talk about you abroad. A week before my visit to Boise, I traveled to five cities in Germany to explain American politics and discuss the trans-Atlantic relationship. Germans were confused by our president’s disdain for America’s closest allies and the institutions built together from the ashes of two world wars. A taxi driver (always the best gauge of public opinion) in Munich told me Europe used to look up to the United States but no longer recognizes its values. Germans asked me about President Trump’s demand for Europe to spend more on defense, as they prefer to focus on conflict prevention and post-war reconstruction.

While agreeing that alliance members make different and valuable contributions, I said the U.S. could not shoulder the burden of war alone. I asked: How can I persuade a mother in Idaho Falls that her son should be killed in combat while a son from Frankfurt should build schools? They hadn’t thought about Idaho before, but they do now. At the same time, Germans want you to understand the shame and scars of World War II make them cautious about rebuilding a strong military.

I came because I believe in Idaho’s young people. As a Michigan native and graduate of a land grant university (go Spartans!), I know it can be daunting to move from “flyover country” to Washington and abroad. Yet as I told dozens of students at Boise State University during lectures there, America needs their voices, ideas and experiences as digital natives in a world facing technological challenges. I was inspired by their energy and hope some choose careers in government and foreign policy.

I came because we are one America. We succeed and fail together, with our security and prosperity dependent on us all. I am better at developing policy options when I understand viewpoints from the interior to the coasts. At the same time, I want you to know that Washington — despite its many faults — is not a swamp (except in August). It is filled with serious, hard-working people who love our country; that’s why it has been disappointing to see career government officials ignored, dismissed and devalued by this administration. Rather than argue on social media, we must talk to each other.

My Washington friends want to visit Boise after I shared what I saw and learned there. We would also like you to visit us in Washington, where you will find interest in your perspective and a desire to work together on the problems confronting our country.

Amanda Sloat is a Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, where she previously served in Congress, the White House and the State Department. She is a proud graduate of Michigan State University and University of Edinburgh.