“I have watched Network 20/20 grow from a small start-up into a dynamic organization making a difference because it listens to leaders of other countries and reports their views to U.S. policy makers,”  former Ambassador and special representative for President Obama (and Telluride local), Richard Holbrooke.

If the pen truly is mightier than the sword, then Dr. Leslie H. Gelb clearly knows how to deliver one heck of a parry. Prior to his 12-year tenure as President of the Council on Foreign Relations (he is now President Emeritus), Gelb had a distinguished career at The New York Times. In 1985, he earned a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism.

Following his work as a senior advocate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Gelb became Assistant Secretary of State in the Carter Administration, where he received the highest State Department laurel, the Distinguished Honor Award.

While in New York, we were privileged to attend the ninth annual foreign policy lecture and benefit for Network 20/20, where Gelb was keynote speaker. (And yes, there’s a Telluride connection. Stay tuned.)

Network 20/20 is a New York-based nonprofit with a global mission at the heart of which is a provocative question: Ten years from now, when business leaders and policy makers from the United States and countries of pivotal concern for global peace sit down at the negotiating table, will they meet as strangers or as colleagues with a history of cooperation?

Network 20/20’s mission is to foster the new energy and talent needed to confront unprecedented global and transnational security concerns and promote a sustainable, interdependent world through cross-border problem-solving and entrepreneurial  diplomacy. To that end, 20/20’s network inlaces a talented, diverse and multilingual group of young people from business, law, media, arts, NGOSs, think tanks, government and academia, two-thirds of whom hold advanced degrees. These highly motivated young people volunteer significant time and energy (and dip into their own piggybanks for the trips) to further America’s positive engagement with the world. They are this country’s emerging leaders.

And according to Gelb, much needed.

“No one is dumber about the world than America,” he said in the introduction to his talk, “Truth and Lies in U.S. Foreign Policy.”

Gelb went on to explain our willful ignorance of the facts stems from a stubborn belief in our country’s continuing global dominance. Things will forever be as they have been and are, amen. Only not so much.

“It’s hard for people (here) to contend with what the world has become,” explained Gelb. “Now our influence is so much more difficult to implement, in part because international relations today turns more on economic issues,” adding, “This is the first time we have a global power that is not a military force: China.”

And the so-called regional powers too – Brazil, India, Turkey – none of them are our enemies either. None of those countries, none of our relationships turn on military strength either.

Gelb believes Mexico should matter more to us than Afghanistan, which is “unwinnable.” “We have a common border with Mexico, two-way trade, and the country’s economy is doing very well.”

According to Gelb, other countries’ twin economics and politics, teaching them as one big and important idea. But his attempts to fuse the subjects at an international learning center – for which he managed to raise seed money of $50 million – based at Columbia University got nixed by the professors of both department, who behaved like feudal lords.

Only it’s no longer, at least historically speaking, the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages were roughly 1,000 years ago.

Gelb’s spin on foreign policy? It is based on “lies, half truths, illusions, and politics.”  “Politics is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.” And most foreign policy decisions are made by the White House, not by “Foggy Bottom,”  (a metonym for the State Department).

On the Israeli/Iran crisis will Obama give any concessions to Iran to get concessions in return?  “My bet is no,” he said and here’s why:

Gelb believes the White House, in the throes of an election, gives way too much credit to the political importance of a very wealthy 20 percent of Jewish industrialists, largely hawks with regard to Iran. But while it is true they are monied and powerful, they tend not to be Democrats. In fact, many are supporting Republican Super Pacs, the sugar daddies of today’s political world. Gelb maintains that constituency “would not support Obama even if he turned into Moses.” The remaining 80 percent of the Jewish vote are already the president;s supporters and they don’t want Israel to attack Iran.

The biggest issue in the world of foreign affairs today? Gelb says it’s Iran. If Iran goes nuclear, there is a good chance neighboring countries will follow suit. There is also an enhanced risk of terrorism to Israel, which would have an ugly cascading effect.

Gelb concluded with a single, sobering fact: “Most problems in the world today are not between nations, but within nations.”

And nations can no longer be controlled with “soft power.”

Money no longer solves everything.

But it helps.

Especially to a worthy organization like Network 20/20, which operates effectively but on a shoestring.

A live auction followed Dr. Gelb’s talk, featuring David Redden, Vice Chairman, Sotheby’s as auctioneer. Among the items under his gavel: dinner at the home of Ambassador Richard Murphy and a conversation about “What’s Ahead in the Arab World”; India, One Prize, Two Unforgettable Experiences, Five NIghts: Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad and Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai; stays at three different Mandarin Oriental Hotels around the world; and Telluride: The Best of the West, Summer or Winter, described as a week in the world’s most majestic outdoor wonderland, with a week at the home of Anne  and Vincent Mai.

Guess which of the 12 amazing packages went biggest?

Yep. It was Telluride and the Mai residence.

Anne Mai is board chair of Network 20/20. She and Vincent also co-produce (with Josh Aronson) the upcoming Telluride Musicfest, an annual series of chamber music events that take place in late June at their home.

1 Comment
  • Lawry de Bivort
    Posted at 08:31h, 01 May

    Many thanks for the excellent summary of Gelb’s observations! Going back to the Viet Nam war days, he has been a shining light. And evidently he continue to be so.