|Crandall Gives Advice on Latin American Policy to Both Sides of Political Fence
October 30, 2008
Contact: Bill Giduz
Presidential administrations come and go, but they all need the advice of experts to keep the ship of state on a steady course.
|Crandall in his office meeting with a student.|
Davidson’s Russell Crandall, a professor of political science with an expertise in U.S. relations with Latin American countries, may be one of few experts who has served on both sides of the political spectrum. In 2004-05 Crandall served as a senior foreign policy adviser at the White House. Now he is serving Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Crandall has also just published his most recent book, The United States and Latin America after the Cold War, (Cambridge University Press). It documents the changing relationship between the parties since the fall of the Berlin Wall almost two decades ago, and offers insights into this area of American foreign policy.
One reviewer wrote, “Crandall’s book is a wake-up call for policymakers and academics to finally bury Cold War rhetoric and analysis when discussing Latin America. New and different players, new contexts -– both globalization and escalating immigration -– all require future policymakers to confront these realities with pragmatism and imagination. Crandall’s book is an excellent and provocative guide to how to do just that.”
Crandall concludes in his book, “Without the overarching threat of Communism, the United States will depend less on heavy-handed military interventions or covert operations and more on subtle, ‘postmodern’ versions of ‘involvement’… In addition, Washington will continue to disagree about the best course of action, and the motivation for U.S. actions in these cases will often be based in domestic political considerations. So while the ‘gunboats’ and CIA plots of earlier eras will remain largely dormant, in areas such as democracy, trade, narcotics, and terrorism, the U.S. will continue to play an integral and often controversial role in the events of the Western Hemisphere.”
Crandall served at the heart of President Bush’s foreign policy staff in 2004-05 as the director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council. That apolitical appointment, supported by the Council on Foreign Relations, allowed him to learn from, and contribute to, debates about U.S. foreign policy at the highest level in the country.
Crandall said the White House experience prompted him to write the new book. He explained, “I left government convinced that we needed to update our approach to motivations and actions in the region. I wanted to write a book that might help a new generation of students, scholars, and policymakers to see U.S. policy through a post-Cold War framework, not an increasingly anachronistic Cold War framework.”
Since January 2007 he has been applying that vision for Latin American foreign policy for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Crandall doesn’t directly speak with Obama, but serves on the “Americas” team of experts who write position papers, ideas, and talking points that are sent to Obama’s core advisers. Not all of Crandall’s recommendations are accepted by the candidate, but Crandall feels gratified to be part of the process. “The value of the relationship is that they want me to provide candid, unfiltered advice,” he said. “We have a diversity of advisors and every voice is heard and respected. I think that’s unusual.”
Though the pressures of producing position papers on issues are similar, Crandall said that advising a presidential candidate is far more challenging than advising a sitting president. He noted, “As an aide to the president, you have the entire Executive Branch at your disposal. There are loads of extremely bright and dedicated government officials to provide support. A candidate receives very little such insider information.”
Crandall and the other Obama advisers in most cases rely on their own years of study about an issue, professional contacts, and information available to the general public through the media or published articles in journals.
Crandall said that “24-7” news channels and the media hunger for “gotcha!” moments make advising work a nerve-racking business. “There is so much pressure for your policy not to ‘look bad’ as opposed to just being simply good policy. It’s exhausting,” he said.
In one instance, a debate between Obama and McCain a few weeks ago that focused on domestic issues unexpectedly touched on the U.S. free trade agreement with Colombia. The spotlight was unexpectedly turned on the work that Crandall and his colleagues had researched and proposed for the candidate. “Suddenly, the topic you’ve been debating and formulating for 18 months is compressed into 60 seconds of give and take between the two candidates,” he said.
Crandall said it’s been an eye-opening, sometimes stressful experience, but a tremendous privilege to participate in the American political process. Crandall also worked as a campaign volunteer in the South Carolina and North Carolina Democratic primaries and the general election. “This might seem strange coming from a foreign policy guy, but the grassroots organizing was more rewarding than the policy work.” he observed. His role as adviser is another example of Crandall’s eagerness to learn about Latin America by “doing.” He has worked as a human rights official with Catholic Relief Services in Colombia, and has been a consultant for the World Bank, Andean Development Bank, and United Nations. Last year he helped establish and lead Davidson’s semester abroad program in Peru.
His scholarship and activities have been widely recognized. In 2006 he was elected to a five-year term on the non-partisan and highly respected Council of Foreign Relations. Members work with the Council to promote understanding of foreign policy choices that the United States and other governments face by offering timely, unbiased, and in-depth coverage of issues to fellow members and the public.
Crandall has also successfully involved students in many of his scholarly activities. Four of the 13 chapters of The United States and Latin America after the Cold War were co-written by political science majors Katie Hunter ’08 and Marshall Worsham ’09. Hunter was gratified that their meticulous examination of source material led to original conclusions. “After looking at the material and discussing it with Dr. Crandall, we were able to formulate some original opinions,” she said. “It wasn’t spitting back existing material. In the end it was original and creative work.”
This past summer Crandall published a second edition of his first book, Driven by Drugs: U.S. Policy toward Colombia. The book was first published in 2002, so Crandall updated it to reflect developments in U.S.-Colombian relations over the past six years. He said, “Bush was just taking office when the first edition appeared. It’s a totally different world in Colombia now. What was a veritable ‘basket case’ six years ago is now a remarkable success story.”
Crandall also wrote the 2006 book Gunboat Democracy: U.S. Interventions in the Dominican Republic, Grenada, and Panama. He has taught at Davidson since 2000, and is also an adjunct professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He has held Davidson’s MacArthur Professorship, and was awarded the college’s 2003 Omicron Delta Kappa Award and the 2008 SGA Teaching Award. He is currently working on a book on U.S. counterinsurgency and nation-building in El Salvador.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz