Great Decisions Discussion Groups

The Great Decisions discussion groups meet eight times during February-June each year to read and discuss topics chosen by the Foreign Policy Association.  This is part of a national program to expose Americans to important foreign policy issues and provide a framework for discussion about them.  As part of the program, each participant receives a book containing important background material for each topic ($25 cost).  The program is open to all residents of Oakmont and their guests.  (NOTE: There are large print books available if requested).

Our next program will begin February 4, 2019.  There will be announcements in the Oakmont News beginning December 1, 2018.  If you want to be sure you're on the email reminder list, just email George McKinney at

Meetings are held every two weeks for 8 meetings during February into June (skipping Memorial Day).  There will be your choice of two groups:  one will meet beginning February 4 and meet every other week ending May 13.  The other will meet beginning February 11 and meet every other week ending May 20. Meetings are Monday mornings from 10-12 in the East Recreation Center.

If there are two people who want to participate together, you don't need to buy 2 books (but if you want to buy 2 books, the second one is only $15).  There will be more information published in the Oakmont News in the December 1, 2018 issue.

If you have any questions, please email or call me at 538-7264.

Topics for 2019

1. Refugees and Global Migration, by Karen Jacobsen

Today, no countries have open borders. Every state in today’s global system has its own laws and policies about who is permitted to cross its borders, and how they will do so. Who determines whether someone is a refugee or a migrant? How have different countries, including the United States, reacted to migration? How effective are the international laws, policies and organizations that have evolved to assist and protect refugees and migrants? 

2. The Middle East: Regional Disorder, by Lawrence G. Potter

As the presidency of Donald J. Trump passes the halfway point, the Middle East remains a region in turmoil. The Trump administration has aligned itself with strongmen in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which along with Israel have a common goal of frustrating Iranian expansion. What will be the fallout from policy reversals such as withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear accord and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? Does the United States see a path forward in troubled states such as Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq? Is the United States headed toward war with Iran? 

3. Nuclear Negotiations: Back to the Future? by Ronald J. Bee

Nuclear weapons have not gone away, and the Trump administration has brought a new urgency, if not a new approach, to dealing with them.  The President has met with Vladimir Putin as the New Start Treaty with Russia comes up for renewal in 2021, the first presidential summit ever with Kim Jong-un occurred to discuss denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and President Trump has decertified the Obama nuclear deal with Iran.  To what degree should past nuclear talks guide future U.S. nuclear arms control negotiations?  Can the art of the deal apply to stabilizing our nuclear future? 

4. The Rise of Populism in Europe, by James Kirchick

Mass migration, and the problems associated with it, have directly abetted the rise of populist parties in Europe. Opposition to immigration was the prime driver of support for Brexit, it brought a far-right party to the German Bundestag for the first time since the 1950s, and propelled Marine Le Pen to win a third of the vote in the French presidential election. In addition to calling for stronger borders, however, these parties are invariably illiberal, anti-American, anti-NATO and pro-Kremlin, making their rise a matter of serious concern for the national security interests of the United States. 

5. Decoding U.S.-China Trade, by Jeremy Haft

Though arguably the most advanced economy in the world, the United States still uses centuries-old numbers to measure trade.  These antique numbers mangle understanding of the U.S.-China trade relationship, shrinking America’s true economic size and competitiveness, while swelling China’s.  Bad numbers give rise to bad policies that ultimately kill U.S. jobs and cede market share to China.  What other tools can the United States employ to counter China’s unfair trade practices?  There are several available, yet they remain mostly unused. 

6. Cyber Conflict and Geopolitics, by Richard Andres

Cyber conflict is a new and continually developing threat, which can include foreign interference in elections, industrial sabotage and attacks on infrastructure. Russia has been accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential elections in the United States and China is highly committed to using cyberspace as a tool of national policy. Dealing with cyber conflict will require new ways of looking at 21st century warfare. Is the United States prepared to respond to such threats? 

7. The United States and Mexico: Partnership Tested, by Michael Shifter and Bruno Binetti

The United States and Mexico have a long, intertwined history, with both countries prominently featured in each other’s politics and agendas. The war on drugs, immigration and trade issues have taxed the relationship over the years. What impact will new leadership in both countries have on this crucial partnership? 

8. State of the State Department and Diplomacy, by Nicholas Burns

During the Trump administration, the usual ways of conducting diplomacy have been upended. Many positions in the State Department have never been filled, and meetings with foreign leaders such as Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin have been undertaken with little advance planning. What effect are these changes having now, and how will they affect ongoing relationships between the United States and its allies and adversaries?