National Public Radio correspondent Tom Gjelten said he felt like the “understudy for a Broadway star” when he stepped in as Morning Forum of Los Altos speaker June 3 – his wife, ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, had been scheduled to speak but was on assignment.
Gjelten’s overseas reporting for NPR has taken him to posts around the world as he covered Latin America; Central Europe; Cuba; the wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia; the Gulf War; the wars in Croatia and Bosnia; the war in Afghanistan; and the invasion of Iraq. He served as lead NPR correspondent during coverage of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was reporting live from the Pentagon when the plane crashed into it on 9/11. He is a regular panelist on the PBS program “Washington Week.”
The veteran reporter listed the big questions in Washington currently: What is the role of the U.S. today? Is the president projecting weakness? Do our allies view him in this way? Are we sliding back to isolationism?
According to Gjelten, President Barack Obama, in a recent speech at West Point, said the U.S. would go to war, if necessary, and do so unilaterally, but only if its core interests are at stake. Otherwise, the U.S. will collaborate with its allies. Obama added that the U.S. can sometimes act alone if there is genocide, adhering to the principle that we have “the responsibility to protect.”
Gjelten said that while Obama’s opponents in Congress have criticized such a stance, the president’s views are in line with public opinion. A Pew Research Center survey recently revealed that the public is not in the mood to retreat, is not isolationist and can be convinced that intervention might be effective.
Gjelten shared his thoughts on a range of current events, including the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Muslims in the U.S., Cuba under Fidel and Raul Castro, negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, the motivations of Edward Snowden, the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and Guantanamo Taliban prisoner exchange and U.S. options regarding Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Gjelten is currently writing a book on the immigrant experience in the U.S. and the impact of the 1965 Immigration Act, which opened the country to the largest influx of immigrants since 1910.
The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For membership details and more information, visit morningforum.org.