In Depth: U.S. Global Engagement

From 2003-2005, the Fund dedicated a significant share of its grant budget to helping foreign policy advocates and experts communicate in a more effective and mutually reinforcing way with the "mixed and moderate majority,” or “persuadable middle” of the American public.

The events of September 11, 2001, made clear that U.S. actions would be critical to unlocking (or hindering) progress on the global issues that many foundations cared about, such as peace and security, but which few tackled through efforts to change thinking and re-engage American citizens, or to connect ordinary citizens to policy transformation.

After 2002, as national and international concern intensified over what appeared to be radical shifts in America's foreign and security policy, the RBF became more explicit about its interest in advancing more responsible and effective U.S. foreign policies and policy approaches. For example, RBF support helped scholars at the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations respond to the National Security Strategy of September 2002, and its revolutionary recasting of US foreign policy doctrine, including its embrace of unilateral military preemption as a declared policy of the United States, rather than a last-resort option. In 2005, RBF support for, and input to, the American Strategy program of the New America Foundation (NAF), a nonpartisan policy institute transcending conventional political dichotomies, helped to shape a major NAF conference on reframing America's response to global terrorism. The NAF earned a reputation for cutting edge policy analysis, powerful new voices, and genuinely fresh thinking about foreign and domestic policy issues.


Photo courtesy New America Foundation.

Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.), speaking in September 2005, at a policy forum on Terrorism, Security, and America's Purpose: Towards a More Comprehensive Strategy from the New America Foundation. Photo courtesy New America Foundation/George Washington University.

In addition to working directly on shifting policy frameworks and paradigms, the RBF work convened advocates to engage in similar endeavors. In late 2002, RBF President Stephen Heintz, along with Paul Brest of the Hewlett Foundation and George Soros of the Open Society Institute, gathered the presidents of a dozen foundations at the Soros home in Bedford, New York to consider what their institutions might do together to halt or reverse the dangerous course on which U.S. global engagement seemed to be headed. After nearly two years, a core group of the original "Bedford" participants came together to form the Connect US Initiative, a pooled fund to support fresh thinking about and grass roots advocacy in support of a more collaborative, far-thinking, and constructive US global engagement.

On the grassroots level, the RBF supported efforts to develop materials that promoted responsible U.S. global engagement using language and metaphors that would resonate with people of faith, since religious differences seemingly were at the heart of the conflicts driving foreign policy. Some of these initiatives sought to engage people of faith on the issues that were identified as being of special interest to the Fund. For example, the Fund supported efforts by progressive evangelical organizations to frame climate change as a "creation care" issue, a concept later picked up by evangelical colleges, churches, and study groups around the country. Other initiatives focused on broad questions about America's role in the world — for example, the National Council of Churches' adult study guide, For the Peace of the World: A Christian Curriculum on International Relations, a six-part lesson book designed for use in congregations’ education classes, campus ministries, book groups, women's groups, and social justice seminars.


University students participating in discussions on America’s role in the world and the need for responsible global engagement, facilitated by Americans for Informed Democracy at a leadership retreat in February 2006.

The Fund was the first foundation to support Americans for Informed Democracy (AID), a student group that grew from 25 campus groups to over 500 around the country in less than a year and a half, organizing leadership retreats that provided globally conscious students with toolkits to train them to be effective organizers and advocates for responsible U.S. global engagement. AID then supported these students as they coordinated town hall forums and international video conferences connecting communities in the United States to global and foreign policy issues and to people around the world who were affected by U.S. policies. AID trained close to 4,000 students, who in turn hosted hundreds of events across the country in the mid-2000s.

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