Abraham Lowenthal, holder of the Robert F. Erburu Chair in Ethics, Globalization and Development in USC College, was recently named a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, one of the nation’s foremost domestic and foreign policy think tanks.
Funded in part by the Ford Foundation, the fellowship will aid the international relations professor in pursuing a new project, “Rethinking U.S. Policies and Relationships in the Americas.”
Lowenthal chose to work with the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit because of its vaunted influence in the Beltway.
“They are really the gold standard in terms of a nonpartisan think tank with policy influence,” he said. “The work I’m doing will be looked at within the broad framework of their work not only on foreign policy, but also on domestic issues such as immigration.
“I look forward to exchanging ideas with the people there,” he continued, “and to having what I do seen within the context of an extremely respected and influential source of ideas on policy issues.”
A prominent expert on Latin America, Lowenthal is the founder and former president of the Pacific Council on International Policy, an independent and nonpartisan think tank affiliated with USC College.
He has authored or edited a dozen books, and has had published more than 100 scholarly and 150 newspaper articles. He is a member and former vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Lowenthal served as founding director of both the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Inter-American Dialogue, the nation’s premier Latin American policy institute.
“Throughout his remarkable career Abe Lowenthal has worked to ensure that public policy debates benefit from the insights provided by high quality social science,” said College Dean Howard Gillman. “This appointment is an acknowledgment of the significance of his work, and underscores the vital importance of strong scholarship for public policy.”
Lowenthal aims to produce a comprehensive analysis of U.S. relations with the countries of Latin America, as well as recommendations for U.S. policymakers. The as-yet untitled book will be completed in 2010.
He already has one important piece of advice to offer: The United States can’t afford to have a single cookie-cutter approach toward relations with its neighbors to the south.
“I want to take a fresh look at the state of United States relations with Latin America and U.S. policies toward Latin America,” Lowenthal said. “And, to begin with, to really disaggregate that question and understand that the region is just too diverse and going in too many different directions for there to be one settled Latin America policy.”
For Lowenthal this project is a type of homecoming — and in more ways than one.
It will be his third stint at Brookings. He served as a research fellow there while completing his doctoral dissertation at Harvard University. Later he returned as a guest scholar while working on Partners in Conflict (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), which won a Phi Kappa Phi prize for outstanding book by a USC faculty member.
The project also represents an intellectual homecoming. After more than a decade developing the think tank he founded, Lowenthal is refocusing his attention on his area of expertise. “From 1993 to 2005, I concentrated almost all of my effort and energy on building the Pacific Council,” he said. “During those 12 years, I had to reduce very substantially my involvement in Latin America, my travel in the region, my participating in conferences, and my writing of essays and chapters.”
After Lowenthal stepped down, he hit the road in order to reconnect with Latin America.
He and his wife, Jane Jaquette (herself a prominent Latin Americanist), spent five of the following 18 months traveling to nine countries in the region. Another round of intensive travel is planned after the spring semester, during which Lowenthal is teaching an undergraduate course at USC in the form of a policy task force examining U.S. policy toward Cuba.
Lowenthal’s project is decidedly not an ivory-tower exercise.
He has been chronicling some of his observations in a monthly column in America Economía, the most widely circulated business magazine in Latin America. His editorials about Latin America and U.S.-Latin America relations have appeared in major newspapers in the region as well as in the United States.
In November 2007, he was one of the principal briefers for the Aspen Institute congressional seminar in Costa Rica, along with Pamela Starr, a senior lecturer in the USC School of International Relations and senior fellow in the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. At that retreat Lowenthal circulated the current draft of his recommendations on Latin America and Caribbean policy for the next president and Congress.
With the forthcoming book and his writing in between, Lowenthal hopes to help bring the U.S. government’s foreign policy perspective into the 21st century.
“A lot of our policies were defined during the Cold War era,” Lowenthal said. “Looking toward the future of U.S. relations with Latin America, I think we need to adjust our lenses and our policies.”