Students attend Q&A with Secretary of State Antony Blinken


Allison Markman

Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed “21st century global challenges facing the U.S.” at a Q&A session on Monday, which students were invited to attend. Blinken was the guest speaker at the 33rd annual Fran Eizenstat and Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture Series at the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote in an email. 

Stuart Eizenstat, who moderated the event on Zoom, was the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union from 1993 to 1996 and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury from 1999 to 2001. He is the grandfather of Julia ’25, Caroline ’28, and Eric ’32. 

“We are fortunate to have many within HM’s family willing to enrich the experience of today’s students; Monday’s lecture was no exception,” Kelly wrote. “The former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury was kind enough to include HM in his invitation to a much larger community.”

Blinken first responded to questions about Russian troop advancements along the Ukrainian border. He provided historical context for the current conflict and discussed the U.S.’ response and potential consequences of Russian aggression. “If we allow these basic principles to be violated with impunity, then we are opening a Pandora’s box that will be not only seen and felt throughout Europe, but around the world, and it will take us back to a time of division, conflict and worse, that so many of us labored for many years to move beyond,” he said. 

Steve Yang (11) found this part of the discussion particularly interesting, he said. “The historical background and contextualization he gave along with his discussion of America’s response and the role of sanctions in it was really enlightening.”

Blinken then addressed the ways in which collaboration between China and the U.S. can be beneficial to addressing global issues. For example, no one country can work to reduce global emissions alone. At the same time, he emphasized the importance of holding China accountable for their human rights abuses and their exploitation of smaller countries in their One Belt One Road Initiative — a global infrastructure development strategy spearheaded by the Chinese government.

Blinken discussed the impact that this infrastructure can have on other nations. “One of the problems we’ve seen, just in terms of the way it goes about making these investments in infrastructure, is that it’s had a tendency to burden countries with tremendous debts that they couldn’t afford,” Blinken said. “In order to pay China back for these investments, they have to divert resources from other parts of the economy or in effect default and have China own the asset. [China has] often brought its own workers to build these projects at the expense of local workers.”

Blinken’s discussion of China was enlightening for Federica Italiani (12) because she had not previously thought about how countries need to collaborate on issues such as climate change, and hold each other accountable at the same time, she said. “His discussion of China’s investments in their infrastructure and its potential consequences I found particularly interesting because I do not normally consider the ramifications of these actions,” she said. Italiani attended the event believing it to be a unique opportunity to hear the head of U.S. diplomacy discuss foreign policy.

The last topic Blinken discussed was Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He emphasized the importance of rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the JCPOA, to place limits on the country’s ability to produce nuclear weapons, which would lead to global destabilization. “The best way to try to put Iran’s nuclear program back in a box and to allow us to at the same time, deal with all of the other excesses in Iranian policy,” he said.

Yang was grateful for the opportunity to attend the event, he said. “We read and hear about foreign policy every day in the media, but actually hearing an analysis by someone in the room where it happens, as it were, by someone who makes those decisions, was incredibly interesting and I enjoyed it a lot.”

Kelly particularly enjoyed Blinken’s comments on the U.S.’ involvement in stabilizing countries globally, he said. “Without a lot of background noise and politicking, I found it fascinating to hear a senior, now retired former member of the Treasury engage the current Secretary of State in a conversation about world affairs.”

Kelly would be interested in continuing the conversations on Monday by inviting Eizenstat to speak to the school, he wrote. “As evidenced by our co-curricular offerings, we have a rather large, genuine and forward-thinking interest in the state of our country’s affairs and the role our country plays in the well-being of other countries. I’d love to see someone invite Mr. Eizenstat to campus for a conversation or two.”