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NORMAL — As someone who has fostered Sister City relationships and traveled to Russia and other countries in Europe and the Middle East, Joe Grabill is listening carefully as international issues are discussed in this year's presidential campaign.

“It shouldn't be a surprise to any of us who've studied Russian history that (Vladimir) Putin has arisen,” said Grabill, professor emeritus of history at Illinois State University. “Putin needs to be handled carefully. He must not be treated as an enemy but as a partner.”

International relations and the role of the United States in the world is the second in a five-part series published in The Pantagraph, Decatur Herald & Review and Mattoon-Charleston Journal Gazette-Times Courier.

Other topics to be covered are health care (Oct. 16), education (Oct. 23) and energy (Oct. 30).

In addition to relationships with other countries and security matters, immigration policies are a focus of attention.

Mike Snow of Mattoon thinks it is important to keep the doors open to refugees and international visitors.

“We have welcomed in our home students and adults from many different countries,” said Snow, an exchange student host who is active in the Mattoon Rotary Club. “It has been a rich experience for us.”

“The reality is the rest of the world — no matter how much they criticize us — looks to us as the only real player who can solve their international problems,” said retired Eureka High School history teacher Don Samford, immediate past president of the Peoria World Affairs Council.

“We are the single most important player,” said Samford. “Whatever we do affects everyone else.”

Grabill noted that the United States and Russia have many common concerns, such as controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, particularly in North Korea. Addressing that also “requires deep cooperation with China,” he said.

Better cooperation among nations also is needed to address international terrorism.

“The whole situation with ISIS has to be more coordinated than it is,” said Grabill, pointing to Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia and NATO as necessary partners.

National security is also a major concern of Mike Moffitt of Bloomington, a Vietnam-era veteran and past commander of American Legion Post 56 in Bloomington.

“We've got to build our military back up,” said Moffitt. “You've got to be a strong country to keep others from attacking. ... You can't be a strong nations without a strong military.”

Samford agreed that a strong military is an important part of diplomacy, in addition to a strong economy.

“You don't have diplomacy if you don't have cards to play,” said Samford, who has traveled in Europe, the Middle East, China, Cuba, Australia and New Zealand.

But the United States can't do it alone, Moffit said.

Moffitt would like to see the next president push U.S. allies to contribute more “militarily and monetarily,” he said.

Samford agrees that “the cost is killing us.”

Grabill said, “We can't continue to be the world's policeman. That's too large a responsibility.”

Instead, he said, “We need to strengthen the United Nations so the Security Council veto power doesn't stymie everything.”

Samford is worried about the rhetoric against free trade in the current campaign and the pressure to retreat from free trade.

“People don't realize the devastating impact historically that's had,” Samford said. “I'm concerned that we're going backwards.”

Snow thinks the U.S. role in the world should include doing “all we can to protect the innocent,” working toward “peace through diplomacy.”

Talk of deportations that would divide families “bothers me greatly,” said Snow, as do suggestions that refugees and immigrants should be limited based on religion or race. Snow calls that “totally unconstitutional and unjust.”

“I am concerned for the Syrian refugees,” said Snow. “We currently have a thorough enough vetting process. Changes don't have to be made in terms of that.”

Snow worries that restrictions on immigration could have a negative impact in other areas, such as foreign exchange students.

“We have hosted international students for almost 10 years,” he said, describing it as a good way for young people to learn about people from other countries and other cultures.

“You build peace through greater understanding,” said Snow.

Likewise, William Elliott, assistant dean of international and graduate admissions at Eastern Illinois University, expressed concern that changes in U.S. immigration policies could impact non-immigrant student visas. EIU has 431 international students from 40 countries this year, out of an enrollment of about 7,400.

“International education as a whole … reflects quite positively on our reputation as a nation,” said Elliott, who has been involved in international education since the late 1990s.

Students who study in the United States and return home “serve as ambassadors,” he said. “I'm proud of the fact that we make a difference in people's perceptions of the United States.”

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota


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