I returned Sunday, June 22, from nearly a month in Europe on a Marshall Fellowship. I visited Brussels, Frankfurt, Madrid, Skopje, and Berlin. It was an amazing experience, and the German Marshall Fund did an outstanding job at organizing the trip and setting up meetings with government officials and community leaders in each city. Because of my position at the Department of Homeland Security, I focused a significant amount of time studying Europe’s approach to security issues. Something I considered throughout my fellowship was the extent to which we may have overreacted to 9-11 in terms of revamping our national security architecture. I sometimes feel an impulse to believe we (the U.S. government) may have gone too far in specific areas and perhaps even in aggregate (a la Fortress America), but then I’m hard pressed to think of a program I would dial down or eliminate. I had many discussions with a variety of officials on this topic, and more often than not, their most consistent recommendation was for us to improve our customer service towards foreign visitors (process + attitude). Very rarely would officials recommend eliminating a specific program, and in fact, the Europeans are working to emulate many of ours.
It dawned on me that many Europeans consider the way we greet visitors to the U.S. to be an unpleasant combination of a surly French waiter and Inspector Javert from Les Mis. The irony.