Diplomacy as an Instrument of Statecraft: A Practicum

Diplomacy as an Instrument of Statecraft: A Practicum
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)

Senior Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
By video link from Washington, DC, 10 January 2022

I’d like to thank the Washington International Diplomatic Academy for inviting me to speak about diplomacy as an instrument of statecraft. I envy you the practical training in diplomatic work you are receiving here. When I entered the Foreign Service of the United States in 1965, I had very little idea what I was getting into. It took me a while and a lot of help from colleagues and supervisors to figure it out. But eventually I had a very fulfilling career.

The word “diplomacy” is used in many different ways but most of them come down to “the tactful management of human relationships.” The great Filipino diplomat, Carlos Romulo,[1] once observed that, where a bureaucrat might say to an ill-favored woman, ‘Madam, you have a face that would stop a clock,’ a diplomat would say, ‘when I look into your eyes, time stands still for me.’  Dr. Romulo was not just making a point about how to win friends and influence people, he was drawing a distinction between home-based officials, who tend to rely on their authority to order others around, and diplomats, who must rely on tact and empathy to persuade foreigners to do what they otherwise would not believe to be in their interest.

What distinguishes diplomats from courtiers, securocrats, and other bureaucrats in a national capital is a reliance on empathy: the ability to see the world through other eyes and to use this insight to induce others to see their interests the way the diplomat wants them to see them. It takes more than a diplomatic passport, position, or title to make someone a “diplomat.”  Diplomacy, like other skilled work, requires knowhow gained through training, mentoring, on-the-job experience, and awareness of historical precedents. It is a calling and a role, not a job title.

Yet diplomacy remains at best a proto-profession in the United States, thanks to the uniquely American reliance on the political spoils system to staff even key national security functions. This makes diplomatic appointments to benefit appointees and their political parties rather than the country. It thereby enshrines amateurism and incompetence. As the New York Herald-Tribune put it in 1857, in the United States “diplomacy is the sewer through which flows the scum and refuse of the political puddle. A man not fit to stay at home is just the man to send abroad.”  Only one thing has changed about this in the last 165 years. Female campaign donors and celebrities now compete with men for appointments to what they imagine are ambassadorial sinecures in plummy places abroad, leaving seedy and dangerous places to lifers.

Professions embody expertise that defines a distinctive approach to the issues with which it deals. The French, who have thought more about diplomacy than most, call this la déformation professionelle – meaning a predisposition imposed by one’s occupation. Confronted with offensive foreign statements and behavior, political operatives will consider how to condemn those foreigners and demonstrate their unflinching rectitude to their constituents. Soldiers will calculate how to punish or deter further instances of foreign misbehavior. Lawyers will contemplate how they might make a case to a court of public opinion that the injury is illegal and so egregiously unjust as to merit compensation by the offending party. But professional diplomats will ask why the offending party is behaving as it is and what statements and actions on the part of their own government might move it in ways that serve their nation’s interest, mitigate the problem, solve it, and eliminate or reduce the danger of it festering into future conflict.

All professions rely on the accumulation of specialized knowledge that seniors can convey to junior members through training and mentoring. No profession can hope to emerge if its leading positions are allocated to amateurs whose only qualification is the wealth to buy them and the titles that go with them. As a result, the U.S. diplomatic service remains only partially professionalized. Not only is it less effective than it might be, but its members are debilitated by a constant struggle to sustain their morale.

Given the diminished margin for error of the United States in the new world disorder, there is reason to wonder how much longer America can rely on political dilettantes with little loyalty to anyone but themselves to manage relationships with foreign friends and foes. Until the American spoils system is curtailed, those foreign friends and foes will almost all be more experienced and skilled at diplomacy than many of their American counterparts.

Quarterbacking a team with someone who has never played the game is, of course, a sure path to futility.  But, to look at the bright side, team members usually learn more from analyzing the reasons for failure than from complacency born of success. And sometimes political appointees have experience or skills that enable them to excel at a particular task. As an example, you would be hard-pressed to think of anyone more effective at the bargaining table than Leonard Woodcock,[2] the former head of the UAW[3] who negotiated the normalization of U.S. relations with China in 1978. Diplomats cannot help but learn a great deal from backstopping someone so masterful at a core diplomatic competency.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of professionals out there below the level of ambassador or serving as ambassador in places that plutocrats wisely do not covet. Many countries’ diplomatic services are highly professional. Notwithstanding our spoils system, so too is a remarkable portion of the U.S. diplomatic service. Whatever diplomatic service you join, you can and will learn a lot from both your diplomatic colleagues and your opponents.

And there is a good chance that, whatever country you come from, you will serve under someone who knows and can teach you the differences:

  • between a démarche and a diatribe,
  • between a nod of agreement and one of respect,
  • between empathy and sympathy,
  • between when to ask a question and when not to,
  • between what was said and what was pointedly not said,
  • between an unconditional and conditional concession,
  • between a strategic concession and a tactical play for time,
  • between a commitment and an equivocation,
  • between a package deal and its component understandings,
  • between a deal and an agreement ad referendum,
  • between when to stay and when to walk out,
  • and so forth.

The world’s diplomatic services are well stocked with men and women who have mastered the uses of listening, speech, and body language as tools with which to influence foreigners to redefine their interests to enable a measure of consensus. They know how best to preserve amicable relationships with foreign officials even as they cross verbal swords with these officials on behalf of their own government. Personal rapport and a reputation for reliability are the keys to being able to deal effectively with counterparts despite sharp official differences. A reputation for discretion and probity, once lost, is almost impossible to recover. Like everyone else, diplomats have only one reputation to lose.

Diplomats may prefer to keep “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” to themselves, but they seldom lie. Doing so would destroy the credibility that is their stock in trade. As François de Callières,[4] the authoritative 17th and 18th century French commentator on the profession of diplomacy put it: “A lie always leaves in its wake a drop of poison. The negotiator should recollect that he is likely for the rest of his life to be constantly engaged in diplomatic business and that it is essential for him to establish a reputation for straight and honest dealing.”

There is honor among thieves in large measure because they can’t refer attempts to cheat each other to the courts. Just so, there is honor among diplomats because there is no godfather or other supra-sovereign authority to resolve their differences or quell their disputes. These must either be left to fester unsettled or find resolution in power plays – perhaps on the battlefield. PACTA SUNT SERVANDA – “agreements must be kept” – is good advice for diplomats as well as the countries whose interests they seek to advance.

In the end, diplomats are only as effective as their personal rapport with their counterparts and the respect these counterparts have for their ethical standards. Every negotiation is both an effort to produce a transaction and the crafting of a relationship. A reputation for sophistry, haggling, and hairsplitting cripples diplomatic effectiveness as surely as one for backstabbing and slandering opponents.

Diplomats have a duty to keep relationships open to future dealings. This makes them wary of insulting opponents. Former Secretary of State “Mike” Pompeo and China’s wolf warrior spokespersons have provided the most recent proof that, as appealing as insults may be to folks on the home front, they foster foreign indignation and recalcitrance and preclude rather than encourage international cooperation. Discourtesy manifests arrogance, envy, belligerence, fear, and contempt. It buttresses hostility, resentment, distrust, anger, and obstinacy. As the savvy British diplomat, Harold Nicolson,[5] advised: “Negotiation should never degenerate into an argument; it should always be kept on the level of discussion.”

This is not to deny that, on rare occasions, a well-crafted insult can have a place in diplomacy. The great German statesman, Otto von Bismarck,[6] famously offended the French to goad them into a war he correctly calculated would unite Germany under Prussian leadership. Even so, Bismarck also advised that one should “be polite. Write diplomatically. Even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness.”  Diplomats seldom insult others inadvertently, and never without calculating the consequences of doing so.

This is because, as the American scholar Kenneth Thompson observed: “The aim of the diplomat is to get as much as he can for his country while giving as little as he can. His unfailing courtesy in this process is not the result of a spineless desire to make himself agreeable to foreigners or to bargain away his country’s good name for good will. It is rather grounded upon a mutual recognition that current negotiation is a mere incident in a continuing relationship, that both parties will have an unending series of matters to settle in the future, and that any agreement will be facilitated through maintenance of objectivity, good will, and good temper.”

Relationships embody mutual expectations and commitments, explicit or implicit. They are the warp and weft of the canvases on which international maneuvers are embroidered and strategies weave their way. Statesmen look to diplomats to manage foreign relationships even as they look to spies to induce foreigners to betray their governments or to the armed forces to break their will and force their capitulation. But the distinctions between these three instruments of statecraft are less than clearcut.

Diplomats are major contributors to the collection of intelligence on foreign societies and their governments.  Spies conduct international liaison relationships with foreign intelligence agencies that supplement and can occasionally supplant overt diplomacy, but they also seek to stimulate treason and to carry out covert actions, proxy warfare, and assassinations. In addition to making war and to backing diplomacy with shows of force, the nation’s armed services collect intelligence and engage in diplomatic dialogue through their attachés and exchanges of visits with foreign counterparts. These activities are often poorly integrated by policy processes in the capital. They must in the end be coordinated by ambassadors empowered to do so as the only officials charged with representing the whole government, not just the foreign ministry, intelligence agencies, defense establishment, or domestic bureaucracies.

Diplomats, spies, and soldiers are agents of the state and, as such, bound by raison d’état, the doctrine that agents cannot substitute their own judgment for that of the duly constituted national authority from which they receive policy directives based on considered judgments. But they must exercise their own judgment in their efforts to implement and advance them with foreign officials. As the men and women on the spot, they are the officials best able to assess how to persuade foreign counterparts to see things the same way their own government does.

Diplomacy seeks to apply measures short of war and subversion to influence the decisions of foreign governments. Diplomats do this with a mixture of charm and discourse informed by empathy and precise diction. As Demosthenes remarked, “ambassadors have no battleships at their disposal, no heavy infantry or fortresses; their weapons are words and opportunities.”  Opportunities are often fleeting. And when ultimata are issued, it is up to diplomats to exact the desired changes in foreign behavior. This requires them to explain the policies of their government persuasively but meticulously, without misleading embellishment.

Diplomats use their understanding of local circumstances and personalities to frame arguments and to time their presentations to maximum advantage with the foreigners with whom they have cultivated relationships. Building such ties is a social activity that seeks intimacy by various means. Countless diplomatic discussions have occurred over good food and drink, centered at well-dressed dining tables in embassies and diplomatic residences. Food brings people together, and the dining table makes for an excellent setting to develop cordial and productive relationships with others. But sometimes this isn’t enough.

It is rumored that Francis Dana, the first American envoy to Russia, slept with Catherine the Great. (It must be admitted that this was not the distinction it might have been.)  In any event, if so, this personal intimacy proved unpersuasive. The Czarina never accepted Dana’s credentials as the ambassador of the self-proclaimed American republic. But this should not be taken to mean that relationship-building activities can be more effectively conducted by policy wonks and bureaucrats back home than by the man or woman on the spot. Diplomats are marginal figures in domestic politics but experience in domestic politics and government is not pe se a qualification for the management of foreign relations.

In practice, despite being called “plenipotentiary,” ambassadors usually have only the authority with which their state has explicitly entrusted them. Instructions to them are most effective when they focus on objectives and let them, as those closest to the officials who decide others’ policies, to figure out best how to achieve them. One should not underestimate the ability of sycophantic officials back home to come up with utterly outlandish instructions just to show that they are “doing something.”

Ambassadors are not letter carriers. They are expected to exercise independent judgment about what will or will not serve the national interest. As ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the collapse of the Soviet Union,[7] I was instructed to ask the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd,[8] to buy surplus Polish ham for the starving communists in the USSR. That would have been like asking the Pope to buy condoms for the suffering Muslim inhabitants of Bangladesh, and I said so. The senior official who had backed this harebrained idea was not much taken with my metaphor, but both he and the United States were spared an unnecessary embarrassment and rebuff.

Diplomats are the main managers and implementers of state-to-state communication and participants, along with intelligence analysts, in helping national leaders understand and deal with foreign governments and societies. But domestic political opinions on foreign affairs have multidimensional densities that give them inertia. Blowing away domestic preconceptions is hard. However much they may fail to describe reality, politically convenient narratives are not easily shifted. In times of crisis, homegrown politicians and their minions instinctively throw the experts out of the room and sever dialogue with the enemy. It is more emotionally satisfying and politically profitable to posture and apportion blame than to analyze foreign opponents’ motivations and agendas. But this is a well-attested mistake.

Diplomats pride themselves on providing a calm, direct means of communication with allies and adversaries alike. Their utility is as great – or maybe even greater – in times of war as in times of peace. In wartime, diplomats nurture their own side’s alliances even as they disrupt the enemy’s. Losing contact with enemy forces on the battlefield risks tactical or strategic surprise. Losing touch with foreign opponents in times of tension deprives one of useful intelligence and makes it hard to detect or exploit a ripe moment to facilitate the accomplishment of war aims without embittering bloodshed.

As General William Tecumseh Sherman[9] wisely observed, the purpose of war is a more advantageous peace. But wars do not end until the defeated accept the consequences of their defeat by internalizing it and agreeing to necessary behavioral and other changes. Translating the results of war into a peace – a new status quo post bellum acquiesced in by all with the capacity to overthrow it – is not as easy as many imagine. It is often forgotten that the United States did not achieve independence at Yorktown in 1781 but only in 1783, when, after two years of difficult negotiations, Great Britain grudgingly agreed in the Treaty of Paris to end its claims to its rebellious colonies in America and recognize them as sovereign states.

What has not been gained on the battlefield can almost never be won at the negotiating table. But what was won on the battlefield can easily be lost if it is not consolidated in new political arrangements. The “mission” is not “accomplished” until the enemy has accepted terms and laid down its arms.

This is a reminder that military outcomes are not automatically translated into desired adjustments of enemy territory or behavior. They require an agreed adjustment in relations between victor and vanquished. To produce and implement such an agreement, someone must be able to speak for and reconcile the defeated to the new realities. Unless a war aims at outright conquest, annexation, or genocide, decapitating the enemy government is counterproductive. Unconditional surrender makes the victor responsible for the domestic tranquility and wellbeing of the enemy populace. Administering foreign societies is not something armies – or diplomats – are good at.

Of course, not all victories involve warfare. Normally, ambassadors have no mandate to reach agreements they have not been authorized to offer or accept. But in 1803, the U.S. minister to France, Robert Livingston, had the gumption to seize an opportunity neither he nor his superiors had anticipated. He had been tasked and allocated funds to buy the city of New Orleans from the French. Instead, the French proved open to selling all their claims to territory on the North American continent. For fifteen million dollars, rather than the ten he had been told was the most he could spend to buy New Orleans, Livingston bought the rights to the entire Mississippi Valley and points as far north and west as Montana, nearly doubling the size of the United States. Sometimes it’s better to act within the spirit of one’s instructions and to risk having to apologize later than to miss an obvious opportunity.

On the other hand, if diplomats have poor or no instructions, they cannot respond effectively to unexpected developments. Sadly, this was the case with the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, April Glaspie, when she met Saddam Hussein on the eve of his attempted annexation of Kuwait in 1990. She could not take a position on his complaints against Kuwait without authorization from Washington, and she had none. Diplomats make easy scapegoats. Like many before her, Ambassador Glaspie ended up taking the fall for officials back home who had ignored her warnings and failed to respond to her repeated requests for instructions.

As advocates, diplomats seek to persuade foreign leaders, counterparts, and elites of the merits of their government’s policies. In this role, they are like lawyers, but with a sole client – the government they represent – and no court from which they can seek a ruling. Like lawyers, they need not believe in the innocence of their client to defend it. They have a professional obligation to make the best case they can for their government’s views, whether they agree with these or not. They may well dissent and argue for different policies in classified internal channels, but not in public or where they might be overheard by someone not in their chain of command.

In ancient times, diplomats were expected to be orators, addressing the legislators and citizens of other states. Today, the audiences range from academics and think tankers to the media and the public at large. Diplomats are supposed to make appearances before all. This leaves them, in Harold Macmillan’s words: “forever poised between a cliché and an indiscretion.”  It is also a reminder that as Abba Eban, one of the last century’s greatest diplomats, said: “A capacity to use words with precision and a highly developed sense of their potential effect on listeners are of substantive importance and are not just a matter of ritual elegance. The semantic obsessions of diplomats deserve more respect than they generally receive. What statesmen and diplomats say is often as vital as what they do. It would not be farfetched to go further and declare that speech is an incisive form of action.”

Diplomacy is, after all, a political performance art. Diplomats are not just on stage but under near constant surveillance by their host country’s intelligence services (as well, sometimes, those of third countries or even, in some cases, their own). They are role players and on duty 24/7. Diplomats risk undermining their own credibility and that of their government if they confide their doubts about the missions they have been assigned to others – including the ears and cameras so often concealed in the walls where they live or work. And, in speaking with their foreign counterparts, they must take care to ensure that there is no confusion between their own views of situations on which they have no instructions and those of their government.

It can be stressful for diplomats to remain closely aligned with their government’s views regardless of their own. If their involvement in policies with which they fundamentally disagree goes beyond public advocacy of them and comes to include responsibility for the direct implementation of these policies, diplomats must make a choice between continuing to serve or resigning in protest. In such circumstances, it helps to have a fallback career. As the Chinese say: 狡兔三窟 – cunning rabbits always have three escape routes. Diplomats who give no thought to alternative employment risk being trapped in place.

Fortunately, diplomacy is a career that schools its practitioners in skills that provide a solid basis for other careers and that accustoms them to frequent job changes and relocations   Aside from the satisfactions of serving one’s country, one of the attractions of diplomacy is that your tasks, cultural and linguistic environments, colleagues, counterparts, and friends are all subject to kaleidoscopic change. As a diplomat, you are always learning something or going somewhere unexpected. Most of all you learn how to operate in other countries’ languages and cultures and how to make things happen in them. This is knowhow that entrepreneurship can apply to a wide range of endeavors.

The greatest enemy of both diplomacy and intelligence analysis is “mirror-imaging,” the lazy supposition that foreigners see their interests or reason and make decisions the same way as one’s own political culture and government. For example, to get things done in Japan, it helps to understand that government ministers or corporate chief executives seldom make decisions on their own. They see their role as the ratification of recommendations that have percolated upward from mid-level experts in the institutions they head. In the case of Japanese government ministries, almost no decision is made without final vetting by the “administrative vice minister” — the senior career official in the ministry. Raising an idea at the ministerial level in Tokyo without ensuring that it has first gained support at lower levels is almost invariably a waste of time.

In China, decisions are made by the Party apparatus. It is a culturally parochial mistake to assume that the state president and head of the Chinese Communist Party has personal executive authority equivalent to that of the U.S. president and can engage in similarly freewheeling discussion. Chinese officials, however senior, have no authority to commit their country to actions that its state and party apparatuses and their relevant comrades have not reviewed and approved.

Each country has its own ways. Most often, these differ from the preconceptions of diplomats’ compatriots and government officials, who are prone to imagining that other societies do things  the same way they are done at home or that, if they don’t, they should. But what works in one political culture may very well be ineffectual or off-putting in another. To be able to advocate their governments’ policies effectively, diplomats must rely on developing expertise that enables them to nudge the decision-making processes of the governments whose decisions they seek to guide in the desired direction. Resisting micromanagement – the so-called “eight-thousand-mile screwdriver” – is often essential to get the job at hand done.

Of course, diplomats are not just advocates and actors, they are also reporters charged with helping those from whom they receive instructions to accept that the art of the possible differs from country to country. This aspect of diplomatic tradecraft demands superior analytical and writing skills as well as fluency in local languages. Diplomatic reporting must be vivid as well as insightful and accurate if it is to be to be able to achieve a serious readership back home, where officials are deluged with data from many sources but looking for inside information on which to base policy recommendations.

One of the first things you learn as a diplomatic reporter is not to direct your analysis into the void, but to write it to a specific audience. The objective of reporting and analysis by embassies and consulates is to help responsible officials of your government gain a more up-to-date and accurate understanding of often exotic foreign realities. Some reporting is simply a summary of encounters and events plus a comment to relate them to your nation’s interests. But much resembles journalistic feature articles. The best of it draws on restricted intelligence reports as well as direct observation to illuminate the subjects it addresses. And it recognizes the demands on busy officials back home by putting the “bottom line up front” and being succinct.

What appears in newspapers and magazines is intended to attract readers and generate revenue. In contrast, the purpose of diplomatic analysis is to illuminate the probable consequences of trends and events for the diplomat’s nation, its government, its foreign relationships, its socioeconomic wellbeing, and its policies. The sources of information journalists rely upon often speak in confidence. They expect protection from public exposure that might embarrass or injure them. So do diplomatic and intelligence sources. If either are “burned,” they quite naturally feel betrayed, and retreat into silence.

Wikileaks’ indiscriminate release of American diplomatic reporting and analysis violated the privacy and endangered the wellbeing of multiple sources who had relied on assurances of confidentiality. This usefully uncovered various forms of military misbehavior, including war crimes. But it was unprofessional and irresponsible. Had Wikileaks done the same with reporters’ notes, rather than filtering the information in them into stories that protected sources and methods, professional journalists would rightly have condemned it. In the event, many useful informal channels of communication between Americans, foreign officials, and other informants were compromised and ended by this unprofessional impropriety.

Intelligence is best defined as information that is useful to statecraft. Much of it is public knowledge or verification of widely presumed facts, and most of it is collected overtly rather than through espionage. The internet is no substitute for direct conversation with those making decisions for foreign governments and entities or direct questioning of those in the know. In this regard, I commend the wise approach of my political counselor in Beijing to managing his section. In the afternoons, he would make the rounds and tell anyone he saw sitting at a desk that they didn’t need to be in Beijing to do that and that the value they added to our understanding of China was their ability to get out and about. He would suggest that they either make an appointment to see a Chinese official or go sit in the park and talk to ordinary Chinese.

Staying abreast of trends and events where you are stationed makes you a valuable resource not just for your government but for your country’s business community. A good deal of diplomatic work involves supporting the expansion of your nation’s export of goods and services and the promotion of profitable investments for its companies and citizens abroad.

Companies compete and so do foreign and third-country diplomats and trade officials. This makes them reluctant to divulge much about their affairs or the difficulties they may be encountering in conducting them in a particular country or region. Just as discretion is a prerequisite for rapport and honest dialogue with knowledgeable sources of insight into developments in the country where you are assigned, so, too, it is essential to the conduct of trade promotion and to effective advice and counsel to your country’s businesses and investors. The Arab saying: “If I’ve regretted my silence once, I’ve regretted my words a thousand times” is sound, cautionary advice for diplomats and others engaged in negotiations.

Diplomats must be concerned not only about how foreigners interpret what they say. They must be careful not to foster distrust among officials back home. Their effectiveness as envoys depends on the host country’s confidence that they have the support of their own government. Sustaining such support is more difficult than it might at first appear. Most capitals are prone to groupthink and averse to dissenting views. Officials with no experience on the ground are likely to have false images of its topography and mistake descriptions of it for “clientitis.”

Central to diplomatic work is the duty to help officials back home formulate feasible objectives and policies that have a chance of attaining them. Retaining credibility requires avoiding frontal assaults on the often-unrealistic narratives that dominate discourse in your own government. You must constantly bear witness to your focus on your country’s national interests even as you interpret the incompatible views foreigners have of theirs, explain these to your government, and suggest ways to reshape the foreign perceptions and policy positions you are analyzing. This can be personally perilous, as the China hands who fearlessly predicted a communist victory in the Chinese civil war in the 1940s soon learned. Sometimes it seems that no accurate analysis goes unpunished, and that the worst that can happen to you is to recognize the imminence of unwelcome developments before others do.

Part of retaining a favorable reputation in your own capital is close attention to the needs of your fellow citizens abroad. Consular work – issuing passports and visas and rescuing compatriots in distress – is psychologically rewarding. It also gives you unique insights into the functioning of key institutions like prisons, courts, hospitals, police stations, and ports in the society in which you are stationed. If that society has sufficiently different values, this can be a major part of an ambassador’s job. When I made my farewell call on His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin `Abdulaziz (then the Emir of Riyadh, now the king of Saudi Arabia)[10] I realized that this was the first of dozens of meetings with him in which I did not have to negotiate the release or pardon of “my women” from “his men” in the form of the Kingdom’s religious vigilantes.  As ambassador to a country with a substantial number of resident citizens and companies from your homeland, you are in many respects the mayor of a small – or not so small – town and must act accordingly.

You and your spouse – if you have one – are also the keepers of a small inn. Visiting officials and their friends often expect you to put them up and feed them, assuming incorrectly that you have been provided with official funds to do so. In some circumstances, the volume of visitors can become so great that there is no time left for other tasks. In the run-up to the January 1991 coalition counterattack to liberate Kuwait, I had to appeal to Washington to stop treating Saudi Arabia like a military theme park with a general and ambassador as tour guides.

As I have pointed out, diplomacy can prepare you for many other occupations. It is a profession with multiple facets. It is one:

  • that is a fulfillment of patriotic service;
  • that is all about nations, people, and the management of their relationships;
  • that offers a place and sometimes a role on stage in the making of history;
  • that holds boredom at bay through kaleidoscopic changes in your workplace, colleagues, linguistic and cultural environments, and tasks; and
  • that, while poorly understood, is nonetheless prestigious.

A career in diplomacy has its political and physical perils, only some of which I have had time to address. Success as a diplomat requires training, mentoring, and the seasoning that only experience can provide. It is a calling not to be entered into lightly, but with considered judgment and solemn commitment. It can be a great satisfaction to serve your country in a nomadic career that demands constant adjustment to new environments. If you choose to become diplomats, I wish you every success.











[1] 1899 – 1985.

[2] 1911 – 2001.

[3] United Auto Workers

[4] 1645 -1717.

[5] 1896 – 1968.

[6] 1815 – 1898.

[7] 1991.

[8] Reigned 1982 – 2005.

[9] 1820 – 1891.

[10] Assumed the throne 23 January 2015.