A panel of ambassadors emphasized the importance of diplomatic efforts abroad in a film screening and question-and-answer session for the film, “America’s Diplomats” in an event hosted by the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Diplomacy in Reiss Hall on Thursday.
Panelists included former Ambassador to Turkey Marc Grossman, former Ambassador to Georgia Richard B. Norland, former Ambassador to Panama Barbara J. Stephenson and foreign service officers Bernadette Meehan and Ramon Escobar.
The event began with an introduction given by the ISD Director Barbara K. Bowdine. Bowdine stressed the lack of information the American public has on the nature of diplomacy.
“America’s Diplomats,” a film chronicling the challenges of American diplomacy, stresses that without diplomacy, the United States would not exist as a nation, citing Benjamin Franklin’s successful efforts to involve France in the Revolutionary War.
Meehan said issues with Congressional approval has slowed the diplomatic process down in Cuba.
“Unfortunately, because the Congress has not yet acted, we do not have an ambassador,” Meehan said.
According to Meehan, the priority now is on economic opportunity and pushing the boundaries to ensure that U.S. businesses have free access to markets in Cuba that will benefit the U.S. economy.
“We also have done a lot to lift up human rights, to lift up an independent press, to allow Cubans to have an independent voice, all with the singular goal of saying we believe it’s important to support changing Cuba,” Meehan said. “That change has to come from the Cuban people, it can’t be something that’s imposed by the United States.”
Norland said diplomats still have vital responsibilities in modern society.
“The job of diplomats is still to provide the context for that kind of engagement, to set the stage for productive discussions and meetings,” Norland said. “Whether it’s through the advanced work that they do or briefing papers, there’s still a role for diplomats.”
According to Stephenson, diplomats have become more important in recent times.
“There’s so much noise now that actually you need your diplomats again to actually make sense of the noise to provide context,” Stephenson said.
Meehan said diplomats are able to deal with countries in a sensitive and delicate manner to find compromise and make progress on issues.
“When you are speaking to people in your host country, you are hopefully not doing so from a place of condescension and/or lecturing and/or arrogance. You are doing from a place of understanding and hopefully searching for a commonality,” Meehan said.
Meehan said it is important to allow countries to arrive at solutions on their own, a process in which diplomats play an important role.
“Helping them find their own path and being a little humbler about it: that is where diplomats really have value,” Meehan said.
Norland said a common issue with diplomats is forming too strong of a relationship with heads of state and losing sight of a country’s direction as a whole.
“I think one mistake that diplomats make is that they develop a wonderful relationship with the prime minister, the foreign minister, and it is almost inconceivable to them that there will be a change,” Norland said. “This is one thing we learned with the Shah in Iran. We had a wonderful relationship with him and then he was gone and we were being held literally hostage.”
Gabriela Barrera (SFS ’19) said she thought the film did a good job at explaining the sacrifices made by diplomats.
“I think this particular film did a fantastic job in explaining the sacrifices that you make but also the rewards that you get back,” Barrera said.
Maeve Healy (SFS ’18) said she was thankful to be able to participate at the event and listen to the insights of the panelist.
“About halfway through the film I realized how grateful and how lucky I am to be at a school where sitting in a classroom with four extremely distinguished foreign service officers who have all had pretty incredible careers,” Healy said.