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About Thomas Pickering
With a diplomatic career spanning more than four decades, Thomas Pickering is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and co-chair of the panel which investigated the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. He is a career ambassador who has served in Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, and beyond. In 2000, he retired from the State Department as the Under Secretary for Political Affairs.

About the moderator
Frank Sesno is director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University. Previously, he worked at CNN for 21 years serving as White House correspondent, anchor, and chief of the network's Washington bureau. He has won several awards for his achievements, including an Emmy award, several ACE awards, and an Overseas Press Club award.

About the Walter Roberts Endowment
In 2005, Walter Roberts, former U.S. Foreign Service officer and associate director of the U.S. Information Agency, established the Walter Roberts Endowment in order to create and support the activities of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication at The George Washington University.

 

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Beyond Benghazi: U.S. Public Diplomacy in Troubled Times
The Third Annual Walter Roberts Lecture
http://www.gwu.edu/~ipdgc/events/2013-WRL-thomas-pickering.cfm
by Ambassador Thomas Pickering

Pickering
Event summary
Photos and video recordings from the event are available here: http://vimeo.com/79902815.

On November 5, 2013, the Walter Roberts Endowment and the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication hosted Ambassador Thomas Pickering as the keynote speaker for the Third Annual Walter Roberts Lecture.

In his conversation with Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at GW, Ambassador Pickering discuss the public diplomacy challenges in a time of protest and upheaval, digital media, and emerging competitors to America's pre-eminence on the world stage, particularly in light of the incident in Benghazi, Libya.

Following the talk, a Q&A session with the audience produced stimulating responses on the future of public diplomacy in the U.S.

Event Transcript

Sean Aday:                  Alright everybody I want to get started as quickly as possible so we have as much time for our conversation and some questions and answers as I know there will be many. My name is Sean Aday I’m the Director of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication I’m also a professor here at GW and the School of Media and Public Affairs. And I’m very happy to welcome you to our third annual Roberts Lecture with Ambassador Tom Pickering. Very briefly I want to say something about the man for whom this lecture is named Dr. Walter Roberts who is sitting here on the front row. Walter was one of the original Voice of America broadcasters in World War II and then began a long career at the state department I could not list all of his accomplishments nor our speakers accomplishments. And still have time for the event but I do want to point out a couple of things. In 1960 he was appointed Councilor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Belgrade. And in 1971 he was named Associate [0:01:00] Director of the US Information Agency and his book Tito, Mihailović and the Allies 1941 and 1945 was held by Foreign Affairs as the best book on the subject and I’ve read it’s quite wonderful. It’s written in 1973 I believe it holds up extremely well. And Walter also has a special place in GW’s heart because [Mickey East] who is here in the front row when he was Dean of the Elliot School hired Walter to teach what we believe was the first class in Public Diplomacy at American University. So we are grateful to both of you.  

                                    [0:01:34] And Walter was an extremely popular professor and is still one of the more popular guest speakers in our various public diplomacy classes that we teach here at GW. Walter also is the reason why we are here because it was the endowment in his name that founded what was then called the Public Diplomacy Institute and now is the institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication. Ambassador [0:02:00] Thomas Pickering has had a very long and distinguished career in Public Service among other things we were joking today that he seems to have been the Ambassador to everywhere. In his four decade long career in the foreign service he’s been the Ambassador to Russia, India, the United Nations ,Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria and Jordan. He also served as the under secretary of state for political affairs from 1997 to 2000 a particularly interesting time as I think we’ll come up in the discussion. He holds the rank of career Ambassador the highest in the US front service. At present he’s affiliated with among others the International Crisis Group and overseas the international actions as co-chair. He is also chairman of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress Chairman of the Institute for Study of Diplomacy and Chairman of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

                                    [0:02:54] He also serves on the board of directors for CRDF Global and the American Iranian Council an organization [0:03:00] devoted to the normalization of relations between the United States and Iran. And of course in 2012 along with former chairman the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen he helped the state department sponsored panel investigating the recent attack on the US Diplomatic Commission in Benghazi. Before we get started I want to welcome also Tara Sonenshine the former undersecretary of state for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and last year’s Robert’s lecture speaker. And now a fellow at as NPA yesterday should add.

Tara Sonenshine:         [0:03:38] Thank you I will be very brief in thanking everyone for coming but to say one quick sentence about Tom Pickering followed by a quick announcement about Tom Pickering. The sentence is really a word and its service. [0:04:00] This is a man who has served not only as you heard in so many diplomatic posts in the Navy has served in communities and countries but tonight we really honor him for extraordinary service. And my announcement is that as a recovering journalist I never missed a story and today is November 5th and it is Ambassador Pickering’s birthday. So would you join me happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Ambassador Pickering, happy birthday to you!

Thomas Pickering:      Thank you dear. Thank you all very much you ought to really get together as a choir.

Frank:                          Maybe not. [0:05:00]

Thomas Pickering:      With Frank in charge.

Frank Sesno:               Maybe not. Well welcome Ambassador Pickering I’m Frank Sesno I’m the Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs. I was for many years a correspondent with CNN and before that with the Associated Press. And before that with the Voice of America and I would be remise for that if I did not start by adding my thanks, kudos and congratulations to Walter for being here for enabling this event, look at the crowd here this is phenomenal they get better every year. And for saying that what you helped build at the Voice of America and the influence that it and you have had is something that really is a great tribute to the men and women who work there, the democracy and freedom that it represents and to the information that it has helped to spread throughout the decade. So Walter thank you very much. [0:06:00]

                                    [0:06:03] I truly can’t think of no greater lives calling or legacy than this beacon which the Voice of America has been for millions and millions of people who have not gotten access to free and accurate information over the years. Or a greater tribute to the United States of America and for what this country stands for so again. I also have to say that for those of you who are standing there are sits down here, so there are some empty seats so please come down and make yourselves comfortable. If you’re in the right seat you know you get free popcorn or something. Also is in my capacity over the years I can tell you that when I covered the White House for many, many years Ambassador Pickering came through on more than one occasion. The work I did down in Central America during the dark years there were and elsewhere, [0:07:00] his name and his service as Tara Sonenshine says really shone through. And I will start with the first question we’re also going to open up to your s but before I do that I also want to thank Tara for being a fellow here at the School of Media and Public Affairs. Her work with our students has been phenomenal and so it’s a great pleasure. Ambassador Pickering happy birthday .

Thomas Pickering:      Thank you Frank.

Frank Sesno:               I can think of no better way for you to spend it than here with us tonight.

Thomas Pickering:      My only comment is that now I’ve reached the age where I’d rather subtract than add.

Frank Sesno:               Well I think you’re doing just fine.

Thomas Pickering:      That’s what the man said going past the 26th floor of the Emperor State Building.

Frank Sesno:               We’re calling this beyond Benghazi.

Thomas Pickering:      Great.

Frank Sesno:               I would like so let’s not go beyond it too fast [0:08:00] but to start with a question to you about Benghazi. How much damage it has done both reputationally and on the ground in the country. We’ll leave the politics for the side for the moment but let me just you know as you have looked at this what has this meant for us?

Thomas Pickering:      Well thank you Frank before I do that, I have to join [IB] in first saying that Walter has been an outstanding communicator. But in many ways a communicator who’s real effect as you said and as Tara has influenced the lives of many people around the world so many that he will not know when we would not know. But he can take great satisfaction in knowing that that uncountable number a large measure was influenced by him, by the reputation of VOA in those days. By [0:09:00] the sense that honesty and truth with hallmark and we have to get back there. And I thank you Frank for certainly being here, Walter for allowing me to be here in his name if I could put it that way it’s an honor. And thank you Tara very much for your one word introduction and your very clever smoothing but I’m pleased. Benghazi was a blow; it was a blow that was amplified unfortunately by the [IB] nature of American domestic politics at the time it occurred. And that and put it this way catastrophe to tragedy and it was not in that sense anything that we recognized as one of those great moments. And Chris Smith had worked for me for two years as a friend and a colleague.

                                    [0:09:59] And so for me it was [0:10:00] even more than a tragedy in the particular personal sense. And when I was asked to take over the leadership of this particular accountability review board there were two things that made a difference. One the secretary asked me and when the secretary asks you come but even more importantly a friend had died tragically under circumstances that deserves never to be repeated, and the purpose of the accountability review board was to do everything we could to see that those kinds of mistakes which led to this tragic sort of circumstances would not be repeated. Finally it was a unique situation in the sense that it differed from all but three or four of their places where we were present, in its temporarily nature in its hand to mouth existence. In its uncertain support [0:11:00] and indeed in the willingness to trust that because nothing had happened, nothing would ever happen.

                                    [0:11:09] And we know that those are not the ways in which one deals with service overseas and dangerous areas and in particular and not the ways in which a great institution like the Department of State should perform in dealing with its own people. And particularly those who experience special danger. We made a series of quite harsh findings I have never had been told that people thought that our findings were either irrelevant, unimportant or exaggerated. The hardest was that we found four people who made decisions and took on [0:12:00] leadership roles in which they obviously represented people who failed in carrying out at least their responsibilities with respect to Benghazi. And that was never easy and always hard but we all felt that unlike other review boards it was not possible for us in these special circumstances to dodge the bullet if I could put it that way. And I think clearly that has been the case. I despair and rue the day that this has become the subject of what is clearly the worst kind of partisan strife.

                                    [0:12:50] I had the responsibility of defending this report in public once it was impugned by generalizations without [0:13:00] in my view substance. I believe in the testimony that I gave and in the defense that I put in that I did my best to explain what motivated us and why and what were the circumstances that led to our conclusions. I still have not seen but I may be undertaking the peculiar blindness of two closes of association, anything that I would consider a serious fall although I began my various testimonies by saying no one is perfect and all of us who participated in this would welcome anything new which cast light on the situation, which would help the State Department do what we struggled to do. Which was to provide them with advice of ideas that would perhaps best equip them not to ever see this happen again [0:14:00] further deponent say it’s not.

Frank Sesno:               [0:14:05] Well let me ask you a couple of things and starting with that, what did we learn, what has being changed to either make this not happen again or dramatically reduce the odds of this happening again?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:14:24] We learned that there should be no exceptions to the rules for dealing with security, we learned that where situations required our presence and we could not immediately meet the standards, we had to develop a plan, a commitment, the funding and the leadership to make it right as rapidly as possible. We learned that we had to be alert to intelligence which crept in over a long period of time [0:15:00] but which in the aggregate showed the kind of deterioration that we easily saw with Monday morning quarterbacking but seemed to have escaped to people who were supposed to be watching.

                                    [0:15:17] We learnt that security has responsibilities not just with the professionals but by the people in the State Department who represent and speak for our overseas posted people and that cannot be escaped just as ambassadors cannot escape the peculiar assignment of responsibility then for to them for security. We learned that money was thought to be no object in providing for Benghazi but in the end unfortunately it was. We learned interestingly enough that the embassies in Egypt and Tunisia [0:16:00] under much heavier assault, stood out beautifully without even the intervention of local authorities. But we also learnt that in place like Benghazi where local authority was particularly absent and indeed individual militias and there were large numbers of them carried weapons and exercised authorities as they moved around, the danger was particularly acute.  We learned that when you plan a set of facilities to resist bombing you take on a special responsibility also to overcome the disadvantages that brings you with armed assault. We learnt that in fact fire is a weapon and that fire and security have been coordinated to the degree to that they must be and so the [0:17:00] security protection overlooked the fire danger. And fire was the killer and we should never be in a position where we occupied buildings and build security arrangements even jerry-rigged that have not provide for that and I’m going to bore you will all the rest. But those are the ones that kind of stick in my head as being some of the most important things we were concerned about.

Frank Sesno:               [0:17:27] They’re huge and some of them are what we might call situational.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:17:34] Yes very.

Frank Sesno:               [0:17:35] But others are pardon the expression but structural I mean when you learn things about…

Thomas Pickering:      [0:17:43] Others Frank in retrospect are common sense.

Frank Sesno:               [0:17:46] Yes.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:17:47] And that somehow over a long period of time now, it is true that most terrorists attacks seek to exploit weaknesses. It was not hard to figure out [0:18:00] what the weakness was. Too big a compound, too many people, too few people protecting it and too open to the entry.

Frank Sesno:               [0:18:08] You pointed out that you rued the partisanship that intruded on us, and I’m sure many of you remember some of the media coverage which was some of the most remarkable stuff I’ve ever seen in terms of what I considered to have been over the top response to this event. But there was…

Thomas Pickering:      [0:18:29] Much of it qualified for a peculiar Pulitzer Prize in creative fiction.

Frank Sesno:               [0:18:35] Well in some ways it was I mean…

Thomas Pickering:      [0:18:38] Frank I accumulated every newspaper report the State Department could find.

Frank Sesno:               [0:18:46] As part of your study?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:18:47] The stack of paper was this high. As a matter of obligation, I read every one because I wanted to know what people thought happened and I wanted to know what the answer was to [0:19:00] what people thought happened in terms of what really took place. And I have to tell you that about 80% of this may have been in good faith put forward but it was made up out of people’s experience in other situations which they tried to generalize to Benghazi and had no relation to the facts.

Frank Sesno:               [0:19:19] So you saw stuff that was flat-out absolutely totally wrong.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:19:24] Totally wrong and it became the object of campaigns.

Frank Sesno:               [0:19:27] Well picked up in the echo chamber and where on television and on radio.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:19:29] Exactly and went round and round and honest and good people were writing these saying, “Well you must have known this and this and this” and there was never any scintilla of evidence, that anything they had to say at any relationship to what happened.

Frank Sesno:               [0:19:43] Has there been appropriate accountability for what went wrong?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:19:45] Yes.

Frank Sesno:               [0:19:46] There has been? What about and I said I’d put the politics to the side for the moment, but let me bring them in now, what about those who say that this could be a very substantial point of vulnerability [0:20:00] for Hillary Clinton should she run for president.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:20:01] Well I mean obviously that was that and the president were the two main objects of attack and we reviewed very carefully what they did and how they operated. And we believed that they were not and in that sense responsible. And in the law that sets up the accountability review board there was a specific provision that said please in the future do not find heads of agencies responsible because of their position. But go to where the decisions were made that actually influenced the situation and where they were reviewed and that’s precisely what we did. And we looked very carefully. Now everybody in a senior position bears a set of responsibilities but the law in specific terms told us that we must find responsibility where the decision [0:21:00] making took place and where that particular decision making was reviewed. And that was very clearly from every bit of evidence we collected at the level in which we fixed it in the report.

Frank Sesno:               [0:21:12] May I ask you one last question on this and then I want to move on to other things. In terms of the consequences and implications on the ground in the region what have they been?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:21:22] What’s in implication on the ground in the region have I think certainly been some diminution of respect for the United States in part because in fact we were caught short. We were caught short in both facilities interestingly enough and both facilities had different measures of protection. And interestingly enough in the tragic circumstances two individuals died in both facilities. It is also clear that for [Al Aida] and the terrorist [0:22:00] crowd this represented a victory and we don’t need those kinds of things not with respect to our reputation even more with respect to our people in the facilities. And we should not be in the business of putting people in places that were so open to vulnerabilities. And happily a large majority of our facilities are well protected but our first and most important recommendation was that the recommendations of the accountability report led by Bill Crow for Nairobi and Dar es Salaam for the construction of 10 well protected embassies and consulates a year had dwindled to three.

Frank Sesno:               [0:22:49] To three.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:22:49] As a result of cuts, of course growth and indeed just inability to continue to keep the congress’ nose in this problem if I could put it that way. And [0:23:00] we said you’ve got to go back and you’ve got to do a 10 year program and bring up the facilities that are clearly if I could put it this way underweight up to standard.

Frank Sesno:               [0:23:11] This raises a broader problem.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:23:12] And we said it’s starting now its $2.1 billion a year to do that; that’s big money for the state department.

Frank Sesno:               [0:23:21] Big money. This raises a much broader challenge it seems and this is a good forum to talk about it this institute for public diplomacy, a job Tara had jobs you have had as an ambassador and a diplomat over the years. You’ve got these intense and horrible discussions and decisions built around security on the one hand and you have got the job to be – to know and to be part of a country and sometimes hostile country on the other. Do you worry that our diplomacy becomes increasingly something that exists on the other side [0:24:00] of the moat?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:24:01] Yes.

Frank Sesno:               [0:24:02] How do you approach that?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:24:05] Well I think that there are three pieces here that bother me. One is that Washington is increasingly in my view out of touch with what’s going on because the field is…

Frank Sesno:               [0:24:16] I think you could stop right there increasingly to start with what’s going on yes.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:24:19] Yeah. No the field is now increasingly populated with political appointees and people who have not had oversees experience.

Frank Sesno:               [0:24:30] And at more levels than before?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:24:30] And a group of us wrote an update in the Washington post two months ago; and a story in the Foreign Service journal. In part there is this kind of natural accretion; every administration want s their own people in the key jobs and their people are not necessarily the people who have spent their life in the field understanding what’s going on. So there is a kind of problem of relevancy to what is the local situation and the ambassadors [0:25:00] are supposed to be in charge of dealing with that but they less and less listened to I find.

                                    [0:25:06] The second piece that I think is important is that we have in some ways less capacity to listen to what foreign governments are thinking and saying even though we reported intensively. And the third in my view is that we need to fight the continued struggle of making our public diplomacy relevant to our policy and vice versa. The integration if I could put it this way of USIA was seen to have one potential advantage that deputy assistant secretaries in the regional bureau would be from the public diplomacy range and they would work with the assistant secretary on the policy. It didn’t mean that the policies had to be made for public sale but it meant that experts in being able to explain the policy would have a lot [0:26:00] to say about how the policy was put together but even more presented. Now my own view is it is best to tell the truth and tell the story as much as you can when you are putting policy forward otherwise spin doesn’t have any persistence and it has an undermining capacity. And that is very simple stuff but it goes a long way in my view in effective public diplomacy but I see those three points as areas where we could certainly help to pull up our socks.

Frank Sesno:               [0:26:34] Your first ambassadorial position was where?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:26:37] Jordan.

Frank Sesno:               [0:26:37] In what year?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:26:39] 1898… 1974 to 1978 and a half.

Frank Sesno:               [0:26:50] So from 1974 when you communicated back to Washington how did you do that?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:26:56] By cable.

Frank Sesno:               How long did it take to have around trip?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:27:00] By cable?

Frank Sesno:               Yeah?

Thomas Pickering:      Speed of light.

Frank Sesno:               [0:27:02] Okay, when you communicated to your… to the public if you were communicating to the public and you spoke to a newspaper or whatever how fast did that move?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:27:14] Six to 24 hours.

Frank Sesno:               [0:27:16] If you were overseas today and you were tweeting or you had your own social media page or somebody would be that would be speed of light.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:27:24] Yes.

Frank Sesno:               [0:27:25] All the time

Thomas Pickering:      [0:27:25] Yap full time speed of light.

Frank Sesno:               [0:27:28] How has this media and …

Thomas Pickering:      [0:27:31] I guess you have to say delayed or relayed a little bit by speed of brain.

Frank Sesno:               [0:27:37] I think speed of light and speed of the… speed of media exceeds speed of brain.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:27:41] Oh way ahead yeah.

Frank Sesno:               [0:27:43] How has this changed the job?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:27:47] Changed the job because the gold fish bowl has gotten more translucent. It means in effect that you’re expected if not required to respond often before you know [0:28:00] all the facts and that’s hard. And to some extent you have to develop a mechanism and a way to do that. You have to be sure that people know that this is your first reaction that you are looking into it and here is what I think now but this could be…

Frank Sesno:               [0:28:19] Right now are you talking or responding back to Washington sort of official channels or to the public?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:28:21] Both, both.

Frank Sesno:               [0:28:23] So you have to do both simultaneously or instantly.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:28:25] Well almost you can’t do both simultaneously but you have to try at least to stay up and you have staff to help you do this and I think that that’s all very important.

Frank Sesno:               [0:28:33] What I'm hearing…

Thomas Pickering:      [0:28:34] The other thing you have to be aware of is that everybody else is operating at the speed of light. And the number of points of light that impinge on your work has multiplied and you have to figure out which ones you address and how. And you could spend your whole time and your whole staff time sitting there in the embassy responding to speed of light stuff whereas as the bulk of your job should be out talking to people.

Frank Sesno:               [0:28:59] So in a time [0:29:00] of Twitter and YouTube and we’ve had all these YouTube videos out of Syria and other places what is the role for international broadcasting?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:29:10] Yeah.

Frank Sesno:               [0:29:11] For the Voice of America?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:29:14] I think its two pieces; one to continue to do the best job in broadcasting that they can. Even if in some cases the audience has become more selective, more self selective, more limited perhaps; people will look at that. I think secondly we need to expand that to the video realms. Thirdly we need to expand that essentially to the social media realm so that we now have a nexus of media that is widely ramified and very open. My own feeling was years ago when Al Jazeera started [0:30:00] and we spent the first 10 years of Al Jazeera fighting it which was in my view stupid. What we should have done is leaned on our good friends the Qataris and said we are assigning a team of eight Americans who speak fluent Arabic. And who will be available to you 24 hours a day in shifts. And we expect at least 15 minutes but regularly at hour at some reasonable time to comment on your content in Arabic from the American perspective. It would have helped us enormously to move in that direction.

Frank Sesno:               [0:30:42] Do you think there’s any chance they would have said thank you for that?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:30:45] No. But I’m not sure that at that stage they had the capacity to resist something.

Frank Sesno:               [0:30:54] So in an age of Al Jazeera, and Russia Today, and CCTV, [0:31:00] and Deutsche Welle, and all these global broadcasts. And at a time of YouTube, and Twitter, and Facebook, and all these global social media, can a Voice of America, a Radio Free Europe, the traditional types of voices in broadcast that emanated from this country, that once stood alone essentially with the BBC as the only alternatives to suppressed information. Can they still have that influence?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:31:35] Frank not in the same old way. We obviously have to transform.

Frank Sesno:               [0:31:41] Do we need them? Do we even need them?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:31:44] Well, in some cases we need something that can in effect be our voice. And we’ve done some of this in all of the media. And the nexus of that may be VOA, but it has to be [0:32:00] VOA on steroids upgraded from [IB] and focused on a lot of new media. And to some extent that may not be easy or necessarily something that comes immediately to hand and the funding problem of that may be large and the personnel problem. Some of that has been done, and Tara should up here explaining it. I’m the one who has a bunch of crazy ideas which she’s probably seen implemented or rejected a thousand times over.

Frank Sesno:               [0:32:30] I've never heard her refer to any of your ideas as crazy.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:32:32] Well, she’s kind.

Frank Sesno:               [0:32:36] Nobody really is a fascinating it is a fascinating question.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:32:39] It’s a great subject.

Frank Sesno:               [0:32:41] Because do we have a special place as a country wrapping our arms around more credible information? How do we tell the story and the perspective of our policy and our prerogatives? [0:33:00] How do we reach people who are still bombarded with bad information or horribly slanted information?

Thomas Pickering       [0:33:10] It gets harder and harder because there’s no garbage filter. The only thing that I can suggest is that the first amendment is based on the competition in news between different points of view. Presumably fully respecting a single factual basis that’s now been destroyed, we have multiple factual basis. Some of them as I say are deeply bordering into fiction. And so we have a multiple responsibility as much as we possibly can. To some extent it may be that we should [0:34:00] seek persuasive participants over the years. VOA and its predecessors and indeed American media had rock stars. [IB]?

Frank Sesno:               [0:34:17] Oh yeah.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:34:19] [IB] no. I used to listen to you oversees long after I left the UN as one of the great exponents of UNs fables and successes. And it was very important. And to many people I think the failure to appreciate the value of the UN was the failure of the American media to either understand it or try to produce something as you did that was both reliable, dependable in the long term and succinct enough to be captured. And I knew that you were engaged in a struggle in many ways perhaps more [0:35:00] with your producers than anything else. But it represented in my view a significant example of what one could do. And I think we need to find a way as we’ve said before I've said to you before, to move that more broadly horizontally into other areas of media. And seek to try to do that by establishing authoritative voices, by establishing facts as much as we can. But raising the level of reportage and analysis as much as we can.

Frank Sesno:               [0:35:33] It’s tough, it’s hard to.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:35:34] Well, quality in my view still helps.

Frank Sesno:               [0:35:37] It does.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:35:38] I think one of the values of Al Jazeera was they saw a niche and tried to fill it. My own sense was that often they were irritating, often they picked, put it this way scabs. But to some extent that represented a new way to approach hegemonic [0:36:00] powers. And we had to come and defend ourselves. And I think it took a long while and it was a difficult approach and I don’t think we’re there.

Frank Sesno:               [0:36:10] And, just to put a button on this, they had and have an important audience.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:36:17] They do.

Frank Sesno:               [0:36:18] And engaging that audience is critical.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:36:19] And that’s why in fact I wanted to piggy back first on them.

Frank Sesno:               [0:36:23] Well actually it’s very… it would be very interesting tomorrow I’m going and I mentioned this to [IB] faculty earlier that tomorrow I’m going into Al Jazeera America to do something there.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:36:31] Great.

Frank Sesno:               [0:36:32] And I’m quite fascinated to see how they operate and how they reach…

Thomas Pickering:      [0:36:34] It’s one of the places where I struggle to go if I get invited.

Frank Sesno:               [0:36:38] Well come along, we’ll go together. We’ll see what we can do. Let me cut you on a couple of the things and then I would like to open it up to your questions. First Iran, this is something you’re working on. We have a new Iranian President. This has been the pressure point. My first big assignment overseas.

Thomas Pickering       [0:36:56] Really.

Frank Sesno:               My first biggest assignment overseas was really big. [0:37:00] Was standing on the tarmac at [IB] as our hostages came off the plane from Algeria having all that work by Warren Christopher and others. One by one and here we are all these years later. And they still gather in Iran maybe with less passion now to chant death to America and to visit the Den of Spies. What do you expect from the New Iranian President?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:37:26] Well, interestingly enough they still do that. Three days before that the supreme leader Ali Khamenei went on the media and said I want you Iranians to support my delegation negotiating disarmament with the Americans.

Frank Sesno:               [0:37:44] So?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:37:45] So is there a change? Look I think so. The truth will come out in the negotiations. But there certainly is enough evidence. Rouhani, along with the [0:38:00] other five candidates were all special assistants to the supreme leader. He knew who he was picking. Rouhani interestingly enough knew enough of what public sentiment was on Iran to run on a different kind of platform, a platform that said Iran has to be back in the middle of the International Community and it’s been marginalized and pushed out. And that means we have to deal with America. Now somebody had told me in July the next President of Iran in September would be advocating negotiations with America directly, and that we had to get together and find ways to in effect, look at their nuclear program from both perspectives. The other thing that’s been very interesting is the Iranians have put on the table a series of proposals and their foreign minister said to me on September [0:39:00] 21st that “We’re tired of being in the doghouse. We’re tired of you taking all the initiatives. We’re moving, we’re putting initiatives on the table. We want you to respond we want to change the equation” and they did.

                                    [0:39:17] They put on the table a series of proposals that had… I been designing them for the United States, I would have said were not attainable. Now we have the big problem deciding how and in what way are we going to shift the sanctions business which helped to put the pressure on to get us here, but now it has to do the double duty. It has to be the quid pro quo for fashioning the agreement which I believe has a real chance of working which in effect will limit and circumscribe their nuclear program.

Frank Sesno:               [0:39:55] Do you believe that has a real chance of working?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:39:56] I do.

Frank Sesno:               [0:39:57] But I’m just trying to say?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:39:58] Yes. I mean I’m not sure it has a real chance of working in the Congress [0:40:00] that’s what I’m most worried about. I am not worried at this stage so much about what the Iranians put on the table. Someone once said, you know, there are two kinds of fooling. One, something you say you never have to be responsible for, but the other is something you say well you are responsible to your own public. And Rouhani was elected by the Iranian public on the first ballot. 70% voted and 52% voted for it but he’s now put on the table a series of measures in which if he fails he will have to answer to the Iranian public and he is acutely aware of this.

Frank Sesno:               [0:40:37] Do you think this change that you detect is out of exhaustion? Right, we often say, the Persians invented chess. They are playing chess. They plan six moves ahead. Out of exhaustion with the sanctions and trying to out-maneuver the sanctions or that there is some kind of fundamental maybe even generational shift that we are seeing?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:41:00] No.  How can you say it is a generational with Ali Khamenei.

[CROSSTALK]

Frank Sesno:               [0:41:04] Not at the leadership level?

Thomas Pickering:      What I am saying, however, is that it is the failure of past policies. Including Ahmadinejad’s, to challenge everything in sight while at the same time, as you may have detected, he was behind the siege the biggest advocate of [IB] with the United States. Because he saw that as a political way to proceed and so did the supreme leader who didn’t want Ahmedinejad as the next supreme leader.

Frank Sesno:               [0:41:34] So as you recall, the last time there was a reformist president, this country and President Clinton reached out. Madeleine Albright actually offered an apology to the Iranians.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:41:45] I was there when we were doing it.

Frank Sesno:               [0:41:47] Okay. And what happened, the supreme leader smashed the reformist president and nothing happened.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:41:54] Both Rafsanjani and Khatami suffered from a supreme leader who in my view was nervous [0:42:00] about their taking over his job.

Frank Sesno:               [0:42:03] And now that’s not the case?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:42:04] No. Because he picked the six former special assistants who he knew for a long period of time and understood that they would be part of his move. But he also had to decide to accept the will of the people. And the will of the people was expressed around a political program presented to them in the election of change.

Frank Sesno:               [0:42:23] So this could be something…

Thomas Pickering:      [0:42:24] And the Iranians are very worried that we cannot respond and that if they make no progress, they are down the tubes. They are toast.

Frank Sesno:               [0:42:34] I want to go to your questions for a few minutes but I am going to do one before then because this one I… alright. You got a call from the white house. They say Ambassador, boy do we need you back in service. Now we are going to send you to Moscow because this guy Putin is giving us a real pain. And you have your first meeting with President Putin, and Snowden somewhere over there [0:43:00] and the demonstrators are you know, they have got the gang of 12 that they are going to throw in jail for God knows how long and all these things. What do you say to Vladimir Putin?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:43:09] No thank you to the job. I have been there and done it. What I think, however, the guy they pick should say to Putin.

Frank Sesno:               [0:43:21] He is very good isn’t he?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:43:24] Is this won’t wash. You are not in effect doing anything that in the long run is improving the direction of your country or even in my view, serving in a useful way to support you in charge of your country.

Frank Sesno:               [0:43:46] People have said he has been told this in various ways.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:43:49] He has.

Frank Sesno:               [0:43:51] But it hasn’t changed a thing.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:43:51] No and I am not sure it will although, endless repetition has its uses.

Frank Sesno:               [0:43:58] What would you say to him?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:44:00] I would say I think you are floundering. You are losing traction. You haven’t done what your people expect and you haven’t done what you intend to do is to make Russia a strong international player.

Frank Sesno:               [0:44:16] You would really say that to him in those words to his face?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:44:20] I would. One on one.

Frank Sesno:               [0:44:22] What do you think he would say in response?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:44:25] You are out of your mind. I know best how to run this country.

Frank Sesno:               [0:44:33] To which you would respond?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:44:36] Take a look at what is going on. You need to know.

Frank Sesno:               [0:44:42] Fascinating.  Let’s open to some questions from the floor here. This is a…

Thomas Pickering:      [0:44:47] Of course I wouldn’t enter into a dialogue like that. But I would seek over a period of time to get there and it wouldn’t be the first time. But it is important ambassadors have served useful purposes.

Frank Sesno:               [0:44:58] [IB] 

Thomas Pickering:      [0:45:01] Sometimes they get thrown out and sometimes that’s worthwhile.

Frank Sesno:               [0:45:04] I know. Who has a question? P.J. If you don’t know, ladies and gentlemen, P.J. Crowley is also affiliated with us here at the School of Media and Public Affairs. P.J let us get you a mic.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:45:16] And P.J. is no stranger to the microphone.

P.J:                              [0:45:21] And like you happy to not to have to face one every day. Tom let me teach you all about the relationship between diplomacy and public diplomacy. You very intriguingly said part of the decision making process has to be crafting the story that you are going to present based on the decision that you make. So take a situation like we face in Egypt today. From a diplomatic standpoint, our posture in terms of investing in the only institution in Egypt that is strong enough to move the country forward is a perfect logic. But in making the difficult decision not to call it a [0:46:00] coup and with the secretary there over the weekend you know suggesting that Egypt is on a path to democracy even as it tries to exterminate the Muslim Brotherhood. What does that… how do you balance those two where, on the one hand, one is real politic it makes sense, on the other had not calling it a coup destroys at least for a period of time the credibility of the story that the United States is interested in democracy in that part of the world?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:46:28] I think that we were in a peculiar disadvantage by our own legislation in having to identify it is a coup. I would have sought some other words which, we did. And I would have said frankly, it’s too important to Egyptian-US relationships to accept the legally devastating results of calling it a coup. [0:47:00] And, therefore, I believe that there has been a change of government and it has been precipitous and go through all of that. But I would say I need to defend our policy against critical actions taken with automaticity by peculiar findings. And that’s not going to be easy but I think I would do that. I would think that where I the secretary, whatever you tell CC or the bunch. The notion you have to come out and pat them on the back for creating a wonderful democracy is in my view, still fails the credibility test in a serious way. I would say, look, we are going to hold elections. We think they can make progress but it’s not a sure thing and I encourage CC and everybody else to have open elections [0:48:00] with a broad candidacies and with a fair effort to keep them honest and all those things that we stand for. And I would have put it down on that level, P.J. rather than to try to elevate it to a kind of bumper sticker that wouldn’t stick.

Frank Sesno:               [0:48:22] Okay. Another question?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:48:23] Now, it’s easy to say this after the fact but to some extent you and I know secretaries are pre-paid and press advisors are paid to see bad bumper stickers coming.

Frank Sesno:               [0:48:37] Gentleman in the back.

Tom:                           [0:48:46] Ambassador I was wondering…

Frank Sesno:               [0:48:48] Why don’t you try to keep that a little bit so maybe we will avoid the feedback. And also if you could tell us your name and affiliation, that would be great.

Tom:                           [0:48:59] Sorry My name is Tom [Dunbac]. I’m a graduate of the Korbel School of International Relations. I was wondering with the president having to cancel two trips to Asia now, due to domestic politics, do you know anything that would be able to help reassure nations to that region that we are still going to do our ‘pivot’ to Asia. Or is there any sort of advice you would give to the president to reassure the nations in the region?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:49:28] Tom, a couple of things. This is a quibble and a side-piece but I think the ‘pivot’ was a badly chosen phrase. Pivot usually means you are swinging away from something and toward something. And there is no question at all that we were deeply engaged in Middle East and highly unlikely to disengage. And that every European was constantly watching for where America was going. [0:50:00] and it was gratuitous and unnecessary to do that, secondly I think that the president’s judgment, that he should stay home in a time of shutdown was probably right. But it didn’t help us in foreign policy terms, and it made it clear, that domestic politics could continue even in malign ways to cripple foreign policy objectives interests and developments. My own view is that the president should have come back and picked the next two or three meetings to make sure and private communications with other people that he was committed to attend. And if he could find when he was not going to go to in Asia and swing himself around to do that, it would have been important as a way of trying write to what was otherwise a lurching ship at that time. I think that [0:51:00] more than the fact that of our attending, is the central opportunity the president get’s to meet with a serious number of international players who count, on those meeting because he can't travel continuously, as ways to get caught up and indeed understand where we intend to go. And the feedback from those meetings, is tremendously important particularly for the president, in shaping his sense of the individuals he’s dealing with, what the issues they are…have with the United States and where he would like to see things move and I think they’re critically valuable in that sense.

                                    [0:51:40] So I would not want to sacrifice it. I think finally, the sense that the world’s greatest power, in military, economic and what I would call political values terms, is suddenly crippled by essentially [0:52:00] an embarrassing wrangle of party politics, of the lowest level of mud wrestling. It is unseeingly but demeaning and it’s conveyed a message to people that we can’t manage our affairs. And that Americans are deeply divided and that they’re prepared in many ways to hazard the world leadership, which is devolved on them since 1945, in a silly spat over a set of domestic issues, that whatever that we may think don’t deserve that kind of treatment.  And so I regret it, I think it’s a bad thing to happen, I’m not sure a president could get away with going away despite the shutdown, I just don’t think that is possible. But he [0:53:00] ought to make some effort; one first to avoid that again and secondly to seek to find a way if I could put it this way, to rewrite the balance. Over a period of time if we continue to do things well and right, the silliness’ go by the board, if we don’t, they add up and they become accumulative checklist, of things that people will now continue to believe we are, in a serious decline, I don’t believe that, that we can’t handle our domestic affairs, there is signs of that. That we are not prepared to step up to the plate, to deal with our own problems and that’s a serious question. And that we are… if I could be cautious here, in the business of making promises internationally we can’t keep.  Thank you for your question.

Frank Sesno:               [0:53:55] When you speak of making internationally making promises we can’t keep, what top’s [0:54:00] that list?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:54:01] Cairo’s speech. Up till now, he has the rest of the term and I admire John Kerry and what he’s trying to do on Arab…I mean…

Frank Sesno:               [0:54:14] Palestine.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:54:14] Palestine-Israeli peace. And my sense is that the most formidable decision was to keep it to such a small group, that so far he’s been able to keep this question under wraps.

Frank Sesno:               [0:54:27] Under wraps?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:54:28] Yeah.

Frank Sesno:               [0:54:29] Yeah.

Thomas Pickering:      [0:54:29] And that’s critically important.  And I would not guess but I have sense from people in the region that that means that at least things are moving, rather than as we have seen constantly blown up by the bickering parties, before they ever get off.

Frank Sesno:               [0:54:50] Back to the audience for question, in the back?

Stephanie:                   [0:54:54] Good evening Ambassador.

Frank Sesno:               [0:54:54] The mic is coming your way.

Stephanie:                   [0:54:57] I can project. Thank you for coming and taking the time to speak [0:55:00] with us today. My name is Stephanie, I’m with the Foreign Service, I am a Public Diplomacy Officer. I’m interested in the out coming summit in Vilnius and the possibility for Ukraine to sign an agreement with the EU. I’m interested to know how you think President Putin will react and if you think it will bring him further support or descent in Russia?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:55:18] I think that unlike NATO where I see little chance of an early movement on Ukraine, that there is a good possibility and reason for Ukraine to move into the… at least into the economic area if not full membership. And I think that ought to be encouraged and in many ways the Russians for years sat back and relaxed. Admittedly in my experience in Russia as I travelled around, I never met a Russian who didn’t have a cousin who was married to a Ukrainian, [0:56:00] and I never met a Ukrainian who spoke Ukrainian and there’s a difference there, who didn’t tell me immediately about 400 years of Russian occupation. And that may sound silly, but it gets to the heart of the issue; and so in effect for Russians, it’s like cutting off a piece of the body and very hard to accept, particularly dear Ukraine. On the other hand over a period of time, they have come to grips with the idea that Ukraine and its economy are different than Ukraine and its army. And I think that we ought to try to hold them to that distinction as much as we can, if in fact after all the President of Ukraine was once a close creature of Putin’s, decides to continue to pursue this [0:57:00] direction and move, and Putin won’t like it. And Putin has found that his major weapon of retaliating against Ukraine has been gas and the major problem is that the gas line still to Europe, are heavily through Ukraine. So the Ukrainians have invented the wonderful idea that any cuts get passed on and Putin hasn’t figured out how to cut it all off. So I think there’s some balancing here; besides Mr. Putin at least momentarily is on a good [IB].

Frank Sesno:               [0:57:40] For the time; let me go to another question if I may. This one is from Bruce Gregory, is Bruce in the room? I saw Bruce. Hi Bruce? Do you want to do this or do you want me to?

Bruce:                          [0:57:50] Go ahead.

Frank Sesno:               [0:57:50] Alright, Bruce writes…I’m happy for you to do it, but Bruce writes with great precision; in 1997 you were undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, State’s Top Career [0:58:00] Diplomat, and a Key Advisor Secretary to Madeline Albright and President Clinton’s announced plan to put public diplomacy, development and arms control in a reinvented state department. You urged as the governing principal that all of the States Undersecretaries would act as a corporate board. They would make strategic planning recommendation, the decision making authority and resource management would be pushed down to the Assistant Secretaries…this is why we love Bruce Gregory; he worked for us, okay? State adopted this corporate board model, when USIA was integrated in 1998; its activities were decentralized throughout the department. In 2009 however, as Vice Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Transformational Diplomacy, you urged Secretary Rice to create a semi autonomous agency for global public engagement, under a director reporting directly to the Secretary of State. This agency would have direct line authority over all state department public diplomacy personnel. In effect it would recreate a single public diplomacy agency [0:59:00] within state. Why did you call for corporate board model in 1997 and a semi autonomous agency model in 2009, what led you to change your mind?

Thomas Pickering:      [0:59:10] Great question. First, there’re two pieces there; USIA. I had always believed that the defense department model of having agencies within the ambit of the Secretary and the Defense Department, but operating independently with what one would call full resources, that is a budget personnel, personnel authorities, those kinds of things, made a lot of sense particularly because, traditional diplomacy and public diplomacy are different. They are matched in some ways and they have to work together. But just like AID, which is a heavy program agency, [1:00:00] traditional Foreign Service officers were not uniquely suited to move back and forth in that realm. And I felt the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency could go either way, although I thought that one way to keep it… in keeping with the original founding idea that we need an independent agency to promote arms control and disarmament, was not necessarily a bad thing. So I made my own recommendations which failed, in 19' whatever it was '97. And with the new opportunity and not having changed my mind in 2009, I continued to make that recommendation with the glorious result that of course it's been totally ignored on both ends. I'm not sure you can stick me with the idea that the undersecretary should be a corporate board. But [1:01:00] I’m aging and my memory particularly for failures is very short.

                                    [1:01:09] So I had a view without going to this in excruciating detail that the ideal for the State Department was that the number of functional bureaus, should equal the number of regional bureaus. And that we should pull those together that were diversified by common ideas, the way oceans environment and science was created under Henry Kissinger. That secondly we should strive as an ideal for a three layer cake, the secretary and the undersecretaries and the deputies should all be on one level. And make decisions within the area of their responsibilities [1:02:00] except where the secretary and the deputy secretary had taken the issue in their own hands or wanted to supervise him. And that the next level down should be the assistant sectaries and the deputy assistant sectaries should be extensions and the next level down should be the country directors and the desks that of course never prospered either. There was too much checking on everybody, everybody wanted to check too many names on the clearances. But over a period of time, I think something like that would help to revolutionize the State Department and I always thought it made an awful a lot of sense .

Frank Sesno:               [1:02:38] Lets…we've got a few minutes lets go up to this question. I think it's maybe our last one from the floor.

Narnia:                        [1:02:55] Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador my name is Narnia [IB] [1:03:00] I am with the USA Air Force with …it seems to be like money was like a big problem or it was a big thing with Benghazi happening. So with sequestration going on right now, what do you see are the chances of you know another Benghazi happening somewhere else. And also going off on the experiences of US counter insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan what you see will be the future of civil military relationships?

Thomas Pickering:      [1:03:43] Gosh Narnia you've opened a huge door, I think that it's impossible to predict where terrorists might strike if they create the ability for themselves in opening up new places Yemen, [1:04:00] Somalia maybe Eritrea and beyond Nigeria, Mali, Niger to strike. And it's no longer possible to say that there are certain places in the world which are totally immune. As terrorists begin to look at the weak places and try to organize themselves to move there. Intelligence in my view is still the best defense on first line and a strong police work to back it up. And I think that it is the way in which we'll look at the future remind me, the second part of your question

Narnia:                        [1:04:45] Sequestration.

Thomas Pickering:      [1:04:46] Sequestration in the State Department. State Department has a total budget including $54 billion that represents a very small percentage of whatever it is 600 and some billion [1:05:00] in the Defense Department.

Frank Sesno:               [1:05:02] Yes.

Thomas Pickering:      [1:05:04] If the State Department’s major role is to prevent conflict and the Defense Department major role is to fight them. Now we ought to have a little close coordination, between the two that I worry that after 10 years of conflict without palpable success, in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Certainly Iraq is experiencing serious difficulties and we have a fundamental question whether after 2014 the NASF would be sufficient to deal with the threat. Even backed up by some level of NATO and US support. I think that we have attempted in the last decade to use the military as quick and easy ways to solve diplomatic problems, if there were diplomatic [1:06:00] problems and I think that to some extent Afghanistan was.

                                    [1:06:05] And I think that having shown in fact that it has great come back capacity, but the problem isn't necessarily the end of comeback the problem is what comes after. And neither state nor aid nor defense, has shown a sufficient capacity to deal with that and particularly the resurgence of what we would call a symmetrical conflict. That as a diplomat I have two concerns, I always felt enormously advantaged in every country I was assigned at and every negotiation I was engaged in because of three things. US military supremacy I can only call it that, American economic strength and vitality and even after 2008, I think we are there. And our systems of values I worry because in fact we have never [1:07:00] confessed or cleaned up how we treated detainees.

                                    [1:07:06] We have in fact not one or two wars, we've gone through an economic crisis I see us coming out. So what we have done, well we have undermined at least in some ways the strength of our military in terms of the defense needs of the country. And we have undermined our diplomacy in two ways; we became fascinated with military solutions to problems. Which meant that diplomacy was disparaged, ignored, downgraded and many people forget diplomacy was a central feature of arranging greater stability with the Soviet Union at critical times. And it could not be done with military conflict and so we have lost some of the public trust in [1:08:00] diplomacy. And by losing some of the strength of military backing, we have further disadvantaged ourselves at a time when I believe diplomacy is even more important in our future. Growing a multi-polar world, lots of situations out there that will require in a sense a negotiation, compromise, win-win I hope, but dealing with those issues. And which the threats to our national defense in my view have diminished and outranged despite the threat of terrorism.

Frank Sesno:               [1:08:36] I want to follow this up its very interesting in some ways this is not a new challenge we've had this, we have turned inward at multiple points in our history. We often say that your best friends are the Atlantic and the Pacific that doesn’t work anymore. We have transnational threats we talk about information and ideas and bad things happening 24/7.

Thomas Pickering:      [1:08:57] We have a global world in trade and all of that.

Frank Sesno:               [1:09:00] all of that we have a polarized Washington, a paralyzed government right now in many ways. How do you with all of your experience and perspective on this think that diplomacy and its fundamental role that you talk about that it must play and reassert itself and can to be a little crass about it sell itself to the American public which at the end of the day has to support?

Thomas Pickering:      [1:09:33] There are three challenges out there now we have to meet here one and we've talked about that. Syria which in my view is moving toward diplomacy not a way, there is no military solution that I can see closer or around the bend, killing 7,000 people a month is not supportable. The radicalization of both sides, one side by the Iranian revolution guard and the other side by Al-Qaeda, it's not working to anybody's [1:10:00] advantage. And the destabilization of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and potentially South Turkey. Ought to worry all players who want to have a stake in an interest in the future. And the third piece is the long standing tyrannously difficult problem of Arab, Israeli and now particularly Palestine- Israeli negotiation. None of this is easy they’re all hard as hell, but I don’t see another solution Frank in any other way to this particular problems going to war isn’t going solve it.

Frank Sesno:               [1:10:41] But you’ve got to mobilize government you’ve got…you talked to yourself about the difficulty in convincing congress, you’ve got to get the American Public not thinking the 25% of our budget is spent on foreign aid.

Thomas Pickering:      [1:10:56] Is spent on foreign assistance.

Frank Sesno:               [1:10:58] Alright, how do you do that?

Thomas Pickering:      [1:11:00] Only through leadership, through constant effort, through hard work. John Kerry is going out on a hell of a whim I admire him for it. He’s put it this way, his future in terms of risk at a very high level. But if we’re not prepared to do that and the president if he’s not prepared to back him up, we don’t have a chance. And this is the kind of thing it requires leadership, it requires commitment, it requires constant work and if in fact the fates are running against you, and that may well be the case at the moment then you have to work doubly hard, that’s all I can tell you.

Frank Sesno:               [1:11:47] I have to get you…

Thomas Pickering:      [1:11:48] But one success will… in my view not turn all of this around but it will help me.

Frank:                          [1:11:52] Infuse it.

Thomas Pickering:      [1:11:53] It will give it some legs, some life.

Frank Sesno:               [1:11:56] Unfortunately I have to get you out of here in about two minutes, so I want to just do a few [1:12:00] things to button this up. You’ve had unbelievable career, your service to this country is off the charts. If you could or had to be ambassador today, to any country in the world, for reasons of pure personal and professional fascination or a place where you felt you could make the most difference, what country would that be?

Thomas Pickering:      [1:12:31] I guess anybody who’s been where I have been would have to say China.

Frank Sesno:               [1:12:38] Because you think you could make a difference or it’s just an amazing place to…?

Thomas Pickering:      [1:12:43] It’s an enormously intriguing country from a personal sense. I would feel woefully deficient if I didn’t have a top flight step. But I went from continent to continent [1:13:00] so I know something about that. And it would be a huge learning process in engagement. But all I could say is that, sometimes these experiences that you have are transportable.

Frank Sesno:               [1:13:22] I imagine you have volunteers here who would be that [staff].

Thomas Pickering:      [1:13:25] Absolutely,

Frank Sesno:               [1:13:26] I’d like to ask you to address some of the young people in the audience, students here who would like to have a career in foreign service, people, young people in foreign service who are just starting their careers, what’s your advice to them?

Thomas Pickering:      [1:13:41] My advice is work hard, do your best to learn as much as you can, not only about your job but what other people do. Be committed to service [1:14:00] which means don’t worry too much about your next assignment, one or two difficult assignments ought to be the challenge you want not the disaster you might think they could be. And finally go regularly to church, synagogue or your Mosque and pray for luck.

Frank Sesno:               [1:14:32] And your secrets to being a strong, influential and sensitive diplomat is what luck?

Thomas Pickering:      [1:14:42] No. All of my advice to the young people here present is certainly based on what I would hope was my experience.

Frank Sesno:               [1:14:53] I would like to say to you that your experience and your service really are off the charts. [1:15:00] And the people in this room know that I hope that rest of the world knows that, because I think you model the kind of service, abroad and here at home that the public service relations is…

Thomas Pickering:      [1:15:15] Your kindness and flattery embarrass me, thank you very much.

Frank Sesno:               [1:15:19] No its true and we need and this is my think and I’ll say this and I mean this absolutely 100% sincerely, we have a great media in this country but what we do and I’ll defend it, I’ll defend it, is we hold people’s feet to the fire. But in so doing maybe we do that a little too much and we don’t understand the depth and the commitment and the sacrifice and the incrementalism and the sheer time and effort it takes to do these jobs, that people who do these jobs are three dimensional human beings. And that there is a level of complexity and inspiration that goes with stories like these that must be understood.

Thomas Pickering:      [1:16:00] Thank you Frank, I always thought that public service was fascinating that the rewards were not material but they were certainly in many ways emotional. And that the ability to be near the edge of foreign policy because no success has a single father. And the ability to attack problems that were coming to you over the transom on a regular basis were some of the most rewarding things. And from time to time as an ambassador or even as an officer, you have the individual the capability of helping a single individual who is in strife or difficulty through that particular problem and that perhaps is even more rewarding in some ways even though on the scale of national interest it’s miniscule.

Frank Sesno:               [1:16:51] Thanks to Ambassador Pickering, thanks to Walter Robins, thank you to Sean Aday and the Institute of Public Diplomacy, [1:17:00] I told you we’ll get you out of here, we will do that thank you ladies and gentlemen very much.

[1:17:06]                     [RECORDING STOPPED]

 

 

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Author Pickering

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