How Should America Approach Diplomacy?
Former Ambassador to Egypt Nicholas Veliotes to speak September 21st, 7pm
Former ambassador to Egypt Nicholas Veliotes spoke to a packed Wood Center ballroom Sept. 21. At the invitation of the UA Geography Program, Veliotes met with students, faculty, staff, and the public at UAF.
On his topic “living with the world,” he said, “We’ve got no alternative. The question is how do we do it.”
The U.S. has found itself in a unique leadership position among nations, Veliotes said. This came about after World War II when the U.S. was the only player left standing.
“We inherited the post-war leadership role,” he said. He credited NATO as a major diplomatic triumph. “Good things don’t just happen in foreign policy,” he said.
To him the role of diplomacy is much more than cocktail parties. “I really only know one person who enjoyed the social aspects and he was an aberration,” Veliotes said. “These days they wear flak jackets rather than tuxedos.” A fellow ambassador once told him that diplomacy is convincing people to do what they don’t want to do, but Veliotes’ favorite definition is one he discovered on a tapestry pillow in a shop window in McLean, Va.: “Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.”
Seriously, though, Veliotes said diplomacy should be considered the first line of defense. “Soft power binds people together and it works to our advantage,” he said. “Through the Fulbright (international exchange) program we develop reserves of good will.”
With the demise of the U.S. Information Agency in the 1990s the country lost an important program, Veliotes said. The lack of training for State Department officials is another thing he finds woeful. “Training is the lifeblood of foreign service,” he said. “In the pressure to fill positions half-trained people are sent. We better have trained personnel or just forget it.
“Post 9-11 we have been making major efforts to reverse what we did,” he said. “We have a long way to go to communicate with the world on all levels.”
Military force should not be the preferred option for dealing with other countries, he said. “War kills people and that’s final. It unleashes forces you can’t control.” During his thirty-two year career in the State Department, Veliotes said he came to admire the can-do attitude of military people, as well as their dedication and willingness to sacrifice. “That is precisely why we should be very careful before we ask them to go to war,” he said.
“Negotiation is the heart of diplomacy,” he added.
The U.S. has nearly 200 embassies and consulates. “This is not airy-fairy work,” Veliotes said. “It is of great importance to our security and well being.”
There are always internal struggles to be dealt with. “Americans negotiate with no one as relentlessly and passionately as they do with themselves.” He tried to explain that to a group of new diplomats in Washington, D.C., once. His speech was titled, “Foreign policy in Washington has little to do with foreigners.”
“I tried to be honest and helpful,” Veliotes recalled. “I was never invited back.”
Stressing the importance of increased funding for diplomacy, Veliotes concluded the talk by saying, “If I have not convinced you to rush out and tell your congressman to fund every penny the State Department asks for, at least I hope I’ve informed you.” (Photo by Nina Schwinghammer, UAF Sun-Star)