1.REMEMBERING THE U.S. EMBASSY TAKEOVER IN IRAN: Amidst all the U.S. election excitement, a two-para, November 4, 2020 statement from Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo didn’t get much attention. It was issued to mark the 41st anniversary of the day Ayatollah Khomeini’s followers broke into the U.S Embassy in Tehran and took more than 50 U.S. diplomats hostage.
As the Secretary explained, “For the next 444 days, the Iranian regime tormented these brave Americans and their families who did not know if they would ever see their loved ones again. The survivors of the Iran hostage crisis embody the courage of our diplomatic corps.” Noting that, “even today, the Iranian regime continues to utilize the inhumane tactic of hostage-taking to advance its destructive agenda,” he called on Iran to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizens Morad Tahbaz and Siamal and Baquer Namazi and account for the fate of FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was abducted more than 13 years ago.
In honoring the original 1979 embassy hostages, people should remember that four of them were USIA officers: John E. Graves, public affairs; Barry Rosen, press attache; Kathryn Koob, cultural affairs; and Bill Royer, Koob’s deputy at the Iranian-America Society (our binational cultural center). A fifth USIA person, TDY secretary Lillian Johnson, was taken into custody the next day, but then was released two weeks later along with about one dozen women and Blacks. The remaining innocent hostages were held until January 20, 1981 when President Reagan took over from President Carter.
Deep distrust between the two governments has continued ever since – especially over issues such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the so-called “Iran nuclear deal”), terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, and human rights. For the current U.S. position on the Islamic Republic of Iran, go to state.gov/the-islamic-republic-of-iran-a-dangerous-regime/
2. BY GEORGE, TRUST MATTERS: Kudos to the November 2020 issue of The Foreign Service Journal, the American Foreign Service Association’s magazine, for landing a terrific by-liner by former Secretary of State George P. Shultz on the occasion of his 100th birthday. Titled On Trust, the inspiring essay is a “must read” for anyone who cares about public service and diplomacy. He shares his views about the importance of rebuilding trust between communities and nations so that skillful diplomacy and visionary leadership can advance American interests and ideals. He also discusses his idea that “incoming members of the U.S. Foreign Service should be required to participate in a full academic year of professional education at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center.” (The Center, still called FSI, is officially named in honor of Shultz, who, as Secretary, actively supported the establishment of a new campus in Arlington for diplomatic training.)
The former Secretary’s final paragraph is important:
“I want to be clear that I am not criticizing the very good people in the State Department and the Foreign Service who, so far as I can see, are conducting themselves in a way that should make the American people proud of them. Nor do I mean to impute malign intent to the leaders of the current administration. Several issues that will need to be addressed in a rebuilding program antedate this administration, the impact of social media on our national conversation being one. I have always believed that in the end, and probably after much impassioned debate, our national security must rest on a nonpartisan consensus framed by our shared values. So let it be in this case.”
For the full text of the Shultz article, go to https://www.afsa.org/on-trust
3. WORDS MATTER: It is always encouraging to see an individual American Ambassador speak out on a timely topic that goes to the heart of traditional American values. The United States Ambassador to Muslim-majority Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, clearly defended free speech when on October 30, 2020 she extended her “deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the people of France in the wake of the terrible attacks in Nice and Paris.” In a statement posted on the Kuala Lumpur Embassy’s social media sites, she went further to say: “I strongly disagree with Tun Dr. Mahathir’s recent statement. Freedom of expression is a right, calling for violence is not.”
The Ambassador was responding to a controversial tweet from Dr. Mahathir, the former long-time Malaysian prime minister noted for his sharp, anti-Western rhetoric at times and his active social media presence. He had written, in part, that “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.” The veteran, 95-year-old senior Malaysian politician maintained he was quoted out of context, and was clearly not pleased when Twitter first flagged his tweet as “glorifying violence” and then deleted it entirely. Recent communal violence in France has led to heightened tensions, protests and calls for boycotts of French products in several countries, and new pressure on the giant social media firms to control their content.
4. DIGITAL DIPLOMACY MATTERS: The Meridian International Center has launched The Redefining Diplomacy Initiative to “examine how diplomatic practices, embassy operations and the role of diplomats themselves have changed and will continue to evolve.” An inaugural report written by Elise Labott, veteran foreign affairs reporter who was with CNN for nearly 20 years, has been produced to examine how the work of diplomats has been disrupted and changed by the pandemic. Titled Redefining Diplomacy in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it “synthesizes insights shared by a range of current and former diplomats from across the globe, about trends in the evolution of diplomacy in a post-COVID world where alliances are shifting, polarization is deepening and skepticism of global engagement had already been growing, particularly here in the United States.”
Lamenting the decline in face-to-face contact, the report largely focuses on how diplomats have had no choice but to move swiftly toward virtual operations and master digital tools and platforms. It concludes: “Now is the time to engage in bold thinking and strategize how the United States and our partners around the world can adapt to some of these changes that the pandemic has accelerated, whether through investment in technology resources, breaking down centralized and bureaucratic systems, reskilling diplomats, and reimaging ways to build relationships and trust virtually.”
For the text of the Meridian report, go to: https://www.meridian.org/project/redefiningdiplomacy/
5.YOUTH MATTERS: The United States elections are behind us, but it is still important to know what is on the minds of young people and what changes they want and need. The Walton Family Foundation, established in Bentonville, Arkansas, in 1987 by the family which founded Walmart, has funded a new, upbeat research report, Opening Doors to Opportunity: Generation Z and Millennials Speak, which studied the attitudes of young people ages 13-23 and 24-39 about issues such as opportunity, The American Dream, education, the environment and their communities.
The research was commissioned in the middle of two pandemics — COVID-19 and systemic racism — and conducted in partnership with Echelon Insights, an Alexandria, VA research and analytics firm that serves brands, trade associations, nonprofits and political clients. (The firm’s co-founders are pollster and commentator Kristen Solitis Anderson, and Patrick Ruffini, a leading Republican political-digital practitioner.) The study found that both generations are engaged and are optimistic about their future, and two-thirds believe the American Dream is achievable. Also, both see education as “critical to opening doors” and see the environment as a key area of concern.
For the full report, go to https://8ce82b94a8c4fdc3ea6d-b1d233e3bc3cb10858bea65ff05e18f2.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/b1/
The report is worth looking at not only because of its findings during these politically polarized times but also because of its attractive design. The report is highly readable and uses slick, creative graphics, and colorful design to get its findings out.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.