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APRIL 2017


riting in the midst of the

transition, as

The Washing-

ton Post

headlines, “State

Department Sidelined in

Trump’s First Month,” I find this edition

of the


particularly grounding. The arti-

cles on U.S. relations with Europe, some

written by old friends and colleagues,

help me find my footing, take a long view

of our work as diplomats, and reflect on

what endures.

Former Ambassador to Germany

and Assistant Secretary for European


John Kornblum recalls being told

in A-100 that it was folly to specialize

in Europe, that careers were made in

hands-on jobs in the Third World. Korn-

blum argues that U.S.-European security

is indivisible, that we must remain

closely integrated with the world’s great

democracies or face a messy clean-up

after a crisis has broken out.

Having spent my own career roughly

equally balanced between hands-on

crisis work and tending relations with

European partners, I have come to see the

two kinds of diplomatic work as two sides

of the same coin, part of the ebb and flow

of diplomatic capital.

Through the long, slow, steady work

that we American diplomats do building

strong relation-

ships with like-

minded allies (by

no means all in

Europe), we build

up metaphorical

bank accounts.

When crisis

strikes, as it regularly does, we draw on

those bank accounts to address the crisis.

As deputy coordinator for Iraq in 2007,

for example, I drew heavily on those

accounts as I pleaded with one ally after

another to stay the course, leave troops in

Iraq for just a while longer.

What does this mean for the daily work

of my Foreign Service colleagues serving

in Europe or with other like-minded

allies? Regardless of the headlines of the

day or the challenges of transition, when

policy guidance can be slow in coming,

you are always doing the right thing by

the American people, always serving our

national interests, when you get out and

do the hard work of tending the bilateral

relationship and building up the account.

As I used to tell participants in the

Ambassadorial Seminar, no one in the

U.S. government cares more than you and

your country team about the strength of

that bilateral relationship; tending it is

central to your job.

So get out of the embassy and meet

people, establishing and strengthening

personal relationships, reminding your

host country of the ties that bind us, rein-

forcing and refreshing those ties for a new


If appropriate at your post, advocate

for a goal in the Integrated Country Strat-

egy that makes an explicit embassywide

commitment to increased contact work

and trust building.

I once saw an ICS goal of “restoring the

foundations of trust” work wonders with a

close ally, providing ready justification for

expending resources—time, travel funds,

representational funds, exchange visitor

slots—to rebuild after a rough patch in

the relationship had drained the bank


Make a personal commitment—ide-

ally captured in your work require-

ments—to increase your contact work

and use the language skills you worked

so hard to gain. Don’t wait for démarche

instructions to set up the appointment;

just commit to meeting the head of the

Americas desk for coffee every few weeks.

Reconnect with exchange visitors, one-

on-one or in groups.

Some of you may say that, while the

transition is ongoing and policy guidance

is still being formulated, you are unsure

what to say. Fair enough, but how bad

would it be for American diplomats to be

caught listening and trying to understand

how our partners see the world?

That kind of nuanced, in-depth

understanding is not only what we in the

Foreign Service do best. It is also pure

gold, especially when crisis strikes.

In honor of this edition of the



focused on the future of Europe and

trans-Atlantic relations, I challenge my

colleagues serving in Europe to double

down on the many relationships writ

small that underpin the trans-Atlantic

relationship writ large.

America wins when you do the hard

work of keeping our alliances and other

partnerships strong. And you may find,

as I have, that you win on a personal level,

developing enduring friendships that are

also pure gold.


Ambassador Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.

Counting on Diplomacy