Page 18 - FSJ June 2012

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first priority, so I’ve looked for ways to
let individual talent shine. (As Presi-
dent Ronald Reagan used to say: “We
mustn’t be afraid that someone on our
staff is smarter than we are!”)
The essence of leadership, in my
view, is the ability to motivate and in-
spire others to accomplish a common
task. One must be passionate about
the issue at hand but level-headed in
its presentation. With this in mind, I
have sought throughout my several ca-
reers to build internal consensus on
policy and mandate and to develop ex-
ternal constituencies to support (and
finance) the policy.
As a congenital optimist, I believe
that the hard work of diplomacy never
ends, and that diplomacy is the indis-
pensable public service.
Which of your Foreign Service
assignments stand out most in your
memory, and why?
If I had to cite a single high-
light, it would be serving as U.S. am-
bassador to South Africa when Nelson
Mandela was released from prison.
Soon after joining the Foreign Service
in 1963, I headed off to South Africa
— just a few months before Mr. Man-
dela was sentenced at Rivonia and im-
prisoned on Robben Island. I had no
idea then, of course, that 26 years later
I would return as ambassador, just five
months before he was released.
I arrived a few weeks beforeMr. De
Klerk was elected president in Sep-
tember 1989, and was the first ambas-
sador to present credentials to him. In
June 1990 I accompanied Mandela to
see President George H.W. Bush at
theWhite House, having also arranged
for Pres. Bush to be the first head of
state to speak with him by phone the
day he was released from prison.
Three months after Mr. Mandela’s
visit, I returned to Washington with
Pres. De Klerk to see Pres. Bush. (The
White House had made clear that he
would get to come only after Mandela
had done so.) Describing that pivotal
period to me later, Mandela told me
he’d had the sense of being “in physi-
cal contact with history.”
Who were some of the people
you especially admired or were in-
spired by during your Foreign Service
First of all, President John F.
Kennedy was my inspiration for leav-
ing my early career as a teacher and
joining the Foreign Service. One of
my early role models was Assistant
Secretary for African Affairs G. Men-
nen Williams, who insisted on person-
ally briefing each FSO assigned to
South Africa, even a junior officer such
as myself, to explain the Kennedy ad-
ministration’s new South Africa policy:
viz., multiracial representational func-
tions, no further U.S. naval visits to Si-
mons Town and other restrictions.
Another early influence was El-
woodWilliams (no relation to G. Men-
nen Williams), known as “Mr. Ger-
many,” who had seen Adolf Hitler
while a student in Germany and knew
all the chancellors right up to Willy
Brandt. Foreign Service Director
General George S. Vest was the best
boss I ever had and remains an inspi-
ration and role model. Chester Crock-
er, as AF assistant secretary, introduced
me to a new and challenging level of
mental discipline and intellectual rigor;
his successor, Herman J. Cohen, was
also most supportive.
Ambassadors Edward J. Perkins,
Princeton Lyman and Walter Cutler
(whose desk officer I was), former AF
Assistant Secretary Susan Rice, and
current AF Assistant Secretary John-
nie Carson are colleagues and friends
whom I admire. Others whom I ad-
mire but with whom I have not served
include Ambassadors Thomas Picker-
ing and Ryan Crocker, former Under
Secretary Strobe Talbott and former
National Security Adviser Tony Lake,
with whom I worked particularly
closely on Haiti.
Growing up in North Car-
olina, did you meet any diplomats?
How about during your undergraduate
studies at Catawba College?
No, my first exposure to an
American diplomat was during my
postgraduate studies at Tuebingen
University, when I attended a speech
that the U.S. ambassador was giving. I
left displeased because he did not
speak German in addressing a German
My first actual conversation with a
Foreign Service officer came a year or
so later while returning to the States on
a ship; when it docked in Ponta Del-
gada in the Azores, I met the U.S. con-
sul who boarded. Impressed with his
work, I asked him for information
about the Foreign Service exam, which
I took and passed.
Looking back, do you feel that
“President John F.
Kennedy was my
inspiration for leaving
my early career
as a teacher to join
the Foreign Service.”
— Ambassador
William Lacy Swing
F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U N E 2 0 1 2
Amb. Swing with Nelson Mandela.