The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 28

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JULY-AUGUST 2014
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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
pean integration. Ambas-
sador Jim Dobbins’ rich
reports from Brussels were
always a must-read.
Eastern Europe Trans-
forms, 1989.
This was the
most eventful year of my
career, as the East Euro-
pean communist regimes
began to topple starting
with Poland, followed by Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Ger-
many and, finally, Romania in December. In what seemed like
a breathless sweep, the Warsaw Pact was history!
A steady flow of useful diplomatic reporting, exceptional
interagency collaboration and effective leadership from the
White House—along with the refusal of Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev to resort to violence—minimized the risks dur-
ing this rapid transformation of postwar Europe. Countless
diplomatic reports contributed to this triumph for U.S. policy.
I would single out Ambassador Mark Palmer in Hungary as
emblematic of the best.
1990-1995: Yugoslavia Breaks Up and the Bosnians Go
to War.
After the collapse of communist regimes and the
implosion of the Soviet Union, there was little appetite in the
final years of the Bush 41 administration or in the first years of
the Clinton presidency to intervene in the Balkans’ toxic eth-
nic brawl. I saw firsthand how a steady stream of informative
and insightful diplomatic reports educated policymakers on
the complex issues, political minefields and increasing risks
to broader regional stability of persistent volatility and ethnic
conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
I particularly recall Ambassador Warren Zimmerman’s
thoughtful contributions to the U.S. policy debate on Yugosla-
via and his willingness to engage intelligence analysts directly.
On Bosnia, Dick Holbrooke assembled a team of workhorses,
including Bob Frasure, Chris Hill, Jim Pardew, Nelson Drew
and Joe Kruzel, who were especially skilled at reporting rapidly
changing developments to Washington decision-makers. They
were among the many talented diplomats and policymakers
who helped bring about an end to the Bosnian conflict.
China Rises, early 1990s.
Government analysts, like
diplomats, do not always come out of the gate with the right
answer. But they play great catch-up ball! In the early 1990s,
I remember mixed views on the impact of Deng Xiaoping’s
measured opening of China to the outside world. How would
this vast country of a billion people maintain its territorial
integrity, internal stability,
centralized authoritarian
rule and robust economic
growth against the stresses
that would come with
integration into the global
economy? How would its
military modernization
programs affect stability in
Asia?
Focused, balanced and forward-looking diplomatic report-
ing, in my view, has helped Washington to understand both
the challenges and the opportunities in China’s rapid rise. The
Sino-American relationship has a complex future with varying
shades of partnership, competition and rivalry—but hopefully
not violent conflict.
A Year of Crises, 1998.
The U.S. agenda was upended as
India conducted a nuclear test in May, and Pakistan followed
quickly; al-Qaida attacked our embassies in Nairobi and Dar
es Salaam in August; a global financial crisis that started in
Thailand swept through East Asia, provoking serious economic
and political turmoil in Indonesia, and eventually walloping
President Boris Yeltsin’s Russia; North Korea tried unsuccess-
fully to launch a satellite; and Saddam Hussein booted United
Nations arms inspectors out of Iraq.
Foreign Service reporting reduced the uncertainty associ-
ated with all these overlapping events, and enabled policy-
makers to scale appropriate responses. It helped them to get a
hold on Yeltsin’s erratic behavior during an unstable period in
the region. It educated U.S. government agencies to the grow-
ing threat from al-Qaida terrorists. It shed light on the domes-
tic and regional political implications of the global financial
crisis, even though it was a mighty struggle for all of us to get
ahead of this fast-moving curve.
Three Revolutions
All of these episodes occurred against the background
of historic geopolitical and technological change that dra-
matically affected reporting from the field. Three distinct yet
intersecting revolutions took root in the early 1980s as closed
societies began to open up, as both the volume and velocity
of information flows increased exponentially with the advent
of the Internet, and as the distinction blurred between foreign
and domestic threats in a borderless world and in cyberspace.
The first revolution was
geopolitical
. It swept away the
Soviet Union, propelled the rise of China and forced both
During the rapid transformation
of postwar Europe in 1989,
countless diplomatic reports
contributed to this triumph
for U.S. policy.
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