Staying current on foreign affairs is important for every person, former Ambassador Shaun Donnelly ’64 told students during his Global Studies Institute sessions on Thursday, Nov. 16.
You don’t need to be preparing to be a diplomat or a foreign policy wonk, he explained, but you do need to prepare “for the world you are going to be living in.”
That is because international matters are increasingly impacting Americans. Major corporations like Boeing and Caterpillar sell 50 percent of their products overseas. Africa does matter economically and politically; and how well the United States works with China will have a direct impact on the North Korean situation.
Reading The Economist, listening to National Public Radio, and watching Public Broadcasting Service stations are easy ways to stay current, Donnelly said, and learning to speak a foreign language is very helpful. “Americans are terrible at languages.”
Donnelly, the son of long-time math instructor Alfred J. Donnelly, most-recently served as the Ambassador to Sri Lanka. He also held posts in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Council for International Business. He told students that his path of working his way through the various levels of the diplomatic corps was the easiest way to become an ambassador.
While most people have heard of the big names who receive political appointments to major countries, there are several ambassador posts available to senior foreign service officers who spent 20 to 25 years in various posts. And, if that sounds difficult, it is still easier than becoming a multi-millionaire business person, retiring, and making a major political contribution to the right presidential candidate.
Negotiating trade bills involves a lot of give-and-take, from the people across the table and from within your own ranks, he explained. That is because each team member represents one interest. What is best for the Department of Agriculture may adversely impact another department. “Sausage or foreign policy,” he smiled, “you don’t want to see the people making it. But you find a way to get the job done.”
He added as other countries gain power politically and economically, the United States is no longer “the only game in town.” And, as the playing field levels out, the big question is becoming “how well do we relate to our allies?”