Craft of Diplomacy Conference: Session One


Speakers: Ambassador Barbara Bodine, Ambassador Cameron Munter, Ambassador Chris O’Connor

Moderator: Professor Huss Banai, Occidental College

Commencing on a beautiful Los Angeles afternoon, the inaugural Craft of Diplomacy Conference filled Choi Auditorium with eager students, seasoned diplomats, and everyone in between. Sponsored by the Diplomacy & World Affairs Major, the John Parke Young Initiative, and the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs and created by Professor Huss Banai and Ambassadors Shearer and Munter, the conference welcomed 18 esteemed diplomats, journalists, academics, and a military leader to Occidental. Students from Occidental, the Claremont colleges, USC, UCLA, and Pepperdine also were in attendance.

Broken up into five sessions, the conference would move in and out of the remodelled Johnson Hall over two days, Friday, February 6th and Saturday, February 7th and explore different facets of the life and work of a diplomat. Beginning at 3:15pm on Friday, the first session entitled "the Diplomat as a Crisis Manager" featured Ambassadors Barbara Bodine, Cameron Munter, and Chris O’Connor and was moderated by Professor Huss Banai. Each Ambassador had extraordinary experience dealing with crisis situations and regaled the audience with their stories and the insights they learned from each occasion.

Ambassador Bodine served in an 8-person post in Kuwait during the Iraq invasion in 1991 and was the acting US Ambassador to Yemen during the bombing of the USS Cole. Ambassador Munter led the 2,500 staff US Embassy in Pakistan during the capture of Osama Bin Laden and throughout the last phase of the Afghanistan war. Ambassador O’Connor was UK Ambassador to Tunisia during the Arab Spring upheaval.

Each scenario was entirely unique and therefore warranted its own specific response, but our panelists agreed that certain tactics could be applied to all three. Simply put, a couple of these pieces of wisdom were as follows: 1) know who you work with 2) have a personal relationship and knowledge of the country leadership 3) let the manager manage and the leader lead 4) understand your host country deeply.

"Know who you work with" was a point made originally made by Ambassador Bodine and reiterated by Ambassador Munter. By knowing the personalities and quirks of both your staff and foreign counterparts, you can better anticipate how things will unfold in a crisis. Some people will do well and can be vital allies during these situations, while others will exacerbate problems unless managed properly. Knowing which person will react in what way will allow a diplomat to prepare for any situation, because it will reduce the amount of uncertain variables.

In one instance, Ambassador Bodine remembered how one of the senior military members stopped doing his job during the crisis and only focused on getting his family out of the country, while several of his junior officers stepped up and took on responsibilities that were not expected of them. Luckily, by working with her team for a good amount of time beforehand and practicing crises scenarios, Ambassador Bodine was able to foresee this reaction and it did not derail the team’s operation.

"Have a personal relationship and knowledge of the country leadership" was a point made by Ambassador Munter that tied into the first point. First, a diplomat must know how the country leadership functions and will likely react to a situation and then he or she must be able to effectively communicate with the leadership and advise them on the situation. Oftentimes, foreign leaders will not be receptive to advice unless it is coming from a trusted friend. Therefore, a diplomat must build a strong relationship with his/her country counterparts that allows for close communication during emergencies to be able to manage and cooperate as the situation unfolds.

"Let the manager manage and the leader lead" was a piece of wisdom that described the ambassador’s duty in a moment of crisis. Ambassador Munter urged the audience to visualize two adjacent offices, one with a diplomat answering three or four phones at once, posting notes throughout the room, and taking constant questions from other staff members and the other with a diplomat sitting alone, calmly and pensively. The first diplomat would be the second or third in command at a mission who will be managing the crisis as things come to him and making sure all operations are going smoothly. The second diplomat would be the ambassador who is thinking two to three steps ahead and processing the information he has to articulate a plan to move forward.

However, the ambassador is only capable of thinking in the long term because he or she has a deep knowledge of the country and other players in the situation. With that deep knowledge, the ambassador can anticipate how different actions will be interpreted by the locals and by the country he/she works for (e.g. the United States) and explain to the media what is going on without seeming unnerved or bewildered by the situation. Keeping that composure is crucial for a diplomat to succeed in a crises and maintain the moral of his/her staff, but to do this, an ambassador must have the prerequisite knowledge described in the four points.

How a diplomat gains that prerequisite knowledge would be the topic of discussion for the next session "the Education of a Diplomat" that would resume the conference proceedings in Choi after a break for dinner.