Ambassador Neumann Advocates for Diplomacy

Rounds of applause filled the faculty room as Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann delivered his talk on diplomacy last night.

Ambassador Robert Beecroft ’58 and Mr. David Thompson, director of international programs, invited Ambassador Neumann as part of the School’s Ambassador Speaker Series, which was initiated in 2008 by former trustee Philip Pillsbury ’53. This year, Ambassador Beecroft connected the school with the American Academy of Diplomacy, which is dedicated to strengthening United States diplomacy and enhancing public appreciation of its critical role in advancing the national interest. As president of the academy, Ambassador Neumann discussed the role of diplomacy in global affairs, drawing on his decades-long career as a diplomat.

After joining the U.S Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in 1970, Ambassador Neumann specialized in the Middle East, serving in Iran, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates. Prior to becoming president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, he served as ambassador to Algeria from 1994 to 1997, to Bahrain from 2001 to 2004, and to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. Also an author, Ambassador Neumann wrote The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan in 2009 on political and military issues in Afghanistan.

The Foreign Service has its dangers and its frustrations and it’s not easy to enter; but I encourage others to try for it.

Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann

During his time on campus, Ambassador Neumann explained why diplomacy should matter to Americans. Last night, Ambassador Neumann gave a talk open to all students and faculty, entitled “What Can Diplomacy Achieve?” He shared his first-hand experience as a diplomat and ambassador and reiterated the importance of diplomacy. He also engaged in discussion with the students after the talk and answered questions from the audience. Ambassador Neumann said, “I’ve been in four wars, handled negotiations, and run embassies – from one where I was the only American to one with 500 Americans on the staff. Despite all the problems of today, the Foreign Service has its dangers and its frustrations and it’s not easy to enter; but I encourage others to try for it.” 

Today, Ambassador Neumann will attend Humanities and Social Sciences classes, including AP Economics, Africa: An Historical Survey, and National Security. Prior to his visit, Ambassador Neumann provided reading lists to students taking the classes. For example, Ms. Amanda McClure’s African history class read an article on Algeria to prepare for a well-informed conversation with the ambassador. 

Ambassador Neumann is also available today at lunch in the dining hall to meet with members of the community who are interested in continuing the dicussion. He said, “My visit gives me a chance to listen as well as to talk. I’m looking forward to learning what issues in the international policy realm move students. If I and my colleagues don’t understand their questions, we won’t do a very good job of using our experience to try to help provide answers.”

Within the community, Ambassador Neumann’s visit sparked discussions. Mr. Thompson said, “I think it’s a really interesting question to ask, ‘What is the role of diplomats?’ We live in a time globally where people seem less and less willing to converse, compromise, discuss an issue, and come up with a shared solution that both parties are happy with. The other group is always the enemy: the other group is fascist, the other group is communist or conservative, [therefore] always close-minded. There’s no nuance or subtlety left. So I think it’s very interesting for somebody who’s dedicated their life to and believes in the value of diplomacy to offer some thoughts about what the future might look like.”