Sunday, December 28, 2014

Presentation by Ambassador Robert R. Gosende on the U.S. Foreign Sevice and Russian-American relations

Presentation at Kendal, Sleepy Hollow, December 8, 2014

I believe that we agreed that I would speak this evening about the Foreign Service of the United States, most especially in regard to the appointment of Ambassadors and other senior officials of the Department of State, and then about the current state of relations with the Russian Federation since its annexation of Crimea and outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine. Each of these subjects could occupy much more time that we have this evening so I will try to be brief. I am very anxious to hear your views in our discussion period.

The U.S. Foreign Service:

I have prepared copies of the “President’s Views” from the latest issue of the Foreign Service Journal, the monthly publication of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), which is the professional association of American Foreign Service Officers. President Robert J. Silverman, as you will see from his article, describes how non-career appointees, perhaps better labeled political appointees, have increased in numbers among the middle ranks of the U.S. Department of State. Mr. Silverman is a Career Foreign Service Officer. He is on leave from the Foreign Service position while he serves full-time as the AFSA President. He has to maintain good working relations with the Department of State’s management team, most of whom are political appointees so he has to be careful with his words. What he does not speak about in this article is the increased number of political officer nominees that have been put forth as prospective Chiefs of Mission or Ambassadors by President Obama. raditionally, political appointees have constituted 30% of Ambassadorial appointments. During President Obama’s first term 35 % of his nominees for ambassadorships were non-career individuals. During his second term that number has risen to 41%.

The following are the countries or organizations to which President Obama has nominated political appointees: The African Union, Argentina (Noah Mamet – Congressional staffer for former Congressman Richard Gephardt and also long-time Democratic political activist and consultant in California), the association of South East Asian Nations, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Belgium, Belize, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, China (former Senator Max Baucus who said at his confirmation hearing, “I am no expert on China”), Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, the European Union – Brussels, Finland, France/Monaco, Germany, the Vatican (Rome), Hungary (Colleen Bell – Producer of the Bold and the Beautiful), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO Montreal, Canada), Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy/San Marino, Japan (Caroline Kennedy), Luxembourg, Mexico, Morocco, the North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO – Brussels), the Netherlands, Norway (George Tsunis – New York Hotelier), the Organization of American States (Washington, DC), the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD – Vienna, Austria), Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the Slovak Republic, South Korea, Sweden, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, the UN Economic and Social, Human Rights (Geneva), Management, and Political Affairs Committees in New York City, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome and UNESCO in Paris, and finally Uruguay. Please note that most ambassadorships in Western Europe have gone to political appointees. I should also mention that all but one of the eight most senior officials at the Department of State in Washington are political appointees. Many of the people who have received such appointments contributed substantial amounts of money to President Obama’s political campaigns.

The practiced of awarding diplomatic posts to non-career appointees should be halted immediately. We are critical of other countries which undertake such practices. The conduct of our diplomacy is a deadly serious business. It should be managed and implemented by people who have spent their lives learning the trade. In the relatively rare circumstances when someone from outside the career service of our country has the expertise and the confidence of the President necessary to undertake a mission on behalf of our country, that person should certainly be appointed. But as a regular practice, the appointment of Ambassadors should not be made as a reward for political contributions as is the case in too many instances now. Continuing to do so leads other nations to believe that e do not consider diplomacy to be really important.


We are now well into a debate over who is responsible for what has happened in our relationship with Russia. We always need to find someone to blame when something goes wrong. And, of course, the easiest target is our own administration. This has happened on President Obama’s watch. The President is responsible for the conduct of our foreign relations. So, he must be to blame.

But that may be too easy by half, so to speak.

People engaged in this debate occupy, in general, two points of view:

Those who contend that it is our own fault for the way in which we treated Russia, expanding NATO into former Soviet space in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and those who believe that it was only normal that countries which emerged from Soviet domination in Central and Eastern Europe would seek security guarantees from NATO in light of past Russian/Soviet behavior.

Perhaps the most ardent proponent of the view that Russia was maltreated after the collapse of the Soviet order is Prof. John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. Mearsheimer says that the West (meaning the U.S. and our Western European allies) is responsible for what has happened in Crimea and Ukraine. He argues that throughout its history Russia has always been highly sensitive about foreign military powers encroaching on its borders and that we should have realized that it would eventually react negatively to the enlargement of NATO to include virtually all Central European countries and the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia).

Those who argue that the expansion of NATO into Central Europe and the Baltic State was certainly to be expected given Soviet Russia’s forcible occupation of this region following World War II, believe that Russia, specifically the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is responsible for the events in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Our country’s foremost Kremlinologist, Prof. George Kennan, warned in 1998, as Poland Hungary and Czechoslovakia were about to be brought into NATO, that Russia would react unfavorably to the expansion of NATO. And in this Prof. Kennan was undoubtedly correct.

Russian President Putin annexed Crimea last summer and he has sent armed Russian troops along with sophisticated Russian weaponry over the border between Russia and Eastern Ukraine. He claims variously: that Ukraine is not a “real” country, that it has always been part of Russia, and that it lays within Russia’s “sphere of influence.”

There is no doubt about the close relationship between Russia and Ukraine. Russian civilization first appeared in Kiev, which is now the capitol of Ukraine over 1000 years ago. There has always been extensive intermarriage between Russians and Ukrainians. The late, distinguished Harvard political theorist, Prof. Samuel Huntington, in his 1996 book Clash of Civilizations, described Ukraine as a “torn State.” Prof. Huntington said that Ukraine was divided north/south along the Dnieper River between those eastern Ukrainians who looked to Russia and western Ukrainians who looked toward Europe with Crimea appended at the bottom where people really considered themselves Russian.

Recently President Putin has called for assurances from the U.S. and Western Europe that Ukraine will ever be allowed to join NATO.

This past month Russia shut down the FLEX Program (Future Leader Exchange Program) which had, over the past 21 years, brought over 6,000 Russian high school students to study in the U.S. while living with U.S. families.

Last week the Putin administration said that it was “reassessing” funding for graduate study by Russian students in the U.S. and other western countries.

One prominent Russian Parliamentarian, Valery Seleznov, expressed concerns about the loyalty of Russians who study abroad saying, “For our money we will get highly-skilled agents of foreign espionage services who will know the weak spots of our economy better than anyone and who will develop sanctions that three years from now the dollar will cost 500 rubles.” It appears that Russia will no longer provide funding to its own students to study in the West. But is it really to be believed that exchange students are responsible for the devaluation of the ruble?

President Putin said in his recent State of the Nation speech that the West is guilty of “pure cynicism” over Ukraine. However, if he really believed that Russia was unfairly taken advantage of in the denuclearization negotiations in 1995, when Russia promised to respect Ukraine’s borders including Crimea, the door was open to him to seek a peaceful resolution to this alleged mistreatment. But he eschewed peaceful options.

How is it that President Putin has, seemingly at least, been able to get a very large majority of the Russian people to go along with this behavior? Russia emerged from World War II on the winning side though at the outset of that conflict it was allied with Nazi Germany under the terms of the Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact which called for Nazi Germany to invade Poland from the west while the Soviet Union invaded from the east. The two invaders quickly divided Poland between them. But then Hitler thought better of this and attacked Soviet Union in 1941. The U.S. and Allied Western European nations quickly accepted the Soviet Union as a military partner against the Nazis. We were anxious to have the Soviets join the fight against Hitler to minimize American casualties and shorten the war. However, this was an uneasy alliance against the backdrop of the Stalinist purges of the 1930’s and the alliance with Hitler in 1939.

So Russia emerged from the war on the winning side. The Soviet Union participated in the occupation of Germany and occupied most of Central Europe including East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia remaining under Soviet domination, while Yugoslavia managed to remain outside direct domination when Marshall Josip Broz Tito established his own communist dictatorship. In the words of Winston Churchill, “an iron curtain rang down across Europe.

The reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II are the most successful examples of nation building in the history of mankind. Both in Japan and Germany, the occupying powers went to considerable lengths to educate the population, especially the younger generation, about what had led up to the war. And careful attention was paid to the form of government that would be established on the road back to independence and the withdrawal of occupying forces. Japan and Germany had to reexamine the history of the 20th Century and their role in that history.

No such reexamination has gone on in the Russian Federation. Many Russian people remember Stalin as a grandfatherly figure that saved Russia from defeat at the hands of the Nazis. And there has been no serious effort to educate the younger generation about Russia’s 20th century history before the outbreak of World War II. Russians know little about the Stalinist purges of the 1930’s. The one Communist Party First Secretary during the Soviet era who attempted this, Nikita Khrushchev, is the only Party First Secretary buried outside the Kremlin wall, the hallowed final resting place for former Party First Secretaries.

President Putin has said that he regards the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. This is certainly not how people in Central Europe remember the Soviet era. And, in particular, there are many Ukrainians who clearly recall how their people suffered during the Stalinist purges

So what should our country be doing now? I majored in history in college so perhaps I am biased toward thinking that people really need to know their history. There is no easy or quick answer but certainly it is important now that we do everything we can to strengthen our relationship with countries across the whole of Europe including Russia. Particularly important now are international educational and cultural exchange programs which focus on the next generation of leaders. We should make it clear, most especially, to the Russian people that our door is open to Russian students to come to our schools and universities. Special focus is needed now to emphasize the study of history, literature and languages – those subjects that will help people to understand one another. This intensified exchange effort should be a two-way street with American students studying abroad as European students come to the U.S. We should also initiate joint international textbook writing and publishing efforts which include the exchange of scholars who will participate in such efforts. This new initiative should certainly include scholars and students in the plastic and performing arts and film.

Thanks for your attention and I look forward to our discussion.

We of course must honor our treaty commitments within NATO. And it is hard to imagine in today’s world that any country can any longer have a “sphere of influence.” We all live now in an interrelated world within which we need to relate to one another peacefully. This automatically means that we need to pay greater attention to the role of international organizations – both regional and the United Nations. These efforts will take time and patience to establish but if we find seriousness of purpose, meaning adequate funding and clear leadership from our President and the Congress, the ball will be clearly in the Russian court. It will be difficult for President Putin to repudiate working with young people, young Russians and young Americans, to enable them to avert mistakes from the past.

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