John McCain – My Model Fellow American

John MCainI first met Senator McCain in 1988 in Panama.  I was a mid-level diplomat at our Embassy there during the dictatorship of Manuel Antonio Noriega.  The Senator had led one of his legendary Congressional visits (CODEL) to the country to examine U.S. policy and the security of the Panama Canal.

Our diplomatic presence in Panama was an odd one.  The U.S. did not recognize Noriega’s regime, which had seized control of the government from the democratically elected President of Panama, who was in exile in the United States.  We maintained an Embassy, but we had no formal diplomatic contact with the Noriega government.  We maintained military bases there, and our forces exercised our treaty rights to move about Panama City and the rest of the country.  These movements led to regular interference from Noriega’s thuggish military during which our forces often withdrew and consistently avoided the use of force.

You can only imagine what Senator McCain thought of this situation.  To him, U.S. military forces in legal execution of their treaty rights do not retreat from an opponent.  I agreed with the Senator and had in fact voiced my opposition to our ambivalent policy toward Noriega.  After a day of meetings, the Senator addressed what he considered the commanding U.S. general’s soft approach to Noriega’s provocations.  “What’s wrong with that guy?”, the Senator asked me.  Despite my own frustration with our approach, I defended the general, arguing that his orders from Washington limited the scope of his response.  The Senator was clearly not happy and shot me a disapproving look.

I learned a lot from that short exchange with an unhappy John McCain.  I am convinced that his subsequent advocacy for a more decisive policy in Panama helped usher in the U.S. invasion of Panama in late 1989 and the arrest, conviction and imprisonment of Noriega on drug charges in U.S. federal prison.  Panama then returned to democracy and full sovereignty over and responsible operation of the Panama Canal.  The Senator’s typically firm position helped convince me to proceed with my formal dissent with our policy, arguing that Noriega would only depart the scene if we forced him to – three months before we invaded.

Many years later, as a senior U.S. diplomat in the Balkans, I was warned by one of my colleagues that I had a reputation in Washington as a maverick and that this would hurt my career. My initial reaction was one of concern and then I remembered John McCain, the real maverick, and decided to serve a cause greater than my own interest.  It did hurt my career, but it was the right thing to do.

Today, as Senior Director at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, I have the honor of recruiting and developing character-driven leaders from all over the world to carry forward the Senator’s name and vision.  They are now spread out around the globe creating positive change that will carry forward his legacy of leadership.

I came to the United States as an immigrant and this amazing country gave me the opportunity to become an American Ambassador.  Thank you, John McCain for teaching me how to honor our country by serving her.  You will always be my model of an American original; full of brash energy and a deep respect and love for country and the dignity and rights of all people everywhere.


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Middle Class Values and U.S. Foreign Policy

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We have all seen disturbing images from the Kabul airport. Most Americans support ending our military mission in Afghanistan, but hardly a departure in the manner displayed so far. Analysts argue that a Biden “foreign policy for the middle-class” that focuses on the trade interests of American farmers and job opportunities for our workers in the American car industry cannot also prioritize protecting the human rights of Afghans. If pictures of desperate people clinging to C- 17s at Hamid Karzai Airport bother you, they say, the Biden team approach comes apart in its apparent contradictions.

To blame this tragic and disjointed end to our Afghanistan policy on the middle-class American public is insulting. Just because successive Administrations have listened to us and sought to get out of Afghanistan does not mean we instructed our leaders to analyze and plan poorly, act precipitously, or leave in harm’s way our friends and allies. The American people are good and competent. Our foreign policy must reflect that goodness and that competence. We can protect American jobs and save Afghan lives at the same time. We were unable to reshape Afghanistan into a western democracy, but we can manage a dignified and safe exit from its internal conflict, including the extraction of Afghans who supported our mission.

Biden’s foreign policy for the middle-class is neither his invention nor a more benign version of Trump populism. It is part of a policy seesaw dating back to our founding and the debate among us as enthusiastic, reluctant, or wholly unwilling stakeholders in our nation’s foreign policy. Over 100 years ago, President Taft argued that “The foreign relations of the United States actually and potentially affect the state of the union to a degree not widely realized and hardly surpassed by any other factor in the welfare of the whole nation. The position of the United States in the moral, intellectual and material relations of the family of nations should be a matter of vital interest to every patriotic citizen.”

More recently, “regular” Americans were asked about their foreign policy interests and priorities by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, together with Ohio State University, the University of Colorado-Boulder, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Respondents in the three states expressed an overall lack of information about the U.S. role in the world, a lack of trust in our foreign policy professionals, but also pride in a record of helping refugees and support for a strong military. Other studies have also shown that most Americans support our global engagement consistent with our individual and national values, high among them compassion for the oppressed and support for human rights.page1image2331623856

The Biden folks have it right. There is no option other than a foreign policy that considers the interests, anxieties, and values of the American people, including some of our contradictions. Of course, leaders are supposed to lead, not simply follow, no matter how emphatic public opinion. But by articulating a “foreign policy for the middle-class,” our leadership signals the willingness and ability to listen and is not claiming exclusive rights to setting policy.

The Biden folks also got it wrong. The prospect of leaving behind many in Afghanistan to face Taliban inhumanity deeply offends our values. The debacle at the Kabul airport did not have to be this way.

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U.S. Diplomacy: Building Back Better Abroad


America’s diplomats should thank Donald Trump. By driving U.S. foreign policy and our international reputation to such historic lows, he has provided us with the unique opportunity to reinvent our diplomacy. When Joe Biden enters the Oval Office next January, America won’t just benefit from a man of great character, but one of the most experienced foreign policy leaders ever to hold our nation’s highest office. He will be in a unique position to reinvigorate and reinvent American diplomacy.

Vice President Biden talks about building back better at home, and our diplomats must carry that task forward by building ​back better abroad as well. Seventy- five years ago, American statesmen designed a world order that brought unmatched prosperity and security to Americans and billions around the globe. Today, we must remember that sense of purpose as we start the long-term hard work that will be needed to restore our credibility and our relationships to bring America back as a world leader..

Like their president, America’s diplomats will have to start from a place of contrasts – they need the humility to admit the grievous failures of the Trump Administration but also the confidence to assert American leadership once more. It will be a difficult needle to thread, but with the right support from the Obama/Harris administration, they can succeed.

President Trump has treated diplomacy with disdain, ignoring career diplomats while appointing ambassadors who do more harm than good. Here’s how President Biden, in the letter he sends each new American Ambassador, could reset the tone and timbre of American diplomacy:

Dear Mr./Madam Ambassador:

Thank you for your willingness to serve our country as my personal representative abroad.

Together we face a historic challenge. The very future of our republic and of the world we live in depends on American leadership. First and foremost, we must evaluate how American leadership can help hasten the end of the Covid pandemic. America must be a team player, and you and your team should spare no effort to shape the global: scientific, economic, and political partnerships necessary to defeat COVID-19. This will go a long way toward earning back the trust of our partners and the respect of our adversaries.

Your diplomatic assignment includes an important domestic component. I charge you with linking implementation of our foreign policy objectives in your country of assignment to our Administration’s domestic renewal plan of bringing back a modern, vibrant and sustainable economy, a more just and equitable society, and a strong democracy supported by a powerful national defense.

In order to represent the American people abroad you must know what is important to them here at home. I ask that you conduct regular listening tours across the United States and engage Americans as key stakeholders in our foreign policy. Our trade deals, our development commitments, and our military engagements must have their support. in order to be successful.

Above all, our diplomacy must be aligned with the values that define our country. That means we praise our allies in public and discuss our differences in private. We call autocrats to task and support those countries and leaders that share our values. Our diplomacy will lend weight to conflict resolution. Our development dollars will alleviate suffering and help build democracy and prosperity. Our military technology will enhance the capabilities of those countries that respect the dignity and rights of their peoples.

To convey the emphatic message that America has returned to the world stage to achieve positive, values-based change, I look to you to identify and draft new “Brandenburg Moments” as one of your former colleagues has argued, that will allow us to symbolically but powerfully connect with people around the world. Such messages of course recall the powerful words of President Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall in 1987 inviting then Soviet leader Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall that signaled the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Our Administration should aim for similar opportunities signaling our determination on our highest priorities, such as our commitment to defending democracy, defeating climate change, and protecting human rights.

I realize that in order for you and your mission to be effective, your Embassy must be a state of the art diplomatic platform, with a full complement of foreign affairs professionals employing the most advanced technologies. Our embassies must be welcoming places of engagement with your host country and be secure. But we must also reach people where they are. You should find new and creative ways to interact with all segments of your host population – including digital technologies and social media. I will work with the Secretary of State and the Congress to secure the resources you need to bring innovation into our embassies.

Your mission includes working with regional and international organizations in pursuit of U.S. policy interests. In that context, I expect you to lead in efforts at reforming and improving these multilateral bodies. You must make them more effective and more efficient, and not abandon them to those who would subvert their mission.

Finally, I count on you to always act as a confident agent of American soft power, never reluctant to assert our values nor afraid to honestly address our failures. I expect you to provide me with your very best analysis of developments beyond our borders. Our policy process must be based on generous debate and deliberation, including a channel for healthy dissent. Diplomacy involves risks, and I hope you take opportunities on behalf of American interests. As long as you act in good faith, to represent me, the Secretary, and the American people, know that I have your back.

The President, Washington January 20, 2021

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American Leadership In And With Europe: The Balkans

I had the honor to serve as the last U.S. Ambassador to the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro starting in 2004 and ending as Ambassador to Serbia in 2007.  During my time leading our diplomatic mission in this volatile region, some of the remaining parts of the former Yugoslavia entered the final stages of dissolution.  Montenegro achieved its separation from Serbia in 2006.  And after long and arduous, but unsuccessful negotiations by the U.S./European/Russian “Contact Group”, Kosovo declared its independence in 2008.

In both cases, the separation was the best course of action. Best for Montenegro, best for Kosovo, and best for Serbia.  Montenegrins and Kosovars agreed.  Serbs did not.  Long days and nights negotiating, arguing, cajoling, and offering multiple pathways of making this right for all parties failed. Neither I nor my Washington colleagues, nor our European partners were able to convince our Serbian counterparts to accept Kosovo independence and to focus instead on a united European future.  Serbia today remains unalterably opposed to the independence and territorial integrity of Kosovo.

After Kosovo’s independence, the U.S. sadly started to lose interest in the Serbia-Kosovo dispute, deferring to our European allies to take the helm.  In 2016 U.S. policy toward Europe and the trans-Atlantic relationship overall began to shift dramatically.  The new President openly questioned the importance of NATO, the U.S. security presence in Europe and even our economic relationship across the Atlantic.  But the Administration pursued its interest in settling the Serbia-Kosovo issue without and in competition with our European allies.  Pressure was put on Kosovo to relent in its reciprocal measures against Serbia’s delegitimization efforts.  A land swap of ethnic communities in Serbia and Kosovo was floated.  The WH has now issued an invitation to the two countries to come to Washington on June 27 for discussions.

Neither European nor American experts expect these discussions to yield a lasting and balanced agreement.  Sadly, this WH effort, like so many others, is not about the interests of the two parties, but about the upcoming U.S. elections. The outcome may well be a declared diplomatic victory for the U.S., but not a real settlement of a highly complex and emotional international issue.

Our friends in Belgrade and Pristina deserve serious, principled, character-driven U.S. leadership on their dispute.  Leadership in partnership with our European friends, who after all will have to work with both countries on the ultimate goal — integration into a Europe “whole free and at peace.”  An empty “agreement” without Europe that potentially unravels the broader geopolitical borders of the entire continent is dangerous, destabilizing, unsustainable, and not in the U.S. interest.



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Returning Character to American Leadership

anthony-garand-7rehTDIfR8o-unsplashAs a member of the McCain Institute, I have the honor of developing new character-driven leaders to carry forward Senator John McCain’s leadership vision of serving a cause greater than self.  I came to the United States as an immigrant and this amazing country gave me the opportunity to become an American Ambassador.  But not everyone in our country has been as blessed as I, as the recent tragedy in Minneapolis so powerfully reminds us.  The murder of George Floyd, a deadly pandemic, and the resultant economic crisis have all highlighted the dangerous absence of character-driven leadership in the White House.

In 2016, we opened a Pandora’s Box.   The legitimate fears of many Americans afraid for their future in a country of so much disparity led to the election of a man who offered simplistic panaceas while attacking key institutions of our democratic society.  Like so many other charlatans who throughout history have seen opportunity in the misfortune and fears of others, our president released some of the worst vices in Pandora’s infamous box.  

On Thanksgiving Day 2017, in my personal blog, I argued for all of us to accept individual responsibility for serving the greater good of our nation to overcome the divisive leadership of Donald J. Trump. Sadly, almost three years later, some of my worst fears over a self-centered and irresponsible presidency have been realized. A perfect storm of leadership challenges has swept over a leader utterly devoid of character and decency. 

But the answer to our challenges lies not in the complaints against the actions of this president, but in the articulation and most importantly, the decisive actions of character-driven leaders.  Character-driven leaders like John McCain, who sacrificed and suffered serving our country.   The senator lived the values enshrined in character-driven leadership:  truth, honor, decency, respect, humility, charity, and compassion.  The commitment to do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons.  John McCain taught us to know character when we see it. 

More than two centuries ago, at a time when the future of our new nation was anything but secure, another leader of character who would become our first President, called on all of us to be just, merciful, charitable and humble in shaping “a happy nation.” A century later, another president believed so strongly in the importance of preserving George Washington’s  “happy nation” that he was willing to commit the nation to civil war and to ending the stain of slavery.  The tragic loss of George Floyd is now moving so many of us to rise up again in demand of leadership that will deliver fully on the promise of our country’s founding aspirations.  We owe it to each other to lead responsibly and with compassion – in our communities, among our neighbors, in the streets in exercise of our civil rights, and at the ballot box.  Abdicating that responsibility to the current occupant of the White House will assure that character will not return to American leadership. 

The views expressed in this contribution are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the McCain Institute or Arizona State University. 


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Diplomats and Lemonade

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Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. on

My good friend Ambassador Kurt Volker resigned as U.S. Ukraine Envoy and as Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership.  Another well-meaning victim who, some say naively, thought he could make lemonade out of the Trump lemons.  But Kurt is not naïve.  He is a brilliant diplomat, a patriot, and a man of character who took the risk of lending his expertise to America’s foreign policy in an Administration where individual agendas regularly trump the nation’s interest.  There is a reason why John McCain was a fan of Kurt Volker.

Carrying forward the Senator’s leadership legacy, Kurt helped found the McCain Institute, which in its short 7-year existence has become a powerful force in developing international character-driven leaders, combating human trafficking, advancing human rights and international rule of law, and in finding new ways to fight political extremism. As part of our country’s largest and most innovative public university, Arizona State University, Kurt has led the McCain Institute in achieving positive change where it counts most.

As if this big charge on behalf of the McCain legacy was not enough, Kurt offered his exceptional diplomatic skills as unpaid U.S. envoy to advance our country’s quest for a Europe whole, free and at peace. His specific mission:  help Ukraine seize its democratic future and regain its territorial integrity in face of a Putin land grab.  Kurt knew how to get this done as long as he could count on a firm U.S. policy commitment in support of Ukraine.

For a while, together with professional colleagues in Kiev and Washington, he achieved considerable success in providing Ukraine means to better defend itself against its enemies. But complicating and ultimately dooming this diplomat’s delicate mission was a U.S. domestic political tidal wave that cast doubt on U.S. support for the beleaguered country and allowed politics ambition in our country to get enmeshed with corrupt and corruptible political actors in Ukraine.

The resulting damage to our nation’s interests, to our international reputation, and to our professional diplomacy is real.  Those who profit from our political turmoil and Kurt’s departure work inside the Kremlin and in other centers of authoritarian power.  That should concern and worry all of us in this country, since we depend on the success of a values-based American foreign policy for our safety, our prosperity, and our freedom.

But there is a small ray of light in all this. Our professional diplomats are routinely under-appreciated and even dismissed as risk averse bureaucrats by our political leaders and by everyday citizens.  Well, America, contemplate the fate of Ambassador Kurt Volker.  A pro working on America’s behalf, with courage and dedication, through a domestic political minefield.  It does not have to be this way.  He and all our diplomats deserve our thanks and our warning to our politicians to stop politicking at the water’s edge.

The views expressed in this contribution are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the McCain Institute or Arizona State University. 


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Reminders Of Who We Are

AmericansFifty years ago I was granted the privilege of becoming an American citizen.  Over a subsequent 35-year career as a U.S. diplomat I have been allowed to serve our country with great affection and a deep sense of pride abroad and at home.  Today I share the concerns of so many of my fellow foreign affairs professionals and fellow countrymen and women over U.S. foreign and domestic policy as articulated by our President.  I did not support Donald Trump in 2016 and I do not support most of his policies now, either domestically or internationally.  I do not condone his behavior.  But he is my President and I cannot simply argue that I did not vote for him.  The Presidency of the United States is too critically important an institution not to accept responsibility for it, including for its incumbent.

In private and public encounters over the past year, I have argued that it does no good to express outrage over our President’s policies and conduct in office.  He and his supporters are convinced that he is doing right by our country.  Mr. Trump has shockingly, but convincingly stated that he could literally commit murder and still maintain the support of his political base.  Simply joining the growing chorus of criticism will not change that sad misperception.  Offering a positive alternative worthy of a great nation and its remarkable people will.

Not everything Mr. Trump says is wrong or untrue.  Many things are.  The way he expresses himself and claims to be speaking for all of us is totally wrong, however, and deeply counter to our interests at home and abroad.  He will not change, but we can change how we deal with each other, both those who support the President’s policies, and those who don’t.  Here is a list of reminders of who we are as Americans, of things we believe in, that can guide us in finding back to each other and to a world community hungry for principled American leadership:

At home….

  • It does not have to be this way.
  • We embrace empathy, not populism and individualism, not selfishness.
  • Constructive relationships are based on respect and courtesy, if not agreement.
  • Partnerships and teamwork are more successful than solo acts.
  • Character-driven leaders bring out the best in people, accept responsibility, absorb risk, and give credit for success to others.
  • Good governance requires commitment, experience, and skill.
  • Politics and politicians are essential elements of democratic governance, not “the swamp.”
  • A democratic society needs dedicated public servants focused on getting to “yes.”
  • Empowered citizens of democratic societies act as guardians against extremism.

And abroad…

  • We taught the world that the pursuit of happiness is not just American and neither liberal nor conservative, but global.
  • Our national culture is built on diversity, fairness and compassion.
  • Great nations and their leaders act with character, humility and compassion.
  • Strong societies share their attributes and reduce suffering around the world.
  • Problems are best addressed at their source.
  • The future of the modern world rests on collaboration, not confrontation.
  • We are patriots, not nationalists.
  • We know who our friends and allies are and who are not.
  • Diplomacy may be tedious, but it is very cost effective and it works.

How about this as a (re)start for a country that began with “We, the people?”



















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Advancing Western Values

 imageLast month I had the opportunity to address the American Chamber of Commerce In Tallinn on the subject of advancing western values. What follows is the text of those remarks as addressed to my good friends in Estonia.

Tallinn, Estonia, April 5, 2018.  Good evening.  I am so happy to be back in Tallinn together with my friends here at the AmCham. Thank you so much for inviting me. I have never felt as cold — or as warmly received — as my wife and I were for more than three years in this beautiful 100 year-old republic. Elagu vaba eesti !

I would like to talk to you about values.  Values in your country and mine, on your and my continents, and in our world. Last year, at the 2017 Munich Security Conference Senator John McCain defined “the West” as a world order based not on blood-and-soil nationalism, or spheres of influence, or conquest of the weak by the strong, but rather on universal values, rule of law, open commerce, and respect for national sovereignty and independence.”

He declared that the West included “any person or any nation that honors and upholds these values.” And he concluded his remarks referring to the current troubled state of world affairs.  He said: “even now, when the temptation to despair is greatest, i refuse to accept the end of the west. I refuse to accept the demise of our world order. I refuse to accept that our greatest triumphs cannot once again spring from our moments of greatest peril, as they have so many times before. I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries. I am a proud, unapologetic believer in the west, and i believe we must always, always stand up for it—for if we do not, who will?”

Thanks to John McCain and thanks to other resolute political and private sector leadership, including the powerful role of AmCham Estonia, the West is alive and well here.  I applaud with you the improved level of tangible “western” security engagement throughout your part of Europe.  NATO has added important teeth to the article 5 common defense commitment.  And I know you are doing your own part to secure the West — diplomatically, politically, economically, militarily, and ideologically. But let’s remember that the need for such reassurance is in response to the added threat to our joint security, emanating from your eastern neighbor.

But the West is sadly also in peril in your country, in other parts of Europe, and around the world.  A renewed “western” agenda must give definition to our age. An agenda that systematically goes on the strategic offensive on behalf of our values rather than lamenting the lack of commitment to these values among some on the world stage.

As an American diplomat for more than threedecades, I consistently articulated and advanced the interests of my country and those of the American people. In all these years I never, ever used the words “America First.” It would have been an arrogantly self-serving and self-defeating tactic for achieving my country’s foreign policy goals.  But none of my international interlocutors were ever in doubt that in my eyes, America isfirst –  First when it comes to building an ever more perfect union of strong, self-reliant, open-minded, generous and compassionate men and women.  America is also first in building powerful and lasting alliances and acting at home and abroad in defense of our freedom and that of our friends.  And America is first in seizing strategic initiatives to change the world for the better and to expand the boundaries of human achievement, no matter the obstacles or the cost.   America and Americans are not perfect by any means, but we are consistently first in seeking good, facing our own imperfections, and in correcting our mistakes.

For all of you who despair or, for all of you who may even have given up on Trump’s America, take heart.  During my lifetime, i have seen our nation lose a hot war, a President resign from office, and our country land on the moon, win the cold war, and save millions of people suffering from hunger and disease.  We have emerged stronger from our experiences, both good and bad, because of the courage and basic goodness and decency of the American people.  We are still those people.  Despite our historic weariness of foreign entanglements, we have found that the world is a better place when we are fully engaged in it.  Speaking boldly:  we will continue to do great things and right great wrongs, both at home and abroad.  That is the true America.

At a time of Brexit, significant other tensions in and around the EU, the rise of autocratic populists, and geopolitical “pivots,” let me be clear:  Americans strongly support a free, prosperous, confident, active, and unitedEurope.  After all, European democratic unity and a strong trans-Atlantic bond were also an American idea!  A Europe whole, free, and at peace, is a powerful force for good – for the West — and a key partner to the United States in global leadership.

A few years ago, a senior American foreign affairs analyst pointed to what he called an apparent emerging European cultural norm of not accepting any casualties in the prosecution of a war. Along with an Asia-centric shift in world power and economic might, these were indicators that old alliances and relationships were dead or on their death-bed. More recently, the President of the United States called NATO obsolete and pulled our country out of trade deals and other international commitments. Ironically, but good for Baltic regional security and the Alliance, the current Administration also supports the European Reassurance Initiative and the new NATO Urgent Response Force.

Some policy analysts have described a decline of a common U.S. and European set of interests, that in the past have been based on historical patterns of American elites that traced their ancestry to Europe.  These same analysts argue that today’s broader elite in the U.S. relates to African, Asian, and Latin American roots.  We, so it was argued, do not share the emotional or intellectual ties to Europe that defined transatlantic relations in the 20th century.

Well, it is certainly true (and good) that American elites are much more diverse today than in the mid 1900’s.   But I contend that a Chinese-American living in Boston has more in common with an Estonian from Rakvere or a German from Stuttgart, than he does with a Chinese man or woman from Chengdu.  Shared American and European values of democracy, individual freedom, and open markets transcend ethnic heritage and continue to bind us as Americans and Europeans, regardless of ethnicity.

Admittedly, Europe is not the singular center of America’s universe.  It never really was.  America, since its inception with powerful European roots, has steadily continued to develop its global vocation. But our ties to Europe form a critically important partnership – and, by the way – one that has never been characterized by full harmony or parity in national power.  France kicked out NATO headquarters in 1966 and did not return to the unified NATO military command until 2009.  In 1983 Germans threw Molotov cocktails at the U.S. Embassy in protest over the introduction of U.S. Medium range nuclear missiles to Europe – for the defense of Europe!   And yet NATO stands strong today, more than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact –With increased capacity and engaging in support of the West right here in your neighborhood and as far away as Afghanistan and Iraq. Pretty good for an obsolete alliance.

Of course, NATO, like any partnership, requires constant attention and the full commitment of all the members.  Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once stated that he harbored concerns about NATO becoming, “a two-tiered alliance that is split between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”  He was right.  But that frank statement does not suggest that the alliance, and the trans-Atlantic relationship have lost their meaning and importance.  Our very disagreements, sometimes loud and in public, bear testimony to the continuing strength of an alliance not simply based on realpolitik or pure national self-interest – and certainly not on coercion.

Ours is a value partnership, freely entered into by free peoples – a transatlantic bulwark that remains essential not despite an increasingly multi-polar world, but because of it.  If recent strains in the fabric of western values affecting both Europe and the United States – from populist nationalism, to refugee flows, to illiberal governments and attacks on our democratic systems – have taught us anything, then it is the de-bunking of the notion that Europe is somehow “solved.”  That more pressing issues in other parts of the world need U.S. attention. You and we share not only values, but also challenges, and we are both better off seeking joint solutions.  Abdication of our commitments to each other or to our joint global responsibilities is no more acceptable an option for Europe today than it has ever been for the United States.

Held back by Obama era international leadership hesitancy and now trump administration ham handed unilateralism, America is allowing others to attempt to roll back the successful world order the west created over the past 70 years.  In this roll back attempt, Russia and China claim to set the standards for international behavior.   Political voices even among NATO allies like Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, and Turkey assert values foreign to us.  And even the U.S. Administration seeks to settle our legitimate trade fairness concerns through unilateral tariff actions.

I do not wish to accept such a new world order. Together with you, i am proud that we fought communist totalitarianism and global terror.  I am delighted that we threw Saddam Hussain out of Kuwait and that we dislodged Slobodan Milosevic and brought him to justice for his crimes against humanity.  And I strongly support the international economic and trade structures that have brought unparalleled prosperity and market opportunities to so many, including the United States.  Our countries, yours and mine, have paid a price for our victories as well as our failures.  And we have set the standards and remain the guardians of character-driven leadership in a world of western values.

Think of these pronouncements of just two past American Presidents:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

 “I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles.” President Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983

Two decades apart, two U.S. Presidents, one Democrat and one Republican, affirmed similar American resolve in reaching for the stars. One landed a man on the moon and the other ended the Cold War.  Great ambition — great results.

It is high time that we retake the initiative of acting on our ambitious values.  In a poignant way some weeks ago, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, showed us the way. Together with our allies and friends, we have to take the lead. There is no substitute for American leadership.

The “western agenda” is vast and there is much to be done.  You don’t have the patience for me to try to list every element of that agenda. So here are just a few thoughts on showing renewed transatlantic, renewed “Western”  resolve:

  1. Champion a new era of transatlantic prosperity with a renewed push for the transatlantic trade and investment partnership.
  2. Continue to enlarge NATO to include all European countries that wish to join and that meet Alliance requirements. Europe should take a similarly ambitious enlargement approach to new European Union memberships.
  3. Rebuild U.S. Military presence in Europe, including the addition of a permanent U.S. and NATO presence in the territories of alliance members unable to meet challenges to their security without our visible on-the-ground support.
  4. Provide lethal defense weapons to any non-NATO country in Europe whose democratic ambitions are threatened by outside force and intervention.
  5. Aggressively pursue the competition for the hearts and minds of people in favor of free societies, open markets, and human rights, reclaiming the public pulpit – in person, in cyber space, in traditional and new media –for “Western” values.
  6. Resolutely commit full moral and physical resources to building global good governance, rule of law, protection of the environment, a responsible and secure digital world, and protection of the most vulnerable among us.

The answer to the challenge of our age demands the unapologetic articulation and the decisive actions of all of us who subscribe to character-driven leadership and the values of John McCain’s “West.” The time for such leadership is now.



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It does not have to be this way!



This is not a Thanksgiving downer, but a hope-filled call to action.

A former colleague, boss, mentor, and friend taught me this sentence many years ago and at my invitation has repeated it since in sessions of the leadership development program I lead at the McCain Institute for International Affairs here in Washington, D.C.

These eight simple words form the basis for a new agenda of our country and that of our many like-minded friends and partners around the world.  It is the beginning, but not the end of a leadership action plan for escaping the painful and retrograde public policy mess we find ourselves in from Washington to Berlin, from Caracas to Manila, and in many places in between.  A vocal, but defensive and powerless majority of the people in countries around the world have decried the current state of affairs: a world filled with alternate facts, self-serving dismissal or even hatred of those who disagree with those currently in political power, and a defiant refusal to shape a better global future by insisting on a return to a past reminiscent of the Dark Ages.  To no avail.

In the United States, the 2016 Presidential election opened a Pandora’s Box.   The legitimate fears of many good people – our neighbors, friends, and family members — of being left behind in a new America they saw bringing benefits to a political, economic, and cultural elite they felt excluded from.  And to add insult to injury, these good Americans who had in successive generations helped build this country, saw their pleas for inclusion in this future world ignored.  Similar sentiments were reflected among equally well-meaning people in many other countries.

So along came the successors to the many charlatans who throughout history have seen opportunity in the misfortune and fears of others.  They released and paraded the worst vices out of Pandora’s infamous box as the solutions to the challenges of a changing world.  They turned the hearts of good people to stone and lifted the rocks that many not-so-good people emerged from.  And ever since then the vocal and powerless majority has blustered about how horrible charlatans and their acolytes are.  Well, duh!  Tell us something we don’t know.

The answer to the challenges of our age lies not in the complaints against the actions of the charlatans, but in the articulation and more importantly, the decisive actions of character-driven leadership.  Few people will readily identify what character-driven leadership means.  Amazing, since parents, teachers and spiritual leaders have defined it for ages:  truth, honor, decency, respect, humility, charity, and compassion, to name just a few.  In short, you know character when you see it.  Our public policy and political and civic discourse must be subordinated to these values.

In 1783, at a time when the future of our new nation was anything but secure, our most respected fellow citizen who would become our first President, said it in a message to the governors of the 13 American colonies at the end of the Revolutionary War:

 “I now make it my earnest prayer that God… would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large; … and finally that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, … without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.” — General George Washington

Abraham Lincoln believed so strongly in the importance of preserving what this “happy nation” stands for that he was willing to shed blood among brothers and sisters in its defense.  Today’s charlatans also believe –in themselves — not the American people or our happy nation. So let’s stop being defensive about our values in the face of this narcissism. Fulfilling Washington’s prayer and Lincoln’s belief requires a character-driven agenda for America and for what Senator John McCain has recently called “the West” – a community of values, not of geography or political affiliation.







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Advancing American Global Leadership

U.S. Global Leadership
I did not want to write this.  I believe that pretty much everything that can be said about our President’s foreign policy vision has been said.  The people who support Mr. Trump do so with the same vigor as those who disagree strongly.  But a July 13 New York Times op-ed by National Security Advisor LTG. McMaster and Director of the National Economic Council Cohn, entitled “The Trump Vision for America Abroad” convinced me to share my views.
LTG. McMaster and Mr. Cohn assert that the President’s early July visit to Poland and the G-20 Summit in Germany strengthened U.S. alliances and that “the American delegation returned from the trip with tremendous optimism about the future and what the United States, our allies and our partners can achieve together.”  I am afraid that, based on a 35-year career in our country’s diplomatic service, I cannot share that optimism.
The two senior White House officials argue that the President at every opportunity abroad articulated his vision for securing the American homeland, enhancing American prosperity, and advancing American influence.  He did that, but he did not advance our country’s interest in having our allies and partners join, or better yet follow, our leadership.  Other countries are simply not very interested in reminders of our plans for our own prosperity, our own security, and our singular global influence.  They want to hear our views on joint prosperity, joint security, and joint exercise of positive influence around the world. That is how we actually achieve our goals and articulate our leadership — by not making them sound self-serving. 
LTG. McMaster and Mr. Cohn nevertheless believe that the President’s recent visits abroad built coalitions.  In support of that coalition building, during those visits, the President affirmed that his America First vision is based on American values.  I can only hope that he was well intentioned, if incorrect.  American values are generous and big-hearted; inclusive and tolerant; self-assured and compassionate.  America First conveys a much more limited, U.S. centric vision. 
I am an immigrant with a deep love of my country.  In my heart America is always first.  I get teary-eyed every time I read Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s eulogy of George Washington:  First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. What a powerful statement of being first as an American leader!  As an American diplomat and Ambassador, I never used America First as a recipe for achieving U.S. foreign policy goals abroad.  That  would have led to failure.  I showed U.S. leadership by example and demonstrated the value to others of joining in our initiatives.  Every country wants to be first when it comes to its national interests.  
So, respectfully, Mr. President.  For your recent overseas travel, you deserve credit for your support of the NATO mutual defense commitment and for achieving a ceasefire in Syria.  But you did not strengthen our alliances around the world and you did not demonstrate the resurgence of American leadership to bolster common interests and affirm shared values.  You demonstrated your vision for a chest pounding America.  For the rest of the world that vision is all about us, not about leading in partnership with others.  It is no cause for optimism about the success of American global leadership. 

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