Diplomats and Lemonade

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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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Filed under American Values, diplomacy, U.S. Foreign Relations, U.S. Leadership

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