Tag Archives: American Values

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

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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Filed under American Values, Civil Society, diplomacy, good governance, U.S. Foreign Relations, U.S. Leadership