Career Diplomat at Saint Leo

December 08, 2008

Earlier this month, Saint Leo was honored to welcome to our main campus former Ambassador Robert Hunter, who is now a senior adviser on foreign policy at the Rand Corp., a highly respected non-profit think tank. Ambassador Hunter spoke for nearly 90 minutes on the topic: "Hitting the Ground Running: President Obama and Foreign Policy on Day One." In addition, the Ambassador granted us a wide-ranging interview, which is edited and condensed here.

Question: Because some of our students are in international relations and some are in military operations, we are interested in the recent report you co-authored suggesting that in some military interventions there needs to be tighter coordination between civilian authorities or helping agencies and the military. Are you hopeful in the new administration this advice will be taken?

Career Diplomat at Saint Leo Ambassador Hunter:

It’s always hard to predict what a new administration will do. But I’m confident of one thing it will do (just as would have happened if John McCain were elected, or even if George Bush had stayed) is to recognize in the kinds of military interventions we have been accustomed to in recent years and are likely to see in the future. Things like Bosnia, Kosovo, post-invasion Iraq, Afghanistan today. In order to succeed, you have to focus to a great extent on what the military call "Phase Four" of conflict, or what civilians would call "nation-building."

In Afghanistan, it’s the central challenge. How do you win the allegiance for the local government and for what outsiders are trying to do with the local population, as opposed to the Taliban, or even al-Qaida? And as a result, it’s not just what the military does with what’s called kinetic power, that is the fighting phase, but also in three great components of good governance, reconstruction and development. What do you do to give some kind of promise in the future of the individual Afghan? What do you have to do so that the military are going to be able to work with these other institutions, whether it’s the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or whether it’s Justice for rule of law, whether it’s Health and Human Services, whether it’s the Department of Agriculture?

This is an idea whose time has come, and I’m confident elements of this are going to be adopted by the new administration.

But there are a host of things. You’ve got to deal with education from the beginning. You’ve got to get people in this business – whether military or non-military – knowing more about history, languages, cultures, religions.

Question: What languages would you like to see students studying, not only in college, but in the lower grades?

Ambassador Hunter: Every language in the world where we might conceivably have to become engaged either in foreign policy or in military terms in the future. If you take the world’s major languages, Arabic is going to be very important, for example. Spanish is an evergreen language. For diplomatic purposes, and for commercial purposes, learning Chinese is important. If you want to be really effective in negotiations, you need some people around who have mastered the other people’s languages and the other people’s cultures. What are the cultural things that matter most to them, what are the basic attitudes, what are the taboos, and what are the grace points?

Question: How much should we expand the diplomatic corps, as you see it?

Ambassador Hunter: We have today about 6,600 Foreign Service Officers. It’s not a lot. If you had a game of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and you only had 6,600 show up, you would wonder what was going on. Condoleeza Rice got authority from the president to add another 1,100. I think it should be doubled. It’s cheap at the price. One reason the military supports all this, is that if you get your diplomacy right, and if you get your development right, and you get your relationships right, maybe you don’t go to war. You do things without war, and that saves lives.

Question: What do you think we can do to encourage international studies even among students who aren’t going to be posted abroad, but students who will be voters and will have neighbors from other countries, who will do business with people from other countries? How can we make our next generation more global-minded?

Ambassador Hunter: It used to be that getting people interested in the outside world – unless they were going to make it a career move - was like sending them to the dentist. Nowadays, if you don’t, you will fail, because the world has come to us. The world comes to us everyday. If you want to succeed, if you want to have a job, if you want to succeed at whatever your profession is, there are very few professions out there that do not require some kind of understanding of what’s going on out there, or some kind of understanding of the people who come to you.

Question: What global media do you recommend students pay attention to that they can find on the Internet?

Ambassador Hunter: Go to some of the great English-language newspapers. I’ll name three: the International Herald-Tribune, the Financial Times and The Guardian. If you speak and read Spanish, the amount of Spanish-language coverage is staggering. And a lot of Spanish language television, in terms of public events and public affairs, is really very high-quality.

Question: We didn’t talk about learning about other people’s religions, which we do at Saint Leo.

Ambassador Hunter: I’m delighted. Just because you are learning about other religions doesn’t mean you have to give up your own. A lot of resistance is fear. If you’re solid in what you believe, then you can learn other things. You don’t have to worry about it. It’s when you’re frightened that, "If I learn about X, I might be swayed," then you’ve got a problem.

I think that what happened on 9/11 was an unmitigated evil, with one exception. It has prompted us to learn more about Islam, and more about what Islam really is, than during the entire rest of the history of the United States. In fact, anybody who knows anything about Islam will tell you that what al-Qaida did and what they stand for is a perversion of Islam. It’s not consistent with Mohammed or the Koran at all.

To hear more of what Ambassador Hunter shared with Saint Leo, view the tape of his speech, stored in the digital collection of Cannon Memorial Library. Visit: