Feb 13, 2020
Transcript: Marie Yovanovitch Speaks at Georgetown, Gives Warning about State Department
Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to the Ukraine who testified against Donald Trump, spoke at Georgetown University about a variety of topics. She gave a warning that the State Department is “in trouble.” Read the full transcript right here on Rev.com.
Marie Yovanovitch: (00:00)
Thank you. I am overwhelmed by all of the tributes that I could never have imagined, certainly from this distinguished roster of speakers. And I’m overwhelmed that all of you are here and are giving me a standing ovation before I even say a word. And so I’m tempted to just slink away now because I don’t know that I can do better than that. But I do thank you for coming today. It is an honor. It’s even more of an honor than I had imagined it would be. And at the outset I want to thank Dean Hellman and also Ambassador Bodine for bringing me on as a fellow back in the spring, and then sticking by me through a very difficult fall when frankly I was nothing but trouble. I also want to thank Frank Kogan for heading up the trainer trust fund and ensuring that the practitioners of diplomacy, and it is a very distinguished list, and therefore diplomacy itself are recognized. And of course a big thank you to Ambassador Pickering, a previous recipient, of course< of the trainer award, a state department legend.
Marie Yovanovitch: (01:14)
You were and are a fantastic role model for me and for so many others, and working for you and Ambassador burns in Moscow remains in many ways one of the most significant highlights of my career. And I still remember that Sunday, I think it was a Monday afternoon when I came. There are a lot of amazing things that we did during that time and I owe an awful lot to both of you. So thank you. I also want to welcome my former colleagues who are here today. I think we all recognize that diplomacy is a team sport, and every one of you has contributed to whatever successes I have achieved. So I thank you for that and I thank you for being here today. And finally in that reverse order, I would like to especially welcome all of the Georgetown students who are here. I know many of you are future diplomats or you are going to be contributing to our national security in other meaningful ways. Take it from me, and I think many others in this room.
Marie Yovanovitch: (02:16)
There is nothing more gratifying than working for the American people, making the US and the world more democratic, more prosperous, and more secure. I believe that those of us who choose this life make a difference every day, and I remain grateful for the many opportunities that I’ve had over the course of my career. And for those of you who haven’t yet decided whether you want to go to work for the American people, I’m hoping that tonight I can convince you to at least think about it. And if you’re a student from another country, I want you to know I’m talking to you as well. You wouldn’t be here at Georgetown if you didn’t share the same commitment to principled service, and no country including the United States can go it alone and be successful over time. Partnerships and alliances are our strategic advantage, and we look forward to facing the future together with you.
Marie Yovanovitch: (03:25)
I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself and why I decided to become a diplomat, because it was pretty unlikely, but many American stories are unlikely, and that is the beauty of America. I grew up in rural Connecticut and had an idyllic childhood, but my parents grew up during World War Two in Europe and their experience of war, deprivation and loss influenced me profoundly. My father was born in Siberia in 1921. He grew up in Serbia in Russian emigre circles, was a German POW, and ended up in Paris working as a handyman where he earned his green thumb, and learned carpentry in just about any other skill in order to survive. Those were years of hardship, and he really never talked about it very much.
Marie Yovanovitch: (04:23)
He eventually emigrated to Canada where he put himself through university, including earning a master’s degree by working at a chocolate factory. And when I was a kid, I loved the idea of my father as Willy Wonka, but I think the reality was a little bit different. In Canada, my father met my mom who had her own amazing backstory. Her father had fled Russia after the revolution and found refuge in V spot in Germany. My mother grew up stateless, half Russian and poor. It was a precarious existence, especially when the Nazis took over Germany and World War II began. After the war, the family emigrated to London, but their outsider status didn’t really change. My mom continued her westward journey to Canada where she met my father and where I was born. When my father got a job in the United States, we moved to bucolic Connecticut, and my exhausted parents didn’t budge for 40 years. They never moved. Well, they moved to and retire, but that was it. Like so many immigrants, they understood what a gift they received when they came to America, and they brought me up to believe that I needed to give back to repay that gift. That it didn’t matter that they had been scarred in ways that no one in our community could understand, and frankly, that I couldn’t really understand either. It didn’t matter that we were living from paycheck to paycheck. What mattered was the future. And although my parents had their roots in Russia, which many of the people in this audience know is the home of pessimism, they were optimists. They kept on moving until they found each other, and then a place where they could raise their children in safety and with opportunity. It’s actually a pretty typical post World War II experience, and frankly, it’s probably a pretty typical story today as well.
Marie Yovanovitch: (06:25)
My parents passed on their unwavering belief in the idea of America. That all people are created equal, that they have unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that the US government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. That was such a powerful concept, almost a prayer, when President Lincoln delivered those words at Gettysburg, when our nation was so divided, and almost 100 years later, those words spoke to my parents. They had lived in countries where the people had to serve the government. So the promise of a government that serves the people meant more to them than perhaps to most, but they understood that to keep the promise of reality, everyone has to pitch in, and my parents did just that. They were both high school teachers and they helped raise generations of students who continue to be in touch, grateful for their example and their influence. My college experience reinforced everything my parents taught me. Despite the odds, I went to Princeton University on a scholarship. Our motto there was Princeton and the nation’s service. That motto was inculcated in us from day one to graduation with a purpose. The message was that it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from. If you were at Princeton, you were privileged and you needed to give back and I would just say to everybody who is a Georgetown student, that same message is for you. If you are here at Georgetown University, you are so fortunate and I believe it’s incumbent to give back. When I graduated, I took some detours and detours are good. They teach you lots of stuff. And I worked in three different advertising and marketing firms in Manhattan. I took a personality test and that’s what they told me I would do be good at. And so that’s what I did.
Marie Yovanovitch: (08:34)
And it was okay for a couple of years. But what I learned is that while I really liked a paycheck, money isn’t really what motivates me. And on the day in 1983 that the US invaded Granada and none of my co-workers was interested, I knew I needed to find something different. So I back to my high school goal of being a foreign service officer. My thoughts were in coed, but I thought I could somehow contribute to greater security in the world. I loved the study of history and politics. I liked the idea of service, of giving back and I thought it would be exciting. There’d be interesting people, new cultural experiences, travel around the world, great food. I was ready more than ready and I wasn’t disappointed. I got all of that and more from Mogadishu to Moscow.
Marie Yovanovitch: (09:27)
So I joined the state department in 1986. The world that we knew then was shaped by World War II, the rise of Soviet communism and the framework that we put in place to manage all those challenges. Two lifelong public servants had conceived the key pillars for the postwar order, and did it by rejecting the two victors below belong the spoils mentality that had previously fueled almost constant war in Europe. In 1946 ambassador Kennan, a career foreign service officer outlined a strategy that would endure nearly 50 years to contain Soviet communism.
Marie Yovanovitch: (10:08)
Then in 1948 a career military officer, George Marshall, conceived of a generous peace for the recovery of Europe, much of which had been destroyed. The Marshall plan financed Europe’s reconstruction, bound us more closely to Europe, and turned enemies into partners. These innovative measures, along with the establishment of economic and security institutions, created the conditions for the long peace in Europe, now at 75 years and counting. And although the Cold War dominated our foreign policy for the next 40 years, it turned out that the tyranny of communism couldn’t compete with the ideals of democracy and the promise of capitalism. By the end of the last century, Soviet communism collapsed, bringing an end to an era.
Marie Yovanovitch: (10:59)
30 years on, though, it doesn’t feel like the end of history as some had promised. It feels like now we have not just the nation state challenges of old but also new challenges, of terrorism post 9/11 pandemics, global warming, the disorienting and dangerous effects of disinformation, and the tension between a globalizing world and a trending nativism and that’s just to name a few. At the same time, our alliances are fraying, new powers arising and that creaking sound we can all hear? Those are the institutions of the international order under very severe strain. Without doubt, our international institutions need a reboot, but they don’t need the boot. We need to reform them to accommodate the challenges of the time, but the principles on which they were established remain our true North. Rule of law, generosity of spirit and understanding that we are stronger together, and a commitment to put us resources on the line together with others to make the world a more democratic, more prosperous, and more secure place.
Marie Yovanovitch: (12:14)
Clearly this is in the interests of other countries, but it is first and foremost in our own interests. These are the principles that guaranteed the long peace in Europe after World War II, and I believe they can keep us going for another 75 years. But we need to recommit to first principles, reassure our allies, and send a signal to our adversaries. And no agency is more prepared to take on that mantle than the state department and its dedicated team of professional diplomats, many of whom are here today. The quiet work of diplomacy can be more effective and less resource intensive than just about any other tool in the governmental toolkit. To achieve this, we need to be engaging with our partners and peer competitors all the time, not just when it suits us. We need to tend the garden, as President Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Schultz used to say so that the weeds don’t grow and choke the garden.
Marie Yovanovitch: (13:18)
It sounds so old fashioned in our high tech world, but diplomacy is about human interaction, and creating relationships of trust is more important than ever now. It’s not as exciting as sending in the Marines, but it’s cheaper and usually more effective in the long term. We have outsourced our work to agencies with greater resources and greater political clout in Washington for too long. It’s important to allow the folks with regional expertise, experience, language, skills, and relationships to lead in our foreign policy and to allow other agencies to be able to concentrate on their own very important missions. We need to be principled, consistent, and trustworthy. To be blunt and amoral, keep them guessing foreign policy that substitutes, threats, fear and confusion for trust cannot work over the long haul, especially in our social media savvy, interconnected world. At some point, the ones unthinkable will become the soon inevitable that our allies who have as much right to act in their own self interest as we do, will seek out more reliable partners, partners whose interests might not align well with ours.
Marie Yovanovitch: (14:41)
How one accomplishes that right balance between reforming old institutions and advancing our interests while respecting our allies and outpacing our adversaries is the art of diplomacy. There isn’t a chart or a map laying out the way with every country in every problem, but if we stick to our principles and have a coherent foreign policy, we are on our way to making America more secure. But if we don’t follow that path, our allies will merely tolerate us. Perhaps, I don’t mean to be too glum, but perhaps even abandon us just when we need them the most in our increasingly uncertain times. We need a vigorous department of state, but right now the state department is in trouble. Senior leaders lack policy vision, moral clarity, and leadership skills. The policy process has been replaced by decisions emanating from the top with little discussion.
Marie Yovanovitch: (15:40)
They can see that all levels go unfilled and officers are increasingly wondering whether it is safe to express concerns about policy, even behind closed doors. It’s not news. The state department is being called out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage. This is no time to undercut our diplomats. With so many challenges, we need to double down on our diplomacy and here are some thoughts on the way forward. First, we need to re-empower our diplomats to do their job. We can’t be afraid to share our expertise or challenge false assumptions. Working off of facts is not the trademark of the deep state, but of the deeply committed state in the words of Ambassador McCall. Truth matters. We have learned this lesson once again with the Corona virus. Had Chinese authorities acted responsibly and immediately rather than suppressing the information of Dr. Lee, who first reported the news, we might be in a different situation today.
Marie Yovanovitch: (16:48)
We need to be as mindful about us political priorities and our own political environment as we are about the countries that we are in. There isn’t always a lot of emphasis on that in the state department, but here’s the bottom line. We at the state department won’t be effective if we know all about what needs to be done abroad but can’t figure out how to get back in at home. We need to build bridges among all agencies and also and most especially with our coequal branch of government, the Congress, our approach needs to change. We need to better explain what we do and why so that Congress wants to reinvest in diplomacy. Likewise for an assistance program, which is much in the news this week, a key tool, a diplomacy needs to be fully resourced. It’s not about a handout for foreign friends, it’s about enlightened self-interest.
Marie Yovanovitch: (17:47)
For example, it is hard to see how cutting the budget for the world health organization in the middle of the Corona virus crisis keeps Americans safer, and our military colleagues warn consistently that the more we cut the international affairs budget, the higher the risk for longer and deadlier military operations. When another agency is seeking funding for your agency, you know there’s something going on. We need to build a constituency among Americans. Over the last few months, I have received hundreds, perhaps thousands of letters from all over the United States from individuals thanking me for explaining what diplomats do. I am grateful for those letters, but they send me another message, which is that we need to be doing a better job of explaining our story. In a democracy, we work for the people and the boss needs to know what we are doing at the state department, why it’s important, and important to every American.
Marie Yovanovitch: (18:56)
We also need to do a better job at capturing the disinformation that totalitarian regimes are spreading, as well as communicating more effectively our American story so that foreign audiences better understand us. We need to continue to partner with interest groups and non-governmental institutions on diplomatic initiatives and projects. We champion civil society abroad, we should do more of it at home. And this also builds a constituency for our important work. We need to look at how we do our work, we need to look at where we do our work and most importantly, we need to come to a consensus on what our work is. We need an overall and crucially a bipartisan foreign policy, but one that is flexible enough to account for the differences in each country and the different relationships with each country.
Marie Yovanovitch: (19:49)
History, culture, geography, not to mention economic and military clout, all of those factors matter. Our adversaries know this and groom their diplomats for years. We at the state department are doing better, but we send our deployments out with relatively little training hoping they’ll learn on the job. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Our adversaries have timelines of decades and in some cases, centuries. Our timelines, frankly, are bound by this election cycle, this budget cycle. We in the United States, not just the state department, we in the United States need to play the long game in order to keep the peace and our prosperity.
Marie Yovanovitch: (20:37)
We also need to provide educational opportunities for diplomats, not just training so that we can broaden our outlook, deepen our knowledge, provide intellectual challenge and hone critical thinking skills that would better prepare individuals for leadership roles that require us in the words of Ambassador Grossman to peer around corners. We need to be able to get the jump on the next trends, the next crisis. The military does this. They do an incredible job of educating their senior officers and I have never understood why we don’t do the same, because I think the dividends are clear.
Marie Yovanovitch: (21:19)
We also, perhaps a little more prosaically but equally important, we need to be more flexible about work arrangements to match the diverse family arrangements in 21st century America or we won’t be able to attract top talent, and we need to be more flexible about how we conduct diplomacy. We need to be willing to take calculated risks. We need to be nimble, we need to be creative. We are not a department that is known for either of those two things. And while the principles of our trade craft remain the same, there are innovations we should be considering to match the times and the challenges. The good news is that there is a lot of work going on in this area. The American Academy of Diplomacy, which I think is pretty well represented here-
Marie Yovanovitch: (22:03)
The American Academy of Diplomacy, which I think is pretty well represented here I can see, produced a recent report on strengthening the Department of State. The [Una 00:22:10] Chapman Cox foundation is funding the American Diplomacy Project, a foreign service for the 21st century. I understand that there’s also a new diplomacy caucus that has been formed in Congress. That’s really important, and there are other efforts as well.
Marie Yovanovitch: (22:27)
This is all really promising because it’s not a stretch to say that we’re in trouble. I am still optimistic about the United States and the future of American diplomacy. Some people say I’m too optimistic and that may be. But throwing up our hands is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In these trying times, optimism is no longer a default setting for many of us. It’s a choice.
Marie Yovanovitch: (22:55)
I think back to secretary of state Colin Powell telling us that optimism is a force multiplier. We could be pessimistic and sort of give up unilaterally, or we can believe in ourselves and in our country, do the hard work, make our own luck, and hopefully prevail. We always have a choice. Recently, I had the… Thanks. Recently, I had the privilege to be on the selection committee for the 2020 McHenry Global Public Service fellows, and let me give Ambassador McHenry, if he is here today, a shout out. Thank you, sir, for creating such a wonderful program.
Marie Yovanovitch: (23:51)
You’ll be glad to know the essays were inspiring. Each applicant was more qualified than the next. Every candidate ready to change the world for the better. I mean, it was just inspiring, and when I think about the students here at Georgetown, about the up and coming officers at the State Department, about the incoming entry class into the foreign service, which includes a bumper crop from Georgetown, I am again inspired.
Marie Yovanovitch: (24:25)
These are individuals who understand the challenging times we are in. They are realistic, but they’re also smart, they’re motivated, and they are idealistic. And most importantly, they are, in the words of Teddy Roosevelt and Marie Yovanovitch, the man and the woman in the arena. They are not giving up. They are committed to a career in public service to make this nation and the world a more democratic, more prosperous and more secure place. How can we be anything but optimistic in the face of their inspiring example? And how can we do any less?
Marie Yovanovitch: (25:03)
I believe that this is a time for each one of us to pick our passion, whether it is in diplomacy or a different area. We all need to be contributing to making our community, our country, our world, the kind of place we want it to be. No one else will do it for us. So with that challenge, I want to say thank you for your attention and thank you for this great honor. Thank you. [inaudible 00:25:27] Thank you. Really, thank you.
Speaker 1: (25:26)
Well, Marie, it’s wonderful to be with you on this stage. Tom Pickering helpfully assured all of you that this is going to be the enthralling part of the program, the next 20 minutes, and I must admit to feeling deeply inadequate right now because I’m not sure I’m going to be able to reach the Devin Nuñes standard for enthralling questions. Marie, really, it’s wonderful to be with you and congratulations on the Trainer Award. Thanks for your incredibly eloquent remarks and rich family story, but thanks most of all for the dignity with which you’ve conducted yourself in these recent months. The dignity with which you’ve conducted yourself in these deeply undignified times. I really can’t imagine a better example of diplomatic professionalism or integrity than what you’ve given all of us. So thank you very much.
Speaker 1: (27:23)
So let me start with the obvious. This past year was probably the least expected and most challenging of all the 34 years that you have spent as an American diplomat. What about this past year gave you hope? What sustained you?
Marie Yovanovitch: (27:41)
Well, first of all, let me just say this is a through the looking glass kind of experience for me. To have Ambassador Pickering, Ambassador Burns, a full hall here at Gaston Hall and the Trainer Award. This is not anything I could have imagined. And so I think one of the things that has sustained me is the support of all of you. When you go through some things…
Speaker 1: (28:16)
A diplomatic understatement.
Marie Yovanovitch: (28:20)
Is that what it was? To fall back on cliches, you have to dig deep a little bit. And so I have tried to be grateful for the silver linings, which is that I have an amazing family, I have amazing friends and one of the silver linings is that every friend, every teacher, every person I’ve ever known in my whole life has reached out to me over the last six or even months. And that is just an incredible blessing. So that’s been great. I don’t think there’s a magic formula for how you get through anything in life, but faith, family, friends and now that I’m retired, I’ve decided to add a fourth F, which is fun.
Marie Yovanovitch: (29:17)
I will tell you that during some of those times, I lost my sense of humor, but I’m glad I’ve found it again, because that is also very helpful. I would just say there’s one other silver lining, which is that with all of the focus on Ukraine, and I’m not one of these people who thinks that all news is good news. But with all of the focus on Ukraine, it has meant that there is continued bipartisan support for a strong Ukraine policy. And so I’m grateful for that as well because I think that’s important for Ukraine, but also for us.
Speaker 1: (29:55)
You’ve done a lot to help ensure that. And it kind of leads me to my next question, which is as you mentioned in your remarks, you entered the foreign service toward the end of the cold war and then spent most of your wonderful career serving in the countries which emerged out of the Soviet Union, in Russia and Romania and Kyrgyzstan, in Ukraine. As you look at that experience now and reflect on it, what do you think American policy got right over the past three decades in that huge and consequential part of the world, and what do you think we got wrong?
Marie Yovanovitch: (30:29)
Well, how much time do you have? I think we got a lot right, because I think that the message of America, the message of freedom, of democracy, prosperity is a hugely powerful message that resonates not just with Americans, but all over the world. And I’ve seen that throughout my diplomatic career and it is, we often talk about our military might and our economic might and those are two huge resources we have. But really, I think it’s our values that are the strength of America. I think of Ambassador George Kennan who you have written about in that book, The Back Channel. Which, I mean, he too talked about the values of America and how potent that is in our foreign policy. And so I think that when all of a sudden the Soviet Union broke apart and you had 16 new countries that were wondering what their path was, I think that we did move out with alacrity.
Marie Yovanovitch: (31:43)
We could have resourced it better, frankly, but we did move out with alacrity and we made a lot of, I think, friends and created a lot of support for the United States. And that was important over time, and particularly when 9/11 happened. So I think we did a lot right in that decade.
Marie Yovanovitch: (32:08)
I think, though, that sometimes we were not always great on the follow through. As I mentioned in my remarks, I think that U.S. timelines are very different from other people’s timelines. We want immediate results. We don’t have patience to stick it out year in, year out and resource it year in, year out. When you think about where the United States was sort of 25 years, 30 years after the Declaration of Independence, our country was a country in trouble. Jefferson was wondering whether the U.S. was going to make it.
Marie Yovanovitch: (32:47)
And I think about those countries of the former Soviet Union. Many of those countries, particularly Ukraine, fighting a war with Russia, wondering whether they’re going to make it. And I think because we are on our accelerated timeline, we think, oh, why isn’t it over yet? Do they really need to keep on having support? And I think that once we need to stick with it. There needs to be more follow through than perhaps their has been.
Speaker 1: (33:18)
Well, so we’re in a new era now, as you mentioned in your remarks, and the United States is no longer the singular dominant player that we were. We’re no longer the only big kid on the geopolitical block and we’re trying to navigate much more competitive and complicated international landscape. Could you talk a little bit more about what you think that means for American diplomacy as you look at over the next couple of decades?
Marie Yovanovitch: (33:43)
I think it means that American diplomacy is more important than ever. I think that we need public servants. We need diplomats when times are great. We need them even more when there are challenges. And I think that’s when we can really shine and be added value.
Marie Yovanovitch: (34:03)
I think it means we need to up our game. We need to work harder, work smarter. And I think that really, the most critical thing when I look around the world and talk to counterparts in other governments, is making sure that we continue those relationships of trust with our allies and partners. That’s obviously very important, but also our adversaries. It’s important that when the U.S. speaks, whether that is at the most senior levels or workaday diplomats, that what we say means something, so that there is no misunderstanding. That’s, again, important with allies, even more important with adversaries.
Marie Yovanovitch: (34:48)
And so I think that diplomacy is going to be more important than ever. I often admire diplomats from other countries that maybe don’t have all of the resources of the U.S. and the military right behind the diplomats and all of that. I think of a Belgian colleague in Ukraine who, I think it was him and maybe one other person, and he knew more about what was going on on the front lines than anybody else. And the reason he knew that is that on a shoestring budget, he had a cultural program and he took musicians to the front lines and entertained the troops, kind of a USO experience, I guess. And that gave him access and it gave him information and he was in a really good position to inform his government and influence events.
Marie Yovanovitch: (35:39)
And so I think that individual diplomats can do things like that and we do it all the time in the U.S. government. But at the end of the day, it also matters what our political leadership wants and what our foreign policy is.
Speaker 1: (35:53)
Another ne of the big challenges in your story about the Belgian diplomat sort of hints at this in our experience in the foreign service over the last decade or so of our careers, was managing risks, and especially after some of the tragedies that have befallen our colleagues overseas most dramatically in some ways than Benghazi. Risk aversion has become a huge challenge, especially in a lot of the places that you served and our colleagues or former colleagues are serving in as we speak this evening. How do you balance risk, which is inevitable in what diplomats do to get out from behind embassy walls?
Marie Yovanovitch: (36:35)
I should say, just to be clear with everybody, that when we’re talking about those risks, we’re not only talking about State Department officials. It’s all agencies and I think certainly in my most recent posting, we managed a lot of risk and we did it because we thought that on balance it was worth it. But I will tell you, as I told everybody to go forth, I was wringing my hands like I am now because you don’t ever want to be responsible for a tragedy.
Marie Yovanovitch: (37:17)
But we need to take risks because if we sit behind our desks, we’re not actually, we don’t actually know what is going on in a country. And even if we stay in the Capitol, I mean, if you stay in Washington D.C., you’re going to know something, but you’re not going to know everything or even very much about the broader United States. And so I think we do need to go forth, but I think it also requires the backing of, again, the political leadership, that it’s okay to take risks and that they will manage if there is political fallout back home.
Marie Yovanovitch: (37:51)
But I think, certainly when I came up in the foreign service, there wasn’t, I think, an expectation that there wasn’t going to be risk. And again, managed risk is one thing. Crazy cowboy risk, that’s another thing and that’s irresponsible. And so how you manage it is important.
Speaker 1: (38:18)
Marie, I think a different kind of risk that you also talked about a little bit in your remarks, has to do with the disconnect that I think all of us see between the kind of Washington establishment and card carrying members, like me, anyway. And a lot of American citizens who are concerned about what they sometimes see to be overreach and over-investment overseas and under-investment at home, and that’s contributed, I think, to the frame of the old bipartisan consensus that you’ve talked about. Talk a little bit more about what can be done to rebuild that sense of shared purpose, because I think you have an unusually powerful voice right now to help do that.
Marie Yovanovitch: (39:01)
Well it’s a good question and I wish I had a good answer for it. I have been stunned by the letters that I’ve received from American citizens with all sorts of messages. But kind of one prevailing theme was I didn’t know what you guys did, that’s really interesting. And their own commentary on what was good, what was bad. And so that to me has actually been really powerful because I think the American people want to know. They want to know what we’re doing, what we’re doing in their name and they, I think if we explain what we do, whether it is consular services, providing American citizen services, providing visas for their relative from another country, helping with adoptions, whether it’s commercial services, and we all get that, that it’s important to help American businesses as they navigate foreign countries and with their investments and with their businesses overseas and with trade.
Marie Yovanovitch: (40:05)
But I think less understood, perhaps, is what we do on the political side. Why is it important that we have reporting officers at embassies? Surely we can get that information from CNN or from FOX News, and with all due respect to the media, which does a very important job, I think, of illuminating crises and what is going on in the world, there is in our function, we maintain those longstanding relationships, those relationships of trust. Some of it is behind closed doors. Some of it is very, very public. And you can’t do that by remote control. You can’t do that from very, very far away. And I think that most Americans would understand that intuitively if we, I don’t want to say took the time, but if we made it a priority to explain our story and it’s something I’m thinking about. How do we do that in an effective way?
Speaker 1: (41:08)
As you look back over the first 34 years of public service, because I hope they’ll be more, what are you proudest of professionally?
Marie Yovanovitch: (41:19)
Not to sound like a complete egomaniac, but of a lot. And now I have to say a humble sentence so I will, but it is true, which is that we do it together. And so I am proud of many of the policy initiatives that we’ve implemented over the years. But actually, what I am proudest of is the people that I’ve met along the way. As I mentioned before, everybody I’ve ever known has been in touch with me over the last four months [crosstalk 00:42:06] and it’s been wonderful and so reaffirming and kind of, it’s a little like going to your own funeral. People share about, and I don’t mean to make fun, but they share how you’ve touched them, what you’ve done, how you’ve helped them, et cetera. Sometimes I had no idea. I mean, sometimes it was in a setting like this where I hadn’t even met the person.
Marie Yovanovitch: (42:32)
And so I think that’s what I’m most proudest of because times change, initiatives flourish or they falter. But what endures are the people in the State Department, the people in other agencies, and the people that we touch overseas as well. And so their work, that continuation, is really important, I think.
Speaker 2: (42:57)
I’m going to be a little bit of a Grinch. Sorry.
Speaker 1: (43:00)
No, that’s all right. No, you’re right.
Speaker 2: (43:00)
I would love to let this go on, and it could go on and it would be fantastic. But you talked about communicating and talking to the American people. I’d like to open it up to questions from our students, our public, those that we serve. So students, there’s a microphone up there. I have lights in my eyes, so I can’t see very well. And I don’t know if there’s one upstairs or not, but if you have any questions… Oh, I know Georgetown students. You’re not that shy. She’s awe inspiring, but she doesn’t bite. And there are mics. Yeah, oh, there’s a mic there. Hi. Are you trying to ask a question?
Speaker 3: (43:48)
Yes, I am.
Speaker 2: (43:48)
All right, you get it. Thank you.
Speaker 4: (43:55)
I was talking to you.
Speaker 3: (43:57)
Oh, you go first.
Speaker 4: (43:58)
Speaker 5: (44:00)
Hi. [inaudible 00:44:00] As people in our early twenties, we have not had those experiences. We have grown up in the wake of 9/11. Some of us don’t even remember it. I just want to know how you think that we as young students in this new world order can carry forward diplomacy of our age.
Marie Yovanovitch: (44:37)
I think everybody has their own experiences of what forms them, whether it’s their parents’ experiences, whether it’s where they went to university, whether it is other things that have happened in their lives. I think you are a part of this era. One of the things that I have found so interesting when I’ve come back here and in conversations with students is that there’s a really different perspective than I have, and that my colleagues of my age. We not only remember 9/11 we never even before then.
Marie Yovanovitch: (45:22)
I think you have lots to offer. One of the great things about today is that you don’t have to wait to offer it. There is social media. There are so many different kinds of initiatives. I was talking about the [McHenry 00:45:42] essays, students of all ages who have done amazing things in their lives to make the world a better place.
Marie Yovanovitch: (45:55)
I think that it’s not really, if I may, for me to just say what what you would do. What is the thing that you are most passionate about, and how do you want to turn that into your contribution, whether it’s in national security or in some other area?
Speaker 2: (46:20)
Speaker 2: (46:22)
She’s one of my students, which is why …
Thank you so much, Ambassador, for being here today. I know we’re all so honored to hear you speak. I wanted to ask you something. Ambassador Bodine, in her opening remarks, said that diplomacy is more than doing well or doing good, it’s doing right. If I might be so bold, it seems that you, more than many people in this room, would know that doing the right thing is not often doing the easy thing.
I was wondering what words of wisdom you would give students like us entering the foreign service, as Ambassador Burns said, in such undignified times. On how to maintain the dignity and the courage to do well, good, and right, even, or perhaps especially, when it’s hard.
Marie Yovanovitch: (47:07)
I think that one of the things that really encourages me is that there are discussions about this now. Maybe I was asleep at FSI or something, but that didn’t really happen … Actually I worked at FSI. It’s a great institution. It is. But I don’t think that, at least when I came into the foreign service …
Marie Yovanovitch: (47:35)
First of all, there was a foreign policy consensus across party lines. We knew what the enemy was and we knew what we were doing against it. I think that, first with the breakup of the Soviet Union, and then with 9/11, and then with more recent challenges, we don’t have a consensus now. But, I think that one of the positives of that might be that there are discussions about, how do you do the right thing? What do you do?
Marie Yovanovitch: (48:10)
I think that one of the important things is, not to sound completely like a Girl Scout but that’s kind of where we’re at, to draw strength from what you believe in. Draw strength from the Constitution. Draw strength from your friends and family.
Marie Yovanovitch: (48:34)
The first time I was in Ukraine I was the number two at the embassy. That was probably the biggest growth experience I ever had professionally, because every day I was just thrown a new challenge that I had no idea how to handle. I would literally sit there at my desk and ask myself … There are certain people I admire, including [Bill 00:48:57] and [Tom 00:00:48:57]. What would they do? I would also ask myself … The woman I admire most is my mother. What would my mother do? The old New York Times test, “If this got into the newspaper, would I be okay with it?” It’s not a very sophisticated test, but it is a test.
Marie Yovanovitch: (49:19)
I think, though, that what I found over this fall was that, at a certain point, it is harder to do the wrong thing than the right thing.
Speaker 6: (49:48)
Thank you so much for being here, Ambassador. I have a question relating to how the US can carve out a foreign policy role in emerging nations, as you were stationed in Mogadishu and you have experience with emerging nations.
Speaker 6: (50:01)
Right now in foreign policy, there’s a lot of consciousness about how the US is carving out a role for itself, whether it be colonialists, whether we are oppressing countries. But, of course there’s a question of, what role do we play when Russia and China are investing in emerging nations? What are your thoughts on how the US can develop productive relationships with emerging nations, and form the more equitable partnerships?
Marie Yovanovitch: (50:26)
Yeah. That’s a really good question. I believe in a brawny diplomacy, one that gets out there, not just on the military side, not just in terms of our companies, getting the best deals, although I certainly advocate for that. But, also, on the diplomatic side and on the values side.
Marie Yovanovitch: (50:50)
Nation building is a very freighted term, but countries often come to us and ask for assistance. Sometimes they do it quietly, sometimes they do it more publicly. I’m not saying we get it right all the time, but, at the end of the day, if leaders come to you and say, “How do we do this?” If civil society members in that country are asking for advice and assistance, I think we should help them.
Marie Yovanovitch: (51:28)
I think we should help them for two reasons. First of all, because it’s the right thing to do, because it would increase, I think, their prosperity, and security, and wellbeing. Secondly, it’s in our interest to have allies and partners around the world. We never know where the next hotspot is going to be.
Marie Yovanovitch: (51:52)
As George Shultz said, to be constantly tending the garden. To be talking with people in all parts of society. Because one of the things I’ve also learned is, you never know who’s going to be president next, right? Talking about overseas. You need to keep those open lines of communication with everybody, because they’ll teach you things. You’ll have a better understanding. It just might be useful when a different party comes to power.
Marie Yovanovitch: (52:28)
I probably know less about the theory and discussions that you’re talking about with regard to emerging nations, but that’s just my view based on my experience with some of the countries I’ve served in.
Speaker 2: (52:46)
What I’d like is for the next three, which is as far as I can see, to ask your questions very quickly together, and then that’s going to be our wrap up. Okay? Because we still have to actually give her an award for everything she’s been doing. This is the Trainor Lecture and Award, so we need to have a little bit of time to actually give her her award.
I will be quick. Thank you for coming. I’m [Jeff 00:00:53:12]. I’m a senior in the school of foreign service. I wanted to ask you about recent events and Ukraine. You said that our relationship with our allies has to be based on trust. Recent events, current events may have harmed that trust in Ukraine. Do you believe that it’s possible to rebuild that relationship of trust in the near term, or are you worried that countries will get the message that, to coin a phrase, there’s going to be political influence in foreign policy and that they should get used to it?
Marie Yovanovitch: (53:48)
Speaker 7: (53:49)
Yes. When you’re faced with fellow Americans who are skeptical of our presence abroad, and possibly family members, what’s the story that you reached to to convince those people that we need an act of diplomatic civil society and military presence across the globe? Thank you.
Speaker 8: (54:08)
I’m going to try and keep it short as well, per your request, but I wanted to say, thank you very much. I’m a graduate of the school of foreign service, and watching you over the past few months has been one of the few moments where I’ve really seen aspects of myself and my education out there in the world. I’ve been proud to see someone do it in such a dignified way regardless of how badly they were treated.
Speaker 8: (54:27)
In that vein, I wanted to hear from you about two pieces. One, would you say, the hollowing out of the State Department that you mentioned, is there any precedent for that? I don’t recall really seeing that before. In that environment, what would you actually recommend for us to do? I left my potential future in that area because of a fear of this politicization of people that are really just trying to do their job and take care of their country.
Speaker 8: (54:56)
Thank you very much.
Speaker 9: (55:00)
Thank you, as well, for coming today, and for your service. I just wanted to ask you in, I guess, a similar vein as a couple of other questions that were asked … For Americans who have started to see foreign policy as a zero-sum game and have started to take on a mentality of “America first” in that context, what would you say to those people to change their minds or to change their opinion, to see that our foreign policy is not a zero-sum game?
Marie Yovanovitch: (55:33)
Thank you. Thanks a lot. These are all great questions, and again, as I think I said before, I wish I had great answers.
Marie Yovanovitch: (55:43)
I think, to take the first question first on Ukraine, I think that the Ukrainians are very interested in a strong and solid relationship with the United States. Ambassador Taylor has made the point consistently, and he’s absolutely right, that our support is Ukraine’s greatest strategic advantage. The Ukrainians know that. They are interested in continuing a strong relationship with us.
Marie Yovanovitch: (56:20)
We all saw that Secretary Pompeo was there recently. That is a good thing. Our bilateral assistance continues. We have the embassy working there and humming along. But, there’s no question that there are some strains there. I’m particularly mindful that President Zelensky, several months ago in an interview with Time Magazine, he basically said, “I’m not relying on any country. We need to go it alone.”
Marie Yovanovitch: (56:52)
The fact of the matter is that, most countries, in fact I would say all countries, can’t do it alone. I don’t believe that the US, with all of our advantages, all of our power and resources, can go it alone for long and be successful. That’s why we have built up this network of alliances and partnerships in all areas, whether it’s security, the economy, political, all over the world, because we understand that.
Marie Yovanovitch: (57:24)
Ukraine I think understands that as well, and I think will continue to reach out to the United States. Thankfully, as I mentioned before, there continues to be a bipartisan consensus about supporting Ukraine and supporting Ukraine vigorously. I think that’s important for Ukraine, and I think it is vital for us and our interests because the Russians are testing us there. We need to pass that test.
Marie Yovanovitch: (57:51)
In terms of … Of course, now I can’t read my own writing. The hollowing out of the State. What I would say there is that the State Department has had its highs and its lows over the decades. I think of McCarthyism as a particular low. That is obviously not an era that we would ever want to revisit.
Marie Yovanovitch: (58:24)
I think that the way that one ensures that the State Department becomes the vigorous department that it needs to be in order to advance our interests is either to work there or to work on those issues to support it. Because, as I said before, we can throw up our hands and give up, and say that it’s all too hard and depressing, which it may be, but I think the only thing we can do, really, is to roll up our shirt sleeves and get to work.
Marie Yovanovitch: (59:04)
Because I think this country needs a robust foreign policy. It needs diplomats that are ready and capable. We just need to go forth. I would encourage you, perhaps, to rethink the decision of whether you want to put yourself to the side, because, again, just echoing Teddy Roosevelt’s “man,” and woman, “in the arena,” I think we all need to get in there and fight for what we believe in.
Marie Yovanovitch: (59:34)
In terms of foreign policy as a zero-sum game, obviously I believe that we can have that kind of foreign policy. We have certainly had it in previous centuries, not just the United States, but other countries as well, but I’m not sure that it got us to a more secure, more prosperous place.
Marie Yovanovitch: (01:00:07)
That is why the really innovative measures that Marshall and Kennan undertook were so incredible, because I think, and not only those two individuals, but the Allies realized that, if we had the same kind of peace after World War II as we had after World War I in Versailles, that we were going to get the same results all over again.
Marie Yovanovitch: (01:00:37)
Very courageously, they took the step of pouring money into Europe, and Japan and Korea as well. We can see the results, where those countries were rebuilt. First of all, the longest peace ever in the history of Europe, number one. Secondly, many of these countries now are, all of them, comparatively, are prosperous, democratic, and strong allies of the United States. That was such a good investment back in the day, in 1948, and in the years thereafter. It was visionary.
Marie Yovanovitch: (01:01:20)
I think when we think about zero sum, we could have put Germany and Japan back in a box. We could have somehow monitored all of that. But, the result probably would not be the kind of world that we see today. I’m not really a big believer in zero sum. I think that we need to work together with like minded allies, perhaps not on every single issue, and in the end that’s better not only for them but for us. That’s certainly what I think all of us have dedicated our careers to, and I hope many of you will as well.
Marie Yovanovitch: (01:02:14)
Thanks a lot.
Speaker 2: (01:02:14)
Thank you all. I think if I actually do take one word from this remarkable hour and a half plus that we’ve had, it was you have a choice. I think that was the most powerful … You can be pessimists, you can be an optimist. You have a choice. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (01:02:34)
We did say this was an award. I know that, in the middle of everything else that’s been going on over the last couple of months, which would be enough to keep anybody either busy or with the covers over their head, but you’re also renovating your house. You have recently retired and are thinking about your next life, hopefully as a continuing non-resident fellow at ISB. Wanted to give you something that you could use in your newly renovated house, something that would help you in your reflections on what you’ve been doing and what you might be doing going forward. The award is … You’re actually sitting in it.
Marie Yovanovitch: (01:03:22)
That is so great. I didn’t see that coming.
Speaker 2: (01:03:24)
Thank you. Actually, with a small typo, your name’s on the back. We’re going to fix the typo. Don’t worry about it.
Marie Yovanovitch: (01:03:56)
Actually that means it’s very authentic, because, imagine this, everybody spells my name wrong.
Speaker 2: (01:04:01)
[crosstalk 01:04:01] because your name is misspelled.
Speaker 2: (01:04:03)
Anyway, Masha, I said at the beginning that we were so proud of you, and what you represent, and who you are. This has been the most remarkable afternoon that I think anybody has had in a very, very long time. You have done Trainor proud, you have done SFS proud, you’ve done the service proud, and you have made yourself very proud. Thank you very much.