The Future of U.S. Diplomacy

Thursday, February 18, 2021
Herika Martinez/AFP via Getty Images

Adjunct Senior Fellow for Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (2005–2009); @JendayiFrazer

Robert Strausz-Hupé Chair in Geopolitics, Foreign Policy Research Institute; Author, The Good American: The Epic Life of Bob Gersony, The U.S. Government’s Greatest Humanitarian

Former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (1997–2000); Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia (1993–1996), India (1992–1993), Israel (1985–1988), El Salvador (1983–1985), Nigeria (1981–1983), Jordan (1974–1978), and the United Nations (1989–1992); CFR Member


Former U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs (2016–2017); Former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador (2010–2011; 2012–2015); CFR Member

Panelists discuss how diplomacy can be used to advance U.S. interests, and the function and responsibilities of ambassadors and embassies abroad. 

APONTE: Good morning. Welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting on the future of American diplomacy. I am Mari Carmen Aponte, former acting assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere and former ambassador to El Salvador, and I have the honor of presiding today's discussion. We have fortunately more than three hundred registered for this virtual meeting and we'll do our very best to get to as many questions as possible during the question-and-answer period. American diplomacy is at a crossroads. Over the last couple of decades under-resourcing, lack of diversity, overcoming a risk-averse culture, acrimony and polarization in the foreign policy space have slowly but consistently contributed in making diplomacy less effective and cumbersome. While the last four years may have exacerbated the situation, depleted the morale of our diplomats, caused the flight of our most experienced and talented officers, and deterred the attraction of young and diverse officials into the ranks, we are now at an important fork in the road.

The reality of this inflection point is that we have to act if we are to avoid disastrous damage to the United States' standing worldwide and if we want to retain agility in advancing our interests abroad. But what and where are the opportunities to act? How do we adapt diplomacy to a power-shifting and rapidly changing world? What is the role of inclusion? How will evolving technology affect diplomatic work after the pandemic? Will there be cross-cutting issues that will be more effective in organizing the department and geographical regions? These are some of the questions we will explore and touch upon with this panel over the next hour.

Our first panelist is Dr. Jendayi Frazer, who is adjunct senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council and is a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2005 to 2009. Robert Kaplan holds the chair in geopolitics of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is a prolific author. His latest book being The Good American: The Epic Life of Bob Gersony, the U.S. Government's Greatest Humanitarian. And who is casually familiar with diplomacy in the United States and does not know about Thomas Pickering? He is an ambassador for all seasons. He is one of the most distinguished and talented diplomats of his generation and has served seven times as ambassador from El Salvador to Russia and from the United Nations to Israel, to India, to Nigeria. His last assignment was as undersecretary of state for political affairs in 2000 after which time he retired.

So, Dr. Frazer, one area of perennial discussion within the department is a formula that may work to have a blend of career officers as opposed to non-career or political appointees as ambassadors and other high-level positions at the Department of State. Are there good formulas for this or are these decisions made based on other considerations?

FRAZER: Well, I can't say, I mean, obviously there's formulas. Often the career Foreign Service associations and advocates push for more career ambassadors than political ambassadors that, unfortunately, the nature of the discussion is often that, you know, you don't need incompetent or unqualified political ambassadors. And I actually think that that's quite unfortunate. I decided to look at the numbers and if you look at the numbers across administrations from Gerald Ford, clearly career ambassadors are the majority. And the numbers are typically around 66 or 67 percent. Democratic administrations tend to appoint more career ambassadors than political ambassadors.

And that's across, since Ford, all the way through Trump. The Democrats, to our current president, have selected more. But the difference is very minor. President Trump has been the least; he had basically 56 percent of the ambassadors were career. But when you take it further and you look regionally, then you see where the great disparity is, which is that most of the political ambassadors, 70-some percent, 73 percent, go to Western Europe and 71 percent go to the Caribbean. After that it drops down into forties, twenties, and in my favorite region, Africa, is only 14 percent that are political ambassadors. And in fact of the fifty-four countries in Africa, typically there are three that are designated, possibly four, that are designated as political, as such.

So I think there's a bit too much protestation within the career Foreign Service, the professional career Foreign Service officers, about losing out to political appointees. And as I said from the outset, I think that it's quite unfortunate that discussion goes into the question of competency. Clearly from my perspective I have seen ambassadors go up for their hearings and embarrass themselves. And I've seen that of more of political ambassadors certainly than career, but career ambassadors are not always 100 percent either. But from my perspective if there's a political ambassador that's going up and they embarrassed themselves, it's because they were not prepared and they were not prepared by the State Department. That should not happen and the State Department should make sure that they are properly prepared, you know.

I also will just have to say one other point, which is I think that what we need to be doing when we select ambassadors and, you know, political appointees in general, is make sure that we get the expertise. But we have to do the same thing when we're selecting career Foreign Service officers. I know when I was assistant secretary for Africa, maybe because 70-some percent of the ambassadors in Europe are political, when the senior career Foreign Service officers who normally worked in Europe needed an ambassadorship, they were always looking to Africa, right? And they wanted to come into the bureau and take on those ambassadorships without the experience, having never worked in Africa or perhaps one tour as a junior officer but yet then they're supposed to jump in at the top and become the ambassadors of those countries, again, without the experience of the region at least.

And so I think that what we need to do, the best thing for the future of American diplomacy is for us to work together, make sure that the selection process is based on who is best capable of representing the United States in that country or who is best capable of doing the job that's required for at the State Department. It shouldn't be about political or career. Obviously there's something like the director of the Foreign Service—it's always been career and it always needs to be career. You know, there are certain positions at State Department that are clearly necessary to have the career professionals. But most of the functional or regional bureaus can really look for talent and the right talent for the job versus "where's your background?"

And then the final thing I will say is that I think that when we are looking for that expertise we need Foreign Service officers to go out and circulate in academia and in business to have those opportunities, like the Council on Foreign Relations' international affairs fellow that gives the opportunity for people to change seat. Because it's that experience and those networks that are the ones that are going to really advance American foreign policy and diplomacy. It's not, you know, some quota about how many people should be career and how many should be political for any particular appointment.

APONTE: Okay. Thank you very much. Ambassador Pickering, another theme that is in the news today is disinformation and how it is a growing concern around the world. Russia, Iran, and China are engaged in creating confusion or disorientation in other countries, ourselves included, in crucial times and sometimes in very strategic ways. In fact, disinformation sometimes appears to be moving rapidly and even ahead of our capacity to clarify and catch up to it. Is disinformation winning the war today?

PICKERING: Thank you for your very kind introduction to me. And thanks to Dr. Frazer for her remarks. I'd like to begin by just making two or three comments on the subject that you raised with her and that she responded to. I agree with a lot of what she said, but I think she misses out on not having read or perhaps not paid attention with a number of published inspector general reports on the failings, unfortunately, of mainly non-career ambassadors and the number that had to be asked to leave particularly in recent years. I also think it is very important to note that in almost every profession, perhaps beginning with brain surgery, amateurism was not seen necessarily as a remarkable and important attribute for success but long-study professionalism and deep involvement.

She's right—of course there have been feelings among my professional colleagues and no one can say that's not the case. And a number of them, in one way or another, should have been removed much earlier. And we need a system to do that. Finally, I go back as far as Al Gore when he was a senator, who suggested in his own wisdom, I think, that 10 percent would be about the right number. In my experience going back to Eisenhower and Kennedy, both of whom I served, was that they worked very hard to choose very effective people. And that the numbers for them were well below the successful ones, the 30 or 40 percent.

And when I had an opportunity after retirement to brief the incoming ambassadors' course, the people I found most often absent from the briefings, and not just from mine, were the non-career people who felt they had better things to do. Well, that didn't speak well with the degree to which the U.S. was served. And unfortunately both parties, and I condemn them both, have sold these ambassadorships for campaign contributions. And similarly, the sale of offices is against the law in the United States, and I think it's important for us to enforce the law. We've been through a period where that has been a singular problem.

On information and disinformation—it's an extremely important and significant question. And the use of disinformation did not begin with now. It did not begin with the Trump administration. We can go back in time to the nineteenth century where it was an affliction. Certainly Nazi Germany and communist Soviet Union made a major practice of exploiting, exporting and extorting with disinformation, and we found it possible to develop institutions to fight that, whether it was the Voice of America or the confidence that American diplomats had to build with their colleagues on being careful in what they said, being able to defend what they said, on the basis of data.

And we are very much now where attribution and "because I said it is true," are things that we have often to fight against and we need what I think is a much more deep-seated institutional capacity to do it. Years ago we had the U.S. Information Service. During my time we did away with it unfortunately, and I look back on that period as something that we should have done it better and again. I don't mind that the information institution is lodged too close to the State Department. But I do mind its loss of independence, its capacity to run its own system, its ability to hire specialists that it itself has known and tested and brought up through the ranks.

And I think we can do more in that direction, adopting the old lessons, but I think now becoming much more assiduous and determined in using the information battle to our advantage by making sure we do not delve into the depths of misinformation ourselves but work hard to provide what we should call the truth. Not the alternative truth. Not the other truth. Truth has the beauty and the virtue of being unique and alone and we should work very hard for [inaudible].

APONTE: Thank you, Ambassador. I will get back to Jendayi in a minute, but I want to give Mr. Kaplan some attention by talking about China and aid from the Chinese. In Africa specifically, China has undertaken several massive investments such as railways in Kenya and Nigeria. China, as we know, is known for predatory lending, although they do present their development aid without apparent strings attached. While they're usually some draconian terms attached to the commercial deal itself, there are not any good governance and accountability practices mandated. Have these practices impeded American interests, Mr. Kaplan?

KAPLAN: Well, thank you so much for the question and for being on this panel. As a young journalist in the 1970s and '80s, I got my start in communist Eastern Europe relying on the U.S. Information Service. So I remember the good old days of that. The context for Africa is this: It's that we live in a more claustrophobic, interconnected world than ever before and Africa is not isolated from other continents the way that it was. East Africa is developing middle classes and getting aid from sovereign wealth funds in the Persian Gulf and Japan. Southern Africa is going off in a different direction. West Africa is finally at peace but is not building a manufacturing base yet. And Central Africa is still at a very weak state-building phase. So there are really four or five Africas.

All right—the Chinese. What are they doing? The Chinese are really doing in sub-Saharan Africa, they're doing what they started doing in the Indian Ocean. They lent the Sri Lankans all this money to build Hambantota port. When the Sri Lankans couldn't pay back their part of the loan the Chinese confiscated the port for ninety-nine years essentially and decided to park their submarines there whenever they want. In other words, drive a country into debt and then confiscate capital assets. So let's look at the Chinese-incurred debt in sub-Saharan Africa. 70 percent of Djibouti's GDP is debt to China.

You know, China's debt is equivalent to 70 percent of Djibouti’s GDP, and Djibouti is critical because it's strategically located on the mouth of the Red Sea at the entrance to the Indian Ocean where the Chinese have built a big military facility there to enable their slow British East India Company's-style conquest of the greater Indian Ocean. Zambia, Congo, Ethiopia—the debt owed to China is about half of GDP. A little less in Ethiopia's case, a little more in the Congo's case, etcetera. So the question becomes what are the Chinese going to do with this when countries can't pay back? Are they going to confiscate the port in Djibouti? Are they going to say, "All right, well, you know, we'll be understanding, but we want you to do this, that, and the other."

And there's another angle to it. The Chinese may come with strings attached, but they do not come to sub-Saharan Africa with moral lectures about democracy. And that's very convenient to not only dictatorships in sub-Saharan Africa, but new democracies there because when you look who are the elected presidents, they're often former generals. So the Chinese build real things, basic infrastructure that the Africans need and they don't deliver moral lectures, which is very convenient in a number of cases. Unfortunately, the face of the United States, in terms of aid in sub-Saharan Africa, has been too much military. You know, we send in Special Forces units to deal with Islamic terrorism in weak states in the Sahel in Africa. It's got to be more than that and it doesn't have to be giveaways.

You know, there's all kinds of creative solutions that can be done. One which was mentioned in a recent piece in the National Interest is demining. So many wars leads to mines and demining operations, you know, they connect with the local population, people see what they're doing, they're relatively inexpensive, and they can really have a morale boost. That's just one small example, but we have to get creative. You know, rather than giveaways and rather than just too much of a military face, we need to see sub-Saharan Africa increasingly as a venue for peaceful competition with the Chinese and with the Russians, I might add, because they're also becoming active there.

APONTE: Jendayi, I want to give you an opportunity to also address the issue of Africa since it's an area of your expertise. And I'm going to do that before I then go to the members for other questions.

FRAZER: Sure. Well, thank you. I think that Robert put his finger on it in terms of China's growing influence in Africa. It's undeniable and certainly since Xi Jinping came into office in 2014. It was less so before that. It was more mercantilist. Now it is more strategic and it is strategic across all domains. If you look at their military footprint, you know, they have peacekeepers in nine operations in Africa. They're only second to the United States in terms of Security Council members who's putting money into peacekeeping operations globally. They have a base next to our base in Djibouti now. So they're growing they're imprint from a military point of view. We know the Belt and Road Initiative, so all of the significant infrastructure. They're dominating the telecommunications infrastructure, which has real concern for us in terms of our counterintelligence posture in Africa.

In trade they've been outstripping United States' two-way trade with Africa since 2008. It's growing in leaps and bounds and even in investment. So yes, and Africa is increasingly, as a result, voting with China in terms of his political agenda at the UN. There's consequences to China's engagement. But I think the biggest challenge here is not China's engagement but the lack of the U.S. engagement. And that's certainly the case over the last four years. If you look from 2017 Xi Jinping and his foreign minister made nineteen trips to sub-Saharan Africa. Secretary of State Tillerson was fired in Africa when he took his first trip there. Pompeo made a trip to Africa at the end of the Trump administration's term and Trump never bothered to go.

And so, you know, that's just at the top level but, in fact, across the board when you look at Trump's National Security Strategy of the Africa section, there are only two countries that are mentioned in that. One is the United States and the other China. There's actually no mention of any other African country in the Africa section of the National Security Strategy. And so if we try to adopt a foreign policy towards Africa that's based simply on countering China, which is necessary, we will lose that game. We have to have a constructive policy towards engaging Africa and we've had that before.

You know, during the Bush administration you have these major initiatives like PEPFAR, which everybody still cares about, you know, the Millennium Challenge Account. During the Obama administration the one that everybody remembers the most is YALI, right, the Young African Leaders Initiative. There are others but those are really signature initiatives that are so appreciated across the continent. There's a prospect of doing that with the Development Finance Institute that came about under the Trump administration to get business more involved. That's what we need in terms of our engagement in Africa.

And then my final point, I have to go back to, of course, Ambassador Pickering, who I have nothing but respect for, we all do, but this whole point about political versus career, I do know that the inspector general might have said that the most ambassadors removed are political but I say this with all sincerity and humility. Any political ambassador that goes into the State Department knows that they're going into hostile territory and that they have a target on their back because there's an attitude there. I also worked at the Pentagon. When I worked in a Pentagon, I never felt that I needed to make sure I had my troops surrounding me because I was going to be a target. That's what I'm saying that whole attitude about the terrible politicals, you know, who are buying their positions, and the saviors of our country, the career Foreign Service officers, who I do think are saviors of our country, has to stop.

And in fact I think that the career Foreign Service officers would do well to embrace those political appointees whatever your number is. I'm not going to argue about 10 percent versus 30 percent or anything. Whatever your number is embrace those people because those are the very same people who can be your advocates on the Hill when the Congress is giving all of these state authorities for doing foreign diplomacy to the military so that we have a militarized Africa policy instead of, in fact, leaving those authorities with the State Department, for example, security assistance. Those very political appointees can be the advocates for the State Department on the Hill in ways that, unfortunately, the career Foreign Service officers have not been able to do as well.

You know, the other thing I would say is that right now in Africa, when we look at Africa—and I take the point about this, too, over the last couple of administrations actually because it didn't just start with Trump, it also started with Obama—because of the collapse of Libya and the spread of arms and fighters across the Sahel, the terrorism threat accelerated to a degree that was unexpected, let's put it that way, and we've increasingly deployed our forces on the ground in partnership with multinational coalitions in Africa to try to address this. We do have to deal with the underlying causes.

We do have to still deal with the economics. We have to deal with the governance issues. We have to deal with the human rights issues to even have an effective counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and counter-jihadist policy. And so, yes, you know, we need a holistic and comprehensive approach. Particularly I would say in the AF Bureau, you have a possible genocide going on or starting in Ethiopia. You know, you have the pandemic threat of Ebola, etcetera, going on in Congo. We need someone who is an expert on Africa, wherever they come from, to be the person who's the assistant secretary because normally the secretary of state only has so much attention for Africa.

So that assistant secretary has to have the relationships on the continent, they have to have the knowledge before they get to the job about the dynamics in Africa, and they have to be proactive and strong. And so it doesn't have to be a career or a political it has to be someone who has the experience and the knowledge and the capacity and the relationships on the continent to be able to do what is a very big job. So that's my point. Let us disarm on the political versus career. Let us join together.

APONTE: Thank you very much, Jendayi. It's a good suggestion. Although I'm thrilled every time I see passions aroused even in diplomacy. Kayla, I would like to go to questions from the members now. I want to remind our members that the meeting is on the record and you will be called on to join the question queue. Kayla?

STAFF: We'll take the first question from Dana Reed.

Q: Hi, thank you. This is a great discussion. I'm Dana Reed. I'm an impact investor in New York focused on Africa, so I've really enjoyed this conversation. My question is for Jendayi. I have thought about, you know, the career versus political because in my work in Africa I am often dealing with ambassadors. And my question to you is in joining together, because I agree that there needs to be someone that has the relationships and knows the culture and that often isn't the case in my work in Africa, in joining the two, why are the political appointees only the biggest funders? Is there a way to bridge this gap by finding experts in the industry that may not in fact have been the biggest donors on a campaign. So just true experts from the private sector that understand the relationships and the culture.

FRAZER: Well, Dana, I think that's exactly right. We need the experts. I, myself, was a political appointee coming out of academia and so you know as an academic I had no money to give as a big donor to anything. So I agree with you 100 percent we need expertise. As I said, remember that the ambassadorships that are going political are primarily Europe and the Caribbean. And so perhaps Ambassador Pickering's point about selling ambassadorship, you know, for campaign contributions, those people want to go to Europe and to the Caribbean. They're not asking for a post in Africa. We need to get people from the private sector, from academia, you know, from civil society and, of course, our career people who have those relationships and that expertise to go to Africa.

What is the advantage of a political ambassador? Typically the advantage of a political ambassador is that the person can say, "I know the President," right, and it gives them greater access. It gives them a certain degree of gravitas that already comes with the career people, but the political people get that gravitas by saying, "I know the President. If necessary I can pick up the phone." It's not always true but that's where they have an advantage. But when you look at the breakdown by regions, it becomes very clear that they're being rewarded for typically campaign contributions. Let's be honest about it. And then when you go to Africa and you look at where they're being posted, they'll get South Africa. I was ambassador to South Africa. I didn't give a campaign contribution for it, though. They're in Mauritius—beautiful, beautiful country, right? There often in Tanzania, also quite lovely.

And so even there, I mean, obviously, we've had political ambassadors in Nigeria as well, but even there you can see that there is some benefit to some nicer posts. They're not looking for political ambassadors in Chad. But what I would say, Dana, is we do need to open the aperture in terms of our selection and get the right people. You know, I never thought I'd be on the side of let's have quality, not quotas. You know, I never thought you'd hear those words coming out of my mouth. But in many ways I do feel that we're losing. We're missing the forest for the trees or maybe the other way around—we need to focus more on the trees, the specifics of the individual versus some overall number or composition. So I'm actually agreeing with you.

APONTE: A lot of common sense in that answer, Jendayi. Kayla, we're ready for the next question.

STAFF: We'll take our next question from Peter Galbraith.

Q: Hi, everybody. My question is actually to Robert Kaplan, who I think I can say I've been reading longer than anybody on this Zoom since I've been reading him since he was a reporter for the Rutland Herald. But he also wrote a book on the Balkans that had a lot of influence when I was there. But my question goes to your book, The Good American, which tells the story of somebody who is unsung. And there are other unsung characters like Tim Knight, who's reporting helped change U.S. policy toward Bosnia and you talk about him, at least briefly, in your Good American.

And my question is, you know, we tend when we write our accounts, we give so much credit to the principals, the secretaries, the ambassadors, but often they are not the people who are primarily changing things or coming up with a new ideas or changing, you know, coming up with reports on what's going on in Bosnia that's changing the policy. And so I wonder whether as a journalist and historian whether we might be able to get a more accurate account of what our diplomats are doing and not just focused on the principles in many ways what you've done with Bob Gersony.

KAPLAN: Well, thank you very much for that question, Peter. Indeed, most of Washington, most books, most discussions focus on up and out, in other words the top layers of diplomacy. But it's often the down and in parts, the assistant secretaries and downwards to the deputy assistant secretaries, right down to the private contractors, who my book is about one, that really find out what is going on the ground. You know, there's this illusion of knowledge in the world where none actually exists. We think we know what's going on in Tigray or Myanmar because of social media, because of the internet, because of a periodic or sporadic news report or something, but we really have no idea.

My experience is that the further away you get from Washington and away from the capital city of a specific country and into the field is when you really, really learn. The best briefings I've ever gotten as a journalist had been from first or second secretaries at embassies, who have, you know, who've disappeared for days at a time to travel around the country where they're posted, which is much harder to do in the internet age because they're chained to their desks answering emails from Washington. But this is where top policymakers really, you know, can have the advantage of finding out what's going on.

And it's these vital lower level people who need, number one, to be supported, to be able to come back and break conventional wisdom, come back with reports that go against the grain of the policy or the conventional wisdom in that sense. I know in my experience significant foreign policy mistakes were often made by a top policymaker not having one or two bits of evidence or knowledge that a low-level freelance journalist in the field in a particular war-torn country actually has. You know, so it's about allowing people at the lower levels to go back to something the State Department was always great at, which is reporting, cable writing, you know. The State Department's function, as I explained in this book, is not just diplomacy in terms of negotiations. Its reporting and cable writing so that top policymakers are not blinded by the nuances and subtleties that are going on the ground.

APONTE: Thank you very much, Robert. Cable writing is an art form. It takes years to learn, but boy, good cables are precious. Kyla, we're ready for the next question.

STAFF: We’ll take our next question from Sabeeha Quereshi. A reminder to please announce your affiliation.

Q: Hi, everyone, can you hear me? Sorry, I'm in the midst of a snowstorm. So just hoping that people can hear me is a great achievement. So I actually am one of those people, I have fifteen years of experience working with NGOs, the UN, USAID, in disease outbreaks and conflict areas in Africa and the Middle East. And one of the challenges that I've been seeing and starting to see written about in foreign policy and Devex is the lack of diversity within our Foreign Service. That's not just in terms of race, because of historic racism within our country, but also in terms of expertise because between the Foreign Service officers and those that are working academia are actual implementers, individuals who are on the ground, kind of building upon what Robert Kaplan was saying.

So how do we, kind of, tackle this issue to really get that diversity back in and hold the State Department and USAID accountable to hiring those individuals as well as seeing that shift happen? My second tier question to this if we have time is for Ambassador Pickering on misinformation in today's world because of big tech, what role do you see government having in that space with the private sector? And thank you.

APONTE: Why don't we start with Robert answering the first portion. Jendayi, if you have a comment as well I'd like to hear from you. And then with Ambassador Pickering.

KAPLAN: Yes, thank you very much. I'll be quick. You know, the United States has a real advantage here because the United States is still despite all the headlines and all the arguments, it's still a country of immigrants. And for the last forty years we've become a country of exotic immigrants. By exotic I mean people who come to the country speaking not just French, German or Spanish but, you know, Persian, Amharic, and many other languages. So that, you know, to me what this means is this is a great human resource for getting people into organizations like USAID and the State Department when you can have native, you know, the advantage of having Americans who are also native language speakers of key languages of countries that are pivot states like Ethiopia, like Iran, etcetera, and on and on and that would, that's the real, you know, in the linguistic sense the diversity, you know, of which the questioner, I think, was motivated.

APONTE: Jendayi?

FRAZER: Yes, obviously I think that we need to diversify the State Department at all levels and our foreign diplomacy at all levels and building that cadre starts very early on. And, you know, unfortunately, in the last administration, they took out a lot of those people who had gotten mid-career or even senior, many of them retired or were fired. And that then had a chilling effect down the line for those, you know, young Foreign Service officers who were looking for a career in the State Department. So I think that's a problem. I also think that this Biden administration has got a problem because right now, if you look at who they're selecting, they're all former Obama people. And there are many young people who are coming out of college, coming out of graduate school, you know, they have their MAs and PhDs or they've been in the field, like you're saying, working in NGOs and others, in war zones, in the UN, and they can't seem to get into this administration.

I have many of them sending me their CVs and they're told, "Oh, well, you know, apply online." But no one's really getting a job from an online application. But they can't break in because if you haven't been in the Obama administration up to this point, you're not going to be hired in the Biden administration, as of yet. And so that's my message specifically to the Biden administration, which is if you're going to grow a cadre of professionals who can do our diplomacy, you need to bring them in young, right? And you need to bring them in experienced and it can't just be the people who already worked for you in a previous administration. There's plenty of those. But bringing fresh blood, bringing fresh ideas, bringing that, as Robert was saying, that on-the-ground experience into the making of our foreign policy.

APONTE: Okay, Ambassador Pickering on the issue of disinformation.

PICKERING: I would but I'd like to say something about the diversity. Diversity is not getting back to a former stage as someone who implied; I think the questioner didn't, perhaps it was just a slip. Our former stages have not been great either with respect to diversity as a number of people sitting here with me know. It's getting ahead and doing a much better job overall for the long term that we should be most interested in. And there have been several very useful reports prepared by this Council, another by Harvard University, others by various organizations focused on diplomacy and how to improve it. In my view, the secretary of state needs to embrace these reports.

The secretary needs to find someone that he trusts who can manage what to do and we need a campaign to improve the diversification of the State Department across the board much as what was done after the Second World War when it took several years to repair the damage done to our diplomatic personnel by the way in which they were treated during the Second World War. And without that kind of focus, without the secretary getting behind this, without doing things, we're not going to get there. And Dr. Frazer is right. Now we're probably at week three and a half and four. So very few people at what we would call medium and lower levels are going to be appointed in week three and four when they're struggling to appoint at least just one regional assistant secretary of state right now. That has priority and Dr. Frazer knows because she did the job that maybe they do have to find the best people. But diversity is very important in all of those questions and should be pushed ahead.

Now let me just go to the question of bad information, untruth, lies, distortions and propaganda. We do need, in my view, to set up an organization based on what we have, but vastly improved. And for many years the Defense Department has had within it organizations, which have stood alone, that deal with things like military assistance, defense research, and so on. We need an organization that stands alone in the State Department but is totally focused on the information battle. And it's focused not only in terms of public statements and correcting mistruths, but it's focused on worldwide broadcasting, it's focused on using the new media much more successfully than we have.

And we are not without successes in that area. But many years ago, I suggested for example, that with regard to Al Jazeera, we find the best U.S. Arabic speakers, whether they were migrants or otherwise, who could be spokesmen, and we offer to Al Jazeera an hour a day, we would probably get an hour a week, to speak in Arabic to their audience about things they said that needed correction from the U.S. point of view. There are things that we can do, using language skills, using truth telling to move around the world and if we can't get on Al Jazeera then we should go to the Saudi broadcasters, Alhurra, or other ones that in one way or another could do it.

And this is not just for Arabic, but it's for a wide range of broadcasting much like what we had done and still try to do with the Voice of America and the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty kinds of approaches we have. We need to experiment as we have in the past by television of this particular character so that we can use the satellite transmission capacities that we have. And we sure ought to be on the internet, on the blogs, on social media, in a very active and, I think, reach-out way. We have every capacity to do it. We know it technically. We have very good people and if we don't have them on board than we should recruit them to do this kind of work.

But there are many challenges in today's diplomacy and the Biden administration has a huge problem of prioritization. It cannot do everything at once. It is working, in my humble view, fairly well but it needs really good people spread around very, very well. And it needs a very strong capacity to delegate authority to cabinet officers and they to their under and assistant secretaries and their ambassadors and so on. Ambassadors have a real role to play in this information struggle and they can get online and they do, and they do a good job at pointing out what's wrong is wrong because it fails to meet the following tests, and what's right is right because it is backed up with data and other kinds of information. And those are the things that I think will reach out.

We are in many ways children of the scientific method in this country. And the scientific method is applied to the hard sciences but needs to be continued to be applied, as authors among us and others do, to bring the truth into their books, into their publications, into their output so in one way or another when we make statements we have back up authority for why we made that statement and how and in what way we believe it to be true. This battle will not die, it will go on for a very long period of time, and if you by occasion read the Bible, you will find that information warfare was not unknown four thousand years ago. So it is not something that's new. But I think it is very important for us to pay a lot of attention to this and I thank the questioner for bringing this up. Again, although, there is much else that we can talk about in this particular program. Thank you.

APONTE: Thank you, Ambassador. Kayla, we're ready for the next question. I think we have time for one more question.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Patrick Duddy.

Q: Good morning and thank you for this very, very interesting conversation. I'm the former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and now teaching at Duke University. I'm particularly interested in both Dr. Frazer and Ambassador Pickering's views on how we should handle not just the problem of undocumented migration across our own border, but the really exploding migration crisis in South America that is related to Venezuela and, at least by category, analogous to migration problems we have in other parts of the world. Should we be more aggressive in addressing the humanitarian dimensions of these problems?

APONTE: Jendayi?

FRAZER: No, please let Ambassador Pickering go first?

APONTE: All right. Ambassador Pickering? Tom, let's hear from you.

PICKERING: Thank you very much. Ambassador Duddy, thank you very much. It's an important and significant question in two parts and are related. Let me go to your old post first, Venezuela. We are in the international team deeply troubled by two things that I think are extremely important. An old friend of mine from Guatemala, Eduardo Stein, is the UN official saddled with dealing with the millions of Venezuelans who found their way and other places around the world, particularly in Colombia, but elsewhere as well. And we do need to do more than we have at being contributors to the humanitarian needs of these people and to do all we can on the other side to look forward to a political settlement, built in my humble view, around elections.

And the elections in Venezuela cannot take place under Maduro and probably Guaidó does not have physical and logistical capacity to do it. There's only one place in the world where we have the concentrated experience for dealing with free and fair elections in terribly difficult places and that's in New York at the UN. It is far from perfect but the UN should be the first choice. They should be given first refusal in carrying out an election in Venezuela that will focus both on the legislative branch and obviously the executive branch of the future for that country. There's no other, in my view, real solution. And it's going to be tough. And not everybody agrees and we're going to have problems in the Security Council with Russia and with China. But hard diplomatic work behind the scenes with those two countries might help us to produce a result because neither of them gets very much out of the investment they're putting in.

On our own border, the president has come forward with a complex but very significant piece of legislation to begin once again to have the U.S. occupy the position it has for years as a nation of refuge for people in deep trouble and difficulty. And we ought to go back to the first principles of international law around asylum. Don't push them away—refoulment—which is the French term for pushing away asylees is totally illegal internationally and we ought to welcome them. We need judges in the United States to deal with their cases. It's not just, "I present myself at the border and tell you I have troubles." We need much more efficiency, much more capability, and there are a lot of good lawyers in the United States who could take on this role. And so we need to break the deadlock.

We also need to take the eleven million living among us, most of whom are law-abiding contributors, to our economy and to our future. The kind of people that Robert Kaplan mentioned who brought us languages, significant intelligence about a life abroad, about real knowledge about how to get along in the world, and incorporate them in citizenship in a way that obviously keeps the frivolous from among them from becoming citizens, but the very large majority can have that opportunity and apply and be fairly treated and judged on the basis of openness and obviously a full accounting for their record as they have lived among us as citizens that are individuals that are not documented. And some of them obviously arrived here, when what one would have to say, in less than a legal manner but have operated here in ways that have been very contributive to our future.

So those are opportunities for us even though we face a huge challenge. And in many ways eleven million undocumented people among a population of 330 million are going to help us create more jobs than they're going to take away from Americans. I'm totally convinced. And I would like to see us get together and push that particular legislation through within a year hopefully, have that particular problem, which has been with us for five decades or more, solved and out of way just as we obviously have huge other tasks, whether it's pandemics, the economy, racism in the United States. Immigration is a critical and important one.

APONTE: Jendayi?

FRAZER: Yes, I mean, Ambassador Pickering has said it all, of course. Only thing I would say to add is when I go to refugee camps in Africa, the one thing that I'm struck by is the lack of human dignity. And for me that is absolutely essential. You know, whatever policies we put in place at the heart, the root of them, has to be an understanding of individual human dignity. So, you know, programs that, I'm now speaking of Africa, I'm not speaking of the United States, but programs where you're bringing people into communities, not keeping them into camps. If they're in camps you're creating work opportunities, education opportunities.

You know, these refugees are generated by natural disasters and governance disasters and more governance disasters than natural disasters, right? You know, and so addressing those root causes, addressing those issues of human rights and governance is absolutely central to addressing the immigration policy. And I would just also say our immigration policy in the United States is reflective also of our racism problems in the United States. And so they're somewhat interconnected, you know, and so we really do have to go to these root causes to finally address it but with keeping the human being at the center of any policy.

APONTE: Thank you, Jendayi. This has been an enjoyable, thoughtful, and very animated meeting. But we have reached the end of our allotted time. I thank you for joining this virtual meeting. I would like to thank especially Jendayi, Robert, and Thomas. You are stars and I am grateful to you for making this meeting a success. Please note that the video and transcript of today's meeting will be posted on the CFR's website very soon. Thank you and be safe.


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