George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker. His most recent book, “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America,” won the 2013 National Book Award for non-fiction. “The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq” was named one of the 10 best books of 2005 by the New York Times and won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award and the Overseas Press Club book award. He is the author of three other works of non-fiction, two novels, and a play.
Packer sat down for a Q&A with us in April 2019:
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What drove you to pursue writing as a career?
When I was young, around 14 or 15, I wanted to be a writer, but it was only when I had something to say--when I wanted to write--that I thought, this is what I have to do. That happened after college, after years in West Africa in the Peace Corps, when other, more conventional professional paths, like academia, somehow seemed to close down.
Can you tell us about the two seminars you’re teaching this semester, “Writing About Other Worlds” and “Biography and Diplomacy?”
he first is a journalism course. My students have been reading some of the best journalists, dead (Hersey, Orwell, Baldwin) and alive (Dexter Filkins, William Finnegan, Larissa MacFarquhar, Robert Worth, Barbara Demick). Many of the living ones have come as guests. The class is writing a reported narrative--a longish piece of journalism based on interviews and research. I hope they're learning to be good reporters and good writers at the same time--to see journalism as a branch of literature. "Biography and Diplomacy" is a graduate seminar in which I've imposed my own new book, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, on the students, along with writing that gives context to each chapter--letters, diaries, oral histories, essays, book excerpts, government documents, etc. The goal is to see from the inside how U.S. foreign policy was made in the decades from Vietnam to Afghanistan, and also to see how history and biography are written. The students are writing their own pieces of original historical research.
How have your students impacted your work outside of Jackson?
I always learn a great deal both from listening to my students and from trying to teach them what I know. The experience raises to the surface the assumptions and ideas, including wrong ones, by which I work. It takes me inside the process of writing as a conscious observer and, in doing so, makes me more aware of how it's done and done well.
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book, Our Man: Richard Holbrook and the End of the American Century?
Our Man is a biography, and an unusual one. It tells the story of Richard Holbrooke, who was a diplomat under Democratic presidents from Kennedy to Obama and a flamboyant, mesmerizing character. The book covers a lot of historical ground, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, and it also bores deep into the life of someone who was almost great, which makes him an especially fascinating subject. Through Holbrooke's life I hope readers will see how American power works, how careers are made and unmade, how policy is contingent on character and relationships. The story is told novelistically, as a yarn, as if the narrator knew Holbrooke from beginning to end and is telling you about him on a front porch or in a living room over a very long night.
What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing careers as writers and journalists?
It's hard to be too encouraging. The journalism industry is undergoing a well-known upheaval, its financial foundation is shaking, jobs keep getting shed at major publications (while others continue to hire). But I still believe there is and will remain a public demand for serious journalism, which means work that takes time to report and care to write. My best advice to young people who feel they have to follow this path is this: read great writing, including literature, and especially the handful of writers whom you feel close to, in order to learn the trade; find subjects that you care deeply about and stick with them; as much as possible, write what you want to rather than what you think you ought to.
Russ Feingold is the Martin R. Flug Visiting Professor in the Practice of Law at Yale Law School and a Senior Fellow at the Jackson Institute. He served as a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin from 1993 to 2011 and a Wisconsin State Senator from 1983 to 1993. From 2013 to 2015, he served as the United States Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition to his congressional and diplomatic career, Senator Feingold has taught or lectured at Stanford University and Stanford Law School, Lawrence University, Marquette University Law School, American University, and Beloit College.
Sen. Feingold sat down for a Q&A with us in Spring 2018:
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Can you talk about the transition from your congressional career into a diplomatic role?
While I was in the Senate, I spent 18 years serving on the Foreign Relations Committee. I interacted with diplomats, visited embassies around the world, and was active on Africa issues.
After leaving the Senate, I was teaching at Stanford, and Secretary of State John Kerry tapped me to serve as Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A U.S. Special Envoy is tasked with resolving conflicts across borders, whereas an ambassador focuses on just one country.
It’s fascinating to see how our U.S. foreign policy is implemented through the State Department versus in Congress. As a diplomat, I had to learn how to speak in different ways. It’s more formal, and words are very important. You have to choose your language carefully. You also have limited time with foreign leaders, so you have to know what to bring up and when. Trust is key to this. I built up trusting relationships with many Rwandan officials, so when I had to bring up a sensitive issue, the trust was there.
Can you tell us a bit about the seminar that you’re teaching this semester, Implications of the Post-1994 Conflicts in the Great Lakes Region of Africa?
The class focuses on American involvement in the region after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which resulted in about 2 million refugees coming from Rwanda into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In class, we’ve talked about the history of colonial rule by Belgium in Congo and the two Congo wars. When I went into Congo in 2012 as an Envoy, it was part of an international effort to prevent a third war. It’s important for students to see how a diplomat functions. I’ve shared stories about my successes but also my failures.
The students are a wonderful mix of graduate and undergraduate students, including several from Africa, so it’s a lively class.
You’ve taught and lectured at many universities across the US. What, in your eyes, makes Jackson unique?
I have enjoyed my time everywhere I’ve taught, but Jackson stands out for its successful and systematic effort to bring in military, economic and foreign policy experts to teach [as Senior Fellows]. The students are very excited to learn from these leaders and the visitors they bring to class. It’s a great feeling of community here, both among the students and the Fellows.
What do you think is the most underrepresented issue in the current American political conversation?
I would say the domination of personal and corporate interests influencing our politics. It’s ruining our democracy. On the foreign policy side, I would say China. We need to have a greater focus on what they’re doing, particularly in Africa, because it’s going to have a big influence on the next generation.
What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing careers in politics and diplomacy?
I would tell them that they don’t have to choose one path forever. You can do both! That’s what I found out. If you’re credible as a political figure, you don’t necessarily have to be an expert in a certain region to serve in a diplomatic role. If you have a distinguished career in business or politics, you might be tapped someday to serve.
Of course, you can go directly into a diplomatic career. What we have here at Jackson is the future of the State Department. This is the generation that will play a huge role in repairing diplomacy.
Kissinger Senior Fellow
Ambassador Anne Patterson joined the Jackson Institute as a Kissinger Senior Fellow in 2017. She is the former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (2013-2017) and Ambassador to Egypt (2011-2013), Pakistan (2007-2010), Colombia (2000-2003), and El Salvador (1997-2000). She recently retired with the rank of Career Ambassador after more than four decades in the Foreign Service. Amb. Patterson also served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, as well as Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, among other important assignments.
Amb. Patterson sat down for a Q&A with us in October 2017:
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You’ve been a representative of the U.S. to countries in several very different regions of the world. Can you speak a bit to those experiences?
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve in a broad array of assignments in my 43-year career. I became ambassador to Pakistan largely by accident because I had experience in managing large organizations. But I didn't know much about South Asia. I was very fortunate to have deputies who had a lot of relevant experience since they could explain the culture to me. What I learned from those experiences is that local knowledge is really important, knowing the country and its people, particularly if it is a non-western country, and understanding its history. I have always been a big proponent of longer foreign service tours for just that reason. It is very hard to influence foreign leaders and ordinary citizens if you don't understand where they are coming from.
How did your education shape your interests and lead you to your career path?
I majored in economics at Wellesley and had a strong interest in American history. I hadn't planned to go into the foreign service. One day, my mother saw an advertisement in a magazine saying that the foreign service needed women. She handed the ad to me and said "you're not doing anything; go take this test." So I did. I entered as an economic officer. I have loved the foreign service, a career of infinite variety and challenge and to use a cliché, the ability to make a difference representing the United States. I had a broad general education in high school and college, and the old foreign service test focused a lot on American studies.
You’ve held a diverse range of positions within the U.S. government. How has seeing government processes through such different lenses influenced the way you approach your work?
Each job taught me something new, that was often useful in subsequent jobs. For instance, I was the acting Inspector General for a year, and learned a lot about the management side of the Department, issues like the vagaries of government contracting. When I became Assistant Secretary of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, that knowledge of contracting was invaluable. But large organizations in the USG are fairly similar from a bureaucratic standpoint, even if the substantive role is very different: lots of engagement with Congress, developing longer term strategies, managing the budget, and handling personnel issues. As an ambassador, your job is to bring your foreign counterparts over to the American point of view and to explain the situation in the country to your colleagues in Washington. Unfortunately, senior people in our government are more and more caught up in crisis management and have little opportunity for long-term planning for their bureaucratic organizations.
What do you see as the greatest issue or obstacle in U.S.-international relations today?
There is a strong perception in the rest of the world that the U.S. has stepped back, that our country isn't willing to defend the liberal world order that has benefited us to much. This leads to challenges to American interests by other countries and confusion among our allies. Foreigners are shocked at the seeming fragility of the United States right now. This perception is certainly reversible, with our military might, our $20 trillion economy and our values that are generally admired around the world.
What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing careers in foreign affairs?
I would advise students to pursue a broad general education and then specialize in graduate school. History is important. If you understand the history of the Gulf, you have a far better understanding, for instance, of the current spat among Gulf countries. Foreign language is increasingly important, if only because so many educated people in the world now speak English. We have less and less contact with ordinary citizens, who can only be reached in their native language. An understanding of your own country is critically important. I will never forget something John Negroponte told me about discussing policy issues with foreign leaders: "Don't spend a lot of time telling them about their own country. They will always know their own country better than you do. Your value added is what you can tell them about your country."
Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo joined the Jackson Institute as a Senior Fellow in 2015. Following a 30-year career with the U.S. Department of State, Amb. DiCarlo is now president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a nonprofit organization that conducts educational programs and Track II diplomatic initiatives regarding security challenges facing the United States.
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Amb. DiCarlo sat down for a Q&A with us:
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What’s one piece of advice you would give to our MA students who are considering careers in diplomacy and the Foreign Service?
If you want to be a good diplomat, it is important to be widely read in history, understand the philosophical foundations of the current state system, speak at least one foreign language and have empathy for other cultures. I would advise students to focus on areas where they have the keenest interest and something to contribute. They will excel if they’re doing something they like.
Did you always envision a career with the State Department or did you first pursue other career ambitions after completing your studies?
At first I thought I would be an academic. I was a very good student and good at learning foreign languages. I loved literature and focused on Slavic languages. But my experiences traveling abroad--first in Moscow as an exchange student and then researching a dissertation in Paris -- made me realize I wanted to pursue a career that involved engaging with foreign cultures and contributing to foreign policy. My first real job was at UNESCO in Paris, and from there I went to the State Department, where I served for 30 years.
Tell us more about your Fall 2016 course, GLBL 695, “Multilateral Institutions in the 21st Century”?
This seminar addresses the basic principles by which the international community has been governed (concepts of sovereignty, self-determination and legitimate use of force) since the end of the Second World War. It looks at the laws, norms and practices that were developed to meet the threats of the post-war era. In many ways these underlying principles have been challenged or reinterpreted today. Sovereignty, for example, means responsibilities as well as rights for many nations. And there are new security challenges -- internal rather than cross-border conflicts, terrorism, climate change, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and cyber-attacks -- which are different. My class is designed to provoke thought about those threats and to address whether we have the institutions and structures in place to meet these challenges.
What’s the biggest foreign policy challenge for the next U.S. president?
There are many, but the most immediate challenge is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly in regard to North Korea. The next president must also consider our partnerships, with European allies and others, and ensure they are stable and solid. And the president will have to work with China and others to ensure that China's rise is compatible with our national interests.
Kissinger Senior Fellow
Robert Ford joined the Jackson Institute as a Senior Fellow in 2016. After a 30-year career with the Peace Corps and the U.S. Department of State, Ford is now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, where he writes and speaks about Syria, Iraq and North Africa. He was the U.S. Ambassador to Syria 2011-2014, receiving wide recognition for his work defending Syrians’ human rights in the face of the Bashar Asad regime’s repression.
Ford sat down for a Q&A with us in January 2016.
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What’s one piece of advice you would give to our MA students who are considering careers in diplomacy and the Foreign Service?
The work can be absolutely fascinating and important, and the travel can be fun. However, these are jobs dedicated to public service, they will sometimes require personal and family sacrifice, and they involve working as part of teams in a bureaucracy which requires compromise and patience. The Foreign Service is also very competitive, so it can't be a student's only job game plan - there has to be at least one plan B.
Did you always envision a career with the State Department or did you first pursue other career ambitions after college?
I thought about trying to get into the Foreign Service, but I wasn't sure I would like living overseas. I therefore did the Peace Corps in Morocco to try living overseas and to learn Arabic well. The Peace Corps was a fabulous experience on all counts - the challenges were energizing, Morocco was fascinating, and it was possible to learn to speak Arabic well. (Some Moroccans would ask me if I was a Berber - they couldn't quite place my accent.) When I went back to finish my MA at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies I knew I wanted to get into the Foreign Service.
Tell us more about what students can expect from your Spring 2016 class, GLBL 685 “Arab Spring and New Revolution?”
I want class participants to get a better sense of underlying factors that drive Arab politics, such as the role of the countries' military/security apparatus, political Islam, the development of jihadi movements which is not the same thing as political Islam, the Sunni-Shia competition and even how climate change will affect the Arab World's politics. By watching videos, I want to stimulate discussions about the interactions among people that we see and the responses political and religious figures try to generate when they speak. If you think FDR, John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan were good speakers, let's take a look at Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt or Ali Benhadj in Algeria.
There is a massive refugee & humanitarian crisis resulting from the situation in Syria and other conflict zones in the Middle East. How do you see this crisis impacting future policy on immigration & open borders [for example, the Schengen Agreement] in Europe?
The crisis will bring long-lasting change. The president of the European Council said at the end of last year that the rush of refugees and migrants threatens to bring down the Schengen agreement, and Sweden just imposed border controls for the first time in many years. The fighting in Syria is not diminishing and there will be more refugees from there. Limited opportunities in Africa will drive more people to boats from countries like Algeria and Libya. The crush of people is more likely to get worse rather than better even as Europeans worry more about security. As a result, the EU will face pressure from within to close its internal open borders, and will confront an ever growing demand for resources to help countries like Greece and Italy even when Scandinavian countries and Germany themselves feel tightly pressed. The EU will be challenged as never before. Even here in the U.S. there is a sharp, new debate about immigration that touches directly on our core values as a nation. Think about the meaning and the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty.
We know you’re a big Baltimore Orioles fan. What other personal interests/hobbies do you have?
After the rush of working in Washington and foreign capitals, living in a small town now gives my wife and me time to enjoy smaller things and to reflect. We don't own a television. Instead, I love to read, especially books about current events, history, economics, and fiction by authors like Richard Russo and Richard Ford. I was delighted to be asked to join the Board of Directors of the library of our hometown in upstate Vermont, and I volunteer a few nights weekly at the homeless persons' shelter there. My wife and I love to hike in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine, and in the Green Mountains of Vermont.