Excerpts from the interview that can be read in full above:
On life after the Foreign Service:
Retirement from the Foreign Service liberates you to speak your mind. As we baby boomers leave government service you’ll find there is a community of like-minded who share an appetite for policy debate and discussion like the CIC and other organizations – RHOMA is another obvious example. The academic community can make a contribution but with some notable exceptions, many don’t seem to realize the importance of policy relevance. This presents an opportunity for those who have served in the Foreign Service. We understand government. We have developed networks of contacts, nationally and internationally. We appreciate policy relevance and understand the importance of connecting the dots. We learned how to write and present policy options. I think we make a valuable contribution on issues of public policy – as did a number of our former colleagues last fall around Afghanistan in speaking out on the principle of independent reporting by officers in the field. Nothing is more debilitating for an organization as when the bosses are perceived as looking out for themselves and leave the junior officers hanging in the wind.
Just as government has hollowed out its policy development capacity, so the media have hollowed out their research staff, producers and reporters. This opens opportunities for those of us who believe we can serve the public interest by sharing our knowledge and experience. Mind you have to be comfortable sitting on a high chair in a dark room, speaking into a camera with no one behind it, listening for your cue through an earpiece to someone who might be thousands of miles away and then speaking in 10-15 second chunks to someone who often has no idea of what you are talking about. Then be hustled out without ceremony for the next guest. In short: Be Brief, Be Blunt, Be Gone. Briefing ministers was excellent training ground.
Any reflections on Foreign Service?
Yes. It matters more than ever. As we enter a multi-centric world, geography and demography gives Canada unique advantages. First, our proximity to the United States – if not the ‘hyperpower’ then the ‘default’ power and hungry for the kind of intelligence we can bring to the table because we belong to almost every organization going. Second, thanks to intelligent immigration policy ‘we are the world’. Most importantly, we’re part of the Indian and Chinese diaspora. Through a century and a half of hard work we understand pluralism. We have the capacity. We have the talent. Now we have to apply it. It means resources. With vision and direction from management and our political leadership.
When I joined in 1977 it was like joining the Habs in their heyday. We were on the Security Council. Bill Barton was our ambassador – like Scotty Bowman, his quiet diplomacy had real effect. Basil Robinson was undersecretary. Allan Gotlieb would follow a couple of years later. The place buzzed with ideas. Marcel Cadieux and Klaus Goldschlag holding forth in the Library where you were encouraged to spend time. Young Turks like Bob Fowler and Jeremy Kinsman. Officers with panache and an uninhibited elegance in putting forth ‘truth to power’. No ‘group-think’ in this band. A premium on ideas including a much-respected in-house journal, International Perspectives, in which officers were encouraged to write. Consorting with journalists and political staff (I would later marry one with both qualities) was encouraged because they brought intelligence and political nous into the equation. We played hard. We rocked. We made a difference for Canada.
Foreign service is ultimately about foreign policy. Ideas matter. Process and accountabilities are means, not ends. Bulking up on bean-counters and coaching staff doesn’t win games. And you have to keep bringing up new talent every year. Adjustment at the ministerial and political level of ‘Canada’s New Government’ accounted for some of the challenges but senior management also has much to answer. Throwing cultural funding and public diplomacy onto sacrifical alter without a squeak was unforgivable (Last time it was attempted we fought through PAFSO and RHOMA. The Senate subsequently refused legislative passage). But when they cut post operational budgets last summer because they couldn’t count – in any other business they’d be shown the door. The enthusiasts for ‘transformation’ (remind me what version we are on) and the ‘New Way Forward’ should recall that ‘business process reengineering’ and Mao resulted in Enron and the Cultural Revolution. Brave ‘new’ worlds but not perhaps what the planners had in mind.
Sloganeering matters less in international relations than the hard language of priorities, requirements and resources, tradeoffs, and limitations. Knowing your ask. Knowing what you are ready to give to make a deal. Then, as Derek Burney famously puts it, ‘getting it done’.
I’ve spent the last couple of years at the university and I can tell you that this incoming generation is internationalist, green and believes in service. Really smart women and men. They’ll give you new ideas and improve your technique. And we need to get them out quickly and give them ice time to learn how to skate and play as a team – they’ll soon put the puck in the net for Canada.