The Path Forward with Ambassador Pickering

For the Summer 2018 Congressional Partnership Program’s dinner series, Partnership for a Secure America hosted an off-the-record dinner with Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former undersecretary of state for political affairs and ambassador to the United Nations, the Russian Federation, India, Israel and Jordan.  Amb. Pickering opened the discussion with analysis on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motivations and the way forward for the United States regarding Ukraine. Drawing on his deep knowledge and expertise developed over his legendary diplomatic career, the Ambassador focused on both long and short-term trends which brought the US and Russia to this point. The discussion focused heavily on the need to pursue joint economic and political solutions while avoiding military—especially nuclear—conflicts at all costs.  Amb. Pickering also shared his perspective on potential crises and brewing conflicts in the Balkans, Central America, and Central Asia.  Throughout the conversation, Amb. Pickering urged Congress and the executive branch to act with a unified strategy, clear goals, and a shared vision of the national interest as they approach not just Russia but all future national security issues.

Q&A With Ambassador Pickering

What are your thoughts on US cooperation or coexistence with Russia in Syria? If this isn’t possible, what should US policy in Syria look like?

Syria may present an opportunity for better US diplomacy backed by military presence.  Putin is playing out that scenario. He seems to be stymied even though military progress for his side continues.  US participation could help break the current deadlock but in the end, would also help to see an outcome without Assad’s presence.  Right now, the US seems to be soft-pedaling that possibility which is a long shot.

What are the critical issues today in foreign policy and national security and what role can bipartisanship play in helping address these questions?

Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons within Iran and the DPRK is a critical problem facing national security.  Of increasing concern is the current trade conflict with China as well as nuclear issues in Russia. Bipartisan treatment would result in greater focus and unanimity, especially in Congress.  Hopefully, bipartisanship could also reduce divisions in the Executive Branch.

How can the State Department reform to ensure the agency is still able to carry out American diplomacy while addressing its human resources challenges and better integrating into the interagency process?

It needs to settle on an adequate budget and full support for personnel intakes to meet the needs of these demanding times.  Better education and training, reorganization to reduce overlaps and a more simplified, delegated responsibility-based Department would help.

What book are you currently reading?

I am currently reading David Kilcullen’s Blood Year; MI VI  and the third volume of Teddy Roosevelt’s long-running biography series.

Thomas Pickering

Ambassador Pickering is vice chairman of Hills & Company, an international consulting firm providing advice to U.S. businesses on investment, trade, and risk assessment issues abroad, particularly in emerging market economies. He retired in 2006 as senior vice president international relations for Boeing. He has had a career spanning five decades as a U.S. diplomat, serving as under secretary of state for political affairs, ambassador to the United Nations, ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, Nigeria, Jordan and El Salvador. He also served on assignments in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He holds the personal rank of Career Ambassador, the highest in the U.S. Foreign Service. He has held numerous other positions at the State Department, including executive secretary and special assistant to Secretaries Rogers and Kissinger and assistant secretary for the bureau of oceans, environmental and scientific affairs.  He is based in Washington, DC.