In an exclusive interview, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Johnson Center for the Study of American Diplomacy at Yale University, talks about recent developments in the Middle East and US diplomacy in the region.
A statesman whose distinguished diplomatic career spanned four presidencies and who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for service to his country, Crocker has served as US Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon. In his first year at Yale, Crocker taught a module on Afghanistan in the Gateway to Global Affairs undergraduate course and two additional seminars for students in the Jackson Institute’s programs.
Any opinions shared are not necessarily those of Yale University.
What do you see as significant developments in the field of US diplomacy in the Middle East?
I think there are several developments that are very significant for the present and for the future. There is an unprecedented linkage between the departments of state and defense, between the military service and the Foreign Service. This was born in Afghanistan after 9/11, developed in that country and in Iraq; I was ambassador to both of them. We have never worked this closely together. And in the enormously complex world that the Middle East represents, bringing all tools of national power together - and the two most important are diplomacy and military capabilities - really make a difference. We have learned how to do that in a way we have not before. This has relevance not only in conflict situations, but around the world. The American military is deployed for exercises, for training; it is a diplomatic instrument. And we need to be sure that all instruments of diplomacy are connected and we’ve made real strides in doing that.
Why are such diplomatic efforts necessary?
The world that was born at the end of the Cold War is a vastly more complex world than the one we left. We see this in the developments of the so-called Arab Spring. Each country is different; each country is going through a different set of circumstances. Some of them are directly threatening to not only regional, but [also] international stability. What does this mean? We need people who can understand these problems in their own terms – there has never been a greater need than there is right now for a strong, capable, well-resourced foreign service with sufficient numbers of officers who are steeped in the culture, history, and politics of a country and a region, and who most importantly know the language. So it has to be – I think – a real priority for this administration, this congress, and the American people to see that the Foreign Service gets the resources that it requires to be the eyes and ears for America’s national security.
Given your decades of experience working as a US diplomat in the Middle East, what impacts will the uprisings have on the region?
For all the chaos of the Arab Spring – and in some countries like Syria and Libya it’s been pretty horrific – there are some very encouraging signs. In Egypt, for example, I was there several months ago, Egyptians are not happy because the economy, of course dependent on tourism, is in a pretty terrible state. But there is a sense of empowerment and of freedom that I’ve never seen in Egypt. I served there for 3 years in the 80s. Nobody is looking over their shoulders any more for the intelligence services to swoop down on them. Again, they’ve got a lot of problems and they’re vocal about them. But you see in Egypt as you see in Tunisia – even in the disorder of Libya – for the first time people who knew nothing but the harsh hand of autocracy are enjoying individual liberty. The same thing is happening in countries that had revolutions imposed from outside – say Afghanistan and Iraq - we see an explosion of free media, of schools with unfettered curriculum. This is all new for this region. And I think while the growing pains will be prolonged and they will be intense, at the end of the day, a new generation of middle easterners is going to emerge that will forever transform that region in a very positive way.