Ambassador Crocker Asserts Importance of Asia Society's Role
HOUSTON, March 5, 2014 — Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, whose long career as a diplomat included stints in virtually every hotspot in the Muslim world, had a trick to defuse tense discussions in those countries. He launched into poetry, in Arabic.
“When the appropriate moment came in the conversation,” he recalled, “my ability to recite — even in a bad accent — something so cherished by Muslims generally got the conversation into a better place than before.”
Crocker recounted this in the course of praising Asia Society’s work in exposing Americans to the cultural richness of Asian countries.
“The emphasis the Society has placed on culture, on literature, on music make it absolutely unique among major organizations focusing on foreign affairs in this country,” he said. “Asia Society does this better than anyone. No one does what you do. Asia Society has the horse power, wattage, and ability more than anyone else.”
Now retired from the State Department, Crocker is dean and executive professor at the George Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University. He spoke at an invitation-only dinner for the Texas Center’s donors at the Presidents Circle level and higher. Others on hand included Asia Society global Co-chairs Henrietta Fore and Ronnie Chan and Asia Society President Josette Sheeran, in Houston for a meeting of the global Board of Trustees.
“You can know all the history, you can know the politics, but if you don’t know the culture, you will not understand the environment in which you are trying affect policy,” Crocker said he tells his students, who are preparing for careers in public service.
During his remarks and in a question-and-answer period that followed with Charles Foster, Texas Center Chair, Crocker focused on challenges in the Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, all countries where he served as ambassador. Among his observations:
- The crises in Syria and Egypt “were decades in the making, and they will take decades to resolve. They will take our strategic patience, our attention, and our focus. We’re not really great at strategic patience, or long-term attention or sustained focus. But if we want to see something other than a Middle East that is an ongoing source of instability and threat to our national security interests, we’re going to have to come up with it, and I do not see it there now.”
- A total pullout of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would be disastrous for the Afghan military, he said, hobbling things that sustain troop morale like the guarantee of quick helicopter evacuation if wounded. He reminded his audience that the Communist regime of Mohammad Najibullah didn’t collapse when the Russians pulled out in 1988 but three years later. “The army fell apart when the funding stopped.”
- Speaking about the death in Benghazi, Libya, of Ambassador Christopher Stephens, a personal friend, he deplored the political partisanship surrounding the incident, stating that both parties did not deal well with the assassination of Chris Stephens and its fallout.
He went on to say that effective diplomacy in unstable places comes with personal risk, a fact well understood by Foreign Service officers.
“We as a society, as a Congress, and as an administration need understand that while we do everything we can to protect our diplomats, if they’re doing their jobs right, from time to time we’re going to lose one,” he said. “If we’re not prepared to accept that, we’re crippling our own diplomacy.”
Reported by Fritz Lanham