Spring 2010 Conference
The Council of American Ambassadors (CAA) held its spring conference in Washington, DC on May 3 and 4. Over 60 ambassadors and guests participated in what many said was one of the best conferences ever.
The two-day event opened on the morning of May 3 with a Board of Directors meeting chaired by President Charles T. Manatt. Charles W. Larson, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Latvia from 2008-2009, and Mary M. Ourisman, former U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and Eastern Caribbean from 2006-2009, were unanimously elected as new Directors of the Council. They will serve three-year terms.
The Board also heard reports on the CAA’s International Affairs and Public Diplomacy Fellowship programs and discussed possible collaboration with the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). Collaboration with USIP might take several forms, from CAA member participation in USIP’s Diplomatic Council, to the complimentary use/discounted rental of USIP’s meeting facilities, to the relocation of the CAA’s offices to the new USIP building. In return, USIP would like access to individual CAA members for the purposes of soliciting legacy and other capital gifts for USIP.
The proceedings resumed that afternoon with a Council of American Ambassadors Town Hall. The Town Hall illuminated a range of issues wherein the CAA might play a useful role, i.e. from enhancing the discussion relative to security and aesthetics in U.S. embassy architecture to promoting with the State Department the importance of holding formal debriefings at Main State for retiring ambassadors. Additionally, reference was made to the results of the recent member questionnaires. CAA members indicated that they greatly value the camaraderie that they find through their Council membership. They also expressed their support for current programming—particularly the conferences, international missions and Fellowship programs—and advocated for more regional activities. In this regard, an Ambassadors Roundtable, which provides an opportunity for CAA members to engage in an off-the-record, meaningful dialogue with Chiefs of Foreign Missions currently accredited to The White House, will be initiated on June 23 in Washington, DC, and the fall 2010 conference will be held in Austin, Texas from October 10-12.
Following the Town Hall was a briefing on “Advancing Democracy.” Lorne Craner, President of the International Republican Institute; Kenneth Wollack, President of the National Democratic Institute; and William Sweeney, President of IFES (International Foundation for Electoral Systems) discussed the initiatives of their respective organizations relative to governance, democracy promotion, civic and political party development and election monitoring. CAA members appreciated the opportunity to learn more about these important institutions.
Capping off the first day’s activities was a reception in honor of the CAA hosted by Ambassador and Mrs. Stuart A. Bernstein at their elegant residence. The participation in the event of six foreign Chiefs of Mission representing Japan, Iceland, Madagascar, Nepal, Hungary and Switzerland brought an extra special luster to the evening.
On the following day, CAA members heard from four distinguished foreign policy practitioners. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering gave a cogent analysis of the current situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia and the greater Middle East. Secretary Clinton’s Special Representative for Global Partnerships, and the Council’s own Director, Ambassador Elizabeth Frawley Bagley outlined the important projects her office is undertaking, including the Shanghai Expo, outreach to Muslim communities and the U.S. Diplomacy Center. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns, who provided an overview of U.S. foreign policy priorities with reference to Brazil, China, India and Mexico, and Director of Policy Planning Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, who engaged the assembly in a discussion of key aspects of Secretary Clinton’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) which will provide the short-, medium- and long-term blueprint for US diplomatic and development efforts, rounded out the morning session.
The spring conference concluded with a reception in DACOR Bacon House’s beautiful courtyard and a luncheon in the DACOR dining room. The highlight was the presentation by President Manatt of an engraved plaque to Bruce Gelb in recognition of his outstanding leadership and service as Council President from 2005 to 2009.
Ambassador Gelb expressed his thanks and joined President Manatt in encouraging all to participate in the Council’s fall conference in Austin, Texas. Scheduled for October 10-12, the conference will feature dinners at the LBJ Library and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, a program at the Ransom Center with presentations by Admiral Bobby Ray Inman and Karl Rove, and a visit to the LBJ Ranch.
 Subsequent to the conference, Dr. Slaughter invited CAA members to provide additional input to the QDDR process through responses to several questions, including: (1) “How can we better improve our COM (Chief of Mission) and officers’ ability to get out of the embassy, engage with local constituencies and affect real change on the ground, particularly in light of security challenges?” (2) “What can we do to make Ambassadors more effective CEOs over their entire Mission?” (3) How can we facilitate and encourage leveraging the private and civic sectors in advancing U.S. interests overseas? (4) What can Washington do to better support and empower our Ambassadors overseas? (5) How can State be more effective in approaching regional issues? How can State become a better counterpart to Combatant Commands who have a significant regional presence? CAA member responses were reviewed by Dr. Slaughter and her staff and were taken into account in the writing of Dr. Slaughter’s report to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.