If you have been watching the news the past several days you’ve watched with horror as our country has been reminded that our nation’s enemies will wait and watch until the right opportunities present themselves. If the right opportunities don’t present themselves they create them. If you know my background you will remember that I have worked in Washington several times before and after 9/11. I worked with senior leadership teams for both Democrats and Republicans. My friends have worked on diplomatic teams and within many branches of the military. Both my father and father-in-law served the military for over 20 years and both of their lives color my view of the world outside America. I’ve lost several close friends serving our country over the past 11 years overseas.
So what can we learn from the past several days of violence in the Middle East? I don’t think I’m in the center on this so I’ll share what we all should know moving forward from my experience working with leaders around the world. I have many friends and partners from different parts of the world.
The first thing you learn when you work with diplomats is that they are different from you and me. For many, like Ambassador Christopher Stevens, their life is focused on providing a platform for peace in the world. For many of our generation, they provide positive and enthusiastic can do attitudes to a tough job. For many, they are given tremendous opportunities to impact the nations with whom they, they wield tremendous influence and would be capable of managing complex challenges while continuing to work within a strategic framework set forth by the President and the Secretary of State. For many of these men and women, they have committed their lives to world peace. They are all in. In Ambassador Stevens case, many of the people who will miss Christopher most will be from the country of Libya. They knew how he felt and knew they had an advocate for their positions in Washington.
The second group of people you deal with in these situations are the military and intelligence community. They are good at what they do and many hold their cards close to the vest. Since they work with leaders from both parties, they have learned to answer only the questions they are asked. For many, they have risen through the ranks because of their ability to work well with individuals outside the military as well as creating strong partnerships with people around the globe. They make decisions quickly and tend to be people of action. Though they make decisions quickly, they learn to adjust their plans to meet real world situations. For many of them, they have built successful careers by understanding exactly what they can and can’t control. They tend to see protection as a proactive practice. They have clear ideas on how to handle international situations. In our country the ultimate decision still rides with our government officials.
The final group is the politicians. They are elected to their jobs with limited training and understanding. They can be a pain or a blessing and the one quality that strikes me about them is they have an unlimited amount of ambition. They tend to be calculating and to have an agenda. If you want them to get things done you have to help them understand how their decisions will move their agenda forward. Keep in mind that for many elected politicians, their only concern about the issues facing America is how they can use them for reelection. I’m often surprised by how many make their decisions based on the current political winds.
Because of the nature of their roles, they need to raise money and awareness of their successes so they can get reelected. Many politicians send you newsletters that highlight what they are accomplishing on your behalf. For many of them, they spend their whole careers moving toward the next role. As they rise through the ranks, they start to believe their press releases. They are highly political in their thinking and tend to overestimate their impact on what is happening in the world. For many who have risen to the highest levels, they become out of touch with the people they represent. I’m not sure this is what the founding fathers wanted when they created our country. One of the ways to limit their power might be considering adding term limits to the Constitution.
Now, why is this important to you? I think the biggest problem we face today is directly because we fail to understand how the roles differ and how their different views impact our lives. I remember a younger Barack Obama being critical of President Bush. I believe this is how he set himself apart from his Democratic competitors. He made a reputation of speaking the truth to rise to power. His campaign now points out that Governor Romney shoots off his mouth before thinking. In many instances, Romney is saying similar things to those voiced by Senator Obama. Now he’s shooting his mouth off? It’s scary to realize that President Obama is repeating Jimmy Carter’s speeches. I’ve heard people accuse Governor Romney of many things but doing things without thinking is not among them. It makes me wonder why President Obama is so concerned about what the Governor has said?
How did a Senator who lived through the aftermath of 9/11 forget about our enemy? As we learned over eight years with President Bush, it takes only a small mistake to cost American lives. He made sure all of us wouldn’t forget. How did President Obama?