For anyone reading this who has at least some invested interest in U.S. politics, you’ve all experienced the aggravating sensation of clicking off your TV after watching your favorite public figure give a speech. After listening to Diplomat A or Politician B drone on for an hour about some facet of U.S. policy, you ask yourself: Yes, but what do they REALLY think?
So, for those of you who dream of picking the brains of U.S. government employees, I sure hope you were in attendance when former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Stephen Ford came to speak at W&L on March 17.
If you weren’t there—you missed out.
“It was a privilege to meet him,” said Professor Seth Cantey, who served as the moderator for Ford’s talk. “I didn’t necessarily always agree with everything, but I definitely think it was a valuable opportunity both for me [and] for the students of W&L to get the perspective of a practitioner.”
Cantey further explained something that we already sort of understand, which is that diplomats and politicians have restrictions on what they can and cannot say while they are still working for the State Department. But once these government employees leave office, Cantey said that they are suddenly free to be a lot more candid.
“The moment that you leave office as a public official…there are [still] constrictions on what you can say in the sense that you cannot release classified information,” Cantey noted. “[Ford’s] head is probably full of information that he just cannot talk about. But what it does [do], it frees you up to give your real opinion.”
Cantey said that it was a great opportunity for all in attendance to hear the “unvarnished take” of a man who has held such a high position in our government.
““I thought it was a very interesting observation, coming from [Ford], that U.S. policy right now is ineffective,” Cantey said. “He was basically looking at the situation in Syria and saying ‘what we’re doing will not work’…that’s a big deal.”
So, did Ford sit up on the Stackhouse Theater stage and divulge to the audience our country’s deepest, darkest foreign policy secrets? No. That would be illegal. But what did he do? He let his guard down. He showed humility. He showed candor. And he reminded everyone that diplomats and politicians are real people.