In July of 2015 the Des Moines Committee on Foreign Relations hosted Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.
While in Des Moines the Ambassador renewed an old friendship with Ambassador Ken Quinn, President of the World Food Prize, met with the editorial staff of the Des Moines Register and met with professors and senior staff of Drake University. In addition he spoke to a full house of our members and members of Drake’s international affairs programs.
His main objective in coming to Des Moines was to speak with possible caucus goers and give them some insight into US foreign policy, past, present and possibly future so that, on both sides of the aisle Iowans would be prepared to ask relevant and in depth questions of presidential candidates.
To set the stage it is important to know that Ambassador Crocker is one of the most highly decorated State Department officials ever to serve in the US government. While serving at the behest of both Republican and Democratic presidents he has served as the Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon. His insight regarding events, and more importantly why events happen as they do in the region, is nothing short of astounding.
From his many conversations in Des Moines I acquired a few critical take a ways. One, beware of unintended consequences. The entry into Iraq as well as the exit from was both filled with numerous unintended and bad consequences. Two, the power of diplomacy can be as powerful, and many times more powerful, then military action. Three, never state or act with military force unless you understand fully what you are getting into. Four, every president needs to surround him or her self with the best and the brightest individuals who need to occasionally tell the president things they may not want to hear. Five, when proposing policy decisions regarding the Middle East, one must deeply understand a thousand years of history and the various cultures and religious factions. At that point one can only begin to understand the region and develop policies as to our role in it. I’m sure many of those present at the various meetings with the Ambassador might have come away with additional insight but those were mine.
In terms of the issues currently confronting the US and most specifically the US Congress, that being the nuclear deal with Iran, the Ambassador generally supports it. He does believe that the Congress has a responsibility to look at it closely especially in terms of its verification procedures, but at the end of the day the deal would be good for us and the region.
After listing to the Ambassador for two days my advice to presidential candidates is to be very very careful as to what you say your positions are. One-liners on foreign policy are rarely correct and frankly make one look stupid.