When will we learn... Drawing public and private lines in the sand?

Author:Young, Johnny
Position:Commentary and Analysis - Essay

September 2016

I send heartfelt congratulations on the 20th anniversary of the publication American Diplomacy. Twenty years of publication is a notable achievement in adding to the body of knowledge and literature offered to those interested in the practice of diplomacy? In celebrating this wonderful occasion, I would like to offer this personal reflection on what I was doing around the time of initial publication of American Diplomacy. In addition, I would also like to share from that time a policy concern that bothered me then and that continues to trouble me. It is the policy approach of our government sometimes going public too quickly before exhausting all means of private resolution on policy positions on which we are prepared to draw a line in the sand or throw down the gauntlet.

I began my Foreign Service Career in 1967 in Madagascar. I was fortunate and rose up through the ranks of the service and was given the opportunity and privilege of serving as U.S. Ambassador on several occasions.

Of my Ambassadorial assignments, one of the most challenging was in Togo where I was twenty years ago. The President at that time was Gnassingbe Eyadema, one of the longest serving African leaders at the time. He came to power in a 1967 coup and remained at the helm until his death in 2005. He was a real strongman in the African sense of the term. He tolerated no opposition. Many who attempted to challenge him were often dealt with brutally and sometime fatally, with no bad deeds traceable back to him. He had the people and apparatus to get the dirty jobs done.

It was my job to effect economic and democratic change, but Eyadema would have none of it. He simply wanted to continue along the same unproductive road of autocratic rule. If I had any success in Togo it was in shedding much greater light on the human rights abuses there and in encouraging a freer press.

Despite the U.S government's disappointment with Eyadema, we never came out publically and said he had to go in order to make things better in Togo. We could entertain such thoughts and discussions privately, but that was where they remained. Besides, the situation in Togo twenty years had not deteriorated to the extent they had in Zaire in 1996/97 time frame. In that case, Zaire was spiraling out of control, wracked by war, factional fighting and a leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, in failing health and losing his grip in running the country. In this case, our discussions of his departure became...

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