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American Diplomacy in a Disordered World: A Conversation with Ambassador William J. Burns

The school welcomed Ambassador William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former deputy secretary of state to share insights from his new memoir The Back Channel and for a conversation on contemporary American diplomacy. In light of the risk of escalation with Iran, following the weekend drone attack on a Saudi oil field, Ambassador Burns’ discourse emphasized the significant capacity of the United to States to invest in alliances and mobilize coalitions of countries. It is in this capacity that he believed that American diplomacy should attempt to re-invest, particularly in the face of a new international landscape that has moved beyond the uncontested American primacy of the world and the unipolar American moment.

On what makes successful diplomacy, Ambassador Burns highlighted the importance of strategic empathy, connecting with a variety of societal audiences, based on an accurate sense of history, and an honest portrayal of American interests and policy. Based on accounts of his interactions with a number of world leaders throughout his career, from Ghaddafi to Putin, he showcased the necessity in understanding foreign leadership without necessarily indulging it. The event concluded with Ambassador Burns pinpointing the need to better address the drivers of dysfunctions in partner countries, followed by a Q&A with the audience.

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