NORMAN — U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering emphasized the critical nature of collaborative problem solving in his remarks to guests of the University of Oklahoma President’s Associates dinner Friday evening.
Serving as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations from 1989 to 1992, Pickering also served as ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria and Jordan, and recently co-chaired an independent inquiry on the U.S. Consulate attacks in Benghazi.
“In spite of being officially retired, Ambassador Pickering has hardly ceased to serve his country, and this most recent appointment to co-chair the inquiry into Benghazi is an indication of the trust which those of both political parties have placed in him, because he simply seeks to represent the United States of America and all of us, regardless of political persuasion,” said OU President David Boren.
Pickering’s 40-minute speech centered on inter-connectedness of crises and subsequent obstacles facing modern diplomacy, ultimately emphasizing the importance of collaborative efforts between government agencies and entire nations for reaching solutions.
“We are beginning to understand that our old way of defining questions in narrow stovepipes is no longer a strategic way to think about our problems. Many sets of issues are closely related, such as environmental concerns and energy policy; affecting policy of one will automatically affect the other,” Pickering said.
Going into great detail, Pickering outlined global concerns from the Middle East to China, Russia and other U.S. rivals.
Pickering criticized U.S. foreign policy in Syria, calling the U.S.’ assumption that the winner of the military struggle would resolve instability “politically weak” and a contributing factor to Syria’s uncertain future. He also strongly opposed U.S. military action in Iraq, suggesting the move was premature diplomatically and saying the nation “paid a high price” for it.
“We have in our country a government whose national security was last fundamentally changed in 1947. I think it’s time we thought about updating. I believe we do too little in bringing together in our government, expertise from all areas to deal with problems — the whole of government approach. There is still too much turf and with a sense of humility I’d say Congress is equally unorganized to deal with these problems,” Pickering said. “The U.N. is far from perfect, there are many things it needs to improve its efficiency but it’s the best we have and probably the best we’ll get for quite some time.”
Lastly, Pickering highly praised the positive potential in student exchange programs, calling them “enormously vital.”
“One of the most important ways we can address these problem areas is how we as a country show ourselves to the people of those problem areas,” Pickering said. “I have always been in favor of student exchanges, they make a huge difference. This university and this town are part of what we can do best in that particular regard. Our youth make a strong, important impression.”