Recently The New York Times Magazine published an article about the bunker-ing of United States embassies in conflict-zones. In it, Robert Worth describes the changing face of American diplomacy; one that is becoming more focused on security. “Security has gone from a marginal concern to the very heart of American interactions with other countries”,Worth explains.
Prudence Bushnell, former ambassador to Kenya, says “The model has become, we will go to dangerous places and transform them,and we will do it from secure fortresses. And it doesn’t work.”
Diplomacy is, without a doubt, dangerous work, as the recent tragic death of Libyan ambassador J. Christopher Stevens demonstrated. The investigation into his death along with three other Americans in Benghazi begins today. NPR’s Morning Edition had an interview with former U.S.ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker. Crocker explains that diplomats must act as reporters and understand the countries in which they work. He points out that they are working in dangerous places at a dangerous time, but it is necessary to take some risks for the sake of bettering the future of these countries.
Diplomacy done within a “secure fortress” is ineffective. Stevens himself was a champion of building personal connections with the citizens of a country, and it helped him become an extremely successful diplomatic in several conflict-ridden countries.
At EPIC we believe that diplomacy and peace will only happen when interpersonal relationships are allowed to be forged. Ambassadors locked in bunker-like offices in Baghdad will not be the only harbingers of peace to the country. Yes, they are doing important work, but we believe it is not the only work that needs to be done.
Iraqis are already working to sustain peace in their local communities. When foreign diplomats seclude themselves they risk losing the opportunity to see what local projects are happening. By walking the streets, sitting in cafes, and speaking with people diplomats may begin to understand how Iraqis are imagining and bring peace to their country. Additionally, Iraqis should be part of the diplomatic conversation, and when embassies are nestled far away from city-centers the actual citizens of a country are both literally and figuratively out of view.
Peace in Iraq will not come from bunkers and convoys. It will come from citizen-led conversations and deep personal connections. Chris Stevens understood that, and we hope to honor his legacy by continuing our work in Iraq–without the fortress.