Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann visited Hotchkiss Oct. 31-Nov. 1 as part of the School’s Ambassador Speaker Series. This is 10th year of the Ambassadors Speakers Series, which was started by Phil Pillsbury '53, P ’89, ‘91 and is now organized by Bob Beecroft '58, former ambassador to Egypt.
Neumann is president of American Academy of Diplomacy, a group of senior ambassadors and foreign policy leaders who seek to strengthen American diplomacy and promote an understanding of the role of diplomacy in protecting national security interests.
Neumann joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1970. He specialized in the Middle East, and he has served in Iran, Iraq, and United Arab Emirates. Over the course of his career, he served as an ambassador to Algeria (1994-97), Bahrain (2001-04), and Afghanistan (2005-07).
Neumann spoke to faculty and students about his own experiences and the importance of diplomacy. “I've been in four wars, handled negotiations, and run embassies from one where I was the only American to one with 500 Americans on the staff. Despite all the problems of today, the Foreign Service is a tremendous career and one of real service to the nation. It has its dangers and its frustrations and it’s not easy to enter; but I encourage others to try for it,” he said.
Neumann also attended Humanities and Social Science classes, where students asked about his tenure in Afghanistan and the difficulty in completing the Ring Road, the country’s major road system that forms a 3,000-kilometer circle from Kabul to Kandahar.
On that topic, Neumann said that security is the major roadblock in completing the construction. He also spoke about the need for developing a national educational system in Afghanistan. Drawing on his time there in 2006, he described a visit to one province where he met a minister of education who was working with a kerosene lamp in basement.
Since he left Afghanistan, the educational system there has evolved slowly to include women students and teachers, but Neumann said the country needs more qualified educators, administrators, and advance-degree instructors.
Neumann also discussed the difficulty of defeating Al-Qaeda.“The problem with Al Qaeda is that it is stateless; it can keep coming back,” he said. To thwart it, Afghanistan needs to develop its own state — a government with strong enough institutions to protect their national interest. The United States, as well as other countries, he said, need to play a role in that process.
“But trying to explain that to the American public can be a verbal pretzel,” he said.