On May 5, the Foreign Policy program at Brookings hosted a webinar in support of former British Ambassador to the United States Peter Westmacott’s new memoir, “They Call it Diplomacy.” Over the course of 40-years of service to his country as a diplomat, Ambassador Westmacott served in many important roles, including as Britain’s ambassador to Turkey, ambassador to France, and most recently, as ambassador to the United States. Prior to his ambassadorial stints, he spent four years as a diplomat in Iran in the lead up to the 1979 revolution. The book draws from these rich experiences to consider the art of diplomacy and its relevance in a modern age.
In addition to Ambassador Westmacott, the event featured introductory remarks from Brookings President John R. Allen, as well as insight from Vice President and Director of the Foreign Policy program Suzanne Maloney and Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel on the future of the broader Middle East and the crucial role of diplomats in shaping foreign policy. The panelists discussed Iran, Turkey, and the Biden administration’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, focusing their conversation on where diplomats can play a role in addressing some of today’s pressing challenges.
On Iran, Maloney started the conversation by asking Ambassador Westmacott to describe the signs on the ground ahead of the 1979 revolution. Riedel provided the perspective from Washington during that time and analyzed lessons learned from the revolution about how the United States is able to anticipate developments around the world today. At a time of heightened tensions with Iran, panelists discussed reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and what course of action the Biden Administration should follow.
Turning to Afghanistan, panelists discussed the Biden administration’s announcement that the United States would withdraw all troops from the country by September 11, 2021, arguing that it is one of the most consequential and controversial decisions the new administration has taken on foreign policy. Riedel noted that he believes the Administration has done the right thing since one of the reasons the United States went to war has been accomplished, saying “Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a hollow shell of what it was back in 2001 and in 2009.”
Regarding Turkey, the panelists analyzed whether there can be a constructive relationship between Turkey, the United States, and Europe on resolving security challenges in the region and advancing democracy. While there are many difficulties that need to be resolved in terms of relations with Turkey, “there’s plenty of scope to try to restore balance to that relationship and to try to deal with some of the outstanding issues,” said Ambassador Westmacott.
In an age when cables are outpaced by tweets, Ambassador Westmacott emphasized the importance of diplomats and the local expertise both they, and a country’s local population, bring to any given situation. The event was an engaging discussion on the role and possibility for diplomacy at this moment in history, and the ways in which diplomats can lead in shaping outcomes on the ground.