On May 9, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, legendary retired US foreign service officer, briefed a small group of Jerusalem Strategic Tribune staff on current US foreign policy issues in Washington, D.C.
General James Jones, former National Security Advisor to President Obama, former Supreme Allied Commander NATO, and 32nd Commandant of the Marine corps, opened the meeting to introduce the latest issue of the Tribune to the group. The meeting was held at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC.
Ambassador Pickering, who enjoyed a four-decade career in the diplomatic service, including stints as United States ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, Nigeria, and El Salvador, among other key postings, then addressed the group.
Focusing on Putin and the Ukraine war, Pickering admitted an attachment to diplomatic solutions. The war in Ukraine, like others, he said, will end with a political settlement, and that end won’t be Russia’s unconditional surrender. Reviewing in detail the situation of each party and the issues facing Europe, he thought not enough had been done in public, especially regarding the regional security aspects that would follow. Ambassador Picketing reviewed the different models of neutrality from Sweden and Switzerland to Cambodia and Timor. He concluded that we owe it to the brave Ukrainians to help end this war.
Pickering also warned against demonizing Russia. If Israel has a lesson for Americans, it is that you make peace with your enemies. And, he added, that creates a subterranean profession of how to deal with your enemies and attempt to understand them.
Asked about the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, Pickering pointed to the potential of new desalination technologies as a way to re-focus countries on water cooperation and economics, not politics. Feeder pipelines and storage of water lead to confederal arrangements; if water is more confederal then eventually politics could be as well. Pickering spent some time discussing the way the US engages with other countries and the way to interpret others. He emphasized the need for prior consultation with allies.
Pickering said that characterizing the post-Cold War period as a unilateral moment (during which he served as Under Secretary of Political Affairs at State) was exaggerated – both during and after the Cold War, there was a critical consultative mechanism. He argued for a US approach of listening first and speaking last, rather than opening meetings with one’s views. He also emphasized a need for strategic planning that includes prioritization and has a budget attached to it to lend credibility. But one’s strategy should not always be public in a way that gives a road map to one’s opponents.
Pickering had a three-part dictum to prepare for a diplomatic negotiation or meeting. First, focus on the other side’s statements, and ask yourself: ‘What is the other side saying?’ The second rule, which is difficult, is to ask: ‘What do they mean when they say this?’ The third, which is even harder: ‘What will they settle for, on the basis of what they’ve been saying?’ Pickering applied this to several cases of his and the experiences of others in meetings with the Russian leadership.
The JST hosts in-person discussions in both the US and Israel, featuring candid exchanges of views on foreign policy.
The next session will be held in late June in Jerusalem.