Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"My Lunch with the Ambassador" - Reflection by Jake Shapiro

          “The Honorable John Berry - former U.S. Ambassador to Australia, and UMD graduate - recently visited College Park for lunch. He spoke about his strengths: “managing people and cleaning up messes.” Ambassador Berry used these skills, along with his infectious laugh and jovial personality, to become the highest-ranked openly gay man in the history of U.S. government. At lunch, Ambassador Berry spoke about managing people and organizations, strategies for life success, and the geoeconomic implications of the United States’ decision to leave the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
            Ambassador Berry is not an expert in economics, trade, policy, or security -  he is an expert in managing people and organizations, especially those in crisis. Ambassador Berry’s illustrious career demonstrates these skills’ value. The best ideas, strategies, and policies mean nothing if not properly implemented by motivated personnel. When an organization is in crisis, and people are discouraged, someone needs to make a change. Ambassador Berry is the person who makes that change.
            Ambassador Berry gave us two tips for managing people. The first is to assign three tasks at once. With one task, people get bored; with two, they are semi-interested; and with more than three, they are too busy. The second tip is that when an individual or group accomplishes one of their tasks, “honor and celebrate” their accomplishment. Give positive feedback. And then assign a new task.
            Ambassador Berry also taught, and showed, a lesson for life: that a friendly personality and a lot of laughter will take you far. Ambassador Berry manages organizations in crisis by being friendly and approachable. His good-nature has allowed him to form relationships that carried him to the top of government. He was so close with his mentor, Steny Hoyer, and other congresspeople, that Mr. Hoyer unprecedentedly sat with the Ambassador for an entire confirmation hearing, to make sure the homophobic Senate Majority Leader wouldn’t stop his confirmation. Ambassador Berry was confirmed unanimously. Later, President Obama told Ambassador Berry that with his laugh, he could do anything.
            The luncheon’s intended topic was how the United States uses business as a foreign policy tool. I asked Ambassador Berry if he agrees with a recent Foreign Affairs article, which argues that the United States is decreasingly using economic tools as an effective form of statecraft. I was particularly interested in hearing Ambassador Berry’s thoughts on this, as Australia is a pivotal economic nexus between the West and East.
            Ambassador Berry argued that “walking away from Asia” by leaving the TPP was a critical U.S. failure. He said that the void we left is already being filled by China, who now have the opportunity to “make the rules of the game.”
            I thought this was a crucial point about U.S. global leadership, which people in the isolationist camp often miss. I recently saw Steve Bannon speak at the Hudson Institute, where he argued that President Trump’s election was a “repudiation of the rules-based international order that the American middle class pays for in blood and treasure.”
By upholding a rules-based international order, and maintaining our position at its forefront, the United States is able to determine the rules and norms that govern our world. If we fail to uphold that order, or lose our leadership position within it, other countries will either make their own rules, follow others’ rules, or follow no rules at all. This can have negative economic impacts on U.S. consumers and producers, as other countries can use unfavorable standards on trade, environment, and employment conditions. This can also lead to instability, as countries lose respect for human rights, rule of law, and state sovereignty. As General Petraeus, and others, said at the Hudson Institute, instability leads to extremism. This notion is backed up in research (including a study done using the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database). No matter how high a wall Mr. Bannon and President Trump build, extremism produced abroad can be transmitted through the internet, and will always find a way to slip through the cracks.
I attended lunch with Ambassador Berry because the Global Fellows program has encouraged me to learn about U.S. foreign policy from real practitioners. I found out about the luncheon through both the BSOS Blog and the Global Fellows listserve - two incredibly valuable resources for learning about opportunities on and off campus. It was an honor to meet Ambassador Berry, and I am grateful to the University of Maryland for providing the opportunity.

The Office of International Affairs, BSOS, Global Fellows, and the Robert H. Smith School of Business co-sponsored this event.


Alexander “Jake” Shapiro is a senior government and politics major, and a Teaching Assistant in the Global Fellows program. Jake enjoys learning about foreign policy in both academic and practitioner-based settings, and hopes to stay in the field after college. Jake is also the President of Terp Talks, which hosts a bi-annual speaking showcase, featuring Maryland student speakers.