“The Dangerous Decay in American Diplomacy” – Op-ed and Program


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The World Affairs Council invites you to our Ambassadors’ Roundtable Tuesday evening, April 24th (details below).  Ambassadors Ron Schlicher and Dick Bowers will address challenges to US foreign policy and the state of American diplomacy.

As a scene setter we are pleased to share with you today an op-ed recently written by TNWAC President Patrick Ryan on the question “What’s Going On In American Diplomacy.” We hope you will join us Tuesday evening and bring a friend.

Note: The Tennessee World Affairs Council is a nonpartisan educational charity and does not support political agendas. The views of speakers and writers who contribute to the dialogue about international affairs at our events and in our media are their own.

The Dangerous Decay in American Diplomacy
Patrick W. Ryan

You could be excused for feeling as if you have whiplash when trying to keep up with global developments these days. There’s a seemingly never-ending parade of crises and concerns – virtual global car wrecks – that come at us every time we turn on the news.

The breadth and depth of foreign policy challenges requires a score card to keep up with – North Korean nukes and missiles, Russian aggression, Chinese economic muscle-flexing, setbacks for democratic rule, and a dozen flashpoints in the Middle East among them Syria, Iran and Yemen – all threatening American security, prosperity and interests.

It is tempting to say America’s place in the world has never been in as much danger as it is now but that would be overlooking how our country navigated dangerous waters across the globe in the past. And this former military intelligence officer who surveyed Cold War and Middle East threats over a 26-year career could make a case that what we face now is nothing new.

What is new is the state of our government’s ability to deal effectively, efficiently, coherently and multilaterally with the global challenges on our plate and what’s ahead. At no time in my lifetime has there been a national security team – in particular the White House and the State Department – that has been less prepared and organized.

The concern goes beyond partisan policy disagreements. We could and should take time to talk about important positions the Trump Administration has taken on trade, climate, international aid, multilateralism and the abandonment of human rights as a foreign policy concern among others. But more urgently needed are repairs to the way American foreign policy is being conducted.

Cases in point, on the political front: in just over one-year America has had three National Security Advisors. The newest one – John Bolton – could not earn Senate confirmation from his own party for the UN Ambassador job in 2005 and suffers from serious doubts about his hawkishness, temperament and collegiality. The new National Security Assistant started cleaning house at the NSC staff with few replacements in sight at a critical time.

President Trump is on his second Secretary of State after the ignominious dismissal by tweet of Rex Tillerson. The nominee Mike Pompeo had a rough ride before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearings and is headed to be the first Secretary of State nominee to receive an unfavorable Congressional committee vote since 1925 – a result of numerous warts exposed in his hearings.

On the diplomatic front: there has been a disastrous shakeup at the State Department – axing career professionals, time-tested structures and already thread-bare budgets; unfilled ambassadorships in 66 of 188 posts; cutting 1,982 Foreign Service and Civil Service positions and a hiring freeze; ransacking the senior diplomatic ranks – a decline of 45 percent of Career Ministers; and debilitating cuts in an agency that has a budget of about 0.7 percent compared to the Pentagon, already down 25 percent since 2008.

Watching the State Department being dismantled we should be reminded that in 2013 future Defense Secretary James Mattis famously warned against cutting America’s diplomatic capability, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

The damage to American statecraft capacity has been documented and questioned by scores of current and former senior diplomats. Over 200 of them wrote to Senator Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair, last month saying, “The president’s nomination of Mike Pompeo to be the Secretary of state is an important opportunity for the Congress to focus public attention on the urgent need to restore the power and influence of American diplomacy.”

Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, American Foreign Service Association President, pointed to the National Security Strategy when she said, “’We must upgrade diplomatic capability’ to cope with escalating threats,” So it’s hard to argue that cutting diplomacy is about achieving our strategy goals.

Hubert Humphrey was right when he said, “Foreign policy is really domestic policy with its hat on.” However, the “America First” platitude says to partisans that the United States position in the world is not compatible with America as a great nation. That flies in the face of the facts. American leadership and engagement in the world after World War II built the most prosperous and secure nation in history and that status remains reliant on international trade, multilateral cooperation and all the tools of “soft power” – principal among them American diplomacy.

If we believe the buck stops in the Oval Office then responsible citizens must ask what is going on at the top of our national security structure. Professionals and observers alike have been bewildered to see policymaking by pique and tweet, by positions changing on a dime, by lack of coherent strategy and doctrine, and by – at the most generous interpretation – a mysterious “bromance” between President Trump and our principal global adversary, Russian President Putin.

Witness the recent phone call following the Russian presidential vote — an election having little to do with a democratic process. Trump flew through the phone call briefing notes “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” concerning the election and ignored a recommendation to raise the issue of Russian use of nerve gas in an assassination attempt in Britain. There are plenty of unanswered questions about how this perplexing relationship complicates American foreign policy.

So how to sort through the problems besetting our global position and diplomatic clout? There may be less whiplash in absorbing our daily news feeds with more context, background and solid facts on U.S. foreign policy. One way to get those insights is available April 24th at a Global Town Hall, “What’s Going On In American Diplomacy,” featuring career diplomats, Ambassador Ron Schlicher and Ambassador Dick Bowers organized by the Tennessee World Affairs Council (RSVP www.tnwac.org) hosted at Belmont University.


LCDR Patrick W. Ryan, US Navy, retired after 26 years as a submariner and Navy Intelligence Officer. He is founder and President of the Tennessee World Affairs Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education organization that works to provide global literacy programs to the community. These are his views.

Ambassadors’ Roundtable

The U.S. State Department and American Foreign Policy: What’s Going On?


Ambassador Ronald Schlicher, US Foreign Service (Retired)

Ambassador Charles Bowers, U.S. Foreign Service (Retired)

With Moderator

Jim Shepherd

Chairman of the Board, Tennessee World Affairs Council

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

at Belmont University

Massey Center, MC 100

5:30 PM – Registration / Networking

6:00 PM – Program


Suggested Donation: $10

What’s going on at Foggy Bottom?

  • The recent surprise firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson?
  • A 14-month shakeup of the State Department — personnel, structure, budgets?
  • A significant shortfall in filling Ambassadorships worldwide?
  • Nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take become America’s top diplomat?
  • Navigation of current and impending crises: summit talks between President Trump and the North Korean leader; probably U.S. pullout of the Iran nuclear deal; sanctions, explosions and strange relations with Russia?

Join Ambassadors Schlicher and Bowers for a discussion of the state of American diplomacy and the challenges to U.S. foreign policy.

220px-Ronald_L_SchlicherAbout Ambassador Ronald Schlicher

Ambassador Ronald Schlicher, USFS (Ret) – Served as Principal Deputy Assistant Coordinator of Counterterrorism and served as U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus (2005-2008). Ambassador Schlicher served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), where he served as Coordinator for Iraq. During the 2003 war with Iraq, Ambassador Schlicher was Director of the Iraq Task Force. He then served for six months in Iraq with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), first as Regional Coordinator for the North and then as Director of the Office of Provincial Outreach.


About Ambassador Charles R. Bowers, USFS(Ret)


Charles Richard (Dick) Bowers served as the United States Ambassador to Bolivia from 1991 through 1994. During that time, the American Embassy in Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, was the largest and most complex U.S. embassy in South America.

Ambassador Bowers was born in Missouri, grew in the San Francisco Bay area, and studied political science, economics and international relations at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned his BA, cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1966 and his MA degree in 1967. He then immediately entered the U. S. Foreign Service. From 1961 to 1964 he was on active duty with the U.S. Army and served as a Russian linguist in West Berlin at the height of the Cold War.

As a career member of the U.S. diplomatic corps, Ambassador Bowers served in the American Embassies in Panama, Poland, Singapore, Germany and Bolivia. During tours of duty at State Department headquarters in Washington D.C., he traveled to over 75 counties on negotiating, fact-finding and trouble-shooting missions. He retired from the Foreign Service in 1995.

Ambassador Bowers is a member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee World Affairs Council.


Jim Shepherd
Chairman, Board of Directors TNWAC
Senior Advisor, Carlex Glass America, LLC

Jim Shepherd was named to Chairman, Tennessee World Affairs Council on June 26, 2017. He is the first chairman to be appointed to the newly created post.

Jim Shepherd is Senior Advisor, Carlex Glass where he served as President from July 2012 to April 2017.  Carlex is a leading supplier of automative glass to the global OEM and replacement glass markets.


  • Executive Vice President – Central Glass America – 2010-Jul 2012
  • Vice President & General Manager – Pittsburgh Glass Works, ULC – 2008-2009
  • General Manager – PPG Industries – 2002-2008
  • Director, Flat Glass Automotive Products – PPG Industries – 1995-2002

Directions and Parking

Barbara Massey Hall is located just off of Wedgewood Avenue on the northern front of campus, between Freeman Hall and the Massey Business Center. There is free, lighted parking in the North Garage located underneath the Inman and McWhorter buildings, adjacent to the Massey Business Center. Entrances are located off of Wedgewood Avenue via the alley entrance and 15th Avenue, through both roundabouts. For more details on parking, please click here.

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THE MISSION of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tennessee World Affairs Council is to promote international awareness, understanding and connections to enhance the region’s global stature and to prepare Tennesseans to thrive in our increasingly complex and connected world.

THE VISION of  the Tennessee World Affairs Council is a well-informed community that thinks critically about the world and the impact of global events.   

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