Can diplomacy be taught?

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” meet the woman who is trying to change the State Department’s decades-long aversion to formal training: Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, director of the Foreign Service Institute.

VOA is ‘not a mouthpiece of the White House,’ director says

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” the director of the Voice of America, David Ensor, talks about VOA as a tool of U.S. public diplomacy, the line between journalism and propaganda, and VOA as a news source for Americans.

Are U.S. embassies fronts for the CIA?

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte talks about how diplomacy and intelligence influence each other, the frequent tension between them, whether U.S. embassies are fronts for the CIA, and the “WMD fiasco” in Iraq.

Kerry’s deputy sees ‘reduced accountability’ of career employees

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns talks about how diplomacy has changed since 9/11, and why increasing the number of high-level political positions at the State Department has reduced accountability among lower-level employees.

Pickering decries ‘expanded’ political appointments at State

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” we conclude our conversation with Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former undersecretary of state for political affairs, about U.S. diplomacy in the 21st century, the Foreign Service and the increasing number of political appointees at the State Department, in positions previously help by career diplomats.

The White House’s secret diplomatic weapon

AtlanticWilliam J. Burns has been the secret weapon of U.S. secretaries of state for more than two decades, serving consecutively under three Republicans and three Democrats. So it came as no surprise that John Kerry wanted to be the seventh chief diplomat to lean daily on Burns, currently the country’s highest-ranking career diplomat, by keeping him on as deputy secretary of state, a position to which Burns was appointed by Hillary Clinton.

“Bill is the gold standard for quiet, head-down, get-it-done diplomacy,” Kerry said of Burns. “He is smart and savvy, and he understands not just where policy should move, but how to navigate the distance between Washington and capitals around the world. I worked with Bill really closely from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and I’m even more privileged to work with him now every single day. He has an innate knack for issues and relationships that’s unsurpassed…”

America’s other army

FPThe mob that had gathered at a soccer stadium descended on the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, determined to avenge Washington’s recognition of Kosovo — a Serbian province until five days earlier — as an independent state. On that day in February 2008, the Serbian riot police stationed in front of the embassy at the request of U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter conveniently vanished just before the hundreds-strong horde arrived. “The police marched away, got on buses, and drove away, so when the hoodlums came there was no one there,” Munter recalled.

A part of the embassy was soon ablaze. “One of the protesters who was drunk managed to get in and burned himself to death,” Munter said. Several others climbed the fence. The U.S. Marines guarding the compound had every right to shoot, but they managed to drive the intruders away with warnings and instructions instead…

Who qualifies to be a U.S. ambassador?

Most of us don’t think we are cut out to be doctors or engineers. Then why do so many of us believe we can be diplomats? Does one need training or a particular background to become a U.S. ambassador? I find myself asking these questions every time I hear about a failed non-career ambassador.

President Obama promised change in Washington, but he continued the decades-long tradition of dishing out ambassadorial posts to people whose only “qualifications” were their big donations to his election campaign. As I’ve written before, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the American Foreign Service Association have called him out on this disgraceful practice.

Poland embraces past and moves ahead

KRAKOW, Poland — A black Trabant pulled up in front of the Sheraton hotel and its driver helped passengers out of the boxy, cut-rate car that remains a symbol of communism two decades after its collapse.

The “communist tour” of Krakow was over. The 23-year-old guide, Eryk Grasela, had taken a Washington Times reporter and photographer to Nowa Huta, a suburb built in the 1950s as a “model communist city” and counterpoint to “bourgeois” old Krakow, long known as Poland’s cultural capital.

While other former communist countries have tried to erase many Cold War memories since they became democracies in 1989, Poland has embraced its past, made the best of it and moved on. Today, Poles seem more satisfied with their lives than many others in the region…

Top hotel benefits suddenly denied

An automatic upgrade to a hotel’s executive floor, including free access to its executive lounge, is one of the most cherished benefits of top elite status with large chains, such as Hilton and Starwood. So what do you do when it’s denied to you?

I tried to find the right answer to that question in Bangkok last week, but, of course, it depends on the reason for the denial — perhaps a lounge closure due to renovation or cost-saving by reducing staff — so I wanted to make sure I understood it well before complaining too much and asking for an alternative benefit during my one-night stay. Many hotel programs used to offer free upgrades and lounge access to their gold members, but in the last year or so, they have limited them to the highest elite level…