“In Washington, you can disagree. But you must not be disagreeable.”
How appropriate are these astute words in the current hostile political climate both domestically and globally. And equally, how appropriate in life generally is this sentiment, not least in the anonymity of the social media swirl – surely this would be the ideal strapline to adopt – Mr. Zuckerberg, twitter et al!
For Chinese born American, Anna Chennault who died recently at the age of 94, this was the modus operandi of the woman who had a formidable presence in political life in Washington from the 1950s onwards. Through her marriage to a respected American General, Chennault was a power broker at the centre of Asian and U.S. diplomatic, military and commercial circles. Under President Nixon, she acted as an informal diplomat during the many choppy foreign affairs challenges of the time. For decades, she was a leading figure in the China lobby supporting efforts to establish an anti-communist government in Taiwan.
Chennault originally made a name for herself by interpreting China to America and in turn explained America to political leaders across the Asian world. A prominent fundraiser for the Republican party in the 1960s, she also served subsequent American Administrations, i.e., under John F. Kennedy she helped settle Chinese refugees in America and under the Bill Clinton Administration, she set up a scholarship programme between China and the U.S. with the intention of fostering better relationships between the two countries.
It seems to me that the world is in desperate need of people with formidable diplomatic skills such as those espoused by Chennault. In the West alone, American domestic and foreign policy is facing some of its greatest challenges while diplomatic positions remain unfilled particularly in the State Department. Added to that the number of foreign embassies devoid of ambassadors more than a year into a new presidency must be concerning. In the UK, Brexit negotiations continue apace although it looks much more painful than it needs to be, this political separation from the European Union. World – bring on the diplomats!