Students at Whitman College had the opportunity to pose a series of questions to former Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Tuesday evening, during a student workshop hosted by the career diplomat, which addressed several key areas of foreign policy and focused on the issue of potential conflict between duty and principles in public service.
Students prepared for the event, held in the college's Reid Campus Center, by reading a series of articles personally assigned by Crocker, who served as the diplomatic counterpart to Gen. David Petraeus during the 2007 surge in Iraq, including a piece he wrote for the Sept. 14 issue of Newsweek magazine.
As the former ambassador took his seat he announced to those in attendance, "Welcome to Public Policy and Personal Conviction 101."
Briefly recounting the story of how he became a diplomat and made the life changing decision to enter public service, Crocker told the group about his relationship with his father, who spent his career in the Air Force.
"I didn't want to do what my father did," Crocker recalled. "So I rebelled against him and ended up in a very similar type of job only in a suit instead of a uniform."
Crocker emphasized his satisfaction and pride in working as a diplomat in the Middle East, including his interactions with members of the armed services -- for whom he had high praise.
"You're watching the birth of America's new greatest generation," he said. "And they're coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq."
But Crocker, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by former president George W. Bush, explained the importance of dissent as well as duty, and described to the students some of the times during his career when he wrestled with issues of conscience while serving the American government overseas, specifically during his time as ambassador to Lebanon during the Reagan administration.
"My criticism did not change our policy in Lebanon one fraction of an inch," he explained. "But ironically, when I returned, I received an award for creative dissent."
Crocker warned students of the potential pitfalls in becoming "yes-men and women" and the need for independent thought in all lines of work, but especially in public service. However, he explained the possible consequences for such actions.
"There are no easy choices when issues rise to that level," Crocker said. "In the three of the six countries in which I was the chief of mission, one of my predecessors had been assassinated."
Crocker's final words to the group of inquisitive and eager students were simply, "Good luck."