Cameron Munter, former United States ambassador to Pakistan, visited Ravenscroft on Thursday, April 4, to talk to Upper School students with a passion for foreign policy and the intricacies of international diplomacy.
Munter, who is currently chief executive officer and president of the EastWest Institute, enjoyed a long and distinguished career in diplomacy in some of the most conflict-ridden areas of our time. He was U.S. ambassador to Pakistan from 2010 to 2012, during which time the operation against Osama bin Laden took place, as well as to Serbia and Iraq, where he led the first Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul and then Baghdad. He also served in the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany in the waning days of the Cold War and was a director for Central Europe at the National Security Council under Presidents Clinton and Bush.
Upper School students had several opportunities to hear Munter speak, including a forum in Jones Theatre and a two-hour workshop in the Keim Center. Students from Philip Kantaros' Advanced PlacementⓇ Government and Politics (GOPO) course were particularly interested in his account of the days leading up to and following the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, as American diplomats and other embassy personnel feared violent reprisal from both military and civilian forces.
"I was amazed with the stories that Ambassador Munter shared with us. It must have been exciting watching Seal Team Six enter bin Laden's compound on livestream video, and getting to live in various countries all across Europe and the Middle East," Evan Bartle '19 said of the workshop. "It was interesting to get his take on the complex issues within the Indian subcontinent, especially the rocky relationship between Pakistan and the United States."
In response to a question from one student about whom he might choose to represent all of the human race, Munter named Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright who became the first president of the Czech Republic; South African political prisoner-turned-president Nelson Mandela; and the 14th Dalai Lama.
"They all had really humane qualities, generous yet tough," he said of the three men. "They persisted through truly difficult situations and came out compassionate, even when they rose unexpectedly to power."
In an interview, Munter identified empathy as the leadership competency most essential to defusing conflict, building consensus and working with others toward a shared goal.
"Diplomacy is as much an effort from the heart as from the mind," he said. "How do you become empathetic? Humanize yourself and your counterparts: 'What do we have in common?' Often it's food, sports, family. More than anything we want [diplomacy] to work. We go through extraordinary efforts to understand ourselves and those we work with."
That perspective on diplomacy made an impact on many of the students who heard him speak.
"Ambassador Munter's humor and candidness made the workshop truly memorable," Emmanuel Petrov '19 said. "His appeal for greater cultural and civic literacy, and respect in diplomacy, really spoke to me in the days following his visit. It was a distinct honor to meet him."
Munter's visit was made possible in part by a grant to Ravenscroft from the John William Pope Foundation, which has also provided funding for AP GOPO's annual trip to Washington, D.C., and expanded student participation in Youth and Government.
"It is always rewarding to bring the real world to our classroom, and we've been able to do that repeatedly with our government program. To have former Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones, who worked with us last year, and now Cameron Munter engage our students is even better," Kantaros said. "Having our students prepped and ready to engage Ambassador Munter for two full hours — and most of my students would have loved another hour — on complex geopolitical issues from the present and recent past is truly special."