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Shuttling Diplomat Ambassador of Peace

Frank G. Wisner Jr. grew up in the long shadow of his secret agent father. And yet, the junior Wisner cut a path for himself in the diplomatic corps that made him one of the country’s most accomplished, and respected, envoys.

Today, Wisner serves as an international affairs advisor for global legal powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs, where he offers the firm’s clients strategic global advice on business, politics, and international law. Previously, when Wisner, the former ambassador to Kosovo, trekked around the world he was a diplomatic dealmaker, frequently wearing a dark blue suit and a conservative tie. After leaving the U.S. Department of State, Wisner served as vice chairman of external affairs for the American International Group. Wisner’s diplomatic career also took him to India, the Philippines, Egypt and Zambia as an ambassador.

Wisner’s father, a clandestine figure who worked alongside William “Wild Bill” Donovan in the Office of Strategic Services, during the Second World War, inspired Wisner Jr. to pursue the foreign service. The OSS was the predecessor to the modern Central Intelligence Agency, which the senior Wisner became a founding member of after the war. Wisner Jr. says his family’s roots run deep within the CIA.

wisnerhead400x300“My father was involved in the overthrow of the communist government in Manchuria (China),” Wisner said. “He was also involved in the CIA coup in Guatemala which toppled the government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, as well as the 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq.”

Wisner Sr. died in 1965 but his influence within the State Department and intelligence community as “the first chief of political warfare for the Central Intelligence Agency” is felt to this day.

Wisner Jr. joined the diplomatic corps after graduating from Princeton University in 1961. A course in Arabic training followed by stints in Morocco and then post-independence Algiers marked the beginning of his career. In 1964, he was dispatched to the Agency for International Development in Vietnam. He remained in Vietnam until 1968, serving in succession as staff aide to the deputy chief of mission, special assistant to the director of the office of civil operations, and senior advisor to the Vietnamese administration in Tuyen Duc province in the country’s central highlands.

“I served within the State Department for 37 years,” Wisner said from his home in New York. “Early on, what I remember was having long talks with my father about the Cold War. At that time America was trying to rid the world of Communism.”

He worked for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during the negotiations with Zimbabwe and Namibia. Under the Carter Administration, he joined Secretary Cyrus Vance’s staff as deputy executive secretary of the Department of State. As a former State Department official, Wisner worked with Kissinger McLarty Associates, a high-end consulting firm that primarily does business in the Gulf Region.
Wisner says he faced much political turmoil during his years as an ambassador but never came face-to-face with danger or terrorism.

“There were many instances where there were coups and many refugees fleeing various countries, but I never faced any risk,” he said. “I’ve always taken the necessary precautions as a diplomatic envoy abroad.”

Wisner pauses for a second.

“I have never had any fear,” he quips. “That’s something that I never worried about.”

As a strategic advisor to global clients, Wisner still offers frequent commentary on world events—although the globe’s hotspots never seem to truly calm down.

wisner quote400x400President Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, currently flies back-and-forth between Riyadh, Amman, Tel Aviv and other Middle Eastern hubs in search of a peace deal, hoping to start a new chapter in a decades-long attempt at lasting peace. Wisner has commented on the conflict in the Middle East for years, remarking almost a decade ago that diplomatic leaders of the day lacked the skills to bring about a deal. Kushner’s efforts have yet to yield a deal, but rumors have circulated for some time that one may be coming.

Looking back, Wisner said the Camp David accords provided basic principles that led to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty 14 years ago. He believes that the leaders of today don’t have the diplomatic skills to bring about peace in the Middle East. Wisner said Israel and the Arab nations must find common ground, in order to quell tensions.

“Ordinary people respond to the Israeli occupation and repression by supporting and justifying suicide bombers and Arab governments feel powerless to counter such passion,” Wisner said. “In the face of Israeli occupation and repression, Arabs cannot make room in their logic for the right of Israeli security.”

Kushner’s secret shuttle diplomacy between the Saudis, Israelis, and others might not be enough either. After all, the Arab street has long been hostile to Israel and it remains unclear how much sway their governments have over public opinion.

Frankg1“The peace between Israel and Egypt – and between Israel and Jordan – has been amazingly successful, but no one since Egyptian President (Anwar) Sadat has been able to make the case for bringing the cause of peace to the Arab street. The man on the street needs to be convinced of the necessity of peace,” Wisner said. “The notion of peace must be sold directly to the man on the street. This has not occurred since Sadat. Secret diplomacy is not enough. Arab governments need to end their denigration of Israel. Criticism of a country’s policies is one thing, denigration is another; it undermines the spirit of peace, as it assumes your opponent cannot be trusted and is not a worthy partner in the region.”

Wisner noted that the picture in the Middle East is bleak.

“The situation is worse than when I first entered the diplomatic arena in the 1960’s,” he said. “No solution is obvious, but the time is right for a bold and sustained move by the United States.”

Other Trump comments and initiatives have prompted a sharp rebuke from Wisner. Trump’s comments to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2017 that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked him to “mediate” in Kashmir resulted in Wisner telling the Indian press only, “Don’t listen to Trump.”

Wisner has maintained for some time that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship should be guided by one principle.

“We don’t have a relationship with one person or any leader or leaders,” Wisner said. “We have a relationship with Pakistan.”

Today, Wisner also is a board member for the Squire Patton Boggs Foundation, which promotes the role of public service and pro bono work in the practice of law and the development of public policy.

 

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