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What I hope to do as U.S. ambassador to Serbia | Column
America has many friends around the world, and our task as diplomats is to take good care of those relationships, and to build on them.
 
An 1802 portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon once said of his circumstances, “My greatest strength is that I have no allies.” Of course, as his ultimate defeat at the hands of an alliance of his enemies was to prove, he was dead wrong on that. Diplomacy has a different aim.
An 1802 portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon once said of his circumstances, “My greatest strength is that I have no allies.” Of course, as his ultimate defeat at the hands of an alliance of his enemies was to prove, he was dead wrong on that. Diplomacy has a different aim. [ HANDOUT | Handout ]
Published March 28, 2022

My wife and I will be leaving our home in Treasure Island in the next few days and heading to Belgrade, Serbia, where I will take up my new post at the United States Embassy. I’m honored that the president asked me to serve again and the Senate confirmed me to lead a very strong team of diplomats at that mission. I’m especially honored to serve given the challenges of these times, and the crushing need for America’s voice to be heard around the globe.

Christopher R. Hill
Christopher R. Hill [ Provided ]

Napoleon once said of his circumstances, “My greatest strength is that I have no allies.” Of course, as his ultimate defeat at the hands of an alliance of his enemies was to prove, he was dead wrong on that. Dealing with partners and allies is indeed frustrating at times, often time consuming, but utterly essential to our interests as a global power. It can seem more difficult to find common ground with a partner than to find differences with a foe. But not unlike in our personal lives, it is better that one’s friends outnumber one’s foes.

My duties in Serbia, a country that only 23 years ago the United States was in conflict and where we continue to have some differences, are to find common ground and look to the future. We can be guided by the complex lessons of the past, but we need to avoid being imprisoned by them. America has many friends around the world, and our task as diplomats is to take good care of those relationships, and to build on them.

How we do this in diplomacy is through honest discussions, ones that do not hide our differences, but look for ways to overcome them in the interest of a greater common good. Disagreeing does not mean being disagreeable, nor does transparency, another valuable tool in diplomacy, mean that we must air our differences by shouting them from the rooftops or through fraught communication in social media.

After all, the goal of diplomacy is often to convince one’s interlocutors to do something they don’t want to do. Very often, that is not made easier when the dispute becomes public. Sometimes in viewing an international problem from afar, it may appear that the ambassador on the scene is less strident or outspoken than voices back in Washington. Does that mean the ambassador is somehow out of step? It’s possible, but more likely the ambassador is preserving something often very needed in diplomacy: channels of communication.

There are times, of course, where a relationship cannot be maintained, and where there is no turning back. The relationship with Russia is an obvious example. In those circumstances the task turns to staying close to friends and allies, and making sure that investments in relationships over the years are ready to pay off. his is why in diplomacy the expression to “choose your battles,” is essential so that when the crisis comes, we have the reservoir of goodwill to carry relationships through the difficult times to come.

It has been very heartening in the past few days to have people come up to me and thank me for my service. It Is something normally and most appropriately said to our service members deploying to places that often put them in harm’s way. As grateful as I am for such expressions of respect, there is something else I would like to see from all of us who love this extraordinary country of ours. And that is if we could all try harder to respect each other and our differences.

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Diplomacy truly starts at home, and as Americans with a global reputation as practical problem solvers, we need to do a better job of living up to that reputation, of projecting our strength through our unity of purpose. To paraphrase something our founding fathers wrote, to giving a decent respect to the opinions of others. I hope we can do a better job of that, even as my wife and I live abroad and will long for our return to this magnificent country of which we all are so proud.

Over the course of his 33-year career, Christopher R. Hill previously served under four presidents, Republican and Democrat, as an ambassador in the Republic of Korea, Poland, Macedonia and, most recently, Iraq, before retiring from foreign service in 2010. From 2005 to 2009, Hill led the U.S. delegation in talks over nuclear weapons in North Korea. The Senate confirmed him as ambassador to Serbia earlier this month.