When I received notice a couple weeks ago that this event would take place, I wasn't sure what to expect or make of it. The notice only really said "Appeal of Conscience" and I didn't understand what that was referring to and didn't investigate it further. So when I arrived today to the event, I was greatly surprised to open the program and see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the keynote speaker! Moving up to the closest front row seat remaining, I eagerly anticipated the program start.
It was actually a very interesting seminar. Religion plays a very important part of the lives of people who have faith and in order to fully understand the perspectives and situations in other countries, one has to be cognizant of religion. In terms of fulfilling US objectives overseas regarding promotion of democracy, equality, trade, and many other aspects, religious leaders or the role religion is often very prominent. Even in countries without official religions like China, religion still plays a major role as that will often will be the source of intolerance or oppression. So US officials should really understand religion in their country of assignment in order to fully be effective in they reporting, negotiations, and programs.
A message that was often conveyed, even by Sec. Clinton, was that supporting religious freedom and combating intolerance should be on the agenda in every country of assignment. I very much agree with this as every US foreign policy objective is supported by working with other countries that support openness and discussion. If every country we worked with was an open and free democracy, US business abroad would be booming and we could expect economic growth for all (with the assumption that open and free democracies lead to economic prosperity). South Korea was mentioned as case study for this theory. Being that the peninsula of Korea was a very homogenous society but now has an arbitrary border separating the North and South, the evidence of economic growth in the south supports the theory that democracy is conducive to prosperity. I suppose the argument could be made that privatization is the key but anyway..
One last point that I like about Clinton is that she has always been a strong advocate for the role of development and USAID in her tenure. She consistently makes sure to mention the role of development in the US foreign policy strategy and I hope whoever follows her will be equally supportive and knowledgeable.
Following the presentation, I was warming up my lunch and overheard a couple talking about the presentation. The wife was saying to her husband that she didn't agree with statements by some of the presenters that FSO's join to help humanity abroad. This got me thinking about motivation. The motivation to join the Foreign Service. One's real motivation, not whatever one might have submitted in the Statement of Interest before taking the Oral Assessment. But that will have to wait for another post.