The Importance of Feedback: Why feedback is essential to a thriving workplace

October 27, 2015

Lia N. Miller (Kathryn W. Davis Public Diplomacy Fellow for 2013-2014)

This article first appeared in the State Department’s Smart Leadership Journal.


We all want feedback. I want feedback from my bosses, those I supervise, and my peers so that I can improve. Peers and friends seek me out for my feedback so they can improve. And my children need feedback so they know how to behave. In short, we all need frequent feedback. Feedback from others is the fastest way to improve, it is how we learn and excel. Feedback motivates us and helps us to make appropriate course corrections and leverage our strengths. Admittedly, sometimes feedback is not what we expect and can push us outside of our comfort zones and even sting a little, but ultimately it is what helps us grow and improve.

At the State Department we have the 360 review process that provides feedback, but that is generally reserved for use during bidding season or when you take a leadership training course at the Foreign Service Institute. We have the obligatory “counseling sessions” which usually occur in support of the Employee Evaluation Report process. Though I am sure it exists in pockets, there does not seem to be any uniform application of a regular feedback process, there is even anecdotal evidence to suggest there exists a feedback vacuum.

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The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Saving the Lost Generation and the Communities that Serve Them

October 23, 2015

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)


The Syrian refugee crisis is nearing a tipping point, beyond which no near-term solutions are possible. On this website, many of us have discussed policy options to stem the Syrian crisis and get to the negotiating table. In the meantime, we have a crisis that can’t wait for diplomacy or military action: the lost generation of uneducated young refugees, and the host communities struggling to bear their weight.

More than four million Syrians have fled the country, mostly to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Though in absolute numbers Turkey hosts the largest community, about 30% of Lebanon’s population and 20% of Jordan’s population are now Syrian nationals. To the 4 million refugees, add the 6.5 million Syrians internally displaced and you end up with about half of Syria’s population as either displaced or refugees. One-third – and as much as half – of the housing stock and a large percentage of economic infrastructure have been destroyed or damaged in Syria, and mistrust of the current Syrian security forces abounds. Without homes and jobs and fearful of the government, refugees will not return any time soon and host countries will have to cope with refugees for years to come.

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Russia’s Military Presence in the Middle East

October 22, 2015

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s October 19, 2015 blog post.


President Vladimir V. Putin has been waiting for the opportunity to undermine the United States power in the Middle East. Seizing on that opportunity in Syria was in part due to a lack of U.S. policy that allowed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups to make massive gains against Mr. Putin’s longtime ally Bashar al-Assad. Putin wants to also protect Russia’s main Mediterranean naval facility at the Port of Tartus; continue to be the major arms supplier in the region, and gain access to the vast oil reserves.

The former Soviet Union was active in the Middle East shortly after World War II, supporting Egypt and Syria militarily. After the October War of 1973, in which Israel humbled both of these countries, the Soviets withdrew from the region. They also did not want to confront the U.S. which was considered to have stronger interests there.

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Agreement with Iran: The Future

October 1, 2015

Thomas Graham, Jr. (Special Representative of the President for Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 1994-1997)


After the signing of the Agreement in Geneva between the Permanent Five of the United Nations Security Council, the United States, France, Russia and China plus Germany (P-5+1) and Iran in July there was an outburst of twitter messages in many cities, not least in Teheran. One message from a young Iranian woman to her boyfriend read: “What this Agreement means to me is good-bye falafel and hello McDonald’s.” Perhaps this comment is not entirely frivolous as Thomas Friedman, the New York Times correspondent once said—in 1996—that “No two countries with a McDonald’s will ever go to war.”

This highly complex Agreement designed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon—which Iran easily could do today should it so decide—is almost certain to come into force as planned. It has been approved 15-0 with the United States voting in the affirmative—which was all that was required to bring it into force. But two nations decided to submit their participation in the Agreement to a vote in their national legislatures. The U.S. Congress did not take action to prevent the President from lifting sanctions related to Iran’s program, the U.S. obligation under the Agreement, therefore the U.S. will participate. The Iranian Parliament has yet to vote but this vote is expected soon and it is anticipated to be positive. As a result the Agreement will come into full force in the latter half of October. But what then?

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U.S. Policy Advisors on the Middle East Region

September 30, 2015

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s September 28, 2015 blog post.


The world is wondering why the United States has moved so slowly to wipe out radical Islamist groups, as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that are destabilizing much of the Middle East and parts of Africa. Battle-hardened rebels have been waiting for military assistance from the U.S. to attack the ISIS strongholds in Syria. The recent resignation of General John Allen leaves a major void in the U.S. military strategy to support the rebel groups. Reportedly, Allen did not receive the necessary authority for action against the radical Islamists, which has allowed their rapid expansion to continue throughout the region.

In Afghanistan the Taliban has affiliated with ISIS, despite the 10,000 U.S. peacekeeping forces there. The new president, Ashraf Ghani also has not been able to bring peace, as terrorist attacks continue daily.

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Ambassador Smith on US-Saudi Relations, ISIS, and the Iran Nuclear Deal

September 28, 2015



The guest for this interview is CAA member Ambassador James Smith. Ambassador Smith was U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2009 to 2013 and now is the President of C&M International, an international policy consulting firm. He is a former U.S. Air Force brigadier general and F-15 fighter pilot who served in Operation Desert Storm. Ambassador Smith is a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Naval War College, and the National War College, where he served as a professor of national security strategy.

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Ambassador Susman on the Iran Nuclear Deal

September 23, 2015

Louis Susman (Ambassador to the United Kingdom, 2009-2013)


The Iran nuclear agreement is clearly in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the entire region. The agreement will achieve the primary objective of stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon for at least a decade and possibly longer.

If this agreement had not been reached, the economic sanctions would have been eliminated by our allies; including Russia and China. Iran would receive not only economic relief but would be the recipients of substantial bi-lateral trade agreements with many countries. They would have no restrictions on their nuclear program with no inspection or verification process in place. If Iran chose to go ahead they would probably have a nuclear weapon in six months versus ten years. It is hard for me to believe the world would be safer if this agreement had not been reached.

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Ambassador Stephenson on the Iran Nuclear Agreement

September 17, 2015

Thomas Stephenson (Ambassador to Portugal, 2007-2009)


Most of us would concur that diplomacy should always be the preferred route to resolving conflicts, and few doubt that the efforts of the Obama Administration were well-intentioned as they prepared for the nuclear negotiations with Iran.  From an outsider’s perspective, however, the Administration’s negotiating approach to Iran’s nuclear aspirations and capabilities appears to have been poorly conceived and ineptly executed.  What was said up front and along the way in terms of an acceptable outcome bore little resemblance to the final agreement.

I was in Israel with a delegation shortly before the negotiations with Iran commenced, and the Israeli government and intelligence people with whom we met were extremely apprehensive that we would end up “negotiating with ourselves” and “giving away the store”.  Their biggest concern was that we would change the discussion from one of “whether” Iran would be allowed to process and possess enriched uranium to one of “how much” uranium Iran could enrich and retain.  They were also highly skeptical regarding our ability to enforce any agreement with Iran, and finally they were dismayed that at a point in time when we were gaining increasing leverage on Iran with our economic sanctions, we were proposing to prematurely let Rouhani and the mullahs off the hook.  The Israelis were convinced that Rouhani’s mission was twofold only, to dramatically reduce the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., the U.N., and the E.U. and to preserve Iran’s nuclear enrichment capability.  It’s fair to say he succeeded brilliantly on both fronts.

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The 14th Anniversary of Terrorist Attacks on America

September 15, 2015

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s September 14, 2015 blog post.


As I sat in our New York apartment on Friday looking across Central Park I could see the early morning runners, bike riders, and people just leisurely walking through the maze of tree lined walkways. It suddenly dawned on me today was September 11, the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that changed the world forever.

On that disastrous morning in 2001, I watched on television as the first jet airliner crashed into the World Trade Center at 8:46 am, followed by a second airliner hitting the second tower shortly thereafter. We had been to the U.S. Open Tennis finals the day before. In the dim light of a beautiful sunset we took a photo with the twin Towers in the background. They stood as architectural obelisks reaching towards the sky. We did not dream that they would be gone the next day. We also did not envision that terrorists could again reach our soil so easily. Involved in the attacks were nineteen Islamists affiliated with al-Qaeda. Fifteen came from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon. All were well trained and radically indoctrinated young Muslim men.

I left that night, leaving behind the ‘Big Apple’ the home to many people who immigrated to this land of liberty, freedom and opportunity. As I was working out early the next morning the chaotic attacks were already taking place just a few miles south in the financial district. I was utterly shattered about what was happening in New York. The streets were suddenly empty, although there were some people wandering around–dazed, confused and speechless. Traffic was at a standstill. Everything seemed to come to a halt. No one was in a hurry to go anywhere.  Looking at views of the downtown area, all you could see was heavy smoke billowing into the sky.

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Mexico: Pushing Past Pessimism

September 10, 2015

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s September 2015 newsletter.


With drug kingpin El Chapo’s escape from a maximum-security prison and a disappointing first-round energy auction, Mexico’s summer was far from idyllic. As we move toward the end of the year, the Peña Nieto administration appears to be making an effort to chart a more responsive course, both with respect to its energy sector and in trying to contain what many have characterized as a political free fall. 

In Mexico’s energy sector, the second phase of round one will take place on September 30, for five production-sharing contracts across nine shallow water fields. The first bidding round, held this past July amid low global oil prices, awarded a disappointing two of the available fourteen fields. To avoid a repeat of these dismal results (and to compete with Brazil’s October 7 energy auctions) the Mexican government is responding to industry input. The changes—including clarifying controversial parts of the contracts (such as early termination conditions), lowering equity requirements, and announcing the government’s desired production share ahead of time—are all positive steps, suggesting that officials are now listening more closely to feedback.

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