The School for Ethics and Global Leadership

The General and the Ambassador: Two Very Special Conversations

Date: Mar 8nd, 2021

Do our students ever meet with leaders whose experience falls outside our Ethics and Leadership class case studies? Yes! In fact, often these meetings are some of the most memorable of the semester. Last week, we had two such conversations: first, with General John Allen, the retired four star general now in charge of the Brookings Institution; second, with Ambassador Derek Mitchell, President Obama’s Ambassador to Burma, who now leads the National Democratic Institute.

General Allen’s military career included service as former commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, and special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (ISIS). He now leads the Brookings Institution, the oldest and most frequently-cited think tank in the United States.

Students asked him about the most difficult ethical dilemma of his career, the role of nonviolence in the military, a key formative moment in his life, his proudest achievement since joining Brookings, and more.

Allen responded in both principles and stories, peppering his remarks with references to Aristotle, Winston Churchill, and lessons from his storied Marine Corps career.

In 2010, Ambassador Mitchell became the first Ambassador to Burma in over 20 years, following a long period of strife in that country. He negotiated directly with leaders of the country’s controversial regime, and spent time building his relationship with the now-controversial Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

He now leads the nonpartisan National Democratic Institute (NDI), which supports democracy and democratic institutions around the world.

Students asked questions about the current crisis in Burma (also known as Myanmar): Aung San Suu Kyi’s fall from grace and treatment of the Rohingya people, the crackdown on internet access, the role of the United States and of China. They also asked about his personal story and NDI’s priorities.

Mitchell’s answers were thorough, collegial, and insightful. (He also remembered that we presented our collaborative capstone policy document to him long ago, in the fall of 2011: one of the students who presented that document, Julia Savel, is a guest instructor for our English class this semester!)

We’re looking forward to more terrific speakers, and the start of our speech writing case study, a bit later this week.