Speaker Primer: Ambassador Wendy Sherman

On Thursday, Ambassador Wendy Sherman will give a talk at 6pm in Fleishman Commons. The Journal thought it might be nice to give a quick primer on Amb. Sherman, and discuss why she was invited to give a prominent lecture at Sanford (she will be giving the Amb. Dave and Kay Philips Family International Lecture).

Amb. Sherman will give a public talk on “Negotiating Change: The Inside Story Behind the Iran Nuclear Deal” on Thursday. She’s uniquely qualified to give such a talk; she led the American negotiations with Iran that resulted in the July 2015 agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities. She currently holds a residential fellowship at Harvard’s Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School.

As Prof. Peter Feaver (who will be hosting the talk) notes, Amb. Sherman has spent more time negotiating with Iranian counterparts than any other senior American leader. She was appointed the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (the fourth highest civilian position in the Department of State) by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011, and held that position until October 2015. For her efforts during that time, she was awarded the National Security Medal, which has also been given to the likes of Robert Gates, “Wild Bill” Donovan, and Allen Dulles, for distinguished achievement in the field of intelligence relating to national security. Colleagues have praised her courage, calling her an “iron fist in a velvet glove,” and a “badass.”

Prior to the success of the Iran negotiations, Amb. Sherman was also a Special Advisor to President Clinton and assisted with much of the North Korea nuclear negotiations as a then-Policy Coordinator. The Clinton Administration’s negotiation tactics with North Korea were criticized as “appeasement” by James A. Baker, who himself held several positions in the Reagan and Bush Administrations, including Secretary of State from 1989-1992. This public critique (an op-ed in the New York Times), and the failure of the North Korean negotiations, may have shaped the way Amb. Sherman approached the Iranian negotiations.

Sherman is also a prime example of the “revolving door” between Washington, D.C., and the private sector. In the private arena, she’s worked as a Vice Chair for the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global consulting firm that boasts Madeline Albright as its chair. Amb. Sherman has also directed EMILY’s List and been the CEO and President of the Fannie Mae Foundation, the charitable arm of the mortgage financing company.

It will be interesting to hear her perspectives on the Iranian negotiations, on which she has said that “deception is part of the DNA,” and how they differed from (or were similar to) the North Korea negotiations. Her ideas on U.S. national security, and how diplomacy fits into the bigger picture, will also be a worthwhile conversation. And if that’s not enough material to pique your interest, you can also ask her about being a woman in national security; a woman negotiating in Iran; or any of the topics listed by Secretary of State Kerry as he gave a press statement on the departure of Amb. Sherman:

“Since the fall of 2011, she traveled to no fewer than 54 countries on America’s behalf. In that time, it would be easier to list the major issues on which she did not play a significant role than those on which she did. At one time or another, she was fully engaged in the Central American refugee situation, the Ukraine crisis, the Syrian civil war, the struggle for stability in Libya and Yemen, the restoration of diplomatic ties with Somalia, the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria, the confrontation with ISIL, the rebalance to Asia, the elections in Sri Lanka, and on and on. Whatever, the issue, Wendy could be counted on for advice and diplomacy that was smart, realistic and sure to advance America’s interests and values.”

Hope to see you in the Commons tomorrow!

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