Reflections of an Ambassador to the USA in the Trump Era

“In French, we would say Gérard Araud est très cash”, concluded Frédéric Mion, President of Sciences Po, towards the end of his introduction of the experienced diplomat. The phrase referred to the former Ambassador’s famously blunt honesty, which is something that made him a uniquely insightful guest at the conference that took place on the occasion of the launch of his memoirs, titled Diplomatic Passport: 40 Years at the Quai d’Orsay (FR). Organised by the Paris School of International Affairs, the event allowed students to have their most pressing questions about diplomacy and international relations answered by a man whose career as a diplomat spanned nearly four decades.

“Western domination was leading to a very well known phenomenon - hubris”

The alumnus of Sciences Po’s Public Service section joined the ENA (National School of Administration) in 1978, after which began his journey at the Quai d’Orsay in 1982. He would occupy several high-profile and prestigious positions during his career, most notably of the Ambassador of France in Israel (2003-06), Director General for Political Affairs and Security at the Quai d’Orsay (2006-09), Permanent Representative of France to the UN Security Council (2009-14), and finally as Ambassador to the United States (2014-19). His expertise was focused on the US and the Middle East, and he participated in and bore witness to several important moments in recent history - France’s decision to oppose the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the negotiations with Iran on the nuclear treaty, the UN Security Council Resolution on Libya in 2011, the Arab Spring, the Syrian Crisis, Russian aggressions in Georgia and Crimea, and the election of Donald Trump, to name but a few. In all these events, he saw the gradual devolution of what he described as a ‘neo-liberal’ era, undone in part by hubris on the part of the western powers.

“You have to sit down with your adversary and try to find the compromise, working with him; that's diplomacy.”

The ex-Ambassador had quite a few lessons to give on the art of diplomacy and negotiation. The current diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States was his go-to example, illustrating in particular the differing natures of the heads-of-state involved - Trump, Macron and Rouhani, and the particularities of each administration behind these leaders. When discussing methods designed to ensure compliance with international law, he conveyed his distrust of the effectiveness of sanctions. Not only are they being used too freely in his opinion, but there are serious questions over whether they are properly enforced or not. Referring to them as “an abdication of diplomacy”, he promoted the use of negotiations and compromise, and to use sanctions only as a means of pressuring belligerents to come to the negotiating table.

“I’d deleted the tweet after 45 seconds, but it was too late.”

The neo-liberal world order was, according to the esteemed guest, shaken up in the last half-decade or so. “After Brexit, after Trump, suddenly I realised that something very important and very serious was happening throughout the western societies.” Referencing a now-infamous tweet, he said that he believed a world order was collapsing, but it was not the liberal world order as a whole, but rather the western liberal order. Gone was the post-Soviet era of transatlantic domination, and gone are the days where the western countries were seen as benign powers. Comparing the UN to ‘a fishbowl where every country is represented’, he mentioned the importance of treating countries equally, regardless of diplomatic or traditional ties. “We, the west, love our high moral ground, but it is partly hypocritical.” The emergence of China, the re-emergence of Russia and the desire of India to be a major global player have all shifted the balance of power in the world. This has been accompanied by a change in the zeitgeist within western countries themselves, manifested in the form of populist movements across the US and Europe that seek to negate the neo-liberal policies that were taken as the norm during the last four decades.

In his closing remarks, the former Ambassador paid special tribute to former Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the UN Security Council and another alumnus of Sciences Po, Nawaf Salam, who was in attendance lending even more lustre to the occasion.

Related links:

FOCUS / Autocracy: The Modern Dictatorship

FOCUS / Autocracy: The Modern Dictatorship

Dictators in the 20th century no longer rely on an official ideology to repress their populations: they present and disguise themselves as defenders of the people on social media and in the news. Instead of defeatism, Sergei Guriev, Professor and Director of Research at the Sciences Po Department of Economics, explains that democracy is a right that people do want, and one that must be built in the territory of information- tweet by tweet. Watch the episode above.

More
Jacques Chirac: Ambition and Flair

Jacques Chirac: Ambition and Flair

With the death of Jacques Chirac, a light goes out on a chapter of French political history and on one of Sciences Po’s most illustrious alumni. During his three years at the Institut d’études politiques, from 1951 to 1954, France’s former president would take his first strides into the dazzling career that was to follow.

More
The Choice for Ecology: From Awareness to Action

The Choice for Ecology: From Awareness to Action

Aliénor Parmentier graduated from PSIA in 2017. The very next day, she created her own consulting agency for innovative, collaborative and sustainable projects. She participated in the creation of a zero waste café in Lorient, Code Ø, and is the head of communications and zero waste workshops there.

More
Prof. Kevin Parthenay: “The Romanticism of Latin America”

Prof. Kevin Parthenay: “The Romanticism of Latin America”

Latin America is a continent of writers, of passion, and of revolutions. But that’s not all! In his class “International Relations in Latin America”, Kevin Parthenay invites students on the Poitiers campus to take up a new perspective of this continent that, far from taking a back seat, is at the heart of many global dynamics. 

More
FEMPO: Period-Proof Underwear Made in Sciences Po

FEMPO: Period-Proof Underwear Made in Sciences Po

FEMPO are the first period-proof underwear made in France. When Fanny Abes, at the time a third-year student in Vancouver, met Claudette Lovencin, the idea for the product was born. They are now both Sciences Po graduates. We met with them to speak about their career paths and business.

More
Prof. Marine Denis: the Geopolitics of Climate Change

Prof. Marine Denis: the Geopolitics of Climate Change


What does it mean for a region such as South-East Asia to be simultaneously an agent and a victim of climate change? Or for a country like China to be recognised at once as one of the biggest polluters and one of the pioneers of environmental diplomacy? When large-scale international organisations can decide to survey… or to punish? The debate begins! This way to the “environmental galaxy”, where we find Marine Denis and her brilliant students...

More
The Historic Class of 2020

The Historic Class of 2020

After two years pursuing a Master’s degree or five years pursuing first a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s, the Class of 2020 has obtained their prestigious Sciences Po diploma! But they’ve also accomplished something completely unprecedented: they completed their final semester in the midst of a pandemic. What impact will this historic period have on their lives in the future? Until we find out, here are the profiles of a class unlike any other. Congratulations graduates of the Class of 2020!

More