Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, December 16, 2019

Speckhard offers diplomatic perspective on Middle East

Daniel Speckhard, Laura Bunn Daniel Speckhard, Laura Bunn

The most recent episode of the Thank You, 72 podcast features Daniel Speckhard (MA ’82) and Laura Bunn, a student in the La Follette School’s Master of International Public Affairs (MIPA) program.

The podcast is part of the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) series featuring UW–Madison alumni who grew up in Wisconsin’s 72 counties, came to Madison, and then went out and changed the world.

Speckhard was born in Waupaca County and graduated from Wausau West High School (Marathon County). Bunn, who is from Mt. Horeb in Dane County, interviewed Speckhard along with Tod Pritchard, director of media and public relations for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.

As a former ambassador to Greece and Belarus, Speckhard offered his unique perspective on fast-changing events around the world. Speckhard also previously served as deputy assistant secretary general of NATO, then director of the Iraqi Reconstruction Management office and deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. He now is president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief IMA World Health.

Speckhard spoke about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and discussed the op-ed piece he wrote for the Hill on what he observed in Iraq when he was there in 2019, his first visit to the country in 12 years.

“If you see what’s going on in the world today, a lot of it can point back to the challenges that we created when we invaded Iraq,” said Speckhard. “The collapse of Syria actually is a result of the war in Iraq, where some of these fighters actually went across the border into Syria and created the problems and created ISIS as the successor, the Al-Qaeda dynamic.”

Bunn also asked Speckhard about the driving forces in current U.S. diplomacy and how the United States could move back toward value-based diplomacy of human rights and democracy.

“I think the two things that are driving diplomacy and international players now in the United States are, one, domestic politics. I think we’re just pandering to a domestic audience and trying to build wins for party politics on the international front. And second, that it’s transactions based, … that we don’t have a grand strategy,” said Speckhard.

“We don’t think how the pieces fit together. We don’t think more broadly than what we care about over the next few months,” he added. “That, in the end, without a strategic framework for what we’re doing and just look at each individual negotiation as an individual transaction, it doesn’t fit together, and it doesn’t end up advancing U.S. interests over the longer time.”

A member of the La Follette School’s Board of Visitors, Speckhard has had a long and distinguished career in government service under both Republican and Democratic administrations. He was one of the first La Follette School students chosen for the Presidential Management Fellowship, a two-year training program that builds leadership skills and offers experiences across functional areas, offices, and in some cases different agencies.