This is the world of our own making

Ambassador Thomas Shannon, a 1980 graduate of the College of William and Mary who majored in government and philosophy, was back on campus last week to give a talk titled, “A World of Your Making: How to think about the 21st Century and our role in it.”

The event was sponsored by the Global Research Institute at the college and led by director Michael Tierney. The Institute slogan is: “From ideas to impact.”

“We empower teams of students and faculty to make a difference in the world,” Tierney is fond saying.

Shannon, until very recently, served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the third-highest ranking position at the State Department. He held the personal rank of Career Ambassador, the highest ranking member of the United States Foreign Service.

As a diplomat, he served as a troubleshooter and rowing envoy, thus the current turmoil in the world is nothing new or strange to him.

Shannon reflected on his student years and acknowledged his education at William and Mary played an important role not only in shaping his character, but also in his conduct as an American diplomat. He noted that inducing dedication to public service is the hallmark of William and Mary.

Shannon, who entered the Foreign Service during the Cold War in the 1980s and served for 35 years, said, “To be an American diplomat is a high calling.”

In his talk, he emphasized that diplomacy in today’s world matters more than ever. The United States is no longer the only country that calls the shots, as it did during the post-Cold War years, he said. That was a time, he noted, when the United States was able to project power around the world unchallenged; but the rise of regional power centers such as China, India, Iran and others, are challenging our dominance.

Shannon explained that the emergence of an expanding middle class in China and India, encompassing millions of people, could have a huge impact on America’s economy. He said diplomats are trained and equipped to observe and report on trends in foreign countries that impact American interest.

Shannon, who called himself the “designated survivor,” who for 12 days served as acting secretary of state until Rex Tillerson was confirmed by the Senate, is considered one of the most accomplished American diplomats. He has also served as ambassador to Brazil and his career spanned six presidents and 10 secretaries of state.

He seems to fully subscribe to the notion that the United States will remain a pivotal player on the world stage. It has the world’s most powerful military, the largest economy and a unique capacity to build strong alliances, he said. To Shannon, diplomacy is a craft that helps manage the gray area between peace and war.

He ended his talk with a word of caution; He compared the challenges facing the United States now with the ones it faced after World War II. Addressing students, he said: “The world is in ferment, and your generation will have to find the solutions.”

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.

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