Diplomat explains issues, challenges in Gulf

December 1, 2014

The former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, His Excellency Jim Smith, spoke Nov. 20 at Saint Michael’s College about “The Issues and Challenges in the Gulf.”

In his Thursday evening talk in the Roy Event Room of the Dion Student Center, Ambassador Smith addressed seven trends which he believes have shaped and will continue to shape events in the region: an “Islamic Awakening,” an “Arab Awakening,” the “Arab Spring,” the evolution from control to influence among key parties in the region, the shift in centers of power, a breakdown in the Peace of Westphalia (treaties signed in the 1600s that established the basis for national self-determination in geopolitics for centuries); and the impact of the “law of unintended consequences.”

After his presentation, the ambassador took questions “that demonstrated the interest and engagement of the audience,” said Marilyn E. Cormier, the college’s director of government and community relations in the Office of the President. Cormier arranged for Ambassador Smith and his wife, Janet Breslin-Smith, to visit Saint Michael’s, hosted by the Vermont Council on World Affairs. “He was thoughtful with his answers and kind and generous to our students with his time,” Cormier said.

Ambassador Smith served as U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2009-2013 following a 28-year career in the United States Air Force and senior executive positions with Raytheon. Ambassador Smith served in the U.S. Air Force for 28 years. Trained as a fighter pilot, he logged over 4,000 hours of flight time in F-15s and T-38s. He served around the world in a variety of operational assignments and flew combat missions from Dhahran Air Base during Operation Desert Storm. In addition, he served in a variety of staff assignments involving coalition partners, and served as Air Force Chair and Professor of Military Strategy at the National War College. During his final assignment at U.S. Joint Forces Command, he led Millennium Challenge, the largest transformation experiment in history. He was promoted to Brigadier General in October 1998, and retired from the Air Force in 2002. His wife, Janet, is a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT ’61, and was very engaged in the roles of women in Saudi Arabia.

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