Right direction | The world is in a difficult position right now: An interview with Ambassador Michael Guest

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MICHAEL E. Guest was born on October 26, 1957 in South Carolina. He graduated from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina (B.A., History and Political Science, 1979), University of Toulouse in Toulouse, France (Certificate, Development Economics and International Development, 1980), and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia (M.A., International Relations, 1981).

Tiberiu Dianu

He worked for the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer (1981-1994), Deputy Executive Secretary of the Department (1994-1996), Deputy Chief of U.S. Mission (1996-1999), Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs (1999-2001).

As a Foreign Service Officer, he was a member of the U.S. delegation to the “Two-plus-Four” talks which eventually gave rise to Germany’s reunification, in 1990.

In 2001, during the George W. Bush administration, Michael Guest was the first openly gay man to be confirmed by the US Senate to serve as an ambassador. It was to Romania. Guest was sworn in by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on September 18, 2001 and took up his duties on September 24, 2001. His appointment ended on July 8, 2004. Romania’s last anti-gay law, Article 200 of the Penal code, which criminalized public manifestations of homosexuality, was repealed shortly before Guest’s arrival as ambassador in 2001.

During his tenure he spoke out against corruption, which he said had impeded Romania’s development since the fall of communism. During his ambassadorship Romania committed troops to support U.S.-led efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2002, President George W. Bush made an official visit to Bucharest. In 2003, Guest was decorated by the Romanian government for his service. In April 2004, Romania was admitted into NATO and intensified negotiations that would eventually lead to the country’s accession into the European Union, in 2007. After his appointment as ambassador to Romania ended, he served as a dean at the Foreign Service Institute.

I met Ambassador Guest in 2006, while I was working for the Foreign Service Institute.*3-OIkkj38CNlzP-a2kgUow.jpeg

In November 2007, after 26 years with the State Department, he resigned because his partner had not been given the same rights as heterosexual spouses.

In 2008, he co-founded the Council for Global Equity (a coalition of human rights and LGBT advocacy organizations), for which he is a senior advisor. During 2008 and 2009, Guest was a member of the President-elect Barack Obama’s State Department Transition Team.

In early 2016, at a Council for Global Equity reception in Washington, D.C., Guest spoke against the anti-immigrant “hateful rhetoric” that Republican candidates had been using on the campaign trail.

Currently, Michael Guest is an international strategy consultant and resides in San Francisco Bay Area, California.

On October 3, 2019, Michael Guest attended the annual ALIANTA/The Alliance Gala, in Washington, DC, at the Conrad Hotel. With that occasion Ambassador Guest granted me an exclusive interview.

1. Mr. Ambassador Michael Guest, you served as a U.S. Ambassador to Romania in the past. How would you characterize the year of 2019 for Romania and Romanians?

Well, I think the whole world is going through a difficult position right now, the United States, as well as Romania. We are looking at forces of nationalism. I believe very strongly we need to look at globalism and how we relate to each other, how we pull together as individual countries and making sure that the world is a better place for our own citizens. And I think this year has been a very difficult year for us, in the United States and Romania, but I am hopeful for the future in both countries.

2. Thank you so much, Mr. Ambassador. How would you characterize, in short, the U.S. relationship with Romania during the current administrations, Trump and Iohannis?

Well, I am no longer in the diplomatic service. I work in the private sector now, in promoting more solid Romanian consumer economy, with its investments in the health care sector, the grocery sector and, in the final delivery, in the e-commerce sector. I would say that the current administration, my view is that the current administration is very self-focused right now. There are issues of possible impeachment of the President, and the focus, really, has been in other areas more than it has been on solidifying relations with our allies. I hope that will change in 2020.

3. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. The last question: what challenges will Romania face in the future, in your opinion?

Well, Romania will face all the challenges that we all face, which is making sure that globalization works for every citizen. I think Romania, particularly, needs to focus now on ensuring that there is an economy that supports strengthening good Romanian companies, bringing in good foreign investment to compliment that work, bringing Romanians back. With jobs that really support them, themselves and their families, I am really hopeful that that would start to happen. With some sound policies the government is interested in working to improve the business climate, that will happen. We all face the issue of Russian expansion and the interest of Russia in sort of destabilizing our economies, destabilizing our politics and that is something that we are facing in the United States, as much as Romania. So I think that we have reason to be working together, consulting together to ensure our own security and our own prosperity for each other in the future.

4. Thank you so much for this optimistic view, Mr. Ambassador.

Thank you very much.

Tiberiu Dianu has published several books and a host of articles in law, politics, and post-communist societies. He currently lives and works in Washington, DC and can be followed on Medium.

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