Yovanovitch Makes 1st Public Appearance Since State Department Retirement

Feb 13, 2020
Originally published on February 13, 2020 8:53 am
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The president once called her bad news. His personal attorney led a smear campaign that got her fired from her last posting as ambassador to Ukraine. But Marie Yovanovitch, a key witness in President Trump's impeachment, is still encouraging students to join the Foreign Service. Yesterday evening, she had her first public appearance since retiring from the State Department, and NPR's Michele Kelemen was there.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In Georgetown University's Gaston Hall, students and retired diplomats gave Yovanovitch a long standing ovation.

(APPLAUSE)

MARIE YOVANOVITCH: Thank you.

KELEMEN: She was there to receive an award and give a speech about American diplomacy, describing a career that began in the Cold War and continued with the promise of democracy and capitalism in the former Soviet republics where she served. Then, things changed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

YOVANOVITCH: It doesn't feel like the end of history, as some had promised. It feels like now we have not just the nation-state challenges of old but also new challenges of terrorism post-9/11, pandemics, global warming, the disorienting and dangerous effects of disinformation - and the tension between a globalizing world and a trending nativism.

KELEMEN: Though she didn't mention Trump by name, he was clearly on her mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

YOVANOVITCH: To be blunt, an amoral, keep-'em-guessin' foreign policy that substitutes threats, fear and confusion for trust cannot work over the long haul.

KELEMEN: And Yovanovitch warns America's alliances are fraying.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

YOVANOVITCH: And that creaking sound we can all hear, those are the institutions of international order under very severe strain. Without doubt, our international institutions need a reboot, but they don't need the boot.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch only alluded to her role in Trump's impeachment, thanking Georgetown for inviting her to teach after she was abruptly brought back from Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

YOVANOVITCH: And then sticking by me through a very difficult fall when, frankly, I was nothing but trouble.

KELEMEN: As the dean of the School of Foreign Service put it, Georgetown has become the refugee camp of choice for some of America's most senior diplomats. Last year, Yovanovitch testified that corrupt business interests may have cost her her job as ambassador to Ukraine. Now she thinks the State Department is in trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

YOVANOVITCH: The policy process has been replaced by decisions emanating from the top with little discussion. Vacancies at all levels go unfilled, and officers are increasingly wondering whether it is safe to express concerns about policy, even behind closed doors.

KELEMEN: A three-time ambassador, Yovanovitch says there has been one upside to the dramatic end of her career - she's received letters from around the country, and she had a chance in her testimony to explain to Americans what U.S. diplomats do.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF DYE O'S "ARISING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.