This is a transcript of an interview Matthew Alan Hill conducted with Prudence Bushnell for the Women and US Foreign Policy Interview Project at The Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London.
Interviewee: Prudence Bushnell (PB)
Employment positions referred to in interview: Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (1993-1996) and Ambassador to the Republics of Kenya (1996-1999) and Guatemala (1999-2002).
Interviewer: Matthew Alan Hill (MH)
Date: August 16, 2011
Location: Washington, D.C., USA
General questions about your career [00:16 – 24:45]
Career inspiration of Rozanne Ridgway in her negotiation and organisational skills as well as her style; importance of integrating management and policy when making decisions; lack of cooperation between policy and management people; going to high school in Tehran; American hostages in Iran coupled with Ed Muskie’s decision to bring mid-level business women and minorities into the State Department and a former high school peer working as a State spokesperson; career success dependent on prior learnt management skills, prior experience living in different cultures, and took assignments that were challenging; teaching French to Foreign Service personnel in Senegal; senior level mentoring through offering women opportunities; systemic problems of mid-level women and minorities programme not supporting the recruits; anger and resentment in the State Department because women and minorities were taking mid-level positions; gender discrimination whilst working as an Ambassador and the strategies employed to address them; importance of adopting alpha cultural behaviour in order to operate in foreign policy.
Non-gender specific issues and events you were involved in during your FP-related career [24:46– 54:32]
Discussion of responsibilities as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs; moving women’s rights away from development and towards the policy agenda; working with male US Ambassadors and getting them to engage with women in the country; Niger Tuareg women concerned about daughters being married off too young; impact of the Reagan administration opening 18 new embassies in the former Soviet Republics closing down projects in Africa which meant that knowledge and influence in the area had shrunk considerably; conflict with colleagues regarding the decision to cut the State Department budget but have no similar reduction in outputs; impact of cuts on the ability to implement states policy goals; impact of domestic politics on foreign affairs decisions; US Embassy in Guatemala alongside an initially recalcitrant USAID involved in supporting coffee pickers whose children were dying of malnutrition; lessons-learnt in the field are rarely listened to in DC due to one-way traffic: Washington speaks, field implements; top-down not bottom-up approach; inability of DC to prevent disasters such as famine from happening due to immediate attention focused on something currently more catastrophic; foreign affairs interagency community in 2011 focused on budget cuts not other issues; implementation of projects by Embassies that are under the radar.
Experiences and knowledge of US engagement with gender issues in foreign policy [54:33– 66:02]
Mainstreaming gender equality in US foreign policy programmes; importance of cultural issues such as female genital mutilation to be led by African women; personal criticism by Guatemalan conservatives for supporting family planning in Guatemala; low level of gender equality in the hierarchy of national interests.
Views on recent US foreign policy related issues [66:03– 74:33]
Recalibration of US policy in North Africa and the Middle East due to the Arab Spring; importance of influence of US military people in persuading the Egyptian military to not attack the protestors; difficulty to influence transitions in Syria and Iran due to this lack of personal connections; post-Cold War policy to promote democracy around the world changed the way the US foreign service interacted with local governments and people.