Forever Duke Q&A: Stuart Jones

Sterly Wilder ’83, associate vice president for alumni affairs, in conversation with Stuart Jones ’82.

Stuart Jones is the former ambassador of Jordan and was the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad from 2010 to 2011. As a career diplomat, he has been stationed all over the world— including in Egypt, Turkey, Colombia, and El Salvador. President Barack Obama nominated  Jones as ambassador to Iraq in May 2014. Jones and his wife, Barbara, are the parents of two Duke students: Thad, a senior, and Dorothy, a sophomore.

Who inspired you to enter the Foreign Service, and what keeps you going in the job?

My grandfather was a Foreign Service officer. My siblings and I went to visit him in Libya in 1963. We were just little kids, but it really did have a profound impact on us. For me, it’s the variety [that keeps me going]—the variety of the jobs, the challenges, and the regions—and the chance to do something new and different every three years.

What is most important to successful diplomacy?

The most important thing about diplomatic work is to establish relationships of trust. You need to have an understanding of the region. You have to have an understanding of the culture. But fundamentally, you have to make a human connection with the people you are working with so you can have frank conversations that lead to solutions.

How did you choose Duke?

I was living in Maine, and I wanted to go someplace that would be really different from New England. I went to visit my grandfather down in Sarasota, Florida, for spring break, and I came back on the train. I got off in Raleigh, and I hitchhiked from Raleigh to Durham, and I took the tour. People were just back from spring break, and there was a wonderful vibe and atmosphere on the campus. I just fell in love with the place, so Duke became my first choice.

How did Duke prepare you to be a career diplomat?

I took a bunch of great history courses with Peter Wood and William Chafe and Larry Goodwyn, and they were really eye-opening courses. They were champions of social history. It stirred a lot of curiosity in me about how people lived, not just in America but elsewhere. In that era, you didn’t need to be an expert in a language or a region to join the Foreign Service. You could be a generalist. I have valued the education I got at Duke.

Also, at that time, the president of Duke was Terry Sanford. I thought the way he had lived his life as a leader was special and admirable and worth emulating. When I was a junior officer in El Salvador, and he was a senator from North Carolina, I was his control officer when he came down to visit [when the country was in the midst of civil war]. He was so gracious, and it reminded me of what a great inspiration he was—really a made man— and I think so responsible for what Duke has become.

What is your advice for Duke students who are considering careers in the Foreign Service?

Don’t be intimidated by the exam or the requirements for security clearances. I think when people start looking at what’s involved in joining the Foreign Service, they get turned off by the amount of bureaucracy that it takes to get in. Also, the Foreign Service really prizes languages. So if you’re planning on spending $60,000 on a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies, it’s better to take the $60,000 and go to Jordan and learn Arabic.

What are your hopes for your work in Iraq?

We’ve got three major goals. One is to defeat the terrorist threat posed by Daesh [also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS]. Second, I think we want to help the new government to foster political consensus around the other issues facing Iraq—like how to best use their hydrocarbon resources and how to reconcile the various groups that comprise Iraq. Third, Iraq is facing tremendous economic challenges. We’d like to help the government navigate this difficult economic period.

—Edited by Christina Holder

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