Challenges for Today and Tomorrow: A Conversation with Ambassador James Smith

Published: October 10, 2013

Editor’s Note:

The U.S. State Department defines an ambassador as the “President’s highest-ranking representative to a specific nation or international organization abroad.” It says an effective ambassador has to be “a strong leader — a good manager, a resilient negotiator, and a respected representative of the United States.” The ambassador’s key role is to coordinate not only the Foreign Service Officers and staff serving under him, but also representatives of other U.S. agencies in the country. Personnel from as many as 27 federal agencies work in concert with embassy staff at some overseas posts.

James B. Smith was appointed by President Barack Obama to represent the United States in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and was sworn in as Ambassador on September 16, 2009. He brought 28 years experience from a distinguished career in the U.S. Air Force as a fighter pilot and leader capped by promotion to the rank of Brigadier General. Smith went on to work as an executive focused on international business development with the Raytheon Company before being asked to return to the service of his country.

At the recent US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum Ambassador Smith began his keynote remarks noting he was nearing the end of his Riyadh posting, “the shadows are lengthening on my time as a diplomat.” Then he provided a series of evocative stories about touring the distant corners of Saudi Arabia with his wife, Jan, during their four years in the Kingdom. He shared insights about the people and places he found. They were perspectives most foreigners — and he noted, few Saudis — don’t get to see of the country, such as:

“Najran to the far south. It’s like landing in Tucson, because the city of Najran is in a valley, and there are mountains on either side. To the south you can see into Yemen, and to the north you’ve got Asir. I never in my life thought that I would see citrus orchards in Saudi Arabia, but in Najran you’ve got a robust agricultural industry of citrus and oranges and grapefruit. I met a man who was nearly one hundred years old. His hands were gnarled from a lifetime of hard work, and he told me the story of driving the first vehicle into Najran in 1934. There were no roads. There was a meeting of tribal chiefs on the other side of the Rub’ al Khali, the Empty Quarter near the Omani border. So he drove that vehicle, fixed a lot of tires, the radiator popped several times. They stopped him about ten miles from the meeting place because one, they had never seen an automobile and two, they didn’t know who he was. They found a field telephone and they called King Abdulaziz – simpler times. And they’re on the phone and they said do you know this guy, and King Abdulaziz says yes, certainly, now put him on the phone. He told me that he was on the phone with King Abdulaziz and he said go to the meeting and when you finish the meeting drive in a straight line back to Najran and tell him how far it is, because he didn’t have a map. It just shows the story of a simpler time in Najran.”

On the sidelines of the Business Opportunities Forum SUSRIS sat down with Ambassador Smith to talk about US-Saudi relations, the business environment, regional crises like Iran, and more from his expansive role as America’s top diplomat in Saudi Arabia since 2009. Today we are pleased to share this exclusive SUSRIS interview with you and hope you will share it with your colleagues.

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Challenges for Today and Tomorrow: A Conversation with Ambassador James Smith

[SUSRIS] The business opportunities that have been discussed at this forum are an important element of the relationship between Washington and Riyadh but there’s much more on your plate as America’s top diplomat in Saudi Arabia. What are the issues on the top of the list for you and your Saudi counterparts?

People Amb James Smith USSBOF SUSTG[Ambassador James Smith] Well I think the biggest issue we both have to deal with is the changing dynamic in the region over the last two and a half, almost three years now. It’s really driven by whole populations that see themselves as citizens not subjects. They’re demanding their governments are responsive and they’re demanding their governments are transparent in the process of doing that. The need for transparency comes in an era of ubiquitous information. Information is passed at light speed. Twitter has the ability to form a following on an issue in a matter of minutes. You’re able to get a following on an idea or issue much faster than any government can create a response. How to deal with that? We have the same challenge in our government.

Meanwhile we all want stability. We all want continued movement forward in modernization, advancing the lives and prosperity of people. The question is how do you do this in this age where people see that they have a right to free speech and we’re dealing with problems that have been emerging for a very long time. There’s a growing population in a region that lacks a focus on job creation. Governments have assumed the responsibility of providing goods and services so you have subsidies in place. Then the government can’t deliver and it becomes the government’s fault.

How do you affect the evolution of a sense of citizenship that must go along with the free speech that people now have in some places? How do you create economic development in places where there hasn’t been that focus?

Saudi Arabia has been incredibly responsive. Look at the top issues the population faces: jobs, housing, corruption, the security apparatus and civil society – that whole bundle of things, be it women in the Shura Council or local elections or whatever.

Click for larger map
Click for larger map

The government has been very responsive on all those. That doesn’t mean that everything was fixed overnight. But people don’t expect that. They just expect you to be responsive. On each of those the government in the Kingdom was responsive early and very publicly. So that gives you a sense of stability. For most of the monarchies in the region that has been the case. Yes, Saudi Arabia does have resources that other countries don’t have, but then Saudi Arabia has also been very generous to other people as they needed resources to deal with these issues.

At the end of the day it’s all about jobs. It’s about job creation. It’s about allowing people to have the dignity of work where they can support their families. If you can do that I think these other things fall into place a little easier.

[SUSRIS] The turmoil of the past few years has brought to a head the challenges for American diplomacy to balance values and interests. Often they are at odds. How, as a diplomat, do you reconcile one position or another that compromises either American values or interests?

[Smith] I haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on the differences. My laser focus has been on shared interests. The President talked about this in the Cairo speech. You only have so many hours in the day. You can either focus on shared interests and then you can actually get something done, or you can focus on differences then you are challenged to get things done. We’ve been very successful in everything from supporting students to supporting judicial training to across the board support for the Ministry of the Interior as it looks to modernize – anywhere we see places that Saudi Arabia says we want to do better.

People Amb Smith Sec Clinton Amb Jubeir King Abdullah
Ambassador James Smith, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Ambassador Adel Al Jubeir and King Abdullah

When you shift resources and engagement to those things, provided that it matches U.S. interests, you can fill up your day doing those things. And when you do that then you can start having a conversation on those other more challenging things. I’ve really not found myself having to choose between interests and values. It’s really just a matter of where you’re putting your focus.

Now, there are people that have a single-minded focus on issues. Very often they’re people who look through the prism of their own experience. So there’s a push for democracy. As we saw in Egypt if you don’t have institutions of a democratic system that allow for minority representation, that guarantee minority rights, you really don’t have a democracy even if you have an election.

You have to build democratic institutions, I believe, from the ground floor. So I don’t talk in terms of democracy as much as I talk about responsiveness of government. If a government is responsive to the needs of its people, and they’re moving in a vector where they’re building civil society, then these things will emerge in time.

People Prince Turki al Faisal Amb Smith
Former Ambassador to the US Prince Turki Al Faisal and Ambassador James Smith.

[SUSRIS] Let’s talk about American interests in the region and reaction to what’s being called the pivot to Asia. For a variety of reasons – America’s new found energy resources, the US force reductions in the region as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan withdrawals and reductions, and others – there is a perception that strategic interest in the Middle East and its troubles is waning. What would you say to those who see the pivot and these other developments as indicators of reduced American resolve?

[Smith] Well first of all I would ask any basketball player to give me a definition of pivot. A pivot means you keep one foot in place. You have to keep one foot in place otherwise you’ll be traveling. That’s what we’ll do. It makes sense to change part of our focus, to pivot one foot towards Asia because of the economic challenges we’re going to have in the Pacific. It’s a region where there are real challenges.

That doesn’t mean you pick up both feet. Those who tie energy independence to a lack of commitment to the region are playing checkers not chess. We only import seven to ten percent of our oil from Saudi Arabia. Even though oil is a commodity you don’t import from one country to another. America’s imported oil volume is not that much from Saudi Arabia. We could make up for that easily in other places. However, a disruption in the global energy supply has an impact on the global economy. Even if we’re self-sufficient, the rest of the world is not. You would have to be willing to accept the unintended consequences of isolation to disengage from the region. That means you’re putting the global economy at risk. I don’t think that’s in our nature.

People Amb Smith Prince Muqrin
Ambassador James Smith and Second Deputy PM Prince Muqrin

The United States Navy has for over 200 years accepted the responsibility to protect sea lines of communication, the freedom of navigation in international waters. And if you allow the Strait of Hormuz to close then you’re sending a signal that someone can close the Strait of Malacca. You completely change the dynamic of international maritime commerce. We’re the only country that can guarantee freedom of navigation in international waters. I don’t think we’re going to abdicate that responsibility.

So it has less to do with military forces in the region as it does commitment to stability in the region, because we don’t actually have that many forces in the Gulf. It’s not like we’re picking up and leaving with the fleet in Manama [Bahrain] and the Al Udeid airbase [Qatar], the centerpieces in the region. Remember there are no Title 10 [United States Code Title Ten] forces in Saudi Arabia, for example. So it’s not like we’re picking up and leaving. We have a residual force in place and the robust capability to operate quickly if need be. There’s certainly a lot of combat power in both the Central Command’s Naval and Air Forces. There’s no question about that. So being energy independent does not in and of itself suggest that we are going to be less concerned with the region unless the United States becomes totally isolationist and I don’t see that happening.

[SUSRIS] Saudi Arabia has been more assertive in its foreign policy in recent years, especially in taking on national security issues like the Syria crisis. How does Riyadh’s increased presence on the world’s strategic stage impact U.S. foreign policy?

[Smith] Well there are several theories about it but I don’t necessarily have a good answer. When I look at Syria, for example, I go back to May of 2011 when King Abdullah had a visceral reaction to Arabs killing Arabs and Muslims killing Muslims. It’s not geo-political. It’s an emotional reaction. That motivated him, I believe last Ramadan, when he called for a religious dialogue within Islam. Why are we killing each other? So I think that has driven Saudi assertiveness if you will.

People Smith Gates Jubeir King Abdullah
Ambassador Smith, Defense Secretary Gates, Ambassador Al-Jubeir and King Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia puts a great deal of commitment to this idea of the Custodianship of the Two Holy Mosques. It’s something that I respect them for. They want to guarantee that you have the protection for the two holy sites, Mecca and Medina, so Muslims of the world can come and fulfill their religious responsibilities with no harassment and as much government support as they can provide.

That carries with it a global responsibility in Islam. It is a global responsibility to about 1.3 billion Muslims. Saudi Arabia has accepted this responsibility. I sense when they see violence of Muslims against Muslims it creates a problem for them because they see themselves as the protector of the religion. I think that has motivated the decision process much more than prospects of a confrontation with the United States over policy issues.

There’s another issue and that is, once again, the ubiquity of information. The Saudi population is seeing pictures of atrocities in Syria. They’ve been seeing them everyday. When I said that whole populations are expecting their governments to be responsive, it applies not just domestically but it applies internationally. The populations see this happening and they start asking what is being done about it. I think this is what motivated their responses.

I don’t see a great rift between us but these are issues that we cannot solve by ourselves. At the end of the day it’s not something that the United States alone can make go away. It is going to require all of us. I think Saudi Arabia – as does the Emirates, as does Qatar – in different ways, sees a responsibility for both stability and the protection of citizens.

[SUSRIS] One of the benefits of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia touted by policymakers in Washington over the years has been the position of the Kingdom in the Muslim world especially as Riyadh moves more to the forefront of organizations like the GCC and the Arab League. Is Saudi leadership working out for the United States as Washington would have liked it or is there friction arising from Saudi Arabia’s higher profile role?

[Smith] You know, I hear that argument and it makes no sense to me at all. Diplomacy is not a zero-sum game. If somebody is trying to do something that enhances our collective position that doesn’t mean it’s a loss for someone else. So, no, I don’t see an issue there at all.

AmbSmithRichardWilson
Ambassador Smith and Saudi-US Trade Group President Richard Wilson at the US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum.

Now, there are times when we see issues differently. One of the reasons why we’ve focused so hard on trade and education and healthcare is that every one of those is a brick in the foundation of the relationship. When that foundation is solid you can work your way through things.

Take Egypt, for example, where we saw the beginnings of the transition differently. I can tell you that as you look to the next phase we’re in total agreement about what that next phase needs to be. We see the interim government making a commitment to a framework, the transition plan to civilian government, attaching dates to those elections, the forming of the committee for the constitution. We’re in agreement on those next steps. So you have the option of focusing on what happened yesterday or focusing on what’s going to happen tomorrow. You can’t change yesterday but you can influence tomorrow. And if we can stay together as friends through the disagreement on the front end maybe we’ll work together on the next phase in the future.

[SUSRIS] What does Saudi Arabia want the United States to do about Iran?

[Smith] Well they’ve been pretty straightforward on their policy for Iran, that they would very much like Iran to join the community of nations in the Gulf as a positive contributor to the future of the Gulf. Saudi Arabia has been the one country that’s focused on stability.

Iran has, since 1979, focused on destabilizing the region. Saudi Arabia stated all along that they would very much like for Iran to be a partner in the region. There are some things that go along with that including an end to their support for terrorism, return Saudi al-Qaeda members who are being protected in Iran and stop destabilization efforts in the other Gulf countries. Those are the three things the Saudis have asked for. If we see any change in behavior with their new government, I suspect the Saudis would be very open – if those three conditions were met to change the dynamic in the region.

Map Saudi Iran GreenIf, on the other hand, Iran’s stated goal is to continue to target the government of Saudi Arabia over this issue of ownership of the Custodianship of the Two Holy Mosques and whatnot, then it is going to be very difficult for the Saudis to reach any common ground with them.

[SUSRIS] What is Saudi Arabia prepared to support if Iran does not change course on its nuclear enrichment program, believed to be a weapons program?

[Smith] Well, I wouldn’t for a minute try to predict what they would do. I can tell you, though, that they are as concerned about Iran’s destabilization efforts in the region as much as they are about them as an emerging nuclear power. In other words while they acknowledge the problems with the nuclear issue, they worry about our single focus on that issue without considering Iran’s destabilization efforts. It misses the real threat that Tehran poses. So they would say that the West has this out of balance, that we’re focused just on the nuclear program. We’re not focusing on all the other things Iran is doing.

[SUSRIS] Another think-tank parlor game is the question of regional proliferation if Iran becomes a declared nuclear power, especially the case of Saudi Arabia. What is your assessment?

[Smith] Well there have been statements that if Iran became a nuclear power then Saudi Arabia would have no choice. Whether or not that is an official position or a veiled threat, it’s hard to know.

[SUSRIS] It may be useful rhetoric that is sometimes walked back.

[Smith] The Saudis don’t want nuclear weapons at all. His Royal Highness Prince Saud al-Faisal has told me on numerous occasions that nukes scare him to death because, in his words, “No weapon has been introduced into the Gulf that hasn’t been used.” There’s no theory of deterrence at work so it becomes very destabilizing very, very quickly.

The problem that the government in Saudi Arabia has is that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon it’s not so much that the Saudi government thinks it needs one, but it would be an expectation of the Saudi people that it is required to deter. I don’t know where that will take them. It’s something that if they went in that direction they would do so not willingly.

[SUSRIS] Let’s shift gears and talk about the reason over a thousand people have gathered here in Los Angeles, doing business in Saudi Arabia. The speakers at the Forum are talking about the rapid expansion of the Saudi economy and the tremendous trade and investment opportunities. Some comment on the historical comity between the United States and Saudi Arabia that continues today especially among business people. We have seen much progress in the commercial relationship on your watch. As you prepare to depart Riyadh can you give us your assessment of the business environment?

[Smith] Well, we came into this in 2009 understanding that the focus was to rebuild a relationship that had been tarnished by the events of the previous decade: part of that 9/11, part of that the perception of our policies in the region with Afghanistan and Iraq. But you had to rebuild a relationship.

When we arrived there in 2009 it was an unaccompanied post. It had been an unaccompanied post for five and a half years. When you spend five and a half years building walls then you find people hunkered down behind those walls and that’s not what diplomats do. We looked at President Obama’s Cairo speech where he said he wanted a new beginning in the Islamic world based on shared interests, as we talked about before, mutual trust and mutual respect. And that’s been our guiding principle over these past four years.

People US Amb James Smith USSBOF

Shared interests. We decided to focus on three key areas: education, medicine and business; not really focusing on numbers but focusing on relationships. Again, each one of these is a brick in the foundation of a relationship, and this was our goal, rebuilding the foundation.

So over the past four years our folks in the Foreign Commercial Service have done a truly outstanding job. They have counseled more than 4000 American companies doing business in Saudi Arabia. We’ve had on the order of 470 companies that have exported to Saudi Arabia for the very first time in these last four years, and 80 percent of them are small or medium enterprises. This is in addition to the people that have been there all along.

We brought families back. At the embassy in Riyadh we now have 110 kids. We’re filling up the school again. Saudi Arabia is a country that is very focused on family and when you leave your family behind you’re saying the relationship is temporary. When you bring your family, you’re saying the relationship is permanent. That’s the one thing that I would say was a major shift in our thinking.

Then we had to get out from behind the walls. Janet and I have spent a lot of time traveling around the Kingdom. Part of it was just for the sheer enjoyment of it. Part of it was learning about the Kingdom. In many cases showing Saudis parts of Saudi Arabia that many of them had not been to. But you have to get out from behind the walls.

There were 23,000 Saudi students studying in the United States in 2009. The Saudi Embassy just quoted new numbers yesterday, about 80,000 in the states today, about 50,000 of those in the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. And in the King Abdullah Scholarship Program the students choose where they want to go. It’s not an allotment, so they’re choosing to come to the United States.

We worked the visa process very, very hard. We made changes, trying to make the process of coming into the country less burdensome. All the while we have been able to insure that we were doing what was necessary for security. All of that is very, very necessary as a part of rebuilding a relationship. You can see from these events like this one today, the US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum, how much more positive the relationship seems to be.

[SUSRIS] You mentioned SMEs, and there’s been a lot of discussion at the Forum. There’s also a lot of advice given that you have to get on the ground in the Kingdom and build relationships. For many SMEs in America looking at Saudi Arabia’s opportunities that might be a bridge too far in terms of their ability to sustain that level before they achieve anything. Can you comment on the proposition that a SME, a small enterprise in the United States, could be viable landing in Saudi Arabia and building a business?

[Smith] Well we’ve had 470 companies export to Saudi Arabia for the first time. Four hundred of them are small to medium enterprises. So some people have found out how to do it. In point of fact that’s what the Foreign Commercial Service at the embassy focuses on. We know that small businesses don’t have the budget, the business development infrastructure to be able to do that. It’s less to do with that than it has to do with imagination.

A very small percentage of American companies export and of them eighty percent only export to either Canada or Mexico. So you have a huge number of American companies that have products that would sell overseas but their business model is not export. They don’t think about Saudi Arabia as the first export country. That’s what Commerce does so very well. The dozen people we have in Riyadh as well as the footprint back here, where you have Commerce people in major cities help to bridge this. We’ve gone on line for Saudi-U.S. trade so that companies can make contact virtually, to have that first conversation. We’re moving toward an ability to do video conferencing, to start conversations early. And you have events like these.

Over the last four years we’ve led 77 trade missions either back to the U.S. or supported coming to Saudi Arabia where businessmen and businesswomen can come together. It’s all about engagements. And engagements lead to conversation, conversation leads to business discussion, that business discussion leads to contracts. Yes, it takes time but we think we’ve got a pretty good model working through the Foreign Commercial Service to enable those early conversations and meetings so that a small business can be successful.

[SUSRIS] It sounds like it has been successful. Commerce Under Secretary Sanchez said in his keynote here that Saudi Arabia is one of the first countries that will achieve the President’s export initiative goal of doubling the trade.

[Smith] Yes, but keep in mind we put our strategy in place a year before there was a President’s export initiative. I applaud that initiative, but our strategy was put in place not based on a number, it was based on rebuilding a foundation. And I firmly believe if you focus on the engagements, if you focus on bringing businesspeople together, if you work on the ease of doing business such as our work with SAGIA, then the numbers will take care of themselves.

People US Amb James Smith USSBOF

Very correctly, the President’s export initiative focuses on our trade back there. In a global economy though the reality is you have to be building jobs in both places. It’s not binary anymore. Yeah, you want trade, you want bilateral trade, you want to create jobs in the Kingdom as you’re creating jobs in the states, not either or. So while I applaud the President’s export initiative the best way to get there is to focus on shared interests, and again, we work on engagements. Even if the numbers didn’t show our doubling of the trade in four years, I would say we would’ve been successful because of the very high number of engagements that we have created for American businessmen and businesswomen and Saudi businessmen and businesswomen, because each one of those is a brick in the foundation.

[SUSRIS] You are probably the American with the best insight into King Abdullah. How would you characterize his leadership in the Kingdom and what he’s meant to Saudi Arabia?

[Smith] He’s probably the wisest person I’ve ever sat with. He has instincts that surprise me. He understands his people. During all of my time there he has shown great instincts about what to do for the people of his country. He’s a Bedouin. He claims to be. He was the son that went with King Abdulaziz to the desert. There is a “naturalness” to him that you don’t always see in leaders. He’s very much respected, and admired, and loved by the people of the Kingdom.

There was a song that was written a few years ago, Baba Abdullah, Father Abdullah. And that’s how most people see him. So he’s been a modernizer, but modernizer in a systematic but positive vector. There’s a lot of his ideas that haven’t been fully implemented, the improvement of the judicial system. But it’s still a consensus-based society. It’s not a place where the King can say we’ll do this, then we’ll do that, then we’ll do the other. Again it’s a consensus society. When the society has moved far enough in one direction that it makes sense to go, then that’s the way it’s done.

Some of the moves that he made have been extremely important for the Kingdom. Bringing women in to the Shura Council. Everybody assumed that that would be a decision that people would second-guess. Almost no one at all did. Look at the thirty women that are on the Shura Council, which is the same percentage of women that we have in the U.S. Senate by the way. Twenty-seven of the thirty are either doctors or Ph.D.s. There are more women Ph.D.s in the Shura Council than there are Ph.D.s in all of our Congress.

[SUSRIS] You shared your reflection on your time in Saudi Arabia in your keynote remarks here. You have had time to think about the views of Americans about Saudis and vice versa. How would you characterize the misperceptions that exist on both sides?

[Smith] In the United States we’ve essentially lived in the politics of fear for the last decade, and the one number that Americans know is fifteen of the nineteen on 9/11 were Saudis. So if that was your opinion of Saudi Arabia that you formed on or about the 12th of September 2001 then you assume that Saudis are terrorists and that is very much a lingering perception. It’s a much more complex issue than that, of course, and Saudi Arabia has done an incredible job over this last ten years to undermine support for extremism in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is a very safe place now. But that perception lingers.

In the Gulf region, not just Saudi Arabia, there’s a perception that since we have bombed Muslim countries in the last decade they see that as an attack on Islam. Americans see that as going after the bad guys. Again, people in the region see it differently.

So yes, you have those misperceptions. It’s very difficult to change them for the simple reason that Saudi Arabia to most people is still a mystery. They do not allow tourist visas. So you don’t wake up in the morning and say hey, I’ve got a week’s vacation. Let’s go to Saudi Arabia. So if you’re not a diplomat or you’re not a businessperson with a visa to do business or you’re not a Muslim going for Hajj or Umrah you don’t go to Saudi Arabia. So it’s still a mystery. That persists.

Saudis are among the most generous, welcoming, family-oriented people on the face of the Earth. I will tell you that anybody who spent any time there, not just my wife and I because I am an Ambassador, but your average American that comes and visits a family there senses that. But there are perceptions that take a long time to get over.

[SUSRIS] Any last thoughts on your tenure as Ambassador?

[Smith] What an incredible time to be there. Jan and I both would say we met friends for a lifetime. We feel very strongly about the importance of the relationship and we very much believe in people-to-people diplomacy. That’s how you get through the challenges for today and tomorrow.

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About James Smith – U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

People James B. Smith US Ambassador to Saudi ArabiaJames B. Smith was sworn in on September 16, 2009, as the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Prior to his appointment, Ambassador Smith had served in a variety of executive positions with Raytheon Company involving corporate strategic planning, aircraft manufacturing, and international business development.

Ambassador Smith was a distinguished graduate of the United States Air Force Academy’s Class of 1974 and received the Richard I. Bong award as the Outstanding Cadet in Military History. He received his Masters in History from Indiana University in 1975, and is also a distinguished graduate from the Naval War College, the Air Command and Staff College and the National War College.

Ambassador Smith spent a 28 year career in the United States Air Force. Trained as a fighter pilot, he logged over 4000 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 AB during Operation Desert Storm. He commanded the 94th Fighter Squadron, the 325th Operations Group and the 18th Fighter Wing (Kadena AB, Okinawa). 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 on October 1, 2002.

A native of Brooks, Georgia, Ambassador Smith lives in Salem, New Hampshire, with his wife Dr. Janet Breslin-Smith.

Source: U.S. State Department

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