Before arriving at the Josef Korbel School as the new dean, Ambassador Christopher Hil completed his 33-year foreign service career as ambassador to Iraq where he saw the country progress through many challenges.
"Iraq transitioned from being America's problem to being everybody's problem and everybody's hope," Hill said.
Presented by the Middle East Discussion Group, on Friday, January 21st, Ambassador Hill recounted how he ended up in Iraq after Secretary Clinton called him into her office to ask for one more favor before his retirement from the service.
"I thought about it overnight," Ambassador Hill said. "I realized I was never a great enthusiast of the Iraq war. I felt a little burned when there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, just people of mass destruction. When a vice president or president gets up and tells the American people something, you ought to be able to take that to the bank."
Hill said that arriving in Iraq was a shocking experience due to everything from the sandstorms and the 130 degree heat to the multinational nature of the U.S. embassy there. Few Iraqi workers were hired out of fear that retaliation would be taken against their families. So as Hill was departing the embassy in the mornings he'd greet workers from Peru, Hungary and elsewhere.
"We were like a Tower of Babel," he said. "The Iraq embassy is the largest embassy in the world. I like to joke that along with the Great Wall of China it's the only man made thing that can be seen from space.
The make-up of Iraqis themselves is also quite diverse. Hill said that to understand Iraq is to understand an identity issue. There are Kurds, Shia and Sunnis. While the minority, Sunnis have been in charge for years until the U.S. occupation allowed for a democraticaly elected Shia government to take control.
"Then we had the Sunnis saying one of two things," Hill explained. "'You dumb Americans, you introduced sectarianism in Iraq.' Or 'You dumb Americans, you think you introduced democracy but the elections were quite flawed.' Everything starts with 'you dumb Americans.'"
Hill continued to say that one would think the Shia would be happy with the Americans considering their new political situation.
"Well, some of the politicians are quite happy," Hill said. "But the Iraqis thought 'if you're going to invade our country you better pave our roads in gold.'"
Hill denied that the Shia controlled government acts as a proxy to Iran. He also added that as long as Iraq stays democratic, the Kurdish population will stay.
Hill said that it's fair for people to wonder in the U.S. engagement with Iraq was worth it or if it made sense.
"Diplomats try not to look back, we try to look forward," he said. "If you keep looking forward you'll see that Iraq is going to make it."
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-M. Schwinn, MA candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies