On June 27, 2012, Ambassador Rick Barton sat down with WCSH’s 207 Program in Portland, Maine. He discussed the importance of conflict prevention, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and rewarding moments from his career.
You can access an archived video of the interview through our Twitter page.
Rick Barton: The Secretary of State and her predecessors have all thought that the civilian side of the U.S. government needed to be more capable in preventing conflict and in accelerating the departure from conflict, so that’s the space that I’m working in.
Reporter: Where are you working? What kinds of—I mean, obviously you work in Washington—what kinds of places are you and your team focusing on around the globe right now?
Rick Barton: The largest cases that we’re working on are Syria, Burma, Kenya, and North Central America [Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador].
Reporter: Let’s take the one that was first on the list: Syria—civil war going on there right now, in the news every day, by all accounts, a horrific situation, a mess. How can the U.S. State Department influence this and try to do it in a way where you’re trying to tamp down the flames of conflict?
Rick Barton: Our policy is pretty clear; we’d like to see the Assad regime leave by any means as fast as possible. The focus of my office is to really work with the opposition activists to make them more capable in their current role and to make them better prepared should there be a change in government and so it’s actually not too far from some of the basic political organizing that you might do in any other case, it’s just a lot trickier because it’s cross-border, people you never knew before, there’s no trust dimension—even among themselves. You’ve got a repressive regime that might kill your partners in this case, so the complications get greater, but some of the critical elements, including mass media, are things that we’re trying to encourage.
Reporter: I was listening to a speech that you gave and you said that when people hear about what you do and this job that you had taken on, you heard the same two words a lot, tell me about that.
Rick Barton: (laughing) For the first several months people came up to me and said essentially the same two words: “Good luck,” and “Good luck.” And it’s been pretty balanced and I think I need both.
Reporter: It’s the kind of job where the challenges never end and, in most cases, you never get anything even close to a neat, tidy resolution.
Rick Barton: Sometimes when I get home at night, actually, doing the dishes feels pretty good because you’ve finished the job, but you know you feel like you’re making a difference and the whole reason that most of us serve in public office is that we feel that it’s a direct chance to help a situation, improve a situation and I’ve definitely had some really rewarding moments as well as some really discouraging and frustrating times.
Reporter: What has been a rewarding experience that you’ve had?
Rick Barton: One of the ones that really comes to mind quickest for me is working with women after the genocide in Rwanda – and – we made the choice that the Hutu-Tutsi division was too complicated so we thought we’d work with women because 70 percent of the population was dependent on women at that point and we chose the right ministry and we brought forward a little grant program that allowed women all over the country to essentially start enterprises, but to become more critical to the future of their communities. And we reached nearly 200,000 people, did it almost all with Rwandans, very few internationals on the scene and it’s a small amount of tax payer dollars that made a huge difference in place that nearly a million people had been macheted to death so you can feel good about that kind of thing.
And I’m feeling good about the meetings I had with the Syrian activists a few weeks ago in Istanbul. They’re capable. They’re resourceful. But they’re too isolated and we can be helpful without taking complete ownership of the conflict.
Reporter: How closely do you work with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?
Rick Barton: I see her on Monday mornings and then often times somewhere else during the week. She’s a terrific boss, a lot of the times some of the things I like most about her being a boss: I’ve got to think about in terms of my own leadership that I can probably pick it up a bit. But she’s—one great thing about her is she gives me a lot of responsibility and tremendous support.
Reporter: You still have a place here in Maine. When you come back here does this give you a much needed chance to really recharge you batteries?
Rick Barton: It really does and in fact, after this conversation, I’m hoping to spend a little time in Boothbay Harbor.