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Shorter-Lawrence has been in Luxembourg for almost three years and has volunteered to spend a year at the US mission in Bagdad in Iraq as deputy management councillor.
On Monday she spoke about the relations between the US and Luxembourg. In this interview, she explains what her job will be in Iraq and how to take advantage of not being able to leave the country.
The interview has been slightly abridged for length and clarity.
Martine Huberty: Can you take any of the lessons you learnt in Luxembourg to Iraq?
Shorter-Lawrence: [Laughs.] “The state department’s rule is that the chargé d’affaires is not allowed to leave the country, because either the ambassador, or the number 2, the DCM [deputy chief of mission], must always be in the country at one time. So, either the ambassador is on vacation and I am here, or I am visiting and the ambassador is here. When there is no ambassador and I am both, I don’t leave Luxembourg. So, I have seen a lot of Luxembourg in the 19 months that I have been chargé d’affaires, and I have explored a great deal.
The compound in Iraq is about the size of Vatican City, so it’s a lot smaller than Luxembourg. I will be staying within those walls. (…) So, I joke that I have been practising here in Luxembourg to be restricted to a small space. In Bagdad, I’ll be restricted to a much, much smaller space [laughs]. Maybe I’ll take that with me.”
What will be different compared to your current job?
“The job sounds very different, certainly it will much hotter and sunnier, but really it will be working with people, which is what I do every day here. It will be very different people because we have the Americans, but we also have the Iraqis that work every day on the compound. So, it will be very similar in many ways because no matter what you do really, it’s about who you work with, how you get along and how you manage people and relationships. I manage a team of 53 here in Luxembourg, but we as an embassy manage all our relationships with our Luxembourg contacts. It’s all about building relationships, nurturing those bonds, understanding each other.”
But you won’t meet the finance minister?
“That’s true, I won’t be doing that, I won’t be doing any representing.”
Are you looking forward to that?
“I’ll miss that. I enjoy that very much--it’s definitely a perk of the job getting to spend time with the finance minister or with his team, or with the high school students from last night, or with the commemorative society. (…) I get to represent the United States of America every day and it is the best job in the world! I have a really cool job! And I am very fortunate that I get to do it here in Luxembourg.”
Why did you volunteer for that post in Iraq?
“Iraq is an important policy initiative for the government. The success of Iraq is important to the Middle East and the success of the Middle East is important to democracy. It’s important to Europe, to America, so I volunteered because serving in Iraq is one of the top policy initiatives of the US and it’s vital that it be successful.
One of the benefits of my volunteering is that I get to leave my family here in Luxembourg. My husband and two children love Luxembourg. My husband works at the school, my children go to the international school, they have their friends, they have incredible freedom and independence. Luxembourg is such a safe and manageable place. They can walk, take public transportation, so for my two teenage kids, it’s a dream. I knew I wanted to volunteer for Iraq and now is the time to do it.”
What will you miss--apart from your family of course?
“The number one thing that I’ll miss is my family. The number two is the team here. For an American embassy it’s quite small even though we’re one of the biggest here in Luxembourg but it’s small for us. It’s been a real joy to have the opportunity to get to know everyone. Our team is made up of Americans as well as local employees. The local employees of US embassies are the backbones of any embassy. They have the institutional knowledge, they’re the experts that stay year after year, while the Americans come and go. We have a very smart and dedicated team here, folks like Patricia [Reckel], the Luxembourgers, Germans, French, Belgian, Portuguese. Our embassy is a mini Luxembourg, isn’t it? It’s great to have that mix of all the different nationalities because that represents Luxembourg. It’s important for us as US mission to have that basic understanding of the country we’re in, so that we can reach out and nurture that relationship to the best of our ability. (…)”
What advice would you give your successor?
My successor, Kerri Hannan, is another career diplomat. She is very excited to come to Luxembourg. My advice is: there is a lot to do here. Don’t be fooled by the small size. Whether it’s getting to know Luxembourg City through work, the many representational events or programmes or meetings that you have, and to get out to the country side. Because I wasn’t able to leave Luxembourg, I made sure I got to know it. I have been to Fonds-de-Gras and took the charming train through the mining hills, I’ve been camping in Esch-sur-Sûre with my family among all the Dutch [laughs]--it was great! Of course, we went to Clervaux and Vianden, Bourscheid is one of my favourite spots in Luxembourg because it’s up high and you can see the beautiful valley. Don’t be fooled by the size, there is a lot to see and do.
Audrey Davis, journalism intern at Delano: What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you in Iraq, since so much is changing for you?
Shorter-Lawrence: “The biggest challenge will be those initial few weeks, getting to know my team. My team will provide the platform upon which we build the bilateral mission. My team provides the budget, the human resource support, the logistics, the physical embassy itself, the living quarters, where we eat, swim, exercise. My team will be responsible for that, so it’s very important I get to know them, what concerns they might have, what they think is going well, and to understand it quickly because I will only be there for one year (these assignments are for one year) so it’s important to immediately understand the lay of the land, to make sure that you can be productive, to make sure that we provide the most efficient, solid administrative management tools for the team, so that the mission can go forward. It will be hard, intense, it will be very long days, 7 days a week, but that’s what you do in Iraq.”