A close friend of the outgoing US Secretary of State, David McKean says that John Kerry’s visit to Luxembourg was the highlight of his 10 months in the job. “I can take some credit for that, but not all. I think the Secretary believed it was important to visit Luxembourg and to demonstrate that as a member of the EU and NATO it is an important country.”
The fact that president-elect Donald Trump ordered all politically appointed ambassadors to quit their posts on the day he is inaugurated--20 January--means that McKean did not get to achieve all he wanted to while heading up the US embassy. He would have loved to continue a programme of visiting schools. “The kids in this country are quite sophisticated and quite worldly, and I got lots of good questions wherever I went. It was interesting to have a better understanding of their perception of the United States.”
As for what the future holds for US-EU relations under the incoming Trump administration, McKean says it is difficult to know. The ambassador cites that fact that John Kerry’s first visit abroad as Secretary of State was to Europe as sending very important signal to Europeans that he and the president understood how critical is the United States’ relationship with the EU.
“It will be interesting to see if Rex Tillerson is confirmed as Secretary of State, and I believe he will be, where he goes first,” says McKean. “That will give a first glimpse of how they are viewing their priorities. President Trump has not said much about the EU. He has talked about NATO, and has said what has been the Obama policy for eight years, and that is that member nations have to step up to the plate and provide a greater percentage of their GDP to the collective defence of Europe. Now, Trump has said it in a much louder and harsher tone, but it is essentially the same policy.”
As for his own successor, McKean says he is always reluctant to give advice to anybody who succeeds him in any job. However, he would say that the job of communicating the values of the United States is made easier by listening and learning. “It’s the best way to understand the country. I would also say don’t take the good relationship the United States and Luxembourg has for granted. Events change and the world changes. We need to constantly be in close communication.”
The ambassador loved visiting different parts of Luxembourg and says the job here was a wonderful experience. “The issues are interesting, whether they be Europe wide or focused on Luxembourg. The people are interesting. It’s been fascinating peeling back the layers of Luxembourg and getting to know a broader section of society.”
As for his own future, McKean is keen to remain in politics. “I’ve been in government and politics now for 25 years. I think our country is very divided at the moment. We’ve got some serious struggles ahead. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, but I hope to stay very involved in the public policy arena. I think it’s too important.”
An expanded version of this interview will be published in the February edition of "Delano", out on 10 February.