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A Guide For Diplomats: 'Get A GPS' And Other Tips

GUY RAZ, host:

Here's a question Dennis Antoine has been asking himself for years: how do you do your job when your job is to represent a country that few in Washington really care about, let alone know about? Dennis Antoine spent 13 years as Grenada's ambassador to the United States. Now, he's written a how-to guide to help disoriented diplomats hit the ground running and leap over the common pitfalls of diplomacy.

The book is called "Effective Diplomacy," and Ambassador Antoine joins me here in the studio to talk about it.

Welcome.

Ambassador DENIS ANTOINE (Grenada): Thank you, Guy. I'm pleased to be here.

RAZ: Why did you decide to write this how-to guide for diplomats? Was there anything out there like this?

Amb. ANTOINE: Well, you must understand that it is one thing being appointed ambassador and it's another thing being able to function effectively in a maze, as I call it. Washington, D.C. is not as small in the context of diplomacy as it appears.

And so, based on the competing interest for the attention of the United States, small countries like Grenada had to find a way to be effective, to be heard.

RAZ: So when you arrived here from Grenada, how difficult was it for you to get anybody at the State Department to pay attention to you as the ambassador? I mean, could you meet with high-level people at the State Department?

Amb. ANTOINE: No. There is so much - there is so high you can go, so far you can go, because when you put the scale of need for your presence at State Department, it is represented in a collective process. Please take note that the United States deals with the Caribbean on original basis.

For example, there is one ambassador for the Eastern Caribbean. There is one desk for the Eastern Caribbean.

RAZ: This is at the State Department.

Amb. ANTOINE: Yeah, the State Department. So...

RAZ: So, this one person is dealing with...

Amb. ANTOINE: ...one person deals with...

RAZ: ...all of these...

Amb. ANTOINE: ...five countries of the Eastern Caribbean. Let's say, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica, Grenada - they have one person.

RAZ: So, you decided to write this book for people who were coming to Washington in similar circumstances (unintelligible).

Amb. ANTOINE: Exactly. Exactly.

RAZ: One of the recommendations you make is that a new diplomat should either get a very good driver or a very good GPS unit. You write: do not underestimate the danger of being foreign and disoriented in the Washington, D.C. area, even while sporting diplomatic tag. It sounds like you might have had a bad driving experience yourself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: What happened?

Amb. ANTOINE: Oh, my goodness. I have had more than one bad driving experience. But we had a driver and we were heading south on 395, and he's not aware of where he was going. He stood at a halt in the middle of traffic and panicked. And the entire traffic, left, right and center, was betting him, get off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Amb. ANTOINE: Luckily, one of my consuls who were in the car with him really had to take over and sort of guide him off the road. And so that's why I talked about the importance of a good driver. You are at the mercy, at risk of being killed (unintelligible).

RAZ: Now, what are the crucial events a new ambassador should attend, both to be taken seriously and to get a feel for the country?

Mr. ANTOINE: I really feel, top of the line, you should not miss the joint session of Congress. And then outside of Washington, I do feel that there are some unique opportunities. I spoke leisurely about Senator Grassley's tour of Iowa.

RAZ: Yes. I was surprised to learn about this. Senator Charles Grassley, the Republican senator from Iowa, offers a tour to diplomats, a tour of Iowa.

Amb. ANTOINE: Yes, indeed. And he does home stay. He would put a diplomat or an ambassador to stay in the home of one of his constituents.

RAZ: And you did that.

Amb. ANTOINE: Of course, I did that.

RAZ: And did you stay with somebody at night?

Amb. ANTOINE: Most certainly. It is refreshing to get an insight as to the real constituency. And from there in the Midwest, you understand that Washington is moved from there - the millions of dollars in trade. And you get to understand exactly what this imbalance in trade, where it's coming from, what is the importance of these industries back in the Midwest are there?

RAZ: So there are all of these people in Iowa who are boarding ambassadors from around the world?

Amb. ANTOINE: Well, I wouldn't say boarding. I think it is cultural exchange. I think it provides for. But, of course, it's boarding. At a time, you get a chance to sit and get a good country lunch, a meal. And those are some of the things that give you better understanding.

RAZ: Ambassador Antoine, in 2004, your country, Grenada, was devastated by Hurricane Ivan, flattened, in a way that sort of brings to mind what happened in Haiti. You write that when disaster strikes the homeland of a diplomat it can be one of the most stressful, isolating and emotional experiences of your life. What advice would you give to your Haitian counterparts now?

Amb. ANTOINE: I've been talking to my Haitian ambassadors, my former colleagues, Ambassador Joseph and (unintelligible) in Washington here. And I think it is one of the most lonely period in an ambassador's life where you're not sure whether your own family is alive, where there is any way that you would contact your leaders. You become a leader in isolation, and so it is an occasion for pulling up a group of support mechanism around you.

And it includes putting in place and ensuring that you have the cooperation of partners - partners that can deliver contributions to credible international agencies. They are the front line in disaster in the Caribbean. And so, thank you for asking and I hope the world, as it is, is focused on Haiti.

RAZ: Denis Antoine spent 13 years as Grenada's ambassador to the United States. He's now International Programs director at the University of the District of Columbia.

Ambassador Antoine, thanks so much for joining us.

Amb. ANTOINE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.