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Rob Barber ’68, Former Ambassador to Iceland, Speaks on International Relations

D. Zhu/The Phillipian

Barber took up the challenging task of learning Icelandic following his nomination for ambassador.

Former ambassador to Iceland and top fundraiser in President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, Rob Barber ’68 P ’03 said he will forever be grateful to Andover for the enduring relationships and education he received as a student.

Barber spoke of international relations, especially those of Iceland, in a discussion on Tuesday night in the Mural Room of Paresky Commons. James McGovern, former defense attache for the United States Department of Defense to Norway and Iceland, joined Barber at the event.

According to Barber, the development of personal relationships, a skill he learned at Andover, is necessary in resolving difficult problems as an ambassador.

“One of the things that were critical to me [at Andover] and has been critical through my life is personal relationships… There will be times when the chips are down with some kind of a political or worse crisis and a hard conversation will be necessary with a counterpart. If one has formed and developed truly a personal relationship with those counterparts, then the hard conversation is still hard but it’s easier to have,” said Barber.

Barber emphasized how much Andover has positively impacted his life.

He said, “I came away from Andover with near complete respect and appreciation for the education that I had been granted… I formed relationships that now, almost 51 years later, in the class of ’68, I still get abiding friendships I went to school with here…I will forever be indebted to Andover for what it provided me towards the next phases of my life and enduring relationships that continued on.”

Although Barber did not know what he wanted to accomplish as a teenager, he lived with the philosophy of trying something without the fear of failure.

“I had no grand plan when I was younger, I had no grand plan when I finished college, I had no grand plan when I decided in early 2007 when Barack Obama announced that he was running for President, I had no grand plan what I could do to try and elect him; but what I knew is that I wanted to do whatever I could,” said Barber.

Although Salvador Gomez ’21 had very little knowledge of diplomacy relations prior to attending Barber’s talk, he still found Barber’s talk interesting.

“I think it was extremely relevant. I really liked how [Barber] was very approachable and very straightforward. He was very kind and genuine and he gave me a lot of insight into Iceland and how the government and the diplomat relations work,” said Gomez.

According to McGovern, students have the power to create an identity for the United States and how those who are overseas view that vision.

“When you show respect for [foreign] cultures, they seek Americans who are not what they see on TV or on the radio. It means so much to them and that’s where you are all intentionally ambassadors… You are actually a messenger for something that is bigger than all of us, and that is what America should be outside of our borders,” said McGovern.

Disruptive diplomacy has been more of the case with the current administration than ever before, according to Barber. Barber believes that this is partly due to the lack of preparation. According to Barber, when faced with no experience in diplomacy, preparation is imperative.

“If you look at this current administration and you think about some of the bilateral meetings that have been had- think about with North Korea, just to speak of one example- the lack of preparation has been evident…They have not been successful because there was not been adequate premeditating and meeting on the part of the principles,” said Barber.

President Trump’s declaration that he wanted to end The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.) during his election campaign has affected allies overseas, according to McGovern.

“It can be a very disconcerting situation when the leadership wants to go in a direction that does not involve any allies, that we are going to go it alone, that we don’t care about alliances, we don’t care about what our friends think, we are just going to protect our own and do our own,” said McGovern.

He continued, “As a diplomat, it’s really hard to try to explain to your friends why they believe your country is abandoning every friendship that they have in that region. The way we expressed this properly that was domestic, political things happen. Every country has domestic identities and their political realities can change, but at the end of the day, we still remain the same, we are all the same together.”