Paula Dobriansky (left) with General David Petraeus and Angelina Jolie in Iraq in 2008.
"Spotlight with Paula Dobriansky"
Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter
Author: Sasha Talcott, Former Director of Communications and Outreach
Paula Dobrianskey is a senior fellow with Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She previously served as undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs for the Bush administration, and also was a senior vice president and head of the Washington office for the Council on Foreign Relations.
It was, wrote the Associated Press, a bit of “star power in Baghdad.” When actress Angelina Jolie visited Iraq in early 2008, she arrived with a senior State Department official: Paula Dobriansky, then undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs.
Together, Dobriansky and Jolie met with General David Petraeus, top commander in Iraq, as well as Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to highlight the plight of Iraq’s displaced. Though thousands of refugees had returned to the country, many of their communities had been bombed, shelled, or taken over by another of Iraq’s rival factions. Through the series of meetings, Dobriansky and Jolie (who serves as the UN’s Goodwill Ambassador on the topic) were able to persuade the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to significantly increase its staff in Baghdad and the Iraqi Government to provide more aid to the displaced.
“It was a very significant and moving trip,” Dobriansky said.
Dobriansky, now a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, served as undersecretary from 2001 to 2009, making her the longest-serving undersecretary in history. Her portfolio encompassed a broad range of critical foreign policy issues, including democracy, human rights, labor, refugee and humanitarian relief matters, and environmental/science issues. She led the U.S. delegation in international negotiations that focused on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the current global climate agreement whose first commitment period ends in 2012. She also was designated as the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues and the President's Special Envoy on Northern Ireland, with the rank of Ambassador.
Dobriansky’s array of responsibilities made for no shortage of high-profile moments. Soon after becoming undersecretary, Dobriansky found herself in the White House residence meeting with President George W. Bush and the Dalai Lama. In the meeting, the Dalai Lama spoke of his desire to establish a dialogue with Chinese government officials – an initiative that the Bush Administration helped launch during Dobriansky’s tenure.
“His Holiness is a person of great compassion, who desires to see cultural and religious freedom in Tibet,” Dobriansky said.
Her return to Harvard after 30 years marks a full circle for Dobriansky – and a chance to work alongside the professors who were influential in her early career. Dobriansky still remembers Allison’s and Nye’s class on national security decision-making, where she wrote a one-page policy memo on conventional arms transfers.
“It was one of the best courses being taught at the time at the Kennedy School,” she said. “It was very practical. I have well-used many of the skills that I acquired from that course.”
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