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Politics / Issues

In Sarasota, Obama Official Talks Foreign Policy, Calls Killing Of Iranian General 'A Risk'

Photo of Wendy Sherman and Yamiche Alcindor on stage.
Robert Pope
Ambassador Wendy Sherman followed her talk with a Q&A by Yamiche Alcindor, Washington correspondent for PBS News Hour.

Ambassador Wendy Sherman served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs during the Obama administration.

She was also an advisor to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

On Monday, the former diplomat was in Sarasota to speak on foreign policy issues as part of the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall lecture series.

In her talk at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sherman called climate change the world's biggest threat, praised recent efforts to reach a peace deal with the Taliban, and said that China is on course to become the world's next superpower.

As the top negotiator of the Iran nuclear deal, which President Trump withdrew from in 2018, Sherman also spoke on current tensions with Iran.

In a news conference before the event, she said that the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and the subsequent retaliation by Iran against U.S troops in Iraq brought the two countries close to war.

"I don't mourn his death,” she said. “That said, I think the president took an extraordinary risk and I don't think we've seen the end of that risk yet. Soleimani was probably the second most important person in Iran and just the week before his death, there were people in the streets of Iran protesting the government and asking for change. A week later, after he was murdered by the United States government, they were in the streets protesting America. That's not in our national security interest.”

Photo of Wendy Sherman
Credit Robert Pope
Wendy Sherman is now a senior fellow at Harvard University's Institute of Politics and Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Sherman also said that under the Trump administration, the U.S is increasingly retreating from the world stage. She also addressed budget cuts, staffing problems and reported low morale inside today's State Department.

“These are all professionals who have served Republican and Democratic Secretaries of States and Presidents alike,” she said. “I know it's hard for Americans to think about what this has to do with their lives, but in fact, when Americans travel abroad, it's the people in our embassies that make sure they're safe.

"These are the professionals that make sure that when there are threats to America, whether those threats are pandemics or terrorism, really help solve those problems. I hope that whoever is president next will make a commitment to refilling the State Department and making diplomacy what it has always been for us, and that is the security blanket for America. “

Sherman also spoke about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent antagonism towards the press and called his negative reaction to questioning by NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly, "outrageous on so many levels."  

After her talk at a podium, Sherman then sat down for a Q& A session. When asked by moderator Yamiche Alcindor of PBS NewsHour who has the most to gain from America’s lessening presence in global affairs, Sherman answered that it was China and Russia.

Towards the end of the Q&A, Sherman said President Trump may be re-elected, a statement that drew a smattering of applause followed by an equal amount of booing.

Sherman then threw up her hands in an effort to quiet both reactions.

“We need to end the contempt we have for each other and work together,” she said.