Imagine this list of credentials: deputy U.S. representative on the U.N. Security Council, Emmy-award winning ABC News national security and Moscow correspondent, President Bill Clinton’s assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs and a negotiator with Taliban officials for the release of terrorist Osama bin Laden.
This may sound like the combined resumes of a handful of diplomats, journalists and professors, but in fact it is just one man: Ambassador Karl Inderfurth, GW’s director of the graduate program in International Affairs at the Elliott School.
A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Princeton University as a Fulbright Scholar, Inderfurth said despite a career’s worth of work as an international diplomat, he did not expect his future to take that path. A war in the 1960s changed his mind.
“I went to school during the height of the Vietnam War when a lot of students were very concerned about what we were doing in that war,” he said. “Many of us were opposed to it, myself included.”
The diplomatic style of President John F. Kennedy sparked an interest in International Affairs studies.
“Many of us were defined by that period,” he said.
Inderfurth cannot ignore what he calls the similarities between the 1960s and today’s world, where he said skepticism over the War in Iraq is growing.
“Many of the questions that we raised in Vietnam have returned involving the questions with Iraq,” he said. “We’re back asking a lot of the same questions we asked in the 1960s.”
To answer questions about international politics, Inderfurth said people must first gain knowledge of the international community, and then an analysis can be made on what the problem is and where the solution can be found.
“We need to know more about other countries and be better prepared to make decisions with full knowledge and appreciation of those countries,” he said.
The academic setting is an ideal place to accomplish these goals, Inderfurth said.
“Universities have a major responsibility to educate and inform young people about other countries and cultures as they begin their international careers,” he said. “We have to be better at this and our academic institutions and our graduate schools have a major role to play there.”
He added, “That’s why I’m very pleased to be a part of the Elliott School faculty and to be teaching that next generation of our nation’s leaders.”
Since coming to GW in 2001, Inderfurth has helped organize visits by such international political all-stars as former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
“One of the most rewarding things that I’ve been able to contribute is that I’ve worked closely at U.N. with Kofi Annan and he very kindly agreed to speak at GW,” Inderfurth said.
He said he values these experiences because it gives students a view of the world from the leaders who shape the policy.
“The major lesson that we need to constantly remind ourselves about American involvement abroad is that we need to know more about the world,” he said. “We need to know more about other cultures, about other countries’ histories, about their language before we make decisions about our involvement there.”