Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
February 8, 2023
MS. ABBY PHILLIP: Thank you so much, Fred, and thank you all for being here. Good morning. [Applause.] Thank you, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. We were both up late last night.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes, we were.
MS PHILLIP: You were actually in the room for the State of the Union address; I was sitting on a cold set. (Laughter.) But we really appreciate you getting up early to be here, and also for, as Fred said, answering the call to service. Because I think for this particular discussion, your presence in this role is really what a lot of people in this room want to know a lot more about. And so we’re definitely going to get into some of your life and your story and your journey in the Foreign Service. But it’s a Wednesday in America, and there’s a couple things I do want to talk to you about.
First of all, your quick reaction to the State of the Union last night. What was it like to be in that room? It was a little wild last night, a little raucous. [Laughter.]
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I wouldn’t describe it as wild. [Laughter.] It was electrifying.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It really was electrifying. It was amazing listening at the President have all of us in his hands, listening to him share with America and share with our Congress the successes of the administration over the past two years, how he has – how his administration has delivered for the American people.
MS PHILLIP: And of course, this is such a – it’s always – it feels like a critical time, but this is a critical time. There’s a lot going on in the world. China is a part of that picture, and I’m going to – I want to relate this to the other part of our conversation, too, but just for a moment on China. The spy balloon captured everyone’s attention. Are we at a low point right now in our relationship with China?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re certainly at a reflection point in our relationship with China. The President spoke to President Xi a few weeks ago, and they agreed that Secretary Blinken would go to have discussions. And to have this spy balloon cross into – over U.S. territory right at the moment that we were in the process of trying to develop some diplomatic conversations with them just says how complicated dealing with China is. And I think the President was very clear that when our sovereignty is invaded, we will respond.
MS PHILLIP: When it comes to China, I think it seems that there is a lack of attention to how China is using its influence around the globe, but particularly on the continent of Africa. Tell me about where you think the United States is, the public is, in understanding how China is seeking to gain leverage around the globe. And is that message really penetrating? And does more need to be done?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Always – there’s always more to be done. But our relations with the continent of Africa are strong. The President just hosted African leaders in December here in Washington. It was an astoundingly successful event. I traveled to the continent right after, and I heard nothing but positive views from African leaders directly on how much they appreciated that engagement. They want more.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: They want more engagement, and we have promised to give them more engagement. My visit, Janet Yellen’s visit a week earlier sent that same message. We have other cabinet officials who are planning trips to the continent.
But let me just say, this is not my first visit around the block. I have been on the African continent for 30 years. I first traveled there in 1978, and I have never looked back. Africa is a core interest for the United States and for the people of the United States, and Africa is the last frontier of possibilities. And we know that we have to engage with that continent, and we are engaging with that continent.
We’re not competing with China. I would say the opposite: China is trying to compete with us. They’re coming from the rear. We have a strong African diaspora here in the United States. There’s no way that China can compete with those kinds of engagements that we have. But we’re not asking African countries to choose between the U.S. and China. We’re offering to our partners in Africa an alternative. We’re offering to them a system that’s based on values that focus on people, focus on humanitarian assistance, but also focuses on human rights.
MS PHILLIP: And on Ukraine – since I have you here – it seems like we are on the cusp of what could be an escalation of the conflict, but I’m wondering about peace. What do you think it would take on the ground for peace to be a real possibility, an actual diplomatic – a negotiated peace being a possibility?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The answer is simple: Russia needs to pull its troops out of Ukraine. Ukraine is not attacking Russia. Russia brought its troops into Ukraine and attacked the people of Ukraine. So to move forward towards a peaceful settlement, Putin needs to pull his troops out, stop firing on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, and go back to the negotiating table. But it can’t happen as long as he is still inside of Ukraine acting as the aggressor.
MS PHILLIP: And on food, I’ve been fascinated by how all of this has affected the global food supply. It’s been particularly acute on the continent of Africa, but I think globally we’re all feeling it. Where do you think things stand at this moment? And do you see Russia trying to use food scarcity as a tool in this war?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: They’ve used food scarcity. They’re using winter. They’re using fear as a tool of this war. But Abby, I will tell you, when I went to New York in February of ’21 – I became president of the Security Council in March – my signature event was food insecurity. We’ve had an issue related to food insecurity before this war brought on by COVID, the pandemic and supply chain issues, brought on by climate change, brought on by conflict, but exacerbated by Russia’s war on Ukraine.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Most of the countries in Africa get somewhere around 50 percent of the grain that they consume from Russia and from Ukraine. For that reason, we did not sanction Russian agricultural products. They can export their grain. They’re exporting more gain this year than they did in previous years. So they have talked about themselves being aggrieved. They’re not aggrieved. They’re aggressors. And what they’re doing is affecting all of us. I also addressed this issue on my recent trip to Africa, in Mozambique and Ghana, where people are feeling the pain of food shortages and high prices.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah, yeah. Early on in this conflict there was a conversation that was happening a lot in the media, but in a lot of homes too in this country, about what some people perceived as a double standard in the reaction to Ukrainian refugees, for example, in the reaction of the world to conflict in Europe. I just want to give you an opportunity to just address that question as a black woman in this role. If you are a black person in America, and you’re looking out at the world, and you’re saying, okay, I see conflict happening all over the place in the continent of Africa, in the Middle East, and it doesn’t get this reaction. Why? What’s your answer to them?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I actually would disagree with that.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We are engaged in trying to address issues of conflict everywhere, all over the world. What we saw in Ukraine was an attack that it was literally on all of our values, but when we saw Ukrainian refugees moving, they were moving to the border countries. They were moving into Europe, and they were warmly welcomed into Europe. We need to duplicate that all over the world. When people feel that they have to flee and they have to cross a border to flee, they need to be warmly welcomed, and we need to encourage that.
And the U.S. has been a country that has – we’re a country of immigrants. We are a country – I was in Kenya last week – we’re taking 40,000 Africans as our ceiling for the refugee program. When I started working on those issues back in 1989, we were only taking 2,000. It’s an immense improvement on what we’re doing. It’s a work in progress. I’m not saying we’re perfect, but we are continuing to try to improve how we respond to these issues everywhere in the world.
MS PHILLIP: But you would agree that Europe has not always welcomed refugees from other parts of the world, Syria and elsewhere?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And that’s something that we raise constantly with our colleagues that we all have to open – we have to be open to people who are fleeing persecution. We have to help people find a way to survive. And it’s a conversation that needs to continue.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah. And also last night at the State of the Union, the family of Tyre Nichols – they were a guest of the President and the First Lady’s in the balcony. And I believe they’re still in Washington this morning. But moments like that – I mean, their personal tragedy has become a national tragedy, similar with George Floyd. As a diplomat, how does that affect – these domestic issues around race and around our society and around policing, how does that affect, if at all, the work that you’re doing around the globe?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: First of all, I’m impacted as a mother of a son –
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: – of a black son. And so I felt this personally. I felt the George Floyd murder personally. I felt what Tyre’s mother felt because I have a son.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: So I can talk about this from my heart. And so at the UN, I talk about it from my heart. I don’t make excuses. We have to deal with these issues, but I think we can say very openly that the killers of George Floyd have been arrested. The killers of Tyre have been arrested. So while this continues to happen and we have to find a way, as the President noted, to address these issues, the United States, I think, is – you compare us to other countries, we’re not sweeping this under the carpet anymore. We’re actually openly addressing this. And I gave a speech on race at the UN my first few months there and talked about the fact that while we’re not a perfect country, we openly admit to our weaknesses and we work to address those weaknesses.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah. I’m – I hear this, and I’m sure you do too, but I wonder if – I wonder if you hear it in your private or even publicly from – coming from China and Russia. They often cite the United States’ record on policing, the racial strife on the ground as evidence that our system isn’t operating properly. Do you hear that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I hear it from them, but it’s – I mean –
MS PHILLIP: What – yeah, what do you say to them?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I mean –
MS PHILLIP: What’s the response? I mean is it – and do they say it to you in private conversations?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You’re looking – no, they don’t say it in private conversations. They use the moment.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And when they use the moment, it falls on deaf ears because we all know that both of these countries are authoritarian and that people in their countries don’t have rights. And so having them try to call the United States out just doesn’t resonate.
MS PHILLIP: So I do want to get a little bit to your background because I think it’s so extraordinary. But how did you first see yourself as a diplomat? What did it take for you to see yourself playing a role in the foreign policy of the United States of America?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I have so many friends in the Foreign Service who tell me they wanted to be a Foreign Service Officer when they were five years old or fifth grade. I didn’t even know this existed. I didn’t know it existed when I was high school. I didn’t really have a clear picture of the Foreign Service even in college. But I went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin studying Africa with the intent of being in the academy, and ended up taking a trip to Africa, to Liberia –
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: – in 1978, and it really changed my life because I suddenly realized that there are these embassies overseas and they’re really making – they’re representing America. They’re representing the people of the United States. And so that’s when I first thought about it, in 1978, and I joined the Foreign Service in 1982.
MS PHILLIP: I imagine that a lot of diplomats of color, particularly black diplomats, might worry about being pigeonholed. Did you ever worry about that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: What I worried about is that people thought I was being pigeonholed because I was studying Africa.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And that’s where I wanted to be, but I also know that our system did historically pigeonhole African Americans to Africa and occasionally to the Caribbean, but other people wanted the Caribbean because it was on nice beaches. But we – [laughter] – we were kind of pigeonholed to Africa.
And so there I was, an Africanist, loving to work on the continent and having to kind of justify the fact that I actually wanted to stay in Africa and not go anywhere else. And I think we’ve come to change that now. We have an African American ambassador in Qatar. And so we’re changing.
But for me, it was not about being pigeonholed. It was about where my passions were and where my professional experience was.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah. I am curious about when you look at the broad scope of U.S. foreign policy, not just over the last couple of years but over decades, it does seem to me that there is often this ebb and flow in interest in Africa, but correct me if I’m wrong, if you don’t think that that is a fair assumption. Do you think – I mean, do you think that that is what has happened in U.S. foreign policy? And at what point – what will it take to kind of even that out so that there’s consistency over time in the view of Africa from a strategic perspective in relationship to the United States.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think you’re right, there has been this ebb and flow, and it’s not based on administrations although the previous administration ignored Africa. But when you look back at the Bush administration, he devoted so many initiatives to the African continent. You had the Malaria Initiative, you had PEPFAR, you had MCC. There were so many initiatives that came out of the Bush administration where Africa was really kind of the tip – really the tip of the sword for our foreign policy.
So yes, you’re right: there have been these ebbs and flows. We’re on a flow now, and we have to keep flowing to make sure that we don’t ignore this continent – 54 countries, over a billion people, the median age of 19, so it’s a youthful population, and it has enormous resources. So yeah, that’s why China is trying to enter this market. Theirs is very transactional; ours is more related to our values.
MS PHILLIP: You mentioned the previous administration ignored the continent, the Trump administration. What was the consequence of that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think what we saw happen on the African continent but also at the United Nations, like anyplace where you leave open space, the Chinese fill that space. They actually upped their game on the continent of Africa and they upped their game in the United Nations. So at the moment, we’re trying to move back, and I think we’ve succeeded, to our place of leadership in both places.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah. I’m curious just because you mentioned – you brought China up one more time. I’m curious about the spying element of this, beyond the United States. Obviously, all countries spy, but are there limits, I mean, in terms of territorial integrity that China should be mindful of as they float – I mean, it sounds like these balloons are perhaps floating all around the globe at this point.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, I think other countries ought to also mind their borders and look at what is happening in their country. If the Chinese can boldly enter U.S. airspace, what’s happening to other countries that don’t have the capacity to respond as we have responded? And I think for all intents and purposes everybody ought to be on guard.
MS PHILLIP: Does that break any international law?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Of course.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Of course. Your territorial integrity is your – this is what we’re seeing with Ukraine and Russia. Russia crossed into Ukraine. They actually broke through Ukraine’s borders. You don’t, without an invitation, cross into another country’s borders.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah. I want to talk about the Foreign Service, because I know that there is actually a question in here from someone in the audience about that. So I’ll fold this question into what I was going to ask her about. I don’t have a name here, unfortunately, but it says: “Please describe the changes in recruiting and retention for underrepresented communities at the State Department and in the broader foreign policy community.” And obviously, there has long been a concern at the Foreign Service, the – what is it, the pale – “male, pale, and Yale” is the terminology. I think that’s probably true in a lot of places, not just the Foreign Service.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, yeah, I was about to say that.
MS PHILLIP: To be fair. But that was exacerbated, it seems, based on the numbers actually, in the Trump administration. Do you see that changing?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, it was changing before the Trump administration, and the Trump administration couldn’t change some of the programs that we had already put in place. We have three scholarship programs that focus on bringing in diversity into the Foreign Service: the Pickering Fellowship program, the Rangel Fellowship program, Payne Fellowship for people going into USAID. Also, we have put diplomats in residence. These are Foreign Service Officers like myself who take a year, two years off and go on an assignment to a university. We’ve always had a dip in residence, for example, in Atlanta working with the HBCUs there.
We do a lot of recruiting. I was head of the Foreign Service, and my recruitment always focused on making sure that we’re inclusive. And it’s not just recruiting at HBCUs; it’s recruiting in high school. It’s going to high schools so that young people like – people like me living in the South can meet people like me now –
MS PHILLIP: Because you don’t know what you don’t know.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You don’t know what you don’t know.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: So I always said to people I was a young person without ambition, because I didn’t know what ambition was. I saw two possibilities: I could be a teacher or a lawyer. So I decided I was going to be a lawyer. It never occurred to me I could be a diplomat. You see – you try to be what you see, and I saw one lawyer and I saw a lot of black teachers. So that was what I wanted to do.
We need to get out more. And I always say to our diplomats, when you go home, go and speak at a high school, go and speak at your alma mater. African Americans, we have a role to play as well in ensuring that we encourage people like us to come into the Foreign Service. But we also need the system to support that, and I think we have that support. Gina, who was just here, her position is an extraordinary first-ever position in the State Department that will focus on these issues.
Retention is also an issue. So while we were relatively successful on the recruiting side, we have to work to retain people. They need to have mentors. They need to have mentors who look like me, but they also need their white colleagues to mentor as well so that they can succeed in what is an extraordinarily complicated, challenging career.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah. Retention is such a big part of this picture, and I wonder as you look back on your career – because I think we all have had these moments – did you have – I’m sure you did – moments where you thought, “I’m done, I can’t do this anymore”? And what kept you in it?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: So I – people who know me have heard this story. My first year in the Foreign Service, I – my husband and I got pregnant, unexpectedly. [Laughter.] And I was on my first tour in the Foreign Service, and he was in the Foreign Service and based here in Washington; I was assigned to Jamaica. And I asked a simple request: leave without pay so I could come home to have my baby. But the State Department did not at that time allow leave without pay for entry-level officers, and they basically said, “Sorry, we don’t give leave without pay to entry-level officers.” I’m like, at some point I’ve got to have this baby and I have no leave and I’m not a leave abuser – I just started. So I needed leave without pay, and the system just did not respond.
And so I finally was bold enough to ask for an appointment to see the director general of the Foreign Service, and she agreed to see me, and she had her talking points, which were: we don’t give leave without pay to entry-level officers. And she gave me leave without pay. But I was very, very close to leaving the Foreign Service.
And so when I became director general of the Foreign Service, if there was one thing my staff could depend on me – if someone came to me with leave without pay requests because of family issues, it didn’t matter what the system said, I approved it. And I know two people that I approved that for who’ve gone far in the Foreign Service, and every time I see them on promotion lists and I see them in person, I’m so proud because I know that I played a small part in making sure that their trajectory in the Foreign Service was one for success, that we supported them. But I came very, very close to quitting at that point.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, and that is so critical. Yes. [Applause.]
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.
MS PHILLIP: I know there are probably some mothers in this room and watching at home, but that is so critical for women in any line of work, but it’s one of those silent, quiet challenges that your male colleagues may not ever have, when you need to take leave without pay to have a child and the system doesn’t allow it.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah.
MS PHILLIP: I wonder, as a black woman as well and as someone who ran the Foreign Service, what do you see as the choke points for people of color advancing in the way that the system is set up?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s when you get at the top of the mid levels, it’s crossing that threshold into the Senior Foreign Service. And in order to cross that threshold, you have to have certain types of positions, certain types of jobs. You have to be a deputy chief of mission, for example. You have to be head of a section. You have to be director of an office. And I spent 30 years in the Foreign Service and I have never been a deputy chief of mission. I never made it. Somehow, I would always make the list. The lists were important because they would create this list, and the list had to be diverse. So I provided them their diversity: I was a woman, I was black. But I didn’t have to be selected, I just had to be on the list.
And so I was fortunate that I just crossed over that bridge without having to – I basically swam under the bridge, to be honest.
MS PHILLIP: How? Okay. Well, tell us how. I mean, that’s really fascinating. I think people can really learn from that story.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I decided I was going to be good at what I was – what I was doing. I was not going to be held back because somebody didn’t think I was worthy of being their deputy. So I actually bypassed it by being – I became a – on the humanitarian and refugee side, I became a known person. People wanted me on their team, and at some point I got a call saying, “Can you come to the Africa Bureau to be a deputy assistant secretary?” Never having served as a DCM, never having served as an office director, never having served as a DCM.
MS PHILLIP: Do you think that those benchmarks serve a good purpose?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I do think they serve a good purpose, and I think we have to make sure that the system doesn’t stand in the way of people getting that experience. Because when I became an ambassador, I had an amazing deputy chief of mission who I selected, and I realized as I watched what she did to serve me that that would have been helpful to me in my role as an ambassador.
MS PHILLIP: You mentioned a couple of programs, including the Rangel Fellowship and others. Those programs are really necessary, but I was reading a little bit about this and some of the complaints from black members of the Foreign Service is that those programs are looked at – people who come through those programs are looked at differently. Do you hear that, and what can be done about that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I did hear that early on, and when I was director general of the Foreign Service I would go to visit a post and I’d ask to meet with the Pickerings or the Rangels, and then I’d hear, “Well, they don’t really want to be highlighted like that, so you need to meet with everyone.” And I got that message: they wanted to be part of the whole.
But I think we have gotten past that now because we – our Foreign Service has accepted and they know that the people who are accepted into the Rangel and Pickering program are the best and the brightest from wherever they come. They are competitive. They’re as competitive as any of our colleagues, and they are prepared for success. And again, I’ll go back to our ambassador in Qatar; he was a Pickering Fellow.
MS PHILLIP: We started off by talking about your – you answering the call, probably literally, from President Biden to come back into service. Why did you do it? What did you want to – what did you want to accomplish?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: As I sat on the sidelines watching our diminishing role, our diminishing leadership, I felt we all had a responsibility to do whatever we could to help. And while I was perfectly content in my semi-retirement, I also felt an obligation, a duty to respond to that call. And I’ve not regretted it.
MS PHILLIP: One of the things that you’ve been working on is reforming the UN Security Council. What’s the objective there?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The UN and the Security Council in particular was created over 70 years ago.
MS PHILLIP: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The world was different. It was created out of war. The five Permanent Members were part of that system and had a vested interest in creating a system that would prevent these countries from going to war again. We now have 193 countries in the UN system.
When the UN was created, there were only two independent African countries, Ethiopia and Liberia. Now we have 50-plus independent African countries. So we think the UN, the Security Council, needs to be fit for purpose. It needs to be more inclusive. It needs to take into account the changes that we’ve all seen happening in the world, and we have decided that we want to lead in that process. The President announced that during his speech at High-Level Week last September, and I’ve been engaging in consultations in New York with a broad range of countries to talk about how they see Security Council reform, how they see UN reform broadly, and we hope to continue this discussion to bring that to some kind of end result that leads to a much more inclusive United Nations Security Council.
MS PHILLIP: And of course this is happening at a moment for the world in which you could argue Russia is trying to break the system.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah.
MS PHILLIP: And at the same time, it seems clear that the system at 70 years old is aging, it’s straining against the realities of what the globe looks like right now. Are we going to get to a point – and when I say “we,” I mean the world – where there needs to be a real comprehensive look at the system of global peace and security that has held up pretty well but is clearly under attack?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, no, and that’s what we’re doing. That’s exactly what we’re doing. And we’re not just doing it here in New York; we’re also – the President announced that the African Union should be part of the G20. We’re doing it in other organizations as well. So at 70, the system is creaky. I’m 70; I’m creaky. I had a problem – [laughter] – standing up and down last night. So it’s a creaky system, and it needs some fixing.
MS PHILLIP: I want to just thank you one more time for this extraordinary talk. Before we go, though, I want to ask you just to reflect on your own life and your own story, and if you were to talk to your 18-year-old self who maybe thought she was going to be a teacher or a lawyer – nothing wrong with teachers and lawyers –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No.
MS PHILLIP: – of course; my dad was a teacher for many years – what would you say to her?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I would say to her what I have been repeating to young people, a quote that I heard from President Sirleaf. And she hears me say it all the time. She gave a speech at Harvard some years ago and she said dream big, and if your dreams aren’t big enough to scare you, they’re not big enough. And that’s what I wish I had known when I was 18. I didn’t dream big. I realize now looking back I probably did dream bigger than I might have otherwise, but I didn’t see myself – I didn’t see myself in this role, certainly; I didn’t see myself in the Foreign Service; I didn’t see myself as a successful mom and grandmother. I just didn’t have the foresight. I didn’t dream big. And that’s what I would say: dream big.
MS PHILLIP: Can you give us one parting message? I always like to give a moment for the working mom, working moms, of which I am one. How is it being a mom in the Foreign Service?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It was tough. My kids are adults now, and they sometimes tell me how tough it was for them, because I was moving them around every two or three years. They weren’t really established in any single place. And what I would say to mothers – it’s something I deal with – you’re not going to be a perfect mom. You’ve just got to keep trying. And you need to talk to your children and listen – not just talk to them, but listen to your children, but also listen to yourself.
So my kids never really appreciated that I made sacrifices for them because they only dealt with the bad part. But I always felt I made sacrifices. I made sacrifices in terms of what jobs I took, because I would only take a post where there was a school. I never thought about sending my kids to boarding school, and particularly when they were young. I didn’t take amazing vacations, although we did take a few, but I always wanted them to come home so that they had a perch. So I’m from Louisiana; my kids went to Louisiana every single summer, and I was shocked to hear my 30-plus-year-old son say “I’m from Louisiana,” because he never grew up there.
So I feel like I’m successful – I was successful in giving them a bit of a perch, making sure that they had family, making sure, for example, we sat at the dinner table together every single night. Parents don’t do that. We’re always on the run. You’re giving kids food out of a microwave. My kids will always say I always cooked for them, even – I cook now. They always had a home-cooked meal. My daughter was with a friend and they were making boxed macaroni and cheese and/or Hamburger Helper or something like that, and my daughter said, “Oh, God, my mom would never feed us that.” [Laughter.] So pay attention.
MS PHILLIP: I’m not going to say anything about the boxed macaroni and cheese. [Laughter.] Not going to comment on that. No, I’m not going to comment on that.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: So pay attention to your kids and find those moments that are meaningful with them. I’ve decided with my grandchildren – my son told me I couldn’t give them any more presents, so I’m giving them experiences.
MS PHILLIP: Yes, yes.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And that’s what you should do with your children.
MS PHILLIP: Yes, I support that as a mother of an 18-month-old. Too many things, not enough experiences.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, yeah.
MS PHILLIP: Thank you very much on this, your second tour of duty in public service. It’s a busy time for the world. It’s great to have you here the morning after the State of the Union. Just it’s always consequential, but particularly at this moment. Thank you, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much.
MS PHILLIP: – for this great conversation. [Applause.] And thank you all so much for being here. Really appreciate it.