Posted by on July 26, 2010 in Blog
James Akins was a true giant in American diplomacy. Not only was he an imposing figure (tall, imperious and possessed of Hollywood-ish looks and bearing), but he was smart, principled and a fierce fighter for what he knew to be right. I spent a number of afternoons with Amb Akins, at his home, listening to wonderful stories of Arab leaders with whom he had worked, experiences he had across the Middle East, and his many debates with policy-makers here in Washington. He was one who didn't "suffer fools lightly" and who believed in "speaking truth to power". There were those partisan opponents who dismissed James as an "Arabist" (i.e. a diplomat who understood Arab culture and cared to advance U.S. - Arab relations). While his critics treated that as a dirty word, he did not. He was a public servant who understood that as a diplomat serving in the Arab World his primary objective was to protect and advance American national security interests and that the best way to do that was to know and care about the people with whom he was working - to be able to criticize Arab behavior when it was important to do so, and to challenge bad American policy decisions when needed. There are too few James Akins in Washington and we and the world are poorer for it.
I consider myself so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have known and learned from James Akins and to have had him as a friend and supporter of my work.