For the past half-dozen years I made my living as an ambassador. People have not stopped asking, “Just what does an ambassador do?” The question is something of an improvement on the one encountered by former ambassador to Great Britain, Kingman Brewster, as reported in Newsweek a year ago: “Do you think ambassadors matter any more?” Perhaps my acquaintences are simply kinder—or less sophisticated— than Brewster's.
Most of the classic books on diplomacy try to answer such questions by describing ambassadors as analysts, reporters, and negotiators. The American public favors another, simpler response. So do many top administrators in Washington—especially when they are new to office. They conclude that in this age of jet aircraft, instant communication, summits, and special envoys, ambassadors are mere post office boxes and innkeepers.