Audrey Marks going to Washington in troubled times
AMBASSADOR-designate Audrey Marks has been dispatched to Washington, and into history, in troubled times. As her counterpart, Carmen Parris did when Michael Manley made her Jamaica’s first woman ambassador in the 1970s, Marks has accepted the challenge to blaze a trail for her sex in one of the most testing diplomatic posts on the globe.
In the world of intrigue, high drama and raw politics that is Washington, DC, countries, wanting to stay ahead of the game, dispatch only their finest and most astute diplomatic minds.
Marks joins an illustrious cadre of women who have held the rank of ambassador at the United Nations, London, Ottawa, Mexico City, Havana, Brussels, Port of Spain and, of course, Paris. It is no longer breaking a gender “glass ceiling” because there are now about 25 female ambassadors accredited to the White House.
Marks is from the private sector where she has been both a manager and a highly successful entrepreneur. Her background is a precedent although Neville Ashenheim, Douglas Fletcher and Alfred Rattray took leave of their private law practices. Dr Richard Bernal moved from commercial banking, although he had also been at the Bank of Jamaica and taught at the University of the West Indies.
A career background almost entirely in institutions of higher learning required Gordon Shirley to develop more pragmatic skills. Happily, Marks is not from electoral politics which provided Seymour Mullings and Anthony Johnson, both of whom had relatively brief tenures.
Personality can be important and, indeed, the right kind of personality can be an asset. Keith Johnson’s strong points were his manners, attire and comportment. But in the modern era, these qualities do not count for much. However, cerebral capacity accompanied by impatience and lack of personal warmth can hamper even someone of the quality of mind of Sir Edgerton Richardson.
Technical skills are very important but they have to be appropriate to the particular context and the critical issues of the time of service. Rattray’s legal skills and his renowned fortitude were valuable during 1974-1980 when US-Jamaica relations were at their nadir. Bernal’s economics was suited to the 1990s when the priority issues were International Monetary Fund, trade, development assistance and debt relief.
Diplomacy, it is clear, is not a science that can be learned from a book, although one can imbibe some finesse from exposure to consummate practitioners. It is an art which comes naturally to those gifted with the innate aptitude.
Experience is a definite advantage but how much is needed depends on the individual. Experience can facilitate the honing of representational skills and provide the comfort and confidence necessary for a successful envoy. Astute political acumen, persuasive advocacy, physical endurance and the intellect and self-confidence to engage anyone at any time are essential qualities.
President Harry Truman said that if you want a friend in Washington DC get a dog. Everyone in that milieu is a contract with an agenda. Your value to them depends on what you can do for them or what you can spend on their services. The ambassador’s capacity to deliver will be quickly and ruthlessly evaluated and judged.
Among the attributes examined are: access to and influence on the highest political levels in Jamaica, some skill that is the basis for influencing others in Washington or the Caribbean, the ability to mobilise some constituency, for example, Caribbean voters or US exporters to Jamaica, and authority to speak for some interest group that the US must interact with, such as sugar producers.
Marks is going to have to hit the ground running at full speed because of the nature and character of the times in which she is going to Washington DC. It will be a testing baptism for a neophyte to international relations given the current extradition impasse, the lack of a counterpart US ambassador to Jamaica, the absence of outstanding Jamaican ally Congressman Charlie Rangel and not much of a baton from her predecessor.
In due course, we expect to hear how Marks plans to disengage from her private business activities to keep at bay opportunities for conflict of interest. Her Paymaster is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Grace Kennedy over copyright to bill paying software and closure is awaited.
There is a sense everywhere that Jamaicans want to see Audrey Marks do well as she becomes the face and voice of Jamaica in the land of Barack Obama. We wish her well and God speed.