I had the pleasure of attending the Eurasia Foundation’s 2012 Gala Dinner last night. They were using it to kick off their Sarah Carey program, which tries to connect young professionals in the US with young professionals in Eurasia, and to give their first annual Sarah Carey Award for the advancement of civil society.
Their first awardee went to Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering. Pickering is one of those rare people in DC who is not only really smart, he has a peculiar talent: he can remember your name. I’ve run into him on occasion at events around town — the Century Foundation Task Force on Afghanistan, some panels, stuff like that — and even though I am a nobody in the grand scheme of things he still recognizes me and greets me by name. It sounds like a random thing to focus on, but that actually matters a lot to people, and I think it contributes to the stellar reputation the man has (as does the fact that he has more than one fellowship and scholarship named after him).
Pickering, however, didn’t say much in his talk — some thank yous, a bit of boilerplate about how important civil society is. That was a bit of a disappointment, since I’ve heard him say some really interesting, engaging things before. But following him was Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who had some very interesting remarks.
For context, I was sitting next to Muktar Djumaliev, the Kyrgyz ambassador to the U.S. Secretary Burns made several comments about freeing imprisoned journalists, opening civil societies, and calling out some governments on their poor performance on human rights, press freedoms, and political rights. Ambassador Djumaliev adopted something of a stone face during the speech, which surprised me a bit — I half expected him to scrunch his forehead or turn down a corner of his mouth or something. He did not seem to enjoy it much.
Either way, it was a great time. It’s rare I gush about these things because most of them kind of blur together and don’t really mean much (I’ve not yet mastered the art of acting like a precious new born at every single event with some big name at it, then dropping names afterward to appear part of the pundit-scene). But last night was good, and I have such enormous respect for Pickering that I wanted to highlight what happened.
And plus, the Eurasia Foundation does really damned good work as well, so I don’t mind giving them a bit of good press either.