Negroponte ’60 discusses career, torture use

John Negroponte ’60 has been the chief American diplomat in Honduras, Mexico and Iraq at various points in his career. He is, in the words of history professor John Gaddis, “former ambassador to almost everything.”

And on Monday night, he spoke from the Greenberg Conference Center to kick off his newest appointment — lecturer in the University’s MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. Over the course of a 90-minute conversation on Monday, Negroponte discussed his 44-year career in foreign service, which included stints as the first Director of National Intelligence and Deputy Secretary of State, and fielded audience questions.

Former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte ’60 speaks at the Greenberg Conference Center on Monday.
Snigdha Sur
Former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte ’60 speaks at the Greenberg Conference Center on Monday.

After three years at the Department of State, Negroponte will join Yale’s teaching faculty this fall as the Brady-Johnson Distinguished Senior Research Fellow in Grand Strategy. In that role, he will lead the Grand Strategies seminar alongside professors Gaddis, Charles Hill and Paul Kennedy.

Negroponte graduated from Yale in 1960 and spent less than a semester at Harvard Law School before joining the United States Foreign Service. There, he served in eight different posts — including stints in Asia, Europe and Latin America — between 1960 and 1997. Along the way, he earned appointments to ambassadorships in Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines. During the administration of former President George W. Bush ’68, Negroponte served as Permanent Representative to the United Nations and later as ambassador to Iraq.

Hill attended Monday’s discussion and said that, for the first time in more than four decades, Negroponte could speak freely about foreign affairs. The question, Hill said, was whether Negroponte would do so.

But Negroponte didn’t take the bait — he said he had freely expressed his views throughout his career.

“There are ways [to express my opinion].” Negroponte said. “I didn’t want to do it in a headline-grabbing way.”

Negroponte fielded multiple questions about the use of torture in American interrogation programs. Negroponte said he did not support such practices, and that scandals resulting from American torture had done damage that outweighed whatever benefits the United States could have gained through such interrogations.

In light of that, Gaddis asked Negroponte if there were any orders he would not follow.

“I’ve had some serious issues during the course of my career,” Negroponte said. “Probably most acutely during the outcome of Vietnam.”

After working on Vietnam policy for 13 years, Negroponte said he felt the United States could have obtained better peace terms from the North Vietnamese.

Asked about the legacy of former President George W. Bush ’68, Negroponte said he felt the former president would be judged more favorably in history for his work on relations with India, China and Brazil.

Three of four students interviewed said they would have liked more time to discuss with Negroponte issues of regional significance, such as American relations with Latin America.

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