ALFRED HOFFMAN Junior, the new American Ambassador to Portugal, delivered a forceful inaugural speech to the American Club of Lisbon at the Sheraton Hotel last week, reports The Resident’s Gabriel Hershman.
In his address, entitled ‘Transformational Diplomacy’, the Ambassador robustly defended the Bush doctrine, surprising those who may have expected a more anodyne appraisal of the transatlantic relationship. He also praised Portugal’s role in the fight against terror, saying it spoke with “a compelling authority” given its own transition from dictatorship.
But Ambassador Hoffman began by correcting some misinformation he had read in the Portuguese press. “One of the papers reported a biography on me and said, among other things, that I owned 150,000 houses in the state of Florida. The simple truth is, I don’t own 150,000 houses. Personally, I only own one house in Florida. But over the past 40 years of my life, I built a real estate development company from the ground up that created housing for over 150,000 families throughout Florida. Today, it has 5,000 employees and approximately three billion dollars in revenues. That’s an accomplishment I’m very proud of.”
The Ambassador also gave an intriguing glimpse into his background. “Building a successful business that would touch the lives of so many was a dream of mine when I was a very young boy living on the South Side of Chicago with six older siblings, my father, a young immigrant from Austria, and my mother, a first generation Scot.
“Dreams were important in those days, because we came from modest means and didn’t have much to speak of in the way of material possessions. Still, I learned the value of hard work from my father who laboured very hard, selling live poultry to steelworkers from the back of his truck to provide for our family,” he said.
We have restored sovereignty to the Iraqi people
Ambassador Hoffman said his administration’s support for democracy was the cornerstone of its foreign policy: “And just to clarify, this support is not merely a tactic or a tool – it is the core concept of our national strategy,” he said. “Critics and sceptics like to discount this strategy as being some sort of a crusade or a moral mission on the part of America. They are wrong. Transformational diplomacy is for the enlightened self-interest of all freedom-loving countries. Why? Because no true democracy would ever wage war against another democracy,” he added.
Ambassador Hoffman rejected claims that America was involved in any kind of “aggression against Islam”. He also gave an upbeat assessment of progress in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, claiming that sovereignty had been restored to the Iraqi people. “In January 2005, more than eight million Iraqi men and women voted in elections that were free and fair. The Iraqi people would march to the polls in ever-increasing numbers on two more occasions in 2005 – in October, and again just two months ago, when over 11 million Iraqis voted on a new parliament. These historic elections and the participation levels proved that the Iraqi people were willing to risk their lives in the pursuit of democracy,” he said.
Ambassador Hoffman said the transatlantic alliance between the United States and Europe was of vital importance. “It has been proven, time and again, that Europeans and Americans have more in common than what divides us,” he said. But he also conceded that he was “painfully aware of the broad scepticism with which many Europeans regard the United States, my administration and my President”.
Portugal speaks with a
Ambassador Hoffman praised Portugal’s role on the world stage. “Given a successful transition from dictatorship, Portugal possesses a compelling moral authority when it speaks out on issues of freedom and democracy around the world. In this regard, I must highlight and recognise Portugal’s efforts to promote democracy and its strong participation as a Nato member in Afghanistan and Iraq. Portugal’s contribution to all freedom-building action, despite severe budget constraints, clearly demonstrates your country’s commitment to the principles that are the foundation of transformational diplomacy.”
The ambassador said that Portugal, like other smaller countries, now realised it had a vital role to play in the international arena. “President Sampaio recently said that Portugal’s participation in missions abroad represented an important evolution in your foreign policy, a clear demonstration of the maturity of your democratic regime to shoulder international responsibilities, and an important contribution for the modernisation and prestige of your fine Armed Forces. I can’t tell you how important that would be. It isn’t a question of how small or how big you are – it’s how tall you stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this effort,” he concluded.
Ambassador Hoffman said he first visited Portugal when he crossed the Atlantic in a small sailing boat in 1984. He said he stopped in Horta, intending to stay only two days, but ended up staying two weeks because people were so welcoming and friendly. “The only thing difficult about Portugal is the language!” he quipped. But the Ambassador added that he and his wife Dawn were having Portuguese lessons everyday.