2020 – Confrontation and Alliances in Europe

Omaha Forum
Monday, September 21 at 11:00am EDT and

Lincoln Forum
Tuesday, September 22 at 3:00pm EDT


America confronts an interlocking set of issues and challenges in Europe. Russia tries to weaken NATO and Europe, and Europe tries to respond, but divides over economic issues. Europe is America’s largest export market, but disputes over trade and Iran sanctions divide us. Must the US lead in NATO in confronting Russia? How do we balance our interests in trade, defense, and the health of Europe and how are cyber issues impacting these questions? Panelists Ambassadors Molly Williamson, Deborah A. McCarthy, W. Robert Pearson, and Ronald E. Neumann addressed these questions and more at the 2020 Nebraska Ambassadors Forum at Omaha and Lincoln.



Molly Williamson

Molly Williamson speaks extensively on energy, economic and demographic factors affecting foreign policy formulation, US-Middle East relations, especially regional unrest, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Iran and nuclear challenges, and the interagency process.

Williamson is a retired Foreign Service Officer, having served six presidents, achieving the rank of Career Minister. She is a scholar with the Middle East Institute and the National Council on US-Arab Relations, a consultant, and frequent guest lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, the Defense Institute of Security Cooperation, and the National Joint Staff College. She is also a member of Georgetown University’s MSFS oral boards, and a Director on both corporate and non-profit Boards. Williamson has lectured at numerous World Affairs and Business groups across the country, numerous universities, several cruise ships, as well as briefings to the U.S. Congress.

Williamson has had a unique combination of policy positions in four Cabinet departments in the U.S. government as well as numerous diplomatic assignments in and about the Middle East.

Williamson was the Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to the Secretary of Energy with global responsibilities at the nexus of foreign policy and energy policy.

When Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Williamson was responsible for the Middle East, South Asia, Oceania and Africa, advancing trade relations with 86 countries with a trade portfolio valued at over $120 billion/year.

Williamson was Principal Deputy, then Acting Assistant Secretary of State, International Organizations Bureau, responsible for the policy and programs affecting UN political and Security Council matters, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Williamson was responsible for the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. She was engaged in operational defense structure bottom-up reviews, the policy challenges of Iraqi provocations, crises in Rwanda and Somalia, and nuclear tests in South Asia.

She has had numerous diplomatic postings in the Middle East, including heading up our diplomatic mission in Jerusalem during the Madrid Peace Process, which culminated in the Oslo Accords.

She has been trained in both Hebrew and Arabic.

Williamson, a native of California, has been awarded 2 Presidential Meritorious Service Awards, the Secretary of Energy’s Exceptional Service Award, Secretary of Commerce Performance Award, the Secretary of Defense’ Service Award, and 14 awards from the Department of State.


Deborah A. McCarthy 

Ambassador (ret) Deborah A. McCarthy is an expert on U.S. foreign and national security policy with over 30 years of diplomatic experience. Currently, she is a Fellow at Harvard University in the Advanced Leadership Initiative. She is the host/producer of the National Security Podcast series “The General and the Ambassador: A Conversation”. (https://www.generalambassadorpodcast.org).

Most recently, Ms. McCarthy was a visiting Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. Previously, she was the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania (2013-2016). She also served as the Deputy Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Greece and the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua. In Washington, she was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Narcotics and Law Enforcement, Senior Advisor for Counter Terrorism and Special Coordinator for Venezuela. Other diplomatic postings include: Consul General Montreal, Economic Counselor U.S. Embassy Paris, Financial Economist U.S. Embassy Rome and assignments in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Ms. McCarthy received a B.A. in Economics from the University of Virginia and a joint Masters in Economics and Foreign Service from Georgetown University. She is active on social media on U.S. foreign policy (Twitter: @Amb_DMcCarthy) and is a regular public speaker. She is a member of the Atlantic Council, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the International Women’s Forum. She serves on the Board of the Academy of Diplomacy and on the Advisory Council for the Master’s program in Foreign Service at Georgetown University.


W. Robert Pearson

Ambassador (ret) W. Robert Pearson, of Tennessee, is a Fellow at Duke University’s Center for International and Global Studies Rethinking Diplomacy Program, a non-resident Scholar at The Middle East Institute in Washington, President of American Publishers Inc., a digital journal on American foreign policy published in cooperation with the University of North Carolina, and a partner at Spectrum Group, a Washington consulting firm. He is a local leader for the Equal Justice Initiative in North Carolina.

He is a frequent speaker on American diplomacy and foreign affairs,Turkey and its place in the world, the Middle East, and international development. He has published numerous articles and opinion pieces and has appeared on BBC, CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, Voice of America, Al-Jazeera, I24 TV, and TNT Global among other networks.

He served from 2008 to 2014 as president of IREX, an international development NGO based in Washington focused on education, civil society development and independent media, spearheading its expansion to 125 countries worldwide.

His last assignment on active duty was as Director General of the Foreign Service winning two national awards for the Department of State. He was the United States Ambassador to Turkey in Ankara from 2000 to 2003. He served as Deputy Chief of Mission to France and served twice at NATO – once as Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.S. Mission during the Balkan crisis and NATO’s enlargement – and once as chair of NATO’s Political Committee. He was the Executive Secretary of the Department of State under Secretary James Baker and Deputy Executive Secretary of the National Security Council. He served in Beijing, China as a political officer and began his Foreign Service career with a 2-year assignment in Auckland, New Zealand in 1976.

He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University (B.A) and the University of Virginia Law School (LLB), where he was Editor in Chief of the Virginia Journal of International Law. He speaks French, Chinese and Turkish.


Ronald E. Neumann 

Formerly a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Ronald E. Neumann served three times as Ambassador; to Algeria, Bahrain and finally to Afghanistan from July 2005 to April 2007. Before Afghanistan, Mr. Neumann, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, served in Baghdad from February 2004 with the Coalition Provisional Authority and then as Embassy Baghdad’s liaison with the Multinational Command, where he was deeply involved in coordinating the political part of military actions.

Prior to working in Iraq, he was Ambassador in Manama, Bahrain (2001-2004), Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near East Affairs (1997-2000) with responsibility for North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and Ambassador to Algeria (1994 to 1997). He was Director of the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs (Iran and Iraq; 1991 to 1994). Earlier in his career, he was Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and in Sanaa in Yemen, Principal Officer in Tabriz, Iran and Economic/Commercial Officer in Dakar, Senegal. His previous Washington assignments include service as Jordan Desk officer, Staff Assistant in the Middle East (NEA) Bureau, and Political Officer in the Office of Southern European Affairs.

Ambassador Neumann is the author of a memoir, Three Embassies, Four Wars: a personal memoir (2017) and The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan (Potomac Press, 2009), a book on his time in Afghanistan. He has returned to Afghanistan repeatedly and is the author of a number of monographs, articles, and editorials. His writings have focused most heavily on Afghanistan, stabilization, and Bahrain. At the Academy he has focused particularly on efforts to maintain adequate State and USAID budgets and staffing and upgrade professional formation to enable these institutions to carry out their responsibilities. Ambassador Neumann is on the Advisory Board of a non-profit girls’ school in Afghanistan, the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) and the Advisory Board of Spirit of America. He is on the board of the Middle East Policy Council and the Advisory Council of the World Affairs Councils of America.

Ambassador Neumann speaks some Arabic and Dari as well as French. He received State Department Superior Honor Awards in 1993 and 1990. He was an Army infantry officer in Viet Nam and holds a Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantry Badge. In Baghdad, he was awarded the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. He earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in political science from the University of California at Riverside and is a graduate of the National War College. He is married to the former M. Elaine Grimm. They have two children.