Diplomacy and Advocacy: David McKean ’72
David McKean ‘72 has used his long career in the state department and recent tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg to influence the direction of U.S. policy and its image abroad.
The political winds of change made David McKean’s tenure as Ambassador to Luxembourg a relatively brief one: he was sworn in March 14, 2016 under President Obama, and his tenure ended January 20, 2017, with the election of President Trump. Even so, the experience of serving as the senior state department official in the small but strategically located European country made a lasting impression.
Ambassador McKean’s strong policy background, which included four years as the Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department, made him uniquely qualified to represent U.S. policy positions to the government in Luxembourg City. However, he also enjoyed his additional responsibilities of sharing U.S. culture, responding to the consular needs of U.S. citizens in Luxembourg, and acting as a resource for American companies that might be interested in investing in Luxembourg and vice versa.
During his time in Luxembourg, McKean was surprised to learn how much American participation in World War II still resonated. As ground zero for the Battle of the Bulge, Luxembourg was occupied by the Germans, liberated by the Allies, and then partially occupied and liberated again before the end of the war. “When you travel to small towns in the north, you’ll still see an American flag flying in the town square,” he notes.
Among his many achievements, McKean looks back on his time as Director of Policy Planning for the State Department as the most challenging and rewarding professional experience of his career. In collaborating with “25 of the smartest people I’ve ever known,” McKean’s team tackled issues from normalizing relations with Cuba, to the unfolding situation in Syria, to engagement with China. “We didn’t solve every problem, but we were always able to put options before the Secretary [Secretary of State John Kerry] and help to chart a path forward.”