A diplomat for nearly thirty years, Ted Osius served from 2014 to 2017 as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, a country he has loved since serving there in the 1990s, when he helped open the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City and was one of the first U.S. diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. Leading a mission team of 900, Ambassador Osius devised and implemented strategies to deepen security ties, sign tens of billions of dollars’ worth of commercial deals, expand educational exchange, conclude agreements on trade, law enforcement, environmental protection, and address honestly a difficult past. Ambassador Osius’ leadership helped bring about a positive transformation in U.S.-Vietnam relations.
Nothing Is Impossible: An Ambassador Reflects on America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam (to be published in 2019)
When it comes to the U.S.-Vietnam partnership, nothing is impossible. Friendship between old enemies is possible. A former prisoner-of-war can become America’s first ambassador to Vietnam. Another former prisoner, together with his ideological opponent, can champion reconciliation. It’s even possible for an openly gay man with a husband and two kids to become ambassador to a country he loves.
In 1997, as a young political officer, I rode a bicycle 1200 miles from Hanoi to Saigon with eight friends. Near the demilitarized zone that once divided north from south, I stopped on a bridge for a granola bar and a photo. A woman in her forties pointed out bomb craters, gradually filling in with brush after 25 years. She said Americans many times destroyed the bridge where we stood. The Americans, she continued, killed people she knew, and even members of her family. As a U.S. citizen and diplomat, I felt I had to tell her my nationality. She looked at me thoughtfully, and said that the U.S. and Vietnam are friends. Touching my arm, she said in the intimate language used for family members, “You and I are brother and sister now.”
When I prepared to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in my confirmation hearings, I told that story, as it speaks to the Vietnamese spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. As ambassador, I visited with members of the Vietnamese-American community, and discovered how much anger and bitterness remains. But in Vietnam, I continued engaging in bicycle diplomacy, finding that Americans are welcome wherever they travel in that country.