A Worldly Perspective
Volume 145, Number 1, January/February 2011, Page 6
By Lena Anthony
Excited and apprehensive—that’s how Anne Woods Patterson describes her reaction when she was appointed U.S. ambassador to Pakistan almost four years ago. “It was exciting because I knew it was an important job, but I also was apprehensive because I knew it was going to be difficult—and dangerous,” says Mrs. Patterson, who served as ambassador from July 2007 until October 2010.
For more than three years, Mrs. Patterson oversaw U.S. diplomatic operations in Pakistan, including working with Pakistani officials and managing U.S. assistance programs, which totaled about $3.5 billion in aid each year. Her job also entailed trying to improve the U.S. image in Pakistan. “People there are regrettably quite anti-American, a sentiment that goes back a long way,” she says. “We certainly had problems communicating that America could have a positive place in their lives, but when you talked one-on-one with people, they were quite hospitable and amiable.”
She also worked hard to increase private investment in Pakistan—she even brought a group of Pakistani business leaders to the United States. “I thought American companies were intimidated by the dangers in Pakistan but were missing out on some good opportunities,” she says.
The role of ambassador was nothing new to Mrs. Patterson, who had previously served as the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Colombia and the United Nations and in other diplomatic roles in Saudi Arabia and Switzerland. Still, she says her most recent post was definitely the most challenging. Five months after she arrived, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Suicide bombing was and still is a regular occurrence. To add to the turmoil, the country also had been plagued by a handful of devastating natural disasters in recent years, including widespread flooding last summer that killed almost 2,000 and directly affected nearly 20 million people. The terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, in 2008, also concerned the ambassador and her staff of nearly 1,000. “We had great apprehension about how that would play out,” she says, “because the terrorists carrying out the attack were based in Pakistan.”
The country also has struggled to hold on to democracy. “There, the idea that you have it and that it lasts until the next year is a huge deal,” she says. “When I got back to the United States, everyone was absorbed in the midterm elections. What many Americans don’t realize is that elections don’t exist everywhere.”
Mrs. Patterson has been in the foreign service since 1973, after seeing a recruitment ad in the Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine and joining as an economic officer. Her mother, Carol Woods, is a longtime DAR member, and Mrs. Patterson joined the Fort Smith Chapter, Fort Smith, Ark., in 1993.
Since coming home, Mrs. Patterson says she has relished being able to relax and spend time with her family, including her two grown sons, Andrew, who is a U.S. Marine, and Edward, who was stationed in Iraq during the first year of Mrs. Patterson’s term in Pakistan and just got out of the Army. Her husband, David, who is retired from the foreign service, did not get to join her in Pakistan, and she made it home only a few times a year—the trip took 24 hours door-to-door.
She admits that her time in Pakistan was challenging, but says serving as ambassador was a huge honor. “You get to represent not only the strongest country in the world, but also the strongest country in the history of mankind,” she says. “The United States is an enormous beacon for the rest of the world, and I’ve been proud to represent that. It truly is the best country in the world.”