Fall 2023

A map with pins marking different locations.

The President’s Ambassadors Abroad

Hundreds of Michigan Law alumni represent the interests of the United States and its citizens in various levels of the government, as well as nongovernmental organizations, around the world. A handful, however, have risen to the highest level by being appointed as ambassadors, the president’s official representative in a foreign country and the leader of an in-country embassy staff that can number in the hundreds. 

Two alumni currently serving as ambassadors, Donald Blome, ’90, and Kenneth Salazar, ’83, as well as one former ambassador, W. Robert Kohorst, ’78, recently reflected on their service for Law Quadrangle.

Meet the Ambassadors

Alumni Donald Blome, ’90 shaking hands with woman.

Donald Blome, ’90 (Pakistan)

Donald Blome has served as the US ambassador to Pakistan since April 2022; before that, he served as the US ambassador to Tunisia from 2019 to 2022, meaning he was appointed during the Trump administration and reappointed in the Biden administration. His other recent assignments in the Middle East include chargé d’affaires at the Libya External Office in Tunis, Tunisia, and consul general at the US Consulate in Jerusalem, as well as postings in the US embassies in Kabul, Afghanistan; Cairo; Baghdad; and Kuwait City. He is pictured during a visit to people affected by devastating floods in Pakistan in 2022.

Alumni W. Robert Kohorst, ’78 speaking in front of podium.

Robert Kohorst, ’78 (Croatia)

Robert Kohorst served in the Trump administration from 2018 to 2021 as the US ambassador to the Republic of Croatia. At the conclusion of his term, the president of Croatia, with the concurrence of the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs, presented Kohorst with the Order of Duke Branimir medal for excellence in promoting international relations. Before his service in Croatia, he was the founder and CEO of Everest Properties, based in Pasadena, California, and currently is an adviser to the company. He is pictured at a 2018 event marking the US government's donation of Black Hawk helicopters to Croatia.

Alumni Kenneth Salazar, ’83 standing next to the President of the United States.

Kenneth Salazar, ’83 (Mexico)

Kenneth Salazar has served as US ambassador to Mexico since September 2021. During the Obama administration, he served as secretary of interior, where he had oversight of the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, among other responsibilities. Earlier in his career, he was the first Latino elected to statewide office in Colorado when he became attorney general. He then was elected as a US senator representing Colorado, the first Latino Democrat to be elected to the US Senate since 1972. He is pictured (center) with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden.

What issues in US-Pakistan relations consume the bulk of your time and attention?

Blome (Pakistan)

Our biggest challenge has been redefining the US-Pakistan relationship to reflect the needs and interests of both countries today. For more than 20 years, the relationship was seen through the prism of the US effort in Afghanistan. You could go further back than that to the 1980s and the Cold War. 

After 2021, that's no longer the case. However, this enormous and complex country faces an array of formidable challenges, from economic development to the climate crisis to health, that very much represent shared interests with the United States. This is ground where we can make important progress. 

One example is the devastating floods that hit Pakistan last year, putting a third of the country under water. We were rapidly on the ground helping Pakistanis with immediate assistance—food, water, shelter, and medicines to save lives. But we quickly shifted that effort into longer-term recovery and strengthening the resilience of one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries. The United States has a unique ability to bring resources like advanced technology, planning capability, and public-private partnerships to bear on this kind of problem, and we continue to do that. 

What were some of the key issues in US-Croatia relations during your time as ambassador, and what do you consider your biggest accomplishments in the role?

Kohorst (Croatia)

My directions included the following: get a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal completed on the island of Krk; convince Croatia to fulfill its NATO commitment to increase its defense budget to 2 percent of gross national product; counter malign influence by China and Russia; begin negotiations for an avoidance of a double taxation treaty; get Croatia qualified for the US Visa Waiver Program; promote US-Croatian business activities; secure Croatia’s agreement to a Holocaust restitution program; persuade Croatia to be helpful in settling conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina; and manage an embassy of 225 employees efficiently.

I consider my two principal successes to be the LNG terminal and the Rijeka Port. The United States had long been advocating for Croatia to build an LNG terminal on the Island of Krk to combat Russian dominance in energy. For 29 years, little progress had been made. I successfully convinced the Croatian government to consider this project to be strategic, not financial. As a result, the terminal was completed and open for business before the end of my term. 

As for the Rijeka Port, Croatia issued a tender to build a major deep water terminal there. The Chinese were considered to be the front runner. I successfully lobbied the Croatian government to pull back from the Chinese and award the port concession to a Danish-controlled operator.

What issues in US-Mexico relations consume the bulk of your time and attention?

Salazar (Mexico)

Our commercial and economic relationship serves to consolidate North America as an economic powerhouse, while transitioning to clean energy and the technologies of the future—as well as taking advantage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement [which substituted the North American Free Trade Agreement in 2020] and nearshoring. We also work with Mexico to build the most modern, safe, and efficient border. Part of this is collaborating to stop arms and fentanyl trafficking, as well as human smuggling. 

In addition, for the first time, we are addressing migration as a shared regional responsibility. As we enforce the law at our border, we work with Mexico and our regional partners to tackle head-on the root causes of migration and create opportunities in communities. We work to build an orderly, safe, and humane migration system. In addition, we are celebrating the bicentennial of US-Mexico diplomatic relations with more than 300 events in both countries. As part of this, the BiCentennial200 Education Challenge is promoting the transformative power of education by increasing the numbers of Mexican students in the United States and US students in Mexico.

How did you apply your previous experience to your role as ambassador?

Kohorst (Croatia)

The ability to think clearly and logically is helpful in almost every endeavor. While some pundits wrongfully express that professional diplomats make the best ambassadors, the experience in being a successful lawyer and business executive can make for good ambassadorial results. A CEO needs to have as many diplomatic skills as any career diplomat.

Salazar (Mexico)

Serving as attorney general for my beloved state of Colorado gave me great insight into the role of prosecutors in the shared security of our nations, and knowing our judicial system has been invaluable as we work to advance bilateral collaboration and shared security. As secretary of the interior, I was the custodian of America’s natural resources and heritage; as ambassador, my work on renewable energy, climate change, and conservation is an extension of that previous work. 

And finally, there is no greater classroom in the world than the United States Senate. Serving in the Senate was a priceless education in compromise, consensus, and collaboration. Nothing material gets accomplished in the Senate without working together in our national interest.

How did you develop an expertise in the Middle East and why is this area of the world interesting to you?

Blome (Pakistan)

To an extent, it happened by chance—with a first foreign service assignment to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the mid-1990s. I also invested in learning the language, which for a "hard" language like Arabic represents considerable time and effort. I had opportunities to work on critical issues, from Middle East peace negotiations to reconciliation and counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to serving in Cairo through the Arab Spring uprisings. It has been a front-row seat to some of the most consequential foreign policy efforts of our recent history. There are frustrating moments of course, but it’s never boring. 

What are some of the unique challenges to serving in an outward-facing public role like ambassador compared to domestically focused roles or diplomatic roles that are more behind the scenes?

Blome (Pakistan)

It can sometimes require a thick skin, especially when it comes to social media. However, in our information- and disinformation-soaked world, the ability to shape a public message is critical, and it’s a significant part of what ambassadors do. To do it right, you need to be able to absorb the cultural, linguistic, and historical context in which you are developing and delivering these messages and adjust when you don't hit your target. It’s one of our toughest challenges.

Salazar (Mexico)

Success is firmly rooted in the belief that we can make things better, and building understanding and relationships is the way we do so. As with my work as a senator or secretary, my success as US ambassador to Mexico depends on taking that vision and bringing others together to share that vision. While my audiences and constituencies have changed throughout my career, at the heart of public service is demonstrating to others that we can make this world a better place and inspiring their help. 

What are some of the qualities that make for an effective ambassador?

Kohorst (Croatia)

A successful ambassador should have the following qualities: intelligence (a given for most jobs); common sense (maybe the most important quality); leadership (there are hundreds of embassy employees and many issues and relationships); the ability to make difficult decisions (do not be afraid to fail); the willingness to work hard and efficiently (the job is not just social obligations); and constantly be aware of the responsibility to represent the best interests of the United States.