Donald Bandler '69
Donald Bandler '69 wins appointment as U.S. ambassador to Cyprus
While Donald K. Bandler's recent appointment as ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus may be a highlight in his distinguished foreign service career, it's not the culmination of a lifelong dream.
"If someone had asked me as a student at Kenyon if I was interested in a career in the foreign service, I probably would have asked what the foreign service was," quips Bandler, a 1969 graduate whose ambassadorship was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 1. "I've always had an interest in politics, but this was not a calculated plan."
Youthful ambitions aside, this former political-science major has been working to change the world through foreign policy for more than twenty-five years. His career has taken him to Africa, France, Germany, and, most recently, Washington, D.C., where he was the National Security Council (NSC) senior director for Europe. Since many of the areas in which he works involve national security concerns, Bandler speaks with some hesitancy about certain matters, but he's forthcoming about the inspiration for his work: a desire to improve the world.
"Making a difference is what it boils down to. I've had an opportunity to work on real problems and influence events in ways that move us from confrontation to peace," he says of such milestones as his work at the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, West Germany, from 1989 to 1993, during the fall of the Berlin Wall. "U.S. policy had a lot to do with that. It was exciting to have a hand in the making of history as the wall fell and Europe reshaped itself."
In his NSC assignment, Bandler spent time in the Oval Office, side-by-side with Bill Clinton, as the president's principal adviser on the political and economic dimensions of U.S. relations with Europe. In his work as the White House point person for the forty-two-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit, he was an adviser on all aspects of this historic fiftieth anniversary meeting, the largest gathering of world leaders ever held in the nation's capital. From 1994 to 1995, while he was the director of Israeli and Arab-Israeli Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, he was an active participant in Middle East peace negotiations that yielded bilateral and multilateral agreements.
The series of events leading to Bandler's notable career and his appointment to Cyprus, events he describes as simply "one thing leading to another," began when he graduated from the College. He headed to Annapolis, Maryland, in pursuit of Jane Goldwin, daughter of Robert A. Goldwin, a political-science professor at Kenyon from 1966 to 1969. Bandler met Jane during his time under Goldwin's tutelage at the College. He and Jane later married on a romantic whim while in Paris, France. Robert Goldwin left Kenyon to become a dean at St. John's College in Annapolis, where Bandler had a brief career as a teacher, eventually enrolling at St. John's and graduating from the Sante Fe, New Mexico, campus in 1973 with a master's degree in classics.
Romance wasn't the only driving force in Bandler's early years. The tumultuous political climate generated by the Vietnam War also had an effect on his decisions. "The times were just not normal," he says of the country's tattered social fabric. "If things had been normal, I probably would have headed off on a career as a lawyer. But I felt like teaching was something I could do in the arena of public service."
The study of law did come into the picture eventually, though. Bandler received his J.D. from George Washington University in 1979, but not before being smitten by the lure of diplomacy and foreign policy. During the Bandlers' honeymoon in Europe, Jane became an apprentice to a potter in Ireland while he worked on a dairy farm for a wage that consisted mostly of Guinness beer at the day's end. After a year in Europe, the newlyweds headed to Nigeria, where they taught and worked-Peace Corps style-with the Ministry of Education.
"We got bitten by the international bug," he says. "It was an eye-opening experience. That's when I really became interested in the foreign service." During his stint at the teacher's college, where British Colonial-era regulations didn't allow leaving the school more than a few times a year, he confesses to taking the foreign service examination mostly as an excuse to be allowed to travel. "That just goes to show how unplanned much of this really was," he notes.
During his three-year assignment to Cyprus, Bandler and his family will live in the ambassador's residence, which is part of the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, the capital. The ambassador calls Cyprus a "little pearl in the Mediterranean." Also known as the island of Aphrodite, it is thought by many to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
However, Cyprus's name has become synonymous with the turmoil surrounding the twenty-five-year history of Greek-Turkish tensions; the island's southern part is controlled by the majority Greek Orthodox and the northern by Turkish Muslims. Bandler, who works with leaders on both sides of the divide, attributes "Richter Scale diplomacy" involving Greece and Turkey to his return to U.N. Headquarters in December to restart Cyprus talks after a two-year hiatus.
While raising a family in the foreign service can be difficult, Bandler says his three children have adapted well. "Living abroad has made us even closer as a family," he says. "Threats of terrorism and life in a fish bowl can really build character." His youngest child, twelve-year-old Jeffrey, is living in Cyprus, while his oldest daughter, Lara, works in New York. Daughter Jillian is a senior at Brown University.
During his ambassadorship, Bandler hopes to make progress in settling the dispute in Cyprus. "It's a challenging diplomatic mission," he says. "The president takes a strong interest in Cyprus, and Washington works hard to defuse this flashpoint on NATO's Southern flank and bring stability to Africa, Europe, and the Middle East."
Regardless of the outcome of his Cyprus assignment, Bandler views his appointment as one more opportunity to change the world.
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