The Middle East was the crucible of David Dunford’s foreign service career. After pleasant postings in Ecuador and Finland, he was assigned to the Middle East in 1981. Adapting to the challenge, he spent more than a decade working as an economic officer and then ambassador in that volatile diplomatic climate.
Dunford was tested almost as soon as he arrived in the Middle East. In his first months in Egypt, for example, Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear plant, and President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. In Cairo and in Washington as director of Egyptian affairs in the 1980s, he helped manage billions of dollars in aid to Egypt. From 1988 to 1992 he served as deputy and then acting ambassador in Saudi Arabia. When the Persian Gulf War broke out, his tasks suddenly included helping to calm 30,000 Americans in that country, coördinating top-level visits by the president and others, and working with General Norman Schwarzkopf on the logistics of deploying half a million U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.
In his next assignment—as U.S. ambassador to Oman, a country that grants the United States access to three critical air bases—he guided the relationship through a tricky period marked by sharp cuts in assistance. Although he retired from the State Department in 1995, he was called back in 2003 after the U.S. invasion of Iraq to help the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs reorganize and regain control over Iraqi diplomatic posts abroad.
When he retired from the State Department, Dunford and his wife, Sandra, moved to Tucson. He teaches courses on the Middle East and public policy at the University of Arizona and consults with corporations and the government, often briefing soldiers en route to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also an avid birder, and last year he completed the 442-mile Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). The Dunfords have two children, who both live in the Los Angeles area: Greg, a banker, and Tina, a high-school teacher.
Dunford, who earned a master’s degree in political science at Stanford after leaving MIT, is a strong advocate for the value of international experience. He credits an undergraduate opportunity to work as a summer trainee at Spain’s National Institute of Aerospace Technology with whetting his appetite for travel and foreign cultures. So what does he teach his students? “In most non-U.S. cultures, relationships tend to be more important in getting things done than in the U.S. We are big on institutions and laws,” he says. “It’s crucial that Americans have this global competence and confidence if we are going to continue to succeed as a society.”