Cameron Munter

“Ultimately when you are overseas you are dealing with people, and you’re trying to figure out what is it that lets them become human to you and what is it about you that allows you to become human to them.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter sits down with Zach and Shiv to discuss track-two diplomacy, cultural immersion, and his thoughts on success.



Cameron Munter is President and CEO of the EastWest Institute (EWI) in New York. Ambassador Munter served as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer for nearly three decades in some of the most conflict-ridden areas of the globe. He was Ambassador to Pakistan (2010-2012) guiding U.S.-Pakistani relations through a period of crisis, including the operation against Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. He was Ambassador to Serbia (2007-2009), where he negotiated Serbia domestic consensus for European integration while managing the Kosovo independence crisis. He served twice in Iraq, leading the first Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul in 2006 and then handling political-military affairs in Baghdad in 2009-2010. Munter graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University in 1976 and earned a doctoral degree in modern European history from the Johns Hopkins University in 1983. He was a Rusk Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy in 1991. He also taught at Pomona College from 2013-2015.


Quotes Preview:

“Inflection points are not always sharp breaks that you recognize. There’s a trend you realize I’ve done something well enough for long enough and yet if I’m going to do the next step of what I’ve got to do I have got to realize that’s not enough.” (3:23)

“What can i do to where I can continue to learn and to adjust and to find different ways of thinking? And I was drawn towards diplomacy. Instead of being a break from academia, it was for me the only way I could continue to be intellectually curious in the way that I had been before.” (5:24)

“People in Europe, who I knew, who were cultural snobs, will say: “McDonalds, you get the same thing every time. How gross.” Poorer people in Europe, especially minorities in Europe, have always told me “What I love about McDonalds is that it’s not snobby. They treat me as Nigerian the same way they treat you as American. And that’s what I love about America. OK, now you see this, you see how food plays this incredible role in understanding people's sense of self-worth or humiliation or motivation in politics. And I’m using food or drink as an example, but there’s any number of things you can look at.” (9:44)

“There’s a new style with Trump, but I think the changes in diplomacy are much bigger than just the changes in administration.” (12:54)

“People become very enamored with the idea of getting to a certain place at a certain time--promotions in a military sense, moving ahead. And yet, I know this sounds very Californian, but I’m allowed as a native Claremont-er, I’m allowed to say you have to make that decision yourself what you want success to be. Look hard inside yourself. What do you like to do? What are you good at? What makes you happy? When you do that, you are much more likely to be successful.” (23:22)

Robert Sapolsky

“I would also dart and anesthetize my baboons using blow gun systems, and there's a bunch of people in DC where I would love to put a big hefty dart in their rears, and maybe put in some ear tags and find out what's going on with their hormone levels.” | Professor Robert Sapolsky, biologist and neuroscientist, on the natural processes behind today’s decision-makers.

Sapolsky sat down with Shiv and Wes to discuss his path to neuroscience, human compassion, and effective strategies for talking about science in political and social terms.


One of the preeminent neurobiologists in the world, Robert Sapolsky is a professor at Stanford University where he holds joint appointments in the Biological Sciences, Neurology & Neurological Sciences, and Neurosurgery departments. After being raised in Brooklyn, he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a Bachelors in Biological Anthropology and later went on to get his PhD from Rockefeller University in Neuroendocrinology. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship genius grant in 1987 and the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award. For decades he has been traveling to Africa every year to observe a group of baboons as part of his work on stress and gene degeneration.

Quote Preview:

“A large percentage of social mammals can be divided into what’s called pair-bonded species: they mate for life, males do a lot of child-care, females choose males who are good partners, there’s not a whole lot of aggression. Or tournament species: males are much bigger than females, and big sharp canines, ornamentation, they fight tons…. So what about humans? By every measure you could come up with from cultural anthropology to literally what sort of genetic diseases we have, we are halfway in between… and this explains like 90% of poetry and divorces... We are incredibly confused species in that regard.” (9:30)

“People have a lot of trouble imagining that whatever it is right now is going to change as much in the next ten years as whatever it was ten years ago.” (12:59)

“We have to not only not despair, but do everything possible to hasten the end of the political regime that was about to come in.” (13:50)

“If Donald Trump does not destroy the planet with some of his plans, he certainly is going to destroy research and science and a lot of medical work. I think that the cuts that he is proposing, the hostility he has to things like global warming, the hostility that he has to fact, to cause and effect, basically I think puts us all in great danger. But if you happen to be somebody that happens to traffic in truth and facts for a living, particularly so.” (14:02)

“We do weird things like invent sheepishness about status, or being embarrassed about the wealth we come from, or things like that.” (16:00)

“At a place like this, with really smart and really privileged people, who are gonna have all sort of options down the line, I guess the clearest thing I wish I had had hammered into me more is: get a really good sense if you can of what you’re gonna have to give up for your ambition, and is it worth it?” (18:39)

Sam Quinones

"I think opiates elected Donald Trump," opines award-winning journalist Sam Quinones (22:40). Sam chatted with Skip and Kate, covering his career path in journalism, the opioid epidemic, Trump’s election and presidency, and border security.

Sam Quinones is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist and author of three books of narrative nonfiction. His latest book is Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic. Dreamland was selected as one of the Best Books of 2015 by publications including the Seattle Times, Boston Globe, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Before writing Dreamland, Quinones was a reporter with the L.A. Times from 2004-2014 focusing on immigration, gangs, drug trafficking, and the border.

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“One day I find a series of stories over six months of people dying of black tar heroin in the town of Huntington, WV. That pushed a number of buttons. First of all, black tar heroin is only made in Mexico, and it...doesn’t cross the Mississippi river…[West Virginia] has the lowest percentage of foreign-born people of any state in the union, so what is all this black tar heroin doing in a state with no Mexicans in quantities large enough to kill a dozen people in six months when they’d had one overdose in ten years?” (11:30)

“And then [law enforcement] says: “and [all the drug dealers are] from the same town.” And I come forward in my chair and I go “really? Which one?” I had this overwhelming surge of knowledge that there was a small town somewhere in Mexico where everybody came to Columbus, OH to sell heroin like pizza. It was just a matter of finding it.” (12:45)

“I think Opiates elected Donald Trump. One of the major facts of life in (the areas Trump won) is opioid addiction...Opiates bring with them a fatalism, a negativity...they create a feeling that things are falling apart....There is a dread of the future [in these areas]...he won because those counties swung the states they were in.” (22:10)