Minnesota native Jake Sullivan has found himself embroiled in the biggest international controversy to envelop the Obama administration.

Named as Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser in February, Sullivan is now in the middle of the unfolding controversy of how the White House and U.S. State Department handled the uprising in Benghazi, Libya, and whether it was forthcoming to the American people following the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others when the U.S. diplomatic compound was attacked there last year.

That would give Sullivan some gravitas in talking about events of the day. But, perhaps diplomatically, he shied away from making news during a return home to deliver the commencement address for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota this week.

Sullivan, who was U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s chief counsel before leaving to work for Hillary Rodham Clinton, advised the graduates to take chances and test conventional wisdom.

“Public policy is a study in imperfection,” he said. “It involves imperfect people, with imperfect information, facing deeply imperfect choices, so it’s not surprising that they’re getting imperfect results.”

Sullivan recalled sitting in a hot room in Liberia several years ago, the country’s agriculture minister describing a caterpillar infestation that was decimating crops. It could have been another run-of-the-mill moment. But Clinton engaged: Were those native caterpillars or invasive species? How were communities adapting to the loss of the crops? And so on.

“My reaction was: This is what makes America great. That our top diplomat wasn’t just focused on the few big crises that affect our narrow self-interest.”

Those moments, repeated a thousand times a day at every level of government, add up, he said.

“There’s a reason why America is every country’s first call when something goes wrong,” he said.


Mark Brunswick 612-673-4434