And now- intermission.
As our regular visitors will know, I am in the midst of a post-to-post transfer. My time in the U.S. is just about up, and this is very likely to be my last post for a while. I am fairly certain that it will take a bit of time for me to get internet service in my new home- a less than developed country. For obvious reasons I can't post from work, so I'll have to content myself with stockpiling ideas in the meantime. Smiley is also between posts, and so may not be able to post too frequently either. While we are off the air please be sure to visit our friends listed on this site, and check in with us from time to time, there is no telling when we'll be back. With that, here are my "intermission thoughts."
While spending time in Washington in various training classes and seminars, in speaking with colleagues and having consultations with area experts for the region to which I am heading, I have had ample time to formulate some ideas about what I would like to do, and the direction I would like to see the Department take over the course of the next few years.
The Department of State Mission Statement reads as follows:MISSION
Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.VALUESLoyalty
: Commitment to the United States and the American people.Character
: Maintenance of high ethical standards and integrity.Service
: Excellence in the formulation of policy and management practices with room for creative dissent. Implementation of policy and management practices, regardless of personal views.Accountability
: Responsibility for achieving United States foreign policy goals while meeting the highest performance standards.Community
: Dedication to teamwork, professionalism, and the customer perspective.
I think this is a well thought out and clearly written Mission Statement- but there is at least one thing it is missing: a commitment to outreach- both at home and abroad. I have had the opportunity to see many old friends while home, and to make a few new ones as well. One theme has been constant while home: people are interested in what the Foreign Service is, and by and large have almost no idea. The most common image they have is of the weasel faced guy in a bad suit who visits the wrongly-imprisoned beautiful girl in a foul foreign prison, or of a striped-pants, Appletini drinking effete living the high life in exotic locals (of course these images are grounded somewhat in truth, making them even more painful to me). What most people don't know is what the day to day grind is all about. For the most part it is a job like any other, full of repetition and cubicles, mediocre bosses and long hours. What makes it all worth it is the knowledge that the contacts we make and the information we gather and send to Washington plays a part in our relationship with other nations- and from time to time we are witnesses to history. Visits by the President, the Secretary of State and other high officials provide the opportunity to put those contacts to use; the agendas they cover are informed by our efforts. Making these contacts, maintaining them, and gaining insight to their thinking makes up the bulk of international diplomacy. Why is it so hard to find any information, even on the Dept. of State website, about what the Department does? This is one of the first things I'd like to see the Department do- engage in some outreach at home. The more people know about what we do, the more accountable we can be held.
Coupled with that, we need to improve and expand our Public Diplomacy efforts overseas. Every single employee in our embassies and consulates needs to have PD written into their job description. Our Ambassadors and Consuls General must have any measurement of their success tied to outreach efforts, senior performance pay and bonuses should be directly tied to the efforts made to get our message out. In addition, we need to refocus who that message is aimed at. Our top officials, and many other officers at the mid and lower levels, spend too much time with the elites of a host country- we need to get out and press the flesh, let the people see and talk to an actual American. I plan to make this a part of every position I hold, and will write it into the requirement s of those I supervise as well. We should aggressively respond to incorrect press pieces, and foster relationships that allow us to place accurate information in local media. We need a return to the days of cultural exchanges- reasonable speakers from all walks of life should be promoted abroad, even the unreasonable if presented in a balanced environment. Imagine a Michael Moore vs. Pat Buchanan debate in London- with the message being that both sides exist in America, and that is our strength.
More than anything else, we need to get over the "PC" issues that have been beaten into the Department over the last few decades. From the early 1970s through today we have suffered from the effects of Congressional meddling. The lily-white male dominated Foreign Service of the past was forced to change, and rightly so (for example if two officers were to marry the female had to resign, up until 1972), but the Service of today, based on competitive testing for entry, is an agency that quivers in fear at the idea that we might offend anyone. When Powell stated that one of the keys to leadership is "knowing when to piss people off" his message went right past a generation or two of officers who were incapable of even grasping the idea, let alone actually doing it. In speaking with a group of FSOs the other day, all of whom were busily bashing Amb. John Bolton, I tossed out the idea that Bolton might be the most effective Ambassador we have. Can anyone really doubt that when he speaks his audience knows that he has the full confidence and blessing of the President? Many of my colleagues have forgotten that our Ambassadors are the direct representative of the President to the host nation- not the other way around.
Coupled with that is the need to accept and encourage risk taking of the intellectual variety. FSOs serve in some of the worst places in the world, unarmed and exposed. Physical bravery is almost never discussed, but it is a real factor in our lifestyle. It is odd then, that our reporting is scoured for ideas that might be offensive and rewritten so as to be as bland as possible- we tiptoe around central themes in order to protect the sensibilities of our hosts- in short, we rarely, if ever, call a spade a spade. Average folks would have a very hard time deciphering the real meaning of most of our reports. It is the very directness of the Bush administration, I think, that drives many of my colleagues crazy. I won't even go into detail over how obtuse our annual evaluations are, other than to say that we operate on the principle of "damn by faint praise." My personal goal is to inject as much frank, direct language, into the service as possible. The people I work with are committed and extremely smart individuals. They just, by and large, need someone to tell them that it is okay to be direct and frank, even if that means saying some things that not everyone wants to hear.
I am saddened to once again leave this country I feel so strongly attached to, but eager to get back to work. I'll miss posting here until I am able to resume doing so, but know that I will be fully engaged every moment of every day. This blog has been a great outlet for me over the last months. The comments left and the e-mails received, the group projects written and the blog-friends made have energized me, and helped me to focus my thoughts and vision of my future in the Department. I am looking forward to the day I can begin to post regularly again, and hope that all of you will pick us up again when we get back into full swing. Please keep in mind that our foreign policy is really an extension of our domestic policy- both are aimed at preservation of the American way first and foremost, so please stay engaged. Make sure your elected officials know what you think about our foreign policy and interactions, and try to get your friends engaged as well. Until some point in the future, thanks for all the great feedback and encouragement, take care of your families and your friends, and keep an eye on things at home for me.
(End of post.)