JANUARY FEBRUARY 2015
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
long line of people, mostly visa appli-
cants, seeking admission. We were also
informed that cell phones could not be
brought inside the building.
guards could o er no advice as to what
everyone was supposed to do with their
devices—which are ubiquitous in mod-
ern life—and this odd stance triggered
reactions ranging from consternation to
mirth and outright scorn.
e applicants seemed otherwise
perfectly resigned to tolerating an already
inconvenient and intrusive battery of
security precautions, but this was hardly
leaving them with a stellar rst impres-
sion of America.
Ultimately, my son and I gained
entrance. We were informed that there
would be a $100 fee to have two sig-
natures notarized, a process requiring
no more than a few moments of a vice
In my day, a visiting retiree would
have been treated with in nitely more
common courtesy throughout a pro-
cess like this. I am not suggesting that
consulate employees, American or local,
were derelict in the performance of their
formal duties. But overall, I do see a dis-
tressing lack of common sense and basic
courtesy at work here.
Not only did I feel personally let
down when my modest appeal for an
appointment was disregarded, but I was
professionally unsettled by the seemingly
irrational and disproportionate behavior
I saw exercised “at the gates” in the name
We have all come to perceive at least
some of these measures as unfortunate
necessities in geopolitically complex
times; but there is also a point where, if
unleavened by some modicum of com-
mon sense, such measures threaten to
alienate the very people whose support
we are tasked with cultivating, and all
those otherwise well-disposed towards
us and the values we claim to uphold.
All around, I expected a more
approachable and genuinely American
welcome during these several encounters
with the State Department and the con-
sulate general. I was instead confronted
by the monolithic and indi erent face of
a rulebound authority. I am chagrined
that no one inside the very bureau in
which I spent the bulk of my career felt
moved to return my phone calls.
Larry Cohen’s column notes that the
U.S. military actively promotes continued
interaction between its active-duty and
retired personnel. Shouldn’t the State
Department do the same?
I built my career on a conviction
that public service was an unequivocal
force for good. But recently, in darker
moments, I fear that this may not neces-
sarily be the case, and that my experi-
ences of failure in the daily workings of
government at State are not just minor,
I fear they are symptomatic of a more
distressing failure on a structural scale,
the kind of failure that predictably fol-
lows when we neglect the core values
that should inform everything we do.
ose values have always been (and must
remain): courtesy, proportionality and
Minister Counselor, retired
New York, New York
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