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Patience First

For the first time since retiring I’m

glad I’m retired. The reason is Donald


If the president-elect acts on his

campaign rhetoric and scuttles trade

deals, ignores Article 5 of the NATO

charter, begins deporting Hispanics by

the millions, encourages countries to

acquire nuclear weapons and condones

territorial aggressions, then I’m happy to

be here on Cape Cod rather than in one

of our embassies or consulates.

If implemented, these positions will

have no justification, no defense. They

are wrong. Since the Truman adminis-

tration, practitioners of American foreign

policy from both major parties have

worked to build a structure of defensive

alliances and trade agreements that

ensures our safety and prosperity.

Although my contemporaries and I—

unlike Dean Acheson—were not present

at its creation, we took seriously the

legacy of American internationalism, our

security commitments and the promo-

tion of democracy, human rights and

individual freedoms. We were confident

in these policies, proud of the values

they expressed and comfortable in advo-

cating them.

Despite some egregious failures,

which President-Elect Trump has glee-

fully noted, we have largely succeeded.

The United States and the world are bet-

ter off as a result of our efforts.

I therefore must ask: Does Mr. Trump

really want to turn seven decades of

effective American diplomacy on its

head? If so, he will undermine our safety

and prosperity and tarnish the image of

the United States.

But what if—as is often the case dur-

ing an electoral campaign—his words

were just so much fodder for the voter,

no more sincere than Don Juan’s profes-

sions of true love? After all, the office of

the president does have a tendency to

sober a man. It makes him realize that

his decisions will have consequences,

and that history will sit in judgment of

his actions.

It does appear, at least on a few issues,

that the president-elect has reconsidered

some of his stated positions and hedged

a bit on his more provocative promises.

Is this cause for hope, or wishful think-


I imagine that many members of the

Foreign Service and their Civil Service

colleagues are nervously asking them-

selves this very question. We are a pro-

fessional Foreign Service, committed to

serving the nation and supporting each

administration’s policies, no matter the

party in power or our personal prefer-

ences. Most of us, I would think, have

at one time or another advocated for a

policy we found mistaken, misguided or

myopic. The State Department could not

function otherwise.

For those reasons I think that we owe

the Trump administration sufficient

time to develop and deploy their foreign

policies. If we were to act precipitously,

if we failed to give the president-elect the

same consideration that we have given

his predecessors, we would betray our

pledge to serve the nation irrespective

of partisan politics. We would weaken


But this patience and, if it comes to it,

this willingness to support policies with

which we personally disagree must have

its limits. During the conflict in Vietnam,

I have been told, many officers resigned

in protest. Some resigned during the

Balkan crisis of the 1990s and the Second

Persian Gulf War.

There comes a time when conscience

and principle, both subjective tests,

make continuing to serve personally dis-

tasteful. Then, we confront the dilemma:

Do I resign, forsaking a career I cherish?

Or do I continue to serve? If the latter,

then we, as professional diplomats, owe

the full measure of our energy and intel-

lect to the enterprise.

Perhaps it will never get to that point.

But if it does, I’m glad I’m retired.

Robert Callahan

Ambassador, retired

Centerville, Massachusetts

The State of Writing

I agree with Paul Poletes’ thoughtful

piece on the state of State writing (“Get- ting Beyond Bureaucratese—Why Writ- ing Like Robots Damages U.S. Interests,”

Speaking Out, November 2016



As a long-

time newspaper

reporter who

joined the

Foreign Service

in 2011, I was

surprised to

find State writ-

ing so cumber-

some. During

my first tour,

while serving as a consular officer, I

found my writing skills to be in demand

to draft articles and edit colleagues’ EERs

to make them clearer.

To use Poletes’ words “wordiness,

empty jargon, wishy-washy prose and a

near total lack of human touch” do not

make us sound smarter. “Bureaucratese”

confuses the reader and leads to ineffec-

tive communication of policy.

In writing, less is more. Clear is beau-

tiful. We owe simpler, more effective writ-

ing to our colleagues and ourselves.


Sarah Talalay


Arlington, Virginia