THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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-
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
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
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.
The State of Writing
I agree with Paul Poletes’ thoughtfulpiece 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-
in 2011, I was
find State writ-
ing so cumber-
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.