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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 2
has always been an aspiration that
marks successful ambassadors. After
all, they are generally the most senior
U.S. government officials engaged full-
time on the portfolio of problems and
programs associated with their respec-
tive countries of assignment. They are
also the only federal officials with
standing interagency executive author-
ity, based on statute and specific pres-
idential designation (albeit limited to
in-country personnel and operations).
The QDDR’s discussion of this sub-
ject is worth repeating: “In order for
our chiefs of mission to direct and co-
ordinate the interagency in the field,
they must not only drive the country
team on the ground, but also be more
effectively engaged in interagency de-
cision-making in Washington. … To
give them the voice they need in
Washington and to draw on their
knowledge and perspective, chiefs of
mission will be invited to participate via
secure telecommunications in Depu-
ties Committee meetings in Washing-
ton at the discretion of the National
Security Council staff.”
With that directive in mind, why
not go all the way and use today’s com-
munication technology to eliminate
the organizational distinction between
headquarters and field, empowering
ambassadors/chiefs of mission to serve
as their own “country directors?” Am-
bassadors who are dual-hatted as their
own country directors could then par-
ticipate directly in Washington deci-
sion-making. (Indian Ambassador
Kishan S. Rana describes a similar vi-
sion of their role in his 2004 book,
21st Century Ambassador: Plenipoten-
tiary to Chief Executive
Many U.S. ambassadors have infor-
mally played this role in the past and,
no doubt, some still do so today. It
should become the standard opera-
tional mode for all U.S. chiefs of mis-
sion, although this change will require
some formal restructuring of the rela-
tionship between the COM and State
on one hand, and between the COM
and the deputy chief of mission, on the
The “ambassador/COM as country
director” model will require individu-
als holding that title to devote signifi-
cant time and effort to that task,
accruing lots of frequent flier miles in
the process. That investment will
bring two important benefits, however.
Formally recognizing each ambas-
sador as the most senior official who
works full-time on a specific bilateral
portfolio should enhance the coher-
ence and interagency coordination of
U.S. government policy — bringing
about greater “unity of effort,” if not
“unity of command.”
It will also lessen the incidence of
the resident diplomat’s besetting sin—
localitis — by immersing the chief of
mission in headquarters activity. To
paraphrase that wise comic strip
philosopher of the 1950s, Pogo, the
resident COM in the field will “meet
headquarters and find that he is they.”
Defining the role of the deputy
chief of mission has long been a sub-
ject of discussion, with no single con-
clusion. Is he or she an “alter ego,” a
senior assistant, an enforcer, a “straw
boss” or a standby COM? Often,
DCMs play all of these roles in varying
degrees, and the answer in any given
situation mainly depends on the chief
of mission.
Whatever the answer, an expanded
role for COMs can only expand the
role of the DCM, as well, making him
or her the day-to-day de facto manager
of the mission. This reality will proba-
bly necessitate the formal inclusion of
a limited version of COM authority in
the job description of DCMs. In other
words, deputy chiefs of mission will be-
come even more important than they
are today, which is saying quite a lot.
Chiefs of Mission
as Crisis Managers
In addition to reinvigorating the
standing authority of chiefs of mission,
there are two further levels of reform
worth pursuing. The first would be to
expand their authority into crisis man-
A 2010 report by the Center for
Strategic and International Studies
on smart power makes
a compelling case for reorganizing and
re-equipping the executive branch to
carry out such multifaceted tasks as
economic development, contingency
planning and post-conflict reconstruc-
tion. (Recommendations from other
sources have often used the term “mis-
sion manager” to clarify the function
envisaged here.)
As currently constituted, civilian
foreign affairs agencies lack the re-
sources and expertise to undertake
Empowering or
reinvigorating COM
authority will require
expanded support from
the National Security
Council and other