Page 17 - Foreign Service Journal - March 2013

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MARCH 2013
he Foreign Service is in crisis;
and the tragedy is that most
of its members are completely
unaware of it. Over the past
four decades, the Foreign Service has
gone from the premier foreign afairs
agency, spawning innovative ofcers
like George Kennan, to a backbencher
in the nation’s foreign policy formula-
tion and implementation. Even as the
number of senior-level positions in the
Department of State has increased, the
positions occupied by career FSOs have
decreased both in actual number and
Te reasons for the decline of the
career Foreign Service’s infuence are
not clear. One could, I suppose, argue
that the increasing partisanship in
American politics is a proximate cause.
It is also true that the State Department’s
leadership wishes to have people in
key decision-making positions who are
in line with its thinking—whom it can
trust to carry out its policies without
question. It is an unfortunate fact that
the department has had leaders of that
stripe, but I would argue that identify-
ing this as the main cause of the decline
in career employee infuence is far too
simplistic a view of the situation.
The Foreign Service Needs a Cultural Shift
In a democracy such as ours, it is to
be expected that the policies of those
elected by the American people will
be the policies of the country, to be
faithfully implemented by all within the
institutions responsible for doing so.
After 50 years of public service (20
years in the U.S. Army and 30 years in
the Foreign Service), which began dur-
ing the administration of President John
F. Kennedy, I have concluded that what
most of our political leadership wants
is answers and options from those who
serve them. Tey want answers to ques-
tions they haven’t asked, and options to
deal with unknown future contingen-
Sadly, the career Foreign Service
seems incapable of providing that. This
is not because it lacks intelligent or
dedicated people, of course. You won’t
find a more intelligent or dedicated
group anywhere within the U.S. gov-
ernment, the defense establishment
No, the career Foreign Service is
unable to provide answers to unasked
questions, or develop options for
unknown futures, because it is ham-
pered by a cultural mindset that is reac-
tive rather than innovative. Its members
tend to be confict-averse, pre-emptively
capitulating in the face of imagined
resistance. More often than not, Foreign
Service ofcers resist change instead of
promoting it.
Embracing Change
Change has always been inevitable,
and we live in an era when it occurs at
the speed of light. Tat which is current
today will be obsolete tomorrow, and
those who resist that truth risk being left
behind. Tis is as true in international
afairs as it is in technology.
Much of what happens on the inter-
national stage is driven by changes in
information technology. Witness the
youth-led uprisings in the Arab world
that began two years ago, which were
facilitated by increased access to, and
the proliferation of, social media and
citizen journalism in the afected coun-
tries. Despite this prime example of the
importance of keeping up with techno-
logical change, and the aggressive pro-
motion of social media by our current
political leadership, only a handful of
Senior Foreign Service ofcers actively
leverage the power of information
Charles A. Ray retired from the Foreign Service in 2012 after a 30-year career that included
ambassadorships to Cambodia and Zimbabwe. Ambassador Ray also served as deputy assis-
tant secretary of Defense for prisoners of war/missing personnel afairs, deputy chief of mission
in Freetown and consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, among many other assignments. Prior
to joining the Foreign Service, Amb. Ray spent 20 years in the U.S. Army. He currently chairs
AFSA’s Professionalism and Ethics Committee, and does freelance writing and speaking.
What most political
leaders want from
career ofcers
is answers and