Page 18 - Foreign Service Journal - March 2013

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MARCH 2013
technology platforms to carry out their
Admittedly, social media tools can
damage careers if handled incorrectly.
But for the career Foreign Service to take
its rightful place at the policymaking
table, this resistance to using them must
change. Tis is true not just in terms of
new technology, but our entire cultural
Resistance to career-long training—
not just during orientation or to prepare
for a specifc assignment—signifcantly
hampers the Foreign Service’s ability
to compete efectively with the rest of
the interagency community. Moreover,
although the Foreign Service Insti-
tute ofers outstanding instruction in
foreign languages, its other professional
education oferings put us behind the
employees of the other federal agencies
competing for a share of the interna-
tional relations pie.
Troughout my Foreign Service
career, I made it a practice to take
courses at the Foreign Service Institute
after every overseas tour, and frequently
while I served in Washington. Some of
my colleagues warned that this would
put me at a disadvantage for promo-
tions and choice assignments by taking
me out of the mainstream. Tey said I
needed to be “out in the feld,” doing
things that would be noticed.
I had a diferent view. After 20 years
in the Army, where continuous training
is not only expected, but often required
for advancement, I knew that no train-
ing or educational opportunity was a
waste of time. Tat class in dealing with
the media might not have an immedi-
ate payof, but at some point, the things
learned in it will come in handy.
Taking on Risk
Another critical weakness in the
career Foreign Service is the reluctance
to take risks. By this, I don’t mean a lack
of physical courage. Foreign Service
personnel have never shirked their duty
to go into harm’s way, as evidenced by
the thousands who have volunteered for
places like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.
One only need contemplate the
hundreds of names on AFSA’s memo-
rial plaques in the main lobby of the
State Department—and those that will
be added on Foreign Afairs Day in May,
including that of the late U.S. ambas-
sador to Libya, Chris Stevens—to know
that Foreign Service personnel have
been as willing to make the ultimate
sacrifce as their Defense Department
colleagues. In fact, on a per capita basis,
more of us have done so.
But when it comes to coming up with
new ideas and advocating them to the
political leadership, the Foreign Service
falls short. Te mere thought that a
senior department leader or member
of Congress might take umbrage at a
proposal will often kill it.
When I was ambassador to Cambo-
dia, for example, and proposed a change
in the relationship with that nation’s
defense establishment, fear of pos-
A critical weakness in the career
Foreign Service is the reluctance to
take risks by coming up with new ideas
and advocating forcefully for them.