Background Image
Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  19 / 88 Next Page
Basic version Information
Show Menu
Previous Page 19 / 88 Next Page
Page Background



MARCH 2015



A Glass Half Full



oreign Service personnel are

congenital pessimists. But in

light of today’s realities, we

should not be. Perhaps to appre-

ciate the pinnacle on which we now

stand, we should recall the tough slog

that got us here.

We have had philosophical pessimism

imbued in our souls. The maximmight be

that while a pessimist can be pleasantly

surprised, an optimist is continually dis-

appointed. Still, there is more cause for

optimism now than for several genera-


To be sure, there are many causes for

legitimate complaint: the plethora of

political appointees, each batch worse

than their predecessors; the family

challenges from “long war” terrorism and

expeditionary diplomacy; the slow pace

of promotions, ending with post-career

challenges from “up or out” regulations;

and grim recognition that the U.S. public

notices its diplomats only when they get


But I write to praise the contemporary

Foreign Service, not to toss a shovel of

despair on its casket.

I entered the Foreign Service in June

1968 and my wife, Teresa, in January

1974; between us, we are approaching

a century of FS experience, both active

and retired. And over the course of our

David T. Jones is a retired Senior Foreign Service officer and frequent contribu-

tor to the


. He is the author of

Alternative North Americas: What

Canada and the United States Can Learn fromEach Other


Center, 2014), editor of

The Reagan-Gorbachev Arms Control Breakthrough:

The Treaty Eliminating Intermediate-Range (INF) Missiles

(New Academia

Publishing, 2012) and co-author of

Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs: Canada, the USA

and the Dynamics of State, Industry and Culture

(Wiley, 2007).

careers, we have seen radical improve-


Greater Openness

In 1968, when I entered the Foreign

Service, its ranks included women—but

still not married ones, because any

female FSO who married had to resign

her commission. But by the time Teresa

joined in 1974, regulations had changed,

creating “tandem couples.” Addition-

ally, a naturalized citizen no longer had

to wait 10 years to apply for the Foreign

Service—another restriction that had

previously excluded my wife.

A generation ago, assignments were

“old boy” directed. Friends in high places

placed their preferred candidates in the

best jobs, regardless of qualifications.

Entrants who started their careers in

backwaters rarely made the connections

that led to choice assignments and rapid


The current “bid” system is

convoluted, and still subject to

manipulation, but it is significantly more

transparent than its predecessor.

Greater Equality

In my A-100 class, there were just

three women, but there were five in my

wife’s, all carefully positioned in the front

row for the class photo.

Now the changed composition of

A-100 classes is obvious. Many classes

these days are 50-percent female.

Elimination of Open Racial Discrim-


While the Foreign Service wasn’t

“lily white” in 1968 (African-Americans

and other minorities had been serving for

nearly a century), racial minorities were

modestly represented. There were six

black FSOs in my A-100 class, including

one woman; five became ambassadors.

There is still much more to be done to

ensure that equal employment oppor-

tunity extends to all Foreign Service

personnel. But as organizations like the

long-standing Thursday Luncheon Group

can attest, State and the other foreign

affairs agencies have made real progress.

The Closet Is Open.

For most of my

career, there were no openly gay diplo-

mats in the Foreign Service. They were

well-represented in its ranks, of course,

and as effective as any other officer. But

they had to be extremely discreet in their

romantic lives—if, indeed, they had any.

The idea that LGBT individuals would

eventually be accepted at the top ranks of

the Service was inconceivable.

But Much Stronger

Security Rules

State used to be remarkably casual

about security. Fifty years ago, while I was

serving as an Army intelligence officer in

Seoul, the embassy passed an assortment

of SECRET material to the Eighth Army

G-2 Headquarters that arrived without

cover sheets or a chain-of-transmission

responsibility list. We were appalled.

In Washington, the State Department

had no “double-check” system for safes

and office doors at the close of business

and only casual control over who entered

the building or your office. Steadily over

the decades, not just after 9/11, security

has tightened. The amateurish photo ID