THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
From the vantage point of both the field and the National Security Council, one
FSO shows the critical role the Foreign Service played in a difficult environment.
BY KENNETH M . QU I NN
Kenneth M. Quinn, the only three-time winner of an AFSA dissent
award, spent 32 years in the Foreign Service and served as ambassador
to Cambodia from 1996 to 1999. He has been president of the World
Food Prize Foundation since 2000. Ambassador Quinn spent the first six
years of his Foreign Service career in Vietnam, as a rural development
adviser in the Mekong Delta and, later, as a political reporting officer
along the Cambodian border. That was followed by three years at the
National Security Council working on Indochina, including serving on
the Weyand Mission to Saigon sent by President Gerald Ford, and acting
as the president’s interpreter in Vietnamese at the White House.
t would be difficult to overstate the pure joy exhib-
ited by my Vietnamese employees on Advisory Team
65 in Chau Doc province, in a remote corner of the
Mekong Delta, on Jan. 27, 1973, when word reached
us that the Paris Peace Accords had been signed.
Holding hands, they danced in a circle singing “Hoa
Binh oi”—loosely translated, “Hello, peace!” or “Wel-
None of them likely could have imagined that, just
two short years later, the South Vietnamese government would
collapse and many of themwould be fleeing down the Mekong
River, hoping to escape the approaching North Vietnamese Army.
In 1973 I was a rural development adviser on my fourth
consecutive tour in Vietnam. I’d been seconded by State to the
U.S. Agency for International Development in 1967, right after
completing the A-100 orientation course. All of my time “in
country” had been as part of the U.S. Military Assistance Com-
the White House
ON THE FOREIGN SERVICE IN VIETNAM
mand, Vietnam’s Civil Operations and Revolutionary Develop-
ment Support program, known as CORDS, part of the unified
military-civilian chain of command of the pacification effort.
That would now change dramatically, as the U.S. military pre-
pared to completely leave the country and the State Department
established four consulates general, including one in Can Tho,
the largest city in the Mekong Delta.
It also began a personal odyssey that would allow me, first,
to be part of what I call the “Whitehouse Interlude” in Vietnam,
a brief but remarkable period in Foreign Service history that
deserves to be recalled with considerable pride. This would be
followed by a front-row seat at the White House in Washington
to the tragic denouement of the South Vietnamese government
and America’s epic involvement in Indochina.
I believe that the provincial assignments had a significant
impact on many of the FSOs who would shape foreign policy
over the next three decades, as they came in direct contact with
large numbers of war victims. For example, I always felt that
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s passion to alleviate the suffer-
ing of refugees and his focus on agriculture in Afghanistan both
came from his assignment as a provincial adviser in Vietnam.
Indeed, the very existence of the Bureau of Population, Refu-
gees and Migration in the State Department can be traced to
Our work there also showed that the Foreign Service could
be an invaluable early warning system. In my own case, a
decade after writing the first-ever reports on the genocidal
nature of the Khmer Rouge, my “provincial instincts” took me in