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APRIL 2015


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.


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-

come, peace!”

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-

FromWhitehouse to

the White House



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