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April 2015


the foreign Service journal

Explaining What

Diplomats Actually Do

I have the

January-February Journal

on my desk—an excellent issue. I had

previously seen Donna Oglesby’s writing

on the subject of teaching diplomacy, but

not the others.

As someone who teaches diplomatic

practice to both undergraduates and

graduates, I find an extraordinary craving

among the young to understand exactly

what we do. They are not much interested

in theory, but are eager to understand

what they might actually do if they joined

a diplomatic service, whether American

or foreign. They are often disconcerted by

the day-to-day work that FSOs do and the

substantial disconnect between that and

the making of foreign policy.

For all the talk of a notable decline

in the State Department’s influence in

recent years, the Foreign Service remains

a highly sought-after career. Those who

get through the fine examination sieve

are very talented, although often unsure

whether they want to make diplomacy a

career—i.e., to stay with it more than five

to 10 years.

I try to give them a realistic under-

standing of the challenges, both personal

and professional, in a Foreign Service

career. Many thanks for exploring the

subject so successfully.

Tony Quainton

Ambassador, retired

Co-Director, Center for North

American Studies

American University

Washington, D.C.

Teaching in France

Thank you for putting together your

recent focus on teaching diplomacy. It

could not have been more timely.

I retired from the Foreign Service

at the end of 2014, and one week later

began teaching a class on

foreign policy and diplo-


The themes evoked

by your contributors,

particularly those offered

by Barbara Bodine and

Donna Oglesby, gave

voice to questions and

experiences I have only

begun to consider. I found their insights

immensely helpful.

I teach in France, so most of my

students are not American. However,

they resemble the students Ambassa-

dor Bodine describes as having “a very

declaratory and directive approach to

diplomacy.” I am convinced that FSOs

temper that approach with their focus on

process and the actual conduct of diplo-

macy, while hopefully not dampening the

students’ ardor for change.

Ms. Oglesby gave very good advice

when she observed that practitioners

have to “structure their own thinking and

reflect upon what they might offer stu-

dents, while being true to who they are.”

As someone who is just at the beginning

of that process, the January-February


was a gift from the heavens.

Philip Breeden

FSO, retired

Aix-en-Provence, France

Russia for Real

It was a pleasant surprise—make that

a shock—to read Ambassador James Goodby’s “The Putin Doctrine and Pre- ventive Diplomacy” in your November

2014 issue. I honestly did not know there

was anyone in the State Department

capable of long-term thinking.

After joining the U.S. Agency for

International Development in 1979, I

worked on programs in the Middle East,

South Asia, El Salvador, Eritrea, Russia

and the former Soviet republics.

Throughout my career, I sought

to demonstrate that the economic

development of other countries,

even our enemies, benefits the

United States in the long term.

During those 23 years I never

encountered a single State Depart-

ment officer who thought beyond

the next presidential election—and

there were far too few on the USAID side,

as well.

Fast-tracking the privatization of

Russia in the 1990s was a colossal failure,

and probably produced some of the

animosity we are now experiencing from

President Vladimir Putin. And every-

where we’ve tried it, regime change has

produced results that are probably worse

than what we started with.

Expecting real development to come

from helicoptered-in technical assistance

teams in just two or three years is incoher-

ent and wasteful; doing that in the midst

of an armed conflict is insane. When

we added democratic governance as a

development goal without understanding

the interdependence of political and eco-

nomic systems, and how either one can

overwhelm the other, we set the stage for

the losses, even tragedies, that followed.

That is why Amb. Goodby’s article was

like a breath of fresh air rolling across

the years of exhaust fumes. We need to

reflect on what our real national interests

are—not just currently, but 30 years from

now—and then think about how best to

achieve them without being hijacked by

politicians and ideologues who have no

idea what they are talking about. That’s

what the State Department and USAID

should be doing. Could anything be more


Kristin Loken

USAID FSO, retired

Falling Waters, W.Va.