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12

APRIL 2017

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Dissenting from

the Current Trend

Of all the presentations and lec-

tures in the A-100 course, the one that

remains the sharpest for me even now,

some 14 years later, is the one delivered

by retired Ambassadors Tom Boyatt and

Edward Peck on dissent in the Foreign

Service.

They spoke about proud traditions, cel-

ebrated awards and professional integrity

in terms that were compelling, even to a

room full of rookies who could not fully

appreciate their gravity.

Now, nearing the expiration date of

my third diplomatic passport, and in an

increasingly contentious political envi-

ronment where it seems State is fighting

for relevance and her loyal servants for

credibility, those words have even more

resonance.

The Dissent Channel has been used

historically to great effect as a private,

internal instrument. If you have not yet

had an opportunity, I encourage you to

watch the video of the dissent discus- sion that AFSA hosted on Feb. 17, with

AFSA Awards Committee Chair Annie

Pforzheimer and Ambassador Charles

Rivkin, both of whom articulately argue

for its continued use in that manner.

I would like to echo their comments,

speaking not as the chair of the awards

committee or an experienced ambassa-

dor, but as one of you: a mid-level officer

who joined State in the smoldering ashes

of 9/11, intent on getting involved and

making a difference.

While I applaud the courage and

integrity of my colleagues—of you—for

speaking up when it matters, I worry that

misusing the Dissent Channel, this unique

tool we have to challenge policy, threatens

to weaken its power and undermine our

institution.

As diplomats, we need to be able to dis-

tinguish between policies we disagree with

personally

and those we disagree with

pro-

fessionally

. If you are not the officer being

asked to implement a given policy, any dis-

agreement you have with it is personal, not

professional; and your dissent, however

well meaning, undercuts the officer who is

tasked with carrying it out.

Real dissent, requiring the timely

response of the Secretary of State, should

be the prerogative of the most proximate

implementer, not of any of us who happen

to have an opinion.

The current trend—toward group

dissents, aired in public—takes the pre-

cious and rare ability we have to provide

unfettered guidance based on reason,

empirical evidence and the expertise we

have cultivated during careers of service

and sacrifice, and reduces it to a Facebook

post and a competition for “likes.”

The fleeting fame that accompanies

authoring a public dissent does not

outweigh the damage that our institution

will suffer when that dissent is dismissed

—rightly or wrongly—as the amateurish

rant of disloyal bureaucrats, and we find

ourselves increasingly marginalized and

ignored by this or any future administra-

tion.

Our institution understands that

individual dissent takes courage; that is

why it is protected. Group dissents, leaked

to the media, belie our confidence in

that protection and reek of risk-free self-

aggrandizement, not of an honest attempt

to shift policy.

We work in an underappreciated

and often misunderstood business. We

generally make headlines in only three

instances—incredible successes, spec-

tacular failures and tragic deaths—all of

which ignore the hard work we do day

in and day out to advance U.S. interests

and hopefully create a more secure and

prosperous world.

I encourage you to dissent when you

are the person best placed to give voice

to a break from policy, and when all of

your other options are exhausted. If those

conditions are not met, I encourage you to

look again at whether your disagreement

with policy is personal or professional.

State might be the oldest Cabinet

agency, but the height of our seat at the

table is adjustable. It is incumbent on all

of us to refrain fromweakening our posi-

tion through well-meaning, but poorly

executed, dissent.

Jonathan Peccia

Political Counselor

U.S. Embassy Tunis

Shame on the

Journal

Shame on the

Journal

for publishing

TJ Lunardi’s Jan. 19 letter of resignation,

a letter which degrades the adminis-

tration and leadership for which the

Foreign Service presumably works.

This act of publication can only

provoke further suspicion of the exis-

tence of a shadow political opposition

(the so-called “Deep State”) bent on

undermining the U.S. government from

within. The letter’s content even hints at

this—“Some may counter that the threat

posed by Mr. Trump calls for people

of conscience to remain in the depart-

ment...to resist his agenda.”

Mr. Lunardi, of course, has every

right to express feelings and views

directed against the president. But their

featured appearance in the

FSJ

a journal about diplomacy, and one

entrusted with guarding the interests of

the Foreign Service—will be taken as an

AFSA endorsement and will encourage

the chorus calling for a top-to-bottom

house-cleaning at State.

n

Richard W. Hoover

FSO, retired

Front Royal, Virginia