THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
riting in the midst of the
Department Sidelined in
Trump’s First Month,” I find this edition
particularly grounding. The arti-
cles on U.S. relations with Europe, some
written by old friends and colleagues,
help me find my footing, take a long view
of our work as diplomats, and reflect on
Former Ambassador to Germany
and Assistant Secretary for European
AffairsJohn Kornblum recalls being told
in A-100 that it was folly to specialize
in Europe, that careers were made in
hands-on jobs in the Third World. Korn-
blum argues that U.S.-European security
is indivisible, that we must remain
closely integrated with the world’s great
democracies or face a messy clean-up
after a crisis has broken out.
Having spent my own career roughly
equally balanced between hands-on
crisis work and tending relations with
European partners, I have come to see the
two kinds of diplomatic work as two sides
of the same coin, part of the ebb and flow
of diplomatic capital.
Through the long, slow, steady work
that we American diplomats do building
ships with like-
minded allies (by
no means all in
Europe), we build
strikes, as it regularly does, we draw on
those bank accounts to address the crisis.
As deputy coordinator for Iraq in 2007,
for example, I drew heavily on those
accounts as I pleaded with one ally after
another to stay the course, leave troops in
Iraq for just a while longer.
What does this mean for the daily work
of my Foreign Service colleagues serving
in Europe or with other like-minded
allies? Regardless of the headlines of the
day or the challenges of transition, when
policy guidance can be slow in coming,
you are always doing the right thing by
the American people, always serving our
national interests, when you get out and
do the hard work of tending the bilateral
relationship and building up the account.
As I used to tell participants in the
Ambassadorial Seminar, no one in the
U.S. government cares more than you and
your country team about the strength of
that bilateral relationship; tending it is
central to your job.
So get out of the embassy and meet
people, establishing and strengthening
personal relationships, reminding your
host country of the ties that bind us, rein-
forcing and refreshing those ties for a new
If appropriate at your post, advocate
for a goal in the Integrated Country Strat-
egy that makes an explicit embassywide
commitment to increased contact work
and trust building.
I once saw an ICS goal of “restoring the
foundations of trust” work wonders with a
close ally, providing ready justification for
expending resources—time, travel funds,
representational funds, exchange visitor
slots—to rebuild after a rough patch in
the relationship had drained the bank
Make a personal commitment—ide-
ally captured in your work require-
ments—to increase your contact work
and use the language skills you worked
so hard to gain. Don’t wait for démarche
instructions to set up the appointment;
just commit to meeting the head of the
Americas desk for coffee every few weeks.
Reconnect with exchange visitors, one-
on-one or in groups.
Some of you may say that, while the
transition is ongoing and policy guidance
is still being formulated, you are unsure
what to say. Fair enough, but how bad
would it be for American diplomats to be
caught listening and trying to understand
how our partners see the world?
That kind of nuanced, in-depth
understanding is not only what we in the
Foreign Service do best. It is also pure
gold, especially when crisis strikes.
In honor of this edition of the
focused on the future of Europe and
trans-Atlantic relations, I challenge my
colleagues serving in Europe to double
down on the many relationships writ
small that underpin the trans-Atlantic
relationship writ large.
America wins when you do the hard
work of keeping our alliances and other
partnerships strong. And you may find,
as I have, that you win on a personal level,
developing enduring friendships that are
also pure gold.
Ambassador Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.
Counting on Diplomacy
BY BARBARA STEPHENSON