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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

MAY 2015

33

A veteran FSO takes a critical look at risk tolerance—or the lack thereof.

BY JAMES L . BUL LOCK

James L. Bullock’s Foreign Service career with the U.S. In-

formation Agency and the Department of State spanned

almost 30 years, largely in the Bureau of Near Eastern

Affairs, including several unaccompanied and danger-

pay assignments. After retiring from State in 2009, he

moved to Egypt to serve as vice president for institutional

advancement at the American University in Cairo. He is now back at

State working part-time as a rehired annuitant, and also teaches, writes

and volunteers.

I

never met the late U.S.

ambassador to Libya, J.

Christopher Stevens, but

along with many friends and

colleagues I deeply mourn

his untimely death. By all

accounts, he was a gifted

diplomat and a steadfast

colleague, whose active

engagement, language skills and

cultural sensitivity demonstrated the

very best of the Foreign Service and

are traits we should both honor and

transmit systematically to our new

FS colleagues. Instead, in their zeal to minimize the risks inher-

ent in representing our country overseas, some are drawing

precisely the wrong lessons from Chris Stevens' sacrifice.

To put it bluntly, Amb. Stevens died because violent extrem-

ists attacked our consulate facility in Benghazi three years ago

and killed him. Let’s not blame him for doing his job. As Foreign

Service personnel, together with other government civilians and

Keeping Embassy

Security in Perspective

FOCUS

ON MANAGING RISK

employees of nongovernmental

organizations who work alongside us

in the field, we sometimes find our-

selves “in harm’s way” because that

is the only way we can do our jobs.

Our objectives do not become less

compelling just because some danger

is involved.

I watched this over-emphasis on

minimizing risk grow steadily during

my three-decade Foreign Service

career, and the phenomenon contin-

ues today. One way it manifests itself

is in the “creeping militarization” of

our diplomacy. For a variety of reasons, soldiers are increasingly

being asked to take over civilian functions overseas, and not just

in countries with a significant U.S. military presence. Even func-

tions that remain under State’s control, like embassy security, are

now heavily influenced by military priorities and requirements.

Embassies now have “force protection.”

But not all problems have military solutions. I say this as some-

one who hasn’t always been a civilian. In both high school and

college I was in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and I later

spent several years as a naval officer before joining the Foreign

Service. During all my years in the Foreign Service, I often worked

with the military, as I do now in my work as a rehired annuitant.

A Trend Gains Momentum

When the U.S. embassy in Beirut was bombed in April 1983,

killing 63, I went there on temporary duty to replace the wounded

public affairs officer. Despite a fluid and dangerous situation,

COURTESY OF JIM BULLOCK

A pre-departure reception for Tunisian YES

exchange students in 2013. Jim Bullock is at right.