THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
a single embassy employee had been physically injured during
an hours-long siege. The real problemwas political, not physical:
The Tunisian government had failed to respond effectively to the
Nevertheless, still spooked by the news from Benghazi just
three days earlier, Washington had ordered the evacuation of
Embassy Tunis. Three months after that, I arrived to find one of
the strictest security regimes I had ever experienced outside of a
The embassy’s Tunisian employees had shown amazing resil-
ience and resourcefulness following the attack, working from
their homes via email and fax to close out the fiscal-year books
far from their evacuated American colleagues. For the public
affairs section, that closeout involved hundreds of thousands of
dollars in grants, which, despite the attack, continued to be dis-
bursed. Managing those programs was one of the reasons I was
sent to Tunis. Otherwise, almost all public
programs and other routine operations
In addition to a small number of
permanent American staff brought back,
without dependents, a few others, includ-
ing WAEs like myself, were gradually
brought in on temporary duty, mostly in security and construc-
tion-related positions. Tight restrictions were placed on official
visitors, with prior authorization from State’s under secretary
for management required. All public diplomacy-related visits to
Tunisia, including by regional support staff, were halted.
Outside, relative calm prevailed, even as the birthplace of the
Arab Spring was undergoing the most important political transi-
tion in its history. Inside, priority was going to security construc-
tion and to maintaining a low profile. Temporary staff were
initially lodged in remote hotels (some were later put into vacant
houses) and driven to and fromwork in armored shuttles. In-
country travel was discouraged, and representation was minimal.
I wanted to get out, to see old friends and contacts frommy
two earlier assignments in Tunis, and I felt I could really accom-
plish something important in that way—but there was little
encouragement to do so. Reduced staffing severely curtailed
most public outreach.
Security As the Primary Goal?
The one thing that was not limited was
the security operation. Throughout my six
months in Tunis, our staffmeetings typi-
cally focused on security and construction
issues. Across the entire mission, relatively
fewU.S. employees had outside contact
work as their primary responsibility.
Off duty, I was generally able to move
about Greater Tunis more or less freely.
Thanks to email and Facebook, I found
many old friends and contacts. Some had
become “ancien régime,” but they none-
theless offered an important window into
our understanding of what was happen-
ing in Tunisia. Meanwhile, official Wash-
ington still had Benghazi in its teeth, and
the focus was on security, not outreach.
Repeated requests by the embassy to
go off ordered-departure status and bring
back dependents were rebuffed. Yet just
Ever since Benghazi, overseas security
has been a club for politicians to use
against one another.
USIS staff with departing PAO Jim Bullock, center in striped shirt, in the courtyard of
the American Center, Tunis, in 1996.
COURTESY OF JIM BULLOCK