Foreign Service Journal - June 2013 - page 7

JUNE 2013
he Sept. 11, 2012, attack on
our mission in Benghazi has
riveted the media once again,
as politicians debate whether
someone in the Obama administration
tried to cover up what happened there
and a host of related issues. The profes-
sional concerns of the Foreign Service,
however, are focused on a different
In its report, the high-powered
Pickering-Mullen Accountability Review
Board identified “systemic failures and
leadership andmanagement deficiencies
at senior levels within the State Depart-
ment,” and raised implicit questions about
interagency coordination. In other words,
Benghazi is a tragic and poignant example
of institutional leadership dysfunction, one
that should be taken as a wake-up call.
Institutional dysfunction often besets
several inextricably linked dimensions of
an organic system, organization or institu-
tion. The ARB zeroed in on leadership
andmanagement within the Department
of State, and highlighted the apparent
dispersal of responsibility among bureaus
and offices for handling a crisis that, in its
judgment, could and should have been
anticipated and handled better.
Analysis of other dimensions of institu-
tional weakness or dysfunction within the
State Department and the For-
eign Service has been the subject
of many of my recent columns.
In these columns, I have
made a case for structural and
institutional reformof the State
Department and the Foreign
Service, and raised some funda-
mental questions. Is diplomacy a
profession and, if so, what are its require-
ments? Do we not need a strong, profes-
sional career cadre for effective diplomacy
in an increasingly complex world? And if
so, what sort of professional development
does it require tomeet the challenges of
today and tomorrow?
Does the State Department really no
longer need a strong Foreign Service as the
primary vehicle of American diplomacy?
Must we choose between nurturing a cul-
ture of professional excellence, values and
esprit de corps, and just going along with
political ad hoc-ism and acquiescence to
a context that reduces the Foreign Service
to a diminished sub-identity? My conclu-
sion has been that to strengthen American
diplomacy and the State Department, we
need to strengthen the Foreign Service.
With that inmind, my columns have
addressed three sets of issues, start-
ing with the preponderance of political
appointments in leadership positions at
the State Department and as ambassa-
dors to important missions abroad. I have
explained the debilitating impact of this
practice on the Department of State and
Foreign Service, and urged steps to arrest
and reverse this trend.
Second, I have outlined the difficult
issues connected with adapting the Civil
Service personnel system to the require-
ments of diplomacy, for better
complementarity and coordina-
tion between it and the Foreign
Service personnel systemwithin
Third, I have called for
reformof the Foreign Service
to revitalize it professionally and enable it
to grow a leadership bench with strategic
vision that can deliver objective, non-
partisan advice to political leaders and
implement foreign policy effectively. For
this purpose, the Foreign Service should
revisit recruitment, assignment and
evaluation policies, assess the long-term
impact of the “cone” systemon leadership
development and quality, and commit
seriously to establishing “training capac-
ity” and a professional education system
that is appropriately integrated with career
One possible way forward would be
the establishment of a high-level commis-
sion to study and recommend institutional
reforms to best serve the demands of
American diplomacy in the 21st century.
Such a commission should include cur-
rent and former members of the Foreign
Service, as well as members of Congress,
academics and eminent personalities
with understanding of foreign policy and
diplomatic practice.
It is time once again to reaffirm the
value of amerit-based, representative
professional career Foreign Service to carry
out American diplomacy. Secretary of State
John Kerry possesses a unique association
with, and understanding of, the Foreign
Service. Drawing on his long experience
with diplomacy and world affairs, he could
leave an important legacy by revitalizing
the Foreign Service and the practice of
diplomacy, in the true spirit of the Foreign
Service Acts of 1924, 1946 and 1980.
Secretary Kerry’s Opportunity
Susan R. Johnson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.
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