Foreign Service Journal - June 2013 - page 8

JUNE 2013
Diplomacy in Action—
or Inaction?
In what may have been just a strange
coincidence, the April 12
opinion piece by diplomats Susan
Johnson, Ronald Neumann andThomas
Pickering (“Bring Back Professional Diplo-
macy”) ran on the same day as a full-page
ad for the HBO series “Veep” depicting
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character falling
asleep at an international conference. The
ad’s headline? “Diplomacy in Action.”
HBOmay amuse its viewers with such
portrayals, but the depiction of a bored,
disengaged diplomat representing the
United States is nothing to laugh about.
And that is precisely why Johnson, Neu-
mann and Pickering are spot on in their
critique of the current crisis in American
diplomatic practice.
The U.S. Foreign Service is imperiled,
as they explain, by the rising number
of short-term and inexperienced politi-
cal appointees who lack the training,
language skills, on-the-job experience and
commitment that distinguish professional
diplomats from others.
While some political appointees bring
valuable personal assets to the job of
representation, most do not. What’s more,
their growing presence erodes profession-
alism and costs the State Department in
terms of institutional memory, effective-
ness and efficiency. As Johnson, Neu-
mann and Pickering point out, Secretary
of State John Kerry can best signal that
diplomacy really matters by taking steps to
right this imbalance.
Jane C. Loeffler
Washington, D.C.
Foreign Service,
Know Yourselves
The April edition of
The Foreign Service
is a masterpiece of writing and
editing. After 40 years of trying to under-
stand and propagate our collective ambi-
tions, experiences and organizational
aspirations, everything has finally been
all wrapped up in one brilliant package.
Kudos to all the good folks who
put it together!
Regrettably, it is still not pos-
sible to assert that all Foreign
Service personnel management
goals have been validated, or
rendered clear and cogent.
As a group of government
employees, we are indeed for-
tunate that we have not been
parodied on “Saturday Night
Live,” or in a feature film or TV series. Just
a few seconds of reflection by anyone with
embassy experience could produce some
award-winning plots. One can also be
sure that there are presidential aspirants
out there who would fire the whole U.S.
Foreign Service if they could.
Nonetheless, thanks to the
AFSAmembers now knowmore about
their union and professional association—
and the past, present and future of the
Foreign Service as an institution.
John Wellington Macdonald
Foreign Service Reserve, retired
Austin, Texas
Stop Selling Embassies
Your March issue should serve as a
call to the Foreign Service to take a stand
on the issue of political appointments to
ambassadorships abroad. The “Talking
Point” on the subject by Steve Honley and
the letter from TomNiles come at a perfect
time—before the 2016 potential presiden-
tial candidates start promising plum posts
to potential donors.
It is a happy coincidence that recently
departed Secretary of State Hillary Rod-
hamClinton is reported to have held off
financial backers pending a decision on
her own candidacy. For who among possi-
ble rivals from either party could be more
familiar with the need for experience and
demonstrated expertise in diplomacy and
policy formulation?
The American Foreign Service Asso-
ciation must take the lead
on this, but is unlikely to do
so absent strong and vocal
support fromAFSAmembers.
Every politician seeking the
presidency—including, most
prominently, Clinton—should
be told in uncompromising
terms of AFSA’s opposition to
appointments from outside of the
Foreign Service as representatives of the
United States in foreign lands.
The Senate Foreign Relations Com-
mittee, and individual senators as well,
should be left with no doubt on this point,
and any and all candidates for AFSA lead-
ership should get the same message from
its members. President Barack Obama
has been as guilty as his predecessors in
the sale of embassies to the highest bid-
ders, so we must look to his successor for
the end to this disgraceful and harmful
Now is the time to start, before the next
auction begins.
Alan Berlind
Senior FSO, retired
Bordeaux, France
Political Infiltration
I read with interest Ambassador
Charles Ray’s March Speaking Out
column (“The Foreign Service Needs a
Cultural Shift”). Institutional change is
inevitable, but too often it unfolds at a
glacial pace, well behind the curve.
Amb. Ray and I share a common back-
ground of military service prior to joining
the Foreign Service, and our tenures as
FSOs overlapped, as well. Still, despite
these commonalities, I must take issue
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