Foreign Service Journal - June 2013 - page 9

JUNE 2013
with some of his assertions.
Amb. Ray is certainly correct in diag-
nosing the fundamental issue: Foreign
Service influence on our foreign policy
has eroded over the past several decades.
But I would suggest the causes he cites are
largely overstated. In addition, after noting
what seems to me to be the foremost fac-
tors—the growing polarization of Ameri-
can society and the encroachment of
political appointees into State Department
leadership positions—he then dismisses
them as insignificant.
It is true, as Amb. Ray asserts, that
political leaders would prefer a career
Foreign Service that carries out its policies
without question. There is nothing new
about that. But what is dif-
ferent may be the strength
with which that preference,
which varies with adminis-
trations, is expressed.
When I entered the
Foreign Service, during the
Kennedy administration, it was
a central tenet that we owed
the political leadership our best
analysis and policy options, regardless of
domestic politics. This ethic was reiterated
to me at post after post, as well as in Wash-
ington. Perhaps my supervisors happened
to be ethical giants, but my experience
suggests they were the rule rather than the
They also made clear to me that once
a policy decision was made, it was to be
carried out to the letter. However, it was
acceptable—I cannot say encouraged—
to question the decision before carrying it
out if one felt strongly, and these chal-
lenges occasionally carried the day.
For that reason, the assertion that the
Foreign Service as a whole is “conflict
averse” is utter nonsense. Certainly, there
have always been some FSOs who meet
that definition, and perhaps too many
of them attain positions of too much
influence. But to suggest that they ever
predominated is untrue. Moreover, many
names leap to mind that dispel this claim.
Similarly, Amb. Ray’s assertion that the
FS is institutionally risk-averse also strikes
me as a canard. Yes, there are many FSOs
who fit that description, but by no means
a majority (at least in my experience). At
every post at which I served, as well as
back in Foggy Bottom, I was constantly
impressed by the thoughtful, innovative
and mold-breaking ideas, suggestions,
arguments and actions my colleagues
After being thoughtfully examined
and considered, many—perhaps
most—of those ideas failed for what
seemed perfectly valid reasons. Not
all brainstorms are worth adopting,
after all, and some that do pass
scrutiny bring significant unin-
tended consequences.
Amb. Ray may nonetheless
be correct that such suggestions
are too often dismissed without
adequate examination. But that does
not mean that if adopted, they would have
been successful.
Almost invariably, at least in my experi-
ence, the failure to assay these suggestions
was driven by political considerations,
and by political appointees who were
able to stop any process they did not like.
I saw this in both the Latin American and
European bureaus, and heard of similar
situations in most other bureaus. (The
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs was notori-
ous in this regard during the George W.
Bush administration.)
In sum, while I share several of Amb.
Ray’s concerns, I believe his analysis is
flawed. He properly identifies the core
problems—increased domestic polariza-
tion and political infiltration at the State
Department’s policy level, displacing
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