The Foreign Service Journal - June 2016
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JUNE 2016


achmonth I use this column as

an accountability tool, a space for

me as president to keep you, the

members who elected me and

whose dues fund AFSA, informed about

the progress we are making implementing

the Governing Board’s agreed work plan.

But the topic of this edition of the


—corruption, and Secretary John

F. Kerry’s call for good governance and

fighting corruption to be a “first-order

national security priority”—is so com-

pelling and timely that I ammaking an

exception to instead reflect on good gov-

ernance itself. My hope is that members

of the Foreign Service will find inspiration

in these pages and rally behind the call to


Under Secretary Sarah Sewell describes how corruption not onl

y gives

rise to new threats, including terrorism,

but also undermines governments’ ability

to respond to those threats.

Assistant Secretary William Brownfield shares how anti-corruption has gained

prominence as a U.S. foreign policy


FSO George Kent describes


Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland has

made countering corruption a core issue

in the policy agenda for Europe.

Sec. Kerry made the case powerfully


his Davos speech

this year: “The fact is

that there is noth-




more destructive,

more disempower-

ing to any citizen

than the belief that the system is rigged

against them.” He reminds us that “it is

everybody’s responsibility to condemn

and expose corruption.”

Walking the talk, the Secretary forth-

rightly acknowledges current political

realities in our own country: “We live with

a pay-to-play campaign finance system

that should not be wished on any other

country in the world.”

As an FSO who began her career

proudly reporting on and fighting for

human rights and democracy in Central

America, only to face in recent years

skeptical audiences overseas who wanted

to talk instead about Abu Ghraib, Guanta-

namo and waterboarding, I am overjoyed

to see this policy emphasis on good gover-

nance and fighting corruption.

This is, in my view, an American

diplomat’s dream: a foreign policy fully

aligned with our country’s core interests

and values. As I urge you to rally behind

this vision, I want to follow the Secretary’s

example and forthrightly acknowledge

that, left unchecked, the “pay-to-play

campaign finance system” the Secretary

criticized in Davos will inevitably bleed

into our efforts to fight corruption abroad.

When we in the Foreign Service seek to

convince audiences abroad to reject cor-

ruption, cronyism and the spoils system

in favor of building strong, accountable

democratic institutions, our voice will

be stronger and more credible if we are

not open to charges of engaging in these

practices ourselves.

Open talk of the sale of public office—

as we see in the rash of stories that follow

American presidential elections, with

speculation about howmuch this political

appointee gave for that plum ambassador-

ship—inevitably undermines the cred-

ibility of America’s voice as a champion for

good governance.

The fact that the United States stands

virtually alone among serious countries

in filling ambassadorial positions this way

increases the attention to this practice and

heightens the tension between what we

say and what we do.

As advocates for the rule of law abroad,

we should keep in mind that our own law

is clear on the subject. Section 304 of the

Foreign Service Act of 1980 reads: “Con-

tributions to political campaigns should

not be a factor in the appointment of an

individual as a chief of mission.”

As we move ever more resolutely to

make good governance and anti-corrup-

tion a first-order foreign policy priority, we

should redouble our efforts to model good

governance in our own practices.

America’s voice will be strongest if we

who represent America abroad—the U.S.

Foreign Service—are seen as living up

to the principles and standards we urge

other governments to adopt.



Ambassador Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.

Regaining the Moral High Ground



Open talk of the sale of public office inevitably

undermines the credibility of America’s voice as

a champion for good governance.