The Foreign Service Journal - June 2017
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JUNE 2017



having to find qualified FSOs as team leads, we needed special-

ized skill sets, such as municipal water engineers or local gov-

ernment budget specialists, that don’t exist within State; and

we needed time and help in recruiting them from the outside.

The obvious source for that assistance was the department’s

Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization

(S/CRS, now the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Opera-

tions). Even though the White House had put out a directive

that every agency would pitch in, S/CRS leadership claimed it

was unable to assist as it was too busy elsewhere. The solu-

tion was to ask the Defense Department to provide the initial

tranche of 129 experts from the ranks of the National Guard or

active Reserve, pending replacements. When Secretary of State

Condoleezza Rice briefed Congress on this on Feb. 7, 2007, the

Pentagon went ballistic. At weekly NSC Deputies Committee

meetings, I was beat up by DOD counterparts for not being

able to replace those persons fast enough.

In the end, we managed to provide the staffing because

the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Executive Directorate staff

stepped up to the challenge by shifting Human Resources per-

sonnel over to the Iraq effort and recruiting the needed skilled

personnel via USA Jobs. But the demand only increased. Even

as the civilian component of the “surge” in Iraq started flowing,

we were struggling to recruit the replacements for the embassy

and other PRTs for summer 2008, at a time when AFSA leader-

ship and others were openly negative about the risks and per-

ceived burdens of service in Iraq. In addition, pulling positions

from around the world to fill Iraq jobs was putting a strain on

embassies in all regions.

This culminated in the disastrous Oct. 30, 2007, town hall

meeting convened by the Director General on the topic of

directed assignments, which made headlines (when one

attendee called Iraq service “a potential death sentence”) and

cemented the military’s perception of a Foreign Service lacking

the commitment and discipline to serve in hard and danger-

ous places. Even though there were no directed assignments

because enough volunteers did, in fact, come forward, if one

were to identify one single event that caused the U.S. military to

look at the Foreign Service as unwilling and absent partners, it

was that town hall.

The Foreign Service’s Finest Hour

By the end of that very difficult year, the State Depart-

ment had recovered some status with the military because it

deployed the additional provincial reconstruction teams, FSO-

led and staffed by a mix of military and USAID/civilian experts,

embedded within U.S. Army brigade combat teams, plus

dozens of POLADs serving in military units in Iraq over the

course of the conflict. This was the Foreign Service at its finest.

Those FSOs and Civil Service professionals serving alongside

division and brigade command staffs generated high regard for

American diplomats among their comrades in uniform.

At the same time, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs

oversaw a dramatic expansion of the POLAD program—from

about two dozen, mostly former chief-of-mission FSOs, to

nearly 90, ranging from mid- to senior-ranked FSOs represent-

ing all functional cones. The result was that the U.S. military

started to get used to seeing FSOs, and not just when serving in

or visiting embassies or maybe in combat operations. The tide

of foreign policy militarization was turning as more and more

FSOs learned how to leverage military assets to State’s benefit.

If there was any downside to this, it is that the Foreign

Service was drawing not on a talent pool of capable officers but

a puddle—something Ambassador Jim Jeffrey alluded to in his

March 3

Foreign Policy

article. Not every FSO POLAD could

bring the desired experience, knowledge or interpersonal skills

Life is not an on-and-off switch. You do not need to

have a military that is either in hard combat or is in the

barracks. I would argue life is a rheostat. You have to

dial it in. And as I think about how we create security

in the 21st century, there will be times when we will

apply hard power in true war and crisis. But there

will be many instances…where our militaries can be

part of creating 21st-century security: international,

interagency, private-public, connected with competent


—Admiral James G. Stavridis, in his

Accidental Admiral:

A Sailor Takes Command at NATO