THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
needed to succeed. That is a nice way of saying we fielded some
duds, which was sometimes worse than not fielding anyone.
Added to the challenge of finding qualified FSOs to bid on
these jobs is the fact that POLAD service is not seen as career-
enhancing—an open secret that was underscored in 2013 in
an unfortunate, pre-EER season DG cable that lumped those
assignments together with academic training or diplomat-in-
residence positions as akin to taking a year off.
All good things do come to an end. By the time U.S forces
withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011, a new high point had
been reached in FSO-military engagement. Concomitantly,
however, influence with the military receded rapidly because
we failed to lock in a sustainable level of interaction. With
up-or-out personnel systems common to both the military
and the Foreign Service, the cohort of people with experience
in working with their respective services is shrinking and not
being replenished. Today the only places where rising FSOs
can develop lasting relationships with military counterparts
are either in POLAD assignments or in the military’s senior
service schools, where only a dozen or so FSOs spend a year.
That adds up to about 100 FSOs per year, a fraction of the size
of the Service, in mean-
ingful interaction with the
not all of the U.S. division
and corps headquarters
rotating in and out of
Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan
have been assigned FSO
POLADs. Nor have the
smaller units operating
inside Iraq or Syria, or
those going to Europe as
part of our European Reassurance Initiative for allies con-
cerned about Russian intentions.
What State Can Do Now
If the State Department wants to claw back some of the turf
it has ceded to the military, it is going to have to dig deep to
find the positions and people to deploy with the military and to
foster an organizational climate that encourages and rewards
its people for investing a year or two to serve with the military’s
current and future leaders.
I would recommend the following specific actions:
Build relationships in advance—the center of gravity for
State-DOD interaction is with the geographic and functional
combatant commands, the partnered State National Guard
and the Army division assigned as the regionally aligned force.
Every chief of mission should visit the division headquarters
that covers his or her country, as well as the adjutant general of
their country’s partnered State National Guard, before leav-
ing Washington. Make a call on the combatant commander a
priority during the first 100 days at post.
The State Department should prioritize recruiting senior
officers who still have five to 10 years left on active duty to serve as
deputy commanders in the three combatant commands that have
them (EUCOM, AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM) and as POLADs at
all combatant commands;
those who do well should be
prioritized for onward chief-
of-mission or geographic
bureau leadership positions.
Recruit, train and
deploy FS-2s and FS-3s
who were recently high-
ranked by promotion
boards to serve with every
task force, division and
that operates in combat
Invite combatant commanders to provide input to COM
evaluations; this will give ambassadors incentive to develop
productive relationships and influence.
Re-establish the flag/general officer deputy assistant sec-
retary position in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
Double the number of FSOs attending the military’s mid-
and senior-level service schools; give priority to FSOs who have
served as POLADs or in other positions with the military.
Make joint service with the military a bonus in consid-
eration for promotion and a prerequisite for assignment to
leadership (DCM and COM) positions.
Those FSOs and Civil Service
professionals serving alongside
division and brigade command
staffs generated high regard
for American diplomats among
We could knock off all the ISIL and Boko Haram this
afternoon; but by the end of the week…those ranks would
be filled… Many people, especially those in uniform,
have said we can’t kill our way to victory here…The short
answer is no, we cannot [win the war without soft power].
—General Thomas Waldhauser,
Commander, U.S. Africa Command,
March 9, 2017