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of us at all, they tend to do so in terms
of good manners, a carefully balanced
approach, extensive use of the passive
voice and, perhaps as much as anything
else, conflict avoidance.
“In the real world, however, only
the Foreign Service, acting through
AFSA, publicly commends members
who are willing to advocate and pursue
changes in policies or management.
No similar program exists in any other
It is important to emphasize that
the subject of the dissent does not have
to be related to foreign policy. It can
involve a management issue, consular
policy or personnel regulations. Nom-
inees may have used the formal State
Department Dissent Channel to ex-
press their views, but that is an entirely
separate program from AFSA’s own
constructive dissent awards.
From 1968 through 2011, AFSA
conferred the Harriman Award on 36
entry-level officers and, collectively,
the Embassy Tehran hostages (in ab-
sentia in 1980 and in person in 1981).
Over the same period, the Rivkin
Award went to 43 mid-level FSOs, as
well as the Iran hostages and, in 1994,
a group of 13 officers who dissented
over the Clinton administration’s initial
refusal to intervene in Bosnia.
In addition to the group awards for
the Iran hostages in 1980 and 1981, 38
Senior Foreign Service officers re-
ceived the Herter Award from 1969
through 2011. And since 2000, 10 spe-
cialists have won the Harris Award for
constructive dissent.
AFSA also issued a special posthu-
mous award for constructive dissent in
2002 to Hiram “Harry” Bingham IV.
Disobeying State Department orders,
Bingham issued life-saving visas to
more than 2,000 Jews and anti-Nazi
refugees in Marseilles in 1940 and
1941, for which he was eventually
forced out of the Foreign Service.
The names of all past winners of
constructive dissent awards are posted
on AFSA’s Web site
Even new entrants to the Foreign
Service will likely recognize the names
of at least some recipients. Here is a
small sampling of awardees and the is-
sues about which they dissented.
Calling the Honor Roll
John Paul Vann
received the 1968
Herter Award for his recommenda-
tions about U.S. policy as deputy di-
rector of the Civil Operations and
Revolutionary Development Support
program in Vietnam. His nomination
termed him “a controversial figure, a
man who insisted on maintaining his
independence and integrity at all costs.
… His judgments have been repeat-
edly proven right by time.”
Three decades later,
Edmund Mc-
would win the same award
while serving as political counselor in
Jakarta. Long before the resignation
of President Suharto, McWilliams had
a “seemingly prescient view of In-
donesia’s imminent political transi-
As the colleague who nominated
McWilliams in 1998 observed: “No in-
dividual within the embassy did more
to promote a U.S. reappraisal of the
distribution of benefits from Indone-
sia’s economic growth and of the na-
tion’s readiness for fundamental politi-
cal reform. … Never have I served
with anyone more aggressive and tena-
cious in challenging existing policies,
while encouraging lively debate of the
issues in the embassy.”
Ron Schlicher
received the Herter
Award in 2004 for work in two Middle
Eastern hot spots. His assignment as
consul general in Jerusalem from 2000
to 2003 — just as the Palestinian in-
tifada moved from street protests to
the systematic application of terrorism
— was marked by exceptional report-
ing and advice. As the award nomina-
tion states, “He demonstrated un-
matched intellectual integrity in pro-
viding a continual flow of advice and
information, which frequently chal-
lenged long-held assumptions.”
As if that performance were not
impressive enough, during his 2003-
2004 tour in Iraq Schlicher created
and ran the Coalition Provincial Au-
thority’s Office of Provincial Out-
reach. There his reporting challenged
many of the assumptions under which
the U.S. government had been oper-
ating, and gave the CPA a new ability
to influence Iraqi opinion in a coordi-
nated way.
Anthony Quainton
received the
Rivkin Award in 1972 for his reporting
and analysis during the India-Pakistan
crisis the previous year. (Later pro-
moted to ambassador, he would go on
to earn the Herter Award in 1984.)
His nomination read, in part:
“He is always able to question
whether the accepted policy genuinely
fulfills U.S. needs and make innovative
proposals for constructive change. He
has the knack of taking the initiative
and putting forward a new and some-
times dissenting view when that view
is critical to a policy decision being
made. He has the ability to argue his
case skillfully and aggressively but
without offense. … In other words,
Mr. Quainton has demonstrated that a
middle-ranking officer can have major
impact upon policy.”
Long before the Arab Spring, For-
eign Service officers were not just
monitoring the democratization move-
F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U LY - A U G U S T 2 0 1 2
The question for each of
us should be, “W
hy am
I not expressing my
disagreement? — not,
“Will I hurt my career
if I dissent?”