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J U L Y - A UGU S T 2 0 1 2 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L
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2012 AFSA CONSTRUCTIVE DISSENT AWARD WINNERS
Profiles of award winners compiled by Donna Ayerst.
William R. Rivkin Award
FOR A MID-LEVEL FOREIGN SERVICE OFFICER
Joshua Polacheck
T
here is a common perception among many Foreign
Service officers, particularly those who have served at
critical threat posts around the world, that security
restrictions imposed by the Department of State hinder their
ability to perform their mission. Joshua Polacheck, this year’s
winner of the prestigious William R. Rivkin Award for
Constructive Dissent, had the courage to take up that issue.
Having begun his FS career in 2003 as a public diplomacy
officer in Harare, Josh quickly came to the conclusion that it is
“imperative that our diplomats have the ability to reach out,
interact and engage with the people of the country in which
they serve, not only the traditional elites.”
During assignments in Harare, Santo Domingo, the U.S.
mission to the United Nations, the Provincial Reconstruction
Team in Ninewah, Beirut and Islamabad, Polacheck has seen
the effects of barricaded embassies and barricaded mentalities
on the diplomatic process. While mindful of security con-
cerns, he maintains that when such obstacles keep our person-
nel from explaining our mission, political, social and other
problems often errupt.
Since the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es
Salaam and Nairobi, and especially in the post-9/11 era, Josh
points out that the “new normal” to build embassies with high
walls and push our presence out to places beyond city centers
has, literally, closed the “openness of American values.”
In his dissent message, Josh notes: “In an attempt at perfect
security, we made a series of choices with grave policy impli-
cations. These choices send a message of distrust to
the people of our host nations.” He went on to argue that
“the siege mentality and isolation” play into the “goals of
many terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida and
Hezbollah.”
“Transnational nihilistic terrorist movements use impro-
vised explosive devices. These bombs are not weapons of war;
they are weapons of terror. Nobody is aiming them; they’ll
kill whoever happens to be there —
the woman, or the child, or the
elder,” he reflects. No stranger to
danger and risk, Josh survived the
detonation of a roadside bomb
under the vehicle in which he was
riding while serving in Mosul in
2007.
Yet he believes that as security
tightens, diplomacy suffers.
Moreover, the balance is lost.
“Adopting an approach of consis-
tently erring on the side of caution empowers everyone to
tighten security while, often, no one is empowered to signifi-
cantly loosen it,” Josh states.
He offers two suggestions: The department’s Office of
Policy Planning should perform an in-depth review of our
worldwide security policy; and FS personnel should be
allowed to take personal responsibility for their own actions.
“Approximately one-third of A-100 classes have served in
Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen or Pakistan. There are plenty of
FSOs open to personal responsibility regarding risk; they
understand the world is a dangerous place, but they accept it
and are willing to volunteer,” Polacheck observes.
The nomination cites the department’s response, which
asserted that the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development
Review process was addressing many of the points he had
raised. It also said that his cable furnished important input
for the discussion.
When asked what spurred him to act, Josh replies simply,
“I felt someone needed to say it.” He went on to add that the
department needs to find the balance between security and
risk. “We need to reconsider what is our mission and what is
an acceptable level of risk and go from there.”
Josh Polachek (right) speaks with the local council in Hatra, Iraq.
A young boy from Heywar,
Erbil, meets Josh Polachek.