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My Decision-Making Process
To be persuasive, one of my ambassadors taught me, you
need to come up with a minimum of three reasons why your
chosen decision is the right one. Here are some of mine:
Point One:
When a Foreign Service ofcer can no longer
well and faithfully perform his or her duties, resignation is the
honorable course. I was a good analyst, able to read between
the lines of a National Intelligence Estimate or my own ef-
ciency report. I had taken justifable pride in what the U.S.
government was doing and my role in doing it. But by mid-
2002 I no longer did. Diplomats have a duty to their country
to be competent. I could no longer competently represent
President George W. Bush and his administration’s policies to
the world.
Point Two
: By November 2002, the faithful performance of
diplomatic duties in Greece
was of no importance to
anyone who mattered in
Washington. On the con-
trary, the political agenda
of the White House was
incompatible with the hon-
est assessment of costs and
benefts—in this case, of the
Iraq War—that is a diplo-
mat’s basic duty to provide.
Point Tree:
By the fall of 2002, the Bush administration had
convinced me of its inability to answer fundamental questions
of national interest :
• Was there truly an imminent military threat to the United
States or its allies that justifed a war the Iraqis themselves
were desperate to avoid?
• Were the arguments we could present for that war
adequate to protect the hard-won, fraying legitimacy of U.S.
leadership of the international community?
• To the extent our motives were humanitarian, would mili-
tary intervention to decapitate a blood-drenched dictatorship
preserve more lives than it destroyed?
• Could we replace Saddam Hussein with an Iraqi gov-
ernment willing to take our orders and legitimate enough to
implement them? Would we not be stuck with a permanent,
costly U.S. military presence that delegitimized any Iraqi gov-
ernment we installed?
• Was there any successful model we could point to for
democratizing a bitterly divided tribal society with no tradi-
tion of representative government?
• If our goal was instead to readjust the regional balance of
military power in favor of Israel and Saudi Arabia, who would
counterbalance Iran once we had taken out Saddam Hussein?
You and I know the answers to all these questions in hind-
sight, of course. But they were knowable and known in 2002.
As the U.S. government’s expert professionals, we had a duty
to provide those correct answers and insist on them.
Supporting and Defending the Constitution
Some may say that the wisdom or folly of a president’s
policy is above our pay grade as FSOs. I would disagree. Te
Nuremberg war crimes trials established that certain orders
are intrinsically unlawful, and ofcers and ofcials have a duty
under international law to recognize and disobey such orders,
despite any oath of obedience they have sworn.
Foreign Service of-
cers—unlike a handful of
CIA colleagues who led
death squads and torture
teams—dodged the clearly
illegal orders. But we did
implement policies that
undermined the economic
security and basic freedoms
of the American people.
Our oath of ofce puts
our ofcial duties last and defending the U.S. Constitu-
tion frst, for good reason. America’s external threats can be
managed, if we choose, with our civil rights intact and with a
national security establishment much smaller and cheaper
than the one we pay for currently. Te darker threat we face
comes precisely from the politicians and government ofcials
who serve their personal ends by preying on the public’s fear.
Te so-called Global War on Terror was frst and foremost
an assault on the U.S. Constitution. After 9/11, most Ameri-
cans embraced the massive intrusion of executive power into
our homes and correspondence, drone-sanitized death squads
and, most recently, the useless lockdown of a whole city.
Foreign Service ofcers serving in the many countries
around the world where the state wields arbitrary power learn
to value the rule of law, by talking to activists whose friends
are in jail or have become unrecognizable corpses dumped by
the side of the road. We are also the frst to pay the price when
U.S. policy, or a perception of it, outrages the sensibilities of
ordinary foreigners and leads to violence. As public servants
living under the constant threat of terrorism, our views on the
When a Foreign Service
ofcer can no longer well
and faithfully performhis or
her duties, resignation is the
honorable course.