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because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience
with my ability to represent the current U.S. administration.”
To Thine Own Self Be True
Positive Diplomacy
(St. Martin’s Press, 1997), a former
British diplomat, Sir Peter Marshall, ofers useful advice for all
aspiring diplomats. It is worth quoting the passage at length:
“Polonius is not generally regarded as the hero of Shake-
speare’s ‘Hamlet.’ But the ‘few precepts’ which he ofered to
his departing son Laertes bear examination. Teir peroration
is comprehensive: ‘Tis above all, to thine own self be true,
and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be
false to any man.’ Tere is no better watchword for a diplomat.
Being true to one’s self is the guarantee of integrity which
validates and enhances one’s powers of advocacy. It is the
characteristic which in the end carries most weight.”
Marshall continues: “Earlier in these lectures I referred to
the tendency of experts on diplomacy to draw up long and
narcissistic lists of the essential qualities of diplomats. Tese
lists can be usefully pruned. But there is one quality which
cannot be omitted: integrity. It has been rightly said that there
is no greater diplomatic asset available to a government than
the ‘word of an honest man’ (or woman).
“‘Word’ does not signify simply the utterances of the
speaker. It also includes the character and commitment which
lie behind them. Te whole is greater than the sum of the
parts. ‘Word’ expresses the great sum of human aspiration and
efort. In our profession it is harnessed to the world’s greatest
task: building a just, prosperous and sustainable peace.”
The Diplomat’s Dilemma
During my Foreign Service career, I never saw a colleague
take an action or argue a point to a foreign government that
was out of line with administration policy. But time and again
I have witnessed Foreign Service personnel challenge policies
as they are being formulated in the corridors of Washington,
either via cables or secure phone lines. I cannot help but
consider such acts to be signs of a healthy, indeed vibrant,
national diplomatic institution.
Tose of us in the Foreign Service will be well advised to
bear in mind that the view from the feld and the view back at
headquarters are often sharply diferent, as are the priorities
at each end. Indeed, the diplomat’s dilemma is that no matter
how well he or she knows the host country and what policies
make sense in that environment, the same is not necessarily
true for what is going on back in Washington.
For that reason (among others), as Malcolm Toon rightly
points out, once a fnal decision is made by our political
masters, it is the responsibility of the professional diplomat to
execute it—or step aside and let another do so.
Association for Diplomatic
Studies and Training (ADST)
Got an interesting story to tell?
Want to read one?
Association for
Diplomatic Studies
and Training
is a non-gov-
ernmental, nonproft organi-
zation located at the State
Department’s Foreign Service
Institute. Founded in 1986,
ADST advances understand-
ing of American diplomacy and
supports training of foreign
affairs personnel. We sponsor a publishing program and
our collection of more than 1800 oral history interviews
includes such fascinating interviewees as Prudence
Bushnell, Terence Todman, and Kathleen Turner.
Excerpts from the collection highlight the monumental,
the horrifying, the thought-provoking, and the absurd.
They refect the reality of diplomacy, warts and all, mak-
ing them a great resource for foreign affairs profession-
als, scholars, journalists, and anyone else who likes a
great read.
Check us out at
The purpose of a diplomat is to pursue, with every fber
of his or her being, “the national interest.”