Page 23 - Foreign Service Journal - September 2013

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Rachel Schneller
, the 2008 Rivkin Award winner, spoke out
publicly about developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
during her tour in Iraq. As her award citation noted, “Her
willingness to bring this issue out into the open has given
many other Iraq returnees the courage to seek help for their
own post-deployment stress-related issues. It has resulted
in the acknowledgement by senior management of the need
to invest greater personnel and budgetary resources to deal
with this growing problem. Despite personal sacrifice, Ms.
Schneller showed enormous courage in challenging the
system on an issue of life-and-death importance to career
diplomats and their families.”
Long before the Arab Spring, Foreign Service officers were
not just monitoring the democratization movement in the
Middle East, but reaching out to its members. As a political
officer in Tunis,
Douglas A. Silliman
received the Harriman
Award in 1988 for “extraordinary initiative and achievement
in reporting and analyzing historic changes in Tunisia’s
internal political scene.” His citation continued: “He demon-
strated intellectual courage in insisting on contacts with the
largely underground Islamic fundamentalist groups.”
Though the Harris Award for constructive dissent by
Foreign Service specialists is a relatively new program, it is
already making a real difference.
Andre de Nesnera
, a 32-year
Voice of America correspondent, bureau chief and news
director, received the award in 2002 for his efforts to defend
VOA’s charter and preserve the integrity of its news broad-
As his award citation explains, VOA correspondents
work under a congressional charter that requires them to
be “accurate, objective and comprehensive” in their news
reporting. Even so, the Department of State and International
Broadcasting Bureau exerted intense pressure on VOA not
to broadcast a report that used excerpts from a post-9/11
interview with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Despite the pressure, de Nesnera authorized the release of the
segment, which accurately quoted Omar as saying that Osama
bin Laden would not be surrendered and the Taliban was
preparing for war.
A Unique Professional Opportunity
As these examples show, dissenting offers a unique profes-
sional opportunity to draw attention to problems, contradic-
tions and unproductive policies. What kind of Foreign Service
will we have if employees say nothing when they see some-
thing that wastes money, endangers health and safety, or
damages the nation’s foreign relations?
With that in mind, each of us should put dissent alongside
our Service’s core values of duty, honor and country. The
question should not be, “Will I hurt my career if I dissent?”
Instead, it should be, “Why am I not expressing my disagree-
True, taking a contrary position can be uncomfortable in
an organization that values consensus and collegiality. It can
damage careers and friendships, and even divide families, by
forcing us to confront facts we would prefer to ignore.
So why dissent? Because as professionals, we have goals
beyond advancing our careers. We have a conscience, and
care about our country’s fortunes and about the fate of our
Service. We also have a duty to point out misguided policies—
be they in Iraq or elsewhere—and to propose a constructive
We are also the people on the ground with the training,
knowledge, judgment and experience to advise the president
and the Secretary of State. We owe it to our country to use
what we know and to give our honest views, even when they
may differ with current orthodoxy. For if not us, who?
When AFSA issues the call for nominations for the 2014
dissent awards this fall, please consider nominating a deserv-
ing colleague—or even yourself—for one of these unique
awards. You will do us all a great service by honoring the best
among us.
To be eligible for an AFSA award, 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.