The Foreign Service Journal - September 2014 - page 85

Fletcher M. Burton, a member of the A-100 class of June 1988, was until recently head of the Orga-
nization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. His previous
postings include Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Saudi Arabia and Germany.
Sage Counsel,
Fondly Remembered
avid Newsom, who died in 2008,
was a colossus of his genera-
tion in American diplomacy.
Such was my view of him, in any
event, when he invited me to his George-
town home on April 8, 1988, to share his
thoughts on the Foreign Service.
A mutual friend had brought us
together. The contrast was stark: Newsom
was the veteran diplomat, an accom-
plished professional who had risen sev-
eral times to Secretary of State ad interim.
And I was the novice, a grad student who
had just accepted an A-100 slot for June
of that year.
Newsom was generous with his time,
almost a full hour on that cool evening,
and gracious in his hospitality to a
stranger. He spoke in a measured way to
allow me to scribble a record as he went
He did not recollect his postings so
much as reflect on his experiences. He
distilled decades into minutes.
Later that evening, I went back over
my notes and summarized his main
points as follows:
Conversation with David Newsom
April 8, 1988—Georgetown home
Select small posts with big problems
for assumption of responsibility early on.
Distinguish between power and
titles—the latter often mislead.
Know U.S. interests
and how they pertain
to one’s post in a given
Remember the For-
eign Service’s main task:
representation of U.S.
Develop (through
reflection, study and
interaction) a “sense
of the society” in one’s
posted country.
Acquire for-
eign languages for
“nuances”—if need
be, by waking an
hour earlier—but . . .
Don’t fall into
trap of British diplomat, “who knew six
languages perfectly—and was a fool in
all six.”
Try to explore a new society to find
organizations, groupings, etc. (e.g., a youth
organization), which could be cultivated
to promote better ties with the U.S.
Avoid trap of associating exclusively
with educated, Western, English-speaking
groups—a narrow perspective.
The handwritten original of these notes
has accompanied me on all my postings
over the years. The real challenge was not
to keep them, but to keep faith with them.
They certainly made marvelous mate-
rial for some of my talks—for example,
with entry-level officers in the Foreign
Service or with a fresh batch of Kosovor
ambassadors headed to postings in 2010.
The points are really quite good, even
better than I realized starting out 26 years
ago. Although my encounter with New-
somwas limited to that one session, I can
sense a personality behind these thoughts,
presumably the authentic Newsomwho
served so ably in the Foreign Service.
That evening Newsom taught me
another lesson, though not set down in
the nine points. He concluded our talk and
politely excused himself, saying he was
keen to catch “TheMacNeil–Lehrer Report.”
That was the other lesson: Set priorities
and do not let anything—or anyone—
stand in your way.
The real challenge was not to
keep them, but to keep faith
with them.
David Newsom
Witness to a Changing World
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