The Foreign Service Journal - November 2014 - page 20

20
NOVEMBER 2014
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Foreign Service working in Iraq and Afghanistan—how do you
think that experience plays out in the future?
WJB:
For a whole generation of our colleagues in the Foreign
Service, the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan in the more
than a decade since 9/11 have been hugely formative. The cari-
cature of diplomacy has always been about foreign ministries
dealing with foreign ministries, a very orderly process of govern-
ments dealing with governments.
But the truth is that whether it’s in Iraq or Afghanistan, or
a number of other very complicated places around the world,
what the Foreign Service and the generation that came into
the Service in the last 10 to 15 years have experienced is really
how you conduct diplomacy amidst disorder—whether it’s a
post-conflict situation or dealing with a whole range of actors, of
which fully formed governments are only one. We learn how to
work effectively with lots of other parts of the U.S. government,
whether it’s the military, other agencies that are active overseas
or our development colleagues.
And all of that has helped to create some really important
skill sets in this generation of Foreign Service officers, which
I think are going to be very valuable, even if I don’t believe we
are necessarily going to repeat having hundreds of thousands of
U.S. ground troops overseas or embarking on the kind of massive
nation-building exercises we undertook in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If you look at the world, you have to conclude that in the
coming generation, the forces of disorder are going to be as
challenging as we’ve seen them over the last 10 or 15 years since
9/11. And so, for our colleagues, learning to navigate effectively
in that kind of a world is extremely important.
The fundamentals remain the same—foreign language, curi-
osity, adaptability, integrity and honesty; a respect for foreign
cultures and other societies; and understanding, as I said before,
how to navigate them. And then, not least, knowing where you’re
from—having a clear sense of American purpose.
RJS:
Right
.
WJB:
Another reason I’m impressed by the current genera-
tion of Foreign Service officers is their diversity. I’m impressed
when I see the range of experiences in the A-100 classes, not to
mention diversity of ethnicities and gender. I wouldn’t say these
issues have been overcome, because we still have a long way to
go, but I think we’re making progress. And that’s important.
In my experience overseas, I’ve seen that we get a lot further
through the power of our example than we do by the power of
our preaching. When you see a Foreign Service that looks like
the United States, and which is the kind of living embodiment of
tolerance and diversity, I think that sends a much more powerful
message to the rest of the world.
In that sense, too, I think the experience through the last 15
years or so has been important because we have evolved. We’ve
got a long way to go, but I think we’re at least pointed in the right
direction.
RJS:
Do you feel that the Foreign Service is prepared to do this
Iraq and Afghanistan type experience in the future again, in addi-
tion to traditional state-to-state diplomacy?
WJB:
I think we’re learning about how to serve in the often
disorderly world of the 21st century. We’ve still got a ways to go.
There’s some hugely important issues, like how to manage risk.
We’ve sometimes learned very painful lessons. There is no such
thing as zero risk in the work that we do overseas.
We can’t connect with foreign societies unless we’re out and
about. But making those judgments about what’s a manageable
risk, and what isn’t, is increasingly difficult. So we’re still wres-
tling with a lot of those kinds of challenges, as well. I do think
we’ve learned a lot. As a Service, we’re better positioned to deal
with those types of challenges than was the case a decade or so
ago.
RJS:
Great. Let me just say, truly, thank you for everything
you’ve done for AFSA and for the Foreign Service. As you said, it’s
about the power of the example. And the power of your example is
very important to the Foreign Service.
WJB:
You’re really kind. It has been a great run. I’ve really
enjoyed it.
n
Inmy experience overseas, I’ve seen that we get
a lot further through the power of our example
than we do by the power of our preaching.
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