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attributing public diplo-

macy failures in the

Arab world less to the

messaging andmore

to the policies we were

trying to promote.

Although hanging

an account of U.S. foreign

policy on the WikiLeaks documents

sounds like a good idea, doing so limits the

time frame and sources. The WikiLeaks

cables were stolen from the interagency-

accessible data base, SIPRNet, which does

not include captioned traffic, official-

informals, classified or unclassified emails,

or transcripts of phone calls and secure

videoconferences between senior officials

that cut out embassies entirely.

In fact, WikiLeaks presents only a slice

of what was actually being reported back

“To the Secretary.” More significantly, the

author does not explain how the Wash-

ington interagency process makes policy,

the role of State Department offices and

officials, and how embassies and ambassa-

dors can exercise influence in that process.

Dr. Thompson-Jones also embraces the

current orthodoxy that there is a chasm

between “traditional” diplomacy (with its

“black ties and limos”) and “expedition-

ary diplomacy.” But, in fact, good FSOs

seek levers they can use to advance U.S.

interests, which usually requires engaging



listening to both the elite and the

street—not one or the other.

The reader may get the impression

from the leaked cables that serving in war

zones or in tandemwith the military is

something new that began 15 years ago

in Afghanistan and Iraq. But FSOs played

those roles in Vietnamdecades earlier,

and have continued to do so in wartorn

countries in Africa and elsewhere.

As in any wide-ranging account, there

are some questionable statements. It is not

correct, for instance, that the U.S. govern-

Embassy Voices Revealed

To the Secretary: Leaked Embassy

Cables and America’s Foreign Policy


Mary Thompson-Jones, New York:

W.W. Norton, 2016, $27.95/hardcover,

$14.87/Kindle, 384 pages.

Reviewed By Damian Leader

To the Secretary

offers an overview of

U.S. diplomatic life and practice, relying

primarily on the quarter-million embassy

reporting cables downloaded by a dis-

gruntled soldier and published online in

November 2010 by WikiLeaks.

This book is not an in-depth account of

the WikiLeaks affair or its fallout. Rather,

the author’s purpose is to use these cables

to offer nine “glimpses” into embassy

reporting primarily from 2006 to 2010.

These glimpses include anti-Americanism,

colorful travel accounts, crises, biographic

reporting, environmental issues and cor-


Developing these themes requires

many digressions to provide context, both

on embassy work and on some of the

events themselves (anyone recall what the

2009 Honduran coup was about?).

The international WikiLeaks contro-

versy led to a brief media fascination with

a handful of those cables, although the

repercussions for some embassy contacts

continuedmuch longer. On the bright side,

it also led to recognition of the overall high

quality of embassy reporting. Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian described

some reporting as “almost worthy of


Dr. Thompson-Jones is especially

interested in public diplomacy—her career

track—and her book has interesting things

to say about its practice in the field and

Washington’s misunderstanding of what it

can and cannot achieve. She is spot on in


ment “would like Americans to

stay away from—at this writing—

37 countries.” Many travel warnings—

such as that for Israel, for example—

are for specific parts of a country, not

the whole nation. Similarly, in 2008 Rus-

sia invaded Georgia, not just Abkhazia

and South Ossetia, where it already had

forces in place.

Dr. Thompson-Jones concludes with

34 pages on Secretary Hillary Clinton’s

tenure. The subtitle, “The Good Enough

Secretary,” sums up the author’s evaluation

of Sec. Clinton’s time at State.

The epilogue adds three “pleas”: first,

that the “foreign policy establishment”

include embassy voices in decision-

making; second, that the under secretary

for public diplomacy be a career officer;

and third, that perusing WikiLeaks should

not be off limits to people with security

clearances. Hard to argue with any of those


This book suffers by trying to cover

several things at once, none in great depth:

thoughts on reporting, descriptions of

embassy practices, commentary on State

Department policymaking and an evalua-

tion of Hillary Clinton’s tenure at State.

It might have been better had the

author drawn on her considerable experi-

ence and insight into public diplomacy

and focused primarily on that. She could

then have drawn more on the growing dis-

cussion (much of it online) about public

diplomacy and on the extensive collection

of recently declassified cables and memos

that go beyond Julian Assange’s data



Damian Leader teaches diplomacy at New

York University. An FSO from 1985 to 2013,

he served alongside the 82nd Airborne in

Grenada and worked on the Mozambican

and Angolan peace processes, as well as on

Eastern European and Russian affairs.