The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 14

A Plea for Greater Teamwork
in the Foreign Service
he militarization of America’s
foreign policy in recent years, and
the encroachment by political
appointees onmore andmore
positions within the State Department that
used to be occupied by career diplomats,
are both disturbing trends that should
impel those of us in, or retired from, the
Foreign Service to ponder howmost Amer-
icans see our profession. After all, popular
perceptions affect how America deals with
the rest of the world, and therefore howwe
shouldmanage our institution.
However, there are some subtleties
to be considered. The Foreign Service
is much smaller than the Department
of Defense, and affects a much smaller
population of American voters directly.
We are alsomore remote from, and less
immediately relevant to, most Americans
than the military or such professions as
law enforcement, firefighting, teaching and
George B. Lambrakis was a State Department Foreign Service officer from 1957 to 1985, after
two years with USIS in Vietnam and Laos. He served in hardship and non-hardship posts in
the Middle East, Africa and Europe as a consul, political reporting officer, deputy chief of mis-
sion and chargé d’affaires, and as an intelligence analyst, desk officer, personnel officer and of-
fice director in Washington. While serving in wartime Beirut in 1975 and 1976, he shared in an
embassy unit award for valor as DCM and chargé between four different ambassadors (one of
whom was kidnapped and assassinated). He also shared an award for heroism while serving
as political counselor and (for several months) acting DCM in revolutionary Tehran between
1977 and 1979.
After retirement, he set up international fundraising operations for Brown University, the
International Institute for Strategic Studies and other organizations. Since 1994 he has been a
program director and professor of international relations and diplomacy at universities in Lon-
don and Paris, and often defends American foreign policies on Press TV, the Iranian television
At the same time, State and the other
foreign affairs agencies loom large in
Washington, and are vital to theWhite
House and Congress—as well as to journal-
ists, businesspeople and those who travel
abroad. These are the people whom the
Foreign Service must convince of its value.
Fortunately, this is a feasible task that
the Service can address head-on. I would
go so far as to suggest that the president,
Congress, fellow departments of govern-
ment, and others with whomwe deal
would value and trust our judgment more
if they generally saw our culture as striving
to achieve our aims in a relatively disinter-
ested and collegial way—not (as may now
sometimes be the case) seeing us as being
mainly out for ourselves.
If I am right, this shift could induce
more legislators to take a realistic, even
admiring, view of what we (no longer “gen-
teel cookie-pushers”) accomplish with our
limited budgets.
Copy–but Selectively
To facilitate that process, we should
consider copying to a considerable extent
the teamwork that the military and other
service professions enjoy, while maintain-
ing the different traditions of the diplo-
matic career. Diplomatic work differs in its
essential characteristics from those other
professions, and I am certainly not sug-
gesting otherwise.
For example, there is one pernicious
idea borrowed from the military which I
would argue runs contrary to the essen-
tials of diplomatic work: the “up or out”
promotion process embedded in the
Service since the 1980 Foreign Service Act.
Diplomacy in the wider world is not best
conducted by the young and inexperi-
Nor is the Foreign Service well served
by a personnel pyramid that eliminates
capable officers because they have not
quite reached the top. If anything, diplo-
macy has proportionally more uses at
or near the senior ranks for experienced
mid-career and senior officers than does
the military.
The emphasis since 1980 on facilitat-
ing the rapid rise of exceptionally gifted
officers at the expense of the average has
evolved to the point that individual officers
have to compete actively, if not ferociously,
against their colleagues for promotion.
This can lead to some desperate maneu-
vering at reassignment time for the flashier
assignments, and requires diverging from
other duties tomake sure supervisors write
the best-sounding annual performance
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