The Foreign Service Journal - December 2017

10 DECEMBER 2017 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL LETTERS Dissent in a Time of Crisis The Journal has long provided a platform for those advocating construc- tive dissent and, specifically, use of the Dissent Channel as a means of question- ing policies and practices. Harry Kopp’s thoughtful commentary, “The State of Dissent in the Foreign Service” (Septe m- ber), is the latest example of responsible discussion of Foreign Service dissent in your pages. Kopp concludes by urg- ing that “for the good of the Service as an institution, dissent must remain confiden- tial.” I believe, however, that this assessment of dissent in the Trump-era Foreign Service fails to appreciate the gravity of the threat posed to U.S. foreign policy and to the Foreign Service itself. I joined the Service in January 1975, at a time when U.S. foreign policy had been buffeted by dissent and even rancor in the ranks for almost a decade. Much of this came to a head in the early months of 1975, when U.S. Embassy Saigon sought to deny the reality that the government of Nguyen Van Thieu was doomed. In earlier years, Foreign Service offi- cers had questioned and protested the manner in which our Indochina policy was formulated, the policy itself and the very purpose of the Vietnam War. FSOs, frustrated by their inability to report honestly, sometimes turned to the press. In the spring of 1975, some acted without orders, for example, to ensure that trusted Vietnamese allies and their families were able to exit Viet- nam before the maelstrom enveloped the country. These individuals were heroes and role models for many of the junior FSOs of that day. I believe the Trump era presents the Foreign Service with a challenge as daunting as that which earlier led FSOs to courageous acts that went beyond “confidential” dissent. This administration’s assault on the Foreign Service is reflected in its refusal to provide leadership to the State Department, which lacks senior officials or even nominees at home and abroad. Moreover, critical functions, including con- sular, may be taken away from the department and extraordinarily deep budget cuts have been proposed. Internal, “confiden- tial” dissent is simply inadequate in the context of this unprecedented crisis, as it was during the Vietnam War era and, some might add, the Iraq War era. It is not sufficient for senior officers simply to retire, as many are doing. These officers owe the Service—and par- ticularly the mid-level and junior col- leagues they leave behind—more than their silence. They must speak out. They must explain to the American people, to their elected representatives and to the media why they are abandoning careers of service and sacrifice. Edmund McWilliams Senior FSO, retired White Oaks, New Mexico The Blood Telegram In his fine article in the September issue of The Foreign Service Journal , “The State of Dissent in the Foreign Service,” Harry Kopp cites “The Bloo d Telegram” as the first message in the Dissent Channel. As drafter of that telegram on behalf of other officers of ConGen Dacca (now Dhaka) who were appalled by our government’s lack of response to the carnage inflicted on then East Pakistan by Pakistan’s military, I would like to clarify that the telegram, to which Arch Blood so courageously appended his own comments, was not the first Dissent Channel message. At the time we sent it, the Dissent Channel had not been established, although there was talk about increased “openness” in the State Department and Foreign Service. Our message was intended for an internal audience, not to be leaked. In our naiveté we classified it “con- fidential,” assuming that would protect the information. When it reached the Operations Center, Watch Officer David Passage, an FS classmate of mine, realized it was sensitive and added a LIMDIS caption to restrict its distribu- tion. But it leaked, nevertheless. Perhaps there is a causal link between the Blood Telegram (subject of a lauded book by Professor Gary Bass of Princeton University) and the Dissent Channel. That would be a fitting tribute to Arch Blood, who honored his profes- sion by honest reporting, despite the costs to his career. W. Scott Butcher Senior FSO, retired Potomac, Maryland Integrity First In June 2016, The Foreign Service Journal focused on the topic of combat- ing corruption as a central task of U.S. foreign policy. As a retired FSO who now chairs an anticorruption organiza- tion called the Coalition for Integrity, I welcome this attention to an important issue. We believe the United States needs