Monday, January 30, 2006

Is Secretary Rice Out to Get Me?

My View on “Transformational Diplomacy”

It’s an understatement to say that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s speech on transformational diplomacy has shaken up the Foreign Service bubble. Her Georgetown University speech declared war on bloated European posts, old-school diplomacy, and those slackers who spend their entire careers in Paris and London. However, has she declared war against me?

For those who haven’t been following this story, Rice seeks to shift jobs from Europe and D.C. to areas of increasing importance to the US, namely Asia and the Middle East. She also seeks to create one-person mini-posts in cities of more than one million people. These mini-posts will expand America’s contact with the world. On the surface, it all makes sense. Why do we have more staff monitoring Oslo’s political situation than we do Addis Ababa’s? Ethiopia has an ongoing border war and human rights issues, Norway has…reindeer. It’s not that Oslo doesn’t matter, but that Addis matters more.

Some of Rice’s new initiatives are in fact old news – for as long as I’ve been around, serving at a dangerous post and proficiency in two languages were requirements for attaining the Senior Foreign Service. Advertising that as part of her transformational diplomacy initiative is like an ad saying, "Pencils! Now with ERASERS!"

However, I think Rice has made these changes as painful as possible. Foreign Service Officers and their families have had their European tours yanked out from beneath them, often with no notice. Many had already slogged through months of language training, lined up schools for their children, and prepared to move this summer. Months of training at government expense have gone down the tubes - your tax dollars at work! Also, with all these job shifts, no one bothered to add any logistics staff to any of these new “high priority” posts. So places like Beijing will get an influx of new diplomats…but no one to help find them housing or get their belongings shipped to them.

The security implications are also considerable. How do you protect one lonely diplomat in Upper Sweathog? The Post describes State employees as “now often barricaded in fortified embassies.” I’m at my second “danger post” in a row, so I’m certainly not a coward. But, pardon me for wanting a bit of concrete between me and mine, and those in the world who want us dead. As diplomats shift to scarier and scarier places, we should be increasing security, not guilt-tripping civilians into throwing themselves in the line of fire.

Overall, though, transformational diplomacy is probably a good thing for the Foreign Service. The Cold War is over, and frankly Western Europe doesn’t matter nearly as much as it used to. With the Russia’s rapid collapse from Communist evil empire into large-scale slapstick comedy, we don’t need a Continental buffer. And, truthfully, the Foreign Service is full of dedicated professionals who would go to Upper Sweathog in a heartbeat. The dinosaurs who view diplomacy as a Paris tea party have had their day, and it's time for a new generation.

But many of these dedicated professionals have spouses and children. Despite the noise the State Department makes about being “family-friendly”, I just don’t see how this can be good for the Foreign Service family.

Say Matt is assigned to one of these new one-person posts in Carjackistan. If this is considered a highly dangerous post, he will have to go by himself while I cool my heels in Washington for a year. (The number of unaccompanied tours has skyrocketed since 9/11, and there are now more than 700 officers serving one-year tours without their families. Take a field with an already inflated divorce rate, and the implications are obvious.)

Receiving permission to go to Carjackistan is possibly even worse. I wouldn’t be able to work at the Embassy, as Matt would be the highest-ranking person there (you can’t report to your spouse). And the Carjackistans of the world don't have plentiful jobs. Like many diplomatic spouses, I need at least part-time work to keep me sane. Even a slice of independence is better than nothing in a “trailing spouse” sort of world.

And who would our friends be? An Embassy comes with a built-in group of Americans to spend time with. The Carjackistans of the world have difficult languages, making it almost impossible to befriend the locals. I suppose we would scrounge for missionaries or aid workers to barbecue with.

Say we have a child with health problems or special educational needs. Today, families are able to take these children to Western European posts, and so the family is able to stick together. As these jobs dry up, the number of early retirements, unaccompanied tours, and strained families can only increase. This is a lifestyle that requires a great deal of sacrifice and ingenuity, but asking officers to choose between their careers and their families is going too far.

I don’t have a neat conclusion, so I’ll throw this out for comments. Does Secretary Rice envision an overall shift where diplomats are now soldiers? Like the military, diplomats are committed to “worldwide availability.” However, unlike soldiers, diplomats have the option of saying, “Carjackistan? Whatever, I quit.” How many diplomats will express that option?


Anonymous said...

I think y'all should hire more single gay men with no dependents. That way it will be easier for you to fill those one-person posts. That's just me.

Shannon said...

Or, we could create a cadre of diplomats who do not have families, nor do they want them...DiploBots! Robot diplomats.

Consul-At-Arms said...

Anonymous must not have heard of the Department's expanding notion of the variety of families which come under the "family friendly" umbrella, such as same-sex couples where one is an FSO or FSS and the other is a "Member of Household."

Consul-At-Arms said...

BTW, would you mind if I re-posted this post over at my web log? I think you make some excellent points. I'll be posting a link in any case.

Shannon said...

Go right ahead...

And I still think DiploBots would solve all of State's problems. They'd save a fortune in private school bills alone.

Consul-At-Arms said...

Thanks! I've added the text here:

You've already garnered a little feedback.

Tandem said...

Interesting analysis. But,keep in mind, that not everyone serving at an unaccompanied post is leaving their family behind. Along with singles, there are a growing number of tandem couples in the FS (I am part of one). While Khartoum would be rough for everyone, the tandems would in theory suffer a bit less. I think that there will be some sorting and self-selection through the whole process. We'll see....

Shannon said...

I think, in general, the tandems I have known have better morale than traditional Foreign Service couples - no fear of unaccompanied tours, no sense that one person has to give up their career for the other, and more equality in the marriage. The majority of marriages I see at post are very unequal, which causes a lot of stress. (My day job is in the Community Liaison Office, so I see this stuff day in and day out.)

Editfish said...


Thanks for your excellent thoughts on this. I've been really appreciative of how the FSO bloggers have responded so thoughtfully to Secretary Rice's Transformational Diplomacy Initiative.

Keep up the good work!


Anonymous said...

I agree with what you have been saying. I am also a trailing spouse CLO, and have to say that so many people just don't get it. Email me at the CLO email for San Jose, and I'll let you know some more "trade" issues.