Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I know I must tiptoe this line of embracing my free speech and blogging away, and respecting that my job requires more discretion than the first amendment does. In general, it is a bad idea to:

a) publicly criticize the President or Secretary of State. You won't find me doing it here.*
b) make statements or express opinions that run contrary to U.S. foreign policy. You won't find me doing it here.*
c) lash out at politicians who rudely and dismissively insult the character of American diplomats. You're about to see me do that here.

*I am not claiming that I personally agree with everything everywhere. I am simply acknowledging that "U.S. official says [quote from your blog contradicting U.S. goals and positions]" is a really good way to damage your country and your career.

As for c), as soon as one of those politicians is elected president or named Secretary, then you suck it up and use the dissent channel if necessary. It's not fun, but self-censorship is part of your responsibility. You weren't hired to defend the Constitution of You and implement Your Foreign Policy. If you can't do that in good conscience, then you look for employment elsewhere. I firmly believe that.

Until then, use discretion. You want nothing more than to write about some of the more, um, interesting CODELs? Tempting? Certainly. Good career move? Oh no. Not to mention: what would happen if someone in your host country's government read your less-than-flattering assessment of someone with whom you just asked them to take a meeting?

But I draw the line here. Note that Perry offers nothing to substantiate his accusations, and he immediately reverts to the uniform worship that has consumed American politics. Lest someone think I am anti-military, I am certainly not. I just see this playing out in an overly simplistic fashion: military infallible! federal workers/diplomats baaaaad! It's tiresome. We are, in fact, on the same team.

What would I like to see in response? I'd like to see other politicians challenge that accusation in public and in the media. I'd like to see citizens challenge that accusation. I'd like a voice other than AFSA's to suggest to Congress that it is an unwise policy to make an FSO serving in Angola earn less than a percentage point more of his income than an FSO serving in Washington.

We are a small service, and we serve far away from home. I know sometimes an American citizen only has a personal interaction with us when we are delivering the unpopular message that, no, the Constitution doesn't have legal authority in Country Z. But sometimes, we are there on Thanksgiving day, texting your daughter as she hides under a bed in an Indian hotel that's under a terrorist attack, all to be able to tell her that, for the love of God, please don't answer the door if someone knocks. Sometimes you appreciate our assistance so much that we become a character in your Lifetime movie (yes, true story, and no, I won't link to it). Sometimes you are thankful we are there when your son suddenly passes away, and all his possessions, bank accounts, everything--even his body--are in a country far away that you've never visited. We help.

I don't want American citizens to stop speaking to their elected officials about foreign policy. I don't want an end to thoughtful criticism. I don't even want a medal. I would, however, like a little bit of respect.


Donna said...

Excellent post...

filelalaine said...

You got it -- and not just a little bit of it-- from this blogger!