Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Classic Quotable: Ambassador Lincoln Gordon’s pushback against Washington micromanagement


Monday, September 28th 2015

Foreign Service Officers vexed by the micromanagement of Public Diplomacy by Washington will be interested in these comments, made in 1965, on “The Washington-Field Relationship” by U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Lincoln Gordon (1913-2009).  Gordon was later President of Johns Hopkins University

Understanding this tendency, the U.S. Information Agency accepted “field driven programs” as one of its fundamental organizing principles.  The first sentence below deserves equal billing with Edward R. Murrow’s comments on crashes and landings.

There is in Washington a widespread tendency to regard the field missions as the eyes and arms of United States policy, but taking no part in the function of the brain.  It should be obvious, of course, that policy toward any country cannot be determined exclusively by the field mission there.  The relationship between the United States and any other country in today’s world is not merely a bilateral matter.  It must be placed within a framework of regional and global policy and strategy.

At the same time, the field mission has the great advantage over Washington of being in intimate contact with the whole spectrum of relationships—political, economic, psychological and military; and the ambassador is better placed than any single Washington officer to weigh together the various elements in a broad country strategy.

It follows that the field mission should be called upon to think in strategic terms, and to recommend policies actively to Washington, rather than merely serving as observer, reporter and executant.  This is equally true of the component operating units in the aid, information and military fields.  At the same time, in order to maintain a regional and global unity, the field mission should be kept abreast of the evolution of Washington policies, with ample opportunity to comment on them and to participate in their formulation.  Much has been done in recent years to improve this relationship.

Hat tip:  Foreign Service Journal.

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