Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Diplomacy Falls on Hard Times

Georgie Anne Geyer,; via SRJ on Facebook

Image from [JB note: USIA -- see below -- known during the Cold War overseas as USIS [United States Information Service], was humorously referred by some, but certainly not all, of the U.S. foreign policy "community" (as this rather vague entity is often labeled as today) as "Useless."

WASHINGTON -- When I think of our American Foreign Service officers overseas this Christmas, I remember a dear friend of mine, Mike Kristula, who was a brilliant diplomat with the U.S. Information Agency in the 1960s.
This wonderful little "only-in-America" scene took place in Bolivia, in a village on the Altiplano outside La Paz. Note, please, that it is not a given to be able to dance on that glorious high plain of the Andes; it is 14,000 feet high.
But Mike was swinging around with the inexpressive, square-faced Aymara Indians at their village dance as though he were at the Rainbow Room on his wife's birthday. The Aymaras themselves -- descendants of the great Inca empire of the Andes -- didn't break a smile, but you could see they liked Mike as they swung him out again and again. Now one of the Indians is actually "presidente" of Bolivia, and I'm happy to report that Mike survived, if barely.
Years later, I was in Uganda in central eastern Africa, and I instructed my Ugandan taxi driver to please take me to the American Embassy.
As we grew closer, I realized he was slowing down too far away from the building for me to walk to it. Then he stopped. "It scares me," he said simply.
I looked at the embassy, which resembled a gray prison. "You know," I said to him, "it scares me, too." Then I got out and walked up the hill to my appointment.
When Mike Kristula was so humanly representing America in the '60s and '70s, our embassies in most countries were right on the streets. One could stand on the sidewalk and ring the bell and a Marine peeked out. I don't remember any major bombings or shootings in our embassies in those years.
Indeed, a favorite spot for citizens of the countries involved were the U.S.I.A. libraries [see] , most often on the street level in the capitals on a nice corner lot where everyone could find them.
Today, there are no more libraries. No more street entrances to anything American. No more fun, really.
It is sad that we don't pay more attention to the Foreign Service. Luckily, a young political analyst, Nicholas Kralev, who emigrated from Bulgaria to the U.S., has accomplished the well-nigh impossible task of writing a highly readable book on the service, "America's Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st-Century Diplomacy."
For the book and for speeches all over the world, he has interviewed every major secretary of state in our times, visited 77 embassies worldwide and spoken to 600 career diplomats. America's favorite diplomat, Thomas R. Pickering, now retired, calls the book the "seminal work on the Foreign Service."
Kralev's concerns are serious ones, as he outlined in an interview with me:
There is too little training for the traditional Foreign Service today. (Successful applicants have only five weeks of training.) "Diversity," or the Republicans' hated "political correctness," has become the magic word in choosing future diplomats. ("Because of diversity, you now see nurses, parole officers, restaurant managers and bouncers as diplomats," Kralev said. "The exams are now very general. You can pass them without studying international relations.")
Because of certain American leaders' propensity to invade other countries, many in the White House believe that our diplomats are not good enough to face world problems (which they themselves have created), and so they depend more and more upon the military. (President Obama, for instance, meets for breakfast once a week with his secretary of state and with his military advisers every day. The Pentagon budget is $500 billion a year; the State Department's is $50 billion.)
And, of course, the military has a slight edge on "muscle," with 1.3 million uniformed soldiers while the State Department has only 14,000 regular officers.
Accepting an award at the American Academy of Diplomacy Awards Luncheon in November, the popular and respected William J. Burns acknowledged the problems. He spoke about "terrorists steadily eroding the near-monopoly of states on power ... and in which the roles of force and diplomacy have too often been inverted, with force a tool of first resort and diplomacy as its enabler, rather than diplomacy as our tool of first resort."
He summed up: "After more than a decade dominated by two costly conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan ... America needs a core of professional diplomats with the skills and experience to pursue American interests abroad by measures short of war."
Poll after poll and debate after debate -- not to speak of the promising recent nuclear agreement with Iran and the amazing global warming agreement in Paris -- show that this is what the American people want and that we CAN do it, if we release the WILL to do it. Let's get started!

No comments: