The Country Team
BY ROBERT J. SILVERMAN
Preface: The Foreign Service is a diverse, rotating cast of characters. Perhaps you will find a familiar face in this column, inspired by the chancery scene in the John Le Carré novel, A Small Town in Germany. Thank you for the privilege of serving as your president for the past two years. Let’s all support the incoming team led by Barbara Stephenson.
The weekly meeting took place as usual at ten o‘clock on Friday. It had the air of a religious procession, with the congregants filing in to take their anointed seats around the table. The staff aide performed a silent roll call to ensure everyone was in place before the ambassador arrived.
The deputy chief of mission as usual joined just as the last of the congregants was seated. “Did you see the item in the papers this morning about the deaths from vodka poisoning?” The DCM nodded, “Whah’s Filly?” The station chief was missing but would no doubt turn up later in the morning.
The ambassador arrived and set a business- like tone. These proceedings were more about lateral coordination than topdown communication, and she wanted to hear from the counselors.
The political counselor, on her left, went first. On his third overseas tour and recently arrived from deputy directorship of the country desk, Rawley was the youngest in the room, except for the staff aide. His briefing on the political groups behind the week’s demonstrations was fluent but lacked the intimate insights gained from extended on-the-ground contacts. That would come in time. The DCM was taking mental notes for an upcoming mentoring session.
Fernandez was the public affairs counselor. At 62, still radiating strength dating to halcyon days as a campus organizer of protests against South African apartheid, he built on Rawley’s briefing, talking about young leaders in the opposition identified for embassy exchange programs. Fernandez was wrapping up a 35-year career organizing public diplomacy events on four continents.
After the RSO and Consul General detailed new security and Amcit notification measures, USAID Mission Director Forcier described his visit to a health clinic project in the ethnic minority community supporting the demonstrations. Forcier had acted as Rawley’s embassy sponsor, with introductions around post and to the best grocery shopping and cheap restaurants. Forcier was a key factor in Rawley and family getting off to a good start.
“Now for something completely different,” Crabbe called out. He took the next spot as economic counselor and focused on support for U.S. export firms in-country, a theme picked up by the commercial and agricultural counselors, with differing emphases. Those three are well coordinated, thought the DCM, making a note to ask Crabbe to be acting in August.
Colonel Kaplan, the military attaché, seemed stressed. He spoke only of the many visitors on the horizon. Each U.S. delegation, headed by a senior general, wanted a meeting with the country’s chief of staff, and there was danger of overkill. The ambassador said she would meet with Kaplan and the DCM to prioritize and rationalize the meeting requests.
“Raise your hand if you have completed the annual conflict of interest disclosure form due today?” Only the ambassador and DCM raised their hands. Jalokby, the management counselor, sighed. She was sure the ambassador’s OMS had helped. “I am reporting the rest of you to Washington.” Jalokby had a way of getting action; she had grown up in the Foreign Service and knew the culture better than anyone else at post.
The final voice around the table was von Klemm, the community liaison officer who happened to be Fernandez’s husband. He announced the next CLO outing to a reptile petting zoo; all embassy children were invited. Parents needed to sign liability waivers.
The proceedings were winding down as the ambassador wished all a good summer weekend. It was time to go back to the office and get things done.
Be well, stay safe and keep in touch,