Notes to the New Administration

Following the U.S. presidential election and by way of welcoming the new administration, The Foreign Service Journal invited Foreign Service members to share their suggestions for how diplomacy and development practitioners can best serve and advance America’s foreign policy interests during the coming months and years.

In a Nov. 10 AFSAnet, we asked for concise answers to this question: “What is the one thing you want the new administration to know about the role—or potential role—of the Foreign Service?”

Here are the suggestions from the U.S. Foreign Service for what the Trump team should know and do.

–The Editors

We Are Your Foreign Service

The Foreign Service is your presence overseas. We implement your foreign policy. We sell your foreign priorities. We build and maintain foreign networks to help achieve your objectives and represent you to nearly 200 countries.

So please integrate us into the decision-making ranks. Reduce the number of politically appointed ambassadors—we are thousands of trained, seasoned, top-notch diplomats ready to carry out your vision. We speak every official language in the world. We have worked in every country with which the United States has diplomatic ties. Reduce the number of special envoys, special advisers and special representatives—and instead recognize that we are capable, trustworthy and good stewards of taxpayer money.

We would not expect nearly 40 percent of military leadership to be politically appointed; and neither should nearly 40 percent of America’s diplomatic leadership be politically appointed.

In short, let us be the powerful force for peace that we were designed to be, and make great use of us. Don’t marginalize us. We are, after all, your Foreign Service.

Sandrine Goffard
Springfield, Virginia

Please End Political Corruption

You have a golden opportunity to fulfill your campaign pledge to put a stop to corruption, cronyism and “business as usual” in Washington: End the disgraceful practice of rewarding personal friends and donors with ambassadorships. Democratic and Republican presidents have been equally guilty in recent decades of handing out many of these key diplomatic positions to individuals with no foreign affairs experience or qualifications whatsoever, often auctioning the cushiest ambassadorial posts off to top campaign contributors.

Being an effective ambassador is a serious, difficult job: ambassadors have to oversee large, multiagency embassies that manage complex relationships with foreign governments. If you are serious about defending U.S. interests in a dangerous world, put all of our country’s ambassadorships back in the hands of our career diplomats—the Senior Foreign Service officers who have spent decades acquiring expertise on a wide range of international issues, mastering foreign languages, immersing themselves in foreign cultures and developing the skills necessary to negotiate effectively with foreign officials.

We are the only government in the world that routinely sends out inexperienced novice appointees as our most senior representatives. They have a steep learning curve and must be guided every step of the way by their staffs, the people of the Foreign Service who are assigned to their embassies. Allies and enemies alike rarely take seriously these appointees, who often do careless damage to U.S. foreign policy.

It is time for a courageous administration to end this shameful form of political corruption.

Steven Kashkett
Washington, D.C.

We Achieve Quietly

Like those in military service, we and our families make great sacrifices for the U.S. government because we believe that we can avoid costly and dangerous conflicts by achieving agreements, keeping up good relations, ultimately striving for peace. Our efforts and often our achievements are quiet—we never have and probably never will get the attention or praise the military gets. But we’re still just as dedicated.

Kristin M. Kane
U.S. Embassy Brasilia, Brazil

A Bridge to the World

Our security and prosperity depend on the world around us, and our diplomats are a bridge between the United States and the world—promoting our foreign policy, developing peaceful solutions in unstable situations that affect U.S. interests, understanding and shaping foreign perceptions of the United States, and generating the understanding and good will that form the bedrock of stable, strategic partnerships with all nations.

Jeff Weinshenker
Arlington, Virginia

We Are the Face of America Abroad

The Foreign Service has often been the first face of America the rest of the world sees—whether it is at a time of crisis through humanitarian assistance, applying for a visa to visit this incredible country, or forming partnerships with other countries to achieve larger-than-life objectives such as elimination of extreme poverty. Every day, members of the Foreign Service demonstrate abroad what America means: diversity, equality, democracy, excellence and shared prosperity.

The Foreign Service must be allowed to continue to represent all of America with integrity and objectivity, which are core values of leadership. Because the world faces increasingly complex diplomatic and development challenges, with a wide range of stakeholders, a diverse cadre of professional diplomats must continue to serve in many different ways to find common ground and viable solutions.

We are needed on the ground to connect with diverse people of host countries and in various institutions to help shape policies. To effectively achieve the nation’s objectives, the U.S. Foreign Service must be a model of diversity and mutual respect for the rest of the global community.

Regina Jun
U.S. Embassy Managua, Nicaragua

We Offer Honest and Clear Reporting

The Foreign Service is America’s experienced voice with an open tradition of implementing America’s foreign policy objectives abroad. The men and women who are selected to be Foreign Service officers are highly competent and loyal to the president of the United States of America and have no other agenda but to serve the administration.

The Foreign Service’s representational tradition is steeped in honest and clear reporting to the host government, as well as to the Department of State. This is the central focus of the Service; officers are trained to call it as they see it. Reporting in this manner provides the administration with a solid basis for making critical policy decisions that could impact U.S. interests in a foreign region.

George V. Corinaldi
FSO, retired
Potomac, Maryland

Bridge Divisions

E pluribus unum. That is the motto that points the way to making America great again. Seek compromises that bridge the divisions in our society, not “solutions” that only make them worse. On foreign policy, “offshore balancing” beats “right to protect” every time.

Carleton S. Coon Jr.
Ambassador, retired
Woodville, Virginia

We Tell You What You Need to Hear

As your own foreign policy preferences have figured only minimally in your campaign, I hope you will give consideration to the views of the professionals in the U.S. Foreign Service who will be entrusted to carry out White House guidance.

The Foreign Service is not stacked against you. Career Foreign Service officers entered into public service not to promote a particular agenda, but to promote the considered goals of official U.S. foreign policy as determined by the president and foreign policy advisers. They want to serve their country, and they join the Foreign Service with the expectation that they will serve under various administrations with varying political goals and interests.

The Foreign Service has a record of accurate reporting. Do not be surprised if your Secretary of State tells you that the Foreign Service overemphasizes negative views. Traditional diplomacy effects change in incremental steps, and there are more than 190 countries that our diplomats will be informing of your wishes. They each have to be addressed in ways that will make them understand—and hopefully accept—any new directions you wish to take; and, undoubtedly, there will be pushback, both from friends and from adversaries. When your embassies inform you of such pushback, please don’t “shoot the messenger.”

The Foreign Service will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. When Foreign Service officers suggest modifications or even changes in your policies, you will need to hear those points expressed loudly and clearly, and as accurately as possible. Such messages may be annoying, but they are essential to help you gain the full benefit of the Service’s expertise in various substantive and geographical areas. As a matter of fact, we have institutionalized such disagreement with a “dissent channel.” Our professional association, AFSA, can tell you more about this mechanism.

Leon Weintraub
FSO, retired
Potomac, Maryland

We Are Not Your Enemy

In honesty, President Trump, you were not our choice. Hillary Clinton, despite the campaign hyperbole, was a reasonably effective Secretary of State—given that President Barack Obama essentially made foreign policy. But Secretary Clinton advanced U.S. interests in human rights and particularly women’s rights around the globe. She paid more attention and gave more sympathy to Foreign Service personnel and issues than has often been the case for Secretaries of State. We appreciated her.

That said, however, it does not make Foreign Service personnel your enemies. We are professionals in assessing, analyzing, predicting and addressing the policies and attitudes of foreign governments, nonstate actors and those opposed to U.S. interests.

We want you to be successful. We want the United States of America to advance its interests with maximum effectiveness, leaving friends and allies reassured and enemies deterred from hostile action.

If you have a leaky basement, you call a plumber. If you have a pain in your gut, you see a doctor. If you want to build a house, you hire an architect. The plumber, doctor and architect are professionals; they don’t care about your politics or personality.

You get the point. If you want foreign policy expertise, the Foreign Service consists of consummate professionals. Use us.

David T. Jones
Senior FSO, retired
Arlington, Virginia

We Are Stronger for Our Diversity

The Foreign Service is stronger for our diversity. The State Department has worked hard to reduce barriers to LGBT diplomats and their families serving overseas. And in countries where the government won’t accredit the families of LGBT diplomats, many still choose to serve, willingly facing the risk to work where being gay is criminalized, street harassment is prevalent and LGBT activists are regularly jailed. It is in these places that the governments and society most need to see our faces, to work alongside us in the missions and to sit across the table from us in bilateral meetings. This is how we make change, one diplomat at a time.

GLIFAA President FSO Kerri Hannan and
The GLIFAA Board
Washington, D.C.

Diverse Foreign Service Talent Is Essential

The recruitment, promotion and retention of diverse Foreign Service talent is essential to advancing our national security and prosperity.

The Foreign Service benefits from advanced capabilities in interagency, intercultural and intergenerational planning and decision-making, allowing it to be a leader in tackling the most pressing global issues, even in the most complex environments.

Morgan McClain-McKinney
Washington, D.C.

We Are Your Foreign Policy Marketing Team

Your foreign policy team will have a marketing department of 3,125 people based in Washington, D.C., with branches in 188 other locations in the United States and abroad. Their job is to get out information and to leverage personal relationships in other countries that number in the millions.

This marketing arm is called public diplomacy, which is a function of the Department of State. Use it right and it will serve you well.

• It is illegal for these folks to target Americans in the United States. They focus on foreign audiences.

• A lot of them are very talented, and to advocate our interests they use every means of communication from Twitter to tours of the U.S.A.

• Promoting study in the United States is a big priority for them, because foreign students brought about $30 billion into the U.S. economy in 2016.

• They do a lot of listening, and not just through polls. Some of the local employees are connected to very prominent people in their countries.

• At present, public diplomacy is focused on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and on the issues of importance to his administration, as it should be. After Jan. 20, it will need to pivot quickly.

Foreign leaders depend on public support, just as you do. The earlier your appointees focus on public diplomacy, the more success and influence you will gain with foreign leaders.

Joe B. Johnson
FSO, retired
Public Diplomacy Instructor, Foreign Service Institute
Arlington, Virginia

Reassure the World of America’s Role

As diplomats, we have been asked innumerable times over the past year to explain the rhetoric emanating from this presidential campaign. It has not been easy reassuring people that the United States is the same country it has always been—welcoming of immigrants, a safe harbor for the poor and oppressed looking to build a better life, a nation holding as a core value that its strength is found in diversity.

As official representatives of the United States, we believe this. Our interlocutors believe that we believe this. But the deep uneasiness I see in their eyes reveals skepticism that the new presidential administration believes this.

The degree to which we, as the Foreign Service, can help you advance U.S. interests abroad correlates directly to your administration’s ability to develop and effectively communicate a vision of America’s role in the world that does not feed into a narrative of xenophobia, unilateralism and intolerance.

As the inauguration approaches, we—and the world—look forward to hearing directly from you in a way that reassures all that America will continue to play the productive, prominent, indispensable role it has historically played on the global stage; that it will remain committed to its alliances, champion human rights and work with allies on the very real threat of climate change; and that it will remain a force for peace and stability.

We take seriously the oath we swore to defend the Constitution, and we look forward to helping you uphold yours.

Matt Keene
FSO, Consul General
U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Tip of the Spear

The U.S. Foreign Service and its 200-plus diplomatic missions around the world perform an array of duties and functions critical to the well-being of our nation. The Foreign Service acts not only as America’s “eyes and ears” globally, but also has the very special responsibility to execute and make presidential visions real to a foreign audience—friends and foes alike.

America’s success as a nation can be linked historically to the dedication, wise counsel and sacrifice made by members of the Foreign Service and foreign affairs agencies serving abroad. The Foreign Service stands ready as the “tip of the spear” in helping the Trump administration realize its vision of making America great again, both at home and abroad.

Timothy C. Lawson
Senior FSO, retired
Hua Hin, Thailand

Public Service Matters

I would wish to make clear to the new administration how much work the Foreign Service is tasked with and completes on a daily basis at our embassies around the world, often putting themselves knowingly into dangerous or unhealthy environments.

We have become an expeditionary Foreign Service in many ways, while still carrying out support for congressional delegations (CODELs), staff delegations (STAFFDELs), Freedom Of Information Act requests and Secretary of State or presidential visits, as well as critical diplomatic efforts in addition to routine but important visa work to help promote freedom and democracy globally. I wish to convey my extreme pride in all of my colleagues—past and present, generalist and specialist—who have served or are currently serving proudly in the Foreign Service.

I would like to suggest that the inbound administration initiate a truly historical undertaking, much like a previous president with a vision for America did—I refer to John F. Kennedy’s creation and support of the Peace Corps.

I urge this new administration to consider requiring two years of mandatory public service by all 18- to 30-year-old citizens. They could choose to serve with, for example, the armed forces; in the State Department or the Forest Service; in hospitals, medical corps or hospice settings, or other public service venues. Social studies and civics training classes on our country’s proud history and form of government would be integrated seamlessly into this service period, perhaps even affording college credits for completion.

Too many young people have no concept today of what it means to be an American citizen or the sacrifices that our fathers, mothers, grandparents and, of course, veterans and Foreign Service members have made in providing all of us a safe, free and prosperous America to live and thrive in. Make public service great and meaningful again.

Steven M. Mort
FS Information Management Officer
U.S. Mission Geneva, Switzerland

Please Listen to the Diplomatic Service

First of all, know that you have an elite diplomatic service at your disposal, one that certainly is among the best in the world. Don’t be afraid to use us regardless of whatever contrary advice you may receive. We exist in large measure precisely to carry out and implement policies crafted and codified by you and your senior staffers, as articulated eloquently in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and previous legislation dating back almost a hundred years.

But, please, also listen to us carefully, as we have honed expertise of high value to you and our nation’s foreign policy. For that reason, too, please consider raising the proportion of professional diplomats who will serve as chiefs of mission around the world to at least 70 percent. The Trump administration and our country will both be better for this cardinal step.

We have skills, knowledge and experience, as well as representing the full diversity of our great country to help execute the vision you espouse for the next four years.

Vangala S. Ram
Senior FSO, retired
Arlington, Virginia

Protect Human Rights at Home

Countries around the world, their governments and people, pay attention to what is happening in the United States. It will be incredibly difficult to promote an agenda of diversity, equality, tolerance and human rights overseas if we do not practice them at home. Please protect the rights, safety and health of women, LGBTQI persons and people of color in the United States so we may continue to do so abroad.

Katherine Tarr
U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa, Honduras

We Reassure Allies and Communicate with Adversaries

Do not write off the entire Foreign Service as politically biased against you and not to be trusted. There is a wealth of expertise in the State Department that will make your foreign policy more effective. We each take seriously our responsibility to the U.S. Constitution, the American people and the president. You could have the most brilliant game plan in the history of mankind, but if you do not put your whole team on the field you are going to struggle.

We have a tradition of constructive dissent, which we will continue to exercise through appropriate channels, perhaps with historic frequency. A reasoned challenge to one of your policy proposals is not a personal attack on you; it is an argument in defense of the national interest. We probably will not change your mind often, but your effectiveness is certain to suffer if you disregard our counsel completely.

Your election has created tremendous uncertainty around the world, because this is your first public office and your style is … unique. If you want to reassure allies and communicate clearly with adversaries, you are going to need the Foreign Service.

Modern threats to U.S. interests are too dangerous for any of us with any sense to wish for your failure. Your goal is to be a statesman. What possible purpose would it serve the Foreign Service to embarrass or undermine you? A safe and strong United States must have a successful president, and we will do our duty to support you.

Brian T. Neubert
Director, Africa Regional Media Hub
Johannesburg, South Africa

We Understand Other Countries

Foreign Service officers are seasoned professional listeners paid to interpret words, gestures, actions and the sometimes unstated messages behind these and other kinds of communications.

Sure, we also speak and deliver clear messages of our own—about the way we see the world, what we want to achieve and what we hope to avoid. We are and represent the American people, the United States of America, the U.S. government, the current administration and—bottom line—the principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution. (Our oath is to nothing else.) In delivering messages, we try to say exactly what we mean—no more, no less—to maintain focus on the issue at hand and to avoid unnecessary problems.

Some problems are unavoidable, of course, which is why we are paid to listen. Other countries and peoples don’t always agree with our views. At a minimum, listening enables us to understand the reasons why. More broadly, a clear understanding of differences is the seed of any possible solution; and generating solutions—limiting disagreement and finding areas of agreement—is the purpose of diplomatic work.

So let us speak freely, including in communicating the contrary views of other countries or peoples. In doing so, whatever your view of issue X, you will be giving room for potential solutions and keeping at bay the kinds of problems that might be avoided. We have enough unavoidable problems as it is.

Alexis Ludwig
Bethesda, Maryland

Consider History’s Judgement

As a retired Foreign Service officer, I would like to tell you that the Foreign Service is proud of its profession and dedicated to the proposition that, to quote Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all others that have been tried from time to time.” The Foreign Service must continually ask how history will regard what it tried to accomplish.

Peter F. Spalding
Senior FSO, retired
Washington, D.C.

Appoint Professional Ambassadors

The one thing I would like to see the new administration focus on is to appoint only professional diplomats as American ambassadors. That means Foreign Service officers, not wealthy puff bags who have no foreign policy experience or just represent foreign lobbies.

Stephen P. Dawkins
FSO, retired
Key West, Florida

Foreign Assistance Represents the Best of America

Development through foreign assistance is an imperative of United States foreign policy. We showcase our values through this strategic outreach to the global community. Through our assistance, we demonstrate our kindness, generosity, goodwill and desire for all people to reach their highest potential. Foreign assistance represents the best of America. It promotes our vision of the world at its best—one with peace, equality and prosperity. One that benefits us all.

Andrea P. Capellán
U.S. Embassy Lima, Peru

Your Eyes and Ears Around the World

The men and women of the Foreign Service will be your eyes and ears for the next four years, carrying out and explaining your foreign policy. They will also collect and analyze local reactions to it, both at the official level and in the streets.

Sometimes you will not like what they report back to Washington, but I hope you and your appointees will not reject their findings out of hand—or, worse, shoot the messengers. You may decide for any number of reasons to disregard their advice and stay the course, but at least you will know the risks of proceeding.

Steven Alan Honley
FSO, retired
Washington, D.C.

Set an Example of Respect for Diversity

USAID’s workforce includes Americans of all races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, genders and sexual orientations, as well as immigrants who have chosen service to this country as their path in life. Our employees are the face of our country and our most valuable resource. We must ensure that all are treated equally with respect and dignity, both at home and abroad inside and outside the workplace.

USAID employees have sacrificed their lives in service to this country, and we continue to place ourselves in harm’s way in defense of our values of freedom, equality and basic rights for all peoples. Furthermore, more than 10,000 USAID employees are nationals of the countries in which we work, and put their lives on the line every day on behalf of the U.S. government. USAID literally would not function without the brave participation and unparalleled dedication, contributions and expertise of our Foreign Service National employees.

Foreign assistance is a crucial pillar of the U.S. government’s strategy to promote national security, economic stability and goodwill overseas. A vital component of this is USAID’s principled stance to advance women’s rights; rights for marginalized ethnic, religious and racial groups; and LGBTI rights overseas. Where active civil society and human rights form the core of a country’s foundation, peaceful societies thrive.

We must continue setting an example of respect for such values at home to maintain our credibility overseas and succeed in our mission of ending extreme poverty and promoting resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity.

Michelle Dworkin
Washington, D.C.

Choose Professional Diplomats

America is seen and judged by countries around the world through its ambassadorial appointments. There is a cadre of experienced, language-proficient professionals in our foreign affairs community ready to fill those jobs. To send unqualified political appointees to represent us abroad is, in many cases, not only disrespectful to our own system and the serious process of conducting diplomacy; it is insulting to the receiving country, as well.

I would hope your administration will look carefully at historical precedent and strive to use fewer, not more, political appointees to fill ambassadorships abroad and senior foreign affairs positions at home.

Danny Root
Senior Foreign Service, retired
Bulverde, Texas

Call on Chas Freeman

Recruit retired Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr. as soon as possible for the transition team, and also for subsequent policy posts in the foreign affairs and/or national security fields.

Helen Bridget Burkart and James E. Burkart
FSOs, retired
Bethesda, Maryland

Sustain the Peace Corps

Support and sustain the Peace Corps, a hallmark of America’s engagement in the world that redounds to the betterment of all and pays dividends in terms of influence and access.

Robert E. Gribbin
Ambassador, retired
Springfield, Virginia

The Rogers Act Established the Professional Foreign Service

The 1924 Rogers Act established the Foreign Service as a professional corps of commissioned officers approved by the Senate and serving at the pleasure of the president. In 1923 Representative John Jacob Rogers (R-Mass.) led the initiative to create and maintain a flexible and democratic diplomatic corps that would attract and retain the best people for worldwide duty on the basis of proven merit. Admission into the Foreign Service was based on a competitive examination, probationary assignments and merit promotion into the career service. This act was further strengthened by legislation in 1946.

The 1980 Foreign Service Act amended these previous laws and solidified anew that the Foreign Service is a professional corps of officers whose mission is to support the president and the Secretary of State in the conduct of U.S. foreign affairs. It further stated that this professional corps includes consular officers and agents, and that the Foreign Service is deemed essential to the national interest.

The long history of the Foreign Service and the names engraved in stone in the Department of State’s diplomatic entrance of those officers who have given their lives in service to our country attest to the need to maintain the independent integrity of the Foreign Service and its personnel and promotion systems, apart from other U.S. government recruitment and employment systems. Members of the Foreign Service include specialists in many fields—all of them in the several foreign affairs agencies serve our government and the American people on the front lines of U.S. national security around the world.

Bruce K. Byers
FSO, retired
Reston, Virginia

USAID Plays a Vital Role

Temperature extremes, more intense droughts and less predictable rains have had an impact on harvests, food security and livelihoods globally, with a potential to accelerate instability and conflict as resources become increasingly scarce. Through targeted programs and interventions, USAID Foreign Service officers have given communities and small-scale farmers the technology, information and skills to adapt crops and livelihoods to a changing climate, and to build resilience to natural disasters. Through a combination of early warning systems and natural resource management techniques that have evolved with a changing climate, these programs are supporting USAID’s goal to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies to advance our security and prosperity.

Ani Zamgochian
U.S. Embassy Guatemala City, Guatemala, and
Janet Lawson
Washington, D.C.

Make Fair Pay for Locally Employed Staff a Priority

Locally Employed (LE) staff members are the backbone of embassies and consulates around the world. Americans leave after a few years, but LE staff members stay in place, providing technical expertise, administrative support, security, language skills and host country expertise. Many of these dedicated professionals have died in the line of duty.

Yet the State Department has failed to provide fair compensation for these indispensable employees. A 2009 report from State’s Office of Inspector General found that the LE staff compensation system is “inappropriate and inefficient” and “cannot be regarded as professional treatment of an irreplaceable, valued group of employees.”

OIG found that lower-grade LE staff members in some countries were paid at a rate that fell below minimum living standards. After the report was issued, the situation became even worse as a result of the department-wide pay freeze that caused LE staff wages in high-inflation countries to plummet.

The State Department has been addressing this situation on a case-by-case basis, but a more comprehensive solution is needed. The effectiveness of our missions abroad depends on our ability to attract and retain talented local staff members.

I urge the new administration to make fair pay for our LE staff colleagues a top priority and to seek funding from Congress to make it a reality.

Mary Grace McGeehan
FSO, retired
Cape Town, South Africa

America’s First Line of Defense

The Foreign Service is America’s first line of defense. Should the Foreign Service fail to resolve an existential dispute, the U.S. military then takes over. The Foreign Service and the State Department are de facto, and generally unrecognized, national security organizations.

Langdon Williams
FSO, retired
Reston, Virginia

Recognize the Service in Foreign Service

We understand that many Americans don’t have a clear understanding of what we do—at home or abroad—compared to our fellows in other agencies and departments.

My colleagues—whether Foreign Service or Civil Service, military or foreign local employees—work long hours every day because they want to serve our government. No matter the political leanings of the administration, we believe in American leadership in the world, and we want to ensure good governance and defend and advance the interests of our nation and the principles our country stands for.

Our collective dedication, experience and, yes, counsel, can be a powerful asset—and I urge the new administration to please take advantage.

H. Martin McDowell
Fairfax, Virginia

Understand What We Do

I am a Midwesterner. I had no connection to the Foreign Service prior to joining. I have proudly served America in six countries during my career—helping in a mass evacuation after an earthquake, visiting Americans in prison to make sure their rights were protected, assisting an American in the middle of the night who was destitute and had just been assaulted, uncovering various smuggling rings and preventing cartel members from being issued visas.

I served in Bogota, where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army, known as FARC, blew up car bombs; and I served in Havana when we were considered the imperialist enemy. My wife and kids adapt to a new posting, language and culture every few years. My career isn’t unusual—this is what we in the Foreign Service do, and we are proud to do it.

Robert Neus
FSO, Diplomat in Residence
Chicago, Illinois

Elevate Public Diplomacy

It is time to take public diplomacy out of the State Department and give it back the agency status it once had. We are losing the war of ideas around the world. Social media has changed the way we practice public diplomacy, and we are not keeping up with it. To help make America great again, we need to do a better job telling its story and explaining its policies.

Ray Burson
FSO, retired
Doniphan, Missouri

Our Most Important Role

The most important role of the Foreign Service is to get foreigners to do what we want. To be most effective in that, we need an understanding of foreign societies, interests and leadership. Our embassies need to be secure and supplied with the right people and equipment to allow interaction with host governments and people at every level, including outside the capital. We use these contacts and relationships to develop policy recommendations that account for the policy interests of our hosts and define the points of intersection and divergence with our own.

Diplomats play their highest-value role when we lead interagency teams overseas. The leadership role of the State Department in executing our foreign policy relies on our unique focus on foreign policy and ability to coordinate the views and activities of a diverse interagency team to achieve well-defined goals.

The leadership role of the Foreign Service relies, as well, on our unique ability to see and act on the full breadth of U.S. interests—unlike other agencies and services, which have a narrower focus on security, cultural or commercial interests.

FSOs should be present in every place and situation with the potential to affect U.S. strategic interests. At a minimum, FSOs should be assigned to joint military, intelligence and diplomatic teams in areas of interest. Such assignments would allow for the clearest operational picture and integrate policy recommendations and actions from U.S. representatives best able to provide such insights.

Henry S. Ensher
McLean, Virginia

Use Development Assistance to Build Capacity

Strong institutions are necessary for the achievement of lasting progress. It is widely recognized that strong institutions are essential for nation-building and the efficient utilization of external assistance. It is therefore surprising that donors seldom fund institution-strengthening projects. The overwhelming demands posed by the needs of low-income countries cause donors to lose sight of the fundamental requirement of building the institutions required to manage aid and continue working after external funding has ended.

Donors can accelerate the graduation of middle-income countries from dependence, and thereby shift more funding to address the human needs of low-income countries. By joining together, donors can streamline assistance and consolidate their focus on building the institutions needed to ensure development progress on a sustainable basis.

The goal is to enable host-government institutions to be certified as capable of managing funds and activities according to international standards. More work is needed to consistently fund long-term institution assistance frameworks that increase host-country capacity to better manage its own affairs and respond to crises. In this manner, official development assistance will progressively be managed by institutions that have been certified.

These certified institutions will be responsible for managing aid funds and implementing donor-funded projects according to a performance-based system. Strong, pro-poor institutions are the best way forward in the 21st century for low-income countries.

Mark Wentling
USAID FSO, retired
Warwick, Rhode Island

Safeguard Our Diplomats

In moving forward to “Make America Great Again,” diplomacy must take a leading role in fostering enhanced international cooperation and an understanding of each country’s role and responsibilities in the world. An expanded U.S. diplomatic outreach effort built on strength can only take place if appropriate measures are in place to safeguard our diplomats as they work and avoid the shortcomings and confusion that surrounded the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Since September 2012 the Government Accountability Office has issued three reviews to address these shortcomings.

First Review: June 25, 2014, “Diplomatic Security: Overseas Facilities May Face Greater Risks Due to Gaps in Security-Related Activities, Standards and Policies” (GAO 14-655). Second Review: July 9, 2015, “Diplomatic Security: State Department Should Better Manage Risks to Residences and Other Soft Targets Overseas” (GAO 15-700). Third Review: Oct. 4, 2016, “Diplomatic Security: State Should Enhance Its Management of Transportation-Related Risks to Overseas U.S. Personnel” (GAO 17-124).

These reports cover the three aspects of diplomatic security: overseas facilities, residential/soft targets and risks to U.S. personnel. However, of the reports’ 26 recommendations for improvement in these vital areas, only four have been adequately addressed and closed.

Illustrative of these shortcomings is the two-year-old recommendation that reads:

“To strengthen the effectiveness of the Department of State’s risk management policies, the Secretary of State should develop a risk management policy and procedures for ensuring the physical security of diplomatic facilities, including roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders and a routine feedback process that continually incorporates new information.”

Can America be made great again if we have not fully addressed the security problems that continue to pose a threat to professional diplomats?

James (Jim) Meenan
FSO, retired
Fairfax, Virginia

We Are Honored to Serve

As a medical doctor new to the Foreign Service, I watched our 2016 election from U.S. Embassy Caracas. One fact has become increasingly clear. Our “America” is not just “there” in the 50 states. Not just “there” in the corridors of advertising, business and commerce. And certainly not just “there” inside the Beltway.

The United States of America is everywhere we have staked a claim to a relationship, including at embassies like ours in Caracas. For many here in Venezuela, we are the only “United States of America” they will ever see. Everywhere that an American post or citizen is, the United States of America is there, as well.

The paradigm of “the United States of America” causes great ambivalence in much of our world, both inside and outside our borders. But it is a concept, a philosophy, a way of living and being with which virtually all people must contend in our current global society.

We at the Department of State serve our country’s freedoms, democracy and respect for human life and dignity through our business, our conversations and our relationships, and by advocating on behalf of the interests of the United States of America with humility and conviction.

It has been a great honor to serve the Obama administration, and it will be a great honor to serve the newly elected Trump administration and each democratically elected administration that occupies our White House.

Robert Bentley Calhoun, M.D.
Regional Medical Officer
U.S. Embassy Caracas, Venezuela