The Foreign Service Journal - December 2015
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Shades of Decisions

Ted Strickler’s impressive cover story

article in the October FSJ (“Working with the U.S. Military—10 Things the Foreign Service Needs to Know”) should be required

reading for everyone who

works at the Department of

State. His first point alone

(“The Basics”) provides

essential information that I’ve

never seen presented in such a

concise, useful manner.

Based on my own, more

limited experience, I offer two other

observations that might be helpful to

FSOs working with our military.

The first is that military service

members embrace and promote a

culture of ceremony, recognition and

reaffirmation that leads to a sense of

belonging, celebrates teamwork and

maintains continuity.

A lot of FSOs consider this kind of

thing hokey and trite. I know I did for a

long time. I was wrong. Military slogans

and ceremonies do exactly what they

are supposed to do, which is build

esprit de corps and recognize individual

contributions to the group.

Public events to confer promotions

and medals demonstrate commitment to

recognizing achievement, while change-

of-command ceremonies reinforce

hierarchy and continuity. Retirement

ceremonies not only recognize indi-

viduals’ contributions, but are a collec-

tive exercise in reviewing institutional


FSOs who are uncomfortable with

these rites and rituals (as I often was)

are missing the point and should, as Ted

mentions, use their cross-cultural skills

to learn to appreciate and accept their


The second point I would underscore

is that the military wants to make

decisions and do things, while the

Foreign Service is more deliberative.

Strickler touches on this in his

second point, but I would add

that the military’s devotion to

“planning”—both in terms

of allocation of resources

and as a guiding principle—

means that they sometimes

create the momentum to do

what they have planned.

This is where FSOs’

“deliberative” nature can be

useful. Just because someone planned

something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea,

or that the plan should be executed.

FSOs can sometimes spot weaknesses

in a plan—or whole plans that should

be shelved—and mitigate the negative

repercussions acting on it might have

had. I offer a simplistic analogy: Paint-

ers you called to give you a quote show

up on a rainy day ready to paint your

house. They are all set to start, with the

equipment and vats of neon-green paint

unloaded in the driveway. You, however,

live there and know that neon green will

probably not go over well with the neigh-

bors, so you suggest another shade. And

you propose waiting for better weather.

David Ballard

FSO, retired

Reston, Virginia

A Better Way to Advance

World Food Security

Michael McClellan’s October article,

“A Closer Look at Advancing World Food Security,” reflects a misguided belief that

markets, technology and international

trade hinder global food security.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The world produces more food

now per capita than at any time in

history, thanks to new technologies

like genetically modified organisms

(GMOs). Markets, when allowed to work,

incentivize farmers to produce more

efficiently and provide tremendous

variety to increasingly wealthy and urban


Similarly, international trade is

critical to balancing out regional swings

in production and price spikes, and

represents a safety net against famine.

As for McClellan’s portrayal of U.S.

agriculture, farm wealth is at record

levels and our farmers are better

stewards of the land than ever. This is all

happening while U.S. farms—the vast

majority of which are family-owned—

help to feed a planet whose population is

expected to grow to more than 9 billion.

And speaking as a Foreign Service

agricultural officer who has served

in some of the same countries as

McClellan, I am shocked that he

advocates increased use of draft animals

or would otherwise condemn farmers to

traditional agriculture.

Reading the article, I see more clearly

the wisdom of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, which established a corps of career

FSOs who deal exclusively with agricul-

ture, including food security. The Foreign

Agricultural Service is the eyes, ears and

voice of U.S. agriculture overseas.

Monitoring global food production

and trade and advancing the interest of

U.S. agriculture are tasks best left to an

agency purpose-built for the task.

Paul Spencer


Washington, D.C.

“Generalist” Has to Go

Cheers to Ambassador Ronald

Neumann (“A Report from the American Academy of Diplomacy,” July-August Journal ) for highlighting the insidious

creep of the term “Foreign Service gener-