THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Shades of Decisions
Ted Strickler’s impressive cover storyarticle 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
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.
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
Reading the article, I see more clearlythe 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.
“Generalist” Has to Go
Cheers to Ambassador RonaldNeumann (“A Report from the American Academy of Diplomacy,” July-August Journal ) for highlighting the insidious
creep of the term “Foreign Service gener-