Foreign Service Excellence and Silver Linings

Letter from the Editor


AFSA’s annual awards give us a chance to highlight and celebrate Foreign Service excellence. That feels like the right focus for the December edition to close out a difficult year for our institution. With the impeachment hearings having just begun as we go to press, career diplomats are quite literally on the front lines of a battle they did not choose but accepted as part of their duty to their country and oath of office.

Professional nonpartisan career diplomats are rarely in the limelight, and they tend to prefer it that way. Success in diplomacy is most often measured incrementally by crises averted, relationships preserved, compromises reached and agreements made. Diplomats seek the win-win, and are most successful when not loudly taking credit for success.

Yet today, these so-called “radical unelected bureaucrats,” subpoenaed as witnesses in the impeachment hearings, look more like superheroes, standing up to share the truth as they know it. The Foreign Service community embraces them and feels a sense of pride in their dedication, professionalism, patriotism and bravery, on display for the American public and the world to see.

And so our focus on excellence in diplomacy resonates powerfully.

AFSA’s 2019 Award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy was bestowed on Ambassador (ret.) Herman “Hank” Cohen at the annual AFSA Awards Ceremony on Oct. 16. He advises today’s Foreign Service to continue “speaking truth to power” and to make sure policymakers understand the negative foreign policy consequences of politicizing professional diplomacy. Amb. Cohen tells the FSJ he is still optimistic about the career: “There can be no more rewarding experience than professional government service that is protecting U.S. interests around the world.”

Two mid-level FSOs were selected for the William R. Rivkin Award for constructive dissent: Anna Boulos and Timmy Davis. Moises Mendoza received the W. Averell Harriman Award for dissent by an entry-level officer.

The Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy went to Nora Brito and Christopher Gooch. The Nelson B. Delavan Award for an office management specialist went to Katherine Elizabeth Koehler; the M. Juanita Guess Award for a Community Liaison Office coordinator to Michelle Ross; the Avis Bohlen Award for a family member to retired FSO Laurent Charbonnet; the award for contributions to AFSA to F. Allen “Tex” Harris; and the post rep of the year award to Larry Fields.

Outstanding and courageous work is celebrated in these profiles. We hope you will share the Journal with family and friends to spread the word on Foreign Service excellence at a time when Americans are more curious about these dedicated public servants. Who is that fellow in the bow tie? Who is “the woman” referred to in the Trump-Zelensky call? (How fitting we chose Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch as the ambassador to profile in Inside a U.S. Embassy eight years ago—the very model of an ambassador.)

The silver lining in the impeachment process is that it offers civics lessons—in particular on the importance of professional diplomacy and how it’s supposed to work—to all who care to pay attention. The Speaking Out compilation of statements of support for the Foreign Service and diplomacy, all written before the open hearings, underscores the point.

Qualifications matter. It’s not a completely wild idea to think that our country deserves professional representation overseas by those whose primary duty is to serve the American people.

In this month’s cover story, USAID Counselor Chris Milligan presents an overview of the ongoing USAID Transformation initiative, while AFSA USAID VP Jason Singer critiques the program in his AFSA News column. USAID colleagues, tell us how the reform project is going from your vantage point.

Elsewhere in the issue, Lt. Commander Jimmy Drennan offers lessons on dissent he learned on a Navy ship. Retired FSO Tom Owens shares two moving consular stories, and FSO Daniel Morris brings us a quick tech guide to FS life.

Please consider contributing to the Journal in the new year—a Speaking Out piece, a letter, a reflection or feature. Send a photo for Local Lens. Or write for one of the focus sections—check out the 2020 editorial calendar (a tab on the FSJ homepage). Send submissions to

Wishing the extended Foreign Service community a peaceful new year.


Shawn Dorman is the editor of The Foreign Service Journal.