The Foreign Service Journal, May 2004

I was recently reading a New York Times review of a book on the grand sweep of American history ( Freedom Just Around the Corner, by Walter A. McDou- gall). The reviewer noted that the author was out of step with the acade- my because his premise smacked of the “exceptionalism” of America and the American character. The reviewer said this characterization is out of favor, arguing it suggests arrogance and superiority. I thought to myself that while exceptionalism may be out of favor and may indeed be suspect in some circles, it is an appropriate term to describe the Foreign Service. AFSA did some research of our own on “exceptionalism”; specifically, those attributes that make members of the Foreign Service different from other government employees. The first stop was the legislative history behind the passage of the Foreign Service Act of 1980. It made for very interesting read- ing. The law states that “a career Foreign Service, characterized by excellence and professionalism, is essential to the national interest ...” and “the scope and complexity of the for- eign affairs of the nation have height- ened the need for a professional Foreign Service that will serve the for- eign affairs interests of the United States ...” Finally, the Senate back- ground report on the 1980 Act states succinctly that a new act was needed because there is a need to “provide a clear distinction between Foreign Service and Civil Service employ- ment.” The Foreign Service is indeed dif- ferent, and justifiably so. This “excep- tionalism” is brought home to us each Foreign Affairs Day (Friday, May 7, this year) when we remember those colleagues who have died in the con- duct of service and whose names are inscribed upon the AFSA Mem- orial Plaques in the State Department’s main lobby. AFSA recently reinforced that dis- tinction when it agreed to a hardship service requirement to cross the threshold into the Senior Foreign Service. The world does not appear to be getting any safer and hardship posts are not growing any scarcer — quite the contrary, in fact. Several years ago AFSA endorsed a fair share require- ment for those bidding on overseas positions and last year we agreed to strengthen the fair share bidding provi- sions. AFSA understands that “fair share” is one way to fill positions at hardship posts. However, even more it is a system of “sharing the sacrifice,” providing all our members with a com- mon ground of service. One-third of the Foreign Service has entered the ranks since 1998. These members are well aware of the dangers facing them, which often come from unexpected quarters. Places which for years were considered tranquil sudden- ly become unaccompanied posts or posts where dependents and non- essential personnel are ordered to depart. Families are separated for months or even years on end. Since 9/11, the demand for greater sacrifice has proliferated. More and more posts — Baghdad and Kabul, Islamabad and Karachi — are unac- companied. Today, more Foreign Service children have only one parent at the breakfast table than at almost any time in the last century. Nothing in the news suggests this trend will be reversed in the near future. Yet a recent letter to the editor of the Journal seemed to deny the excep- tional nature of Foreign Service employment. The author wanted to make sure that the Secretary of State didn’t make service in Baghdad or Kabul a disincentive. He argued that employees who do serve there should not lose out on any monetary incen- tives, and should be rewarded in their future assignments and promotions. I posit that service in Iraq or any other dangerous place is a condition of ser- vice. By becoming members of the Foreign Service, employees accept the fundamental premise for its creation, which is to serve their country wherev- er the department says their service is needed. There is little certain in this world, other than death and taxes — and the need for a dedicated and professional Foreign Service to help our leaders con- duct foreign relations in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world. For that reason, if no other, we are indeed exceptional — and proud to be so. P RESIDENT ’ S V IEWS Proud to Be Exceptional B Y L OUISE K. C RANE M A Y 2 0 0 4 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 5 Louise K. Crane is AFSA vice presi- dent for State.