The Foreign Service Journal, May 2007

V.P. VOICE: STATE BY STEVE KASHKETT Prisoners of Conscience I would like to use this column to pose a purely hypothetical question that is increasingly beingwhispered in the corridors here at the Department of State. Similar questions are being raised among career employees at the Pentagon, at the CIA and elsewhere in the federal government, but it has particular rele- vance andurgency here at State. The question is this:What does a professional Foreign Service member do if he or she reaches a point of insurmountable personal dis- agreement with a major component of U.S. foreign policy? As career public servants, we are all accustomed to acceptingpolicy decisions that we may personally judge to be mis- guided, then dutifully implementing themto the best of our ability inour daily work. Diplomats are expected to spend their lives acquiring expertise in foreign affairs as the result of living overseas for years at a time, developing a sophisticat- edunderstanding of how theworldworks, anddealingwith for- eign governments, cultures and situations. Most of us take pride in our capacity to analyze the foreign policy issues facing our country in a way that Americans with less overseas knowledge cannot. This expertise may inevitably lead us to an honest disagreement with certain decisions taken by the political leadership. But the ethic of our profession is to keep one’s personal opinions to oneself and to carry out faith- fully the policies of the present administration. For most of us, this is not a problem. But what happens, hypothetically, if a once-in-a-lifetime cri- sis arises in which we see our government pursuing a course of action which, we cannot help but conclude, threatens the very security of our nation and its standing in the world? What if it is a matter of war and peace? If our sense of patriotism impels us to speakout, dowenot have anobligation tobringour unique perspective to thepublicdebateover this courseof action—what- ever the risk to our careers? Inpractice, of course, those fewForeignServicepersonnelwho dare to participate in the public debate in their role as knowl- edgeable private citizens do so at their ownprofessional peril. As a result, that debate takes place large- ly in the absence of the one voice that is potentiallymost authoritative on for- eign policy matters, the U.S. Foreign Service. So how does a Foreign Service member in this predicament proceed? Is it acceptable, for reasons of conscience, to refuse to accept assignments in the area directly affected by this particular foreign poli- cy issue? Can we allow “conscientious objectors” topursue their careers inother areas of foreign policy and reward them for excellence in those areas, rather than punishing them for their principled refusal toworkon something they feel is deeply wrong? After all, the world is a large, complex place, and we doneed tokeep talentedpeoplewhospe- cialize in many different regions and many diverse subject areas of foreign policy. These days, we oftenhear certain colleagues declare self-right- eously that anyone who refuses to embrace and carry out, with- out question, the administration’s policies shouldbe considered disloyal andshouldbe removed fromtheService. Iwouldrespect- fully suggest that true patriotism is something broader than loy- alty to one administration’s policies, and that honorable, con- scientious people in the Foreign Service may well feel that they arebeingpatrioticbyexpressingdissent or choosing toavoidwork- ing on certain issues at a time of crisis so as not to advance poli- cies they see as dangerouslymisguided. Such individuals should not be made to suffer for this principled stance in terms of pro- motions, onward assignments or career advancement. LegendaryAmericandiplomatic pioneerGeorgeKennan— who during his long, brilliant career never shied away fromdis- sent—warned in1997: “Diplomats have aunique point of view to convey ... Yet the political and bureaucratic establishments inWashington cannot tolerate for long any body of public ser- vants established on a conceptual basis so different from their own and demanding such independence of administration.” A decade later, let us hope he was mistaken. I would respectfully suggest that true patriotism is something broader than loyalty to one administration’s policies. MA Y 2 0 0 7 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L 55 A F S A N E W S