The Foreign Service Journal, June 2003

T he Foreign Service is again mucking about in the dissent swamp. The most recent episode is the sequential resignation of three Foreign Service officers shortly before the Iraqi Freedom operation. Although each FSO prof- fered individual reasons for the deci- sion, in essence each disagreed with our policy of direct military confronta- tion toward Iraq and left the State Department with public blasts for our objectives and dire predictions about the political consequences. So be it; they are welcome to their opinions. And so far as resignations are concerned, we should and doubt- less will have more of them. For one thing, State probably has more time- serving drones than it should. There are certainly individuals who care not what policy they implement so long as it brings them another day closer to retirement and permits them to retain jobs that cover mortgages, child sup- port and college tuitions. So if there are those who, despite having taken the “King’s shilling” for years, even for decades, now have qualms over U.S. government action, we are better off without them — and they are better off to depart. But the manner of dissent (with its ultimate expression of resignation) is almost as important as its substance. Nothing more becomes one than the manner of his or her departure. The classic, “gold standard” resignation was that of former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. During the extended crisis in 1979-80 following the Iranian seizure of U.S. hostages at our embassy in Tehran, the military con- ceived and President Carter autho- rized a rescue effort. From his van- tage point of total access and consum- mate experience, Secretary Vance opposed this effort; he was overruled. He determined that he would resign whatever the outcome of the rescue mission (it failed catastrophically), but he said nothing publicly until the mis- sion was complete. Against that standard, the nature of the departure for these new resignees becomes neither them nor their cause. They certainly do not get style points either for the logic of their arguments or their knowledge of par- ticulars, regardless of the presumed purity of their hearts. Retrospective Perspective Traditionally, those who have opposed a particular policy at least have had intimate experience with it. A generation ago, opposition to U.S. policy in Vietnam was often stimulat- ed by invidious experience on the ground there. A decade ago, a num- ber of FSOs resigned over our Yugoslavia policy; without exception, they had extensive experience in the area. The annual AFSA dissent awards are presented to “boat rock- ers” who normally know the subject of their dissent in considerable detail. The point is obvious. To effectively rebut a position, knowledge is neces- sary; inchoate feelings are warm and fuzzy, but not particularly convincing. In contrast, from what I have gath- ered by reading their letters of resig- nation, none of the three resignees had recent (if any) experience in the Middle East. Certainly none held a position associated with Middle East (let alone Iraq) policy formulation at the time of their resignation. In fact, they could hardly have been further from the circles of decision-making. Frankly, Greece, Mongolia and Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy are all some- what removed from the locus of exec- utive authority. It appears clear that the Bush administration came to power with no interest in acting as global policeman. Campaign rhetoric is always suspect, but it demonstrated that the White House wanted to avoid peacekeeping and nation-building in foreign affairs. It looked at some of the foreign policy conundrums (read the Middle East) and determined that they were sink- Dissent Again B Y D AVID T. J ONES J U N E 2 0 0 3 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 13 S PEAKING O UT The manner of dissent (with its ultimate expression of resignation) is almost as important as its substance.