The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2012

J U L Y - A UGU S T 2 0 1 2 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L 53 A F S A N E W S 2012 AFSA CONSTRUCTIVE DISSENT AWARD WINNERS Profiles of award winners compiled by Donna Ayerst. William R. Rivkin Award FOR A MID-LEVEL FOREIGN SERVICE OFFICER Joshua Polacheck T here is a common perception among many Foreign Service officers, particularly those who have served at critical threat posts around the world, that security restrictions imposed by the Department of State hinder their ability to perform their mission. Joshua Polacheck, this year’s winner of the prestigious William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent, had the courage to take up that issue. Having begun his FS career in 2003 as a public diplomacy officer in Harare, Josh quickly came to the conclusion that it is “imperative that our diplomats have the ability to reach out, interact and engage with the people of the country in which they serve, not only the traditional elites.” During assignments in Harare, Santo Domingo, the U.S. mission to the United Nations, the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ninewah, Beirut and Islamabad, Polacheck has seen the effects of barricaded embassies and barricaded mentalities on the diplomatic process. While mindful of security con- cerns, he maintains that when such obstacles keep our person- nel from explaining our mission, political, social and other problems often errupt. Since the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, and especially in the post-9/11 era, Josh points out that the “new normal” to build embassies with high walls and push our presence out to places beyond city centers has, literally, closed the “openness of American values.” In his dissent message, Josh notes: “In an attempt at perfect security, we made a series of choices with grave policy impli- cations. These choices send a message of distrust to the people of our host nations.” He went on to argue that “the siege mentality and isolation” play into the “goals of many terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida and Hezbollah.” “Transnational nihilistic terrorist movements use impro- vised explosive devices. These bombs are not weapons of war; they are weapons of terror. Nobody is aiming them; they’ll kill whoever happens to be there — the woman, or the child, or the elder,” he reflects. No stranger to danger and risk, Josh survived the detonation of a roadside bomb under the vehicle in which he was riding while serving in Mosul in 2007. Yet he believes that as security tightens, diplomacy suffers. Moreover, the balance is lost. “Adopting an approach of consis- tently erring on the side of caution empowers everyone to tighten security while, often, no one is empowered to signifi- cantly loosen it,” Josh states. He offers two suggestions: The department’s Office of Policy Planning should perform an in-depth review of our worldwide security policy; and FS personnel should be allowed to take personal responsibility for their own actions. “Approximately one-third of A-100 classes have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen or Pakistan. There are plenty of FSOs open to personal responsibility regarding risk; they understand the world is a dangerous place, but they accept it and are willing to volunteer,” Polacheck observes. The nomination cites the department’s response, which asserted that the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review process was addressing many of the points he had raised. It also said that his cable furnished important input for the discussion. When asked what spurred him to act, Josh replies simply, “I felt someone needed to say it.” He went on to add that the department needs to find the balance between security and risk. “We need to reconsider what is our mission and what is an acceptable level of risk and go from there.” Josh Polachek (right) speaks with the local council in Hatra, Iraq. A young boy from Heywar, Erbil, meets Josh Polachek.