The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2023

94 JULY-AUGUST 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Small Screen, Big Step Forward “The Diplomat” Created by Debora Cahn, 2023, Netflix, Reviewed by Barbara J. Stephenson It is all too easy to collectively roll our eyes at “The Diplomat,” the Netflix series depicting the surprise appointment of career Foreign Service Officer Kate Wyler (played by Keri Russell) to the Court of St. James’s. After all, Foreign Service Journal readers are the ultimate insiders, the kind of readers who know that confir- mation is a long slog and that the post of U.S. ambassador to the U.K. always (with one sole exception) goes to a wealthy donor, not a seasoned career officer. I don’t want to spoil the watch parties with fellow insiders—it is fun to point out knowingly that that is not Winfield House, which has a much smaller front garden and wouldn’t film nearly as well. But don’t overlook the chance to use “The Diplomat” as a springboard to talk to friends, family, and fellow Americans beyond your circle of insiders about what diplomats do and why it matters enough to make the sacrifices required. The series contains gems of dialogue about life in an embassy, and although the writing around the love plot(s) is sometimes excruciating, I admire the writing about the interplay of the security and political forces at work around the central “whodunit?” question—as in, is Iran really responsible for the explosion that cripples the HMS Courageous ? We, as members of the Foreign Ser- vice, have long lamented that, when we are depicted in films, we are invariably at some cocktail party in lavish surround- ings making superficial conversation. Don’t miss the chance to talk to fellow Americans about the deeper truths “The Diplomat” unveils. WikiLeaks, while undoubtedly costly, challenged the narrative of us as feckless fops by showing that we knew everyone and were adept at not only figuring out exactly what is going on in a country but also in influencing events without leaving messy fingerprints. Kate Wyler and her fellow FSO hus- band, Hal (played by Rufus Sewell), are adept at getting the analysis right, and they are committed to doing so as a mat- ter of duty. Hal knows the consequences of wrongly accusing Iran, and he knows his friend in Italy (which does have diplo- matic relations with Iran) will say yes to a request to pass a message to the Iranian deputy foreign minister, with whom Hal developed a relationship of trust during the Iran nuclear talks. While Hal, who is as charming as Kate is high strung, knows how to navi- gate a web of relationships around the world to gain an accurate picture (and move the chess pieces toward America’s goals), Kate knows the vast U.S. national security bureaucracy inside out, adding almost a “meta” level to Hal’s rogue effort to learn the truth—did Iran do it, or not? She knows that learning the truth is only the first step; the story has to be believable and believed. And the third step, perhaps what I find juiciest in this series, is that the case for doing the right thing for national and international security sometimes has to overcome stiff political headwinds, as when an elected official has a short-term agenda that is at odds with national security. We in the Foreign Service wrestle mightily with finding the ethical high ground in such circumstances. “The Diplomat” creates a welcome opening for exploring the fine lines we need to observe to keep faithful to our oath to defend the Constitution. It helps that “The Diplomat” distances this delicate exploration a bit from our lived experience by making it about struggles of the British Foreign Secretary, who knows full well that “the house is on fire” but equally as well that he lacks the clout to take on whatever scheme the U.K. prime minister is pursuing. As the first female Foreign Service offi- cer to be selected for the post of deputy chief of mission (DCM) in London, which TELEVISION