The Foreign Service Journal, October 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2019 17 SPEAKING OUT There Is No “Complacent State” BY ANDREW KE L LY Andrew Kelly joined the Foreign Service in 2010. He is currently the political- economic section chief in U.S. Consulate General Surabaya. He previously served in Manila and Sofia. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he served two tours in Iraq as an Army officer in the 82nd Airborne Division. His “Reforming Entry-Level Assignments” appeared in the July-August 2016 FSJ . O n Aug. 8 The Washington Post ran a letter from former For- eign Service Officer Chuck Park explaining why he resigned from the Service and referring to those who remain as the “complacent state.” Chuck and I joined the U.S. Foreign Service together and were part of the same A-100 class, the five-week crash course in diplomacy given to all newly commissioned Foreign Service officers. One of the first things impressed upon us was that American diplomats serve their country by implementing the foreign policy of the president of the United States; and in the event we could not do that, it was incumbent on us to resign. Chuck is right to leave the Service given that he is no longer comfortable representing the U.S. government. Since 2017 a number of FSOs have made similar decisions, either resigning or retiring from the Foreign Service. Some have shared their reasons for leaving in op-eds, cable news interviews and even an appearance on a comedy program. In this regard, Chuck’s op-ed is unique only in the harshness of his assessment of those of us who remain. However, he is wrong in supposing that the career Foreign Service is com- placent in anything. Foreign Service officers have an obligation to stay out of politics. This is not complacency. It is professionalism. The Decision to Serve … or Not I was glad to see The Washington Post publish Ambassador Dennis Ha ys’ succinct rebuttal to Chuck’s letter. However, there is a danger that much of the public will think many, if not most, FSOs feel the same as Chuck. Unfortunately, few Americans even know that the U.S. Foreign Service exists, at least not until a former FSO pops up on the news. I suspect that when many people hear that an FSO has resigned, they imagine a pinstripe- suited cookie-pusher in Paris or some bureaucrat in D.C. handing off a stack of papers to a colleague. As FSJ readers know, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The work we do as Foreign Service officers, both abroad and back home, is incredibly important. If we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. And while every FSO must answer his or her conscience when it comes to deciding to serve, the decision is not, as Chuck implies, as simple as weighing one’s political con- victions against “perks and a pension.” For most of us, there is also the question of duty. Convincing the American people and politically appointed officials that the career Foreign Service really does place duty above partisan consider- ations is made more difficult by former officers who feel the need to publicly justify their private decision to resign. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a free coun- try. Former FSOs have a right to go on network news to speak about why they resigned. Whether they should do so is another matter. Understanding the FS It is essential that the American public understand the Foreign Service and its vital work for the country. I’m a former Army officer, and suggest that when a Chuck Park resignation, or some other news item, causes Americans to ask, “What is an FSO anyway?” we as a service stand to benefit by explaining our similarity to another better-known service, the U.S. military. Few Americans outside the D.C. Beltway know an FSO, but most people know someone who served in uniform. Americans understand and trust the military out of a general appreciation of its mission and a respect for the professionalism and competence of our servicemen and women. The fact is that the armed services and the U.S. Foreign Service are similar, especially when it comes to our officer corps. Both swear exactly the same oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Most people who enter armed or foreign service, and nearly all who make it a career, do so at least partly out of patriotism. Drawn from several federal agencies, but primarily the Department of State,