The Foreign Service Journal, November 2011

NOV EMB E R 2 0 1 1 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L 69 A F S A N E W S Diplomacy After 9/11: Kojo Nnamdi Radio Show Features AFSA BY TOM SWITZER, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS O n Thursday, Sept. 22, Kojo Nnamdi’s radio show on WAMU (88.5 FM) inWashington, D.C., featured AFSA President Susan Johnson, FSOandAFSAGoverningBoard member Matthew Asada and U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan CameronMunter (via telephone fromNewYork). The topicwas: “HowhaveU.S. diplomacy and life in the Foreign Service changed since 9/11?” Nnamdi opened the show by asking how life has changed for FSOs since 9/11, and can they overcome andmanage the increased security risks and still carry out their missions in this new era of “expeditionary diplomacy”? Johnson andMunter both respondedby pointing out that secu- rity remains a critical factor atmany posts. They noted thatmany FS personnel feel constraints on their ability tomove freely, which, in turn,minimizes their inter- actions with host-country nationals at all levels—a hin- drance to accurate reporting and outreach. This tension between security demands and mission goals requires field personnel to find smart, creative ways of adapting to the challenge. When Nnamdi asked whether State and other Foreign Service agencies have been able to adapt to the harsh new realities by select- ing more creative and expe- rienced people, Johnson replied, “State employs an open assignment process, whereby all FSOs can bid for the posts they prefer. And despite the dangers, we’ve been able to fill all the positions in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.” One challenge of particular interest to AFSA is how to deter- mine who is better suited to serve in a high-stress, danger post. Asada commented that increased training and the right kind of leadership at posts have been essential in enabling FS personnel to respond to greater field risks. He also pointed out that many danger posts are designated “unaccompanied,” whichmeans that staff assigned there face the additional hardship of leaving fami- lies behind while serving abroad for one or two years. Johnson stressed the importance of enhancing language skills to enable FS personnel to communicate effectively while living and working overseas. To ensure that they receive the necessary instruction before going to post, additional resources are need- ed to preserve a “training float,” so that anyone, at any time can be in training without really crippling the normal operations at other “non-danger” posts. As to how diplomats and the military relate today, Munter pointed out that we increasingly face situations where diploma- cy needs to be backed up by the military; and so they both must workmore closely and better understand each other’s procedures to assure U.S. mission success going forward. Johnson added that AFSA is very supportive of Secretary Clinton’s request for a 25-percent increase in department staffing by 2013 — a five-year increase of some 3,000 positions. AFSA also supports a 50-percent increase inUSAID’s capacity. She point- ed out that we have achieved about 17-percent of the target for the department, adding, “We hope— in the face of the current budget crisis—we can keep that trend going in the right direction. It is critically important tonational security.” Johnson noted that the Foreign Commercial Service currentlyhas about 250FSoffi- cers; the Foreign Agricultural Service has approximately 175; and the International Broad- casting Bureau, about 25. The panelists responded to several thoughtful questions fromcallers— including one froman active-duty FS officer and two from FS family members —on a range of issues, including the FS recruitment process, security, spousal concerns, gender equality and qualifications for ambassadorial nominees. All three speakers emphasized that the Foreign Service is a career professional service. Itsmembers continue to demonstrate an exceptional commitment to serve and to accomplish theirmis- sions’ goals, despite the daunting obstacles that confront them and their familymembers. Johnson noted that, remarkably, the attrition rate in the Foreign Service is extremely low. In concluding, Munter observed, “The Foreign Service is not broken! Rather, it is rapidly adjusting to the tough assignments that must be done. Foreign Service personnel are totally dedi- cated and will make it work, despite the odds.” (left to right) TomSwitzer, director of communications; Ian Houston, executive direc- tor; Susan Johnson, AFSA president; Kojo Nnamdi, WAMU host; andMatthewAsada, AFSA Governing Board member and FS officer in WAMU studios to discuss life in the Foreign Service since 9/11. DIANE VOGEL