The Foreign Service Journal, December 2005

V.P. VOICE: STATE n BY STEVE KASHKETT On Dissent and Disloyalty A FSA’s annual dissent awards are in danger of becoming a thing of the past. These awards, cre- ated to encourage those willing to speak out forth- rightly, in appropriate channels, to express alternative points of view on policy matters, have attracted a dwin- dling number of nominees over the past few years. As we again launch the call for nominations in this issue of the Foreign Service Journal , we fear that constructive dissent may be disappear- ing from the landscape of the Foreign Service. Use of the Department of State’s offi- cial Dissent Channel, whichwas designed to serve the same lofty purpose as AFSA’s dissent awards, has dwindled to a trickle since its heyday in the 1970s. In 1977, the Executive Secretariat logged in some 32 Dissent Channel messages. By contrast, in 2005, you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Foreign Service professionals who have sent in a Dissent Channel message. This is a disturbing trend. It tells us that people are reluctant to express any point of view that might be per- ceived as contrary to the policy line of the administration that happens to be in power. It tells us that internal debate among foreign policy professionals within the department is being stifled. It tells us that our colleagues are afraid of retaliation. The Foreign Service is full of genuine experts on all regions of the world and on virtually every substantive pol- icy issue, ranging from conflict resolution and counter- terrorism to sustainable economic development and the promotion of democracy and human rights. A diplomat who spends years living and working in a foreign coun- try, speaking the language, learning to understand the cul- ture and dealing directly with the foreign government, will acquire a certain instinctive sense of what will work and what will not in that country and in that part of the world. Many of our colleagues take great pride in this “hands- on” expertise in foreign affairs and seek to reinforce it con- stantly during their careers through reading, academic training and involvement in think-tanks. These are peo- ple who deserve a special place at the table whenU.S. for- eign policy decisions are made. These are people worth listening to. On occasion, Foreign Service careerists might disagree on a particu- lar course of action that the administra- tion of the day has embarked upon and might have an alternative approach to recommend. There must be a place for such constructive dissent in our demo- cratic system of government. There must be a place for an open airing of dif- ferent points of view without fear of reprisal or career damage. Any administration that equates such constructive dis- sent with disloyalty is making a serious mistake, and is depriving itself of a valuable resource. Foreign Service careerists are patriots who spend a substantial part of their lives faithfully serving their country in difficult and often dangerous places around the globe. We all care deeply about the United States and its relationship with the rest of the world; after all, most of us in the Foreign Service got into this profession to help shape foreign policies that can effectively advance U.S. interests. It is a tragedy that so few people in the Foreign Service today feel safe using the Dissent Channel, and it is a sad state of affairs that so few are willing to nominate oth- ers —or be nominated themselves — for AFSA dissent awards. U.S. foreign policy only stands to benefit from an open and candid debate that includes our country’s true experts. o DECEMBER 2005 • AFSA NEWS 3 “We must never confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.” — Edward R. Murrow U.S. foreign policy only stands to benefit from an open and candid debate that includes our country’s true experts.