PUBLISHED BY THE AMERICAN FOREIGN SERVICE ASSOCIATION DECEMBER 2023 PSYCHOEDUCATIONAL ASSESSMENTS MEET THE AFSA AWARD RECIPIENTS CONSTRUCTIVE DISSENT TODAY
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 5 December 2023 Volume 100, No. 10 Focus on AFSA Awards: Honoring Excellence and Constructive Dissent 30 2023 Award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy A Conversation with Ambassador John Tefft 42 2023 Awards for Constructive Dissent 46 2023 Awards for Exemplary Performance 54 Foreign Service Champions Award Cover Story 22 The State Department Dissent Channel: History and Impact The Dissent Channel institutionalized dissent at the State Department a half century ago. By Sara Berndt and Holly Holzer Feature 56 Operation Nica Welcome In February 2023, some 200 political prisoners were spirited to the United States from Nicaragua. Here’s the story. By Kate Applegate Education Supplement 75 A Parent’s Guide to Psychoeducational Assessments Discovering and evaluating strengths and weaknesses in learning can help a child succeed. By Chad C. Nelson 84, 86 Education at a Glance
6 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL 101 Family Member Matters Ever Heard of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets? By Natalie Aucoin 102 Local Lens Toronto, Canada By Martin Claessens On the Cover—Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Marketplace 97 Real Estate 99 Classifieds 100 Index to Advertisers 7 President’s Views Constructive Dissent Is Vital By Tom Yazdgerdi 9 Letter from the Editor Recognizing Achievement, Looking Ahead By Shawn Dorman 19 Speaking Out Promotion Unicorns and the Case for Humility By Yikee Adje Perspectives Departments 10 Letters 13 Talking Points 94 Books AFSA NEWS THE OFFICIAL RECORD OF THE AMERICAN FOREIGN SERVICE ASSOCIATION 63 A FSA Awards Honor Excellence and Constructive Dissent 67 State VP Voice—Resourcing Career-Long Learning 68 USAID VP Voice—Time to Celebrate, Reflect, and Plan 68 Retiree VP Voice—Reviewing Your Retirement Plan 69 A FSA on the Hill—Making Strides in Accommodating Careers Overseas 70 AFSA Governing Board Looks Ahead 70 A FSA President and GB Reps Speak at Chautauqua 71 AFSA Welcomes Newest FS Members 71 Thank You, Table Hosts! 72 Outreach to Retired Members 72 AFSA Governing Board Meeting, October 18, 2023 73 AFSA Dues Increase for 2024 73 AFSA Welcomes New Law Clerk 63
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 7 Constructive Dissent Is Vital BY TOM YAZDGERDI Tom Yazdgerdi is the president of the American Foreign Service Association. PRESIDENT’S VIEWS This issue of the Journal focuses on dissent in the Foreign Service—one of the most important things we can do to ensure policymakers have alternative views on foreign policy and personnel issues. AFSA gives awards for constructive dissent within the system each year to an entry-, mid-, and senior-level FSO, and an FS specialist. These awards are unique in the U.S. government, and we are proud to honor our colleagues in this way. Use of the Dissent Channel, which AFSA has also strongly supported over the decades, must be protected. But how any FS member uses it is incredibly important. As AFSA has said in the past, constructive dissent within the system can thrive and be successful only if it remains confidential and confined to internal discussion within the executive branch. Failure to protect the confidentiality of constructive dissent can lead to a fear of disclosure or retaliation that may dissuade career employees from offering their best professional advice. We have seen instances of Dissent Channel messages leaked to the press—creating a lack of trust between the administration and the career Foreign Service. As I write this column in late October, we are all still processing the horrific attacks by Hamas against Israeli and other civilians and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Many of our members have strong views about these developments—no one can be unmoved by the terrible images. At such a fraught time—facing what is arguably one of the most intractable problems in the world, that of bringing durable peace, security, prosperity, and justice to both Israelis and Palestinians—the Dissent Channel is more important than ever. AFSA has reminded our members that while free speech and expression are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, there are limitations on what actions you can take as a Foreign Service member, especially on official government time. Most folks think dissent must involve an earthshaking foreign policy issue, and sometimes it does. But it does not have to. This year’s AFSA dissent award recipients each argued for policies that improve the way the State Department handles personnel. This included getting State to provide benefits to same-sex partners of locally employed (LE) staff; improve an embassy’s emergency response procedures; and effect systemic change to bring greater support to FS dependents with disabilities. These efforts made an impact and provided relief to our members, their dependents, and LE staff colleagues. Congratulations to them for their courage and initiative! There are various ways to dissent, as the AFSA dissent award winners show. You can express your views through the normal supervisory chain, or through the Policy Ideas Channel and the newly invigorated Secretary’s Open Forum. But it is gratifying to know there is a timehonored institutionalized channel for dissent and that all those messages are read by the Secretary of State. There may be times though when a member of the Foreign Service feels so strongly guided by the dictates of their conscience that they are compelled to resign. I saw this in 1991 as a Presidential Management Intern in what was then the Office of Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia. My main task was to help prepare daily press guidance on the deteriorating situation in Yugoslavia. It was a depressing job, trying to put the best spin on a bad situation getting worse by the day. An FSO on the team felt so demoralized by what he saw as a lack of action by the administration that he resigned. If you resign, you can go to the press and speak publicly. That’s your right. But where possible, I would argue that it’s best to stay in and try to change policy from within. We should all take great satisfaction that Foreign Service agencies guarantee the right to express—internally—dissenting policy views, which is unknown in other parts of the U.S. government. Please let me know what you think at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Wishing you and your family a joyous holiday season! n
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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 9 Shawn Dorman is the editor of The Foreign Service Journal. LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Each December The Foreign Service Journal honors the recipients of the annual AFSA awards for constructive dissent, outstanding performance, and lifetime achievement. We also include a story on dissent more broadly as a way to remind FS members that internal debate on policy is a valued tradition in the Foreign Service. All Dissent Channel messages go to the Secretary of State through the Policy Planning Staff (S/P). The story of this unique vehicle for critical thinking is told in our Cover Story, “The State Department Dissent Channel: History and Impact,” by historian Sara Berndt and FSO Holly Holzer (who recently served as S/P deputy director). It is particularly timely given the current discord in the foreign affairs agencies over the U.S. response to the Israel-Hamas war and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. As Tom Yazdgerdi highlights in President’s Views, “Constructive Dissent Is Vital,” AFSA offers annual dissent awards to FS members who speak out—through the Dissent Channel or any other vehicle for internal debate—about a policy they believe is misguided or wrong. This year’s constructive dissent award recipients are Mark Evans (Herter Award for a senior FSO), Alexander Douglas (Rivkin Award for a mid-level FSO), and Christophe Triplett (Harriman Award for an entry-level FSO). We profile each beginning on page 42. Ambassador John Tefft received the 2023 Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award. It was my great pleasure to connect with him for our interview, “Meeting Post–Cold War Challenges.” He reflects on decades of experience in Russian and Eurasian affairs from a unique vantage point having served as ambassador to Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Lithuania. The 2023 Awards for Exemplary Performance were bestowed on the following members of the Foreign Service community: Katie Leis (Delavan Award for an office management specialist), Marina Grayson (Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy), David Burnstein (Palmer Award), Erin Cederlind (Guess Award for a community liaison office coordinator), David Baugh (Bohlen Award for an FS family member, honorable mention), Felix Peng and Paige Puntso (AFSA Post Representatives of the Year), and Ken Kero-Mentz (AFSA Achievement and Contributions to the Association Award). Last, but by no means least, the Foreign Service Champions Award went to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. The Speaking Out from USAID FSO Yikee Adje, “Promotion Unicorns and the Case for Humility,” offers lessons on leadership gained from her survey of sucRecognizing Achievement, Looking Ahead BY SHAWN DORMAN cessful FSOs. In the Feature, “Operation Nica Welcome,” FSO Kate Applegate tells the story of the 2023 flight that brought 200 political prisoners from Nicaragua to start new lives in the United States. In the Education Supplement, Dr. Chad Nelson updates his 2013 FSJ article, “A Parent’s Guide to Psychoeducational Evaluations,” that has been a popular resource for FS families. FS teen Natalie Aucoin asks in Family Member Matters if we’ve “Ever Heard of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets?” And in Local Lens, FCS Officer Martin Claessens offers a winter scene from Ontario. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you! n Looking ahead to the centennial year for AFSA and the Foreign Service, please consider how you might lend your voice to the discussions about the future of diplomacy, development, and the U.S. Foreign Service. One way is to submit an essay for our Centennial Writing Competition. Entries are due Dec. 15, so get out your pens! The top prize is $5,000. Find details at https://bit.ly/FSJ-writing-competition. Write for the Journal in 2024. We are always looking for great ideas and submissions on any topic relating to the Foreign Service, from current challenges (Speaking Out) to diplomatic history (FS Heritage) and everything in between (Features, Reflections, FS Know-How, Family Member Matters, Book Reviews, Letters to the Editor, and photos for Off Road and Local Lens). We welcome your pitch for a Focus section article (themes listed at afsa.org/fsj-editorial-calendar). We accept submissions on a rolling basis. Go to afsa.org/fsj and click on Author Guidelines for more. Writing for the Centennial
10 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL LETTERS Remembering 1998 I very much appreciated your look back at the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings in the July/ August Foreign Service Journal. The retrospective was informative and very moving. At the time, I was stationed at Ramstein Air Base, which was the jumping-off point for the entire range of emergency response and support. Nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center was the receiving point for the casualties. The selfless people I met during the response to that tragedy were perhaps some of the finest people I have encountered—and inspired me to join the State Department. Thumbs-up to the editorial staff for the piece and all your excellent articles. Karl Duckworth FSO, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs U.S. Embassy Moscow A Rude Awakening I read with interest Louis Sell’s gripping article about the October 1993 crisis at the Russian White House (October 2023 Foreign Service Journal). It brought back memories. I was serving at the time at our embassy in Bucharest, where we followed the unfolding and alarming situation in Moscow as best we could. Developments there were even more unsettling for our local friends, many of whom strongly believed that whenever Moscow sneezed, Romania caught a cold, or worse. One minor aspect of the article that caught my attention, however, was the prevalence of intruders at the embassy compound at that time. It reminded me of a similar incident at Spaso House in 1967, where I was living as staff aide to Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson. At about 3 a.m. on Jan. 27, the Spaso House majordomo, Clemente Pandin, burst into my ground-floor apartment, wide-eyed and breathless, woke me up, and said that a Soviet soldier in uniform had entered the building. He told me that since he had already spoken with the young man and, unsuccessfully, urged him to leave, the situation was mine to deal with. Together we left my apartment and met the soldier, who appeared to me to be mentally unbalanced, high on drugs, or drunk. He was unarmed, however, and seemed to be neither aggressive nor threatening. In questioning the soldier, we learned that he had climbed over the back garden wall and entered the building through an unlocked basement door (although a Soviet militia guard was posted at the front entrance to the residence, he could not see the whole garden). The intruder said calmly that he simply wanted to meet the recently arrived U.S. ambassador. We told him (untruthfully) that the ambassador was not present and eventually convinced him to leave, escorting him to the main entrance. When the young trooper walked down the driveway and reached the front gate, he indubitably was grabbed by the guard and quickly carted off to an uncertain but certainly unpleasant fate. Ambassador Thompson, whose bedroom was on the second floor, heard nothing and did not know what had happened until we told him later that morning. Had I been thinking more clearly, I would have urged the seemingly harmless, if befuddled, soldier to exit out the back and leave the premises over the same wall that he had scaled to gain entry. That might have spared him untold difficulties. However, clarity of thought, regrettably, is often in short supply when one has been rudely awakened from a deep sleep at 3 a.m. Jonathan B. Rickert Senior FSO, retired Bainbridge Island, Washington n Share your thoughts about this month’s issue. Submit letters to the editor: email@example.com
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 13 TALKING POINTS Dissent Over Response to Hamas Attack Across the foreign affairs community, as of Nov. 7 when this edition was being finalized, there was ongoing debate and disagreement over the best way for the U.S. to respond to fighting in Israel and Gaza. Dissent over the administration’s policy was being expressed internally as well as publicly by some employees who were speaking to the press. State Department Civil Service employee Josh Paul, director of congressional and public affairs in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs resigned Oct. 18 in protest of U.S. policy of expanded military aid to Israel. Paul wrote on LinkedIn that he feared “rushing arms to one side of the conflict” would lead to “ethnic cleansing” in Gaza. He wrote a follow-up a week later in The Washington Post. On Oct. 19, after Secretary Blinken returned from a trip to the Middle East— the war prompted the Secretary to push up a scheduled visit to Israel and Jordan and add a half dozen additional stops, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Qatar—he sent a note to the entire department, acknowledging the personal and professional difficulties many State Department employees were experiencing as the war got underway. “While we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself, how it does so matters,” he wrote. “That means acting in a way that respects the rule of law and international humanitarian standards, and taking every possible precaution to protect civilian life.” The Secretary continued: “The United States has the most dedicated and capable diplomatic corps in the world. … Rather than stand on the sidelines when challenges seem daunting, you wade into the fray … you try to make things Americans don’t understand foreign aid. Instead of relying on misinformed citizens, we should demand better answers from national leaders who want to cut aid to our friends and allies and imperil American security. … Let’s review some important realities. First, foreign aid is about 1 percent of the U.S. budget, roughly $60 billion. … That’s a lot of money. To put it in perspective, however, Americans forked over about $181 billion annually on snacks, and $115 billion for beer last year. … We need to stop asking people in diners about foreign aid. (Populists who demand that we rely on guidance from The People should remember that most Americans think foreign aid should be about 10 percent of the budget—a percentage those voters think would be a reduction but would actually be a massive increase.) Instead, put our national leaders on the spot to explain what they think foreign aid is, where it goes, and what it does, and then call them out, every time, when they spin fantasies about it. —Tom Nichols, The Atlantic Daily, Oct. 30, 2023. Contemporary Quote better.” He then called on employees “to sustain and expand the space for debate and dissent that makes our policies and our institution better.” But the memo did little to calm the dissenters. On Nov. 1, Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer reported that more than a dozen current and former officials described “mounting objections” to the administration’s current policy, saying U.S. diplomats were “privately angered, shocked, and despondent by what they perceived as a de facto blank check from Washington for Israel.” On Nov. 3, Foreign Policy reported that “hundreds” of USAID employees had signed onto a letter calling on the Biden administration to demand an “immediate ceasefire” and to uphold international law, which “includes ending Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and settlements on occupied land.” On Nov. 6, Politico’s Nahal Toosi reported on one Dissent Channel message leaked to the press. The Dissent Channel is meant for internal debate, not as a way to reach the public. Meanwhile, the conflict triggered the authorized departure of nonemergency embassy staff in the region, with Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Beirut moving to evacuate family members and others. The attack on Israel also brought into focus the dearth of U.S. ambassadors and other senior officials in the region. On Oct. 7, there was no confirmed U.S. ambassador to Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, or Oman—only seven of Biden’s 78 ambassadorial nominees worldwide had been confirmed by the Senate. On Oct. 18, the Senate confirmed career diplomats as ambassadors to Kuwait (Karen Sasahara) and Oman (Ana
14 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL L auren Steed and Stephanie Anderson are longtime Foreign Service family members, both of whom started their own businesses before joining forces to create “Available Worldwide,” a podcast that explores issues of interest to FS family members (EFMs) and works to build a global community for them. Steed and Anderson talk to other diplomatic spouses about how they’ve built professional identities and managed their roles as parents through multiple overseas moves. Anderson, who is on her fourth overseas assignment with her information resources management (IRM) specialist spouse, is the owner of Global Nomad English, an online tutoring business that provides support to locally employed staff members as they learn business English. Steed is a college coach and founder of Nomad Educational Services who has served with her economic officer spouse at five posts. Guests have included Jessica Hayden, a lawyer, mom, and EFM who has written for the Journal in the past. Hayden talks about evacuating Kyiv ahead of the war and sustaining a law career while single parenting through an unaccompanied assignment. Another recent episode focuses on EFM Sarah Buckley, a nurse-turned-food-blogger who explains how she made that professional transition. Other EFM guests include entrepreneurs, teachers, and aid workers who share their experiences, offer packout advice, and discuss the realities of spouse employment overseas. To apply to appear on the show, or to nominate someone else, go to https://availableworldwide.net/contact/. Podcast of the Month: Available Worldwide (https://availableworldwide.net) The appearance of a particular site or podcast is for information only and does not constitute an endorsement. Escrogima); the nominee for ambassador to Egypt, career diplomat Herro Mustafa Garg, was confirmed on Nov. 4. Jack Lew, the nominee for ambassador to Israel whose confirmation had been held up due to objections from some in Congress because of Lew’s work on the Iran nuclear agreement during the Obama administration, was confirmed on Oct. 31 and arrived in Israel on Nov. 5. “We have diplomats for a reason,” Farah Pandith, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told NPR. “American foreign policy starts in Washington, but the leadership on the ground helps to see it through.” Meanwhile, Secretary Blinken has made several trips to the region, including another visit to Israel, a stop in the West Bank, and meetings in Baghdad. On Oct. 15, the administration announced the appointment of Ambassador David M. Satterfield as special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues. in Russia include Paul Whelan and former Anglo-American School of Moscow teacher Marc Fogel. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy visited both Whelan and Gershkovich in prison earlier this year. Also imprisoned in Russia is Robert Shonov, a longtime former locally employed staff member at the U.S. consulate in Vladivostok. Update on State’s “Modernization Agenda” On Sept. 26, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Richard Verma sent a State Department–wide email updating staff on the successes of the department’s Modernization Agenda, which was first implemented in 2021. According to Verma’s email, recent successes include the launch of the new Bureau of Global Heath Security and Diplomacy in August 2023; the recent rollout of a mid-level core curriculum Russia Detains Another U.S. Journalist Russian authorities have arrested another American journalist. On Oct. 19, Alsu Kurmasheva, an AmericanRussian dual citizen who works for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was detained in the Russian city of Kazan on charges of failure to register as a foreign agent. If convicted, she faces five years in prison. Kurmasheva is the second U.S journalist to be arrested this year in Russia. In March 2023, Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Moscow on espionage charges. He remains in prison in Moscow, where he awaits trial. Kurmasheva traveled from her home in Prague to Kazan in May because of a family emergency. When she attempted to return home two weeks later, she was temporarily detained and her U.S. and Russian passports confiscated. Other Americans currently in prison
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 15 along with the department’s first-ever Learning Policy; and the 2022 decision to pay department interns. Also among successes are the launch of ORION, a unified technology platform that facilitates information sharing to improve crisis response by the Operations Center; and the development of the “Tech for Life” program that will allow employees to take devices with them when they transfer to new posts and assignments. Verma also promised changes to training, workforce retention, and locally employed staff compensation “in the coming months.” Verma’s email offered thanks “not only to the teams who have been working tirelessly to tackle critical missions, support a resilient and inclusive workforce, and promote a culture of thoughtful risk management, but also to those of you who have incorporated the themes of this agenda—agility, equity, and innovation—into your everyday work.” Former Ambassador Sentenced for Illicit Lobbying On Sept. 15, career Senior Foreign Service Officer Richard G. Olson Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, was sentenced to three years’ probation and fined $93,350 for violating federal lobbying and ethics laws. Olson, who served in the department for 34 years, admitted that in 2015, while he was ambassador to Pakistan, he failed to disclose that he received an $18,000 first-class ticket to fly to London for a job interview. He also confessed to lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of the government of Qatar in 2017, violating a federal “cooling-off” period that prohibits such activity.
16 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL he was considered the author of the president’s “pivot to Asia” strategy. He is chairman and CEO of The Asia Group, which he founded in 2013, and a co-founder of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank launched in 2007. If confirmed, he will replace Victoria Nuland, who has been Acting Deputy Secretary since the retirement of Wendy Sherman in July 2023. Nonemergency Personnel Leave Iraq On Oct. 20, the State Department ordered all nonemergency personnel and family members to depart from the embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil. The Iraq Travel Advisory was updated to reflect this status, stating: “Do not travel to Iraq due to terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, civil unrest, and Mission Iraq’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.” The change was made after multiple drone attacks on U.S. military forces in Iraq and Syria on Oct. 18 injured at least 20 U.S. servicemembers. An American Olson also confessed that during his tenure as the U.S. consul general in Dubai, he did not report that the emir of Dubai had gifted his mother-in-law $60,000 of jewelry. And he told FBI agents that while serving in Pakistan, he asked a Pakistani American businessman to pay $25,000 to his mistress, whom he later married, so she could attend graduate school in New York. In court Olson said of his illegal activities: “I did step over the line. It was a mistake.” Campbell Is New Pick for Deputy Job On Nov. 1, President Biden announced his nomination of Kurt M. Campbell for the post of Deputy Secretary of State. Campbell currently serves as White House coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs at the National Security Council. During the Obama administration, he was assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 2009 to 2013, where AFSPA AFSPA.org/fsbp AFSPA.org/dental Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Employee Program www.Fepblue.org/covered Clements Worldwide Clements.com/fsj FEDS Protection FedsProtection.com Property Specialists, Inc. PropertySpecialistsinc.com Promax Management PromaxManagement.com Richey Property Management RicheyPM.com/foreignservice State Department Federal Credit Union SDFCU.com Windecker Financial Planning, LLC. www.WindeckerFP.com WJD Management WJDpm.com It Doesn’t Make Sense When I say to people in New Hampshire, “One person can hold up all of those [nominations],” they say, “You guys are crazy, why do you allow that to happen?” And I can’t explain that. It doesn’t make sense. —Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) speaking to Andrew Desiderio at Punchbowl News on Oct. 18. No Substitute for an Ambassador The urgency to confirm this highly qualified nominee [Jack Lew] has never been greater. Israel is at war, and the United States needs an experienced, Senate-confirmed ambassador on the ground working hand in hand with our Israeli partners. The U.S. team at Mission Israel is the best in the field, but there is no substitute for a Senate-confirmed ambassador. —Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement at the SFRC hearing on Oct. 25. HEARD ON THE HILL JOSH
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 17 caption contractor died “due to a cardiac incident during a shelter-in-place order,” according to NBC. Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said on Oct. 24 that between Oct. 17 and 24, “U.S. and coalition forces have been attacked at least 10 separate times in Iraq and three separate times in Syria via a mix of one way attack drones and rockets.” CNN reports a senior defense official as saying: “The U.S. believes that the proxies are being funded, armed, equipped and trained by Iran.” Despite the ordered departure, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Oct. 23 that “the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open. We remain committed to our longstanding strategic partnership with Iraq, and we’ll continue to work through our embassy and our consulate there to strengthen that partnership.” n This edition of Talking Points was compiled by Donna Scaramastra Gorman. Sam Wardell, Vice Consul at Yokohama, has been an interesting visitor at the Department relating his dexterous escape from the consular building which collapsed upon him, and then burned, during the earthquake which destroyed Yokohama and part of Tokyo on September 1, 1923. Mr. Wardell, after making a safe exit from the toppling structure into the street, was thrown to the ground three times by the billowy undulations of the earth but managed to rise and reach the shelter of a large park where, with the compact mass of refugees, he suffered from dust, smoke, cinders, heat and thirst. Mr. Wardell has gone to his home on a vacation to recover from the nervous shock and replenish his wardrobe, as he lost everything except the clothes on his back, before proceeding to his new post at Harbin. —From “Reports and Trade Letters” in the American Consular Bulletin (precursor to the FSJ) December 1923. Vice Consul Escapes Collapsed Building 100 Years Ago The U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, circa 2014. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 19 SPEAKING OUT Yikee Adje is a USAID Foreign Service officer and executive coach who is passionate about helping members of the Foreign Service build strategic relationships for career advancement and working with teams to streamline their internal work processes to overcome the government bureaucracy for greater productivity. She is the author of DIPLOMATICALLY: A Guide for Creating Work-Life Balance in the Foreign Service (2023). Connect with her at linkedin. com/in/yikeeadje. E very year stress levels of Foreign Service employees are at an all-time high when they need to prepare their promotion materials. To play the game, we must look for ways to make accomplishments appear bigger and more far-reaching. We search for that powerful verb or adjective to make results stand out from the rest. Many take credit for as much as they can, even when it defies what is possible for one person to achieve in a government bureaucracy—let’s just put it all in and hope the promotion boards will buy it! Those who supervise an office may commit the unsavory but all too common act of taking credit for everything their unit accomplished and making it their own. Too many of us accept this as what we “have to do” to get promoted. Is it really? No, it is not. That is the surprising conclusion of the independent research I conducted recently on the topic of Foreign Service promotions. The Case for Humility Admittedly, the supercharged, highstakes, competitive Foreign Service career doesn’t naturally cultivate humility; in fact, it has a way of pushing everyone to become obsessed with the climb to the top. Yet there are countless studies highlighting the critical importance of humility in leaders. For instance, Jim Collins—the researcher, leadership teacher, management guru, and author of Good to Great (2001)—found humility to be one of the two common traits found in CEOs of companies that transitioned from average to superior market performance. My research brought me to a similar conclusion on its importance for advancement in the Foreign Service. I interviewed 14 “promotion unicorns” at USAID—FSOs who had flown up the ranks (from an FS-6 to an FS-1 in 11 years or less) from different support and technical backstops and are now serving in varying levels of senior leadership. While they noted myriad factors that led to their fast rise, I was surprised by one, in particular, that I observed with my own eyes—humility. I saw humility when interviewees openly admitted mistakes they made early on in their careers—or for some, more recently—and recounted the steps they took to change themselves. They acknowledged that the way they had done things was suboptimal; they heard the feedback given to them; and they pivoted away from doing things in the way that was most comfortable to them. Instead, they adopted a new way of working that pushed them outside their comfort zone. And they were willing to stay in that uncomfortable place for as long as needed to ensure that the necessary change happened. They did this for the benefit of their subordinates, peers, and the agency. I was floored by these revelations. A cynical part of me had gone into the interviews expecting to meet proud, possibly narcissistic, individuals who would flaunt how they had gamed the promotion system. That was not at all what I encountered. The unicorns shared with me their constant desire to be better and to learn from those around them. One explained that when he started every new post, he would convene a Promotion Unicorns and the Case for Humility BY YIKEE ADJE The supercharged, high-stakes, competitive Foreign Service career doesn’t naturally cultivate humility; in fact, it has a way of pushing everyone to become obsessed with the climb to the top.
20 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL meeting and tell his new team that the local country team members would always be more experienced than he was, and he relied on them to guide him in his daily work. I was speechless when I heard this. I found myself wondering, Is this guy for real? While most of us start a new job trying to prove ourselves to those who don’t know us, this guy comes in doing the complete opposite! Yet, clearly, doing so has worked in his favor. Constructive Feedback and Corridor Reputation Many interviewees expressed gratitude to past supervisors who gave them constructive feedback. They acknowledged they had blind spots and were grateful to supervisors who had been willing to point them out so they could change. Getting constructive criticism, I believe, played a role in keeping the unicorns humble. If all an officer ever heard was that they were perfect and great, wouldn’t that get to the person’s head sooner or later? I suspect constructive feedback is harder to come by nowadays. In the Foreign Service, an officer’s “corridor reputation” is everything. What people say and think about you matters and may determine whether you get the plum assignment you want or not. As a result, some officers are afraid to give honest, direct feedback because they are afraid it will be used against them. The Foreign Service world is an unpredictable roller-coaster ride. Your subordinate today could be your boss tomorrow. When dealing with difficult colleagues, it may feel easier to just put up with them until one of you changes assignments than to confront them head-on. On top of this, in recent years USAID has implemented multisource ratings (MSR); everyone from your subordinates and peers to higher-ups gets to rate you—anonymously. People are surprisingly brave and honest in their feedback under the veil of anonymity. MSRs are an integral part of the package that the promotion boards see. I would be surprised if there were any supervisors who didn’t think about their own MSR ratings just for a hot second before they moved forward with giving a subordinate some constructive feedback. Let’s be real about that. If we can all start from a place of accepting that none of us is perfect, that we can all find something to improve on, and that feedback is a gift, we can create a culture where it’s easier to give and receive feedback. Let’s encourage humility so we remain open to improving our performance and becoming the kind of leader our agency needs. Promotion as a Goal? Another big discovery is that the majority of promotion unicorns had no “approach” for getting promoted quickly, because promotion was never their goal to begin with. They were motivated by intrinsic factors, though they did acknowledge some external factors that helped them succeed. These are as follows: • Lifelong learning. The individuals I interviewed love continuously learning, on the job and outside the job. • Diverse professional experiences. Unicorns think outside the box when looking for professional opportunities; they are not afraid of trying new things or changing backstops. • Mentoring. Unicorns credit good mentors among past supervisors and front office individuals with guiding them toward success. • Writing skills. Unicorns feel confident they know how to write about their skills and accomplishments in a compelling way. • Ability to link everyday work to U.S. government policy. Unicorns are confident in their ability to convey the impact of their work to Congress and the interagency. • Hardship service. Unicorns often serve at hardship posts where there were more stretch opportunities to have greater responsibilities. All of these factors contribute to fast promotions. One Disturbing Trend While conducting the interviews, I did uncover one disturbing trend that is the antithesis of humility: I heard complaints about egotism among new officers from several unicorns and USAID staff with roles supporting FSOs who had cited the importance of humility in their success. Some of the more recent recruits, they observed, want to be ambassadors and mission directors yesterday. They are in such a hurry to climb up the career ladder, they risk destroying the ladder itself in their haste. Take your ego out of the workplace and refocus on the needs and objectives of your team and agency.
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 21 These junior officers ignore the host country national staff, who have the knowledge and institutional memory of the mission; and in doing so, they miss out on one of the great learning opportunities offered to them. They only want to engage with higher-ups, to be more visible, and to garner favor they hope will translate into better assignments and faster promotions. They take on additional tasks only after assessing whether the task is promotion-worthy and will say yes only if it is something they can write about in their promotion package. By operating in this way, these junior officers are doing a disservice to themselves in the long run. Take note, new officers! From the moment you say hello, your corridor reputation starts being developed. If you treat locally employed staff poorly, brown-nose to higher-ups, cherry-pick only the tasks that will get you promoted—what do you think people are going to say about you? When a potential supervisor at a desired post does an informal background check on you, asking around, beyond the references you provided, what are those people going to say about you? Will what they say help your chances of getting that job? This is what you need to think about every time you have the opportunity to interact with anyone and every time you are asked to do something. I urge you to show some humility. In this day and age, humility is the gold standard for a leader. Start admitting what you don’t know. Welcome others who know more to join in the brainstorming session. Do not be afraid to admit mistakes and course-correct. Take your ego out of the workplace and refocus on the needs and objectives of your team and agency. Why did you join the Foreign Service in the first place? Remember your “why” and cultivate and display humility along the journey toward achieving your purpose in the Foreign Service. n Speaking Out is the Journal’s opinion forum, a place for lively discussion of issues affecting the U.S. Foreign Service and American diplomacy. The views expressed are those of the author; their publication here does not imply endorsement by the American Foreign Service Association. Responses are welcome; send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
22 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Sara Berndt is a historian at the U.S. State Department Office of the Historian. She has provided historical research for posts and domestic bureaus, interviewed foreign policy officials for oral history projects, developed course modules for the Foreign Service Institute, and compiled and edited documents on U.S.–Latin American relations for inclusion in the 150-year-old Foreign Relations of the United States series. Her volume on U.S. policy in South America during the Jimmy Carter administration was published in 2018. Foreign Service Officer Holly Holzer is the senior U.S. coordinator for lawful migration in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and leads the U.S. Lawful Migration Task Force. Most recently she served as deputy director of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff (S/P), where she oversaw the Dissent Channel. or more than 52 years, the Dissent Channel has endured as a mechanism for the workforce to express dissenting views in a privileged and confidential way to senior leadership at the State Department without fear of retaliation or exposure. The channel has become a cherished institution, serving as the primary example of the value that Secretaries of State have placed on dissent as a critical part of creating and implementing U.S. foreign policy. Upon learning about the Dissent Channel, other foreign ministries often express shock that the State Department has a formal way for its employees to disagree with the department’s policies and senior leaders. Some have minimized the Dissent Channel as lacking influence and rarely affecting foreign policy, or as a public relations tool for senior department officials to tout their open-mindedness. The success of the Dissent Channel lies in its longevity and continued use, the dedication of the foreign policy community to its preservation and importance, and its broad influence on the policy process. Understanding the channel’s history, and seeing the kinds of messages received in the channel, affords us a chance to see why it matters and what makes for a strong dissent message. A Short History The Dissent Channel is an outgrowth of both the tumultuous politics of the Vietnam War and a period of institutional modernization. As protests against the Vietnam War grew across the U.S., newer officers—including those in the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Information Agency, and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency—saw the impact that the war had on their generation. Under Secretary for Political Affairs George Ball’s views opposing U.S. involvement and escalation in Vietnam were the worst-kept secret in the State Department. Between 1965 and 1975, 39 Foreign Service officers were killed in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Inevitably, these generational experiences shaped younger officers’ views on U.S. policy toward Vietnam and built the demand COVER STORY The Dissent Channel institutionalized dissent at the State Department a half century ago, but it is by no means the only way to register disagreement or propose policy alternatives. BY SARA BERNDT AND HOLLY HOLZER The State Department Dissent Channel History and Impact
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 23 for a process for department personnel to express alternative and dissenting positions. Simultaneously, the State Department was undergoing a larger reform effort. In 1967, as part of his efforts to modernize, Secretary of State Dean Rusk formalized the Open Forum, a volunteer association of younger officers whose mandate was to bring new or alternative views into the policy debate. And in January 1970, Under Secretary for Administration William Macomber launched a massive reform effort called “Diplomacy for the 70’s: A Program of Management Reform for the Department of State.” Thirteen task forces staffed by more than 50 foreign policy professionals worked for more than five months. They produced more than 500 recommendations that were compiled in a 610-page volume delivered to Secretary of State William P. Rogers on Nov. 20, 1970. One of those recommendations was that the State Department “establish as a general principle [that officers] are free to submit a dissenting statement.” This opened the door for the creation of a formal mechanism for dissent. Meanwhile, dissent bubbled. In November 1970, more than 50 Foreign Service officers signed a letter to Secretary Rogers outlining their opposition to the invasion of Cambodia. As the letter was circulated for additional signatures, it was leaked to the press. Incensed, President Richard Nixon called Under Secretary for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson in the middle of the night, demanding that the signers be fired immediately. They were not, but the pressure to silence them was intense. As a result of the space created by reform efforts and the courage of the dissenters of the time, the State Department established the right of foreign affairs officials to dissent in February 1971. A new section of the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), section 101, was called “Policy of Openness in Post Management.” According to Management Reform Bulletin No. 9 of Feb. 23, 1971: “Officers who may conclude, after carefully weighing all views, that they cannot concur in a report or recommendation are free to submit a dissenting statement without fear of pressure or penalty.” Although this bulletin has been seen as establishing the Dissent Channel, the term was not used. The new FAM section did not establish guidelines for who could dissent, to whom dissents should be communicated, or how the policy process should react to each “dissenting statement.” In April 1971, Archer Blood, who was the consul in Dhaka (then in East Pakistan and now the capital of Bangladesh), was the first to test this new openness to dissent. Blood authorized the use of the consulate’s telegraph machine for seven staff at the consulate to send what is often called the first Dissent Channel message. The “Blood Telegram,” as it came to be known, appealed to the Nixon administration to intervene to stop the Pakistani military’s violence in East Pakistan. The dissent did not lead to U.S. policy change but did bring attention to what the dissenters called “genocide” in East Pakistan, generated support for their interpretation inside the State Department, and helped to create the Dissent Channel. In late 1971 and early 1972, the Dissent Channel began to take shape as a formal mechanism. On Nov. 4, 1971, State Department cable No. 201473 laid out the first set of instructions for submitting dissenting opinions, emphasizing “that all expressions of dissent