Telling Our Diplomacy Stories

President's Views


AFSA celebrates our annual award winners on June 18, in the State Department’s ornate Benjamin Franklin Room. I hope you will come. For those who cannot attend, the September Foreign Service Journal will provide full coverage.

As usual there will be two broad categories recognized, outstanding performance and constructive dissent. I am always on the look-out for good Foreign Service stories, and this year’s nominations yielded a bumper crop, so I decided to tell a couple of them in this column.

Office management specialists are often unsung heroes of the Foreign Service. They support others in the mission, so that their outstanding work underlies the achievements of others and often gets subsumed. AFSA is proud to offer the annual award for OMS achievement to Carol Backman of the Management Section in Embassy Ankara.

Reading her nomination, one thing jumps out—computer innovation. This year Mission Turkey handled nearly 100 applications for new positions, many of which involved Syrian transition issues, tours of differing durations, new locations in country and a variety of sponsoring federal agencies. The embassy needed a tracking device for the approval and assignment processes.

Ms. Backman developed a SharePoint site, and worked with the alphabet soup of agencies to ensure everyone used it. Then she cut the Gordian Knot of the contact management database. I have been at many posts where the need for a missionwide contact database was frequently invoked, but no one had the time or expertise to take ownership of it. In Ankara, Ms. Backman did, and it is now being relied on for July Fourth invitations and other events.

We had other strong OMS nominations. Carol Johnson in Embassy Accra exemplifies the senior OMS in the front office who projects the professionalism and competence that sets the tone for the entire embassy. In Embassy Baghdad, Mariam Abdulle helped manage the termination of the police training program with great sensitivity and skill, enhanced by her knowledge of Arabic and understanding of the local culture. Her nomination highlights why AFSA advocates expanding language and areas studies training to include OMSs and other specialists.

There are many ways of recognizing outstanding performance, but the only celebration of dissent in the federal government is the AFSA awards. This year the Christian Herter Award for dissent by a member of the Senior Foreign Service goes to USAID’s Ambassador Jonathan Addleton. As senior civilian representative in Kandahar, he argued for a “bolder, nimbler” approach to public diplomacy in a dissent cable in February 2013. Here is his case.

Following the terror attack on Malala of Swat, the young girl who championed female education in Pakistan, Addleton wrote an editorial drawing parallels between her and Malala of Maiwand, a young Afghan heroine killed in battle in the 19th century. In fact, Malala of Swat’s parents had named her after Malala of Maiwand, hoping she would be equally brave. Addleton believed the link to the famous figure would inspire courage and advance the cause of female education.

Addleton’s op-ed was “spiked” in Washington, ostensibly out of concern that it could strengthen conspiracy theorists claiming that the U.S. government was behind the attack on Malala of Swat.

After Secretary Kerry addressed a town hall with Embassy Kabul via video, encouraging the audience to speak candidly and promote outreach, Addleton sent in his dissent message. Reflecting on the story of the two Malalas, he criticized our risk-averse public diplomacy policy: “A control-oriented approach not only makes it difficult to respond quickly when outreach opportunities arise; it also breeds a tendency for officers to avoid any media exposure.”

Addleton followed up the dissent cable with advocacy in Washington that, in concert with ongoing AFSA efforts and with support from the Public Affairs Bureau, will result in new regulations liberalizing publication clearances in many cases. He continues to believe in outreach and joined dozens of trips “outside the wire” throughout southern Afghanistan.

Be well, stay safe and keep in touch,


Robert J. Silverman is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.