Digger, in her blog "Life after Jerusalem," shares a recent article from Mother Jones about the exodus of FSOs from the service.
The article touches on a number of themes we have mentioned before: broken promises with regard to the training promised to FSOs who volunteer for Iraq and Afghanistan, failure to reward hardship service, failure to adequately fund our work, and in general, the practice we have described in this blog as making personnel decisions based on "what management can get away with rather than what is right."
The result, according to the article, is an exodus from the Foreign Service, causing a brain drain which can hurt our ability to advance America's interests overseas.
I am a bit older than Digger. Most of my age-mates are in the senior ranks, and one thing I can say for certain. More than half of the FSOs who entered on duty when I did have retired, most on the very first date they were eligible to do so.
They speak not only of promises broken to them, but of a failure by the current administration to use their expertise properly. This has been the first administration in years that, rather than treat FSOs as experts and expert advisers, treats them instead virtually as servants, as pawns whose sole function is to follow orders and carry out policies devised, in many cases, by people with far less Foreign Policy expertise than even a junior-level FSO would possess. A number of those retiring at the first opportunity have gone so far as to let it all hang out in angry speeches on their last day of service. It is sad that, for many senior officers, the only time they feel comfortable telling the current administration what they think is when they are literally hours away from an approved retirement.
During last night's presidential debates, both candidates mentioned the seriousness of situations affecting our relationships not just with Iraq and Iran, but with North Korea and Pakistan as well. In fact, in an era of global trade and regional alliances, when a person on a boat on a Swedish lake can dial a number and talk to a person on a mountain path in Waziristan, when one can walk into an internet cafe in virtually any country on earth and communicate with someone else in virtually any country, every relationship we have with any foreign government or population is serious.
The past eight years have shown us what happens when one ignores some relationships in favor of others, and when one makes decisions based on short-term political goals or narrowly focused political philosophies rather than seeking to build permanent relationships of peace, cooperation and respect with as many countries as possible.
I watched the debate last night with a group of people, most younger than I, and realized again that there are millions of Americans who literally do not remember when America was, as it was in my youth, a universally respected and trusted leader of the world community.
They do not remember when America was truly secure, because even most of our enemies respected not just our military strength but the values we actually stood for.
It is sad when the candidates of both parties have to address an American audience that is more concerned with protecting ourselves from those who hate us than it is with preserving our stature of respected international leadership which many Americans (and even some junior FSOs) literally no longer remember.
Either path (protection by military supremacy or the more difficult path of returning our country to a position of leadership by example)will require more than soundbites and politically correct rhetoric. It will require using the tools we have, letting our experts be experts, and investing money and resources in the agencies which can guide the leadership of our country along a path that both candidates claim they want to follow:
To do what is right for the American people, and not merely what is desired by a percentage of the population.
Every Foreign Service Officer is sworn to serve our nation, and not just our president. We need the resources and leadership to allow us to do that.
Every departing FSO that I have ever seen expresses anger and frustration among their reasons for departing the service. But without exception, every one also honestly regrets that they have been prevented from using their skills to serve our country; which was, for nearly all of us, our primary desire and motivation in joining the Service in the first place.