Friday, May 27, 2011

This Memorial Day, remember the diplomats, too

From the Dallas Morning News:

WASHINGTON — They are the proud, the few and the unarmed. They dodge bullets in the mountains of Afghanistan and brave the deserts of Iraq. They serve as America’s face to the world, from violence-ridden Mexico to the financial hubs of Asia to the capitals of Europe. They promote American business and protect American citizens abroad. They are the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service.

On Memorial Day, we rightly pause to remember those who serve our nation in military uniform. But we should also recognize the more than 12,000 members of the American diplomatic corps who serve in Washington and in 271 missions across the globe.

“They are the ones out there on the front lines trying to advocate and explain [American] policies, regardless of which administration they are serving,” said Karen Hughes, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy under President George W. Bush.

She praised the Foreign Service as “a very dedicated group of public servants” who “work and make sacrifices around the world in some very difficult assignments.”

You may think of diplomats as tuxedo-wearing statesmen sipping cocktails at summits in Switzerland, but American diplomats are deployed in places like war-torn Africa and Afghanistan, where they often face the same dangers as members of the military. One diplomat I spoke to said he has been shot at five times in the line of duty.

Yet, even as America’s engagement with the world is growing more crucial, budget hawks are circling over the State Department. Speaking to the National Conference of Editorial Writers this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned, “There’s a huge gap between perception and reality … and people think that we can balance our budget on the back of our foreign operations.”

The continuing resolution passed to fund the government cut $8 billion for the State Department and USAID — while increasing the Defense Department’s budget by $5 billion. The demands on the State Department are growing, but the budget isn’t. “It is so out of whack with what we have to be doing,” Clinton lamented.

Part of the problem is that many Americans misunderstand diplomats’ role. Diplomacy isn’t about throwing money at the world. Yes, foreign aid — which accounts for only about 1 percent of the total federal budget — is a useful diplomatic tool. But too often diplomacy is dismissed as wasteful global charity or useless hemmin’ and hawin’ at the United Nations. Whether working to secure access to natural resources (like oil), leading reconstruction in Afghanistan or screening hundreds of thousands of visa applicants, diplomats are producing concrete results. They are the facilitators of globalization.

In an interconnected world, diplomacy is becoming ever more relevant to the daily lives of Americans, especially when it comes to the economy. Diplomats pave the way for American businesses to make profits at home by expanding overseas.

“If companies want to grow, if we want to grow our GDP, if we want to be competitive on a global basis in the 21st century, people really have to step up to export and export more, because that’s where the growth opportunities are,” said Lorraine Hariton, U.S. Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs.

Texas definitely enjoys the dividends of diplomacy. According to the latest figures from the International Trade Administration and Bureau of the Census, in 2009 the Dallas-Fort Worth area exported $19.9 billion worth of merchandise. And because of the Open Skies agreements liberalizing international air travel,Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport will see “billions of dollars in new business,” Clinton said this month.

Members of the Foreign Service play a crucial role in making that kind of lucrative international agreement possible, part of a government-wide campaign to help American businesses increase exports.

“We need to set up partnerships and relationships all around the world so we can understand the market needs in Kenya as well as the market needs in Fort Worth,” Hariton said.

Indeed, to maintain America’s global competitiveness and to capitalize on the opportunities globalization creates, we need a well-funded diplomatic corps.

“Diplomacy used to be thought of as the quiet, behind-the-scenes, government-to-government communications,” Hughes told me.

It’s now so much more than that. “In order for America to enact the kinds of policies we want to enact around the world,” Hughes explained, “we have got to build a public case for those policies, for our values and for our interests.”

Our diplomats are out in the trenches doing just that, often at great personal danger — remember the Iranian hostage crisis? Foreign Service officers have also been the targets of drug violence, insurgent attacks and kidnappings. Yet they man their posts, safeguarding American interests and protecting U.S. citizens overseas.

This weekend, as we salute our military, we also owe a tribute to America’s diplomats, many of whom are in conflict zones riding in the same Humvees as the troops. The only difference is that they can’t shoot back.

*Clayton M. McCleskey is a contributing writer for The Dallas Morning News based in Washington. His email address is*


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this- an FSO in Caracas

Anonymous said...

Those of us serving in the Foreign Service appreciate this type of reporting. One of our biggest challenges is helping tax payers understand the nature of our work and how it benefits them. Thanks for helping!

-FSO in Bangkok

Anonymous said...

I would agree with this completely if it weren't for the fact that it should have been written for Veteran's Day. On Memorial Day we pay respect to those who have died for this country.
- an FSO spouse

Americian Taxpayer said...

This is a hilarious post. absolutely laughable. I especially love this quote “If companies want to grow, if we want to grow our GDP, if we want to be competitive on a global basis in the 21st century, people really have to step up to export and export more, because that’s where the growth opportunities are,” said Lorraine Hariton, U.S. Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs.

I own a company that exports from the US. I have never, ever had any FSO encourage a local citizen to use my business. I have never had a FSO use my services. I have never had a FSO help me get a visa to stay in the country I am in. In fact, I've had FSO tell me to move to another country in SE Asia with less strict visa rules. I've never seen or heard of local customs regulations changing to encourage imports from the US.

What exactly are you people doing over at the US embassy "mission"? Other than living in your walled off compounds, driving your SUVs to your embassy compound and then being chauffeured to the embassy club? lols...Oh, don't worry, I'll keep paying my taxes in the U.S. so you can keep living the high life in every third world country on the planet.

Anonymous said...

as someone who has worked for the FS and USFCS I believe the above is incorrect. (the comment by american taxpayer). In particular, USAID works to promote free markets abroad. this allows american companies to trade internationally. You know how "everything is made in china" and all your products are cheaper. This is because Nixon and THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS worked to open china up to the rest of the world.

Efficient business internationally is promoted by the US Foreign Commercial Service. They provide american companies with access to markets. AID works to build up foreign traders who can in turn build american products. This is both of their missions.

Steve said...

Part 1:

American Taxpayer,

First, I want to thank you for pointing out that even well-traveled professionals like you are often completely ignorant of what we do, and of the help that is available to them should they need it. Part of the value of articles like this is to inform those, who like you, are unaware of what the FS actually does.

It is unfortunate that your reaction is derision rather than acceptance.

Millions of American drivers never took lessons from a driving instructor, millions do not have regular dental checkups (and may never in their lifetimes see a dentist) and millions never went to college. They get by, and and many do quite well. Does that mean that driving instructors, dentists, and college professors perform no useful function, that those professions are laughable, or cause you to question the integrity of those involved? Or is it possible, that these millions of people could have had even better lives with good driving habits, healthier teeth, and a college degree?

I suspect, Mr. Taxpayer, that you do quite well, but could do better if you actually availed yourself of the help available to you. And that the real reason no FSO helped you is that you did not seek it, were not aware it was available, were unaware how to benefit from it, or perhaps, were being helped without your knowledge.


Steve said...

Part 2:

With regard to the larger question: what do we do - well, in relation to business, we promote American products (both industrial and agricultural), we bring together buyers and sellers, we negotiate contracts and treaties that benefit American firms, we do indeed cause countries to change their tax regimes or import/export reglations, we facilitate the start-ups of American businesses overseas and we sponsor conferences and educational opportunities - among other things.

We issue visas to visitors to America - many of whom do business here, others of whom buy our products, stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, and encourage others to do so. We facilitate the ability of aircraft to land here, ships to dock here and foreign companies to buy American aircraft, ships, and supplies.

If you had been arrested overseas, we would attempt to make sure you were treated well and fairly, and help you get home as soon as possible. If you were destitutue or sick overseas, we would help you get treatment, and get home.

In the meantime, we would be monitoring overseas events of all sorts political, economic, health, human-rights, etc, and helping the American government understand them.

Where needed, we would offer and manage American assistance to victims of earthquackes, tsunamis, war, poverty, epidemics, droughts, etc, and in the process, also be helping American businesses (that food we donate comes from American farms, the drugs, machines, equipment and supplies we use or donate were made in America and bought from American suppliers). Even the SUVs we drive were made in America - by law US embassies buy American cars except when American firms don't make what is needed (e.g. right-hand-drive cars). Those we buy from American subsidiaries if possible.

As for living the high life - does that mean living like an American in countries where the locals do not? If so, I guess we do, and so do you. If you own a company that exports goods from the US, I assume you have indoor plumbing in your home, electricity 24/7, air conditioning in the summer, heating in the winter, and yes, drive an automobile to and from wherever you are going. You eat food that is not contaminated with human fecal matter, bread that does not have flies baked into it, drink water that does not contain live parasites, and sleep on a mattress that is not stuffed with straw. You probably get paid a salary that is commensurate with other Americans in your educational/professional sphere, and you probably would not want to make your career without those things. When you travel overseas, you probably stay at hotels that offer electricity, running water, and air conditioning as well. So you, like us, live "the high life," if that is what you wish to call it.

Last but not least, thank you for paying your taxes. If that is the only thing you actually do for the well-being of our country, or for your fellow citizens, then please recognize that your contribution to our country, and to your fellow American citizens, is rather paltry compared to ours.

We also pay taxes, but we do much much more. We dedicate our lives to helping our country and its citizens, including those who are unaware of what we do, often in very difficult and dangerous environments.

Steve said...

With regard to anonymous who wrote about dying for our country:

1. Agreed on the purpose of the holidays.

2. We did not write the article, only copied it.

3. There are three large plaques in the lobby of the State Department naming the names of American FS members who died in the line of duty, including many who were killed specifically because they were our official representatives to the world. Their sacrifice - to bombs, bullets or other events - is no less heroic than those who died on the battlefield.

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've linked back to you here:

Anonymous said...

in the words of one of the diplomats in the south east countries we were living the 90210 lifestyle now we are afraid for our life wile missing the gucci sales and Louie vetont sales i hope things calm down soon i need a martini

Steve said...

I assume you mean theirs and not ours. Ours can spell.

Barb said...

Steve said it all very well. And, people, don't forget the cost to family members of the FSO. Imagine being uprooted every couple of leaving their friends and going to new schools, leaving your families and friends here in the US, maybe having limited contact while overseas and leaving your old routines at home. Think of the sacrifice of a spouse who leaves his/her career and may not be able to find work in the local economy and may or may not be able to find a job at the embassy or consulate. If a job is found, it most likely will not be a job in that person's area of expertise. Imagine living in a country where the heat can reach 130 degrees with almost 100% humidity or where you must constantly be aware of your surroundings for safety's sake. Diplomats are representatives of the US and while I have seen some bad examples, most are dedicated to their mission. Imagine being "on" and careful of how you appear, what you do, so that you can represent the US well. Unless you live the life, you can't fully appreciate the sacrifices made by these people and their families. Sure, there are perks, but there are real dangers, hardships and heartaches to go with the job. Thank god for the people who do the job. Even if its not evident to you, they make a HUGE difference in the world.