Is It Just Me?

So, AFSA put out a press release in response to Rick Perry dissing the Foreign Service (pasted in below). I’m glad they did it, but I was also disappointed by it. Basically, it’s a litany of names of FSOs who have died in the line of work.

Why does this bug me? Well, for quite a while now I’ve been annoyed with this notion that FSOs should prove they have cojones just like the military. They don’t.

I mean, yeah, FSOs and their families can be brave–very brave. And some of the countries we are posted to are scary in several ways that most Americans can’t even imagine. It takes real courage to just conduct your daily life in a critical threat crime post, or to take your children to live in a place with practically no health care. Heck, it takes some courage just to navigate a strange city in a language you don’t know. And it takes bravery to serve a tour in a war zone–even if you spend most of your time in a heavily guarded bunker. But, when you do these things, you are playing pretty good odds that you are going to come out unscathed.

I’m not dismissing the tragic deaths that have occurred AT ALL. But basically, those people were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Granted, the odds were much higher that they would be in the wrong place because they were serving overseas. But they weren’t expecting to be combatants. They didn’t go to work that day thinking the odds were good they wouldn’t be coming home. That’s just not how it works in the FS. You worry about car accidents in crazy traffic, home invasions, your wife getting robbed or assaulted at gunpoint, or your kids getting some weird parasite. You don’t wake up every day wondering if you’ll make it until dinner. Not usually.

All I’m saying is: combat bravery is different than life bravery, I guess. Not that one is better than the other. They are just different.

So, I don’t think the FS should be trying to out-macho the military. They do their thing, and we do ours. Most FSOs probably wouldn’t be great soldiers (even if they could pass the physical) and most soldiers probably couldn’t get into the FS. Does the FS exam test for combat skills? I don’t think so. Does the military test for nerd-level knowledge of current events? Nope. And it’s all good.

This press release seems to say that you can judge the dedication and loyalty of FSOs by how many of them have died. That’s a military way of thinking.

So, does that mean that if my husband doesn’t go to Iraq he’s not dedicated and loyal?

Does it mean that if he questions the wisdom of the whole enterprise because he thinks it does not benefit the United States is he being disloyal? If he’s not with you, he’s against you? Is that how it works?

And does it mean that if he goes, and his hooch happens to get hit with a rocket, that he is super, über, mega loyal?

These are complicated questions, but you know, the FS is full of smart people who can deal with complicated questions. I’ve been thinking for a while that FSOs should not be beating their chests and bragging about how many of them have died on duty, and this press release is a good example. It’s too simplistic to sound sincere, and besides, they look a bit silly. Like a bunch of tweedy college professors on the war path.

By the way, it was nice to see Karma biting Perry on the butt just a couple of days later.

Here’s the press release.



Washington, DC: Texas Governor Rick Perry’s comments about members of the U.S. Foreign Service during a Nov. 7 radio interview reflect a serious misunderstanding of their role in promoting American interests overseas.  Diplomacy is rightly recognized as the first line of defense and a vital instrument for ensuring national security, along with the military. Foreign Service professionals carry out their role with exemplary dedication all over the world, including war zones and other dangerous regions.

 Indeed, hundreds of American diplomats have given their lives in the line of duty, including six ambassadors: John Mein (Guatemala 1968), Cleo Noel (Sudan 1973), Rodger Davies (Cyprus 1974), Francis Meloy (Lebanon 1976), Adolph Dubs (Afghanistan 1979) and Arnold Raphel (Pakistan 1988).  Other Foreign Service professionals who have made the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of terrorists or drug traffickers include Charles Robert Ray (France 1982), William Buckley (Lebanon 1985), Gary Durell and Jacqueline Van Landingham (Pakistan 1995), George Tsantes (Greece 1983), Leamon Hunt (Italy 1984),  Barbara Green (Pakistan 2002), Laurence Foley (Jordan 2002), James Mollen and Edward Seitz  (Iraq 2004), Barbara Heald, Keith Taylor and Stephen Sullivan (Iraq 2005),  and David Foy (Pakistan 2006).  The bombings of our embassies in Beirut in 1983 and 1985 and in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 killed scores more.

Wherever they are posted, American diplomats are dedicated to serving their country, promoting U.S. national interests as articulated by our country’s elected leaders.  Drawing on invaluable expertise accumulated over decades of living and working in countries all over world, often separated from family, they provide sound advice for policy decisions regardless of which party is in power, in keeping with high standards of professional excellence.  They serve at the pleasure of the president, are confirmed by Congress and need the informed support of both branches of government to be effective.

In an ever more uncertain, complex world our diplomatic personnel deal with the entire spectrum of our interaction with the rest of the world.  To keep America strong and secure, we need more diplomacy, not less.  And we need more, not less, support from our political leaders and citizens for their work to defend and advance our interests abroad.


  1. Very well said. AFSA had a bit of a conundrum: it must remain nonpartisan and uninvolved in the campaign. So it said what it thought it could say, which was not all it wanted to say. And it had to say what would matter to those who pay attention to Perry – which is not necessarily what matters to everyone. But you are very right: the contribution we make should be measured differently.


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