Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences; Remarks at the Ralph Bunche Library of the U.S. Department of State.

Author:Freeman, Ambassador Chas W.
Position:Commentary and Analysis - Essay

September 2016

Twenty years ago, I gave a book talk at the Foreign Service Club. The talk celebrated the publication of the first edition of The Diplomat's Dictionary. That book had been conceived as the footnotes to another book, Arts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy. Both books have long outlasted the club. So has the issue I talked about there--Diplomacy as a Profession.

My topic today is diplomatic amateurism and its consequences. I will be brief. I want to avoid the common error of confusing specific foreign policies with diplomacy itself, which is the manner in which foreign relations strategies are formulated and conducted. I will lead off with a few general points about professionalism and how its absence incapacitates our nation internationally. In the discussion that follows, I hope we can get into specific policies, get down to cases, and relate American diplomatic amateurism to the generally FUBAR condition of U.S. foreign relations at present.

I don't see any reason to have to explain the essential contributions of diplomacy to national security to an audience at the Department of State. Anyone interested in my views on this can have a look at what I said on the subject to the Academy of Philosophy and Letters in June. My remarks then, which were about the conflict between militarism and diplomacy and the consequences of treating diplomacy as a political appointment rather than a calling, have circulated widely on the internet. (1) I won't repeat them.

In other countries, diplomacy is a prestigious career in which one spends a lifetime, culminating in senior positions commensurate with one's talents as one has demonstrated them over the years. But, in the United States, these days more than ever, the upper reaches of diplomacy are reserved for wealthy dilettantes and celebrities with no prior experience in the conduct of relations with foreign states and peoples, national security policy, or the limitations of the use of force. Policy positions in our government dealing with such issues are now largely staffed by individuals selected for their interest-group affiliation, identity, or sizable campaign contributions. These diplomatic neophytes are appointed for the good of the political party with which they are affiliated and to reward their loyal service during political campaigns, not for their ability to do the jobs they are given. It is assumed that they can learn on the job, then move on after a while to give others a chance at government employment. But whatever they learn, they take with them when they leave, adding nothing to the diplomatic capacity of our government.

If you tried to staff and run a business or a sports team like this, you'd get creamed by the competition. If you organized our armed forces this way, you'd be courting certain defeat. You can judge for yourself how staffing and running a foreign policy establishment through the spoils system is working out for our country now that our margin for error has been reduced by "the rise of the rest" since...

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