Diplomats in the field.

Author:Creagan, James
 
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In her farewell letter, Secretary of State Clinton noted the need for American leadership and the continuing impulse in American foreign policy for the United States to be a "force for good". That signifies engagement. Unfortunately, that engagement has too often been military action, followed by Foreign Service and civilian efforts to build the blocks of democracy at the same time reconstructing stones and fabrics which have been torn down. What is termed American "expeditionary diplomacy" is not new to the post 9/11 world. Once upon a time there was Vietnam. I remember the push for FSOs to be out there in the provinces as "political advisors" to Province Chiefs. I was enthusiastically briefed on the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) program which would remake South Vietnam. A personnel officer proudly showed me his M-16 hanging behind his State Department desk and he underlined the need to be for FSOs to be armed and competitive with DOD. Vietnamese language training would prepare you to understand and to influence. All that did not work out.

The difficulties faced by our diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan are evident, but to be expected in the aftermath of occupation. We know after decades of bombings in Beirut and Nairobi and countless assaults by mobs that embassies need to be hardened. Recent events--from attacks on the embassy in Cairo to the bomb in Ankara--indicate that much has been done right to secure embassy buildings. There are still too many chanceries--especially in areas outside the Near East - that need to be brought up to security standards. God forbid a terrorist attack with that job yet unfinished.

So, embassy--and consulate--security is one thing. Quite another is the ability of diplomats to do their job. Confinement to the chancery prevents meaningful action in the US interest and as that force for good underlined by Secretary Clinton. No real contact out in the community means no real understanding for analysis and policy purposes. Our Ambassador's trip to Benghazi was part of that reasoned calculation to project American diplomacy. It ended tragically, but the highly partisan treatment of the attack in Benghazi took the American public off on a tangent. The congressional committees mostly ignored the fact that the site was neither chancery nor even a real consulate. I can't imagine that it would have passed the security test for a permanent consular post. That "consulate" consisted of...

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