The American Chief of Mission.

Author:Harrop, William C.


Author's Note (October 2016): I recently came upon the following essay that I wrote in March 1995. There are a few anachronisms, and of course much has changed in two decades. Notably, these notes preceded the 1998 bombing of embassies Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and the ever present threat of terrorism with which ambassadors must live today. Communication is now even more instantaneous and individualized. The international dominance of the United States is a bit tempered. The crippling lack of appropriated resources for diplomacy has been somewhat ameliorated by the efforts of Secretaries Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton. And the direction of foreign policy is increasingly centered in an expanded White House.

But the responsibilities of the Chief of Mission and the challenges she or he faces are not appreciably altered; the job remains very demanding. These lessons learned as a Foreign Service Officer managing five embassies and serving in several others seem still valid today. I do not address the human, social dimension of leadership; although shaped by the insularity of embassies in a foreign culture, the responsibility of organizational leadership is not peculiar to diplomacy.

The Ambassador's Duties

First, we should define the responsibilities of a modern chief of mission. These are not much changed: representation of the flag, the president and the American people; supervision and coordination of all US Government activities and personnel in country (except those under an area military commander); factual and analytical reporting; policy recommendation and advocacy; implementation of US policies through effective communication with the host government, including negotiation as called for, and public diplomacy; support and protection of American citizens, and specifically of American business interests and trade promotion; prudent management of American public resources as required by law and regulation.

The New Environment

Performing these tasks successfully, which was never easy, has become more and more difficult. What, briefly, are the new conditions?

* The Cold War, after almost fifty years, is over. The attention of the American public, the President and--most dramatically--the new Congress, has shifted toward domestic issues and away from the international engagement of a world power. The United States, many feel, should defend its interests unilaterally rather than in concert with its allies and other governments. Foreign aid is much criticized. Foreign policy, short of a crisis, seems less urgent, less central to national interests. Positions have become less founded upon long-term national purpose and more subject to volatile domestic politics and opinion polls.

* Appropriations for the State Department and Foreign Service have been greatly reduced, and the Department is engaged in a highly uncertain "re-engineering" exercise. Overseas, for lack of funds, national employees are being laid off, maintenance of buildings (both chanceries and staff housing) has languished, in-country travel is sharply curtailed, communications systems are outmoded, the replacement cycle for official vehicles has been stretched to a dysfunctional nine years. Despite the net addition of 22 new embassies since 1979, the Foreign Service is 6%...

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