Monday, June 16, 2008

WP Op-Ed: Suited for Diplomacy?

Several of my fellow bloggers have been talking about Suited for Diplomacy?, an Op-Ed by James P. DeHart in Sunday's Washington Post. DeHart is a Foreign Service Officer heading to a PRT in Afghanistan.

DeHart says:
"Today, we're seeing not only transformational diplomacy but also the transformation of diplomacy. Foreign Service officers emerging from war zones are in many cases being promoted ahead of their peers. This is understandable, but as they rise up the chain and gain a bigger say in future personnel decisions, the practitioners of more "traditional" diplomacy may find themselves relegated to an even slower track.

WhirlView wondered why DeHart would have been at Georgetown before the assignment rather than in language training, and wondered if the answer to her question was...

"...contained in his observation that State Department assignments to war zones are fast tracks up the career ladder and that as war zone vets “rise up the chain and (presumably) gain a bigger say in future personnel decisions, the practitioners of more ‘traditional” diplomacy’” may find themselves second class citizens?

I’m not sure I buy that argument. At least until I see the statistics. I would love to see the numbers that demonstrate that Iraq and Afghanistan State Department veterans are, in fact, getting promoted faster than their peers. If someone can point or e-mail them to me – I’d be delighted. Since this is becoming an increasingly divisive issue in the Foreign Service - based from what I can tell primarily on corridor gossip – a systematic, fact-based, transparent study should be an imperative. But maybe I've just missed it.


I don't think tours in war zones should be a ticket to the fast track. I have already witnessed people who had trouble getting promoted narrowly avoid TICing out of service by doing a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan. Yes, I think people who volunteer to serve there are entitled to the money and the choice of onward assignment. And yes, if they do a great job there, they should get promoted. But it shouldn't be a place for officers who are about to be forced from the service to go to reset their clock. That does a disservice to the service, one we will suffer from for generations.

I do agree with WhirlView though that we need a transparent study. I think the transparency of this year's prime candidate exercize is part of the reason there has been less wailing and gnashing of teeth over getting the "you are particularly well qualified" email. I also think identifying potential candidates earlier, so they can use the bid list to their advantage in terms of linking assignments, etc., is helping the process. (That, and telling us about it all BEFORE telling the press.)

DeHart also says:

"In recent years, the number of Foreign Service assignments categorized as "unaccompanied" -- that is, too dangerous for families -- has surged from 200 to 900. If the trend continues, new recruits may no longer view the Foreign Service as a career but as something to do for a few years before settling down to real life -- a bit like the Peace Corps, minus the peace. In a recent survey by the American Foreign Service Association, 44 percent of active Foreign Service officers said that "developments in the last few years" have made it less likely that they will remain in the Foreign Service for a full career.

Oh well. Maybe the State Department leadership will conclude that a new kind of diplomat is needed anyway, that a liberal arts degree isn't the best preparation for someone who has to learn to live with mortar fire. If so, will the diplomat of the future be just a little less cerebral and a little more likely to salute than to offer constructive dissent?"


Diplopundit envisions the following result:

"Let me put myself in the shoes of a candidate who joins the Service at 25 after Grad School. With three overseas assignment and possibly one hard language training, I could be out of the Service after 10 years with marketable skills. At 35, I could start a second career, get married and start a family. And I won't grow thin hair agonizing over tenure, promotion or directed assignments.

I bet this would also solve the problem of Foreign Service spouse employment! Either I don't get married until I am out of the Service or I get married during one of my tours. But either way, ten years would not severely jeopardize the career and retirement prospects of my trailing spouse or partner.

I wonder if the State Department leadership has a table top exercise for this scenario.


I wonder that too.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I'm always unsure how to interpret posts about personnel issues or wartime posts in the current political climate. I get the feeling that if Obama becomes president, the Baghdad and Kabul posts will have a different character, as well as general attitudes towards State. So looking at the FS 5 years down the line seems difficult.