Thursday, May 01, 2008

Catching Up

Diplopundit rightly pointed out to me today that I had been silent for a few days. Blame the arrival of my new toy, my much anticipated laptop (I zapped the motherboard in my old one in December, and between waiting too months on the repair that ended up being impossible, the replacement that came with a bad motherboard, waiting to find that it could also not be fixed, and finally ordering and receiving my new one...I have been waiting 4 months. So I naturally wanted to load it up immediately).

So I am trying to do a bit of catching up, and Diplopundit has several pieces I want to call your attention to. This One, on State Magazine's "Post of the Month" series, is particularly interesting. I like the idea of a "Post Crisis of the Month" page. We all know the realities of our life, and that we don't live the cushy existence most outsiders think we do. And most of us think "Post of the Month" is a joke (we all laughed at one particular one, where the pictures were all from other places and the author's biggest selling point was how many places nearby were good to travel to). I think a "Post Crisis of the Month" would call attention to the hard work and risks people take to serve. Diplopundit, if you start the internet petition, I am in.

In the meantime, here is some of her post. You can read the entire post here.

Wanted: Post Crisis of the Month Page

The May issue of State Magazine contains an account of a two-day siege in February that Chad (N’Djamena) endured as rebels battled government forces in an attempt to topple President Idriss Deby Itno. In February 2, U.S. Embassy family members and non-essential personnel were evacuated by the military but the ambassador and essential embassy staff remained. ... You can read the entire piece here.


The "Post of the Month" has tarried beyond its welcome, to put it nicely. To continue to give it such prominence in this day and age is incongruent with the realities of our times. Consider the following facts: 1) unaccompanied posts have more than quadrupled in recent years, 2) it's only April and we already have xx number of posts evacuated. If you think something as harmless as the "Post of the Month" is trivial, you can think again after reading this piece from the Weekly Standard, whose author accused FS people of Living in a Dream World. I'm not advocating this change to make the writer happy and have him become the FS's BFF, mind you, but I do think that the change is necessary to reflect the current realities within the Service and in the world where we are living. If State starts soliciting contribution to the "Post Crisis of the Month" page, I can't imagine it running out of material anytime soon.

I went and took a look at that article, and it convinced me even more that Diplopundit it right. Here is a sample:

Here's a classic from the June 2004 State: The economic-commercial officer at the U.S. embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, writes that "What's been billed as 'the best place in South Asia to live' is also the site of a brutal 20‑year war that's left approximately 64,000 dead." Still, "if Sri Lanka could settle its conflict peacefully, it could be a model for the region and the world."

Indeed. And if North Korea gave its people freedom and embraced democracy, it could be as successful as South Korea.

Certain diplomats evince a strange nostalgia: "Armenia was once considered the Silicon Valley of the Soviet Union, providing advanced avionics for Soviet aircraft and supercomputers," the public affairs officer in Yerevan explained in February 2005. Ah yes, things were great for the Armenians under Soviet rule. Housing for diplomats under communism? Less great.

Take Mongolia: "Until 2002, embassy staffers lived mainly in a Communist-era apartment block near the chancery affectionately known as 'Faulty Towers.' Today, almost all staff members live in Czech-designed townhouses or apartments in a modern, gated housing compound 15 minutes from the embassy," the political and public affairs officer wrote in a June 2007 feature. Diplomats there, we learn, can even enjoy pizza delivery.


Not all in State is fluff, though. The bearers of the American standard are vigilant for democratic progress. Like the crucified in Monty Python's Life of Brian, they are in a quest requiring that they always look on the bright side of life: In a February 2007 feature on Cambodia, the family member of a diplomat noted that "Cambodia is enjoying a measure of peace and stability it has not seen in more than a generation"--a low hurdle, if ever there was one. Yes, Cambodia is in the bottom tier of Freedom House rankings, but "criminal charges were dropped against some political opponents."

You can read Michael Rubin's entire piece here. And I ask you consider what this sort of perception means for us in a time when we are strapped for funding and personnel and when Americans accuse us of whining and being unpatriotic for publically protesting assignments to Iraq. I think it is high time we show Americans, even in our own in-house publication, what life is really like for us and that we are not nearly as out of touch as they think. And to let Americans continue to think so is only to our detriment.

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