• Life in the 21st Century State Department

    October 19, 2013 // 10 Comments »

    A recent post, Forbes: State Department Number Three Dream Employer, about how popular working for the State Department is among people who have never actually worked for the State Department, merited a follow-on. Here it is.

    Daniel Garrett was a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Japan 2008-2010. The State Department decided he just wasn’t their kind of guy, and let him go. I have never met Dan, but his farewell to the Department of State and his advice to Japan bear quoting at length. People considering a career in the Foreign Service should also consider the price they’ll pay.

    Dan, if you’re out there, look me up. I want to shake your hand and buy you a beer. You dodged a bullet, and you should be proud that State pushed you out. Here’s what Dan said:

    I used to walk from the US Embassy over to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the message I was to deliver was one I didn’t agree with, I used to walk a little slower, wondering if I was selling my soul for a diplomatic passport. Once, for example, I was asked to deliver a demarche about the US position on cluster munitions (basically that the new generation of these weapons was much safer). Japan, of course, has signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the US has not. These horribly indiscriminate weapons (new generation or not) are rightfully banned. For Japan’s signature though to have any real meaning, it cannot allow its major defense ally to store them in Japan: to do so is to be complicit. The US position (as it is with landmines) is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.

    Once I was asked to deliver a demarche asking that Japan not support a U.N. resolution calling for research into the health effects of depleted uranium. As the children stillborn, or born deformed in Fallujah and elsewhere testify, depleted uranium weapons pose a horrible health risk even after their initial explosive destructiveness. The US position is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.

    Once I was asked to deliver a demarche to the government of Japan asking them not to vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council to accept the Goldstone report from the U.N. fact-finding mission to the Gaza conflict. Had this report been written by a US State Department Human Rights Officer (as I was) about a country that wasn’t a US ally, it would have been widely praised by the Secretary of State. The US position was wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.

    Once, as a Human Rights Officer, I was approached by a Japanese group, the Victims of the Red Purge, asking that I deliver a letter to President Obama, asking for an official apology for this US occupation-instigated action that cost so many innocent Japanese their jobs and dignity. I wrote a cable which included their letter, to be delivered to Washington with the recommendation that the US move past this mistaken cold war overreaction and issue a formal apology. The Embassy however overruled my recommendation. In fact, US intervention in the domestic affairs of Japan to insure it had a loyal anti-communist ally, driven largely by a hysteric level of anti-communist demagoguery in US domestic politics, resulted in a profound warping of Japanese democracy, a warping which has persisted for a very long time. The US position is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for not being successful in obtaining both an apology and a formal statement that during the Cold War, while the US posed as a champion of freedom, and in some cases may have actually been so, in far, far too many countries and locales, it was deeply and criminally complicit in the suppression of many peoples who wanted that freedom, but were so unfortunate as to be under regimes that touted their anti-communist credentials.

    In my own defense, I did try to raise my concerns in various venues. I sent two Dissent Channel cables on climate change, and still recall with a smile the day in the Ambassador’s mahogany-paneled conference room sitting at his magnificently long table across from a solid line of sparkling medal-bedecked military officers when, following a presentation on anti-missile defense, I pointed out that numerous studies (including from our own Congressional Budget Office) have determined that anti-missile defenses don’t work and it seemed to me that we were doing little more than making Raytheon and other corporations and consultants, rich. Ah, the wonderful awkwardness of that moment as if one could almost palpably hear the air escaping from so many punctured pompous balloons.

    And this is where I now ask the people of Japan for help. My country is no longer the country I once knew, a country moving at least in the direction of providing opportunity for all, regardless of income. The tendency to paranoia and international law-breaking was always there, at a low fever, in clandestine and semi-clandestine actions around the world, driven by visions of American exceptionalism pandered onto an all too naïve public. Though I like to believe that there was the intention at least to make the world a better place, in fact these actions were frankly not just frequently amateurish and inept, they resulted in the suffering and death of many. Nor it seems, have any of the lessons been learnt.

    Since 9/11, the United States has adopted a national security policy that can most charitably be described as one of anaphylactic shock. Terrorism ranks with shark attacks in terms of real risk. We have, however, so over-reacted, and misreacted to the tragedy that we have become a danger both to ourselves and to others. We have squandered our treasure in the sands of hubris and misunderstanding, and I often wonder now if the real good that we do has become just a fig leaf to cover our obscenely over-muscled shadowhand-tattooed as it is with empty slogans- that wields death and destruction at the press of a button, but doesn’t know how to build, and doesn’t seem to have the slightest grasp of history. Out of the excesses of our fears, we have perverted our own Constitution, and become a surveillance state in which the government itself moreover has become, in the words of Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a “government of the 1% by the 1 % and for the 1%.” With a populace mired in debt, befuddled by vapid corporate media-tainment, and worshiping mindlessly at the rat-race temple of empty consumerism, America is now essentially run by the type of military-industrial-political-banker cabal that President Eisenhower warned about.

    Japan please think twice, thrice about the things America asks you to do. Please be a good friend and send as much of our military home as possible. We cannot afford it anymore. Our poor are getting poorer, our education systems are falling behind, and our infrastructure is crumbling. Say that you are happy to work with us, but only if we find a way to either harness or rein in our greed so as to conserve and restore the earth’s natural systems which are all now rapidly being destroyed. Say that you would be happy to be our friend and ally in the greatest battle ever fought, the battle to preserve humanity and the earth from the now rapidly advancing onslaught of climate change. But do not get caught in the misguided adventurism of a decaying empire that is flailing about at phantoms, while the real dangers that haunts it, -climate change, environmental degradation, and the rapidly growing level of inequality of its own people- have essentially been sacrificed on the altar of a military-industrial-political-financial machine that is its own worst enemy.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Forbes: State Department Number Three Dream Employer

    October 17, 2013 // 12 Comments »

    We today celebrate the reopening for business of the U.S. government, a once proud franchise now reduced to periodic closures and reliance on borrowed money to stay afloat. At the same time, the government remains America’s largest single employer. With the doors reopened today, job-seekers are no doubt lined up for their chance at the trough.

    Forbes released the results of a survey of liberal arts majors, asking who their dream employer might be. Number One was Disney, and the usual suspects of Google and Apple scored high. One sort-of surprise was the U.S. Department of State, which ranked Number Three as a dream destination.

    The problem of course few if any of those liberal arts majors had ever worked for or substantively interacted with State. Their dreamy images are based entirely on State’s happy-talk propaganda, its Bennetton-like ads promising diversity, its public face suggesting new-hires will be doing important things and moving history.

    Well, maybe not. As a public service for those glassy eyed, here is my answer to the question of whether they should join the State Department.


    Intelligence Divorced from Innovation and Creativity

    After 24 years of service myself, what I tell interested applicants is this: think very, very carefully about a Foreign Service career. The State Department is looking for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person, you will enjoy your career. I have come to understand that the Department wants smart people who will do what they are told, believing that intelligence can be divorced from innovation and creativity. Happy, content compliance is a necessary trait, kind of like being Downton Abbey-British but without the cool accent. The Department will not give you any real opportunity for input for a very long time — years, if ever. You will by requirement spend most of your first, second and maybe third assignments doing assembly-line like numbing visa processing, or holding VIP hands as they “Fact find” abroad. An early thrill might be watching the Secretary of State walk by (without a glance towards you) at 5am as you stand near his luggage as the day’s “Baggage Officer.”

    There is no agreed-upon definition of success or even progress at State, no profits, no battles won, no stock prices to measure. Success will be to simply continue to exist, or what your boss says it is, or both, or neither. You may never know what the point is other than that a visiting Congressional delegation conclude with a happy ending, whatever that even is. I spent the bulk of my second tour taking visiting Mrs. VIPs shopping (more senior third tour officers got to escort the VIPs themselves!). This will be your life trip.

    At the same time, State has created a personnel system that will require you to serve in more and more dangerous places, and more and more unaccompanied places without family, as a routine. America’s post-9/11 tantrums will ensure more and more countries will become dangerous to Americans. That sounds cool and adventurous at age 25, but try and imagine if you’d still be happy with it at age 45 with a spouse and two kids. What are your core obligations with a child who needs some extreme parenting as you leave your spouse at home alone with him for a year so you can be a placeholder for State’s commitment to be as macho as the military somewhere?

    Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

    Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque. State has recently determined that even promotion statistics cannot be released. Changes in Congress will almost certainly further limit pay and benefits. Your spouse will be un/underemployed most of his or her life. Your kids will change schools, for better or worse, every one, two or three years. Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you’ll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks. The disparity among schools from country-to-country can mean your kids will end up repeating a grade to catch up. You’ll serve more places where you won’t speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth. As you get up there, remember your boss, the politically-appointed ambassador (and more than one-third of them are), can arbitrarily be a real estate broker who donated big to the president’s campaign. Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future.

    It is a very unique person who can say “Yes” truthfully and after real soul-searching. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before you accept that job offer. Maybe take another look at Disney first; Mickey is more real than the bunk you are being fed by State’s hired professional recruitment agency.

    Mother Should I Trust the Government?



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Should I Join the Foreign Service?

    May 19, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    (A version of this article appeared recently on the Huffington Post, May 10, 2012)

    Final tuition bills, spring in the air — it is commencement season, and soon-to-be graduates across the United States are poised to transition into unemployment. Many will seek jobs in America’s lone growth sector, government, and specifically with the Department of State as Foreign Service Officers. Should you join?

    Before having my beard shaved off and being shunned, now in the termination process because of the book and blog I wrote, my last position in the U.S. Foreign Service was at the State Department’s Board of Examiners, where since returning from Iraq I administered the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA) and helped choose the next generation of Foreign Service Officers.

    It was only after my book came out that State decided I could not work there. Something vague about not suddenly having judgement anymore, like losing one’s mojo I guess. I spent a lot of time around people interested in a Foreign Service career. They did not ask for advice and at the Board we did not offer it. However, also since my book came out, more people now approach me with the same question about joining the Foreign Service. Too much irony these days.

    Intelligence Divorced from Innovation and Creativity

    After 24 years of service myself, what I tell interested applicants is this: think very, very carefully about a Foreign Service career. The State Department is looking for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person, you will enjoy your career. I have come to understand that the Department wants smart people who will do what they are told, believing that intelligence can be divorced from innovation and creativity. Happy, content compliance is a necessary trait, kind of like being Downton Abbey-British but without the cool accent. The Department will not give you any real opportunity for input for a very long time — years, if ever. There is no agreed-upon definition of success or even progress at State, no profits, no battles won, no stock prices to measure. Success will be to simply continue to exist, or what your boss says it is, or both, or neither. You may never know what the point is other than that a visiting Congressional delegation conclude with a happy ending, whatever that even is. I spent the bulk of my second tour taking visiting Mrs. VIPs shopping (more senior third tour officers got to escort the VIPs themselves!). This will be your life trip.

    At the same time, State has created a personnel system that will require you to serve in more and more dangerous places, and more and more unaccompanied places without family, as a routine. That sounds cool and adventurous at age 25, but try and imagine if you’d still be happy with it at age 45 with a spouse and two kids. What are your core obligations with a child who needs some extreme parenting as you leave your wife at home alone with him for a year so you can be a placeholder for State’s commitment to be as macho as the military?

    Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

    Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque. State has recently determined that even promotion statistics cannot be released. Changes in Congress will further limit pay and benefits. Your spouse will be un/underemployed most of his or her life. Your kids will change schools, for better or worse, every one, two or three years. Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you’ll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks. You’ll serve more places where you won’t speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth. As you get up there, remember your boss, the politically-appointed ambassador, can arbitrarily be a real estate broker who donated big to the president’s campaign. Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future.

    It is a very unique person who can say “Yes” truthfully and after real soul-searching. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before you accept that assignment.

    Failed Choices

    In the universe where you’ll work, the U.S. will face a continued stagnation on the world stage. When we, perhaps semi-consciously, made a decision to accept an empire role after World War II, we never built the tools of empire. No colonial service, no securing of critical resources, no carrot and sticks. We sort of settled on a military-only model of soft occupation. We made few friends or allies, accepting reluctant partners. As changes take place in the developing world, the most likely American the people there encounter now wears a uniform and carries a weapon.

    America faced a choice and blew it. As an empire, we either needed to take control of the world’s oil or create a more equitable and less martial global society to ensure our access to it. We did neither. We needed either to create a colonial system for adventures like Iraq or Afghanistan along the Victorian model, or not try to invade and rebuild those places. We did neither.

    Simply pouring more and more lives and money into the military is a one-way street going in the wrong direction. We can keep spending, but when millions of dollars spent on weapons can be deflected by terror acts that cost nothing, we will lose. When any hearts and minds efforts are derailed by yet another excused collateral damage episode, we will lose.

    For most of the next century, America still has a big enough military that our “decline” will be slow, bloody and reluctant. But, inevitable nonetheless. By ideologicizing every challenge from Communism to the entire religion of Islam, we have assured ourselves of never really winning any struggle.

    You can be a part of that if you’d like to join the Foreign Service and help Build the Wall.

    Mother Should I Trust the Government?



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Foreign Service Officer Blogs to Love

    March 27, 2012 // 22 Comments »

    As alert readers of this blog know, I am in the process of being fired from the Department of State in large part because of this blog. The firing part revolves around me “writing about matters of official concern without authorization, “identifying myself as a foreign service officer,” not using the required disclaimer, and “poor judgement and notoriously disgraceful conduct.”

    A big one was that bit about “poor judgment and notoriously disgraceful conduct,” which the State Department defines helpfully for me as “lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission.”

    The idea is that if a blog has, well, undiplomatic things on it, the writer will not be able to represent the US, be taken seriously as a professional diplomat, that sort of thing. The blog’s message in other words will get in the way of the State Department job, distract from the professionalism required to represent the United States. At least that’s what is bothering State about me and my blog.

    Fair enough I guess, at least if State applied the rules equitably. On its own “careers” web page, State lists dozens of Foreign Service blogs which quite obviously talk about matter of official concern and, given how they often post daily updates, do not appear to have gone through any authorization or clearance process. Some do, and some don’t, have the required disclaimer.

    And then of course, there is the blog of budding Foreign Service Officer Jennifer Santiago, who self-identifies online as “diplomat, photographer and world traveler.” Ms. Santiago was apparently many other things before joining the Foreign Service, and helpfully includes a number of pictures of herself online. Here are a couple more:



    I have no way to verify it and make no claims to its veracity, but Ms. Santiago’s Wikipedia entry (doesn’t everyone have one?), which says her birth name is “Jennifer Klarman,” claims she also once posed unclothed in Playboy. It is a not safe for work type of link, but the Playboy photos are here, so you can judge for yourself if care to do so. One article states “Then known as Jennifer Klarman, Santiago posed in 1998, she says, to help pay off $100,000 in law school loans. The pictures were intended for a Playboy special on lingerie. “If I had known they might end up in a book called Voluptuous Vixens, I might have declined.” Two Facebook pages link “Jennifer Klarman” with “Jennifer Santiago,” listing her as a “public figure” and using one of the photos above.

    Back to her own blog, Ms. Santiago wrote that she was sent to Brazil for a language immersion program as part of her Portuguese training, at a school conveniently located just two blocks away from the famous Ipanema Beach, in Rio.

    As Ms. Santiago says on her blog, “Momma didn’t raise no dummy– I chose a school that is just four blocks from the beach… I’m convinced tropical weather is medicine for the body and soul. So, I am beyond grateful for this two-week respite from life in bone-chilling Washington DC… This isn’t a vacation after all, this is language immersion (and Atlantic Ocean immersion). So, I’ll be sure to continue sharing my experiences in and out of the classroom. I’m looking forward to a week on the beach, learning Samba, touring the favelas and catching a futebol game.”

    She helpfully adds that she’ll be working the visa line at our Sao Paulo consulate. She posted some photos from her trip:



    The blog does not display the required State Department disclaimer anywhere I could locate. We are forced to assume that either Ms. Santiago has sought and received State Department authorization for her comments on matters of official concern such as her training and assignment, or that she, like me, is allegedly guilty of unauthorized blogging and should be punished.

    I don’t know Ms. Santiago, and we have never spoken. I found her blog online as anyone might; after all, it is online, subject to worldwide availability just like mine, via a Google search or two. Everything here came through some online searches, all subject to the whims of the web as to content and veracity. Just as State claims my blog renders me ineffective as a Foreign Service Officer, the blogs of other FSOs are hanging out there too waiting to be discovered by anyone dealing with us professionally.

    The point here is to suggest that the Department of State willfully chooses to enforce its blogging rules when it spies a blog whose content it dislikes (mine) and then ignores those same rules for a blog that it does like.

    Or, that the State Department can’t possibly locate, monitor and assess all the Foreign Service blogs out there, and thus selectively picks some (mine) for multi-month forensic investigation through its Diplomatic Security Stasi while remaining purposely ignorant of the others, a case of highly selective persecution, er, um, prosecution.

    Or, maybe it has something to do with the photos on my blog. Maybe if I hit the gym more often the State Department would let me keep my blog unfettered as they obviously are doing with others?





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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    MG Edwards: I Am No Longer A Foreign Service Officer

    January 14, 2012 // 1 Comment »




    Foreign Service Officer MG Edwards just resigned after seven years, and wrote down some cold truths about life at State that are now required reading for all, especially you young ‘uns thinking about a career as a diplomat. To lure in those Paduwans, let’s throw in some key words for Google to snag: FSOT, FSOA, Orals, Intern, Pickering Fellow, Exotic Lifestyle.

    Please do read everything MG had to say. I agree completely with his remarks, and would like to add a few more:

    — To be fair, a lot of MG’s points (hardship, separation, worldwide service, etc.) are also in State’s promotional materials. It is just that too many folks skip over them to focus on the cool photos of someone Who Looks Just Like You (look, even a piercing, kewl!) experiencing their life trip standing in front of the Taj Mahal. Like that software license you errantly clicked through, it was all there when you said “OK.” Re-read the fine print.

    — MG’s point about representing the current Administration, not the Constitution you swear the oath to, is very important. State is a Cabinet agency, with its leader appointed by the current President. You advocate for whatever he/she wants, even if it is the policy opposite of what you advocated for on a previous tour due to a change at the White House. This must make sense to you, and if not, better just stop here, now.

    — If you are 25, single and can fit everything you own into your Kia as you read this, re-read everything MG said imagining yourself at 45 with a spouse/partner/kids/dogs/piano/special needs child/allergy to dust/ill parent to care for/etc. Much of what seems tolerable or even exotically challenging at an early point in one’s career wears thin later on, when it is much harder just to resign and move on. Do some thought experiments.

    — Because much of what State does is not quantifiable (“Improve relations with Country Z” is way different than “Increase sales by 25%”), what is “right” can be determined arbitrarily by a boss that is out for him/herself and her own advancement, a little crazy, vindictive, or all of the above. You can get caught up in that and hurt by it.

    — The FS is high school. Everybody knows everybody, and what people think of you matters more than anything you actually do. Be a popular kid, or do what the popular kids say, or suffer. Kids who “don’t get along” end up dying of old age as an FS-02 assigned to the worst jobs.

    — An organization often with unclear goals and arbitrary systems to determine promotions, assignments and discipline is sweet, sweet agar for bullies to thrive in. Expect to deal with many of them in positions of authority. Also, they either usually win, or the cost of standing up to them is typically not worth the spit it requires.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    So You Want To Be A Diplomat

    December 18, 2011 // Comments Off

    Though I had nothing to do with making this video, it is hilarious. Future diplomats, Foreign Service Officers and those who love them, enjoy!

    Applying for the Old Foreign Service

    November 28, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Here’s an entertaining piece by Olya Thompson about applying for the old Foreign Service. At that time the Department of State was actively discriminating against women, a matter that took many years of court proceedings to resolve.

    (In 1985, 80% of the Foreign Service “professional staff” was male, and 72.5% was white male. Twenty years later, in 2005, the male/female ratio was 66/34, and white males constituted 54% of the total.)

    Here’s an excerpt from that post:


    Now I am told that no matter how hard I could have tried back then or how well I could have presented myself, it wouldn’t have made any difference. The interview was biased. I was wasting my time. Those objective-looking numerical scores I got turn out to have been a product of a very discriminatory process.

    I cannot say I ever suspected a bias. The Foreign Service officers who interviewed me, all much older than I, seemed knowledgeable and professional. I was treated with coutesy and respect. There were no inappropriate questions or comments. The distribution of candidates seemed to imply that men and women were being treated equally. I did note there was only one woman among the interviewers, but I figured that ratio was changing as more women like me pursued professional goals.

    I am left wondeing about this government that tells me now what its polite and couteous officials who still control access to power and jobs must have known and deliberately decided 10 years ago: That they were not hiring women. That we were merely being put through the paces. I am left wondering why, in this bureaucratic game of hot potato, I am the one left holding this letter that lays bare the disturbing consequences of their actions.


    Read the entire piece online.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State