• Eating Those Words?

    October 12, 2012

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Military

    In Gordon & Trainor’s bookabout Iraq, as well as Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s bookabout Afghanistan, a common complaint by America’s diplomats is how their Regional Security Officers were too risk averse. The FSOs whined that Diplomatic Security held them back, that efforts to protect the dips kept them from fully engaging and thus it was Security’s fault that diplomacy failed.

    My own book about the State Department in Iraq did not include any such crap, because it is not true. FSOs like to toss out that macho language to journalists, knowing they will never be called to act on it. You guys got fooled again, sorry.

    State does like to hold on to that myth, that its officers are really rough and ready cowboys, always biting the bit to be allowed to engage freely if only those bad boys in Security did not place so many restrictions on them.

    Indeed, the State Department’s own employees association gave away its “dissent” award this year to a Foreign Service Officer who argued just that point. Dissent award winner Joshua Polacheck stated that “In an attempt at perfect security, we made a series of choices with grave policy implications. These choices send a message of distrust to the people of our host nations… the siege mentality and isolation play into the goals of many terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida and Hezbollah.” He went to propose a policy where “Foreign Service personnel should be allowed to take personal responsibility for their own actions.”

    One wonders in the aftermath of Benghazi how that award looks now in the halls of Foggy Bottom? One hopes that young Joshua is given a chance at a Libyan assignment to try out his theories on the ground.

    Assessing risk is tricky business, and typically involves access to a wider range of information (imagery, intel, electronic intercepts, etc.) than can be widely shared with each and every young gun, even if said gunners had the ability to understand, synthesize and interpret it while doing their regular jobs. Without such knowledge, one is not assuming a risk, one is just acting dumb thinking it is brave, like driving a car blindfolded, or asking a taxi driver to drop you in the most dangerous neighborhood of an unfamiliar city to see what happens.

    Even when an individual may be informed enough to make an intelligent risk assessment for him/herself, that ignores the wider political ramifications. The headline will not be “Dip Killed After Careful Personal Decision” but “Another U.S. Diplomat Slain in War of Terror.” It’s not just about you baby doll. Diplomats abroad are symbols, and a death has international implications.

    It is easy to talk the talk, but takes a lot more than that to really walk the walk. Check with Chris Stevens.

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  • Recent Comments

    • John Poole said...


      Chris Stevens became an inadvertent martyr in Obama’s reelection strategy which needed to flaunt the need for only a ballet slipper security footprint in Benghazi. Otherwise, the decision to overthrow Qaddafi might be seen as a huge demented blunder.

      10/12/12 12:30 PM | Comment Link

    • marc said...


      If diplomacy is about effecting the attitudes and opinions in the host country then the fortress mentality that has become the new normal for America’s overseas missions is playing right into our enemy’s hands. The “Blackwater security bubble of death” placed around U.S. diplomatic personnel in Iraq helped a lot to produce the complete failure of U.S post war objectives. Given the tacit approval by DSS of deadly rampages in public places and routine dis-respect of even high ranking Iraqi officials in their own offices by State’s private security thugs it isn’t surprising that most Iraqis now want as little to do with Americans as possible.

      10/12/12 4:50 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Marc- most DS agents know you don’t “do” diplomacy in active war zones. The RSOs and ARSOs aren’t a combat force even though they train more than the SS. Pity the genuine and responsible agents working in DS who have seen the militarization of diplomacy protection.

      10/12/12 5:05 PM | Comment Link

    • Mr. Shea Brown said...


      I only imagine, because I don’t really know, but what is the real purpose of a “diplomat” in a country that we are occupying for the sake of a future pipeline ? We went to Iraq and Afghanistan, as Pepe Escobar has so wonderfully documented, for the “Arc of Crisis” agenda to control the area’s resources as planned way back under the Carter administration. So what is the role of a FSO when we are occupying for profit? To tell the locals,, “Listen, it will be okay,, just calm down, we are doing great things for your country.” ??????? What is diplomatic about the role of an FSO in that situation? John Poole above is insightful; You don’t do diplomacy in active war zones. Historically, diplomacy was intended to prevent wars. Now it seems as though our FSO’s are little more than another part of the propaganda and occupation arm,,,, part of the occupation force,, part of the total problem,, not any part of the solution. They might as well just be paid by UNOCAL , for isn’t that who they are really working for ? Marc above says that he knows what our post invasion objectives were. Does he now? I suspect that chaos, and a possible civil war were indeed the objectives of our invasion. Does anyone believe we intended or believed that Iraq would deny their violent past to all of a sudden model themselves after Palm Beach? Jimminy chiclets. Some idiots are even calling for more involvement in Afghanistan. Good Lord,, bring our folks home. Let’s talk about our own frigging continent for a change,, how about the 30,000 headless in Mexico ?

      10/12/12 7:44 PM | Comment Link

    • Lafcadio said...


      The real question is not how much more or less fortress like we can make the Embassy’s.

      It’s whether we should have as many as we do.

      What is the point of having an Embassy in Yemen? Togo? Malawi? Fiji? And a few other places? Like Baghdad and Kabul.

      In almost 30 years of experience, I’ve seen the State Department’s diplomats become feebler and feebler. They truly ar enothing more than an overseas concierge for other agencies.

      In my experience, most fso’s “liberated” from security requirements tend to still hunker down, or go to plays and poetry readings with fso’s from other Western countries.

      10/13/12 12:09 AM | Comment Link

    • jen said...


      I rarely agree with the opinions on this blog but I approve of this message. The Foreign Service is a non functioning arm of our government’s instruments of power. There is simply no adult leadership. Congress has enacted laws that have established “accountability review boards” for the express purpose of questioning bad decisions that place diplomats at risk, yet AFSA awards an officer who appears oblivious to this responsibility. No doubt this FSO will be promoted to the senior ranks and remain misinformed because no one is in charge.

      We should eliminate the laws put into place after the embassy bombings in the 1980’s and 1990’s and let FSOs take responsiblity for their actions. The fortresses were put in place to prevent Lebanon, Dar, and Nairobi from happening again. In my experience the average FSO shirks responsibility and is more than willing to put the onus on the RSO for almost any decision.

      Absolutely no one is asking why or how there can be attacks in Peshawar for the past three years in a row. The targets have only been security personnel. FSOs are not strategic assets and don’t need to have laws that protect them as such.

      10/17/12 10:30 AM | Comment Link

    • Sher Khan said...


      Whatever the risk to State Department FSOs,whose assignments — except for Consular — tend to engage them disproportionately with urbanized, cosmopolitan elites both within counterpart governments and in the private sector, the FSOs and FSNs of USAID now find it much more difficult to carry out their work under the restrictive conditions established by a risk-averse State Department security regime. Field site visits and ongoing dialogue with farmers, merchants, health workers, teachers, and other citizens of AID-assisted countries are essential for determining courses of action, developing meaningful activities, and monitoring the performance of contractors, grantees, and counterparts. Unless USAID staff can trace the links of implementation of projects backward from end-users to funding sources, informed asssistance management suffers. USAID FSOs who are active in the field and who maintain good networks for local information and feedback not only perform their jobs better, but can provide useful information regarding security issues to other Embassy staff. Spending one’s entire tour as an AID FSO contemplating one’s desk or screen, writing reports based on un-assessed documentation and statements, and learning only about the odd corners of yet another Inman fortress, is becoming the norm — at the expense of the foreign assistance component of U.S. foreign policy.

      10/24/12 4:05 PM | Comment Link

    • Bob Snider said...


      When I read the link, the below seemed interesting in reference to your last line of your post:

      During assignments in Harare, Santo Domingo, the U.S. mission to the United Nations, the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ninewah, Beirut and Islamabad, Mr. Polacheck has seen the effects of barricaded embassies and barricaded mentalities on the diplomatic process.

      11/19/12 9:04 PM | Comment Link

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