Says State Department is "mere political arm" for Bush and no longer represents the "values and priorities that have been the foundation" of American strength
Below is a letter from a veteran U.S. foreign service officer as it appears in the April 2006 "Foreign Service Journal"
An FSO Resigns
With deep sadness I depart the State Department, prematurely ending a 24-year Foreign Service career. I voluntarily leave what had been a largely rewarding career in which I raised two daughters to know and appreciate the world I spent almost four decades traveling. I take this action because I believe that State is no longer effectively representing the values and priorities that have been the foundation of our security and the source of American strength. The dissonance between many of the actions and policies implemented — cherrypicked prewar intelligence, pre-emptive war, secret foreign CIA detention centers and torture, warrantless domestic spying — and my own values, common sense and experience has simply become too great.
I recognize that successful Foreign Service officers must have an exceptional tolerance for ambiguity. And I understand that higher strategic aims often necessitate compromises in pursuit of the ultimate objective. During my postings in South America, the Caribbean, Russia, the Middle East, Africa and Washington, I have also had serious doubts about some of the policies of previous administrations. Until recently, however, I took some solace in the belief that State itself, while ultimately the policy-implementation arm of the administration, was playing an important role within policy-making councils as a voice of reason, experience and realism. I can no longer take such comfort. Like our intelligence agencies, State is increasingly becoming a mere political arm of the administration which, for political reasons, continues to exploit post-9/11 emotions.
One need not be an expert to see the damage that the conduct of the faultily-conceived, poorly-understood and ineptly executed Iraq War, as well as the politicization of the “War on Terrorism,” have done to our standing in the world and to the ideals that historically have been our most powerful attributes. We are failing to accurately analyze why the world is responding as it is and instead focus our efforts on how to force the rest of the world to accept our values and perception of the way life should be. American leadership must, by example, be worthy of emulation, in order to build a worldwide support base. Force will not replace this long-term need, and the backlash will eventually obliterate the good for which the United States historically has been a beacon of light.
Additionally, State is now unable to truly effectively serve as an adviser on, or implementer of, its public diplomacy mission. State’s public diplomacy role is suffering from poor but superior-pleasing management, decreased funding and an inability to recognize and respond to current realities. Our best minds are often managing illusions or treating symptoms, not addressing underlying causes. Meanwhile, the military, however, which has almost unlimited resources to project the administration’s “message,” is incrementally taking over State’s public diplomacy operation.
Our current policies directed at developing countries also fall far short of their purported goals, inviting disaster. Despite our rhetoric to the contrary, we have gradually become part of the problem. In Africa, for example, the few continue to grow richer while more than half of the 900 million Africans live in destitution, earning no more than a dollar a day — literally not a cent better off than when I first set foot in Africa in 1968.
Within State’s Africa Bureau, where I most recently handled public diplomacy for 16 countries of West Africa and served as the public affairs liaison on HIV/AIDS, I see distressingly few significant results of our policies, despite the valiant efforts of officers everywhere. This is particularly true of policies related to the $15 billion HIV/AIDS program executed by the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator with a constant eye to maximizing positive domestic political publicity. The recent appointment of OGAC’s political-appointee head (and former CEO of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly) Randall Tobias to head USAID, as well as function as overall foreign assistance director, will result in even further politicization of our foreign assistance program.
The administration’s indifference to suffering everywhere — now evident both at home, post-Katrina, and in our activities internationally — makes it increasingly difficult to be optimistic. Despite the administration’s truly massive PR, its HIV/AIDS policy will eventually become a permanent blot on our record as millions perish unnecessarily. This policy is making an entire generation of Africans unwilling pawns in its quest to impress American voters with its own perceived morality.
The disease is the biggest threat faced by Africa, where two-thirds of the world’s 40 million HIV/AIDS patients live. It contributes to a marked drop in productivity and to increased despair and is feeding a growth in political instability. Of the 40 million stricken, only 471,000 now receive anti-viral treatment from our $15 billion program. African leaderships have been pushed by the U.S. to emphasize abstinence and de-emphasize condom use — or lose funding. These policies will lead to a reversal of progress in the treatment of AIDS. Simply stated, Africans in the millions are expendable if it serves the re-election needs of politicians. This, coupled with African leaderships sometimes mired in increasingly skillfully executed corruption (which we verbally criticize but often effectively ignore when in our perceived “interest” to do so) simply adds to growing frustration.
Careerism at State cripples critical thinking. And within the department’s internal bureaucracy, professional punishment and sophisticated, targeted retribution for any deviation from “the message” are increasingly effective and expertly hidden behind a shield of multiple maneuvers using personnel system “mechanisms” designed and scripted for deniability. Officers are discredited, promotions, tenure and assignments jeopardized, careers destroyed.
Edward R. Murrow said that we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. It is truer than ever today, when loyalty and being “on message” trump critical analysis and forthright honesty. I fully realize that for others in the department who may privately share my views, my decision to depart may be unacceptably costly in personal terms. I personally regret, however, that I did not take this action earlier. I clung to the hope that we would right ourselves. Unfortunately that has not happened in the years since 9/11 and I do not see it on the horizon.
I hardly believe that my premature departure from State will have any effect on the course of U.S. foreign policy, but I am compelled to add another voice to what I hope becomes a groundswell against the directions we have taken. Were I to remain silent any longer, I would be contributing to this deception by lending credence to the illusion that things are as they ought to be. They are not.
Peggy S. Zabriskie
FSO, newly retired