Bureaucratic Pique: When an ambassador suggested an exhaustive anatomical examination

— Domani Spero

 

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. The author, David A. Langbart is a senior archivist in the Textual Archives Services Division at the National Archives.  He specializes in the records of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies.  We have previously excerpted his work here and here in 2013 and most recently this year on the women in the Foreign Service. Excerpt from his piece, Bureaucratic Pique:

An essential aspect of the U.S. foreign policy program, especially since the 1930s, is the use of cultural representatives abroad.  Having major musicians perform overseas under the auspices of the U.S. government is a major component of the cultural program.  Planning for such events did not always proceed smoothly.  In June 1974, the attempt to arrange for one such event led to a unique bureaucratic response, if not the specific performance itself.

In late June 1974, the U.S. embassy in the Philippines informed the Department of State of the impending inauguration of a new folk art theater, part of a cultural complex on Manila Bay.  The embassy reported that while the Philippine Government had invited ministers of culture from a number of friendly countries, and the embassy expected several “significant” attendees, the U.S. had not received such an invitation because it had no cabinet level equivalent.

The embassy further reported that the noted pianist Van Cliburn had agreed to perform concerts on July 3 and 4, just a matter of days away.  In order to give Cliburn an official imprimatur, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs requested that the U.S. designate the performer as a “special cultural representative” or similar title.  The ambassador, William Sullivan, noting that Cliburn was a “local favorite,” endorsed the idea, writing that “This strikes me as an easy and painless gesture for the U.S. Government to make in order to earn a useful return of Philippine appreciation.”  Given the timing, however, he noted that the issue needed to be resolved quickly. 1 

And because nothing is ever resolved quickly in a bureaucracy, stuff happens.  Ambassador Sullivan would have been spectacular on Twitter!

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Read the whole thing here.

 

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